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"I had finally made a connection with the world," A Conversation With Kurt Neumann from BoDeans

The American rock band BoDeans will be at the Hult Center on February 5 and we were fortunate enough to have a quick chat with Kurt Neumann (Founder and Frontman) before the upcoming performance about his career and playing live.

Hult Center: You’ve had a career of 40 plus years, with 17 albums, numerous tours, sharing the stage with U2, Dylan, Tom Petty, Bowie. Where do I start? How does it feel?
Kurt Neumann: I feel very fortunate… I guess, “Blessed“ is a good word for it… not so much in a religious way, but just in a very lucky fortunate way. As long as I can remember music was dancing around in my head… Like there was nothing else I could do but this. And I always wanted to do something positive with my life with the time I had here. I didn’t want to just work any job for a paycheck. Not that that’s a bad thing. Anyway, it just didn’t feel right for me.
Hult Center: Is there one memory that stands out from over the past 4 decades of this life? (I bet there are many stories to tell!)
Kurt Neumann: I think for any artist the first time you’re on a big stage with a big big audience, and they start singing your songs with you you’re just blown away. The first time that happened to me I was floored. It felt better than anything I had ever experienced in my life before that. Like I had finally made a connection with the world.
Performance image of Kurt Neumann from BoDeans
Hult Center: With so many albums to pull from, what’s it like crafting set lists? I’m sure fans expect certain songs, but you also have to keep it fresh. What is your tactic for live shows to make sure you and the audience are both having a good time?
Kurt Neumann: I want people to walk away from my shows feeling good. I want the show to be fun and uplifting. I want it to be an escape from their every day lives. And I want it to feel worth the money they laid out to come and see me. I want them to sing along and create some good vibes with me and the band. So I try to design a set list with favorites but also new stuff every year. Some unexpected stuff… Things like that.
Hult Center: Are there any songs that get special attention live, personal favorites, maybe some songs that didn’t get the love you thought they deserved?
Kurt Neumann: Well, I feel lucky because some of my favorite songs turned out to be the fan’s most favorite. Or maybe the fans made them my favorites… I’m not quite sure, but I enjoy playing them all the same. There are always a couple songs in the set that I play because I think they’re really great well crafted songs, and they deserve to be heard. I truly love a well crafted song. So I play a few for myself, I guess.
Hult Center: What are your favorite aspects of performing live?
Kurt Neumann: It seems obvious but it’s the interaction with people. The energy you create in the room singing songs together has always felt so positive and healing to me. I think the world or the human species really need that kind of coming together and singing together to remind us that we are not so different from each other. Or that we share a common ground. A common decency. And getting together and singing together exemplifies that.
Hult Center: Going back to the beginnings, what inspired you to walk this path?
Kurt Neumann: As I said earlier, I’ve always had music swimming around inside my head. I’ve played music since I was about nine years old. I just always felt like it’s where I was supposed to be. Or what I was supposed to be doing. So that’s what I did.
Hult Center: What are your favorite albums, guitar players, or bands your listening to?
Kurt Neumann: This is probably an unexpected answer… But I don’t listen to a lot of pop or rock music like I did as a kid. I listen to a lot of old jazz records. The mood of that music just takes me to a great place in my head. So Paul Desmond, “Easy Living”record 1965 gets played a lot. Or Stan Getz playing with the Oscar Peterson trio circa 1958 I believe. That stuff just takes me away. As far as favorite Guitarist… I like people who do things their own way. Have their own style. Don’t just play the same blues rocks licks that everybody else plays.
Performance image of Kurt Neumann from BoDeans and others
Hult Center: Is there a single record in your life that has shaped you?
Kurt Neumann: There’s not a single record for me. I would say growing up it was the AM radio and then FM rock radio. I didn’t have a lot of money to go out and buy records so I would just listen to the radio. And I loved it. They played so much different stuff that it all influenced me. Good songwriting, and good energy.
Hult Center: With a career as great as yours, what advice would you offer to musicians considering it?
Kurt Neumann: I would say… Go into finance or banking instead… Lol.  Which is the first advice I got from a professional musician as a kid. A local musician up in Milwaukee said to me… “Just don’t do it… because once that bug bites you, you’ll never escape it“. Now I know you play music because you have to. Because it’s in your soul. But it’s more difficult than ever to really make a living doing it. So if you’re going to do it…do it because you love it…but realize you may have to get a real job to pay for things like food and shelter.