How did you come to fix on the Fleur-de-lis as moniker / title for your new release? It seemed to same itself at the last-minute of the last recording, which is atypical from my previous works. Last autumn, I had a couple of songs that I had recently recorded before I came to California for a respite from the Chicago winters: Vale of Tears, and 45. I played them for an old friend, Peter Bowers, who has been in the music and film world for decades and, in my opinion, is someone with a unique perspective and proven good taste. After listening to them while we were winding through the serpentine roads near Topanga, he was clearly excited and asked if I had more new songs; I said yes, but they’re in a crude state. He tacitly gave me the go ahead and I proceeded to play for him: Rock Fight, and minor. Being a musician himself, and no stranger to hearing potential in a demo recording, he promptly suggested I finish the work for, at the very least, posterity (and for whatever opportunities that may bring). It was just the encouragement I needed to set up a barebones recording outpost in his garage/office in the beautiful canyons nestled betwixt the Santa Monica mountains, Los Angeles, and the Pacific Ocean. I’m not sure at which point the idea developed to add an additional track, but I half-heartedly presented my least favorite and hardly developed of the bunch: Fluer-de-lis, for which the title lyric had yet to be written. I acquiesced in its procession but as the spirit moved me, and I reconnected to the moments of its inception, those words just came through: “Fluer-de-lis” – like they were always supposed to be. Ureka! The song finished itself. The counterpoint in the last verse was the very last thing recorded and almost has a feel of a reprise-medley trope at the end of an epic film from the late sixties. When I listened back to it, I felt that it was divinely gifted; I had just participated in its revelation as the title of this work.
How did you choose “Life On The Run” to be your first iTunes single? I chose to release Life on the Run as my first iTunes single because I think it is a good representation of who I really am as an artist. As the first thing I’m really putting out into the world, “Life on the Run” is kind of saying I’m going to be myself, and march to my “own beat of the drum.” I think it is an inspiring song to people who want to strive for a dream and don’t know if they can do it. I think you can do anything you want to do if you work hard enough.
You are in a unique position releasing material at such a young age: do you ever worry that you may look back later in your career and go ‘OH NO!!”? I don’t think that releasing material at such a young age (my 19th birthday to be exact) would make me look back and worry. It’s all a learning process and you have to learn who your audience is and feel for what they like and don’t like and work from there. If I never put my songs out into the world, how would I know if people would fall for them? I also think an audience likes to see an artist evolve over time and I plan to continue to grow.
How do songs take shape for you typically ? For me, my songwriting varies from song to song- sometimes I am driving on the highway and have to pull over because I get this one phrase stuck in my head and I have to scribble it on my coffee cup before it goes away. Other times I sit down and start playing different chord progressions on my piano and guitar with varying rhythm, and once it sounds right to me I start humming along until I find a suiting melody, and the words just kind of flow from there. Each song is such a different experience- with some it takes an hour to write the root of the song while with others I could spend 6 months on it just to find the right words.
What’s the bigger high for you: writing, recording or playing live? Wow that’s such a hard choice! Can I say all three? They are all so different it’s difficult to compare. Writing is something that has been a huge part of growing up for me. I write down the experiences that I’ve had or are new to me, then I compare them to ones I haven’t yet had a chance to experience. But recording is also amazing because it’s like I’m taking all of these ideas that are kind of jumbled up in my head, and they’re put into real solid music. I really get in such a deep zone when I’m recording that I can’t explain. Sometimes I forget what I’m doing and that other people are there listening while I sing into the mic. And lastly, performing is such an amazing experience. The second I step on stage it’s like I feel this connection with the audience that they understand me. It’s like we’re all one, and as I sing about the adversity I’ve faced, as many others have, I’m singing for them, not me. I want to tell them it will all be ok, empowering my audience as well as myself.
What do you want your audience to see or feel when you are in front of them? When I’m in front of my audience, I want them to feel welcome. There are so many opportunities for people to feel excluded or doubt themselves. But when I’m in front of people I want them to feel like it’s ok to be themselves, and feel empowered.
If you could open for any artist or band on a spill of east coast dates this summer, who would it be? There are so many artists that I aspire to open for. Of course Taylor Swift comes to mind, as such a dynamic player in the music industry. She flawlessly switched from Country to Pop, a task no artist has surmounted with such supportive fans. I also would love to open for Christina Perri – her song “Jar of Hearts” was one of the first songs that I ever performed live and it really inspired me to write down-to-earth, relatable music. Sara Bareilles is also an amazing headliner – she is an artist I emulate and aspire to be like with her words of empowerment without a hint of cliche. Of course I would also be thrilled to open for bands with whom I am connected, such as Waiting for Henry, a group of great guys who have been supporting my hard work from the beginning.
How did you pick up guitar and what advice do you give to others who want to learn how to play? I taught myself to play some simple chords on the piano which is how I started songwriting. After a while I really wanted to play guitar too so I started looking up how to play chords on google images! This really jump-started my ability to write songs, before I started taking lessons. My advice for someone learning to play guitar is to look up chords if you don’t want to pay for lessons, and keep repeating them until your fingers bleed. After a week or so you will stop hurting and your fingers will just remember where to be placed. From there, you can start writing songs! And for piano, you just need to learn the basic triad structure and go from there!
What were the first few albums you ever bought and what do you think of them today? The first few albums I ever bought were from my parents, which definitely had a huge impact on my choice of music. As a young child I would listen to Dave Matthews and Coldplay in the car, so it really made me appreciate the deep music where the words had so much meaning and the instrumentation that was so captivating and complex. The upbeat party music was always fun too but that never really affected me the way that songs like “Yellow” by Coldplay did. U2’s “Beautiful Day” was a perfect song when I needed to appreciate the little things in life or get motivated.
What’s your favorite song of all-time? I would probably say “Fix You” by Coldplay – It was the song I resorted to throughout high school and it brought so many different emotions each time I listened to it. “Fix You” has this certain indescribable power to heal and unite people.
If you could have an alter ego performing in an alternate universe, what might she sound and look like? If I were given the chance to be someone else, I would still choose to be me. There are billions of other people in the world but only one me, so if I’m not me then who am I? ~ LisaHeller.com
You started as a youngster busking on the streets of Chicago: is there a telling memory that still informs you today? I just wrote a song that’s on my new CD called “When The Fat Lady Sings” about following ones heart and dream. There is this line: “dudes in 3 piece suits telling me they wished they was me cause I was following my heart and living my dream”. That’s a true story. That and playing the mostly southbound Black el stops and having it feel like Baptist church. I learned to sing Black music from Black Folks singing with me and playing Electric Blues every weekend in the summer with my band on State street in downtown chicago and the huge crowds! That spark and immediacy are rare and profound!!!
What is your favorite new Nicholas Baron song and why? “When the fat lady sings” is my new “I’m not superman” which is the song I’m known for. It’s a true story. I found a way to be honest and poetic at the same time. It’s got a direct feel from Van Morrisons “Domino” and Rickie Lee jones “Chuck E’s in love”. It finally expresses my truth and is like a quick bio. I love language and beat poetry and this has that feel.
How do songs manifest themselves to you? They happen either effortlessly like they were waiting for me to catch them like butterflies or intellectual endeavors where the words are like math and science. It happens all possible ways. Words or chorus first or music first or just chords.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to the recording? All my records have been somewhat different. I like it to be organic and sound and feel live but have a sheen to it as well. I have to have a relaxed and honest environment.
What was the first real concert you ever attended and what impression did it have on you? I heard Jimmy cliff when I was 10 with my hippie parents at an outdoor concert. I remember the sky and the feel of it being live and soulful and folks dancing up a storm.
What is your approach to playing live and what is your vibe pre-show? It has recently changed and evolved . I am working on total relaxation and letting the audience come to me. I’ve been trying not to be big the whole time or loud. I’m going for a range of emotions and dynamics even in one song. I have the ability to be mellow and soft and then rise up like Otis Redding or James Brown. I warm up a bit vocally but mostly everything’s changed because I’m relaxing my mind and body when I play. It’s magic!
What’s the best live performance you have seen by a Chicago artist? My dear friend Wes John is insanely great and has great songs and his band destroys!
Out of nowhere the Empress of the Universe beams you on board her ship and demands you write a song for her on the spot — any ideas? All my songs are about the same things disguised as different characters. Love in all its forms, integration, and working through suffering to find resolution. World peace through the microcosm which is self love. Relax yourself before you tax yourself. – Nicholas Barron
You have probably played more gigs in the last decade than anyone in Chicago: is that why your known as ‘Madman’? The nickname Madman comes from my days in the Record Biz when cohorts liked to call me that instead of my last name, Madden. Now I have to live up to it.
You have worn a number of hats in the music business, what’s the state of the union? I’ve gone back to my roots, playing live music. Folks don’t support recorded music like they used to or should.
If you could reset and meddle with history, what rock era would go by the way-side? Is there a Rock Era today?
What was the first concert you ever attended and what impression did it have on you? Badfinger played @ my high school field house. It was also the first time I saw people smoke the kind bud.
How do you feel deep down about smashing guitars and the like? I did that twice in school but felt bad because that is somebody’s livelihood and sometimes a piece of art.
What are you listening to at home circa 2015? Davie Allen & the Arrows, “Blues Theme”(60’s biker music)
If you could tour with any artist in a time machine who would it be? Cream: they taught me how to jam and to sound full for a 3 piece.
What are your favorite 3 albums of all-time? More of the Monkees, Sgt. Peppers, Wheels of Fire.
What’s the best live performance you have seen by a Chicago artist or band? Heavy Manners ….
Jesus appears in front of you and graciously asks for a custom 5 song set, in what do you play him? “Porpoise Song” (The Monkees), “A F Wittek” (Madman), “Talk Talk” (Talk Talk), “Well Allright” (Buddy Holly), “I Need You” (Fab Four).
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to the recording? Philosophy is a strong word for it, but we definitely strive to maintain our personality in the recording process. It can be very easy to make decisions in the recording process that trim away character in the pursuit of perfection.
Do you still believe in the concept of an album or is it all about the single mp3? I believe in the album. I love albums. If songs are telling a story or expiring a feeling then it has to be true that the artist has more than one take on the same idea they want to present. On the other hand…if you’ve got a great single there’s nothing wrong with letting it stand alone.
How does the songwriting process work for you? I like routine. Days in a row of uninterrupted time so when the ideas start coming then you can use them right in the moment. I read an interview with Neil Young where he says that’s the only way to do it. If you store ideas for later you can forget why you had them in the first place.
Are there any triggers in your life that cause you to sit down and write something, or does it just happen? It feels like they just happen, but I’m sure that’s because something has been stewing for a while.
What was the first real concert you ever attended and what impression did it have on you? I can’t say for sure what the first one was…might have been George Winston. I saw Jackson Browne a couple of time solo and that was amazing. He played for hours taking on request after another.
What is your approach to playing live and what is your mind-set pre-show? Playing live is the pay-off so we try to enjoy it as much as we can. As and independent band it takes a lot of work to book and prep all aspects of a show. So it’s important to press the reset button and lose the stress before playing.
If you could tour with any artist as support who would it be and why? Paul Simon. I saw him perform with his band and I can only imagine how fun the dressing room jams must be.
Earth is to be destroyed by an asteroid — you been instructed to put one song (any song ever recorded in a time capsule to represent mother earth, what would it be? Well with that prompt wouldn’t it have to be Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”?
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What is your favorite personal single recording (or song) and what about it makes you happiest? My favourite single is “Womyn”. I love it because it is an empowering song for anyone, especially women; musically, it draws from some 70’s African Jazz, which I am crazy about.
Do you still believe in the concept of an album over the single? I believe in albums, yeah. The reason being that they are pretty acurate portraits of an artist and sort of logs their growth chronologically. I love making records. I don’t care what the internet says.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to recording? My philosophy when it comes to recording is; to capture a good vibe. A good vibe from myself, from the musicians and the engineer. I am super aware of the energy of spaces and so I have to feel the studio vibe is right; you can have a studio with $100,000,000 in gear and unless the energy is right, you won’t get a good recording.
How does the songwriting process work for you? Are there any triggers in your life that cause you to sit down and write something, or does it just happen? (The) Songwriting process for me is all about inspiration. You couldn’t pay me to sit down and write a song under pressure. Literally- my old label tried to do that with me in LA and it doesn’t work. I am so inspired by this amazing and flawed world. I tend to get song ideas when a) I am emotional b) I am walking/biking/on a bus c) I am travelling. Right now I am in India and am sooo inspired. Writing everyday!
What was the first real concert you ever attended and what impression did it have on you?The first real concert I attended was…Christina Aguilera/Justin Timberlake. Yeah, I know. Stripped was such a good album for 11 year old me. So empowering thematically.
What is your approach to playing live and what is your mindset pre-show? My approach to live performance is pretty dedicated. I take it seriously; in that…I am so serious about letting go and establishing a sense of release for myself and the audience. I am very playful and jokey on stage. I think that helps. My mind set pre-show is excitement and a bit of healthy nervousness. Mostly excitement.
If you could tour with any artist next year who would it be and why? If I could tour with any artist next year it would be…Sam Smith. I think we would blend well. I am in love with him and his music.
What are your favorite 3 albums of all-time? My three favourite albums of all time are:
Earth is to be destroyed by an asteroid — you been instructed to put one song (any song ever recorded by anyone) in a time capsule to represent mother earth, what might it be? The song I’d put in the time capsule as a gift to our cosmic neighbors would be… “Svefn-G-Englar” by Sigur Ros
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Guns N’ Roses. I was in grade school, and had a passing interest in music – just whatever my folks listened to or what was on the radio. Then my dad bought Use Your Illusion I (either trying to find “Knockn’ on Heaven’s Door”, or “November Rain”) and hated the rest of it. So I got a hold of it, and that was the beginning of the end. They swore!
Who were your heroes growing up?
Musically, it’s run the gamut over the years, from GnR (see above), to Bowie, Ginger Wildheart, Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators, Keith Richards & the Micks (Jagger and Taylor)… Michael Jackson and the Beach Boys when I was younger… I don’t know that they really count as heroes, but I sure as hell looked up to them (and still do).
Otherwise… Fuck, I don’t know. I was honestly a pretty apathetic kid for the most part. I don’t remember caring about or being inspired by anyone enough that I would call them a hero. I mean, soldiers and firefighters and whatnot fit the bill, but I can’t honestly say that I cared while I was growing up.
What was your first instrument?
The first instrument I learned to play was the piano (not counting kazoos or whatever), but I was just borrowing my folks’. The first instrument that was MINE, was a trumpet. Which was great, because when I got hassled by some older kids after band practice one sunny afternoon, I was able to smash them in the face with it and run off. Don’t know what happened to it… Might’ve been a rental actually? Next was a horrible blue (with black stripes?) Jackson guitar… sounded and played like crap, but man did I have fun with it. It got lost when my folks moved while I was in college, which I’m still pissed about.
What was your first rock concert and what was its impact on you?
Technically the Beach Boys when I was like 5, but I was just along for the ride with my folks. My first show with friends… Probably either Pantera, Alanis Morissette (I know), or Smashing Pumpkins/Garbage? I’m honestly not sure. And probably the biggest impact on me was Pumpkins/Garbage – because Garbage opened and put on a killer show, and the Pumpkins went on and were lifeless and boring, even though I liked them more. That firmly cemented the importance of “the show” rather than just playing.
Elementary/middle school… I think my first song was a catchy track titled “Field Trip to Hell.” It came naturally, but that doesn’t mean I was any good at it. I definitely have to work harder at it these days (for the most part – sometimes I get in the groove and it just spills out, which is really the best feeling this side of sex but I still don’t know if I’m any good at it.
How did you guys choose the songs for the debut EP?
‘Cause they kick ass. Why else? Honestly, while PLS was becoming 3 Parts Dead, there was a lot of bullshit going on for JC and myself (the PLS remnants). Once we started playing with Fitz and Ramon, we were all just having so much fun, and these songs sort of happened, and we were just so stoked on them that we put them out right away. I mean, we had been playing together for maybe 2 months when we went into the studio.
Any plans to release a full-length follow-up?
Definitely. We’ve been writing since we put out the EP, and are looking forward to showing everyone what we’ve been working on. We’ll get into the studio soon, but we’ve been keeping busy playing out around the country in the meantime. Fingers crossed for late spring/early summer.
Would you consider recording one cover to bring more attention to the band like VH did and, if so, what might be strong candidates for you guys to do?
I’d love to, but that’s definitely a secondary priority to writing our own tracks. We do some live covers, both obscure tracks and more popular ones. I guess if we were gonna do a cover for attention we’d have to pick some top 40 track that we all abhor. But I’d rather do something by the Wildhearts, or the Stones, or the Distillers, or… You know, something else that really speaks to me as a fan and we can just have fun playing. But that kinda defeats the “pop appeal” aspect of it. Maybe doing “Do You Love Me” (a la the Heartbreakers cover) would be a good middle ground.
As 3PD you’ve already shared the stage with a number of luminaries as a solid opener, what’s the secret?
We never thought we were a “local band”, and we never acted like one, and so those opportunities have always just kind of fallen into our laps. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we work our asses off to pursue them, write (we think) catchy tunes, and have managed to get a ton of support from some really amazing friends and fans that have helped push us to that next level.
If you could go out on tour with any band this year who would it be and why?
Haha, why, do you know someone looking for an opener? Seriously though, that’s a tough question to answer. As a fan, I’d love to hit the road with the Wildhearts, or the Supersuckers, or any of those bands that never seems to leave my cd player. As a professional musician, I’d probably want to hit the road with someone like Nickelback, or Hinder, that’s packing shows, to get in front of some new faces that would dig what we do but might not hear us otherwise.
I hear Motley Crue is doing a “farewell” tour, so maybe that’s the sweet spot in the middle… Nikki Sixx, if you’re reading this – give me a call if you need an opener!
Deep Purple – Machine Head
When did you start playing guitar and who is your main influence?
I have two guitar players that influenced me majorly: David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore. I started playing at age 14. First song, like many others of our kind, was Smoke On The Water but I then I went more into bluesier stuff like Eric Clapton, J.J. Cale and some singer/songwriters like Paul Simon and Tom Waits.
How did you and Sertab Erener hook up and was it musical to start?
We fell in love while we were making music together. She asked me to produce a demo to present to the great Arif Mardin. We cut 2 songs in about four days. And something happened during that time, I mean there was something before that but studio can be a very dangerous place for potential lovers :) After that we wrote many songs together some of them being big hits. I produced 4 albums for her and some singles, all in a state that I can’t really tell if it’s making love or making music.
One of my favorite things about Chicago Issue the sound; pulling in elements from different styles like rock, electronica, dance and blues.Also, I like the way we combined electronic elements with the played instruments. It’s usually not this seamless but I think we got it on this.
How did you two end up in Chicago? and what do you tell folks back home about the city?
We re-located to Chicago for a musical theater project that we’re composing for. It is a very long-term project so we thought we might as well move here. It’s a beautiful city. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and New York but I think Chicago takes you in more than the others. I believe Chicagoans are very warm, sincere, no b.s. and socially evolved people which makes this city the most livable place for me. We also have a home in Istanbul, which is also a great mega-city. They are both very very different though, which creates a diversity in my cultural soul.
How does the writing process work for you guys?
Do we fight? Of course! :) I think creativity is born out of clashing of differences rather than compliance of equals or the alike. In the end there is only one winner: The Song! If it’s good for the song and the music it does not matter whose idea it is really.
Do you guys perform live with a full band or just as duo?
We have been performing with a full band but now we are moving towards a trio format where two of us will be fronting and one more member controlling the sequences, keyboards and computers. I will also be playing some keyboards and some electronic stuff aside from guitars. Also musically I am more inclined towards the electronics domain because of the freedom it provides in sound. As a composer, there comes a time when the conventional sound and the playability of the known instruments is not enough to put out what’s in there in you. Synths and digital audio opens many doors to new creative ideas and inspirational ground.
You are known for taking musical left hand turns: is it important to your relationship as a couple for the music to evolve?
I think when individuals have the intention to change and evolve, they do with everything else around and related to them, be it the relationships or music. I and Sertab, we both have this intention to change and renew, constantly. Stability is good until it fulfills its use, then you have to know when and how to realize its time for change and which direction to take. It takes hours of meditation, thinking and observing. And of course there are these accidental blessings happening sometimes. All of a sudden you slip and make a mistake which puts you on a track that you’d never think of. That could also be a subconscious decision which you might be perceiving as a mistake, but this is a whole different subject to talk about :)
So few Americans know anything about your homeland, Turkey: is there anything you guys hope most to convey with your music n’ lyrics?
I believe if we plan and do this deliberately, the music will not come out sincere enough. We think our music has the codes in its DNA that belongs to our homeland and whatever we play, sing or compose it’s there. Honestly, when we listened to our EP all through after it was finished you know, objectively, we thought it was western music. This did not last too long because as soon as we’d hear our American friends commenting on it, we realized that it still sounded a little foreign, unique and different, which we believe, is a good thing. Lyrically, we want to maintain a subjective point of view which again would be of two individuals’ from Turkey. So in short, whoever listens to our music will be breathing in the molecules of our homeland, our life-stories, and like I said this is not we want to consciously implement into the songs. I see this as natural cultural evolution because we mix and renew with Chicagoan cultural codes as well.
Should Shakespeare be looking for royalties from you?
:)) The verse lyrics of Why Do You Love Me are based on some love quotes of W. Shakespeare, but they are sung from an opposite point of view. Sertab is singing them to the person who is saying those words. W. Shakespeare, I think he has a way of not using clichés but still making things sound familiar and with full intent. Having studied English literature an humanities in college and being into rock and roll, it’s not possible not to be influenced by the Bard himself and his work.
Do you recall the first records you bought or had as a kid? It was probably some Disney or childrens records back when I was like 2 years old, that’s my earliest memory. and the album covers. I used to get a big kick out of….I was big on cars & trains. So an album that had cars or trains on it I could spend hours just looking at the cover.
How has record sales going by & large over the last few years? They are there, they could be better, they could be worse but I see a lot more young people getting into music via records which is a good thing. They have an enthusiasm for ‘the records’. They’re more consumer friendly. You don’t need a magnifying glass to read the lyrics like you do for the lyrics from the booklets for the little CD’s.
So how long has Hip Cat Records been in business? We opened in November of 1987.
How did you come up with the name Hip Cat or is that all you? I had a cat who I nicknamed ‘hip cat’ but the name also comes from the Pink Floyd song named “Lucifer Sam” ….their original guitar player and songwriter Syd Barrett wrote they lyrics “be a hip cat, be a ship’s cat, somewhere, anywhere”. I was a big Pink Floyd fan so I just ran with the name ‘hip cat'; it just seemed a natural name for a store.
When did you move to the new location (3540 Lake Ave, Wilmette) and how is it going? Well we moved to this location in June of 2006 and its been a good, plus it’s nearer to where I live so the commute is a lot shorter.
Do you guys have a website or is it all word-of-mouth? No, it’s pretty much word of mouth or customers who have been coming here for a long time. I’m not computerized. I’m old school. Somebody did set up a website at some point but i don’t what happened with it (laughs).
I imagine you’ve had some interesting Chicago musicians walk through the door? Well we’ve had Ben Weasel come in before. He probably didn’t know I recognized him. When a known musician comes in I never acknowledge that I know who they are. I just treat them like some regular customers, I don’t give them any preferential treatment, they can just be a regular Joe looking through records. and they seem to like it that way.
What are the DMM stickers on some vinyl re-issues and what do we need to know about records today? DMM stands for ‘direct metal mastering’ and it actually encodes more information from the original recording so it’s going to sound better. The recordings done with 1/2 speed mastering make the biggest impact improving sound. Another ingredient for better sound is the deeper grooves in (some) records. So they might be advertising different vinyl weights like 180 gram heavy weight vinyl or 200 gram audio file vinyl but the real jist of it is the fact that the grooves are deeper. The industry has decided to hype the weight; They aren’t going to tell you on the sticker that it has deeper grooves, they are going to tell you it weighs more.
You’ve been doing this a long time and you’ve seen a lot of records come through and leave the door, who are the top 5 that still move records? Definitely Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and of course The Beatles. But we also do really well with Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. On the blues side it’s probably Muddy Waters and then Buddy Guy… he puts a new album out every year or so and they re-issue some of his older albums every now and then. He does great.
Well, the first actual “rock” record I ever heard was “Rock around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets. At age 12, I couldn’t verbalize why it was great. I just knew it made me feel glad to be alive! The next record I heard after that – and I was still living in Scotland at the time – was “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley. Then we moved to Canada and boom, it was rock ‘n roll all the time. Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Elvis. My parents, like most parents at the time, didn’t approve – they thought Lawrence Welk was the height of musical sophistication – but they weren’t too hard ass about it. But from then on, yeah, it was rock ‘n roll every moment I could get. Then, of course, Dylan and the Beatles changed not only my world but the world.
What was the first song you ever wrote and what do you think of it today?
Don’t remember the actual very first song I wrote but one of the early ones, right after the Beatles had first come out, was a Christmas parody I wrote called “God Rest Ye Hairy Gentleman”.
Did it ever make the light of day in another for form?
No, no way, but it was pretty funny!
Artists have so many different approaches to writing, what is your general philosophy?
Strive for excellence. That’s it. And do whatever it takes to achieve excellence. Trying to do that, even when I didn’t know what I was doing, is the only reason I can think of to explain the career I’ve enjoyed. Strive for excellence. No one buys average.
Great songs give people a certain feeling: is that one of your barometers in determining whether a track is ready to be recorded or is that reserved for the listener?
Learning to be a songwriter is learning to be a bridge builder. A good songwriter builds bridges of understanding between himself or herself and the audience. it might be emotional understanding, it might be intellectual understanding, but that’s the whole deal.
You have written with a whose who of international talents from Linda Rondstadt to Waylon Jennings to KISS: which collaboration, or collaborations, were the most challenging?
Well, the collaborations that turn out to be most “challenging” are generally those that, in the end, don’t work – and consequently, are ones that don’t produce work that lasts or you’ve even heard of. If you’re working with another writer, especially a writer who’s an established artist, every song you come up with has to get a thumbs-up from a lot of people before it makes the record; the artist, the record company, the producer, the promotion department and so on. Did I mention striving for excellence?
You offer personal song-writing coaching online @ AdamMitchellMusic.com: how does it work and do you end up sharing a writing credit if it’s really good?
Really, the best way to think of this is as one-on-one, song aid. Personal tuition. And no, since it would be a work for hire, I would not take part of the song. Anyone who’s interested should contact me at info@AdamMitchellmusic.com.
The industry has changed radically in the last two decades: do you think it is harder today for a songwriter to break in with major artists to get
I think in some respects it’s much harder to be a songwriter now because, unlike in previous times and even up until very recently, publishing companies very rarely now give a writer, particularly a new writer, a substantial enough draw – that is, advance against future royalties – to live on. In my own particular case, when I moved to Los Angeles, Warner Bros. was paying me to write songs for them and it was a paltry amount but I could get by. But by the end of my first year, so many artists had cut my songs that WB decided to renegotiate my contract and suddenly I was making about ten times what I had previously. I’m not sure you can do that now.
On the other hand, in many respects it’s much easier now. You can do great demo recordings at home, the Internet puts the whole world at your doorstep and I still believe that excellence prevails in spite of all difficulties. Everyone gets a break, sooner or later. The trick – the key thing – is to be ready when it happens. All the breaks in the world won’t help you if you’re not prepared.
Join me at SongCoachOnline.com. Great songs are at the heart of everything in music and I’ve helped many people improve dramatically in that respect. It’s what I love to do and you’ll get a lot of other information about recording, common career mistakes, great gear and so on. Remember, when you’re trying to get somewhere in music, it’s a competition, like anything else. And the most prepared – and those willing to work hardest – will win. It’s a cruel logic I know, but it’s true.
Jagger once famously sang “it’s the singer, not the song”, was he being ironic?
With all due respect to the His Majesty, the Prince of Darkness, I say “Bollocks!” The song is the most important thing by far in any performance. Look at it this way…You can have the greatest singer in the world singing a crap song and what do you then have? Zero. A well polished turd. Here’s an absolute, universal, once – and – forever, truth. If you don’t have a great song at the heart of what you’re doing…a hundred times nothin’ is still nothin’.
In a recent interview you said ACDC’s *Back In Black* would make it to your island playlist: would it have been even better with Bon Scott?
Not in my opinion. I think Brian Johnson is phenomenal. It’s very rare for a singer to do a great job replacing an original guy but I think Brian has done it. He and Bon are both incredibly good.
I can’t find 3! The first two I remember wanting to buy…but that my parents bought for me were vinyls: John Cougar Mellencamp (Hurt So Good), Joan Jet and the Blackhearts (I love Rock n roll) and on tape the first two I bought for myself were Michael Jackson (Thriller) and Men Without Hats (bought with my Brother) for the song Safety dance. Other tape (records) bought a little after that: Appetite for Destruction (Guns), Tesla, Bon Jovi, Ozzy, Def Leppard..
AND HOW DO YOU RANK THEM TODAY?
Classics! Really good songs still. I’m not the type of person who got “trapped” in the 80’s…but I have to admit that the quality of songs during that decade is phenomenal. We turned our backs to 80’s music in the late 90’s until recently. When we look at the top 40 from 1980 till 1989, we realize that a lot of those songs are still “up to date”. Especially the “New wave music” and the “Rock” music…but no so the Hair metal bands..
DID YOUR FASCINATION WITH MUSIC, LIKE SO MANY ARTISTS, BEGIN IN THE HOME WITH FAMILY?
Absolutely. MY father was an italian immigrant from Rome Italy. He came to Canada with a plethora of music styles as he was also a musician himself. The Beatles, Elvis, Southern American music, Italian classics etc, played continuously on our turn table but also “Live”. Parties at my house were legendary…My father was one of the best “entertainer” I’ve ever seen…
As he (my dad) fell in love with the french Canadian culture (The Quebec Culture), he also learned a lot of folk music form here. As you can imagine, mixing the Beatles, italian classics and french traditional folk would rock any party, in any country!
Those were fine days…. I started playing with him at the age of 12-13. Started with some back vocals and easy rythms. Things moved forward pretty fast though, as I was really passionate about it. By the age of 14-15, I was playing at parties (with my buddies trying to impress young girls!), camping trips etc…at the age of 17-18, I played my first “bar gig”
My father passed in 2002… We played hundreds of times together at our house or at relatives for Christmas, Easter, New Years, name it. Since he passed, I’ve never played a single note at a home party again. It was his kingdom…he did it so well.
WHEN DID YOU START ACTUALLY WRITING SONGS AND CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE WRITING PROCESS FOR YOU?
My first melodies (with bad lyrics) were written between the age of 15 and 18. Although I do not consider them as “songs”. My first real song was written in College at the age of 19. The song is called “Unexpected”. This song followed me for quite some time since it was kept on my first english album in 1999. It was written after a young hockey player, Travis Roy, at Boston University (I was also a player at UMass, Lowell), became quadriplegic during a hockey game. This accident really moved me.
After that song, it took me a few years to write again. As for song-writing itself, it always has something to do with emotions as far as I’m concerned… Self doubt, happiness, love, death, anxiety, substance abuse etc… are all topics I have sang about in my career.
It usually starts with what some of us here call “yaourt”. A melody with no real lyrics… It can, or almost sounds like real words but they aren’t. They are just there to guide you to an emotion that will end up leading you to real words. Once the melody starts to take form, then real words come naturally….
I wrote strictly with the acoustic guitar for 10 years… The first song I’ve ever written on the piano is a song about my dad called “Un monde sans mon père”. ( A world without my dad).
Today, I’d say that 60% of the songs I write begin with the piano, the other 40 is with the guitar. Same deal….Most of the time, melody, then lyrics. I have also done the opposite (lyrics first) since I write for others quite often. I love it…. Completely different dynamics, but challenging.
Writing is a full time job for me…and although I do it more with my “head” then with my “soul” lately, there is always a way to put “heart” and honesty into it… Obviously, i’ts different when the writing is for my own material….then soul comes first.
IF YOU WERE TO HAND A DISC TO MR. BIG IN AN ELEVATOR LIKE IN THE MOVIES WITH ONE TRACK OF YOURS ON IT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
It’s very difficult to answer…I’ll say: “The Choice Is Yours“. It’s a song I have not yet released…. but:the track pretty much sums up everything that I am as a human being, an artist, a singer song writer.
Very good… the most important show I’ve done in France was in a 13th century Castle in the French Alpes… What was really for about that experience is that 16 of my faithful fans from Canada made the trip to Europe with me ! They followed me on tour for 10 days and on the 10th day, we played a sold out concert in the Tallard Castle. On top of the 16 that made the trip, about another 15 french Canadian fans joined us on the last day to attend the Castle concert….. One word : Magical!
IT’S BEEN A FEW YEARS NOW SINCE YOUR LAST FULL LENGTH RELEASE, L’OPNION DES AUTRES, ANY PLANS FOR A NEW DISC?
The french canadian market (95% in the Province of Quebec) is pretty Small…..only 6 million people. In order to have a great quality of life, one has to find multiple ways to make a living. As far as I’m concerned, in the last couple of years, I have found ways to position myself (and my studio), in great position. Lately, I have been writing for other artist that are much more « commercial » and « popular » then me ! Interesting copy rights come along with that. Also, I have been hired to write « thème songs and « music » for many TV shows. Some of then are « daly » shows. Interesting copy rights and publishing rights come along with that as well.
As for my own material, It’s been too long LOL. Textbook story : Since my last full length CD « L’opinion des autres », I have lost a little bit of momentum. I’m now on my own with no record label, no manager and no bullshit. My last record deal experience was brutal. I’m excited about doing things slowly and on my own.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF FIRST AND FOREMOST TODAY: A PERFORMER, A SONG-WRITER, A SINGER OR A PRODUCER?
Probably the most “unanswerable” question ever! But let’s be honest here… I ain’t “the producer”, but I’m pretty good at it. I’m not a “singer”. I’m a singer–song-writer that can sing…but I’m not “the singer”! I think I’m a “performer” and a “song writer”….that produces music and sings his heart and soul out.
CANADA’S OBVIOUSLY HAD SOME GREAT ARTISTS OVER THE YEARS: WHAT’S THE CLUB SCENE LIKE IN QUEBEC FOR NEW MUSIC THESE DAYS AND ANY ARTISTS GRABBING YOUR EAR?
The club scene is very healthy for new upcoming bands. But unfortunately, it’s hard to make a living playing “clubs” with original material. That being said, Montreal is probably the best “stepping stone” in all of North America for “indie music”. I’ve been an “Arcade fire” fan for years… So cool to see them do so well.
Patrick Watson, Malajube (french), Karkwa (french), Stars etc….There are also other “main stream” bands or singers that do really well, and although it ain’t my type of music, it’s fun to be able to appreciate other’s talent and success (Celine Dion for example)
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A YOUNG ARTISTS RECORDING THEIR FIRST DISC?
Cliché stuff but so freakin true: Be yourself. Don’t let the “web”, “youtube”, “instant star’ bullshit syndrome get to you. IT DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN ARTIST AND IT WILL NOT GIVE YOU A CAREER OF ANY KIND. Write your own stuff cuz that’s how real careers are built. If you do not write your own stuff, then find the right songs for you.
Work. Dedicate yourself….Work…Never give up…. Cuz if this is really what you want to do, there will never be any other options anyways! You might as well work. Oh yeah…have fun along the way!
WHAT PITFALLS NEED AMERICAN BANDS BE AWARE OF WHEN VENTURING NORTH TO PLAY DATES IN CANADA (OR QUEBEC?)
No too many…. Be polite. Be open… Be respectful. Yes, a little cliché but…..Break the stereotype: Show us that you “understand” that although “America” is a great country, that you “ain’t” different then any of us or any body else for that matter. We love that especially in Quebec! We are a nation of our own…we speak French, we have a different culture, we have a different back ground, different traditions……Know a little bit about us (Canada or Quebec) before you head up here…it’ll show that you “care”. Do the same in Europe and anywhere else your music brings you! ~ Christiansbrocca.fr
I don’t remember ever deciding to play drums. I was always interested and drawn to the sound of them as far back as I can remember.
Who were your heroes growing up and do you still listen to them?
Tony William, Elivin Jones, Jack deJohnette –
Just to name a few – and yes I still listen to them
What was your first full kit?
My grandfather bought me a snare and bd at age 6 and every year added a drum – so I had a full set by the time I was 9 but it was a mutt of a set
Did the playing the drums come naturally to you or does one have to work hard at it to get to your level?
It came pretty naturally but when I work at it it pays huge dividends. There are periods in my career when I practice more than others and that always pays off.
What’s your kit of choice these days?
I endorse Yamahas – they are very consistent and good. I don’t use the same set up each time – especially in the studio – and enjoy changing the configuration to suit the music or just give myself a different perspective on things
What is the greatest drum track of all time?
Impossible to answer but anything by Tony Williams
I also love Mirolslav Vitous’ version of Freedom Jazz Dance – Jack de Johnette is the drummer
Steady work with great musicians and guests, high visibility, great hours – a dream job and life changer
Is it me, or is Dave even more into your musical guests these days than ever?
Dave is a very keen listener and appreciative of the music. He is very supportive of our band – which is great for us
You guys are also the house band for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, any favorite magic moments so far?
It’s always great playing with the originals. You see how good they are up close and why they were groundbreakers and have endured through the years
I love that first album and have worked with Ace and maintained our friendship over the years since then. It was great to be back in the studio with him again. It’s always good to see him. – ANTON FIG
It was a very long time ago (1965?) but I think the first song I played on drums was “Little Red Riding Hood”, by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs.
DRUMMER JOKES ASIDE, IT SEEMS THE BEST ARTISTS (AND PRODUCERS FOR THAT MATTER) CAN PLAY SOME DRUMS, OR IN FACT BEGAN ON THE DRUMS: HOW DID UNDERSTANDING RHYTHM HELP YOU AS A SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER?
There’s this presumed orthodoxy that everything begins with piano … learn to play piano and the rest will follow. That’s why so many kids are forced to take piano lessons. If it were up to me, I’d say “start with drums and the rest will follow”. Rhythm is the most basic musical building block.
I took piano lessons like every other kid of my generation — except the ones who took accordion lessons! — but it’s drums that taught me how to play music with feeling. Even now, when I play guitar, I play like a drummer.
WHAT WAS THE ALBUM THAT GOT YOU HOOKED ON ROCK & ROLL AS A KID?
I wasn’t aware of albums when I was a kid. It was all about singles, 45 RPM vinyl disks. The first ones I bought were “She Loves You” by The Beatles and “Glad All Over” by The Dave Clark Five.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE STAGE NAME ‘RODNEY HIGGS’ WHEN YOU WERE IN PRISM AND DOES HE, AS AN ALTER-EGO OF SORTS, EVER PAY VISITS TO YOUR MIND SET?
I live part-time in London … I have an apartment in Kensington. I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, that whole Victorian-era thing. Rodney Higgs sounded like a character from a Sherlock Holmes story.
DID BEING FROM CANADA MAKE IT HARDER TO BREAK INTO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AT LARGE OR DID YOU SEE IT AS AN ADVANTAGE?
I’ve always wondered if it made a difference. There were hundreds of bands in Los Angles, all of them within walking distance of the big label offices. Whether it was Devo from Akron or Nirvana from Seattle, I think there was some novelty attached to bands that were from somewhere other than LA. So yes, I think it helped to be from Vancouver.
IN YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH BRYAN ADAMS, HOW DID YOU GUYS WORK ON SONGS TYPICALLY? DID THE APPROACH CHANGE AT ALL OVER THE YEARS OR DID YOU HAVE A FORMULA TOGETHER?
No formula, but certainly a democratic approach to writing songs. There’s no ego … the best idea wins, no matter who came up with it. We both write melody and we both write lyrics. We can bounce lyrics and melodies back and forth until the best idea becomes apparent. Sometimes I’ll play guitar, sometimes bass, sometimes piano. It depends on the song. Bryan usually plays guitar when we write, although he’s actual a very good piano player.
An interviewer once asked Lennon to divulge the secret of the Beatles’ success. Lennon replied, “We were a really good band!”. And they were. Listen to their recording of “Kansas City”, which is straight from their Hamburg set-list. That’s four guys in a studio, singing and playing at the same time. No ProTools or overdubs, just a really good band taking their Hamburg club show into a recording studio. That’s where they got good, playing eight hour sets at the Top Ten Club and the Kaiserkeller. There’s no substitute for that kind of apprenticeship.
HOW DO YOU RATE RINGO AND WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OF HIS DRUM TRACKS IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE?
Ringo is one of the best rock drummers, ever. Bonham may have been heavier, and Stewart Copeland may have had more finesse, but you won’t find a more tasteful drummer than Ringo. Plus, he basically invented the drum fill as we know it.
My favorite Ringo tracks include “Lovely Rita”, “Carry That Weight”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Rain”. For that matter, he played great on everything. Never the same feel twice.
DO YOU STILL PLAY ‘SONG DOCTOR’ AND DO YOU MAKE HOUSE CALLS?
I don’t like the “song doctor” label. It sounds like all I do is fix other people’s songs, or contribute the last 10% to fine-tune the song for radio. I might have done that a few times over the years, but 99% of the time I start from scratch, sitting in a room with Bryan Adams or Steven Tyler, blank page, no clue where things are headed, and somehow you come up with a song. That’s a great feeling. That’s what I love about my job … creating something from nothing. – JIM VALLANCE
My very first guitar was given to me by my teacher, Father Duffacy at Saint Francis Cabrini. I was 13. It was a white Kingston and he also gave me an amplifier. I couldn’t believe it – my family could not afford to buy me one. What a wonderful, generous man. I loved that guitar. I polished it, slept with it… The best part about the guitar was that it was my very own.
ANY GUITARS YOU’VE HAD OVER THE YEARS THAT YOU WISH YOU STILL HAD NOW?
One guitar I wish I had now was a cherry red Gretch Country Gentleman. It was a reissue of 1967 Chet Adkins model. I lost it when my basement flooded in 1998. I was on the road, out of town at the time. It was completely ruined by the time home.
IN TERMS OF PLAIN OLD FEELING GOOD, DO YOU PREFER PLAYING GUITAR AT HOME ALONE, IN THE STUDIO OR LIVE ON STAGE?
For me there is nothing like performing live on stage. I feed off of the energy the audience puts out and I throw it right back to them.
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO MAKING NEW RECORDS? DOES THERE NEED TO BE A MUSICAL THEME FOR A GIVEN RELEASE OR DO YOU PREFER THE FREEDOM TO CHANGE IT UP THROUGHOUT?
When I started out I recorded for a label – my first 6 CD’s were done that way; the producer sets the approach and theme for a release. The music turned out great but financially it did not work well for me.
My most recent CD’s, Beyond the Burning Guitar (2010), Sweet Taste of Guitar (2011), and Taylor Made (2013) I composed, recorded and produced on my own. It gave me the freedom to record and present the music the way I want. It had been almost 10 years since my last CD so there was lots of discussion with my management about how to proceed. BTBG is all instrumental, 23 original songs plus my arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth (Melvin Meets Beethoven). The CD covers several styles of music including, jazz, latin, blues and classical. The idea was to feature my guitar playing. I love ALL kinds of music and I’ve been blessed with my talent. I’ve never had a guitar lesson, no one taught me how to play; I would just hear a song and could play it.
Throughout my career I constantly heard producers, music critics, other musicians say, “pick one style, just one, and stay with That”. I thought the idea was absurd and could get very boring. I did not want to limit myself.
Basically I created my own sound by combining elements from many areas of music and I think I have done it well. Once again with my latest release, Taylor Made (2013), the theme is exactly that. The title explains the music on the CD – All kinds of music is who I am.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WERE GOING TO PLAY GUITAR FOR A LIVING AND THERE WAS NO TURNING BACK?
Around age 11 or 12 I began performing on Maxwell Street in Chicago. I would play with my Uncle Floyd and his friends. I did not even have my own guitar so I would play my uncle’s Fender Mustang. When people started crowding around us and throwing money in the tip jar – I knew right then there was no turning back.
WHAT’S THE BEST BLUES GUITAR SHOWDOWN YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN OR WITNESSED LIVE ON STAGE?
I think this answer will surprise you – the late 1980’s – I believe 1987, George Benson and Earl Klugh at Carnegie Hall of all places. Fabulous blues by two exceptionally talented guitarists.
HOW DID THE HABIT OF TURNING YOUR AMP BACKWARDS ‘TO THE WALL’ COME ABOUT?
Good music and sound levels go hand in hand. Lots of people think the louder the music the better – not true! Inexperience with sound engineering can ruin a show. Sound levels of each band member need to blend. Whether it’s a 3 piece band or a symphony orchestra. When playing in a smaller club I often turn my amp to face backwards or away from the audience. I don’t want to shatter their eardrums.
My personal favorite guitar is my Ibanez SA200. I can play everything on this guitar – jazz, blues, rock. Now let me add that I modify ALL of my guitars, amps and pedals. If someone goes out and buys the same brand names of equipment they will not get the same sound that I do. Recently I’ve been beta testing ceramic wire for a company in Japan. Some day I hope to market my own line of guitars and equipment.
WHAT EARLY BLUES RECORDS HAD THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON YOU AS A YOUNGSTER AND DO YOU STILL LISTEN TO THEM TODAY?
Freddie King – Hide Away. Jimmy Reed Shuffle. These 2 are at the top of my list. Remember I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s – EVERYTHING was going on. Motown, James Brown, Hendrix, Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder. It was funk/soul, rock, jazz – an absolutely amazing time to be growing up and soaking in all this music especially for a young guitar player.
DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE BLUES TO PLAY THEM OR IS IT MORE A WAY OF LIFE THAN A STATE OF MIND?
When I think of guys who put blues on the map I would have to name Albert King, Pinetop, Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) and Willie Dixon as major forces. The blues is a “feeling”. Broken and in pain, sadness and misery. Unfortunately it WAS a way of life for these people. Many people have come to me to teach them to play the blues – I can teach them blues chords and blues licks but the real blues comes from deep within….MELVIN TAYLOR
When you think about the new disc Goodnight Stranger in general terms, what’s it about?
Hmmmmm, well that’s a pretty loaded question… or more so a loaded answer, lol. This was a really hard and personal record for me to write and even harder for me to listen to now. In a nutshell I would say that when I was writing these songs I was in a very dark and confusing place in my life. I felt I had lost a lot of my spirit, peace and the happiness. I sort of became this person that I didn’t know. When you listen to the record you hear a recurring theme in the lyrics of unfamiliarity and loss of one’s self… and so the title “Goodnight Stranger” is referring to me as the Stranger. I felt the title suited this chapter in my life…
How was it working with producer JP Bowersock?
From the moment I met JP I knew I wanted him to producer my record. Not only was he a pleasure to work with, but he’s energy really helped bring such an emotional record to life. He kept the vibes positive and made sure I was always happy and comfortable. I learned so much from him and Mark Dann (engineer) on the production side of things and in turn I feel like my ear is better because of them. They really kept me apart of the whole process, and let me, the artist, make all the final decisions in the studio. JP had a way of giving my songs the roots and character I wanted but at the same time keeping the sound “up to date” per say. When we talked about how we wanted the record to sound we decided that we wanted it to have an old school 70s vibe, with a modern Americana sound. I think we nailed it! JP and I were both thrilled with how it turned out.
How was your approach to the studio this time different than when you recorded your debut EP In My Shoes a couple years ago?
So this is the first record that I have funded myself. That being said, we were on a TIGHT budget lol! Everything was carefully planned out as to not waste any studio time because every minute costs. Believe it or not we got all the basic tracks recorded for this record in one twelve-hour day! It was crazy and stressful but we did it! JP had set up some rehearsals with the band prior to the recording session so we were prepared and super sharp for the recording. You could technically say this is a live album because all the basic tracks were played together as a band and mixed in a live room instead of each musician recording separately. That being said, we did have overdub sessions and of course I went in to do most of my vocals separately. One of the greatest things about this record is that I have a stellar band now that I have been playing with for the past two years and so we naturally vibe together which I think you can tell from the recordings. On my first EP, I didn’t even really know the musicians that played on the record and every track was recorded on a separate stem. It’s not to say one way is better than the other for the listener but from an artist point of view I definitely dig recording with my band that knows me and my songs.
What do you feel are the high points (or best moments) on new album?
Well lets talk about some songs first…I think everyone’s opinion is and will be different but for me I love the song “My Peace” That songs has some really raw and honest moments…I’m sure that’s not going to be my “hit” per say but I think that song best plays out my life during the writing of “Goodnight Stranger”. On a lighter note, “Blue Moon” is a solid track, and it’s kinda of a break from more of the moodier stuff on the record. Everyone seems to think that that song is going to be well received and as a band we all vibe really well together on that track! And finally, one of my favorite moments on this album is the slide guitar in “Muela West”. It’s the first thing you hear when you start the record and I think it’s interesting, strong and beautiful. It really captures your attention and makes you want to keep listening…
There were a couple of songs that I actually used the scratch vocals on. “My Peace” being one of them. But for the majority I came in separately from the band and tracked my vocals with just JP and Mark.
Who plays on the record and what do they bring to the personality of your band / music?
Neil Cavanagh, Billy Grant, Tony Oppenheimer and Neil Nunziato. I had been playing with these guys for a while prior to the recording and I have to say that their time and devotion to this project gave me the confidence to put thing this down. These guys were all so positive and talented and if it were not for them, these arrangements would not exist. They all pretty much had creative control over their own parts and I never really needed to worry about it “sounding good” because they are killer musicians. All of us were super honest, supportive and professional and that’s what makes a successful band.
Which tunes of the record are you playing live and which of them seems to go over best?
We have played most of them live at one time or another but the ones that seem to always be on the set lists are, Blue Moon, Never Really Tried, Between the Lines, Bag of Bones, Muela West and Riding the Wind. Blue Moon is always a favorite of the crowd.
Does your background in acting inform your live performance as a singer / musician?
Absolutely! I think my experience with acting gives me the confidence and personality to get on stage night after night and at least look like I know what I’m doing hahah:) Also, something that I learn in acting is how to be vulnerable which is really hard for humans to do in general. As a musician though you have to be because you are always trying to communicate and relate to your audience and if you can’t “let them in”…what’s the point?
Socially, how is New York city different from where you came from in California?
No where is like New York. New York is its own animal and I think about this all the time. My life socially here is an adventure everyday, filled with twist, turns and surprises, giving me more inspiration to write, experience, and love. I like to think that I have a “New YorK” family as well as my real one. The people that I know here have brought such joy and positive energy into my life and I think that’s because this city just has that effect on people. I’m not a world traveler so I can’t say that this is the only place in the world that has this effect on people but I find myself falling in love with my life here in new york more every day. Don’t get me wrong, I love my home and where I come from in Southern California but for me my environment is so important and this cities people, culture and life brings me experience every day…and that’s what people strive for…”the experience”.
In a strange twist of fate, you are hooked up to a lie detector by angry ASCAP agents …you are surprised when the question they ask you is simply “What are your three favorite albums of all-time?”.
Don’t make me do this!!! Well these are certainly not the best records of all time but it’s 3 of which I can’t live without…I had about 15 and then did eeny meeny miny moe and this is what I got….
Radiohead- The Bends, Joni Mitchell- Blue, Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker
When I was in the studio recording “In My Shoes” I was overwhelmed, being that it was the first time anyone had taken my songs and gave life to my music. I feel like the end result was more than I could have asked for at the time. I have a product I am proud of and I feel, for my first record, it did pretty well with fans on both the east coast and west. The feedback I get from people has been very positive. I do wish, however, we got to put more songs on it:)
2.0 – Did you have specific goals going in to the studio?
Really my only goal was to learn as much as I could. I was new to it…this was my first time in a major studio in NYC and I had no idea what to expect. Rich Pagano, who produced it, was a pleasure to work with and kind of guided me through the whole process. As I got more comfortable with him and the process I started coming in to my own. One thing that I was really picky about was my vocals sounding too “clean”; I really wanted there to be a lot of feeling behind the lyrics and I think that comes across when the vocals are “true”, without auto tuning, or effects, things like that.
3.0 You did a solo east coast tour this summer in support of the disc, how did it go and is it scary playing solo?
I was a bit nervous you could say lol. I didn’t have a band backing me up. I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be enough to portray the songs like the record cuz’ there is definitely a lot going on instrumentally. I thought the people that had heard the record but never seen me live might be disappointed but thankfully I was wrong. I had a great response and some fans even preferred me live, alone on an acoustic – that was a great feeling! I had a lot of support from fans on this tour and it made me a better, more confident musician. But, at the end of the day, I love having the energy of a band behind a song.
4.0 – Do you have a philosophy when it comes to performing live or anything you hope to get across to the audience?
Hmmmm, I don’t know if I would call it a philosophy…for me, I guess it’s about sharing myself with the audience. If I am connected to the song, if I am “in the moment” and really feeling what I’m saying, then I feel that comes across to the audience and they connect with me. So to do that I actually have to forget they are there while in a song and focus on what I’m singing. And then when a song is over I immediately try to re-engage the audience, so they know I am present there with them, and not in my own la la land. lol.
5.0 – What songs (or artists) had the biggest impact on you as a kid?
As I kid I grew up on all the greatest… Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, etc. My parents were pretty hip you could say haha. Well, at least I thought so. Classic rock and folk music was huge in the family. The songs that told a vivid story, with a voice I could actually feel were my favorites. Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin were probably my top favorites growing up.
6.0 – What came first for you, singing or the guitar?
You probably won’t believe this but I started singing at 8, taking voice lesson regularly. My dad bought me a guitar when I was 13 and didn’t pick it up until I was 20! It’s terrible, I’m actually really pissed at myself for waiting so long to start playing. I could have actually been “good” at it? But all kidding aside, I’m so glad I at least picked it up finally. Changed my world as a songwriter and performer.
7.0 – What was the first song you ever wrote and what was the inspiration behind it?
The first song that I ever wrote using the guitar was, “Without You” when I was 20. My inspiration came from what every young girls goes through at one point; a broken heart. I had been playing about a month and knew like 4 chords. The song just sort of wrote itself. I actually love this song and I don’t have any professional recordings of it, but lately I have been thinking it might be kinda of cool to put it on my next record as a bonus acoustic track… Maybe
8.0 – How does the song writing process start for you, with a subject, a guitar line, a melody?
I could write for hours on this but as to not bore you I’ll try and sum it up. The process for me is pretty much always the same…First of all, I can only write when I am in the mood. It has to be totally organic. I used to try and set aside time for writing and that was a huge mistake, I only wrote bad songs and got frustrated with myself. I find music comes to me when I don’t force it. When I’m mentally ready to write something I just feel it. I’ll stop whatever it is I’m doing, lock myself in my room and write. It starts with the mood I’m in and one chord and everything else just falls into to place.
9.0 – What’s your favorite thing about the scene in New York City?
Oh god, what is there not to love about this city. This city has everything to offer someone and more. I can’t just pick one thing. The culture, the creative artists, the food, the seasons… I really could go on about this. So, the best thing I would say, is the opportunity.
10.0 – What ‘guilty pleasures’ might one be surprised to find on your deserted island playlist?
HAHAHAH…Well this is funny. Snoop Dogg :)
How did Esquela come together?
John ‘Chico’ Finn and Keith Christopher have a long history together. And so, when John wanted to start his own band, it only made sense for Keith to be his partner in crime. While recording Esquela’s first album, “The Owl Has Landed”, I was invited to do some backing vocals. Soon thereafter, Chico asked me to take over lead vocals. Todd Russell, a friend of Chico’s from high school, was a perfect fit on drums for the evolving band. Chico asked me if I would be interested in playing mandolin, which would have tricky since I have never played this instrument. But, my friend Matt had. So, enter Matt Woodin. At some point it was evident that we would need a fill in guitar player, since Keith was busy with other projects. Enter Ira McIntosh and Brian Shafer. Early on we had some other players from the city, who were great guys, but it just worked out better for it to be upstaters.
How does the song writing process work for you guys?
Chico gets inspired by either a funny story from a friend, an article he’s read, or a documentary he has seen, and of course life experience and puts a pen to paper. Sometimes, with the help of Keith, he records a rough draft and sends it my way. I usually stick to the melody he had in mind, but I get to play around with it a little. Later the band gets together and fleshes it out.
Esquela has a late 60’s vibe, what’s Esquela about to you?
Does it have a 60’s vibe? That’s cool. Esquela is about getting together and being free to create in whatever way we see fit for each song, and have a good time doing it. Maybe that’s how they did it in the 60’s too.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to singing and what do you hope to put across personally?
I guess I just want to do justice to the songs. And try to convey the feel as best I can. I wouldn’t say I have a philosophy, I just love to sing.
I can’t really say anything about the Owl. I just showed up at the studio in Oneonta and laid down the vocals and the rest was up to the fellas. But with are we rolling it was awesome to work with Eric in a more intimate way. He took more of a directive role. He’s smart and kind of sneaky. hahaha. example: Eric knows that I like to belt out songs, which can be a good thing, but sometimes it’s a little much. so for take one he would tell me to give it all I got (just like I like to). then for take two he would ask me to take it easier and softer, which was a little challenging for me because that’s not how I usually “attack” a song. I think we ended up using more of the second takes. They sounded better. He was right. But, he was cool about being right. It was a good learning experience for me. Also, we have a lot of guitar players in the band. Brian, Ira, sometimes Matt…..so I think Eric helped sort out the chaos of who would do what when. Honestly, while they were doing their thing I was bullshitting with Chico and Todd, so who knows what REALLY went down.
What was the first record you ever bought and what’s your favorite thing about it today?
The first album I bought was the Body Guard Soundtrack. I mean, Whitney? come on! she is (was) incredible. her voice can move you in a way that no one else’s can. simply beautiful and strong.
Who are your musical heroes?
Chico. he just goes for it. I wish I has his courage when it comes to sharing his work. you want a famous hero? too bad. I stick with my decision.
When did you realize you could actually sing?
Hmmm…when I was in grade school, my friend had a recorder and we sat on my living room floor and sang “This Used To Be My Playground” by Madonna, which is funny because we were soooo young but we were sooo dramatic about it. then we started our make believe band and would use picnic tables as our stage. I guess the dream was there early. but I guess high school was when I found that I actually had some talent for real.
Was there someone early in your life that encouraged you?
I don’t know if encouraged is the right word. influenced works better for me. My father played the piano every night while I was falling asleep, all the women in my family sing, my sister showed me the awesomeness that is classic rock, and also looked the other way when I stole her SWV and En Vogue tapes. My mom would tolerate me playing her Beatles albums over and over…and over again. I had a wonderful teacher in high school who called me ‘songbird’. that’s encouraging….
It’s said singers get better with time; how do you separate the best from the rest?
I’m not sure if i agree with that totally. i mean, refining your skills, takes work and time, and yes, you get better at it the more comfortable you are with what you are doing. but, when you are starting your musical journey there is so much enthusiasm, and hope, and drive, and passion. and those things can kind of fade. i think what separates the”best” from the rest, are those who can hold onto the passion that they had at the beginning.
What earlier Mr. Henry record has the most in common with your new project Waiting For Henry, Ghosts & Compromise?
Man, I hope it’s not a cop out to pick two… but I think Ghosts falls somewhere between the first couple of Mr. Henry albums. It has the grit and new-band-energy of As Good as the Ground, but I feel like it also has the song strength of Jackhammer.
You took a brief-to-longer-than-expected hiatus from playing live, recording and touring until now: does the material and lyrics on the disc tell any part of that story?
Yeah I did and yeah it does. Story’s in the title song… “Let’s raise a toast, to everybody’s ghost.” For me, so much of this album is about coming to terms with the reality that a lot my life is now to be looked back on. But it’s also about not being scared of the related ghosts – in my case, musical – that won’t disappear. Doing the ‘band-thing’ once more is really like a born-again experience. Like I had this phantom muse, packed into the closet with all the backup guitars and broken amps… and somehow it came back to life. Musicians are like wolfmen… once you’re bitten it’s in you.
Elevator pitch, in one sentence: what’s your favorite thing about how the disc it turned out?
I always feel like a it’s a success if I come up with a recording that sounds like something I would buy myself… and I think I’d buy this one. Or at least bootleg it.
Why did you record down in Freehold, NJ when you live so close to so many great studio’s in New York?
Definitely the food. They have awesome take-out Chinese in Freehold. No, actually it’s kind of a cool story… for me at least. We set out trying to work with Josh Jakubowski, who recorded the first Gaslight Anthem album “Sink or Swim”. It’s the best and best sounding punk album of the past decade. The tracks are beautiful, but bombastic. Kinda like The Replacements’ “Tim.” Anyway, our schedules couldn’t connect, but through the Josh search, we connected with one of his old partners in crime, Joe Dell’Aquila at Exeter Recording in Freehold. First off, we were blown away by Joe’s sounds and mixes on his website samples. We knew, even before seeing the studio that he was the guy. Went in sight unseen and Joe rocked it. Then, to ice the cake, we thought the whole ‘ghost’ thing of recording in the same town where Springsteen grew up, couldn’t hurt the vibe. And it didn’t. Was great.
Man, Hurricane Sandy …..what a nightmare. Jersey’s known for bad hair and really bad McMansions, but not hurricanes. And it wasn’t just Sandy, in the 18 months we were recording down by the Shore we also got hit with Irene. Thankfully, the studio – and our tracks – survived. My house just lost some roof, although I have friend whose roof lost its house!
Anyway, a coupla weeks ago, I was with a group doing volunteer clean up work in Lavallette, a town that got mauled, and came up with the idea of turning “Here Comes the Rain” into a video fundraiser. Working on that now. We’re gonna donate all the proceeds from related downloads of “Here Comes the Rain” to Restore the Shore related charities. Hope to have it up on the website this summer. There’s a lot of folks who still need help and will for a long time.
You have amassed a nice guitar and amp collection over the years, what did you play on the new record?
Yeah, a nice collection of beaters from the guitar shop on the Island of the Misfit Toys. Main electrics were a ’67 Epiphone Riviera 12-string, run as a six and an old Gibson SG Junior. They’re always my go-tos, gritty but super warm. Acoustic was a rebuilt Gibson dinosaur from the 50’s that I adopted from Texas. Sounds amazing. Ampwise, the main criminals were an ’82 JCM800, ’65 Fender Vibrolux, a Goodsell and a Samamp. The Marshall saw the most action, since we were trying to put a big Buffalo Tom guitar sound into an Americana setting. I think it worked.
Any rules you try to follow when writing a song or are they all ‘works in progress’?
Main rule is, when it comes grab it. Otherwise you’ll be haunted for years. Most of the songs on the album were one-shot deals. Something sparks at 11pm and by 3am there’s a song. Then there was Here Comes the Rain, which I started 15 years ago and never grabbed it. Took a recession and Hurricane Irene to reignite the muse and find the lyric on that one.
Is a return to the road or the drive to play events like SXSW again on your radar or ‘in the rear view’?
Would love to, but you’ll have to talk to my wife about that.
What is your fondest single memory from touring with Mr. Henry?
Too many to pick one. But up there would be opening for Iggy Pop at Birmingham, AL’s City Stages, playing with Counting Crows at the Beacon in NYC, our first SXSW and of course all those nights humping gear into a motel room at 4am. Then there was the day we couldn’t get out of the motel parking lot in Jackson, MS, cuz the innkeepers were cooking nan bread on the hot asphalt.
What’s the first record you ever bought and what’s the best cut on it?
Elton John’s Greatest Hits. Best cut, definitely “Border Song.” “Holy Moses, I have been removed.” It’s the song no one knows. Have no idea how it made it to his Greatest Hits album, but thank God it did.
What’s the best concert you ever attended and what strikes you most about it now?
There’s two. As a kid I got into see The Clash at one of the famous Bond’s Casino shows in NYC. One of the dates was an all-ages matinée. Me and my friend Dan pushed our way to the front and were getting crushed against the stage. The roadies pulled us up before we got killed, and rather than throwing us out, they left us onstage and we got to sing into the mic with Joe Strummer. Even have one of Joe’s broken guitar strings from that gig. Was magic. The other was The Replacements at the old Ritz in NYC in ’85. Was one of Bob Stinson’s last shows. I never heard them before that show, but my buddy got tix. Was totally awestruck. Left knowing I had just seen the greatest rock band ever.
What is your favorite moment on your last record Wrecking Ball at the Concert Hall?
That’s a tough one. The theme of that record is big sounding Americana tracks countered with heartfelt ballads. I think working on “God Fearin’ Man” was a blast, but there were some really tender moments too, especially on songs like “Sometime” and “Sorry Ain’t Enough”.
You’re taking a new approach to your latest release March of Tracks, it must be liberating in some ways and yet daunting in others?
Man, it’s a departure as far as the process of making a record goes. On the last album much of it was tracked live, with the same 5 people. Now I’m using a multitude of players, studios, engineers and gear, and it’s been incredible. I’ve been hand picking my favorite West Coast players for each song that plays to their individual strengths. Being able to focus 100% on one song at a time is so refreshing. There is the ever present and motivating factor of my own self-imposed deadlines (new song released 1st Tues. of every month) which can be a little stressful. But it’s also a response to the demand for single songs- don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of albums and will make more in the traditional way in the future, but this time I want to get my music out there in the most effective way, and have gotten a great response so far. What was daunting was the idea of starting work on a 12 song album that people wouldn’t be able to hear any of for 6 to 9 months. Ah the world of instant gratification!
How’s it going so far; do you already have the future tracks mapped in order?
Right now I do have a rough order, and am trying to be conscious of the tempo and style of each release. I want to be sure to mix it up and not, for example, release all the big up-tempo stuff up front so that all I’m left with is ballads. The other struggle is that any time I’m recording (and I think many artists would agree with this) I hit a creative stride with new material. So who knows, some of the stuff I’m writing right now could still make the record.
When you start writing a song, what comes first for you?
As a guitarist and sideman for years before I starting performing and touring as a lead singer/songwriter, that’s where things usually begin. I’ll find a progression that inspires me in some way, and 90% of the time the feel leads me to the subject matter. That being said, on occasion I do start with a theme and work from that side.
How do you know when a song is done and ready for recording?
That’s a great question, and something I think a lot of songwriters struggle with. As I’ve self-produced most my songs, I usually have a pretty good idea of when they’re ready to track. For songs that I send out to my players I try to give them a decent demo without getting to specific, because I like to allow people to approach their own parts creatively. But working with a producer is also a great way to finish that last 15% of a song, and something I hope to do more of.
I think there’s a ton of amazing music out there, and it never ceases to amaze me how often I discover new incredible bands who are miles from where I live. So from that standpoint it’s as prominent as ever. From the industry side that’s a different story, I think with the internet era, people are less drawn to genres now than they are to good (sometimes not so good), catchy songs. That’s why every 15 year-old has 1000 songs on their iPhone from 1000 different artists. The way we as artists make out living has also changed, with an emphasis on licensing and placements becoming a more the norm.
Is there anything left of San Francisco of the 60’s?
Yes, and they’re all still performing! Every band who had a hit in the 60’s is still doing it, and they’re drawing all the same folks that came to their shows way back when. The boomers are the demo that can consistently afford to go out and see shows. Overall here though there’s a great collective support system in place of local artists, not as dog-eat-dog as other markets I’ve seen. I think it’s a great place to live and to foster your creativity, but I don’t see much opportunity here. I can’t think of many bands who have gotten really huge coming out of SF since Counting Crows or Train.
What were the first 3 records you ever bought and how do they rank today?
I’m not sure if they were the first 3, but I remember getting vinyl of Bob Marley Live, Willie Nelson and The Eagles. All of which still measure up pretty strong compared to the music of the last 30 years
When did you start playing guitar and what was the first song you really got into to the point where you owned it?
I had a couple of false starts. At 7 or so I learned a couple chords, then again at 9 I picked it up again and went through a Bob Dylan songbook and learned “Don’t Think Twice”. I had a pretty good foundation when I kicked into higher gear at 12
By an amazing breakthrough in technology, you are to be awarded a role as a rock & roll deity with an expanded life span of 250 years (congrats) but, as a condition, you are forced to choose between electric or acoustic guitar from here on: would you be able to face the anguish?
That would be tough. I think I’d have to go with the acoustic, because that’s where 80% of the songs I write begin. Even the hardest hitting, slamming electric guitar driven tunes were usually started in my dining room on an acoustic. Also then if I’m still alive and kicking after the next major war or calamity, I won’t have to worry about finding a place to plug into in the post-apocalyptic hellscape! :)
I don’t think so. Maybe more now than the years previous. We started recording Tracks in 2010 and you could take one look at me and figure it out. Recovering hipster/pothead and you can bet the farm he started off in the suburbs. Is that what you’re asking? I have an aloof card that I can play pretty well, and I have, but lately I’ve been trying to shut that down; it’s boring. I don’t think anybody wants to be easy to pin down.
2.0 – It sounds as if Ancient History has, ironically or not, been a real organic evolution of sorts; how did it come together?
I met Jim Smith, Austin Lemeiux and Paul Johnson while managing a cafe off the Morgan L stop in Brooklyn. They were all regular customers. I got to know Jim because he recorded the final record of my previous band. He was also roommates with a friend of mine.
Paul lived in my building and we had been wanting to play together for a while. Once things got situated with Jim he was the first person I called and we worked out the first couple tunes in his living room.
I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but whatever, it’s funny, I asked a co-worker with which customer she would most like to copulate. She said, “The earl grey guy with all the tattoos that looks fucked up every morning.” That was Austin and I can’t imagine there being a better-suited lead guitarist for my songs than that guy. The next time he walked into the coffee shop I asked if he was a musician. He said that he was a guitar player and he listed Jeff Buckley as his first influence. We clicked immediately. The first song we cut was ‘She Gave You the Keys’ in a basement art gallery in Dumbo and it was just the four of us, Jim was behind the board. I believe we got it in about 3 takes and I remember us listening back and just being very pleased with what everybody was bringing to the table.
3.0 – Is understanding your sound as simple as the mix of your southern roots embracing the indie biosphere of Brooklyn?
I’m not convinced my roots are southern. I think, if anything, it’s the other way around. When I was in 4th grade I had a Garth Brooks tape and a Trisha Yearwood tape, but as soon as Nirvana showed up I was out. I’ve always appreciated a sturdy song and I’ve always respected country music for being such loyalists to songcraft, even at the expense of any significant experimentation, but I think for me it’s always been the songcraftier end of my indie influences embracing whatever genre has a documentary streaming on Netflix.
4.0 – How did you approach the recording process for Tracks?
I had recorded with Jim Smith on my last project and he approached me about wanting to record some songs without a full band. We put our heads together and decided to buy an old tape machine and record another record. We didn’t want a clock ticking over our head and we didn’t want to record in a sterile studio environment. That was it really. We were going for natural reverb and mic placement. We wanted to use tape and we wanted it to be warm and ambient. We didn’t want a band album. We made a rule that we couldn’t use a drum kit and we wanted to focus our energy on a song by song basis.
Jim found the machine he wanted and he drove it from Detroit to NYC and we just hacked away at it whenever we could. It took about two years. I can’t tell you how important Jim was to this record. He’s amazing at what he does and because of it he is very busy, so there were long stretches between sessions, months at a time, to prep the songs and figure out over-dubs.
Storytelling is something that comes very naturally to me. Anybody that knows me will tell you that I love a good story. As a musician I’ve sometimes felt that I should’ve spent more energy trying to repress the urge to over-indulge my personal experiences but still, love and heartbreak are not topics that I write about very often. On the three records before TRACKS there are probably only 4 or 5 songs between them that are about romantic relationships. When it came time to write for this record I just said, “Fuck it. Here’s all the shit I’ve been saving.” Not sure I’ll ever endorse such straight-ahead narrative ever again, not because I think the record suffered for it, but because nothing I have left to purge is anything that anyone wants to hear about. Regarding influences, I’ve always been drawn to the more subtle characters of Belle & Sebastian and Elliott Smith. I like songs that can capture ordinary moments and infuse them with something unordinary, but at the same time Pedro the Lion’s Control and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker are two desert island records for me. I don’t know, I have an undying admiration for Jeff Mangum and the words he writes. Lyrically speaking, I would like to adopt a more abstract state of mind going forward.
6.0 – What tunes on the disc are you digging most now that it’s done?
Hmm. I love four-leafed. It’s a song that had been brewing a very, very long time. My buddy PJ (Michael Poulton) played lead for the first half of the song. I recorded him in my bedroom in the middle of the night. I remember we were drunk and he was playing slide with a beer bottle. It’s one of the few songs that isn’t about a female. And it’s fun to play. Clover Honey is a sentimental favorite. I love Austin’s guitar on that one, when it hits the high note halfway through. He nailed it in one take. We were working on Subway Dream and I remember telling Jim that I didn’t want lead guitar on the song. He said ok, then Austin gave me some weed and I went to smoke in the hall. When I came back Jim and Austin had finished Austin’s guitar part: that warm, burning distortion that just rolls through the song until it spikes into the breakdown. Jim just smiled at me. It took them five minutes and it made the song.
7.0 – How do songs come to you: more as ideas or feelings that lead to ideas?
Lyrics are always last. Melody happens when it happens. The riff is always first, the progression, the picking pattern, whatever. The initial musical idea is what puts the key into the ignition. To turn the engine you’ve got to grab that change, that switch from verse to chorus or chorus to bridge or whatever. That’s what excites me. Great changes. When it comes to lyrics, I draw from the past, which is something I hate about myself. I wish I could lose the documentarian in me and endorse a sense of fiction, but I find it very difficult to separate myself from what I’m writing, especially if I’m gonna be asked to sing the words over and over again. I’m still trying though.
8.0 – What was your favorite 3 records in high school?
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. It is not a very culturally diverse place. If you were in your early teens in the late nineties in Phoenix you didn’t have a lot of access to underground music. Thankfully, there were a few people that knew how to find it and they ended up saving me my junior and senior year, but early high school was alot of Weezer. Pinkerton changed my life. Other than that my buddies and I listened to whatever radio hits we heard on the bus ride to school.
I was working as a prep cook in Scottsdale when I was 16 and one of the line cooks gave me Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West and Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity. It took me a while to absorb Modest Mouse but Jimmy Eat Word, being from Phoenix, was instant love. They were a favorite for sure. Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel were all bands that I listened to in high school but they didn’t really do their damage until I left home. I remember the line cook saying that he listened to ’emo’ music. That was in 1998 and I had never heard the word ’emo’ before. It sounded exotic! It opened my eyes and got me searching for music, as opposed to just buying whatever I heard on the radio.
So yeah, my favorites in high school were Weezer’s Pinkerton, Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity and probably the second Weakerthans LP. A buddy introduced me to Left and Leaving right when it dropped and for years it never left my side. My first week of college was 9/11 and I remember being in my car driving to community college when the first tower fell, and ‘Everything Must Go!’ was on the stereo. Since then ‘Left and Leaving’ has always reminded me of good ol’ high school and pre-9/11 America.
9.0 – What was the first concert you ever attended? did it leave any lasting impression on you today?
I wish I had scalped my tickets. My second concert was Rancid opening for Garbage and Smashing Pumpkins and I wish that was my first concert. My first show was important though.
Earlier I talked about my love for songs with good musical changes; the first concert I ever went to was Cheap Trick opening for Meatloaf at what used to be America West Arena in Phoenix. I’m not sure I’ve ever said this out loud, but I remember watching Cheap Trick play ‘The Flame’ and I remember the changes in that song blowing my mind. First when he breaks into the ‘i’m going crazy/losing sleep’ part, then the way it pounds into the ‘wherever you go’ part. I fucking loved it.
As you can probably guess, I’m a sucker for ballads. “The Flame” really got me, the way the parts worked together to form these really heavy moments. Those are the moments I look for in music. Those are the moments I want to create because those are the moments that can change the way a person feels.
10.0 – If you were Grammy level stars what you tour stage design look like?
Whoa. No clue. But pyrotechnics for sure.
It’s definitely a trick keeping it together. The biggest part is that the members all have to share a dream. That way no matter what you are up against, it’s still worth it. It’s still worth fighting for. It’s us against all comers. Getting along is easy because even if you are arguing or pissed or disappointed and blaming each other etc, that moment comes when you hit the note and have a great live show or write a new song and you’re all back in. That’s the payoff, the battery re-charger. As long as we are creating, we hit a re-do or reset many times a month.
2.0 – A big part of your success has been your shrewd booking acumen and relationships with promoters, how has the festival scene changed over the years?
Chicago is a easy hang. People here are very unpretentious including promoters (for the most part). So you don’t have to cow tow to them or “work” them, you can just be yourself and let it happen. We as a band are fairly organized so I think we had an advantage in that promoters knew early on that if we were headlining the gig, it would go off on time and with no glitches. The way the fest scene has changed is that it used to be a neighborhood contracted a promoter, gave them a budget and left it up to them. as a result you got great regional bands that weren’t the same at every fest. Now you have neighborhood committees all sitting in a room and all 7 people are starting their sentences with…”well i think we ought to……” So they all know off the same couple bands and that’s it. Better to have a promoter who knows hundreds of bands and chooses them according to the vibe the neighborhood wants. Also there was more nudity back in the day.
3.0 – What’s on tap for Blottopia 2013?
Blottopia has become a phenomenon and we ride it like a crazy bull that our hand is cinched to with a rope. It’s the most fun weekend of the year and it’s always a surprise in one way or another. We always encore Saturday night with a surprise album so that’s really fun to do. Look for it the last weekend of July.
4.0 – When do discussions of the choice for encore begin and have you ever had to filibuster to get your way?
A filibuster won’t work in a band. If you win, it’s like convincing an unwilling lover. Not as fun as you had hoped. Music is very dependent on the vibe so you can’t destroy the vibe to get your way, and then hope it’s going to be magic. It’s like winning the battle but losing the war. We don’t always have a setlist and rarely call the encore until we’re in it.
5.0 – Any plans to record new material for a studio release, or is Mr. Blotto now a strictly live proposition?
We are mixing down our 6th album right now. It’ll be out by summer. And we should have done it long ago. It’s just such a pain in the ass to do. But we have sworn to each other to do an album a year from here on out.
6.0 – Of your personal gear, what is your favorite acoustic guitar and do you play it live?
I’m fairly monogamous when it comes to my instruments. I have several acoustic and electrics. For 15 years I played a Martin Shenandoah with maple back and sides. It finally gave up the ghost and lost it’s tone. I now play my Martin D35 which I love love love. It was my spare before and now it’s my main axe. I use a Highlander pickup under the saddle.
It’s virtually the same. We’ve only had to replace about a half dozen speakers in 20 years! It’s because Bob Georges designed it to have more headroom and power than it would ever need to use so the system is never stressed. It’s become a part of the band. We play it like it’s an instrument.
8.0 – What advice do you give to young musicians looking to make a living at playing music?
James Taylor said “play everyday and keep your overhead low”. That’s great advice. We haven’t kept our overhead particularly low but we all play all the time. I tell young cats to get their promotional ideas together and treat them with the same importance as the music. They aren’t as important as the music but they think they are. You need a place to gig. You need an audience. You need exposure. If that all works, then you can play music for a living. It’s a different promo game now. We had a 6000 name mailing list that we labelled and mailed once a month. That’s like the dark ages now but we did it because we wanted this life. Now there is a wide open field for promo that is just being discovered and actualized. It’s ideal for the creative minds that are in bands.
9.0 – What was the first record you bought as a kid and are you still listening to vinyl? The first album I ever bought was Brick “Good High” because of the song “Dazz”. The rest of the album sucked! So I began buying 45’s from that moment on, with some exceptions. The first 45 I bought was “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate. Ha! That’s a little embarrassing. I still listen to vinyl and have about 4 crates and a Luxman. It sounds great through my Infinity RS6000 speakers (geeking out now sorry).
10.0 – If Jimi Hendrix miraculously appeared next to you on stage, what Blotto stand by would you launch into to bring Jimi back to life for one more extended jam?
I would love to hear Jimi go to town on something like “1977” or “Rattle My Cage”. He would just take off into the blues stratosphere. I just hope at the end he doesn’t trash all our gear. Maybe he could just hump a feedback drenched screaming amp which 9 months later would give birth to a full blown whopper of an hallucination that would explode into a rainbow of flowers and guitar picks… but then again we don’t need another mouth to feed. Got to keep that overhead low.
The first song that I remember moving me was a tune by Lester Young called ‘PC Blues’, I heard it at home on my mothers HiFi. When she saw that I liked it she put on a tune by Lionel Hampton called ‘Flying Home’, from that moment I knew I wanted to play music!
My aunt gave me a harmonica when I was about 12 or 13 years old and I loved it from the first. It was a friend that succored me in times of strife and a joy in happier times. It seemed that everybody and their brothers were playing guitar in the sixties, I wanted an instrument that was melodious and full of the warmth that only the breath can bring to the music. Harmonica is like the voice in that it can bring the pathos and passion to a piece of music like no other instrument can, it can set a mood so beautifully.
When I began to play I wanted to sound just like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Rice Miller but I was also very much moved by cats like Miles Davis, Lester Young, BB King and Charlie Christian. It seemed to me that the thing these players had in common was a mellifluous fluidity combined with a meticulous sense of time and gifted phrasing. I have tried to emulate and not imitate these masters. A great drummer, Michael Silva ( band leader for Sammy Davis Jr. ) told me that If you don’t sound like yourself you bring little or nothing to the table and you won’t get invited to dinner a second time!
The only ‘trick’ for lack of another word that is useful in learning to play harmonica or any other instrument is to listen to the masters, memorize, internalize, recreate and…. listen, listen, listen! Practice creatively, play passionately and if the music is in you it will come out.
I enjoyed playing on Mr. Willie Dixon’s Hidden Charm‘s recordings very much, the recordings with the Stones, Dylan, Brownie McGhee, Stan Getz, Hiram Bullock, Lonnie Brooks, Son Seals… As for my own recordings, I am very partial to a CD I cut that’s distributed by Alligator Records called In Your Eyes, I think that there are some great tunes there that are cutting edge still today though they were written and tracked in the 90’s. Code Blue is one of my more recent efforts and the material on it has been critiqued as classic from the first track to the last. I also like very much Threshold and Raw Sugar. If you have an inquisitive ear and progressive taste you will enjoy the aural journey these recordings will take you on and I believe you will enjoy the trip! I didn’t mention Blue Blazes above because it includes mostly cover tunes but I do like it as well.
7.0 – When you think about the long history of the blues, do you have a favorite decade in terms of releases?
I love this music called The Blues, from Charlie Patton to Charlie Parker, from Miles Davis to Muddy Waters and all that came of the nameless progenitors that were before them and all that will come after. Because it is the history and voice of Black American art and experience which I am exceedingly proud and privileged to be a continuation of. I think that Willie Dixon may have said it best, “The Blues are the roots and the rest of the music are the fruits.” From The Blues to Jazz, through Rock to Reggae, from fusion to hip hop and music around the world that has been sired and inspired by those three supposedly simple chords, I love the Blues, every facet, every movement and every moment. It is the sound of the soul and spirit of my people.
In actuality I met the Stones indirectly through a recording I did with Louisiana Red called ‘Red, Funk and Blue’ that Keith Richards had heard a year or two before the Some Girls sessions in Paris. Keith told me that I was the most precise and skillful harp player he’d heard on record in recent times, so when we were introduced in Paris he’d already heard me play. When we hit in the studio the music flowed like a river in one take and it was in the groove , the rest is rock and roll history as they say!
For me its the feeling I got when I heard Lou Reed “Walk On The Wild Side” on the radio when i was a boy has never really gone away. It made me love rock so much. I was probably 8 or 9. The song was so exotic. Such a trip far from my world. I was so hooked on this thing that came out of the radio. “Jumpin Jack Flash” on an AM transistor radio in Philly in the early 70’s was pretty magical.
So its escape and energy and fantasy and freedom for 3-6 minutes when tuned in. That feeling is hard to beat.
Also–In the early to mid 70’s all I listened to in my fathers old Jeep were 8 track tapes of, Willie Nelson live, Ernest Tubb, Charley Pride, And Hank Williams.
3.0 – Is there an artist that sets the barometer for you today?
Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and the mid period Rolling Stones
They wrote songs so honestly. “Swinging Doors” what a brutal song. “Black Rose” is hard to top. “Let It bleed” is an amazing release as is “Beggars Banquet”.
The Stones from that 69-73 period is hard to get around. I think all of my songs have a taste of “Torn and Frayed” in them.
I think just did not care how honest and sincere I was. It was my goal to get it right like Merle Haggard done on his classics. Every song is a true story on Untethered. With that it was easy to to be free to let the songs come to life.
I was also very tuned into the detail of the pedal steel and acoustic guitars. The levels and accents of both made it sound the way it does. All of this comes with getting older and being more patient and relaxed.
Many things on this recording were done on the spot in the studio. It was very organic you might say. And with that I let go and let people do what they do best. Very rewarding.
5.0 – What did it take to get the sound you were looking for on the record?
I knew it in my head.
I had a clear vision of what it was I wanted and but at the same time it was not letting that idea take control. The Stones song “Let It Bleed” and that LP was the basis for the entire release production wise. The instrument selection along the way was fun too. Some of my old guitars & mandolins & banjo’s would just step right up and say this song is my song. I then focused on the acoustic track and the snare.
I had a family. My Son was born right after 22 Dollars came out. We had a daughter two years later. So life was busy for me just that simple. In 2011 we moved from an old stone house built in 1926 to a new townhouse. No house maintenance and the kids being older was a real treat. The songs just poured out that summer.
Simplicity and tone.
My live gear is very basic. 59′ Grestch 6120, 58′ Fender tweed deluxe amp and a early 70’s Echoplex. That’s it.
The studio is a real treat. I have been collecting vintage instruments since the mid 80’s when I was in college. Nothing is more fun than bringing these old guitars, mandolins, banjos, steels and amps to life. I want them all to be used and to sing. Let the instruments do their job. I’m just strumming.
Typically its a title or a key line in a song and I build on that. The song “Every Empty Bottle” was originally called “Reinvent The Feel”. I came up with that line one night in my garage and wrote it on the side of a box with a sharpie pen. I looked up at that box for over a year. Then I used the phrase in the song. The idea of reinventing a feel stuck with me. The song wrote itself after that.
“High water” was written during the hurricane we had in august of 2011. The amount of rain was used as a parallel to a past romance I had. The song just spun naturally out with using the vision of a big flood and a tough breakup. The riff was much more rock as I was using barre chords. I changed the feel using the first position voicing.
I have always been somewhat of an outsider with the rockabilly scene. Gas Money was described once as “The Replacements of Rockabilly“. We have never really been embraced as a rockabilly band per se. Nor did I want to be. We play lots of rockabilly but there was something a little wrong about the way we played it in the 90’s.
I have a deep love for rockabilly and I always will. The shit that comes along with the music however is somewhat silly. I have had an odd relationship with the genre for a long time. The music is magic but the scene surrounding it makes me a bit uneasy. Those big rockabilly shows are like Halloween parties.
Playing live now however we do three sets of classic honky tonk and rockabilly. The bars and clubs we play are interested in dancing and drinking not original music. We don’t get paid playing our tunes. The classics are really fun and ya know who else in Philly is playing George Jones “You’re Still On My Mind” with a pedal steel player on a sat night. No one. I think in a way it helped my song writing with playing classic honky tonk songs.
It is true. I have a few pre-war Gibson flat tops, 50’s Gretsch hollow-bodies as well as some pre-war Gibson mandolins and banjos. Each one really is unique and has its own voice and character. As a player I can pick up a guitar at a friends house or at a vintage guitar show and just “feel” it. Especially the pre-war mandolins and banjos. They want to talk and just don’t get out like they used to. yeah old wood is magic without a doubt. It’s intoxicating if you get hooked on it.
The first record I remember vividly was Louis Armstrong singing “Hello Dolly”… I can still remember trying to sing like him. It was a hit on the radio. The craziest thing is that I did the math and realized I was 2! The first two albums to grab me between the ages of 4 and 7 were Taj Mahal’s Giant Step/The Ole Folks at Home and Sgt. Peppers. I also loved Beethoven, Fiddler On The Roof, and James Brown. Later came Hendrix, Zep the Rolling Stones. I saw Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells when I was 10 in 1972… . It blew me away.
2.0 – What was the first record you ever bought and how did it make you feel?
I don’t remember the first record I bought. I was poor growing up. I remember the first one I stole… a 45 of Billy Preston… Nothing From Nothing… Ha! I loved the radio then. I loved soul and funk and Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell and jimmy Cliff and all kind of stuff. Music was my escape, my world. I spent hours every day dancing, singing, and playing air guitar in front of my parent’s Zenith stereo.
3.0 – What was your first guitar and do you still have it ?
My mom bought me a Sears classical guitar when I was 7. I asked for ballet lessons. She gave me guitar lessons. Lord knows what happened to it.
4.0 – What was the first actual blues lead lick you learned, from what song?
I took blues guitar lessons from an amazing guy in Worcester named Ron Johnson when I was 14. I played acoustic. He turned me on to the early delta, piedmont, ragtime and slide stuff. I think the first blues lick I learned was a Mississippi John Hurt tune.
5.0 – What’s the blues scene like today in Chicago versus when you originally moved here?
The blues scene now is still jamming in terms of the clubs being packed and bands performing but it is a pale 3rd string version of when I first moved here talent and skill wise.
6.0 – As a blue guitarist, are there still classic ‘showdowns’ that determine a pegging order among and between the players?
It’s a boys club. It’s like high school. The cool table in the cafe. They are all peacocks. The king in my opinion right now is Carl Weathersby. There are always battles here. Each guy thinks they are the champ!
7.0 – How do you retain vitality playing a form of music that is nearly a hundred years old, if not older?
I always played the blues in my own way when I went on my own, mixing all of my influences in what I did. I was never a purist. It always stays fresh for me that way.
9.0 – Do you enjoy writing lyrics and titles or is that ‘work’ part of the song writing equation?
I almost always hear the groove first. With Big Girl Blues I wrote the words first. My second love in life is literature. I have been a huge reader my whole life. I have written a lot of poetry. I find song writing a chore however and only write for projects… I don’t know why.
10.0 – What gets you off more live: when you know you are singing really well or playing guitar at your best?
Playing the guitar is my passion. It takes me out of myself and also drives me into my soul. Singing can be cathartic but I have to sing 4 to 5 hours a night and it is physically very taxing, and more of a chore.
See Joanna Connor’s 2013 tour schedule at SongKick
Yes, I remember hearing “Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis on the Juke Box at YMCA summer camp and I noticed all the girls loved it. Later, when I got a guitar and started to learn folk songs I saw the effect guitars had on girls. By the time the Beatles came along I already knew the basic chords. I was too shy to meet girls any other way. But music turned out to be the best way. As far as an album that shaped my life I would have to say “Freewheelin’” by Bob Dylan because it got my whole generation writing songs. As far as life-shaping events go, I’d guess I’d have to say seeing the Beatles for the first time on Ed Sullivan. It blew my mind, it blew all our minds. You had to be there.
2.0 – What was the first complete tune you learned to play and sing at the same time?
That would be “Tom Dooley” by the Kingston Trio. I can still remember how proud I was to get up on stage at a coffee house and play it. I learned the 3 basic chords of life and I found out later it fit 90% of all the songs on the radio.
3.0 – With the revival of Americana and roots music is it difficult to resist the temptation to return to your folk roots and put out KIHN FOLK?
Oh, you wicked, wicked man. The “Kihn” puns just won’t die! The only times I didn’t use the “KIHN” puns for GKB album titles- “Glass House Rock” and “With the Naked Eye” both albums stiffed, so we went right back to the KIHN formula for success. I try to hide ‘em, but my folk roots stand out like Nicki Minaj’s hair color.
4.0 – How did you get your first break in the music biz, or was it a confluence of events?
Matt Kaufman and Allan Mason were two law students in Baltimore when I was still in high school playing gigs at local coffee houses with names like “The Foghorn” and the “Crack of Doom.” Allan later invited me out to California and let me crash on his floor. Allan wound up working for A&M Records and Matthew started Beserkley Records. When I first came to California I used to play on Telegraph Ave for spare change. I did pretty good, too! About 40$ a day!
5.0 – What is, hands down, your favorite Greg Kihn record and why?
My all time favorite Greg Kihn song is The Breakup Song because it’s always fun to play, has a great guitar riff, and the lyrics “Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh translate into every known language. That’s why today I can walk down the street in, say, Lithuania or Tasmania and people will point at me and shout, “There goes that uh-uh guy!”
6.0 – You have found a new home today on radio in San Francisco; is it strange being on the other end of the mic or was radio always something you could see yourself doing?
You know, my ego is so freakin’ huge I don’t care which side of the mic I’m on, as long as the mic is ON! Radio is a wonderful way to communicate with hundreds of thousands of people every hour. I love it! Plus I can do the show in my underpants and nobody would ever know! They can’t see me!
7.0 – If you had a classic fake radio DJ name what would it be? any suggestions?
When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, DJ’s had names like Fat Daddy and Commander Hot Rod. Maybe I should change my on-air name to Beef Jerky or Greasy Cheeks or Dash Riprock.
8.0 – As a horror writer now with several acclaimed books out, have you ever considered writing tunes to accompany your novels on the expanding digital landscape or in your audio books?
Actually I started out trying to do just that. The result was the “Horror Show” CD in 1997. It was supposed to serve as the soundtrack for the novel “Horror Show” and possibly a movie score but I only got 2 songs finished before I drifted off in another direction. The 2 songs were “Horror Show” which you can see on You Tube, and “Vampira” which has no video. Eventually I’ll make the movie of “Horror Show” and write the rest of the soundtrack. By the way, let me be the first to announce the release of my new novel RUBBER SOUL published by Premier Digital Publishing in the spring of 2013. It takes place in Liverpool in the early 60’s and has the Beatles as the main characters in a murder mystery. It follows their meteoric rise to fame and culminates with assassination attempts in Manila in 1966 after snubbing the Marcos Family. As far as I know it’s the first historically accurate truly fictional BEATLES NOVEL. I hope you check it out when it’s released in early 2013. I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve read before.
Hanging out backstage with the Stones. Mick was very nice and gave me packs of cigarettes (Marlboro Box) whenever I asked, but the guy I most enjoyed talking with was Charlie. He is a very interesting man- knows about history and is an expert of the Civil War believe it or not. He’s got jazz roots. Keith and Ron just played guitars and never said much. Bill Graham introduced me and that did the trick. I was one of the inner sanctum after that. I’m sure Jerry Hall, Mick’s wife at the time, was checking me out. Or maybe it was the drugs… I’ve forgotten. I’ll never forget the rush of walking out on stage in front of 90,000 people!
10.0 – What are Greg Kihn’s “Ten Commandments of Touring”?
1. Never get separated from the band in a foreign country.
2. Never leave the hotel with a chick who says she’ll take you to the airport in the morning.
3. Never drink in the hotel bar alone, nothing good can happen.
4. You’re better off smoking a joint alone in your room and watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island than going to a local club with some chicks you just met.
5. When singing the National Anthem, start low and sing fast.
6. Never drink from the mini-bar in your room.
7. Never poop in the lavatory on the tour bus, peeing is OK, but defecation is not welcome.
8. Never drink the other band’s beer, steal their women, or smoke their stash, it’s bad karma.
9. Always treat the roadies with respect; they can really make you look bad if they want. Remember, they have their own secret credo from which they never vary- (I’ll tell you but don’t say you heard it from me.) The Roadie’s Credo- “If it’s wet, drink it, if it’s dry, smoke it, if it moves fuck it, if it doesn’t move, put it in the truck.”
10. Pace yourself, it’s a long tour.
Visit Greg online at GregKihn.com
I was about 5 years old, went to my Uncle Frank’s house and saw a real drum kit set up. The Beatles “White Album” was on, guess I didn’t see any sticks around, so I picked up a Barbie Doll Leg and a Lincoln Log. I started hitting the drums in time with the music, after that, all I wanted to do was play drums!
2.0 – What was your first full kit?
When I was 11 yrs old, my dad bought me a used mid 70’s Butcher Block Maple Ludwig Kit. I still have the kit, it’s very sentimental to me. I use it for recording sometimes. It’s in mint condition.
3.0 – Which band was ‘the one” for you growing up, or were there many?
Hands down, The Beatles.
4.0 – What’s it like playing now with someone like Lita Ford versus say Sinead O’Connor?
Besides hairstyle, nothing compares to… lol. Ok, seriously, they each have a completely different approach and style to their music. Sinead is a melodic pop artist, Lita Ford is the Queen of Metal, her tracks are more guitar driven. Interestingly enough, I performed with both artists during a time in their careers when they were making a come back of sorts. Sinead’s “Faith and Courage” was her first original release in three years. Lita’s latest effort “Living Like a Runaway” is a return to her rock and roll roots. Both women are very empowered by their music. They both pour their heart and soul into their songs and performances. It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with each of them.
5.0 – How did your gig with Ace Frehley come about and what was your favorite part about working with him?
I flew to New York for the audition with Ace 2007 and he offered me the job immediately. Besides having the opportunity to perform and interact on a regular basis with one of my childhood hero’s, I would say singing lead vocals while playing drums for a good part of the set list was my favorite part of the gig.
6.0 – Drummer jokes aside, do you have an overall philosophy that you bring to the table as a musician?
Yes, music for me is about feel, emotion and personality. Whether I am writing music on a piano or an acoustic guitar, I find that creating a melody, which moves over chord changes, while establishing a proper drum groove is the foundation for a song.
Before a show I stretch, warm up by doing rudiments on practice pad, perform vocal exercises and drink hot throat coat tea with honey.
8.0 – “Moby Dick” aside, what are the three hardest Led Zep tunes to get on drums?
I would say these are the most challenging:
1. “D’yer Mak’er” because there is no consistent or repeating pattern.
2. “The Crunge” because it’s one of a few Zeppelin songs that changes from an odd meter, 9/8 to 4/4 time.
3. “Fool In The Rain” because it’s one of Bonzo’s sickest shuffle drum grooves next to Bernard Purdie and Jeff Pocaro.
9.0 – What advice would you give to a younger player joining a veteran touring act?
It’s a great opportunity to work with veteran artists, you can learn a lot by LISTENING and use this experience to further your career. Have a positive attitude, perform your best at each show, be respectful of space on the tour bus and BE ON TIME.
10.0 – You are given one free time-travel-ticket to any concert in history, what are your coordinates Scot?
January 26, 1969 Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party in Boston, Mass. It was the last of four nights at the venue. They only had an hour and a half of music to play, but they performed four and a half hours. They played their set twice and then did music by The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Epic Concert!
1.0 – What’s your favorite thing about the new disc People And Places ?
The fact that I think it’s my best work yet and that each song has its’ own sound to it. I used 4 different drummers, and that makes a difference to the basic feel of the songs.
2.0 – So it’s not true you play all the instruments on it?
No…I do almost all of the guitars and singing. I love over-dubbing guitars and vocals! I played bass on 2 songs, and some percussion.
I play 3 different ukuleles on the song “Whatever Happened” and bass. Joel Patterson played pedal steel on “Same Ol We”
Jacky Dustin from the August sang harmony on that song. The drummers are Brad Elvis, Mike Zelenko, Jim Barclay and Tommi Zender. Carolyn Engelmann played piano and she sang on some backrounds with me. Chuck Bontrager played violin and violas – Martha Larson played cello on “My Old Records”.
3.0 – Are all the tracks new or some oldies looking for their 5 minutes?
These songs were all new songs written for this record, except for “Broken baby Doll House”– that one was around for awhile, 2 songs were written as I was wrapping the album up: the last song “Parting For Awhile” was a tribute to my dear friend Carlos Hernandez-Gomez ,who had recently passed away from cancer, He was a Political reporter for CLTV and a huge music fan. I also wrote “National 36″ days before we recorded that – we barely knew it when we went in to do it-its a simple rocker so I like that its a bit loose.
4.0 – Did you have a sound in mind before you began recording or did it evolve?
I intended each track to sound different than the next- using different instruments and overall approach to the sound – I wanted this to stand out from my previous records. Its natural to fall into a comfort zone, and to stay with what you do best – or to keep “your sound’ going – I wanted to change that, and I think I succeeded.
5.0 – There are some cinematic feeling pop passages as per usual but also some Nashville twang creeping in too, yeah?
I have come a long way as a musician – and i did try to show that off a bit. The Nashville thing has always been a part of me, I grew up listening to country music, I just never really incorporated it in my own songs-so I really went for it with ‘Same Ol We” Even the lyrics are country-like, and having Joel on pedal steel and Jacky on harmony vocals really pushed it all the way. As for cinematic- I did a cd years ago called ‘Juliet Foster” which followed story-line (I called it a film soundtrack, though there wasnt a film) so I do write that way at times. The songs “Whatever happened To” and “Sorry About the Accordian Jill” sound like movie songs, and I wanted it that way. They are also the 2 songs on the album without drums.
6.0 – What do you find most rewarding these days: writing, singing, or playing live?
I’d say singing first – because though I always had a certain sound ( poppy-and from the Beatle/60’s school) I never recorded with much soul and recklessness- which I do live pretty well. I am very experienced and natural at singing and stacking harmonies- but I still think my best singing is when I sing live. I have a richer voice now than I used to- and alot of years of doing it so I’m a very confident singer on stage and I think it comes through more these days. I‘m also a much better guitarist these days-so i love playing guitar live. Writing is still fun, but I’ve been doing it since I was 17 years old and it feels like work sometimes, and kinda normal-so its nowhere near as fun for me as playing live.
I loved music as a child- my mom bought me Beatles and Monkees records, and I listened to country music with my dad
and anything they listened to, and I was glued to the radio….one memory that got me really hooked to rock n roll was this:
2 doors away from my house (I was around 9 years old) there was a family whose oldest brother played bass in a band –
they’d practice in their basement and you could hear it from my backyard. I snuck over there one day, and actually walked in on their practice and just stood there watching as they jammed – it was loud and exciting and I knew I wanted to be in a band right there and then!
8.0 – If there is time for nostalgia…..what is your all-time favorite Chicago rock n roll moment?
I went to the Granada Theater in 1980 w my best friend and band mate (in my first band, the Fleas) to see Cheap Trick. The opener was Off Broadway. We had great seats and I remember that show really grabbed me – it was great and it really inspired me. It was cool to see that these new bands (at the time) were so 60’s influenced, it made me feel like we were on the right track, and I was always a huge fan of that eras power pop bands. I hated all those hair bands and metal and guitarists who played as fast as they can – so this was refreshing and inspiring.
9.0 – what advice would I offer to young players who show promise?
To work hard. Improve your craft. Don’t be lazy.
10.0 – As the 2012 apocalypse approaches you tuck a few artifacts in an iron drum for posterity: what items have you included?
Maybe some lyric sheets I’d written down of an old song I wanted to do – handwritten, because now guys have ipods on their mic-stands, I still hand-write my notes and lyrics! Some flat-wound guitar strings (nobody uses them anymore, I do!) and the guitar pick I caught from that Granada show flung at me by Rick Nielsen!!!!
1.0 – What’s the best thing about BARN SESSIONS?
Perhaps that it’s real, it’s live, and you can see a mouse suddenly appear behind John’s lovely head in the “Hiding”‘ video. That’s just my personal opinion.
2.0 – Did you have a sound in mind when you starting recording it or did it evolve?
It was more of a feeling I wanted people to remember. The entire landscape of music has gone through drastic changes. I wanted to do a live experiment with talented people to see how the variables would change the result. It evolved as things do, once my team of amazing artist friends helped it become what it is. The sum of their talent and personality, combined with other elements, created the sound.
3.0 – Do you consider branding & image as part of the artistic process?
When I found a wooden hard drive to go with the Barn Sessions package I was pretty pleased. There is an overall aesthetic that is particular to each project. I liked the wood because what people receive is the same material that shaped the acoustic environment where the music was created. I am a creature who tries to be consistent.
4.0 – When did you start writing songs (originally) and what was your first?
This is a good question. I would have to say if I really go back in time, I was writing in my head constantly, and piano melodies near my mother’s lap at 3 or 4 years old. I remember listening to her voice when she would talk to people. I remember thinking that her kindness created music in people. I would play things that fit the scene of the room. I would play to the moods of the people inhabiting the room. I became aware of the power of simple observation, and began to understand how music was a doorway to change people’s emotional states.
5.0 – Do you have a philosophy when it comes to writing?
Stop thinking so much. :)
6.0 – And what about the stage and playing live?
There’s nothing like it at its best and its worst.
I didn’t know I had it! I came from rock. (Older brother-you know:)
8.0 – Did you have to work at it or does it come naturally, or both?
-I work all the time at all aspects of everything I do. My friends tell me I really need to get out quite often luckily. Playing music, and trying to survive as a musician, are two different things. They both take extraordinary amounts of discipline and work.
9.0 – What’s your favorite record of all-time?
That’s the hardest question. If I had to choose, Brian Eno and Harold Budd. It brings me to a state of absolute serenity.
10.0 – What was the first concert you attended and how did it impact your life?
I think the first time I was truly impacted was either Tool, NIN, or Tori Amos. It was all within the same week. It really changed up the playing field.
I really connect to these songs. They were extremely natural to write
and being that the majority of the songs were written one after the
next in a span of a few months, there is a continuity that weaves
throughout all the different feels and colors of Walking Down The
Streets. I also love the freshness of the songs on the record in that
we had never performed prior to recording tracking. The idea was that
the songs had a well rehearsed touch, but they hadn’t been
overanalyzed and over structured. If a section wanted to extend
through the live tracking portion of the record, we went with it. The
spirit is in the recording and beyond all the fancy things you can do
post production, it’s the spirit that lives in the performance that
I’ve always connected to on a record.
The sound of the record was largely inspired by the 8×8 studio we
rehearsed in. It’s hard to imagine 3 people and all our instruments
in this room, but it’s possible. The limiter on the iphones was also
something that evolved our sound. Hearing everything in a tiny room
with a big limiter compressing the music to the point that everything
sounds good gave us much hope. When we were tracking with Quinn
McCarthy at The Creamery, we went ahead and recorded all the vocals
through the voxac30 as we would rehearse. In the end, Joel Hamilton
at studio G took the clean mike and gave the essence of the amp with
his military grade compressors (no joke).
3.0 – Do you consider branding & image as part of the artistic process?
I think of it more as just letting your personalities come out.
Pretty much the same way I think with clothing. It’s superficial yes,
but at the same time it’s nice for people to have an idea of who you
are just by looking at you. All I want is for the music and the image
to be an honest representation of us. I would give credit to image
being a part of the artistic process much like when I write, I think
about how the songs will translate live.
4.0 – When did you start writing songs and what was your first?
My first! oh my, I try to forget those songs, hahaha. I started
writing when I started playing the guitar around 10 or 11. I wasn’t
writing the same way I do now. I was just trying to get better at
playing the guitar and I wasn’t so fond of playing other peoples songs
quite yet. Plus I was so curious about theory that I would write
something and then try to analyze it. So I wrote little things that
challenged me. I never performed them. I think my first official
song I wrote was called “One/People Get Ready”. Of course both Curtis
Mayfield and Bob Marley have a song with that title and I’m honestly
not quite sure if they are the same. That always confused me.
Yes, when it comes grab it. I have these moments of creativity and I
just know that these are my good songs. But I have to be organized
and make sure to write things down and record ideas. I have to
complete the lyrics before I can move on as coming back to lyrics
never works for me. They are there in that moment and it’s my job to
write them down then and there.
6.0 – And what about the stage and playing live?
I love it. It has always fueled my well being I feel. And it’s addictive.
I suppose growing up in Indianapolis, it was a bit stagnant, but
getting out into nature was always fun and always lifted my spirits (I
never knew something like NYC would have the same effect on me).
8.0 – id you have to work at it or does it come naturally, or both?
Overall music came naturally, but I certainly have and still do work
9.0 – What’s your favorite record of all-time?
That’s the heavy question. As I’m playing through my music library on
shuffle, all these great songs are coming on “Side with the Seas” off
SKy Blue Sky by Wilco, Curtis Mayfield, Live at Bitter End...The Best
of the Wailers (which is not a compilation oddly enough)…And then
theres my Billie Holiday Collection on vinyl that just blows my mind.
Nonetheless, if you were going to leave me with only one of these
songs/albums with the trapped on an island metaphor, it would have to
take the The Best of The Wailers. I’ve known those songs my whole
life and I still get happy every time I hear them.
10.0 – What was the first concert you attended and how did it impact your
life if at all?
The first concert I ever saw was John Mellencamp…he’s Indiana born
and bred like me. It was actually pretty awesome. After all, it was
my first concert and the venue, Dear Creek, is a really special venue
as it’s outdoors and country all around. I think this year was the
year of my favorite concerts…I saw Radiohead which pretty much blew
my mind…I’m usually ready to let my ears rest at the end of a
concert, but after there 2 hour plus performance, I wanted more!
1.0 – What’s the best thing about your latest release, the new The Pear Traps EP, Elsewhere?
It’s different than our previous EPs. The first 2 were home recordings that we did by ourselves which is mainly why they took on the lo-fi sound. Elsewhere is our first “studio” recording and although we kept it uncomplicated, it’s easy to hear the difference.
2.0 – Did you have a sound in mind when you starting recording it or did it evolve?
We completed the songs before actually recording them and knew how we wanted them to sound through our amps/drums/etc, but did not have any idea how it was going to turn out after recording.
we did the recording and mixing ourselves on the early recordings, so we had total control of the sound. This time we had someone else (Jamie from Carterco here in Chicago) do the recording, mixing and mastering on legitimate equipment (as opposed to our karaoke microphones) and it was definitely a change.
We finished recording in 2 days and then Jamie spent another day or so mixing. During the mixing process Jamie was definitely leaning towards a cleaner, more professional sound and then when we heard the early mixes, we were always like “put more effects on that, make it more lo-fi!” I think in the end it actually did evolve into a very happy medium and we could’nt be happier with Jamie’s help and input to give Elsewhere its full sound.
3.0 – Do you consider branding & image as part of the artistic process?
In my opinion branding and image are part of the business process, not artistic. If you know us or have seen us play a show it’s pretty easy to see that we put zero effort or thought into branding and/or image. We are 5 friends playing music together because it’s fun and we like playing. Not to try and make money or get big or anything like that. Probably because we’re old enough to realize that we do this to have fun at practice every week and play out. If we ever decided to start focusing on our image or try to be anything other than what we are, I think the enjoyment of us being in this band would go down dramatically.
4.0 – When did you start writing songs and what was your first?
I started writing about 3 or 4 years ago, right before we became a band. I’ve always been a guitar player and never really thought about singing or writing songs – I actually prefer just hanging out and playing guitar in the background. But over the years I’d come up with ideas for songs that I thought were OK, run them by the singer and nothing would ever come of them. After not playing in a band for a little while and not finding anything that I was very interested in I started trying to complete ideas for songs by myself and eventually started singing. I figured out how to program drums, record/mix audio, and just started messing around with songs in my apartment. My first finished song was called “Ways to Doubt.” It’s actually not that terrible and the thought of giving it a shot with The Pear Traps comes up every once in a while.
5.0 – Do you have a philosophy when it comes to writing?
No, not really. If I’m ever at home not doing anything I’m usually messing around on my guitar. If something happens to sound all right I record it. Or tell myself I’ll remember how it goes but then usually forget about it. If I come across the recorded guitar parts again (sometimes days or weeks later after I’ve forgotten I recorded anything) and it sounds decent I’ll try to put lyrics to them. Very little effort or thought goes into the lyrics. To me vocals are primarily just another melodic part to the music. Ideally the lyrics end up clever or interesting but as long as they don’t seem extremely contrived or cheesy I’m usually OK with what comes out.
6.0 – And what about the stage and playing live?
Stage presence is another thing we don’t really put too much effort into. It’s kind of the same thing as image, if we ever had to try to act or be a certain way on stage that wasn’t natural to us, I don’t think we would want to play out. We have fun playing shows together so I imagine that comes across to the audience, which is all I would really hope for.
7.0 – How did you catch the rock & roll bug originally?
Possibly a little cliché but it was when I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I think I was in 4th grade and had always really been into music but when I heard that guitar intro it just blew me away. I think my actual logic was that if I learned how to play guitar I could learn those songs and then I could hear them whenever I wanted to instead of waiting for them to come on the radio. My dad was very musical and supported my interest in learning an instrument but we didn’t have much money so he made a deal with me that for every chore I did I got a dollar saved towards my guitar and after 100 dollars were saved up he’d buy me one. Couple months later I had myself a very cheap, used white electric guitar and I was ecstatic.
8.0 – Did you have to work at it or does it come naturally?
I was not natural at all, it took a lot of effort for me to be a passable guitar player. I’m just very stubborn.
9.0 – What’s your favorite record of all-time?
Possibly another cliché but I’ve honestly got to say The Beatles’ White Album. It was kind of funny because when I was younger I literally went through my Beatles phase in chronological order. At first I really liked the poppy mop top love songs even though it was completely dorky and my friends would give me shit for it. Then heard Revolver and thought it was just amazing. Then got my hands on an Abbey Road tape and would listen to it on repeat. Then one year for Christmas my mom bought me the White Album. I remember listening to it lying in bed and feeling disgusted at how perfect everything they did was- no matter what genre they played in. I actually remember hearing Dear Prudence for the first time and wanting to quit guitar because I knew there was never any way I could play something that great.
10.0 – What was the first concert you attended and what do you remember most about it today?
This one is not so cliché. My dad liked country and about the time I was listening to Nevermind over and over he took me to a Randy Travis concert. I actually had tears in my eyes because I hated it so much.
1.0 – Are you happy with how the new EP, Streetlamp Musician, has turned out?
I am! The songs are great to start with and the production and players performing on it are top notch. It has a diverse range of songs and I think I’ll be performing all of them for a long, long time.
2.0 – What are your plans if any for the release?
I’m taking it slow to make sure I’m doing everything right. It will be a soft release and I’m going to start touring it towards the end of this year and more next year. I am hoping my friends and fans love it enough to share with their circles of friends so it finds a home in a lot of peoples music collection.
3.0 – Which song on it do you have the strongest emotional relationship with, or are they all dear?
It changes over time. They all have been close to me at one point or another. The most emotional song for me is “One More Thing” but the one I have strong love and respect for is “Most The While”.
4.0 – Do you have a formula when it comes to writing or is it more free-form?
A melody and some lyrics will come to me at first and then its my job to uncover what the song is about and focus it moving forward. I also try not to give up on the song or judge it prematurely. I don’t have a formula exactly but I do try to capture everything I think is interesting and inspiring in notebooks and in files on my iPhone. I’ll refer back to those often when I’m looking to write and when I’m looking for a spin on a song I’m already writing. I work really hard on my lyrics to try to be as clear as I can in saying exactly what I mean to and honoring the message of the song. That process is tedious and involves a lot of revision most of the time.
5.0 – What were the songs that you recall impacting you as a kid?
I don’t have too many songs that impacted me as a kid because I grew up studying classical violin and piano and my mom played classical music at home. I did eventually get a Lisa Minnelli CD and Madonnas Like a Virgin album and listen to those repeatedly. I also started listening to the hit radio station in NYC and liked musical theater like Gilbert and Sullivan and Disney songs that I was studying musically when I started singing.
I was already writing songs when I decided to learn Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me”. I had only been playing for a few months at that time and I learned the plucking, the harmonics and everything. I still cover that song at shows.
7.0 – Is there an influencing artist that you consider your ultimate muse?
For a long time early Jewel was my primary muse. I’m now really inspired by Patty Griffin. I think she writes stunningly beautiful songs and stories and sings them amazingly. She’s an underappreciated gift.
8.0 – Why led to your leaving NYC for California?
I left for a variety of reasons, a lot of them too personal to mention in this interview but definitely available in the songs on my record. NYC, and the people surrounding me there kind-of broke my heart. I also had an opportunity to record out here with a great team and it just made sense to get out to Los Angeles and dive into it. I came out thinking I might be back by the Fall but the record took longer then expected and then one thing lead to another and now I live here and love it. I still get back to NYC a lot and miss it so much sometimes. It will always be my home and I love the energy of the city. I’m so proud to have grown up there.
9.0 – You recently performed in the subway in New York; has that experience changed at all from when you started out busking in the West Village or is that what Streetlamp Musician is all about anyway?
I didn’t start busking in the West Village. I actually started in Times Square and tried to avoid ever playing too close to home. I didn’t really want to run into people I knew though I always do when I play – usually quite a few folks actually.
Anyways, it has changed because it’s become more crowded. And, as I get older and as the economy has changed people are less likely to tip artists down there now. I still think it’s the best way to hone your chops and start to build your fan base as a young artist. I’m lucky to have made it into the MUNY program that’s run by a part of the MTA who manages the subways. They give you permits for bet spots and times as well as the right to amplify your music. It’s a great community to be a part of and it feels more like a legitimate thing that we’re doing together to make the subways more interesting and special. The buskers and street artists are so vital to the city and it’s spirit.
Streetlamp Musician is about the West Village changing in the past few years as much as it’s about me wishing more people would listen to me when I’m laying my heart out on the line. The city has to change but I wish the West Village was more of the neighborhood I grew up in with artists and bohemians. It’s way too expensive for interesting characters to live there anymore and all the mom and pop shops that had been there for generations were pushed out because rent got too high. My godmother blames the Village getting too popular on Sex and the City and I think she’s right.
10.0 – What’s the worst gig situation you have ever found yourself in?
The worse ever was at a place called The Guitar Bar in Savannah, GA. I set up a show there for their opening night while on my first tour. Everything sounded good from the owner in follow up and checking in a week before the show right up until I got to the venue the night of the show and the owner told me that they weren’t going to be opening that night. My drummer was from Savannah and we were expecting a lot of people so we rescheduled for the next night and now were co-billing the show. We called 30 people to tell them about the switch and ended up playing a house concert that night instead.
The next day we went to the venue and they were complaining that they still didn’t have their liquor license and hustling to finish painting, put things away etc. I saw painters tape all over the floor moldings that needed to be removed so I started helping with that and got to the moldings in the bathroom when I realized they had no toilet paper. I asked the owner if they did and he was overwhelmed and said no so I offered to get some thinking he would pay me back. I went across the street (aka highway) in the dark to get some at a deli and loaded it into the bathroom.
The place opened that night and a ton of our friends came out. The show was amazing right up until I went to go take care of being paid before leaving. We had worked out a 50/50 split of the door deal and I had brought out 30 people at $10 a person. So the band should have made $150.
He handed me maybe $20 or $40 and said he was sorry, they didn’t have their liquor license blah, blah, blah. I quickly found out that he needed all the money from the people I brought in to pay the other act who was a friend of his who has flown in from CA when he paid the other guy $250 right in front of me. The other act hadn’t brought out anyone. I told him that wasn’t okay, we had still driven for hours to be there, had helped them out so much and brought in a lot of people and had a fair contract, yes, the payment details were in writing and it was signed. After a ton of arguing I ended up just leaving and just was so mad that he was making this my issue and just left.
I just looked them up and that place is finally closed. I can’t believe they actually stayed open for 4 years or so. What a nightmare.
Couldn’t be happier. Took a wee bit of a different approach than the prior albums….for example….there were certain artists we couldn’t reference….it was out of bounds so to speak…to reference some of the artists that most singer songwriters. Mkight refer to …you know a ” you know how on that Dylan record they did that thing with the keyboard?” Those types of statements were forbidden….. you know the line….”.if you always do what you always did, you will always get, what you always got .” That was kind of our launch pad.
2.0 – Who is it for?
The whimsical, the unwanted, the mourners, the isolated, the desperate, the devilish, the defeated, the kick-starters, the matador’s, the penniless poets, the dogged, the lovers on morning trains, the searchers, the seekers, the outcast, the count, the clown, the mistress, the widowed, the forgotten.
3.0 – Where did you record it? with whom?
CJ Eiriksson …who is fucking brilliant! I worked with him a few years back. Then on tour in Italy, I was in the back of a car and leafing through the U2 record liner notes and noticed CJ”s name all over the place…..I was thrilled for him. I figured he had graduated to a different level and would no longer work with low lifes like me…My wife Heather told me if i didn’t write him, she would…i still had his email address and i wrote him….and he was on the road with U2 for the 360 tour but it was wrapping up soon and I pitched him….
4.0 – How does it relate in your mind to your previous record, Hey La Hey?
It’s quite a departure. Songwriting is songwriting…at least mine is……but it’s really just what colors you use from your palette. We approached that record (HLH) with a band in the studio……this one…..it was me and CJ for the most of it.
5.0 – With so many records under your belt, does one develop a philosophy when it comes to going into the studio, or is that called ‘the budget’?
HA….well that certainly is a factor in the equation….truth be told it’s as confusing as ever…..we did this record with the help of Kickstarter so we did have it planned we had a certain amount of time and come hell or high water…..it had to be done….so our philosophy was…….work quickly !
6.0 – Did you have sound or general attack in mind going in for Hit Me Back or did it evolve as the material took shape?
I think the songs really dictate what you do. I had a batch of songs that I thought were ready and then I sent them to CJ and he started working on loops from Texas and we kind of molded the record over the internet……then he came to town and we did it in 8 days.
7.0 – Is it all new material or did any older, previously unrecorded songs bubble up to the surface as well ?
There was one song, ” She’s Gonna Kill Me “, that we recorded for Hey La Hey and weren’t quite happy with it……so that one kind of stuck around…..another song ” Scars From Another Life” was a few years older….and one we would play live…..but when I sent CJ 40 songs or so…..he gravitated to that one…..he rearranged it and it came out amazingly well……it’s really having trust in your producer that he knows what he’s doing…..and you gotta be willing to walk the plank with him.
8.0 – Do you have a favorite track (or tracks) on the disc or should we assume that’s the ‘titled cut’?
That’s certainly one cuz it’s probably the most ” fun ” song I’ve ever done……we thought we could hide it on the record and start it with more serious stuff but, wanted to come out with a smile…..I wrote that song in the car on the way to and from the hospital to see my dying mother….worst time in my life…..so for the sheer sake of my sanity i wrote a pretty funny and light hearted tune.
9.0 – Any new influences reflected on the disc that you hear as the author?
Being referential to an earlier question…….we tried to use female influences more than male references……we put to rest all the old ” Gods ” the old ” Legends” and would be more influenced by Sinead, Dido, Florence, Sarah, then say Dylan, Bruce, Waits, Van, U2
10.0 – Is ‘Hit Me Back’ a threat? kinky chatter? the facts of life or just a text message? what does it mean to you?
Great question…..well it was strictly a lyric in relation to my hangover that my head was hurting so bad it felt as if the bottle literally hit me back. But just those three words have a very ambiguous connotation which i love……it’s the masochist the fighter, the lover, the loser……all things which I know quite well.
I began listening to jazz when I was fifteen years old, at The Thelma Yellin High School (Israel). I didn’t listen to jazz at all before that. As a guitar player (I didn’t sing at all at the time) I loved listening to Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, and to other instrumentalists like Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Miles David, Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal and many others.
2.0 – Were you singing before you picked up an instrument?
No. I began playing music only as a guitar player, and did only that for a few years. I played many gigs as a guitar player only before starting to sing, and at the time I wasn’t even thinking about singing. After High school, I went to the army (like everyone in Israel), and I was chosen to serve as an ‘outstanding musician’, so I played in the army band. In that band I started singing a little bit, and I fell in love with it. A year after, when I moved to New York, I began singing on my gigs too.
3.0 – What was the first song you ever learned to sing and play at the same time?
In the beginning I didn’t sing jazz so much, and I was mostly fooling around with singing some Israeli songs, Nirvana songs, or something in that vibe, I don’t remember :) So I guess those were the first songs I sang and played at the same time. I think that the first standard that I’ve learned to sing an play at the same time was “Like Someone In love”.
4.0 – It seems so few female guitarists gravitate towards improvisation but rather use it as a vehicle for songs: did that come naturally to you or was it something you had to work at a bit?
It came very naturally, because I started as a guitar player, so improvisation was what I was mostly working on. When I played a gig, many times with another singer, I was only playing guitar, and improvising was my way to express myself. In that sense, I think that I’m happy that I started singing late, because starting with the guitar gave me a point of view of an instrumentalist first, and of someone in the band. Starting to sing after playing guitar and improvising, and really knowing the songs and the language helps a lot.
5.0 – How was your experience like at Berkeley School of Music?
I was there only for 5 weeks, so I don’t really know how it is like to be a student there.:)
6.0 – What led to your decision to ultimately go for it as a musician in the states versus your home of Isreal?
I had a dream about moving to New York even before I started playing music. My older sister and brother were students in NY and I wanted to do the same since I was very young. Later after I got serious into jazz, I had no doubt that NY is where I want to be!
7.0 – Do the early 50’s rock’n’roll pioneers have any influence on your sensibility as a player?
8.0 – What do you enjoy most: playing live, writing or recording?
9.0 – What’s your favorite thing about the music scene in New York?
I don’t know another city in the world where you can go out every night and find a few very good options of different music to listen to, and to be inspired by the best musicians in the world. I am back in NY at The Living Room on August 27th.
10.0 – If you could sit in with anyone, anywhere, anytime, past or present, for just one night….who and where?
1.0 – When did your fascination with guitars begin and Is it curable? I recall as a kid having an interest in guitars long before I knew how to play one. I have a vivid memory of dragging my poor mom into a music store and gawking at a hanging row of shiny new Gibson Firebird’s. There is a disease associated with guitar lust. It’s commonly referred to as GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome). So far I have not heard of a cure.
2.0 – Do you still listen to the same players that turned you on as a kid? Absolutely! You never quit learning from your mentors. It’s like watching a favorite movie 100 times and every time catching something you didn’t notice before. To this day I’m always fascinated listening to Jimmy Page, Brian May, Freddie King, etc.
3.0 – What was the first guitar you ever owned? do you still have it? Ok, disregarding the plastic banjo (prop) I had for my first public performance at around age 4, my first guitar was a lovely Hohner dreadnought, you know, the $99 variety. It had a skinny neck and never would tune properly. The coolest thing about it was the faux denim chip board case it came in. After all, it was the early ’70’s, baby. I gave that guitar to a student sometime in the late ’80’s. I was trading guitar lessons for kick boxing training.
4.0 – It seems as if your timing and location were right on the money: how is Wicker Park treating you guys today? Wicker Park is still one of the most vibrant and artistic communities in Chicago. I think we fit in here well. It has a great central location relative to the rest of the city. Good public trans., etc. Close to some good clubs, too. We see a lot of local and touring musician’s. Our starting time could have been better (right at the beginning of the economy bubble burst), but we’ve made the best of it.
5.0 – How do you feel Avenue N Guitars is different than other musical equipment retailers in Chicago? Certainly there are other great ma and pa music stores in the Chicagoland area, but, and this may sound cliche, I think the one thing that sets us apart is at the heart of it, we really do care about music and the people that make it and play it. Our main goal is to support that. We don’t have any gimmicks here, no slick sales pitches. We stand by everything we do. It also doesn’t hurt that we have a long and intimate history with vintage guitars and that market not to mention our guitar and amp service dept’s are one of the best kept secrets in Chicago.
6.0 – How do you turn a walk-in new customer into a repeat offender? Again, by expressing our concern, going that extra yardage and providing the best customer service we possibly can.
7.0 – How has the internet, ebay and the like impacted the guitar biz over the last decade? Huge impact. eBay has made a big dent in competition for small retailers. On the other hand it is useful for sales and a handy price comparison tool. Having a website can also be a great sales tool even if only used as advertising. A lot of people have developed retail businesses solely on eBay and websites. The ones that hustle have done very well although ebay sales have slipped over the last few years with the economy the way it is. Overall, the internet has been a game changer and mostly for the best, however, it’s not without negatives for small retailers. For example, it’s nearly immpossible to compete with corporate giants such as GC who not only sell on their own websites at grossly discounted prices (because that can buy from vendors in bulk at great discounts), but also sell on other internet sites they own as well such as American Music Supply, Music 123 and Musician’s Friend to name just a few.
8.0 – Who do you think are making the best new electrics on the market today? any hot tips? The best new electrics, of course, come from the hands of custom builders and generally with a premium price. If we’re talking the big dogs (Gibson, Fender, etc.) and mass production, it’s hard to say. There has been a lot of scrambling going on it recent years. All the big companies keep producing more and more new models in every possible price point. In doing so, I feel they keep slipping further and further away from their roots as quality guitar makers. They seem to have no clue about their own history. Integrity and quality has long ago taken a back seat to profit margin. My question is this: if you are going to spend $3000 of your hard earned money on that Les Paul Custom you always wanted, would you buy the brand new plastic looking CNC machine made one or the cool old vintage one?
9.0 – What’s is the strangest request you have received from a customer? As a tip for good service, I once had a customer ask if I wanted to ‘light one up’ right at the front counter of the store. It was about one in the afternoon and the store was full of customers.
10.0 – Should smashing guitars be made legal too? For some guitars it definitely should be legal!
The day I heard “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix.
2.0 – Who did you first try and emulate when you picked up the guitar?
Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck.
3.0 – What are your favorite five guitar solos of all-time?
1) “Child in Time”, Richie Blackmore- Deep Purple
2) “Theme for An Imaginary Western”, Leslie West – Mountain
3) “Machine Gun”- Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsies
4) “Dazed and Confused”, Jimmy Page – Led Zeppelin
5) “Shapes of Things”, Jeff Beck – Yard Birds
4.0 – How has 2012 been treating ‘The Emperor of Rock & Roll”?
2012 has been an extraordinary year. Between playing out in the North East with my show. Playing lead guitar on Rockabilly Legend Charlie Gracie‘s new single, “Baby Doll” which went to umber one. Appearing in Dee Sniders latest video “Mack The Knife”, Producing Dez Cadena of the Legendary Horror/Punk/Cult Band The Misfits. Playing all guitars on legendary Rock and Roll Chubby Checker’s newest single. Started to record my new CD. Due out October 2012. Also, I have been doing many other studio projects. It has been very creative year. The icing on the cake was joining Ace Frehley on stage in NYC with Anton Fig, after 10 years.
5.0 – How did that come about?
Ace invited me down and my wife Joann spoke with his people. The next thing was Ace asked me to join him on stage. It all happened very quickly….”AND IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL THING”.
6.0 – Did you read Ace’s book, “No Regrets”?
Yes I did…. I enjoyed the first 3 chapters the most, before Ace was in KISS. Overall, I enjoyed the entire book.
It was a blast with Dez. We are still working together.
8.0 – Which track on your recent disc “Fever” is your fav and which ones do fans gravitate to?
My favorite track is “Radio Dreams”. Fans seem to be drawn to “I’m No Good” and “Standing in the Rain”.
9.0 – What was it like playing with Leslie West? learn any new licks from him?
I was able to tour the world for 8 years with Leslie West & Corky Laing of Mountain. I already knew the Licks (LOL)
10.0 – Is there anyone you haven’t jammed with that you would like to someday?
Jeff Beck …..and many more.
I played with bands in the late 1970s/early 80s in Ireland, wound up in Hamburg, Germany in the mid 80s and started working as a crew member on tours. I toured with a variety of acts including Devo, Rory Gallagher, Nick Cave, Einstürzende Neubauten
2.0 – Peterson has quite a long and rich history, when did you first become aware of them and how did you ultimately become involved with the brand?
I used Peterson strobe tuners on the road always, no self-respecting roadie should be without one. All my peers used them. The challenges onstage during a show are many and varied, and you need to arm yourself with the very best tools to excel. Sometimes I see guys trying to get by with a needle/LED tuner and struggling with things like tuning acoustic instruments in deafening conditions, which is no problem with a mechanical strobe. It’s just about having the right tools for the job. I started repairing the older models for colleagues and through contact over the years with the factory in Chicago, built up a relationship with Peterson that led to the offer of a job in the U.S. a dozen years ago.
3.0 – The Who’s-Who of real touring artists know Peterson is the gold standard, is it difficult finding ways to bring that message to new, less established musicians?
It can be harder because of the nature of the product; a tuner is a functional piece of gear. There are those who value an effects pedal like a chorus or delay more than a high end tuner, but they forget that tuning is crucial. It’s the building blocks of tone, because harmonic content is a vital part of tone, and the only way to influence it is by tuning as precisely as possible.
4.0 – Do you find it ironic that most of the early live recordings of folks like Hendrix & Zeppelin are often grossly out-of tune?
People sometimes say that but it’s not entirely true, people don’t realize that strobe tuners have been around since the mid-1930s and it was the advent of recording and the “Talkies”, not Rock ‘n’ Roll which spurred interest in tuning properly, by that I mean the first time attention was paid to overtones and harmonic content.
Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and even the Sex Pistols and the Ramones had strobe tuners in their arsenal of gear.
In those days when actual Rock Stars walked the Earth maybe they didn’t always use them or were maybe too out of it to do so! Nevertheless, those artists did have an innate sense of what is “in tune”.
Being “in tune” is also open to interpretation, dissonance is as much of a sonic tool as consonance is, listen to any epic guitar solo and it is peppered (and sweetened!) with both. The trick is to be aware of which is which and why.
Let’s see, dismantling part of a building in Moscow in order to “procure” instruments (scrap metal) for German industrial noise band Einstürzende Neubauten with the KGB style officials breathing down my neck or maybe doing a gig with a scantily clad Nina Hagen in a maximum security prison would probably count.
6.0 – I imagine you have fielded strange requests from artists over the years as a roadie and at Peterson?
As an ex-roadie my lips are sealed (Ancient Order of The Road forbids it :-).
At Peterson, plenty of strange requests, a tuner for chemical silos to indicate how much material was left inside (existing systems are apparently not very good!).
A request for a tuner for suspension bridge tensioning (!)
Tuning the Peterson Bottle Organ.
At the recent Royal Diamond Jubilee in the UK, the eight bells adorning the prow of the Queens barge were tuned using a Peterson Strobe Tuner.
7.0 – You have quite a guitar collection, any favorites you could never part with?
I have a 1977 Gurian JM that I’m very fond of, and a 1956 Gibson LG1 that’s got quite a charm to it, I also have a couple of ‘70s Guild twelve string guitar that I like. At Peterson, we use a wide range of instruments when creating our sweetened tuning presets and we often include our own personal instruments.
8.0 – If you could program Star Trek’s Holodeck with a couple concert settings you lived, what would the menu look like?
Leipzig, Germany Oct 25th 1989: On tour through East Germany (or GDR as it was known then), with a bunch of artists. The lead singer of one of the bands coyly wishes the audience “all the best for the future”, and is met with silence, then one handclap, then two, then three, erupting into a standing ovation. A few days later, the Berlin Wall falls.
Hamburg, Germany March 31st 1990: Standing beside Jerry Lee Lewis after delivering the “piano du jour” for him to warm up on, when Jerry Lee says “boys, this is a fine piano, some day when I got the money, I’m gonna buy me one o’ these”. My crew buddy Jed glances at the stacks of dollars in the room which JLL insisted he be paid in and pipes up “the money lying around here would do fine as a down payment”. Happily we got out alive without JLL taking umbrage.
Hamburg, Germany Oct 24th 1990: Dizzy Gillespie sits down beside me at the back of the stage by the dimmers, looks at the band, looks at me and says “Ain’t that a heck of a band?” It was his own band who he often allowed to “stretch out” by leaving the stage to them, a generous guy.
Paris, France 18th Dec 1992: Rory Gallagher playing up a storm, blows his amps up, which trips a circuit breaker taking out the entire PA. Rory switches to acoustic guitar and plays unamplified to a hushed crowd, until some unfortunate individual exits the restrooms via the very squeaky door, cue the entire crowd looking around to see who the heretic was!
Osaka, Japan July 8th 1993: Explaining to a frightened stage manager that no, I didn’t need any hi octane fuel to power the tuned jet turbine used on the set of Einstürzende Neubauten and no, we didn’t need to set the stage on fire like last time……………
9.0 – How do you feel about the auto-tuning phenomenon?
I think it has its place, but there are so many people using it without any knowledge of or regard for proper intonation and temperament theory (you cannot tune everything as you would a guitar) and that’s why it sounds so artificial even when used sparingly. If you’ve ever tried to make a keyboard sound like a horn section, the same problem arises.
I can always hear it, it’s very easy to detect and differentiate from naturally in-tune recordings.
I guess I should say I’m more a fan of the preventative (tune and intonate properly when recording) rather than the curative (fix it later).
10.0 – Sound analysis is crucial in testing architectural stability for the world’s most ambitious structures and it has been postulated that sound was the secret to the building of the pyramids; is sound the most powerful force in the universe?
I would say that sound is all pervasive.
Money was a big factor. I invested all of my savings into recording
the LP. I hired great players and rented studio time, including a few
days at The Magic Shop. That added up very quickly. Following up with an EP-fewer song to record and mix-made sense financially. But I also like the format of an EP. Pick a few songs that you feel really solid about and put them out there.
2.0 – How do you think the material and delivery on the new disc vary in comparison?
Production value. I couldn’t afford a pro studio to track drums on
this one. All of the tunes on the EP were either recorded in my
bedroom or my friend and mixer/engineer/producer Zach Berkman’s bedroom using Protools and a few mics. We didn’t labor a lot over sounds or complicated arrangements. Instead, we focused on getting workable sounds and good, honest takes. Like a lot of other songwriters I tend to think that a great song ought to hold up whether it’s performed by a voice and a single accompanying instrument or a full band with all of the bells and whistles added on.
3.0 – How did your band come together?
Different band with the exception of Leo Marino on guitar. He played guitar on the LP and the EP, along with switching between guitar and bass in my live band for years. Lately I’ve been performing with Leo,
the great Anton Fier on drums, and Brett Bass on bass. It’s the best
group I’ve played out with.
4.0 – Would you describe yourself as a Day Dreamer; are you nocturnal?
Nope. But I had terrible ADD as a kid. The song “Day Dreamer” provides
a spot-on description of what it was like for me to space out in
5.0 – What comes easier to you, writing on guitar or piano?
That depends on the tune. I’m more proficient on the guitar, but I’m
likely to come up with more interesting chord-voicings and
progressions on the piano. Sometimes I’ll develop a song idea by
switching between the two instruments. If I’m lucky, trying the tune
on the piano might give me an idea of how to approach it on the guitar
and vice versa.
6.0 – Can you describe what it feels like to have written a song you believe in?
It’s very cathartic. Especially if the song comes out quickly with
little editing or ‘crafting’ on my end.
7.0 – How do you know when a song is ready for recording?
I’ll demo it up on Protools and play it for a few people whose opinion
I value. If the feedback is good I’ll try it out live. If it goes
over well and I still like singing it, than the song is ready to go.
8.0 – What was the first song you ever learned to sing and play at the same time?
I’m pretty sure it was “About a Girl” by Nirvana.
9.0 – Who or what got you hooked on rock & roll?
It was in the first grade. I was hanging out with my friends Joe,
Scott and JP in JPs TV room. Joe put on Appetite for Destruction and
started rocking out on air guitar. He told us we were in his band and
assigned instruments. Of course he got to be lead guitarist AND lead
vocalist (Slash + Axle…Slaxle?). I got stuck being the bass player.
I didn’t even know what that was. Either way, I was hooked for life.
10.0 – How was your recent return to NY’s The Living Room in June?
Great. I love that venue. You can rock out hard on one tune and
follow it up with something really quiet and the audience will stay
with you. It all works in that space.
1.0 – How long did it take you to write, record, and finally mix the new disc, “I Love You”?
Most of the songs on “I Love You” were written over a 3 year period -2008-2010 where I was struggling in every conceivable way. I’ve always struggled. But the walls were really starting to collapse inward financially & relationship wise. Los Angeles is an expensive ride and we literally didn’t have enough money to get a tire fixed.
Most of the record was recorded at the Pass (RIP) in Studio City, CA (a studio once owned by Tom Jones!) in 2 days. 99% of the vocals are live. All of the rhythm tracks are live. My friend Rynne came in and did some background vocals for us (she’s now in the band), Marko, our bass player and producer/mixer of most of the tracks on the record, had his 11 year old son play tuba on “Most of the People”. Mixing was a slower process because it took us a while to figure out that Marko was going to mix the whole thing (or most of it – Zeph Sowers, who works with TV on the Radio mixed “Gravel”, and Todd Solomon recorded and mixed “This House”). Then it was a matter of fitting it in around the daily minutia of middle aged white-guydum.
2.0 – Did you have a vision for how the album should sound before going in or did it evolve?
It evolved – pretty quickly. My friend Jason Karaban, who I wrote “Tumbleweeds” and “Tell em My Story” with (he’s got his own version of “Tumbleweeds” coming out on his record this summer as well) is friends with a handful of super great, generous musicians – Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Dave Immergluck & Charlie Gillingham (Counting Crows) and Niel Larsen (Leonard Cohen). We had no idea how it was going to sound, I don’t think, until Niel played the piano solo on Gravel – then everything sort of started to take on the same flavor. Later on, I brought in Dr. Steve Patt – family practitioner to the stars and ridiculously talented musician – to play pedal steel and we ended up with a kind of mid 70’s Merl Haggard record.
3.0 – Did you approach the record on a strictly tune-by-tune basis or were there themes you wanted to get across?
I wrote these songs during a tumulteous time in my life and so everything fits nicely together theme wise. I didn’t set out to write an album of 9 melancholy songs about middle aged angst but I wasn’t writing about anything else either so, yes & no.
4.0 – Which tracks are fans and friends gravitating to so far?
The ones where I get the girl or where my lady does me wrong and I exact revenge by buying a nice car.
5.0 – It’s been over a decade since the Huffamoose Billboard Hit, “Wait” (#34, 1998), and yet the new stuff maintains the dry wit that was a hallmark of the band, where does it come from for you?
hmm – well, I’ve spent most of my life in music pretending to know what I’m doing. I never had the intellectual staying power to really dig into song crafting, the language of songwriting, etc. I barely listen to music- so maybe that’s how I can muster up just a smidgen of originality – I sort of found my way to my own voice in this ass-backwards way. I know my dad and I like to laugh at the same things. So do my daughter and I. The other members of Huffamoose seemed to share this sensibility too. I know that I’m extremely attractive and attractive people tend to be really creative and fun to be around.
6.0 – Has living now in California impacted your music or outlook on life in any way?
Well, I’m not sure if it’s California, but I certainly have had my toughest years here. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have written these songs in Philadelphia, but who knows. LA can be this amazingly gorgeous prison. You look outside at the wonderful sunshine and the air smells divine but you can’t go out and enjoy it – you’re too busy trying to make your rent – at least that’s been my experience – no mortgages in my present or near future. That’s another odd thing about LA…I feel like I’m the only one who struggles. Everyone else just drives to and from meetings at Starbucks in their BMWs.
7.0 – What got you hooked on rock & roll as a kid?
The way the towel looked on my head when I was pretending to be a rock star in the bathroom mirror. That and the Bread song “Guitar Man.”
8.0 – What was the first song you ever learned to sing and play at the same time?
“Where Have All the Flowers Gone”
9.0 – What three 70’s albums should be in every music lovers collection?
1. Presence – Led Zepplin
2. Tapestry – Don McClean
3. Something Anything – Todd Rungdren
10.0 – Is it really true that you “Can’t Stop Being A Dick”?
It is 100% true. It is an absolute truth. I literally wake up every moring with the best of intentions and by the time I shuffle out into the kitchen and ignore my wife or yell at one of my 5 cats, I’m back.
1.0 – Does the name ‘Hurray for The Riff Raff’ reflect a personal or band philosophy of sorts?
I would say the name comes from my love and feeling of camaraderie for the underdog of all walks of life. Growing up in New York City exposed me to people who live on the fringes of society and sometimes go unseen yet they have so much unique energy they give the city. The homeless subway singers, the runaway teenagers from middle america, the gender benders, and the Puerto Rican Poets of the lower east side. I felt at home with this lot of folk right away.
2.0 – Do you have a favorite track on the new release, Look Out Mama?
I’d say my favorite track is “Ode to John and Yoko”, it was really fun to record and mess around with. Andrija Tokic really helped me bring that song to life. I had the song and some ideas but him and Sam Doores had a lot of great ideas about how we could use Beatles-esque recording tricks etc to make it what it is. Dan Cutler is the man when it comes to vocal arrangements, so with the help of the whole team this recording came about and I couldn’t be prouder.
3.0 – How did the relationship with the HBO show ‘Treme’ come about?
Treme has been awesome about wanting real New Orleans musicians on the show, the crew really respects New Orleans artists and they want us to benefit from the success. I was just lucky enough they decided to use us.
4.0 – Could you have become the artist you are today had you not run away from home and the Bronx at 17?
I’m sure I’d be an artists of some sort since i’ve been making art since childhood, but I think everyone has a path and a purpose in life and great things come to you when you follow your path. It’s not always easy but it’s rewarding. It was very hard for me to leave and the life was not easy by any means, honestly I wish I could have some of that time back to connect with my family. But it was what I think I needed to do to come to the place I am now mentally and artistically. It brought me to New Orleans and to the musicians who taught me how to play, in that respect I am so grateful I took the plunge and now have this outlet.
5.0 – Is that when you became ‘riff raff’?
I have always felt like riff raff since I was born. I have always felt a little different than your average bear. My aunt who raised me can attest to that! But being on the road opened my eyes in many ways. There are a lot of people in this country who have no where to call home, they don’t have food to eat. There’s also people who have an extreme amount of wealth. I learned about the privileges I have and don’t have, it taught me that balance more than anything. What I want to fight for and what I want to remember how lucky I am to have. Now I’m trying to make music that I hope will have some kind of positive effect on this country and our world.
6.0 – How does your Bronx upbringing inform your music today if at all?
The Bronx is a beautiful place to grow up, there’s a lot of the hard working people there. It’s unpretentious as it gets. These folks are also Riff Raff in my mind, the person who’s just working really hard to raise their family and seems to not be able to get a break. Where I grew up it was a lot of Irish, Puerto Rican and Dominican and Jewish families. A great mix of people. I had some a great best friend who would walk the neighborhood with me. We both grew up with a respect for our elders and a longing for the New York of the 1960’s we heard about in song and stories. We both wanted West Side Story and Doo Wop music. A lot of Puerto Rican artists sang in those groups, gals and guys from the neighborhoods singing on the street corners. In that way it effected my music very much and that Doo Wop influence is growing. I was just singing on the corners in New Orleans with a banjo.
7.0 – Do songs just ‘happen’ for you or do you have to work hard on them and build them up over time?
I do both. Sometimes they fall on you from the sky, and sometimes you have to craft them. I just try to follow my inspiration.
8.0 – What comes first for you; the content? melody? chords?
Most of the time it’s melody, I normally sing something and then pick up the instrument.
9.0 – What’s your feeling about categories and genre’s when it comes to your music?
I feel like it’s hard for me to pick them, but if someone else wants to go ahead. Just listen to it is what I say! If you want to call it anything, call it folk music.
10.0 – What are some of your influences growing up and are they still today?
Growing up I loved Judy Garland, Madonna and Marilyn Manson! I was a strange child, I had all sorts of role models. I was also very influenced by the songs on the oldies radio station that I’d listen to with my family. But as I got into middle school I began getting really into the Punk scene. That influenced me too, I loved the energy of the live shows, the political views and the community feeling. Punk led me to American Folk music, old time, Woody Guthrie, traveling songs. Punk music led me to travel and learn songs from people I met on the road. But it’s more recent that I’ve found John Lennon, Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch and Bob Dylan. When I met Sam Doores in New Orleans he introduced me to a lot of music I missed somehow. He taught me about the beauty of a well written song. I loved his appreciation and dedication to songwriting. He became a big influence of me as well, as we all down here in New Orleans inspire and influence each other.
2.0 – How did you track the record and who was involved? I tracked the record at my studio Catherine The Great in Brooklyn. I pretty much record / mixed and did basic mastering myself. David Barratt was the executive producer on The Breakdown of a Breakup and I can say without a doubt that had he not come on board and lent his brilliant fresh ears I’d be working on the record for the next ten years.
3.0 – Do you allow yourself to compare your own records and if so, where does this one rank for you now, the week after its Valentine’s Day release? I don’t really compare them as they’re a snapshot in time but this record was a real departure musically and lyrically.
4.0 – How did the concept for the album come about? When my marriage of twenty years ended I wrote a bunch of songs to help me process it all. I didn’t think of putting it all together as a collection until David Barratt stepped in and helped to make sense out of all the tunes. Once we listened to them, it was pretty clear that they were all of a piece.
5.0 – What’s your best advice for getting through the pain and doubt of a failed relationship? I know for me writing the tunes was a way of communicating to myself how I was really feeling & I’d imagine anyone going through it songwriter or not would get some clarity but writing it all down. It helps to keep it from just playing in the background of your mind.
6.0 – On your website, folks are encouraged to share their love stories; how’s that going? It proved to be a great forum for people to share their stories, and to let others know that they aren’t alone in their heartbreak.
7.0 – Which is your first love: playing guitar, singing or writing music? I’d have to say playing that guitar, as that’s where it all started, but the three together are the holy trinity for me.
8.0 – How do you know when you have a good idea for song, or are you never quite sure? Some songs just feel like gifts that you’re being given & your only job as a songwriter is not to get in the way! Then there are the tunes that you go 12 rounds before they show themselves.
9.0 – Was there an artist or a record that propelled you as a kid? “Ode to Billy Jo” by Bobbie Gentry. That song & Ms. Gentry’s singing blew me away. The cover for the sheet music was a picture of her holding a cool parlor guitar. I’d have to say that was it for me. I’m always trying to write that song !
10.0 – What’s the finest compliment you have ever been paid walking off a stage? Hmm … I honestly don’t know that I can pick one. It’s always so moving and incredibly generous to have people come up & thank you for giving voice to something they were feeling. I am in a constant state of gratitude for that.
This whole record feels like a solid offering to me. Hard to pick faves, just like your own children. The ending of “Devil We Do,” “Broke it, Buy It,” The string arrangements on “Everything in its Place” and “Turned Around.”
2.0 – What other Honeydogs release would you say is closest kin to the newbie?
Hmmmmmm. The record feels like a synthesis of our older roots records with some of the more elaborately arranged records of the last decade. It has elements of our first two, and a few moments of 10,000 Years or Amygdala.
3.0 – Now ten albums on, has the process of choosing the album title changed at all and how does “What Comes After” sum up what this record is bout to you?
Album titles are in some ways like song titles. They have some significance. “What Comes After” has a bit of a spiritual ring to it–i was thinking about life and death matters quite a bit in the last year. it’s also self-referential as an artist–I always like to keep moving forward artistically. I have a number of projects percolating, and feel in a more creatively productive period than at any point in my career. I hope to continue to always ask the question, “what comes after?”
4.0 – How do you work as a band when it comes to new material; has it changed over the years?
As the band has gotten more adept at learning songs the unit has become accomplished in the art of learning tunes on the spot; this record I brought a lot of songs the band had never heard. They learned the songs and we tracked them immediately, sometimes in one or two takes. That said, the band and my songwriting, while having a signature style, has always tried to not be predictable. We don’t want to retread previous charted territory. The band as players have developed some great antennae and abilities to learn quickly and fashion parts that feel new. This record was the easiest one we’ve ever made. We worked with young engineers. The band didn’t labor over details and we tried to retain as many of basic tracks and vocals as possible.
its time to go in the studio when I feel like I’ve got enough songs to work with. The band loves being in the studio. We grow a great deal every time we do this. As I mentioned, little or no pre-production happened on songs for this record. It is a very collective process of giving shape to a new body of work. I always have ideas and make suggestions about parts. But the more we work together, the more I trust everyone’s amazing instincts in this band.
6.0 – Did you have any personal goals for this record?
Sometimes not having expectations has some interesting results. We didn’t have big plans tracking this record. I felt like the songs were very personal and felt very comfortable in the studio with results happening quickly. Not having any expectations always leaves you pleasantly surprised.
7.0 – How did you gravitate toward ‘folk’ as the framework for your expression as a young artist?
I grew up with the 1970’s pop folk landscape of radio. All of those bands listened to blues and folk and country. My early favorites were all bands that merged older American musical styles with various other musical traditions. I studied cultural anthropology in college and managed to soak up a lot of early American music in my studies. I played in country VFW bands, old school honkytonk, and woodshedded to old blues and jazz records. My early songwriting leaned heavily on Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Richard Thompson, Dylan…I never wanted to be a museum piece simply curating old musics and always had it in my mind to refer to these musics while offering something different. My favorite artists have used the past as a touchstone to produce inspired hybrids and fresh interpretations.
8.0 – What was the first song you ever learned to play and sing at the same time?
Ha ha ha ha ha. Badly or well? KISS’s “Detroit Rock City” badly. “Sweet Black Angel” from the Stones’ Exile on MainStreet.
9.0 – Who was your favorite guitarist growing up?
I loved Mick Jones from The Clash. Jimi Hendrix taught me the most. I studied him hard. Keith Richards and Pete Townsend taught me the importance of riffs and funky minimalism. George Harrison taught me the importance of composing parts sometimes to create memorable music.
10.0 – What advice do you give young artists looking to hit the road?
Do it while you have time and freedom. Create a great band. Make everyone feel invested, loved, appreciated, and hope they areb equally driven. It takes time to build a good team. Be patient but be relentless and learn from failures…over and over and over. Don’t listen to your parents. I say that as a parent!
do have a following and figure out ways to collaborate with them
strategy–even the big dogs can and will die from overexposure.
Space your major gigs properly and pick up new fans at open mics,
guest appearances at other peoples shows, benefit concerts,
1.0 – How did Independence 76 come together? I wrote the lyrics to “The Epic of Pat Tillman and i” on my 30th birthday. I was sitting alone in a Boston hotel room after a long day of negotiating weapons contracts for the Global War on Terror. As I read an article about Tillman’s life and the horrible ending to his service I felt compelled to write a “parable” to explain to my daughter how he inspired my personal declaration of independence. The name Independence 76 is a tribute to Pat Tillman’s life.
2.0 – How did you record the debut, Magpie Parables? All 16 songs on the album were recorded in John Cody’s bedroom studio in Oklahoma City. I’m the primary writer and co-producer. John co-wrote the music, co-produced the album, and was the primary audio engineer. A few of our talented friends stopped by to help out along the way.
3.0 – Did you learn anything in the process? All you really need is 600 square feet of space.
4.0 – What song on it are people telling you is their favorite? “Eminent Domain (Side A)” could be described as polarizing, yet it’s a favorite. “Magpie” and “Sundance Squares” are two others that get big thumbs up.
5.0 – Are all the songs relatively new or are some old friends with history? The five songs on Volume One were first recorded in 2006 and the songs on Volume Two were finished last year.
6.0 – Storytelling is a key component of the release, do you find it is easier to write allegorical versus autobiographical stuff? It’s the autobiographical stuff that inspires the final allegorical product.
7.0 – It seems like protest music these days is angrier than it’s original form in the 60’s and 70’s, does that make you guys a throwback? It’s hard to say. Anger is a sign that people still care. We still care.
8.0 – Where did your love of traditional forms American music come from originally? My extended family is from Missouri and Tennessee and a lot of them play(ed). I’m pretty sure the love of Americana music is strongly imprinted in my DNA. Nathan (bass, mandolin) and Isaac Eicher (mandolin) come from deep Americana musical roots as well.
9.0 – Did you have to study it as a form to deliver it yourself or is a ‘god-given-thing’ as they say? The lyrics often arrive in a mystical fashion but my musical education has primarily been a combination of hard work and studying the masters.
10.0 – Could this record have come out of anywhere else besides Oklahoma City? Oklahoma City was good enough for Woody Guthrie. I suppose it’s good enough for us too.
The recent recording session is going super well. We’re in the studio with Andy Wambach up at Audio Impact Studios in Clearwater, Fl and he’s the most laid back engineer/producer we’ve worked with. Super awesome guy at everything he does. We’re almost done with everything this first session. Just gotta finish up vocals and bass then prepare for the next batch of songs we have. Things are lookin great.
2..0 – Will it be continuation of the direction on the debut The Wanderer EP or a new tack for the band?
A lot different from our last recored which is great – its definitely a new track. We’re kinda doin away with the rockabilly/country feel and goin for a darker, more raw, rock n roll sound. I feel its more us in a sense and being true to our music is number 1 on our list so we’re super excited to show everyone.
3.0 – How did the you come together?
We got together from a disbanding of a previous project 3 of us were in. I was doing The Wanderer as a solo project on the side with my brother Chris Perez at drums and then Ricky Stephens and Ryan Kersey showed interest in making this a full time gig so we started playing shows together and it took off from there. It was kinda fate in a way because we’d all been friends for a while and in seperate projects and this band was what ultimately brought together and its stuck for a while.
4.0 – Putting you on the spot: what’s the best thing about being a ‘Wanderer’?
Haha…the best thing about being a Wanderer is definitely feeling a chemistry when we all get together and write music. There’s definitely an energy in the room when things click between us. Almost like a freight train haha. Once we start, there’s no stopping us. Ideas just flow.
5. Was there a guitarist that got you hooked initially on the idea of playing music?
Oh man! Most definitley. For me U2’s guitarist, The Edge, hooked me from a very young age. My guitar playing definitely takes heavy influence from him. Just his sound and the choices he makes not to stand out to much but more so fill out a song and really bring it the depth and atmosphere that U2 songs have really inspires me.
6.0 – When did you start writing?
I started writing at a very young age. I think I was about 8 or 9 when I wrote my first song. I remember sitting in my moms bedroom with my brand new Fender Strat Squier that my dad bought me and I pumped this song out called “Graceland”. It was definitely a post-punk kinda song that I wrote after watching U2’s Rattle And Hum movie. It was named after Elvis’ home where they (U2) had visited and I remember pausing it and writing this song. It was cheesy as all get-out though haha.
It definitely depends. Usually it starts with either Ricky (our guitar player) or I comin up with a riff and just building from there. There have been times where it started with a title like “The Awakening” off of our last ep so it really depends on who brings what to the table first.
8.0 – When / how did you find out you could sing?
I wouldn’t call it singing really, just yelling really loudly in a melodic fashion haha. But the first time I remember being able to sing was when I was in first grade. My music teacher at the time heard me singing to some music video we were watching and she pulled me to the side and asked me to sing some lines from “The Little Drummer Boy” and next thing I knew, I was singing it in front of people at my schools Christmas play. So I guess you could say that was my first recollection of being able to sing.
9.0 – Do lyrics come easy to you or do they come together over time for a given song?
Like with riffs, it depends. Lyrics usually come pretty easily to me but then again sometimes I find it hard but it always comes through in the end once I put all my ideas together and piece it out. I usually find myself writing lyrics first and fitting them in.
10.0 – You are sleep walking in a dreamscape and wander on stage in your pajamas to join what band on what encore?
Oh man! That’s an easy one for me haha. I would wander on stage and join Bono and the rest of U2 for one of my favorite songs, “Love is Blindness”. Hands down. Now it’d be a little weird to be in my pajamas but, hey, I’ll get over it pretty quickly haha.
1.0 – What are the plans for Magic Slim & The Teardrops in 2012?
I have been cast in an independent production movie about a blues man from Mississippi who gets involved with the ghost and two young musical prodigies. I am actually playing the lead role and will be performing as an actor for the first time in my life. The shooting starts next month and the movie will be called “We B Kings”. I also plan to record a new record in the next several months with a heavy emphasis on my guitar playing. Of course I will still be touring both here and abroad as much as possible and playing as many festivals as we can line up.
2.0 – Where did your love of the blues begin and what was the first tune you ever learned on the guitar?
My earliest recollection of blues is John Lee Hooker playing “Boogie Chillin” on his first album and I believe my first guitar attempts were Jimmy Reed licks. I then began to listen to blues on Nashville radio which included BB(King), (Little)Walter and Muddy(Waters). I then became good friends with Magic Sam who later christened me Magic Slim.
3.0 – It’s often said that technical ability is the enemy of the best blues and rock & roll, why is that?
Blues is not written on paper and isn’t technical music. Blues must be played with feeling and from the heart. If you concentrate too much on the technical, you can’t reach the public with feelings and emotion.
4.0 – How do you play a song like ‘Mustang Sally’ every night and yet keep it feeling fresh?
I keep my shows fresh by playing lots of different songs. I know several thousand blues tunes. Even though I get in a groove with certain tunes and tend to play them frequently before an audience, I rarely play a song the same way twice and am always adding new licks or extra licks to an arrangement.
5.0 – You have played with so many great drummers over the years, is it true that no two are the same?
Yes it is true that no two drummers play exactly the same. I prefer a drummer with a really solid heavy beat. Our band technical rider requests an extra snare be available because my drummers have been known to break a few.
6.0 – Does it take a little time to lock in with new players or is it their job to find your groove at this point?
It takes a little time to lock in with new players but I’ve always used highly talented guys who share my feelings for blues and they catch on fast. I tell my sidemen what I want and remind them if they are not on my groove and I rarely have to say anything at all with my present band. They know my stuff as well as I do and we are all pretty tight.
When I look back on the Chicago blues scene of the 70s, I think about how many really great players there were and how at that time I felt I wasn’t as good as many of them. They were tougher than I was then but I would sure like to go head-to-head with any of them now. Right now I feel pretty tough myself.
8.0 – What is the quintessential difference, if any, between ‘the Chicago blues’ and other streams within the genre?
I like all kinds of blues but I’ve always preferred the style and tempo of Chicago blues. It just feels grittier and more down in the alley for me.
9.0 – Has your philosophy about playing live changed at all over the years and what goes through your mind before going on?
At this stage of my career I feel much more confident than in the earlier years and although I always enjoyed going head-to-head with the other blues guys, I now go on with a kick ass, take no prisoners approach where I leave everything I’ve got out there each performance. I never worry what the next guy is going to do. I just want to do the best I can when they call my name.
10.0 – So many today consider you a national treasure and a living legend, how does that make you feel?
It makes me feel good when people say nice things about me and my playing. I have spent a lot of time trying to learn how to play blues and each year I feel like I know little more than I did last year and it’s nice when people like what I do. I have been trying a long time and it seems to be working. I am thankful that my health and my energy level allow me to play at my best levels ever. Next year I plan to be a little bit better than I am now.
1.0 – The title track from your new release, Drunk On You, seems to chronicle a coming to terms with the perils of romantic entanglement, is it a theme on the record?
It could be taken as romantic entanglement but that’s not what the song is about for me! I deliberately wrote it with a double intent. Actually, I am writing about my coming to terms with being lured by empty promises over and over because I’m attracted to the brightest star, the glittering objects I don’t have to! …to keep pursuing such intangibility is to be drunk! Most of the time those roads lead nowhere….just go round and round and my first words in the song ” Going round and round ’til I get to the bridge” describe the feeling of being so inebriated that you can’t actually get anywhere! However I have known a few people and still do who would fit the bill of the ‘you’ in Drunk On You!
2.0 – How would you compare the newbie to your last, The Pirate of Eel Pie?
I approached this album differently, even though it is similar in that it is a collection of songs mainly relating to my life. Many of the songs on Drunk On You were written more to the sound rather than waiting to arrange it after the song was written. For instance – I always heard a bit of chaos happening in the middle of “I Broke The law” as if a band was playing on a ship out at sea that was getting shipwrecked. When I met Jason Candler from The Hungry March Band it seemed like the perfect opportunity to have them play in the middle as if rolling in and out of the song. I had also formed a band in 2009 and that year we did a series of gigs that started to gel the sound. I loved the energy and vibe and wanted to capture that live feel as the basic and make it be as complete as possible without adding too many extra overdubs. I searched for a studio where I could get complete separation between piano and drums so that we could get the best sound playing live. I found One East Studios in NYC with a great Yamaha upright rock and roll piano! I also feel my songwriting has developed. Prior to The Pirate of Eel Pie I had been involved in downtempo jazz electronica and had embraced Eel Pie as a “back to songs” album. I took my time. I recorded basic tracks – drums and bass at Ricky Fataar’s studio in San Francisco and went back and forth between NYC and there about 4 or 5 times. The tracks for Drunk on You were recorded in 3 shortish days and it had been a relatively quick writing process….especially the song “All Be Saints” which got added at the very last minute! Finally- findng Brian McTear to mix was the best part.
3.0 – Is it an over riding feeling that propels a new project into being for you or simply an artist’s desire to keep creating?
I’m f**!ed if I know! I made a pact with myself a long time ago to always show up and be there if inspiration hit. Quite a few times I’ve been running up the road to get home so that I can put an idea down and work on it! Propulsion (is that a word?) is a good way to put it actually. In “Walk Under Waterfalls” when I say ” Shot off like a rocket, never wanting to wait for anyone…” I’m describing the enormous amount of inspiration music gave to my life originally. Every time I get an idea and sound in my head it is almost the same thing.
I felt so comfortable there and happy! The familiarity of the area felt so similar to when I’d been in my early 20’s that I think I was absorbing a lot of my youthful innocence and excitement! The fact that the weather (for London) was great and so was the Steinway piano, helped! An aged bunny rabbit named Tom who I was taking care of, sparked the idea for “I Broke The Law” – loosely based on Animal Liberators rescuing rabbits from animal testing labs. This song could be about any part of cruelty and inhumanity that you can’t turn your head away from.
5.0 – With this being your fourth solo record, what’s the feeling when it’s done – catharsis, relief, pressure, celebration? Definitely celebration and relief but also hope and fear! I hope to reach a wide audience who love the music and get the message! But I fear that it may wither and die on the vine!
6.0 – How do you think being a support musician for so many wonderful artists over the years helped prepare you for the ‘music business’ as a solo artist?
In many ways it didn’t! I did get very used to being on large stages and keeping a frantic schedule sometimes. I also saw how hard all the artists I’ve played with worked, especially Laurie Anderson. Playing with Rodney Crowell really helped me as a songwriter and being around Peter Gabriel was amazing to see how much stamina he puts into everything he’s doing, but the music business is a bit of a mystery ….still! More often than not I’ve seen the industry let artists down. In the early 80’s with Joe Jackson, he was riding a huge wave of popularity, we were getting flown round the world, the music industry was doting and excited….made us feel glorious! Times were different back then.
7.0 – Early on in life, was there an artist you believed may be the embodiment of who you would someday become?
Miles Davis…..or George Harrison!
8.0 – Life informs your music in the sense that you aren’t afraid to share a message or trumpet a cause, is it easier to write those kinds of numbers versus the very personal ones?
Well since 2004 I’ve been dedicated to animal rights and being a vegan. So that is very personal for me. You can hear that in the song My Life where I write about a great trip to Buenos Aires (my first to South America) and it describes simply what I saw in the verses but in the chorus I sing: “I feel we can feed the world, but we never do the right thing, I feel what we already know could be the first helping.” I’m saying: wherever I am, I carry myself there – and this is what I believe!
9.0 – As a long-time animal rights activist, has the occupy movement had any resonance with you?
Yes! The reason why factory farming exists is because of big corporate business that has deep ties to government. Factory farming and the agribusiness is responsible for a large percentage of global warming….but not just that- massive pollution of rivers and waterways, devastation to the planet not to mention the misery and suffering to other species who exist on this planet. Also the damage to our health and the violation of human rights (slaughterhouse workers are often illegal immigrants or poverty stricken Americans who have no health coverage and earn less than minimum wages with illegal hours). The agribusiness underpins government and when Occupy started it was exactly the same feeling-it is linked! We cannot sacrifice the planet and it’s inhabitants for the greed and madness of the 1%! The 2nd bridge of AOAO lets you know exactly how I feel about this!
10 – Shipwrecked on an uncharted island, you stumble across an old tape cassette player with working batteries. There’s a faded tape in the machine!! You press play and, to your delightful surprise, what song begins to play?
Agh!!!) That is very hard…….after going through Strawberry Fields, While my Guitar Gently Weeps, Hey Joe, most of Sticky Fingers and Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street, I have settled on Rightoff from Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson album – it is about 23 minutes long….hope those batteries last!!