Making David Houston talk about his accomplishments is a tricky, tricky task. Ask him about his three-decade career as a producer for some of the area’s most notable bands and before you know it, he’s turned the conversation towards your own job. Skip to failsafe interview standards like, “What would people be surprised to learn about you?” and he responds, “Let’s not be general. What would you be surprised to learn about me?”
Understand that Houston is not being cagey or contrary. He’s just more interested in listening to someone else than he is in talking about his history with legendary garage-rock band Public Nuisance or his current, critically acclaimed performances with violist Christina Maradik and cellist Krystyna Ogella. This humble nature, combined with his reputation as an amazing listener, is the very quality which has kept local musicians seeking Houston’s artistic and professional advice for all these years. Talking with the soft-spoken songwriter is both endearing and inspirational, but it doesn’t generate the kind of bragging one expects from the winner of a Sammie for Lifetime Achievement.
Finally, it’s time to cut to the chase and say, “So you know you’re getting this Lifetime Achievement award, right?”
Houston sighs into his coffee. “Yeah,” he says. “It sounds like I’m dying. I told the Christynas about it and I was so depressed. At the Oscars and things, they give Lifetime Achievement awards to people who are almost dead. The Christynas told me that Tom Hanks got a Lifetime Achievement award, though, and he still does some of his best work now.”
The conversation turns toward Hanks’ oeuvre and travels all the way back to Joe Versus the Volcano before you manage to steer it towards the subject of Houston’s award. But as soon as you do, Houston deflects it again. “You know,” he says, “I’d gladly give my award to Jerry Perry. He really does something for music … For me, it was like, ‘What have I done?’”
You consider mentioning the sweet, heart-tugging songs he writes and the countless bands he’s augmented with his musicianship—including the Sammie-nominated the Haints. But Houston’s looking sad, so you switch tacks and ask him how he’s coping with the news.
“I’ll probably have to come to terms with it on the 14th, huh?” He speaks with resignation, as if he’ll be attending a funeral rather than a VIP awards party. “For now, I’ve sort of let it go. It’s nice every time someone wants to recognize you, but does it affect your work? Does it keep you from working or trying to create something new? How do you keep moving; how do you keep that creative force alive? I don’t think that has anything to do with awards.” Then Houston smiles softly behind his dark glasses. “But when you get one, it’s nice.”