A Conversation with Scotty McCreery
Mike Ragogna: Scotty!
Scotty McCreery: Hey, how are you doing, Michael?
MR: Pretty good, how are you?
SM: Doing good, thanks for calling.
MR: Wow, just from the tone of your voice, I can tell a lot's happened since we spoke last.
SM: [laughs] I guess, yeah, we've been staying busy.
MR: Scotty, what's been going on between the Christmas album and now?
SM: Well, we thumped out a new album in all that time and we've been on the road as well. Started with the Weekend Roadtrip Tour, and I guess we just extended those dates. We'll be doing that through the end of the year. But the main focus was on this album for sure.
MR: Looks like you already have a hit from the new album, the title track, "See You Tonight."
SM: Yeah, it's still ploughing it's way up the charts, but we're excited about it. "See You Tonight," it's been the best response we've gotten out of a single yet, so yeah, it's been a good thing going.
MR: Okay, what was the difference between making the last studio album and this album?
SM: I got to be an artist with this album. I had time with this record that I didn't really have with the other one. We took the better part of a year, if not more than a year, to work on this one whereas with the first one, we were pumping it out in a couple of months just so we could get it out there for the fans to hear. It was really fun making this record; I think it's a lot more "me."
MR: It also rocks harder than the debut, especially the first track.
SM: It does, it rocks harder. Even the songs that aren't rock, I think they have a deeper meaning or make you think a little bit more than the first record did. This album makes you think, which is a good thing. It's what you want your music to do.
MR: Yeah, the level of songwriting on this album is also pretty strong with "Carolina Moon" being a perfect example. It's one of the more gentle songs, too.
SM: Oh, I love that song. It's one of my favorites if not the favorite. So yeah, it's been cool. Speaking of songwriting, that's another thing that's different with this record, the fact that I got to write songs myself and co-write and get some of my own songs on it. I think I ended up with five total that were mine. That's really cool for me as a young songwriter to have five cuts on the record.
MR: Yeah, and your experience of co-writing is growing. How's it going for you with that concept, co-writing?
SM: Oh, I love it. I love the experience of getting to know the best of the best of Nashville and putting our heads together and trying to come up with a cool song. Sometimes we come up with really good stuff, sometimes we come up with crap, it's just one of those things where you've got to go through it all and see which ones work. Luckily, we had some pretty cool stuff we wrote, which I'm pretty proud of.
MR: What are your favorite co-writes on the album? Come on, cough up a story or two.
SM: [laughs] Well, the day we wrote "See You Tonight," we also wrote "Can You Feel It," and that's a rare occurrence, to write two songs that are actually pretty good in one day. I sat down with Ahsley Gorley and Zach Crowell for that one and it was just one of those days where things were flowing. That was really cool. "I Don't Wanna Be Your Friend" I wrote with Frank [Rogers] and David Fanning. That's one of the ones we sat there and debated for a long time before we actually started writing it. We were like, "Is that title going to turn off too many people before they hear it? We'll mix it on the record so it'll flow right into it." It kind of took us for a twist, it sounded like a mean song, but it turned out to be pretty cool. That was pretty funny.
MR: Do you end up being the alpha dog at the writing sessions or do you sit back and take it all in?
SM: It kind of depends on what's going on. When I was initially getting started, I was the guy that was just trying to sit back and take it all in, but as I got more and more sessions under my belt, I was throwing out more ideas and was kind of towards the forefront as well. I think that's just me getting comfortable with it more than anything. But it was kind of a bit of both.
MR: Scotty, I have to say--and I mean this as a compliment--you sound more confident to me right now than in our other interviews. In your opinion, what do you think has been the biggest change for you?
SM: You know, I'd say it's my writing sessions. I'm just getting more comfortable with it and finding my spot as an artist and as a person. I was pretty young when I started this gig, so I guess for anybody that age, whether it's school or whether it's a music career, you're going to be kind of nervous about it all. For two and a half years now, I've just been finding myself, finding out who I am as a person and as an artist. It's been going good for me and I'm excited about the way things are going. It's just one of those things, I guess. You just build confidence with time.
MR: Do you get surprised by what's happening to you and your career or is it sort of what your dream was anyway?
SM: I still kind of sit back sometimes in surprise at what's been happening. It's pretty surreal when you look back at it. Obviously, this is something I dreamed of and wanted to have, but there's a difference between a dream and what you think reality is going to be. I never thought this would be reality. It definitely was one of my dreams, so it's exciting to see this kind of come through for me.
MR: When you were in the studio listening back to these mixes, did you think to yourself, "Wow, this is a big leap from Clear As Day?"
SM: Oh, yeah. I've been so excited. I'm glad that y'all are finally getting into my music. I can tell you what a big step this music is from the first record, but you've got to hear it first before you believe it. So yeah, sitting down and listening to it, especially songs like "Carolina Moon," when I first got the master, I was walking around campus and I had my headphones in listening to it and I was smiling the whole day on and all these kids were smiling back and waving. They all thought I was smiling at them. It's been really cool hearing these songs back.
MR: See You Tonight, to me, has a Summer feel to it. You even have a song called "Feel Good Summer Song," which I think encompasses the mood of this album more than anything else
SM: I'd definitely say it has that feel to it, with songs like "Feelin' It" and "Now," even the heartbreak song, "Feel Good Summer Song," definitely has that overall mood to it, so you could say that. But then you've got the songs like "The Dash" or "Carolina Moon" that kind of make you sit back and think a little more. "Carolina Moon" is kind of a Fall song for me. I guess when I picture it, the leaves change and everything, but that overall mood like you said, it's there.
MR: I think it's also because you're having so much fun on this record it does come off as more energetic. Maybe that would be the more appropriate way to say that.
SM: Yeah, definitely. Once again, that's just getting comfortable with things in the studio and recording. When you first get in there, especially since I was seventeen years old, it can be pretty intimidating, getting in there with a multi-platinum producer and all of these guys that have been doing it for years and you're trying to show them your chops and all that. I guess this go-around was a little more easy-going for me.
MR: On the other hand, maybe you were a little more assertive with your ideas this time around?
SM: For sure, yeah, I speak up when I need to. That's something that I probably didn't do so much back in the day. That's not to say that I was always right; lord knows I'd throw out an idea and Frank would be like "Are you sure about that?" and I'd come around about the second time I heard him, I'd be like, "Yeah, you're right." But just the fact that we could throw around ideas and come up with the best instead of just going with one and hoping, you know what I mean?
MR: Absolutley. During both times we spoke, we talked about your family and the effect that your grandfather had on you. What's happening in your personal life these days? I'm not looking for anything salacious, but is there anything on the personal level that's been affecting your songwriting or growth as a human?
SM: I think every day, my family's growing and we're learning from all this. Yeah, I'm the guy that's on stage and in the spotlight, but it's kind of been a family matter for all of us. Nothing too major is going on with the family or anything personal lately, we're just kind of all going at this together. We've really just been staying true to us. Me and my sister are both in college now, so I guess there's that. We're sharing those experiences and everything. The family's traveled with me a lot, they're still on the road with me, and they're still helping out and learning the ropes. It's a good thing for me to make sure I still have them with me.
MR: How does it feel to be juggling a career in music and a career in college?
SM: It's weird but it's fun. It is challenging. I did this with high school as well and went back and finished up school and still toured with [Brad] Paisley. But College is a different ballgame. It's all about time management. That's the main thing. I'm not the best at that, but I'm getting around. It's a good time. For three days, I get to go home and study and learn, but also be around the guys I've been around since I was three years old and having those experiences that would've happened anyways. But then Thursday through Sunday, we're hitting the road, whether we're recording in Nashville or going to Iowa to go do a show. We're out there and having a good time with it.
MR: The contrast must be pretty large for you, though, as far as having to really hunker down and focus on your classes but then also realize that you have a hit single and an amazing recording career you have to be responsible for.
SM: Yeah, it definitely is one of those things where I legitimately have to give two hundred percent--one hundred percent to college and one hundred to music. It is a balance and it's one of those things that I've got to still keep working on, but it's a good thing for me, I think.
MR: Knowing what you know now, what would you tell Scotty McCreery after he won American Idol?
SM: I would've told him to sit back and don't stress so much. What's going to happen is meant to happen and it's going to happen as long as you put forth the work, but you can't sit there and be a worrybody about stuff hoping this is going to happen or that's going to happen and watching the charts and doing all that. This is just one of those things where you've got to put forth the work and it'll happen if you put forth all of yourself. I'd have told me to not stress so much and just work hard.
MR: And hey, our traditional question, I've asked you twice before but let's do it again. What's your advice for new artists?
SM: I would tell them to do what they want to do, especially in country music today. Everything's changing and everything's kind of gone more mainstream. If you want to do that, do that, if you want to be a traditional guy go be traditional. Kacey Musgraves is a good example, she's staying her way and nothing's changing her. You've got to respect that. So I'd tell new artists to do what they want to do and people will listen.
MR: Nice, man. And Scotty McCreery in a year, what happens to you?
SM: What do I hope happens? I believe we've got a hit record on our hands so I hope we've got a few big singles; it'd be nice to go platinum again. That's the dream, that's what we're working for right now. The radio thing's the biggest thing for me. I hope we can get a few big singles out of this and the tour and everything else will take care of itself. Radio's the number one thing on my list right now--hopefully a couple number ones!
MR: Yeah, my prediction is you're going to do fine with this one. At least I wish that for you, buddy.
SM: Well thank you, I'm glad to hear.
MR: So now that I've interviewed you a couple of times, I just want to say that it's been fun to watch you grow. I absolutely see the growth in each of these interviews. All right, I've got to let you go, so all the best, Scotty.
SM: I appreciate it, Mike. I'll talk to you again soon.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with David Nail
David Nail: Mike, how's it going?
Mike Ragogna: David Nail, pretty good, man, how are you?
DN: I'm doing well. I haven't been up too terribly long, I just had my morning cereal and I'm getting my wits about me.
MR: [laughs] Rumor has it that you're somewhere near Bethlehem Steel.
DN: That's what I hear. I was over listening to some of the guys talking about it as I was having breakfast, but I haven't looked outside the window just yet. I'm about to head outside here in a minute and go for a walk, but I haven't taken a look around. Rumor has it we've played here before, but I guess I'll see in a bit.
MR: [laughs] Ah, life on the road. David, your latest single, "Whatever She's Got," is for a new album that's coming out in 2014. Would you give us the skinny on the single, like how'd that one come to you creatively and what does it mean to you?
DN: Well, I think that first and foremost, it's kind of sparked a bit of a new direction for my music. I'm just in a different place. Without going too terribly into all of the details, I'm kind of in a different place in my life and I think that allows me the opportunity to maybe look at recording some music that, in the past, I wouldn't have really entertained, for no other reason than that I just wasn't at that specific place in my life. I heard this song and I knew right away that there was something different about it, something special, and I felt that of all the songs I was recording, this was probably the most suitable for country radio at the time that I had ever come across. Naturally, that got me excited, and then came the game of, "Are we going to be able to record this before someone else does?" and it kind of became a race to do that. It set the tone for the entire record. It's a lot more upbeat, it's a lot more fun, a lot less heavy material. There are a couple of songs on there that are a little deeper, like some of the music that I've recorded in the past, but for the most part, it just kind of represents a change in my life right now. It's just a lighter, more fun, more upbeat project.
MR: David, what are a couple things that happened to you that got you feeling the way you do these days, unlike the way you feeling in the past?
DN: I think the main thing is that in the past, I've felt like I had to make statements with records. They all had themes and they all had important aspects to them that I felt I needed to translate to people out there to gain credibility and to prove a point. They were always very, very personal to me and what I was going through at the time. With this record, just in the last twelve to fourteen months, I felt like in my life, I've kind of made some new things priorities and made some old things less of a priority. I think that put me in a more generally positive place. As a result of that, I feel like the music, just like it has in the past when maybe I was in a sadder place or a more negative place, the music kind of took that tone and the music has taken the tone of where I'm at now.
MR: Could constantly being on the road and doing all these shows and having that kind of energy be behind that? Do you think that changed your attitude a little?
DN: Well, last year, we worked harder than I had ever worked before. I tell people, and it was true then and it's still true today, I never traveled as a child, so I'm always tremendously excited to get where we're going even if it's places that I've been several times just because I always feel like there's so much more to wherever we're going that I haven't seen. But the actual traveling aspect of it really wore me down last year. I think for the first time in my life or in my career, it caused me to kind of take a step back and say, "Okay, if I'm going to continue doing this for a living, I've got to get my body healthier and maybe not live to the max," which has always kind of been my philosophy. I've always said, "Hey, if this is the last day, you know I want to go out on top," I want to go out doing as much as I possibly could to maximize a day. So I think that motto kind of caught up to me in some aspects. At the same time, playing all those shows and playing all that music, you get an idea of, "Okay, well this song is a great song, but maybe for whatever reason, it's just not meant for a live show, it's just not meant for a club setting or for an arena setting." I think in the beginning, I took that personal. "Why is this song not translating?" But over time, I've figured out that some songs are meant to listen to in your car, some songs are meant to listen to in your house or on the radio or whatever, and then there are some songs that, in a lot of ways, are strictly for playing live. What I tried to do with this record is to compromise and try to find the best songs that I possibly could that I felt could do both.
MR: And of course, the material is obviously going to change as you're changing. Do you feel like next year when your album's released David Nail is going to surprise a lot of people with it?
DN: I do, but I don't think that people are going to listen to it and go, "Holy crap, what in the world happened to the guy?" When they hear I've made changes in my life, a lot of people ask, "What's different?" I say, "That's the glorious thing about making a record." At least the records that I've made in the past and interviews I've done or when I'm up on stage, I've always been an open book, I've never tried to shy away from the music I've made or what I was going through at the time. The glorious thing about that, and maybe not glorious all the time, is that people know who you are, they know where you're at, they know what you're singing about. They can feel that. So I think it'll be the same way with this. Instead of having to harp and say, "Well this is why I recorded this, this is why it sounds like this," I think people will listen and go, "Hey, he's at a different place in his life." That's the great thing about making records. You've got eleven songs to kind of explain where you're at and I think it'll be evident. But at the same time, I don't think that it's going to offend our old listeners and I think it'll only help us with new ones.
MR: Nice. Hey David, do you ever occasionally get flashbacks to that 2011 World Series "God Bless America" that you sang?
DN: You know, that was one of those moments like I referenced earlier, those "Holy Crap!" moments, where you're like, "If it all ends today, what a glorious way to go out." I've been fortunate enough through music to get to form a lot of relationships in sports. It's very ironic that those two have paralleled themselves because I have such a love for sports and have watched them so fanatically over the years, so I found it very ironic that stopping the sports dream personally for myself and pursuing music has allowed me all these opportunities to pursue the sports dream right alongside it. That was kind of the pinnacle so far of my experiences, getting to stand out on a field that I've watched so many games at for a team that was my favorite childhood team and still my favorite and having formed some relationships in that organization. It was just a special moment and one of those moments that people ask me about all the time and my reaction never changes. As cliché as it sounds, it's a dream come true.
MR: Beautiful. So between the nineteenth of September and November twenty-second, you will have played twenty-seven tour dates. How do you stay awake?
DN: It's difficult. The best part about it is we did this last year where we tried to go places. One of the most satisfactory aspects of my career so far is going into cities like Boston and Chicago--who, when you think about country music, you don't think of them--places like Burmingham and just random cities where I really had no direct connection but over time, we built this relationship with those places and have really grown from a hundred, two hundred people to selling out small clubs whenever we go. Last year, when it came to the decision of, "Do you go on a big tour with somebody and play twenty-five minutes or do you do your own thing and really try to sell yourself like you have in some of these huge markets?" that was really what we decided to try and do. If you give us an hour and a half on stage, the odds of us playing something or doing something that you dig are a lot better than if we only had twenty-five or thirty minutes to do it. It's nerve-wracking because you're going into a lot of places that you've never played before, but just in the few places that we've played for the second time and seeing that crowd grow... Obviously, it helps when you've got a song on the radio. But I've always said that hopefully, the goal for us is those moments when you don't have a song on the radio, you have to go out there and make a living and play shows and still have people show up. That's what we've tried to do and it's a beautiful thing. For the majority of the shows you referenced, we're going out West. That's one of my favorite parts of the country out there. It goes back to the little kid in me that never traveled. There's something very romantic about getting on a bus and just going out to play music. You never know who's going to show up, if anybody's going to show up. But you know, regardless, you've got to go out there and do the best of your ability. We've been very, very lucky that people have gravitated to what we do live and I think that in a lot of ways, it's different than some live shows. We don't try to do any tricks or gimmicks or anything, we just try to go out there and make it first and foremost about the music and take people on a journey. I think that the first song is equally as important as the tenth song is equally important as the sixteenth or seventeenth song. They all serve a purpose and they all mesh together. If we had this conversation at the end of that run, my answer may completely change. But right now, we're extremely excited about it and like I said, the little California, Washington, Oregon, places like that were so foreign to me growing up that I basically just thought they were something you talked about in geography class. I didn't think anybody actually went out there. Now that I've had the opportunity to go out to such a beautiful country, I tell people every night it never gets old, the fact that you come out there on stage every night and there's a few hundred strangers that have come out to hear you do your thing. It's a special feeling.
MR: Beautiful. David, what advice do you have for new artists?
DN: Get your college degree first and foremost, it'll alleviate a lot of stress from you when things aren't going good. That's the biggest regret that I have, and I think the biggest thing for me is that I sang for hours and hours and hours in an empty apartment and I think that in doing that, I was kind of able to nurture the art of singing. There's a certain romantic thing about just singing for yourself and trying to entertain yourself and impress yourself. You're your only listener, so you're critiquing yourself sometimes to the upmost, I guess, unnecessary degree. I think too often, people get out there too early and they start performing when they're not really ready and people start to critique them and they haven't really even found themselves to even be critiqued yet. I think it's good to really find out who your voice is and what you want to say before you go out there and let people start picking you apart.
MR: Of course, when you told new artists to make sure to have a college education, you forgot to tell them to go pledge Pi Kappa Alpha.
DN: [laughs] You know, I've never been a guy for peer pressure, so I say hey, if you want to go to a fraternity... I met some of my best friends of my entire lifetime in that fraternity. People always say, "Do you have to buy your friends?" and I says "Hey, if I had to pay a little bit of money to get two or three of my best life-long friends that I've kept in touch with since the moment I left, then by golly, it was worth it." It was a great couple of years of my life. It taught me some bad habits, it taught me some good habits. It was great.
MR: By the way, I've always wanted to commend you for recording Adele's "Someone Like You." I thought that was a really bold move.
DN: I appreciate it. There have been some moments where I thought it was a stupid move, it was such a moment in time where it just happened so fast there was really not a whole lot of thought put into it. But you do this for a living, you become jaded and you lose track of the fan in you that loves music and spends so much time listening to other music because you're so focused on your own career. That was a song that stopped me in my tracks and just blew me away. It kind of re-energized me to hopefully do what she does, which is take a lyric and just make you feel it. You can feel what she's saying, you can feel what she went through when she wrote it and when she was singing it and every time it speaks to you. We kind of did it spur of the moment. I tell people all the time it was the easiest song in the world to sing from the standpoint of just finding that raw emotion, but technically it's the most difficult song that I've ever sung and that's what makes her, in my opinion, the greatest singer male or female that we have out there right now.
MR: I think you're right about Adele, she just touches people in ways that I don't think many artists can.
DN: Yeah, the thing about her is so many people think, "Oh, that song's really high, that must be why it's difficult." I tell people all the time, the most difficult thing about singing is when you're in your regular register and you have to convey that emotion without the ability of going high. Everybody assumes, "Oh, when they really dig and they're singing really loud, that's when they're really trying to prove a point." She has an uncanny ability to convey that emotion throughout that entire song from the lowest point to the highest point.
MR: Yeah. So how much fun was making your latest video with Chris Hicky?
DN: You know, he makes it really, really easy, which is something I tell people all the time. I'm a singer, not an actor. I'm not model. It's a very unnatural thing to go out there, but he makes it very easy and a lot of fun. This particular one, I told him, "I want to work as little as possible, so I'll sing the song with my band ten or twelve times and let you record that, and then after that, I want you to let these two beautiful people show us the rest." That's what the video was and it's the most fun one I've ever made. I find it ironic that it was the easiest one.
MR: What do we need to know about this David Nail guy's immediate future other than the tour and the new album?
DN: Just know that he's more excited than he's ever been to unveil his new music. This project was more fun than I've ever had in Nashville and I've been here now fourteen years and been fortunate enough to have always had a foot in the door and be in the process of making music or selling music or trying to sell myself. I hate to use the term "buzz" but there's just this feeling around the project that, quite frankly, I've never really felt around anything I've ever done. I think it goes back to the feeling that people know that there's something different about me personally, and I think that people kind of feed off that energy. To quote Tom Petty, "The waiting is the hardest part." You've got to wait for people to hear it. You can't play every song live and it's killing me because I want to play every day. I want the band to learn new songs and I want to play new songs, and then I realize, "Hey, before you know it, you're going to be playing that entire record three or four months before it ever comes out."
MR: And who knew way back when you titled your album I'm About To Come Alive that you'd be doing it over and over again?
DN: Exactly! When we chose that, it had such a couple of different meanings and I thought it was so brilliant. "Oh, that's great, this is my first record, I'm about to come alive, I'll be alive after this." You're right. It's been four years and I'm still trying to come alive.
MR: You're more alive than ever, sir. I really wish you luck on the new single, the tour, and your new album next year.
DN: I appreciate so much you taking the time this morning. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
MR: You got it. All the best with everything, David.
DN: All right, thank you, you too.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
KATHLEEN GRACE'S GOT NO PLACE TO FALL
Kathleen Grace's sophisticated take on country music is an artist coming into her own. Her new, career-defining album, No Place to Fall, is set for release October 22. No Place to Fall's ten tracks were recorded at Los Angeles' Carriage House Studios and produced by Sheldon Gomberg (Ben Harper, Ryan Adams, Jackson Browne). The track features performances from pedal steel god Greg Leisz (Eric Clapton, k.d. Lang, Amos Lee), jazz guitar virtuoso Anthony Wilson, acclaimed singer-songwriter Patrick Park, and local indie-folk singer Leslie Stevens.
"Townes Van Zandt is such a genius writer," Kathleen says. "He's written so many incredible songs. But I chose to cover "No Place to Fall" for personal reasons. No one talks about love the way that Townes Van Zandt does in this song. Most love songs talk about lifting someone up. But not Townes, he gets to the marrow of what it really means to be committed to someone, 'If I had no place to fall, and I needed to, could I count on you, to lay me down?' I met my husband when I was pretty young, we've grown up together and it's this idea of love that resonates with me after many years of being in love. I had to sing it."
A Conversation with Wesley Stace
Mike Ragogna: Hi Wes. First off, you went from "John Wesley Harding" to your real name, Wesley Stace.
Wesley Stace: That's right, although I did start off as Wesley Stace in the first place.
MR: What made you change your mind?
WS: Well, a number of things, really, but I think the most important thing was that a lot of these songs are autobiographical. All songs are autobiographical, these happen to be true. That doesn't matter at all, it's not information that anyone needs to hear. I'm just putting out a bunch of songs. But because they're true, I reported things that happened to me, and in one of the songs, I'm talking about The New York Times interviewing me. You know how they call them "Mr. Loaf" or "Mr. Prince"? In my case, I was "Mr. Stace" because they were talking to me for one of my novels, which came out under my name Wesley Stace. The line in the song is, "Now you call me Mr. Stace." What that reminded me of was that once when someone broke up with me over the phone years ago and she said, "Goodbye Mr. Stace." Because of that, I put it in the song. The chorus of the song "Goodbye Jane" is "You said Goodbye Mr. Stace, you didn't need to explain, I said goodbye Jane." When I realized I was on the album referring to myself as "Mr. Stace" twice, it just seemed ludicrous to put this out under the name John Wesley Harding. That was most of it, really, although the other thing I would say, a contributing factor, is that I've been making music under one name for twenty-five years. I then started writing novels and I did it under my real name, Wesley Stace, and it just gets a bit silly to be referred to as "Otherwise known as singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding" and all this kind of stuff. I just thought it was time to bring it all under one roof. So it was kind of a combination of all of those things.
MR: And you emphasize the point by making the new album self-titled. As you said, it's mostly autobiographical, and it features songs such as "The Bedroom You Grew Up In." It's about one of your best friends dying in a plane crash. There is a very deep introspection on some of these songs. Were you surprised at how deep you went for this record?
WS: Well, the answer is yes. It took me by surprise, the whole thing. I hadn't intended to do it. It wasn't any kind of an artistic decision, it was born out of necessity. I was feeling a bit depleted on tour and I wasn't able to go out so much on the book tour and I started writing songs to cheer myself up. Among the first ones were, in fact, that one you just mentioned, "Bedroom You Grew Up In" and "We Will Always Have New York." I think I was writing about things to comfort myself, but once I'd realized that this was doable and I was enjoying doing it, I just couldn't stop doing it. I never felt like it was something I'd decided to do, so the whole thing was a bit of a surprise, yes.
MR: Did it reach this level of depth because you had come off of a novel and maybe your mind was functioning more internally than not?
WS: I've already read that said twice by people in previews or reviews of the album, that if the novel-writing was taking care of intellectual stuff for me, then it might free me up to write with more emotional sincerity and play less games in my songs. I think that's a good perspective on it, yeah.
MR: Has writing novels maybe given you more perspective on things, or at least more tools to approach creativity, especially in your songwriting?
WS: I'd say that's true, yeah. I could adorn what you just said with more facts, but I think that's basically true. In the end, it's all really part of the same project, and I also do a bit of teaching and I put together the cabinet of wonders and it all comes out of the same head and the same head-space, really, despite how different the various skills are. What is, I think, quite interesting is that when I was writing the stuff for this album I was also working on my next novel and my next novel is also much more based on my experience in the world than in any other. So perhaps it was a general move.
MR: I imagine at some point you might have been tempted to call the album Pieces Of The Past, you know, after the song on the project?
WS: Yeah. That was one possible title for it.
MR: The song "Pieces Of The Past" is sort of a clue to what you were doing.
WS: Yes, I agree. We artists all have our old relationships and our tastes and our decisions and the people that we've met and the ones we try to avoid and the books that we've read and that is, I believe, what we are.
MR: "The Wrong Tree" is also a lovely concept and I think you're right about denial. And it's especially hard to admit to yourself when you're "barking up the wrong tree."
WS: Yeah. Again, that's another song that came very early because I was just very much enjoying this new thing I was doing. It's kind of a philosophical overview of the album, in a way. You're right to pull that one out because it's a very simple, straight-ahead song in many ways, kind of a Nick Lowe song or something. None of these songs, I must say, had a lot of musical thought go into their melody; I just let them fall out as they would. A lot of thought went into their arrangement or production. I just tried to write them quickly to whatever level I was happy with. I let them be natural, I tried not to be self-conscious about all of my lyrics, and it felt really good. "The Wrong Tree" was just me kind of celebrating that it's good to know every now and then that you're fulfilled in your art.
MR: Another song I wanted to bring up was "The Dealer's Daughter," the concept of having no way out. What's the story behind this one?
WS: I've jokingly said to people that about the song "Lydia," you can be sure of one thing: It isn't about somebody called Lydia. And "Goodbye Jane" is not about somebody called Jane. Some of the songs use metaphors a bit more than others, but they're all totally related to situations that are very clear in my mind and I honestly believe that it's a nice thing for me because much of the time in my past, I've had to explain songs. These songs, you don't really need to explain. "What's the story behind 'The Dealer's Daughter?'" Well it's exactly what you think the story would be. It's about how love can be very addictive and sometimes you want a way out of something and sometimes it all has to die. That was the idea of "Dealer's Daughter," but there are two songs on the album with recourse to metaphor. One is "Dealer's Daughter" and the other is "Excalibur." I guess "Wrong For The Part," maybe, but to me, they're all part of the same bag because they're just mining situations that I was in.
MR: You brought up "Excalibur." You originally wrote that for Robin Gibb.
WS: I did and he died. The news was good for a little while because he came out of the coma for a bit, but he never recovered enough for me to actually bother him with my song. But I absolutely had Robin Gibb's voice in mind, that he would've been my dream person to record that song. When I was looking at the songs for the record, I think I played that for a few people and one of the people in the band was like, "That's fantastic, you should do it because nobody else will do that."
MR: And there's "Only Thing Missing," my believing the concept to be that you catch yourself observing your life and realize that the only thing wrong is that you're observing it rather than actually living it. I have a feeling that it's many people's survival mode, how many people are unconsciously...or even subconsciously muddling through each day.
WS: Yeah, I think you might well be right. I don't want to lay any judgment down on that, but if you mine a feeling that you have experienced, the chances are because we're all unique--but we're not all that unique--that somebody else will have experienced it too. That song's about there being two sides of the glass and one is you looking in and missing yourself in the room and the other is you looking out from inside and thinking, "Oh, I wish I was out there looking in."
MR: Now although the songwriting is autobiographical and very personal, you do touch on a lot of big topics, the concept of "Letting Go," for instance, being one of them.
WS: Right. What can I tell you? It's exactly as it appears to be in the song. It's exactly what it says. I tried to be in touch with an emotion that we've all felt, how beautiful it is just to let go when something isn't right and can't be right.
MR: Let me ask you then, as a novelist and songwriter, when you're approaching material do you prefer to go towards these bigger topics? Do you feel like that may be one of the missions that good songwriters and good novelists should be doing at all times?
WS: Not at all, and I don't even feel that I've done it on this record. None of it felt like in any way writing anything other than the first thing that came in my head. "Letting Go," I was thinking about a particular thing, and I wanted to put that feeling into words. There are very few words in that song, only six lines and a chorus that says, "Letting Go, Falling." I love that you think that touches on very deep emotions; it does, mine. But I was trying to achieve very little on that song. I was trying to sum up a feeling that I had and thought I could get over, not only with a lyric, which is a very sparse lyric of very few words, but also with the sound of the music and the string quartet, that they would all give that feeling to the listener. That's really the first time in my career that I've tried this more holistic approach to music and lyrics.
MR: Maybe I was laying too much at your doorstep there, but I think you ended up coming off with a collection of more than just biographically-inspired material. You recorded an album that touches on a lot of bigger concepts than what people normally think about.
WS: Well, thank you very much, and what I would say definitively to that is that all you can offer the world is you. Yourself. That's all you can offer the world in the end. You can try and second guess what'll be a hit or a great novel or what somebody else would like, but that won't be successful, probably, unless you're a professional songwriter or something. All you can offer is you, and this album is me writ pretty large, for better or for worse, and I believe that it's the specific details in this song that, rather than making them more appealing only to me, more personal, they are actually the very things that make the album universal. That is, I think, what you're saying, and that was entirely not my intent, because I was just writing these things that I wanted to write and there weren't any two ways about that. But then I went to the trouble to make music as beautiful as I could in the arrangements and the production and stuff, and now I feel that it's those little things that are so personal to me that actually are the things that might make it more available to other people.
MR: Does this album now serve as a template that might be used in future recordings by Wesley Stace?
WS: That I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is there were five songs we left off this album entirely. I had over fifty that I recorded in one afternoon in Portland. We recorded five others and I left them off this album not because they weren't good enough, but purely because they didn't fit in. They didn't fit in, to me, for the mood of this album and I wanted this album to have a very even mood throughout and be a real mood piece, basically. I wanted that mood to be nostalgic and romantic and very beautiful and these other songs just didn't fit in, a couple of them because they were too rockin'. I think there's certainly another album with this material, partly because these songs are already written, but quite how I would choose to present them, I don't know.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
WS: Oh it's always the same, it's exactly what I just told you. Don't try and do what you think anybody else wants you to do because the only way I think you can be happy in your art is by being yourself and doing what you want to do. Whether that's successful or not is an entirely other matter, but at least it will bring you happiness.
MR: Thanks. So it seems like you have not only another album or so with all that material, but perhaps a couple of concepts for novels, even within this album.
WS: No kidding, it's true.
MR: So a year for now, what will Wesley Stace have done?
WS: Well there's a novel coming out in February, I'll have taught at Princeton again, and I'll probably have worked out what kind of record I want to make next.
MR: Beautiful. All right, I wish you all the best, you're always a great interview and I appreciate
your time, Wesley.
WS: Thank you very much.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
KIEV'S "ARIAH BEING"
With only a 3-song EP (engineered/co-produced by Darrell Thorpe--Beck, Air, Radiohead) and an attention demanding live show, Kiev has already earned a number of music awards and gained serious attention from the music community including a nod from Rolling Stone. Kiev's first full length album Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth (produced/engineered by Chris Shaw--Super Furry Animals, Wilco, Ween, Phish, Bob Dylan) is set for release October 22, 2013.
According to the band, "One thing we wanted to end up with was a layered record that didn't shy away from taking it's time to unfold or get loose. Choosing 60 seconds to tease the entire thing, or even a single song for that matter, has been a task. We had so much we wanted to convey and explore that we found no single piece can really represent it all. The trailer features a clip from the album's second track, 'Ariah Being.'"