In our Inspiration Fuel series, we interview writers, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and everyday heroes about how they manage the ebbs and flows of motivation and creativity in the pursuit of their life’s callings.
Anyone who’s ever spent time in Memphis, Tennessee knows that it’s a city built on two vital currents. One, the Mississippi River, merely geographic, while the other is spiritual: a hundred-year musical legacy that runs from W.C. Handy through B.B. King, Elvis, and Johnny Cash to Otis Redding and Al Green, on to Big Star and Three 6 Mafia and Justin Timberlake and on and on.
For the last twenty years, Jeff Hulett has been a mainstay of Memphis music. As a drummer, he is the backbone of the classic indie band Snowglobe. But with his solo recordings for Small Batch Records and bands like Me & Leah and Restless Townies, he is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist blessed with a talent for crafting unselfconscious alt-folk vignettes that shine with a stripped-down emotional clarity.
"Nothing I Can Do" by Snowglobe, with Jeff on drums:
In our never-ending investigation of creativity, motivation, and inspiration, we asked Jeff to share with us some thoughts on what inspires him and how he stays productive despite a busy work and family life.
What do you do for a living?
I’m in the field of PR and communications. In fact, I own and operate my own company, Jeff Hulett PR. I also write for several Memphis publications including Memphis Parent, Edible Memphis and High Ground News. And on occasion I do make a few bucks from playing music.
Tell us a bit about what you do musically.
I do it all really. I’m kind of a jack of all trades with a decent knack for writing good melodies, lyrics and hooks. I started playing drums and was quickly drawn to the songwriting process. I picked up guitar in college and then slowly started fooling with everything else, i.e., piano, keys, harmonica, etc.
As far as bands go, I play in quite a few including Snowglobe, Restless Townies, Me & Leah, San Salida, Johnny & the Seagulls and Great Lakes. Not to mention my own solo band simply called Jeff Hulett.
"Adrenaline" by Jeff, for the band Me & Leah:
How did you first get into music and was there a specific moment when you realized that it might be a calling for you?
Calling might be a strong word, but I do remember seeing my friend Davis Hawk playing drums at the old Antenna Club in Memphis. I was hooked at that moment and bought my first drum kit that winter. I almost didn’t even go to that show. Connection to people and building a song together is what I love most. There’s nothing like it.
You’re a very, very busy man. You run your own P.R. company. You and your wife have two amazingly energetic young daughters. And yet you also managed to write and record multiple full-length albums and EPs over the past two years. How do you recharge your batteries so that you’re able to be there for your family, your job, and your own projects?
I’m like my phone, I’m always charging, baby! In all seriousness, I recharge through exercise – soccer, biking, and swimming, and just vegging out when I can. Writing a song is always energy producing too.
What does creativity feel like? How would you describe that initial spark of inspiration?
For me, there’s a moment when something I’m tinkering with becomes something more. Something happens in my gut and then I’m off to the races. The other day, I wrote a song in like ten minutes and had the basic tracks recorded in like two hours. I was on fire. Those moments are pretty rare, but pretty special.
"Inhabitants" by Jeff Hulett, for the band Restless Townies:
On a day-in-day-out basis, how important is it for you to feel “inspired”? Or, another way to put this: After a long day at work, when you pick up your guitar to write a new song, how do you stay creative and not fall into a rut?
Just got to stay at it. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t force it. Try again later. Listening to music can be inspiring, watching my kids play can be inspiring. Hearing a great story can be inspiring. Inspiration is all around us.
"Scene by Scene," a song Jeff wrote for his daughters:
Do you believe passion/motivation/inspiration can be manufactured? If so, how do you do it? And, if not, where do you think it comes from?
Like yoga or any practice like that, there’s a process to get you from point A to point B so I’m sure it can. However, that’s not how it works for me typically.
Between having a busy family and building your own business, I’m sure everyday life can sometimes get exhausting, and yet somehow you always seem to be writing new songs, recording, playing in bands. This is something about you that we find very inspiring: You never seem to let your physical or mental energy be a block to your creative energy. Where do you think that comes from, that ability to keep pushing creatively in spite of all the (completely justifiable) excuses one might give for not doing it?
It’s hard for me to sit still, so harnessing my energy through music – writing and playing – keeps me grounded and positive. It really fills my cup to have many irons in the fire. And when it becomes too much I’m always good at doing inventory and finding the things that aren’t bringing me joy and removing them. Sometimes I’m not good at this too. Haha.
"High Road" by Jeff w/ Jacob Church:
There are lots of us who struggle to maintain the enthusiasm for the work or projects that we love, even if we feel a calling to pursue them. For those of us who aren’t yet at your level, what advice would you give for those dark days when we feel like we’ve run out of motivation?
Keep going. Change of scenery and travel is always helpful. Get a different perspective. Talk about it with someone. Be vulnerable – don’t just quit and say “forget it” – that’s easy. Fight through it. There are innumerable resources and tips to support you too. And lastly, just do something even if it's taking out the trash or making the bed.
And, finally, how do you take your coffee?
We asked Jeff what songs he's been listening to lately get inspired. Check out his Guest DJ playlist on Spotify. Like him, it's full of surprises and just can't hide a deep love of Memphis music.
And for more of Jeff’s recent work:
We’re always on the lookout for more artists, creatives, entrepreneurs, and everyday heroes to interview for our Inspiration Fuel series. If someone you know is pursuing their life’s calling in a way that inspires you, tell us about them by emailing: email@example.com.