Despite what’s implied on “Headmasters of Mine,” from his self-titled 1992 debut, Jeffrey Gaines didn’t go to prep school. But he does live in Haverford, not far from the esteemed all-boys institution of the same name. Gaines actually grew up near Hershey, finding his way to Philadelphia just as his career as a singer/songwriter began to take off. Since then, Gaines has done the major-label dance and performed all over the world. His travels included a 2010 tour with new-wave luminary Joe Jackson, from which the songs on his latest release, Live in Europe, are culled. MLT recently chatted with Gaines over coffee at Newtown Square’s Burlap and Bean, where his acoustic shows have been known to draw a crowd.
MLT: Are you as enamored with your first album as many of your fans are?
JG: The lyrics to every song on that record begin with “I” or “me.” That much morbid self-attention does not, in my estimation, make a great record. It wasn’t a winning formula. If it was, I would’ve done it over again.
MLT: Any career highlights you care to mention?
JG: My first tour was with Tom Petty in Europe. I moved to Philadelphia in 1989, got signed in 1990, and I’m over there playing for 12,000 people—solo.
MLT: Has stage fright ever been an issue?
JG: No. Only stage frustration. There’s nothing to fear when I know what I’m doing is right—and singing is something I trust and can fall back on.
MLT: When did you first start playing in front of an audience?
JG: In ninth grade—singing the Ramones.
MLT: Were you a good student?
JG: I was a public school kid—only there because the truant officer would insist. I had an art teacher who really tried to get me to take my visual art to college. The girl I was in love with at time was at art school in downtown Philadelphia, but I came there to make music.
MLT: What did your dad do?
JG: He installed carpeting—commercial and residential. He was the one who, indirectly, got me wanting this marquee stuff. He had his name on the van and the business cards and the invoices. He passed away from cancer in 1988, and I just didn’t get it at the time. I was a rebellious kid—we were both in love with my mother. I was jealous.
MLT: How did you wind up in Haverford?
JG: I’ve been out in the ’burbs since ’97. There was a girl I was seeing who lived on the Main Line, so I was always over here anyhow. I’m not the humblest guy in the music business by choice. I would prefer to be an arrogant rock star getting off my Lear jet. But there are aspirations of mine that are out of my reach. Once I faced that, I didn’t give a damn where I lived.
MLT: Didn’t you also live in New York City for a while?
JG: Yeah, after 9/11. I was doing some work for TV commercials. They didn’t really care for my particular inflection, though. They’d say, “Could you take the sexy out?” I had to get out of there. It was driving me nuts.
For upcoming shows and other information, visit jeffreygaines.com.