Empathy is often described as the ability to "put oneself in another's shoes". If the shoes belonged to Jon Troast, they would be red. The 28 year old folk rock artist from Wisconsin wears a trusty pair of red Reeboks whenever he performs. Literally putting on someone else's shoes might not make a big difference, but metaphorically speaking, it could have a profound impact. That's called empathy. "I think empathy is one of the greatest attributes of a songwriter," Jon says. "If my goal with music is to connect with people, then knowing where they're coming from makes the distance between us a lot shorter. Of course, you've also got to know what it's like to be in your own shoes, and be willing to reveal that too." So what is it like to be in Jon's shoes...? "Well, I grew up in a family of nine with four adopted siblings. My dad was an optician (he sold eyeglasses), and my mom had a few different jobs depending on schedules and such. Coming from such a big, diverse family definitely helped me see things from a lot of different perspectives". When did the interest in music begin? "I guess I've always been a bit of a songwriter. Just about any phrase of conversation can come out of my mouth attached to a melody. Many times I don't even realize I'm doing it. "As far as formal training, I started taking piano lessons from my grandma when I was four or five. I did ok, but the passion didn't really kick in then. I guess it was probably too structured for me at the time or something. "When I was sixteen, I borrowed my brother's guitar a few times and I got hooked. I spent hours in my bedroom in the basement, learning songs from the radio and writing some pretty basic lyrics. I had a pretty limited amount of experience then, especially because I was so shy. I didn't have a lot of connections to draw from. Thankfully, playing music has helped me get over a lot of that." When did you realize you wanted to do music full time? "Like a lot of kids, I dreamed of being a rock star. Of course, I dreamed about a lot of things that weren't necessarily within the realm of possibility. But as I got more and more involved in music, I realized there was potential to do it full time. I tried it, and didn't die of starvation, so I figured I could keep doing it." What would you do if you weren't a musician? "Well, I would like to do as many jobs as possible, staying at each for a couple weeks. Where would that get me? Probably nowhere, but the life experience would be invaluable. Before I committed to this music thing, I hopped around a bit as a garbage man, substitute teacher, airport valet, window washer and a few other things. You learn so much about people and their lifestyles by working with them." What's next? "I'm real excited about the recent release of my sixth project, Second Story. It's my first major release. I recorded it with producer Mitch Dane (Jars of Clay, Bebo Norman). I hope to hit the road and do quite a bit of touring, as well as getting some internet marketing and distribution going. Where will it lead? I don't quite know. I'll just keep putting one red shoe in front of the other until I find out."
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