Local San Diego Songwriter Interview: Craig Furnivall

Craig Furnivall is the type of person who says hello first. Formerly from Rochester, Indiana, this Midwest-mannered guy has already made a name for himself in only a couple years on the San Diego singer-songwriter scene.

There’s a reason for that.

“My goal is just to play, play, play, play play,” Furnivall advises. “I didn’t have a car when I first moved here, so I decided to live in PB. I figured it would have the most places to play out.”

He scoured the city for open mics, performed every night he could, introduced himself to as many people as possible and quickly got requests for several local showcases.

“I got in touch with Cathryn Beeks, from ListenLocalSD,” Furnivall says, “and she set me up with shows at Winston’s and a couple other places. Now she books even more venues, including House of Blues. She’s an awesome person to talk to.”

Still based in Pacific Beach, Furnivall is one half of Bosen & Suede, a noted local duo with other area musician, Brian Bosen.

After releasing their debut EP, last month, the pair planned and set out on an 18-show, 22-day tour of the West Coast, in April 2012. It was Furnivall’s first, and a true learning experience:

“We booked as many shows beforehand, but several times we would just show up and try to play somewhere. Venues need a face, not just a phone number and email address. The experience got us playing for fresh crowds, meeting venue owners and visiting new cities. Next time, we’re going to be able to book more shows ahead of time because we’ve put in the hours.”

Furnivall shares that he and Bosen set up shows by contacting anyone they knew living in the cities they wanted to play, and asked for venue recommendations. They also researched on ReverbNation, a site for musicians to post and share music.

Q & A

Recently, Craig was nice enough to meet at a showcase I was setting up and playing at. I arrived later than I had said I would, and my questions to him were rushed. I knew I was being rude, and felt like a jerkstore. In typical Furnivall fashion, he shrugged it off with an easy smile, and within a few minutes, he was talking with several of my friends as if they were already his.

Do you want to be a touring musician?

I love touring. It’s entirely necessary for young aspiring musicians that reach a certain point in their music if they want to continue growing and expanding. Going on the road performing for new audiences is invaluable if you approach it with an open mind for professional progress and an open heart for personal growth.

If I could make money from music, ideally it would be from shows and CD sales (both physical/digital). Pretty standard, but my hope is to not just have a show that entertains, but to provide an experience for concert-goers…to create music that is not just listened to, but resonates with the listener. I would love personal connections with everyone who can find shelter in any aspect of the music I create, because music has done that for me.

What gear do you play?

Alvarez guitars. Elixir strings. Fender Strat when I’m playing electric. But I really love Alvarez’s acoustic sound. I don’t enjoy electric nearly as much. When I first started playing, I was just messing around on an electric. It wasn’t until I started strumming on an acoustic that I thought, “oh, THIS is how it should feel and sound.” It resonated with me in a whole new way.

What’s your songwriting process?

I’m hugely lyrically-driven. If you don’t have anything to say, you shouldn’t be talking. I usually come up with melody while I’m playing guitar, and then I go back and forth between writing lyrics and writing the song. It’s different from Bosen, who starts by jamming a bit and forming the song from that. Writing with Brian is awesome; our styles are so different that it just shouldn’t work! The fact that it does is just one of the many reasons I love music & songwriting.

How long you been writing music?

I’ve been writing music for over a decade. I started playing music (guitar) in 8th Grade. Electric at first, but it always sounded like it needed something more, so when I picked up an acoustic, I thought, “This is it. This makes sense!”

Why did you come out to California?

I wanted someplace with a better music scene than Small Town, Indiana. I planned on moving here right out of high school. When I told my parents, they were supportive, but encouraged me to go to college. I did, and I’m glad they pushed me to go to school more. The second I was done, however, I came out here. I don’t see myself leaving anytime soon!

What do you do for a living outside of songwriting?

Live off credit cards! [Laughs]. I do contract work for an education company. It’s nice because I might not have to work for a couple months at a time, but my credit cards are starting to take a hit, and I’m giving myself the goal to start dealing with it by the Fall.

My main goal is to be a part of this community; someone who supports it, and inspires others to think about what they want to do with their talent & love.

Where do you get your song inspiration?

Love lost. Hope. Transitional moments in life like me moving out here. Then I seem to always build songs in a typical structure of intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, chorus, way big bridge, and back to the chorus. I’m a big bridge guy. I love bridges.

How often do you practice?

I play guitar at least an hour a day. Typically, I’ll be going over old songs or trying new stuff and a couple hours will go by. If Bosen and I happen to have a show or a bar gig, the amount of time playing will increase a little. Though, for my style of writing, it tends to be less an amount of technical guitar work and more keeping a constantly wandering mind for lyrics and thoughts. To truly be a “songwriter,” the mind must always be on and searching, and I feel that is where I place most of my energy/attention.

What keeps you here in San Diego, as opposed to bigger “music” cities like Los Angeles or Nashville?

One, it takes awhile to become established in an area and figure out the ins and outs and who’s who, etc. To start over at this point doesn’t really make sense until I reach the level of success I want (and believe is possible) in this community. Two, I want to believe that you don’t HAVE to go to the stereotypical places to become successful. I want to believe that anybody can be greater than they believe they can be, regardless of where they’re from or the environment they’re surrounded with.

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Go see Bosen & Suede’s next big show at Lestat’s, Friday, May 25. Go here for more info. Do yourself the favor of saying hello to Craig, if he doesn’t beat you to it.

How to Get a Performer Permit to Play in Balboa Park

With the proper permit, anyone can play & sing non-amplified music in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

Without this free pass from the city, however, you can be booted from the park or even fined.

I’m going to share how I heard about this permit, where I got it and what it was like to perform in this beautiful tourist spot.

Why You Should Perform Publicly

Public speaking is most people’s number one fear right behind spiders crawling in your mouth to lay eggs while you sleep.

That’s why some of the best singer-songwriters have poor stage presence in-between songs. They’re uncomfortable in front of a crowd when they aren’t performing.

The quickest way to kill this fear is to play & perform as much as possible.

You can wait until night and drive around to different open mics, but that’s three songs at most. It’s a slow way to get your stage legs.

Go play in public.

Also called “busking,” street performance lets you practice and play for hours in front of an ever-changing amount of people. Plus, citizens sometimes give you money without you having to ask. You’re not homeless. You’re an artist!

You can’t just swing your axe anywhere, however. There are rules. This is California, USA.

In December of 2010, I found myself without a full-time employer. I worked freelance copywriting jobs for a few months. It was good.

During that period, I had time to burn. I would hang at Balboa Park, ride my bike on nearby trails, and write songs at home.

I also started playing out at more open mics.

It was at one of these that I met a mellow Hawaiian dude named Paul Hanna. He was a civil engineer for the city, with a one-of-a-kind voice.

We were chattin’ to chat, you know? No big deal. And he mentions he had played at the park the past couple weekends. Says he has a permit that allows for this.

If you haven’t been to Balboa Park’s main hangout area, “the prado” then you need to go. It’s a wide pedestrian walkway lined with museums, art galleries and koi ponds. Visit on a busy weekend so you can see how many people from around the world enjoy this beautiful spot.

If the weather’s nice, so, 340 days a year, you’ll encounter many street performers. This is especially true on weekends, and when the museums are free on Tuesdays (more tourists). There are magicians and no-armed guitarists and fortune tellers…the people you’d see at a less syringe-y Venice Beach.

I learned that these performers usually have permits. You get your month-long permit from the City, and it’s free.

“A free permit from the government?” I thought. “Paul is a liar.”

But he wasn’t. And isn’t.

I asked him how he did it, and he told me the whole process.

How It Works

Permits are distributed by a lottery system. To participate in the lottery, you need to be at the Balboa Park Admin Office (click here for map-shot), at 10:00 AM, the first Saturday of the month.

The following Saturday happened to be the first one of the month.

Paul said I should be there early, so I showed up at 9:40 AM. When I walked around the corner of the building, there were like, 40 people already in line.

You’re standing in a line to hopefully get a permit that allows you to perform in public so that some forgiving soul maybe drops some of their folding money in your general direction. I’ll be honest. It’s a weird crowd. Many of these people do this every month of every year. They are hardcore, or super-lazy, depending on how you look at it. Everyone is cordial, but it’s like in high school when you’re hanging in a different hallway than you’re used to.

At 10:00 AM, the park rangers bring out a container filled with numbered, wooden blocks . The line starts to shuffle forward, people draw blindly from the container. This goes on until the people or the blocks run out.

You’re drawing for the order you get to choose your permit spot. You want a low number.

I got “7.” Booyah.

When your number is called, you enter the office. Ranger A takes your wooden block and hands you a permit map with 20-25 spots marked on it. Some areas are reserved for solo performers, some for groups, and a few for “acts” such as palm readers. The spots are all spread out, but limited for each type of performer. Depending on who has a lower number than you, your “genre” can fill quickly.

Of course, some of the spots are way better than others when it comes to foot traffic. The money-making areas are the prado and the botanical garden lawns. Lots of people. The worst one looked like it was on the corner of a parking lot behind the Air & Space Museum. Lame.

I lucked out and was able to select a primo spot.

Ranger B checks your ID, has you sign a paper, and hands you a stamped permit paper and park map.

You’re free to go and play.

Rules

Your permit is good for that month. You can play everyday unless the rangers tell you otherwise, or there is a special event going on. You can play in ANY spot you want, too, but the person with that particular spot’s permit gets priority.

Keep your permit with you. The police can ask for it at any time. I never saw them ask anyone, and they were always rolling by. If you’re caught without a permit, I think they just tell you to leave. Or waterboard your face. I don’t have the full rules in front of me, sorry.

Also, the only signage you can have with you is a piece of paper that says “Donations Accepted.” That’s it, no “Buy 3 CDs for the price of 4″ or whatever.

Experience

I went about two times a week the first month. Usually played for 90 minutes, and made about 10-20 bucks each time. It’s not much, but a) I’m just a dude on a guitar, nothing unique that draws a crowd, b) I needed to practice anyway, might as well get a few dollars, and c) I was underemployed, so any money is welcome.

Tourists and locals are both nice. Little kids dance. I learned a couple holiday songs including “Feliz Navidad.” Every once in a while, people stop and listen.

You get way more comfortable dealing with all types of people. People who stand really close to you. People who stare at you like you’re a giant ice cream cone. People who yell “Freebird!” while you’re in the middle of a song that took you three months to create and made you cry (just once!) during the process.

There are even people who put one-dollar bills in your guitar case. Sometimes two.

I was packing up and grabbing the money from my case one day, and there was a $100 bill inside! I was pretty stoked. Then I picked it up, turned it over and saw it was an advertisement for a church. I chuckled. Even their ads are tricky!

I went back to the lottery the next month, and drew a “4″. Beginners luck. Chose the same spot. Repeat.

If you’re not worried about lacking a permit—as I said, the cops never bothered anyone—just go and play in Balboa Park, for an afternoon. Try not to set up too close to another singer or musician. Everyone deserves the space.

Do you busk anywhere? Please leave a comment.

Click here for the Balboa Park Administration Office address & map.