A Conversation with Duff McKagan
Mike Ragogna: So tell me more about Walking Papers. Who gave you these walking papers of which we speak?
Duff McKagan: As an aside, actually, we, Walking Papers, have gone to the UK and Europe a couple times already in the last few months and I didn't know this, but the term "Walking Papers" is a strictly American term. Even in the UK, we'll do an interview and they'll be like, "Walking Papers, what does that name mean? Papers that walk?" We suddenly realized, "Oh..." Of course, it's a pink slip, but in Germany and France, they have no idea what it means. I think you find out something new every day. It's just an American term. Walking Papers is a band that's stellar guys, a Seattle group. God, I've wanted to play with Jeff Angell--I kind of knew something would happen, I'd do something since I met him in '99 or 2000--kind of the same with Barrett Martin. We played in the nineties together here and there, and we kind of made a pact that, one day, we'll do something together, and it all happened at once.
MR: What were your first jam sessions like?
DM: In Seattle, everybody knows that Jeff Angell's one of the best songwriters that has come out of here. I'm not saying that lightly, he's a really talented songwriter. It's a gift he has. So Jeff had written some pieces and he and Barrett got into the studio down in Georgetown, Seattle, and recorded some of these things. Jeff called me last summer and said, "Hey, Barrett and I put together two things, would you have time to come and play bass on some of this? I really think you would add something to this." I went down and listened to the songs, they were great as I knew they would be, and the chemistry was really good. I had played with Barrett before and it was good and I had played with Jeff before. Sometimes the mixture of three guys won't necessarily work right off the bat, but it really did. Ben Anderson, the guy who plays keyboard and all those kind of sounds you hear on the record, he's a really talented dude who gets a lot of really cool influences from Dr. John and Gang Of Four to whatever. It's really, really cool. It was challenging for me, I think it challenges all of us, and that really helps a musician strive to get a little better.
MR: What were the studio experiences like? Any interesting anecdotes that happened while you guys were together?
DM: The first time I came in to play on those songs, it was in Georgetown. They were still kind of building it, and if you know Georgetown, it's this kind of this put together part of Seattle. There's not a lot of law down there or building codes yet. It's an old, old part of town, hence all these kind of artists are moving down there and putting studios together in little bars and stuff. So this place is still trying to be built and the wall is between the studio and a bar that was next door, a bar that has karaoke. You know the video game Rock Band?
DM: Okay, so it has karaoke Rock Band. So these two dudes, you can hear them playing this place like they were in the room with you. They were doing some Nirvana Rock Band and it was cranking, and the wall was paper-thin, it wasn't even insulated, and I'm in there in the next room in the studio trying to listen to these songs and play with them. I could barely hear. I had to put headphones on and then Barrett's kind of directing me with his hands and Jeff Angell's pointing at the Pro Tools session that's going by on a computer in front of me--I can't play to a visual of a session. And it was hot! In Seattle, when it's eighty-five, it feels like a hundred. I just remember the madness of that first session.
MR: And you guys are a Supergroup, in a way.
DM: The term "Supergroup" is really bizarre for me, only because the time I grew up in was when MTV started. This happened with Velvet Revolver, too--we were called a "supergroup." I kind of cringe a little bit, and maybe that's not the right word... Do you remember the band Asia who were guys from Yes and whatever else? I remember MTV started and they were playing the crap out of Asia and every time they'd say "Asia," it was "Supergroup Asia." "Supergroup, supergroup." It was being marketed that way. That happened with Velvet Revolver. Some writer said, "supergroup," and we said, "Well, s**t, we're just guys." We're musicians and Stone Temple Pilots isn't happening now. Scott's doing this thing with us; I've been friends with him for a while, and Slash and I, of course, play like mad together. So it's not like we sat out there in the ether and plucked certain guys like, "Let's make this supergroup." Of course, with Walking Papers, I have a history of playing in a few bands and so did Barrett, but Screaming Trees was twenty years ago.
MR: Then again, it's still a "super" group though, right?
DM: We are super! But you know, the term is what it is and I think it's kind of a throwaway term myself. I would never use it. If I was writing for the Seattle Weekly about this band, I couldn't imagine I would use that. It's just some guys, really, when you break it down to the music, and that's what it's all about. It's some guys that have a chemistry, and it works in the studio and it works really well live. That connection with the audience is always the most important thing. Some bands just don't have it. I've been in things where I've played and it's just like, "Oh, s**t, this ain't working." You can't really do anything about it. You get luck of the draw. I'm happy to be playing with this band, playing bass. I'm so inspired again on the bass, which is really nice in your career to get re-inspired on your instrument. So here we go.
MR: So you're playing the Uproar Tour this year, right?
DM: Yeah, the second stage. Alice In Chains headlines the festival. Organizers of that tour really liked this record and sometimes you get a nice little break where somebody says, "You know, you guys have already been beaten up three times, you've got a good label that's going to support this thing." It's a commerce thing, too. We'll be able to do some good interviews and the organizers of the tour know that, so we're doing our work to hopefully pull our weight, to be the headliner of the second space, and hopefully, we are a draw. When it comes down to it, everybody likes music, but if you're organizing the Uproar Tour, it's a money-making venture. They've got to pay the bills at the end of the day.
MR: Now, you've already had a couple of singles out from the album already, right?
DM: I guess, on different sites. Isn't it different now? You put your singles out, but not to radio. That's really cool that you said that.
MR: How do you feel about what's happening as far as music and music delivery and the mechanics of it all these days? How's it affected you?
DM: Well, right, that's a whole 'nother story, isn't it? Obviously, it's completely changed. It's flip-flopped from where Guns N' Roses and Screaming Trees were twenty years ago. Screaming Trees would be on MTV and, they'd go out and play on the Lollapalooza Tour and anything Seattle, at that point in '92, '93, if a Seattle band was coming through your town, those gigs were sold out. Whichever Seattle band it was, from Trees to Pearl Jam to Alice In Chains, we could just go down the list...Soundgarden. So there were huge waves that a band could kind of just ride on then. And people would buy records because there wasn't that digital delivery really yet. There were CDs but not every house had a computer, you know? Maybe '97, '98. So now we know how files are being shared and all that, we don't really need to get into that. So bands go out and they tour a lot more. I've probably toured more and traveled more in the last, well, jeez, ten years, than I did the preceding fifteen, by a lot. Bands have to pay a lot more attention to how much they're getting their t-shirts for. Sometimes that's the difference between making money on a tour and not, selling shirts. It's not bad. Queens Of The Stone Age or bands like that, they've got a really nice poster on this last record. They always make great records, it's not about how good or bad the band is, but this time, they'll be able to ride this wave and they're not going to probably make money off the record sales like we used to. But as far as the artistry, the combination of those days is really cool to see how things have melded together, what kind of career Mark Lanegan, for instance, has been able to put together post-Screaming Trees. Just like touring and working and producing more really good music. It's nice to see good artists enjoying a career that supports them with their great art.
MR: So what do you think about the future? This is not a one-shot deal, you guys want to make this work, right?
DM: It feels good. We've already written I don't know how many new songs. What happens is you make a record and with a band like this, we've been out touring--not in America, really, just a West Coast club run under the radar. But when a band like this starts rehearsing and going out playing gigs and doing sound checks, all we're doing is writing new riffs and new songs. We probably have a lot more in the hatch ready to go, so we'll tour this thing. The record comes out in a few weeks, and you hope something good happens commercially so that there is hope and that you get an audience, because that helps a band matriculate a career, obviously. That's really stating the obvious.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
DM: It all comes down to the simplest thing that it's always come down to. The music you're making has got to be something you believe in and not what's current. If you try to write music around what's current right now... Maybe some pop songwriters can do that, but they're just songwriters, they write for whatever's current right now. But I think if you're a band, if you're an artist, do what you believe in and do something different. Break the mold and kind of put your head down and pin your ears back and go for it. All this stuff you and I have been talking about, the commerce and all that crap, that comes much later and that's not the most important thing. If you don't have good music, there will be none of that. So it's music first, music first, music first.
MR: I wanted to ask you as far as your career, you've worked with so many bands between the three major ones you mentioned earlier and your own stuff. But do you have a personal favorite?
DM: No, I've been really lucky that different things I do will re-inspire me. Everything I've done, like Guns N' Roses, was an amazing ride. I played with a band called Neurotic Outsiders with Steve Jones and John Taylor in the '90s. That was the funniest band and a really rocking band. Everything I've done was really refreshing and awesome. When I play with Slash, there's that chemistry thing that's just great and it feels like playing with the best guitar player in the world who's actually also one of my best friends. And Walking Papers, again, it's this other thing, it's this sort of dirty blues soul band that people are going, "Wow, f**k, Duff, that's really different for you!" But you know, it's still something that hits the right places in me that keep me going and keep me inspired.
MR: What about a year from now, what do you think you'll be doing? What do you want to do?
DM: I don't even know what I'm doing six months from now. What do I want to do? Sure, I'd love for this band to be at a point a year from now where we're just about to put out another record and we're playing to two-thousand people a night on our own, that would be wonderful. But I'm really just stuck in the day. A year from now, my eldest daughter will be driving for a year, she's going to start driving next week. I think more like, "I hope there's no car accidents in that year."
MR: Are you working on any side projects that you can talk about?
DM: No, God no. Loaded is always a going concern for me, it's a gang. Blood in, blood out. We'll always do something for the rest of our lives, I think. But I don't have time for side projects. I don't even know what a side project is, because when I do something, I don't do it halfway. I've never really been able to have a side project, I don't think.
MR: Are you happy with the state of rock these days?
DM: Some good records came out for rock. We have Black Sabbath and Alice In Chains and Queens Of The Stone Age that all came out in the same week. That was exciting, six weeks ago. A lot of bands are out touring and playing; we've got the Capitol Hill Block Party in Seattle this weekend, with Flaming Lips and all these cool bands. So I'm happy with the state of rock. I went to the Sub Pop twenty-fifth silver jubilee thing a couple weekends ago and I got to see new bands like Metz. They're on Sub Pop, they're from Toronto. Rose Windows are another band that's just killer. Of course then they had Greg Dulli and J Mascis and all these crusters like me and everything in between. The day was beautiful, and everybody was playing, no violence in the streets, everybody was psyched to be there. It was pretty cool.
MR: Crusters, are you kidding me? It was just Mick Jagger's 70th birthday!
DM: I know, yeah. All those guys our age are there with our kids now and it's pretty awesome. They think they're pretty cool, they're "indies" and they're wearing those Sub Pop "loser" shirts, and they think they're the first ones who've worn those t-shirts. It's really cool. So yeah, I'm happy with the state of rock, I suppose.
MR: What about your major tour after that second stage event?
DM: Oh yeah, I think this tour's going to be really good. Everybody I know that's going to be on this tour is looking forward to it. It's going to be a bunch of us who know each other and we're going to go riding in motorcycles and do stuff, and hopefully try and put on a great show every night.
MR: Duff, sounds good man. I appreciate your time, you're great.
DM: Thanks so much.
For more info: https://www.facebook.com/walkingpapersmusic?ref=br_tf
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Delbert McClinton
Mike Ragogna: Delbert, you have a new album, Delbert & Glen: Blind, Crippled And Crazy. Glen Clark's still a pretty important figure in your life, especially these days.
Delbert McClinton: Well, right now, he's a pretty prominent feature in it.
MR: What's the history, how did that come about?
DM: Glen and I did a couple of records together back in '72 and '73 and they made a little noise but they didn't do anything really. After we made the second one, we both kind of decided we'd do different things, so I moved to Nashville and he stayed in California. He played keyboards with Bonnie Raitt for a while, worked with Kris Kristofferson for a while, with The Blues Brothers. But about the last eight years, he was musical director for the According To Jim show, the Jim Belushi thing. When that ran its course, he was pretty flush. He didn't want to go into doing that again. He loved the money but he hated the job. So we started getting together more, took a trip up to Southern Colorado and spent a week up there at his cabin, about five us, and spent a week up there writing some songs and just hanging out. A few years ago, we started talking about making another record since the last couple of years, he's been kind of free and I pretty much do what I want to do at this point. I've got a home down in Mexico, so we went down there and wrote a bunch of songs and then we came back. Gary Nicholson was with us; he's also another old friend in our trio. Gary and I have been making records now for about fifteen years together. We all went down there, hung out, wrote a bunch of songs, came back and went over them. A couple of years ago, in 2011, we went to California. Glen and I went out there with a couple of guys who put it together and it was good but it wasn't great. We came to Nashville and did it again about a year later, but we were ready when we went in. We worked on getting ready, so when you're ready, that's when you go in to record. You don't go in there unrehearsed, you pay the price.
MR: Did the reunion feel like when you first started out together?
DM: It was like we never stopped. That's always been the thing with he and I that's so much fun. The way we sing together is not exactly harmony. I don't know what it is but we move in and out of each other's singing. It was always fun way back then and it's still fun. But this time, we had a whole lot better perspective on what we were doing and how to do it and what to do with it.
MR: How did you guys write the material? Was there anything special or unique about this time out?
DM: As far as writing? When we were writing the material, well, of course, we're not young men chasing women anymore, so it would be absurd for us to write a bunch of songs like that. That kind of thing is kind of weird. That's when you become a dirty old man. [laughs] We're all very aware of who we are and where we are in life and what counts and what doesn't, so we wrote songs about that. I don't know if it's poking fun at ourselves, but at least it's based in reality, you know? Another part of it is there's no reason for us to not write songs about being in a good place and feeling good and being so thankful for it, you know?
MR: How long did the album take to record?
DM: We cut the tracks in two and a half days.
MR: Wow. So everyone was in the same room playing together?
DM: Oh yeah, we were all in the same place at the same time, which is a much better way to do things unless you're a digital perfect guy and you've got to have everybody playing the same thing separate every time they record it. I don't come from that school, I come from the old school of recording. But there's also great technology that makes all of that easier to do because you can move it around and everything is totally controlled individually. But you can polish something 'til it don't shine, and I try hard not to do that. When we record, we want it to sound like the fun that it is.
MR: Yeah. You worked with Patrick Granado over at Fearless.
DM: Right. That's Gary Nicholson's studio at his house. It's really nice now but two years ago on Christmas Day, he had a fire in his basement that gutted a lot of stuff down there. He spent the next two years putting it all back together, and he put a great studio in there. It's amazing. It used to be just a garage and now it's a bona fide control room.
MR: Maybe that was God's way of saying, "You need an upgrade."
DM: [laughs] Maybe so.
MR: Delbert, you wrote "Two More Bottles Of Wine," Emmylou Harris had a big single with that, plus there was "B Movie Box Car Blues" with The Blues Brothers. But you also had your own hit with "Giving It Up For Your Love," and you had "Tell Me About It" with Tanya Tucker, and much more. What are your thoughts about your recording career at this point?
DM: Well, you know, I've had an unusual career with record companies. Every record company that I was on went out of business while I was on the label and had something on the chart. All of them but one.
MR: You also received a Grammy for your duet with Bonnie Raitt, "Good Man, Good Woman."
DM: Right, yeah. That was great.
MR: Well, you've certainly been accepted by the country crowd, but I would put you more in the blues category, personally.
DM: That's the story of my life. Nobody knows what to call it, and I don't know what to tell them except it's fun music. It's music that's fun, and even a sad song can be fun if it's done well, you know?
MR: Yeah. By the way, there are two monkeys and two frogs on the album's artwork. Which one are you?
DM: Take your pick.
MR: [laughs] Delbert, have you found yourself in the position of mentoring over the years? It seems that with someone with your talents and your history, some folks would seek you out for guidance.
DM: Well, there's been some of that, but I'm uncomfortable with somebody thinking I know something.
MR: Then you're not going to like my next question.
DM: What is it?
MR: I ask everyone I interview, "What advice do you have for new artists?"
DM: Never leave your wallet in the dressing room while you're onstage, or your other coat.
MR: [laughs] Has that happened to you?
DM: You'd better believe it. A long time ago, but it only took me one time to figure it out. I've seen it happen all the time. Not really all the time, most places are secure, but you know, when you leave something in a dressing room, you're taking a risk. But this is metaphorically speaking. Just cover your ass.
MR: In every way, huh.
MR: So you've gotten yet another Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. "Contemporary Blues" versus "Old Blues"?
DM: I don't have any idea what that is.
MR: I guess they're not thinking Lead Belly and Robert Johnson.
DM: My music has never been able to be put in a box, called "this," and make any sense.
MR: Normally I would ask, "What do you think of today's music scene," but I'd rather know what's singing to you these days?
DM: Oh man, I can't stand to listen to the radio anymore. I just can't do it.
MR: How about acts in Nashville? People you've come across, your friends.
DM: I don't even get out in Nashville. But I listen to a lot of older music. I listen to jazz of the late forties to the mid-sixties.
MR: I'm a Miles Davis nut, and I'm into Dave Brubeck, fifties and sixties jazz especially.
DM: Someday My Prince Will Come. That's a great record. I prefer to listen to music without vocals, because if it's vocals, I can't appreciate the music for trying to understand and legitimize the vocal. Because for me, if someone recorded me and my band trying to do something and the band's the hottest damn band in the world, it wouldn't matter, if I was lousy. If I was lousy, the whole thing's lousy. You know what I mean? Sometimes you listen to a band and it sounds good when the singer's not singing and the players are playing.
MR: Do you ever get "jazzed" out of listening to your own instrumental tracks?
DM: No, I'm just saying that listening to music with vocals and listening to music without vocals is two completely different animals, a whole different focus completely. If you're trying to focus on a singer that's not making a whole lot of an impression, you're taking away from the whole thing. It can't be good if he's not good. You just say, "They're great players, this is a great track, but it's not complete."
MR: That's a good point. And it's fun to jazz going through a kind of renaissance. It's less wallpaper now.
DM: I know what you mean.
MR: But I'm with you. Sometimes, I'm disappointed when I hear a singer suddenly pop in.
DM: I know! That's what I'm saying. There are people who can sing and there are singers. If you don't know the difference, then you're stuck in mediocrity somewhere.
MR: Do you still like going out and performing?
DM: Oh, I love it. That's what I love to do.
MR: How often do you get out on the road?
DM: I'm usually out about six days a month. I usually just work weekends.
MR: Are there certain places you love to play?
DM: There are some, but usually my favorite show is the last place we had a really good night. You're only as good as your last show.
MR: Do you get inspired to write stuff on the road?
DM: I am writing more today I think than I ever have. It's just fun.
MR: So you feel like you're still growing?
DM: Absolutely, absolutely.
MR: When's the next Delbert McClinton solo album coming?
DM: Well I've got the songs for it already! Me and a couple of guys in my band wrote a couple of songs yesterday, so I've got enough songs but I want to hold back a few months and see if we've got to put another Delbert and Glen record out. Either that or write some more for that, but I'll probably start doing another solo record within the next four months.
MR: What's Delbert McClinton going to be doing in like a year?
DM: Oh man, if I'm lucky, I'm going to be down the same thing I am now.
MR: Anything we should know about Delbert McClinton that we don't know yet?
DM: Nah, nothing I can think of. You probably wouldn't want to know. I'm a pretty dull boy for the most part. Anything else, I'll keep to myself. I don't make enough money to talk about things like that.
MR: [laughs] Okay, Delbert, this was wonderful. I really looked forward to interviewing you.
DM: It was great, good talking to you and I appreciate it a great deal.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
GET YOUR HOT PEAS 'N BUTTER (VIDEO) HERE!
According to Hot Peas 'n Butter's about their new video "Here At Last"...
"So many new beginnings happened for us during the summertime, like the first time we went away to sleep away camp, learning to swim, making new, lifelong friends. We just wanted to convey all these very important moments in the video. We wanted the video to represent new beginnings from small to big, like simply bouncing a ball, all the way to a final image of the earth spinning. We were so happy with all the kids that participated and we thought the addition of the baby at the end worked really well juxtaposed with the globe. We had so much fun making this video, and we hope people have fun watching it!"
Directed by Adam Jordan
A Conversation with Danny Lapidus and Francisco Cotto from Hot Peas 'n Butter
Mike Ragogna: Tell me about your most recent video "Here At Last" that we have up as the exclusive.
HPnB: We wrote the song, "Here at Last!" because...well, who doesn't love the summertime??!! It's a Hot Peas 'n Butter party jam!
MR: It definitely speaks to children but also to adults that love some fun in the sun.
HPnB: YES! It's also a celebration of all new beginnings; like kids meeting new friends, going to camp, and having new experiences in life.
MR: I think what your group is doing for kids is very inspirational. I heard something about you being involved with St. Jude's...can you explain that?
HPnB: Giving back is very important to Hot Peas 'N Butter. In support of being a new partner to St. Jude'sTrike-A-Thon, we presented our song "Different Spokes for Different Folks," off our award-winning album,Volume 4: The Pod Squad. St. Jude spawned a Trike-A-Thon launch in Puerto Rico using "Different Spokes for Different Folks" as its theme song. The original video airs regularly on Nick Jr. /Nickelodeon TV and is also featured on the official Trike-A-Thon DVD. "Different Spokes for Different Folks" held the number 1 spot for several weeks on Sirius Radio's "Kids Stuff," and continues to reside in the top 100 songs overall on Sirius. The hit song has helped to raise $2.6 million dollars for St. Jude!
MR: Who did you grow up listening to?
HPnB: Too many to name! But as far as influences in children's music, Pete Seeger, Doc Watson, and Marlo Thomas, just to name a few. Songwriting influences include the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, the Band and Muddy Waters. We both studied jazz and listened to Miles Davis, john Coltrane, Wayne shorter, Michael Brecker, and Jaco Pastorius. This is the very short list!! We could go on...
MR: What are some words of advice to your fans as they grow up?
HPnB: Try to believe in yourself and follow your dreams, whatever they may be. Once you know what you enjoy doing the most, you can start to enjoy studying to get better at doing it. Of course, we also advise that you listen to your parents, they know what they're talking about!
MR: At what point did you decide that doing music for kids was what you wanted?
HPnB: We've played music for kids and we've played music for adults. The only thing that's changed is that now we approach them as being the same! After a few years of performing for kids, our writing became more fun, even more focused. We felt more connected to the audience. That was when we knew this was for us!
MR: What is your advice for kids that aspire to be musicians?
HPnB: Just remember that, like everything else, it's a lot of hard work. Being a musician is tough because you have to be able to play your instrument well but you also need to be a good performer. That takes time and practice. It's really worth it though, there is nothing more fun than being a musician! So practice, practice, practice!
MR: Are you presently touring?
HPnB: Yes we are! We are playing all over the country. Just go to our website or facebook page to see if we're coming to your city.
MR: What can we expect next from Hot Peas 'n Butter?
HPnB: We are releasing an EP in October, and an instrumental album in November. We are also filming a bunch of new videos! There are also plans to develop a Hot Peas 'n Butter TV Show, and we will continue to work closely with St. Jude Children's Research hospital on their Trike-A-Thon program. We are also creating a production company that will produce up and coming artists! We hope to help the genre and community grow.
MR: Do you have any final words to add?
HPnB: Every new beginning is a new opportunity, embrace them....and have fun!!
A Conversation with Sheldon Gomberg
Mike Ragogna: Sheldon, Sweet Relief Volume III is very different from the two previous volumes created for Victoria Williams and Vic Chesnutt. How did this particular volume come together?
Sheldon Gomberg: They had helped me when I was diagnosed with M.S. and after I don't know how many years, I started having trouble walking and I was having trouble getting up the stairs. I actually got to the point where I needed a scooter, and I needed a lift to get up to the door. They helped me out with that. I forget why, but I had called Bill (Bennett) back and was talking about something. He had taken over a kind of sinking ship and he was saying that they were a little tight, so I thought maybe I can pay them back for what they did for me by doing what I do. What I do is produce records, record them and all that stuff. I thought about it afterwards and then I called back and said, "Hey, I could make a record for you guys. You haven't done one in twenty years or eighteen years or whatever it is, how about I make one for you and help raise some money?"
MR: Do you know where the funds will be going for this project?
SG: Sweet Relief will designate it, I don't know.
MR: Now, the project is subtitled Pennies From Heaven, is that a reference to one of Bing Crosby's signature songs?
SG: It is a Bing Crosby song, but when I conceived this, I thought let's make the concept people giving and people lending help. I put together a list of songs and "Pennies From Heaven" was one of the titles on there. I had gotten a bunch of artists together who said they would do this. I'm a big Ron Sexsmith fan, and I know his manager and Ron--not well, but I've known him over the years. So I called Ron's manager and I told him my idea and he said, "Yeah, I think this is great, I'd love him to do it." Then I think it was that day Ron e-mailed me and was like, "Yeah, I love this idea, I want to do it." We went back and forth and we were talking, and he said, "I can be down there in two weeks." I was like, "We weren't ready to get started yet but if you're ready to come down, I'm starting now." He was so great and gracious about it. I don't want to say he was "eager" because I don't know how eager he was, although I know he was definitely a big Bing Crosby fan, and he was so great about it. I just said, "You know what, that's the name of the record." It was the perfect title for it and Ron was so great about it.
MR: And speaking of Victoria Williams, she sings one of the greatest songs ever on this collection, "A Change Is Gonna Come." Did the artists pick their own material for the project or did you suggest songs to them?
SG: Well I had a song list that fit in the vibe that I sent to everybody. A bunch of people picked from that and a handful of people had their own suggestions. Most of them were great. Some of them didn't really fit the vibe but most of them were great. I won't pinpoint anything, but if you look at the album, there are one or two that stray a little bit from the theme. I look at that like math tests when you were in school; you take the lowest and the highest score and draw them out and then average the rest of them.
MR: Yes, "Surfer Girl" is one of them, although Rickie Lee Jones' version is wonderful.
SG: Yeah, and plus I'm really good friends with Rickie and I'm a huge fan. We had tried a handful of tunes. One of them was "The Weight," which ended up on her record. That gave her the idea to do a covers record. She wanted that for her record, and I was like, "All right, here you go, you take it." I was kind of bummed to lose it but I was happy that she wanted that, and I wanted to help her out, so I was like, "Okay, let's do something else." So we were at the end of the record and I was like, "All right, I know we tried to get one and if you don't get one, I understand and appreciate all your effort on trying this." She comes back and she's like, "What if I do 'Surfer Girl?'" I was like, "Sounds great. Anything to get you on this record. I don't care what we do."
MR: Sheldon, as a producer, you've worked with many artists, a couple appearing on this release, such as Ben Harper and The Living Sisters' Eleni. How do you feel about it as a whole now that it's done?
SG: I felt it came together fantastically as a whole. I'm really, really happy with this record and I'm really proud of it. One thing that's great for me on this record is that usually when you're doing a record for somebody else, there'll always be something that comes up that you're not one hundred percent into but you go with it because they're pushing on it or that's what they want or you just lose the argument or whatever. But this one was one hundred percent what I wanted to do. It was my record from top to bottom, so if you hate it, it's my fault. But I feel it's full of integrity and I fought real hard to try and keep that.
MR: Everybody has a different takeaway of what's happening in music these days because of things like American Idol and the indie world taking over their own marketing. What are your thoughts of the way that music is being made and distributed versus when you first got into this?
SG: I don't really pay attention to what's going on now, I'm in my own world and I don't really know what's going on as far as distribution. I know that record sales aren't really what they used to be. I just do what I believe. I don't want to sound like I don't care what's going on out there, I do, but I don't answer to if it's going to sell millions as opposed to if it sells thousands. As long as musically and artistically I believe in it, the chips are going to fall where they fall.
MR: Are you comfortable with the environment of recording these days as opposed to when you first began?
SG: Well I mean, I was a musician, I was a bass player for all these years and I got into producing about ten years ago. I'd done some stuff before that, but I really took it seriously about ten years ago. So the recording world has been shrinking or wilting or whatever it is in that time, but it's not like I was engineering back in the seventies or eighties. I was a musician back then doing sessions and all that. Am I comfortable with it? As long as I get to make great music and work with great artists and I'm having fun, I don't let it bother me too much I guess.
MR: Analog versus digital?
SG: If you're talking about the format, like Pro Tools versus tape, I love tape and I love the way tape sounds, but I'm working on Pro Tools most of the time. It's really easy, it sounds great to me--most of that sounds like tape to me on the record-- If you've got a good front end and good room and good musicians, I think the format argument is a little bit dated. Yes, I love tape but it's a bit of a hassle. It's got its limitation and time.
MR: Sheldon, what is your advice for new artists?
SG: Do what you love. I see people trying to guess at what's going to be a hit and what's going to make them famous, but that's not really why you should be trying to make music. If you're trying to make money or be famous, there are other ways to do it. You should be playing music because you love it. That's kind of what it caters to these days, especially with American Idol and all that kind of stuff. When I grew up, you'd starve and you'd go homeless and you'd sleep in the gutters to play music. That's not something people do now.
MR: What's the future, where do you go from here?
SG: Well, I'm making new records every day with different artists. I'm just doing a new one with Peter Himmelman this week and I'm doing some stuff with Peter Case after that. All kinds of stuff is lined up. I'm already working on more Sweet Relief records. I'm trying to get as much music as I can get done in my life while I can.
MR: Any other thoughts about Sweet Relief III?
SG: I would like to say that, hopefully, my part of Sweet Relief III was great in helping do this stuff, but I want to definitely put the big thanks out there to all the artists and musicians that contributed and say how important it was, everything that they gave. To me that's a big, huge, huge, huge part of this record--everybody's fantastic attitude in contributing. They have careers, they don't need to do this. That means a lot to me.
MR: It also speaks to what a person you are that they would do that for you.
SG: I have information. I blackmailed them.
MR: [laughs] You have the pictures.
SG: [laughs] Yeah, I do.
MR: Well Sheldon this is really sweet and I appreciate all the time and all the best with this and keeping up the good fight.
SG: Thanks, and thanks for doing this article, bye Mike.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
WARNING: DANGER AHEAD!
According to Steamteam...
"Here in New York, we like our politicians to be Dangeresque. Let he throw the first stone who hasn't lived Dangerously," declares Steamteam co-conspirator and vocalist, Steve Mosto. Musical accomplice Sal Villanueva adds what has probably been spoken on multiple occasions, "Show me on the doll where he was dangerous..."
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