The Los Angeles music scene is populated with talented musicians, but one in particular definitely stands out amongst the rest. Donovan Lyman is dedicated to his craft and the results are thought provoking, lyrically poetic songs that are timeless and classic. Lyman has been on the music scene for many years as both a solo artist as well as the lead singer and rhythm guitar player of the band ‘Blue Meridian.’ In his career, he has professionally recorded six full-length albums, nearly one hundred songs. He’s probably written 400 others, many of which have been lost in time.
As is the norm in Los Angeles this time of year, the sun was shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky, and I walked into his home where the shades were drawn and the theme was somewhat dark and cavernous. But, this is where he does most of his work, and I was intrigued. Meticulous would be another adjective to describe the place. He is organized in both his environment as well as his career. This has most likely contributed to his success thus far and as he says, “I don’t let things get past me, I’m on top of things especially when it comes to song writing, working in the studio and promotion.”
Lyman tells me that he writes and arranges all of his songs, both for his solo career as well as for ‘Blue Meridian.’ When asked to describe his musical style, he puts it like this, “With ‘Blue Meridian’ the music can be heavier rock than my solo stuff, and it is darker as well as more experimental. I would say that my solo music is more Americana, acoustic, organic.” Different sides of a very interesting man. He is no stranger to writing as he comes from a family where all of the males are published writers in their own right.
As we sat, he let me ask and he answered, several questions about both his music as well as the music business as it is today.
Dana Feldman – It seems to be more difficult today than it ever was before to make it in music. Is this a fair assumption?
Donovan Lyman – It is definitely harder today than it was fifteen years ago to make it in this business. Yet now there are a hundred times more people trying to do it.
DF – What are some of the moments where you knew that your music was reaching a wide audience and making an impact?
DL – Over the course of fifteen years of making records and performing music, there are many moments that add up. All of these little things such as a person telling you that your album helped them to get through this or that time in their lives, or you find out that your records have been sold to sixty-five year-old women as well as fifteen year-old boys, illustrating your wide range of appeal. Another moment was when the world’s largest Hard Rock Café in Orlando, Florida, called me and asked if they could purchase and display one of my guitars. It was on their wall for six years. You just have these random accomplishments over the years, some small and some not so small. None on their own merit have summed up or made my career. But, the combination can make you sit back and realize that you’ve made a difference. I have reached and inspired enough people with my art. If I stop now at least I’ll be remembered by some and hopefully appreciated and enjoyed for years to come. You don’t have to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or have a Grammy on your mantle to say that.
DF – Any advice you would give to a musician struggling to make it?
DL – Work hard at it, but don’t take it too seriously. And realize that it’s harder and harder to be truly original, and originality is the only thing that endures. Artists have varying levels of abilities, for this reason they should have unique expectations of themselves and their careers.
Interested in his thoughts on the business and the behind-the-scenes end of things, we discussed pop culture and the advent of the reality talent shows on television these days. Lyman is not only a musician, but he also has his own booking / promotions company, Hollowbody L.A., and has hosted over 600 local and touring artists over the past three plus years.
DF – What made you start Hollowbody L.A.?
DL – I’m always looking for wonderful acts both old and new to work with. I didn’t set out to be the best concert promoter in L.A., but it has been brought to my attention that I do a lot for my acts, provide several services that other promoters don’t.
DF – Can you please give me a few examples?
DL – I take on a casual, managerial role. My years of experience as an artist have armed me with a wealth of knowledge on how to self-promote and help translate sincerity into a song or a show. And, I’m always there for the acts I work with, to give words of advice and constructive encouragement.
DF – What are your thoughts on shows like ‘American Idol’?
DL – These types of shows have put this notion in people’s minds that ‘I don’t have to be a bank teller or work at the supermarket, I can go on this show and be a superstar.’
DF – Well it has happened that way for some, though admittedly a small percentage.
DL – I schedule over a hundred acts per month, out of the hundred artists that I book, if I was a maker-of-stars and not a booker-of-shows, I would say that a very small percentage of these acts have the right combination of attributes to truly make it. Many of these artists are good and work hard at being more viable, but very few have what it takes to be Prince or Paul McCartney.
DF – How did you discover your love for music?
DL – I was fortunate in that my parents liked to listen to what I felt was good music. And so I was introduced to Neil Diamond, Jim Croce, Burt Bacharach and even Glen Campbell, among others, from that era of the early 1970’s. That was such a cool sound and time for music. I then discovered the Beach Boys and the Beatles on my own. There was actually a time in high school where I was into Jan & Dean and The Clash at the same time. Needless to say, among my classmates I was a musical outcast.
DF – What is your ultimate goal for your music?
DL – It changes all the time. I used to be more aggressive and ambitious to ‘make it’ in a traditional sense than I am now. I am still very hopeful that cool things will continue to happen with my music.
Of his music thus far, Lyman mentioned that he is proud of the words that he has put together and feels fortunate to have been able to say some beautiful things that have not been said before. “I’ve done a lot; I’ve built and created some great stuff. Everything else from now on is just gravy. But, as we all know, when sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, the gravy can be the best part.”
During the course of our interview, he picked up his guitar and played his latest song ‘Honey,’ that will be on his next solo album, which he will start recording later this year. One of the verses that stuck with me is, “Darling it’s a mystery, these bright lights that follow me, Do they shine to light my way, or are they aimed for blinding me? I’ll thank you for reminding me.” His lyrics read like a poem set to music.
Lyman books, promotes and hosts shows at The Mint, Acoustic Cordiale at Café Cordiale, The Viper Room, and Trip in Santa Monica, among others. His 5th studio album with ‘Blue Meridian’ entitled, “Skint & Shattered” will be made available before the end of 2010 and he will begin recording his second solo album before the end of the year, as well.
You can find out more about Lyman by checking out the links below and if you want to email him, he is always happy to give advice on the music industry as well as to speak with any acts looking to book or just meet a new fan. His email address is hollowbodyLA@gmail.com.
Search Donovan Lyman on Facebook, as well. To see an updated calendar for all upcoming shows go to www.myspace.com/donovanlyman.
To watch him perform his song “Ghost in the Machine” with his band ‘Blue Meridian’ click on the video below.