Local Musician Check-in: Mark Coffman

Posted on January 8, 2014 by


By day, he is the über-knowledgeable and friendly beer and wine salesman at Whole Foods. By night, he is the frontman of From Here On Blue, a 4-piece outfit that has been playing self-described “epic American Rock ‘n’ Roll” in Charlottesville since 2003. You may have seen him and his band win the Crowd Favorite Award at the First Amendment Writes Contest, or dressed up as The Stone Temple Pilots at this year’s Mock Stars Ball on Halloween at The Southern.

This week, I caught up with our man, Mark Coffman, to talk politics, Pink Floyd, and next steps for From Here On Blue.

markcoffmanMark Coffman

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? If not Cville, when did you come here?

I consider Charlottesville very much home since I’ve lived here for two thirds of my life. I was born in Lynchburg, then lived in Appomattox for the first 5 years of my life. In 1989 my family moved to Charlottesville. I spent 2 years in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech, where I started writing what would later become the From Here On Blue sound. I came back to Charlottesville for a year and decided to transfer to VCU to study journalism. I graduated as a Ram in 2009, came back here to start an internship, and haven’t left since. That’s when I started playing the songs that I had written in college with life-long friend Chris Payne.

When and why did you start playing music/singing? What instruments do you play?

I started playing guitar in middle school in a class with Chris [Payne], actually. I think that we were in the 7th grade, and I think we also took the class in 8th grade as well. It wasn’t until the 9th grade that I actually got my first job to buy a Squier Stratocaster. My mother had an old acoustic guitar that had been lying around forever, but I wanted to play electric and make noise. I dabbled with singing for years but never really wanted to be a singer. I had been writing songs, including lyrics for a few years by then. In high school, all the bands I played with had singers. It wasn’t until I moved to Blacksburg that I quickly found out there weren’t many musicians there, so I made due and started singing myself.

Most influential artist as a child? Teen? Adult?

As a child I didn’t really listen to much music. That I picked, at least. I had a TV in my room with cable that exposed me to bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, The [Smashing] Pumpkins, and Bush, who are one of my guilty pleasures. My brother was older, so he exposed me to Classic Rock like Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, Bob Marley, and even Dave Matthews, who was a local favorite of his and mine. But once I got my hands on the guitar, I started really finding my own path and delving deeper into bands like The Black Crowes, The Stones, and Neil Young. Before college I started listening to more progressive bands like Pink Floyd and Radiohead. As I get older I try to listen to as many forms of music as possible and see as many shows as possible.

546289_432388933500238_590425217_nWhen did you write your first song? What was it about?

I wrote my first song in 2000. It’s now 2014 and 30 or so songs later I don’t really remember my first song. I could probably still play it, but it wouldn’t be the same. The first song I wrote for From Here On Blue was in 2003 called “Do Not Disturb,” but it’s a ballad so we rarely ever play it live.

What influences your writing?

It used to be politics, but now it’s more how I see society. As I’ve gotten older, I would say the subject matter in my songs has ironically gotten less serious. When I first started writing for From Here On Blue, it was early on in college when I was exposed to a lot of different ways of thinking, and I was angry with a lot of decisions our country was making at that time. Now, I would say I’m still fiery and passionate, but I’ve gotten better about being more subjective and posing questions to the listeners as opposed to trying to tell them how to think.

What aspects of life excite you and stir your affections, fuel your passions?

The way people act for sure. Like I said, I used to write a lot about political matters. But now I realize that in writing about society I am in turn writing about politics and social issues. I very rarely write about relationships and try to steer clear of typical subject matters. Nowadays I try not to force songs and only write when I really feel inspired. Once I had written over 20 songs, I started to try to focus more on finishing the songs I was really feeling at the time.

When did you play your first gig? What emotions and thoughts ran through your head after finishing?

The first gig I ever played was a Y Tour anti-smoking show in Roanoke with my first band, Homegrown, and our current drummer, Dom [Prudente]. There were very few people there, which was nice because it relieved some pressure for us. We were actually getting ready for a talent show at Albemarle High School, so it was kind of a test run. I was way more nervous about the talent show because we were playing in front of a lot of people that we actually knew. In Roanoke we knew nobody and very few people were there so it felt different.

375741_373852729353859_312343165_nDo you get pumped or nervous pre-show?

It really depends on the show. I’m normally excited to play because I really like playing my music in front of people. I feel like we have a lot to say. I embrace the stage and I rarely ever get nervous. But sometimes there are certain shows, like when we’ve played the annual Mock Stars Ball at The Southern. There’s a lot of people and a lot of other great bands, and you’re covering some great band and you really want to do it justice. Normally my excitement takes over and kills my nerves to where we just want to have fun doing what we do and have faith in what we’ve practiced in rehearsals.

What does a day in the life of a modern-day songwriter look like from your perspective?

Well, I really don’t think about myself as a singer-songwriter like most people think of singer-songwriters. I’m not your typical coffee shop songwriter person. I’m not the guy that sits in the park or the downtown mall and busks their tunes. I’m really committed to my music song for song, but I try to think about music and my songs conceptually. I’m not the guy that wakes up and writes some song about what happened today or yesterday or five years ago. I have written songs about things like that, but normally I try to write songs about how I feel about society, politics, and what goes on around me. I feel like a lot of songwriters try to be so personal, but I think the power of songwriting is trying to write about something that you feel, that someone else has felt as well. That’s what’s powerful–when someone you don’t even know can connect to you through your songs.

What do you want people to take from hearing your music? As a fan, what do you also want people to take from experiencing your live show?

It’s always hard to listen to your own music because you can be so attached to it. It’s like when somebody would ask you to criticize your own kids. You love your kids and would probably not say certain things about them that others would say. But my degree in journalism really helped my songwriting and thinking about my music subjectively. It’s a dual-edged sword. You have to, on one hand, have faith and complete belief in what you’re doing. You then, on the other hand, have to be open and accepting of changing your sound and making your song the best it can be. Miles Davis once said, “You don’t change music, music changes you”. I couldn’t agree with him more. You really have to try to be committed and passionate about your art. This is of the utmost importance to me, and I hope that’s what comes across to listeners.

What does the not-so-distant future hold for you and From Here On Blue?

We are recording again but not in a studio this time. Three of our four members live in a house together and we’re going to record clubhouse-style like The Band did for Music From Big Pink and the self-titled album that they recorded in Sammy Davis Jr.’s guesthouse. This will give us time to really listen to what we’ve laid down and to record when an idea strikes. I really like our last recording, but when you book a studio you’re on the clock just like a job. I think this freedom of doing it ourselves will really allow for a better finished product.

Lastly…Describe yourself in 10 words.

From Here On Blue This Is Mark Coffman signing off!