A Conversation with Gloria Estefan
Mike Ragogna: Hi, how are you doing Gloria?
Gloria Estefan: I'm great, nice to talk to you again. How are you doing?
MR: I'm pretty well. You must be all excited about this new album The Standards.
GE: I am very excited.
MR: What made you want to do a standards album this time out?
GE: Well, I've been planning it for quite a while, I was just waiting for the right musical idea. That came a couple of years ago when I sat at the piano with Shelly Berg, the head of the Frost School of Music at a trustee dinner, because it's my alma mater and I'm a trustee. He asked me to do a song and we did "Good Morning, Heartache," which I had done on the Carson show when we sang conga years before. When I heard him play and the way he played and what he was doing, I knew that was exactly the kind of thing that I wanted to do with a standards record. I invited him right after finishing the song because the whole thing unfolded in my brain as we were singing it. I asked him right after and he loved the idea. I sorted through over a thousand songs, I whittled it down to fifty, we met, and we actually played at his piano for like six hours to try everything on for size. I ended up picking songs that were very, very personal and very special to me because that's the only thing I think I can bring different, and of course Shelly's arrangements, which he did a spectacular job on. I wanted to walk that fine line where my pop fans would enjoy it, but musicians would find it adventurous and interesting. He did exactly that.
MR: Gloria, I'd bet some of these songs I'm imagining were playing in your family household when you were younger.
GE: My mom was an amazing singer and music was a big part of my life, so I grew up listening to Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Henry Mancini; I used to watch The Andy Williams Show on TV. I was very musical, so I was watching stuff that most kids my age wouldn't be interested in. But since I sang since I talked, all of those variety shows that had music were just such a huge draw for me. I used to love Dean Martin and Andy Williams... I remember seeing The Osmonds the first time they were on. It was very natural, so when I started playing guitar, I would sing these songs for my dad. His favorites were "Moon River" and "Smile" and "Wonderful World," so I would play this stuff for my family on my guitar. It's very much a part of my core musical experience as a kid.
MR: Now, you take on "What A Wonderful World," the Louis Armstrong classic. When you recorded this, did it feel like you were a kid again singing to your pop?
GE: It did, but I've got to tell you that at this stage in my life--having seen so much, and now we're so barraged by every single thing that happens worldwide--I think Shelly did an amazing job of expressing musically both the turmoil and the beauty of the world as it was intended in that song. You really want kids to be hopeful. Sometimes, it's kind of hard the way that they get attacked by so much information that they can do nothing about, so I was thinking about all those things when I was singing that song, and my daddy of course.
MR: Beautiful. "What A Wonderful World" also has a connotation with the sixties and in some respects, maybe because of the movie Good Morning, Vietnam, the Vietnam War. There does seem to be an irony with that song. It's sort of like, "Keep your head up, kid," but on the other hand, you're right, with the barrage of information and troubles in the world, how one keeps their positivity up can be challenging. That song, to me, is an anthem that can help you keep your head up.
GE: Yes, indeed. Like the song "Smile," which always made me cry.
MR: [laughs] More irony. And I know what you mean, of course.
GE: It would always give me the opposite effect, but in a beautiful way. It's the way that I've lived my life. I'm an army brat, my dad was in Vietnam. We would exchange tapes and I would sing these songs for him. For me, it's always, "Stuff happens, that's the reason we're here." We're here to learn. If you're not going to learn from everything being hunky-dory, what would be the point? You have to focus on the positive and work towards a better world always and not give up. There are so many beautiful things that are a part of the world and I've always looked at life that way, I've always tried to put on a smile and a brave front, not just for my kids but in my own life and all the difficulties that I've gone through. When I sing these songs, that's exactly what I focus on, the beauty in the world and the necessity to really look forward and look positive and be stronger.
MR: So you came across a couple of writers whose songs you did more than one of on The Standards, The Gershwins, for example. Did you find you had more of an affinity to a couple of these writers or was it about the songs themselves?
GE: I love Gershwin. I love musicals. A lot of these songs started in a certain way, like My Fair Lady's "I've Grown Accustomed To His Face," which is "Her Face," originally. That's what makes it a standard, depending on who takes it on it becomes a whole different song with a whole different meaning for a different generation. For me it was all about my husband, down to the whistling. He whistles when he's upset and he whistles when he's happy, and I can tell which one it is by the tone. So he was in the studio and I sang it directly to him. I love Iris Sullivan, I love the Gershwins, I love songs. It hasn't been for me so much about actual writers unless it's somebody like Carole King, which is somebody I have a great affinity for. She was a huge part of my growing up and she's an idol. As a matter of fact, on one of the versions of this album, there's a version of her and me doing "Natural Woman" that we did together at Foxwoods. It's not on all the albums. You know how now they have all these different bonus tracks and everybody wants a different one? The thing we did together was one of them. So yeah, I love Gershwin, but to me, the songs are the stars and they were chosen very much for how they fit into my life and my experience.
MR: Yeah. Now some of these also a part of American pop culture, forever associated with certain artists. For instance "Young At Heart," I don't know if you're ever going to get away from that version by Frank Sinatra.
GE: I am a huge Sinatra fan. When I got to do that duets album with him, I'm telling you it was like a dream come true. These guys are amazing. Nat King Cole, I have every record, I've heard every note he's sung including his Spanish stuff, because remember he did a whole Spanish album, a couple of them. So I've been listening to these guys forever. When I was doing the photoshoot before I actually went into the studio--because we did it live in four days with these amazing musicians that are really the cream of the crop of this genre--these guys played with all those guys. They played with Sinatra; they played with Ella Fitzgerald, with Count Basie, with Duke Ellington, with Tony Bennett. These guys brought to the table so much and I sang with them every step of the way because I think you bring something else to the situation. But I actually bought six or seven versions of each song that I listened to while I was doing the photoshoot because I wanted also to remind myself that one of these songs belonged to this artist so that I wouldn't tread on it. You don't realize, but especially if you're a musician, everything influences you and everything gets into your subconscious and I really wanted to bring something very unique to the table. So I first listened again and refreshed my mind as to what it was about these songs that made them theirs. Then when I went into the studio I went into my own personal space but I knew exactly what to avoid if there was a line or an expression of a line or a way to interpret that had been done by someone else. I didn't want to do that, so I did some homework there to avoid exactly that.
MR: Nice. Could there, in the future, be a Spanish language version of this album?
GE: Well, I already started it with this. I wrote a Spanish version of "Smile," which didn't exist. They had done some version a while back, but it was a love song, it had nothing to do with the actual meaning of this. I got to play it for Geraldine Chaplin, the way, and she told me she loved the Spanish even more than the English version because she knows Spanish and she knows Italian. I also recorded it in Italian, so that was very special. Then I flipped it, and did my wedding song, "El Día Que Me Quieras," which is a 1920s huge hit by Carlos Gardel, the tango god of Argentina, which I rewrote in English and to be sanctioned by his institute was a huge deal for me. They allowed and loved my version that I did in English. It's called "The Day You Say You Love Me," and I hope it becomes a killer wedding tune because that was my wedding song with Emilio thirty-five years ago.
MR: And you also cover one of my favorite artists, Antonio Carlos Jobim.
GE: Oh, my god, yes, and I wrote an English version to that song, as well, so that'll be one of the bonus tracks. I recorded it in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.
MR: Wow. It seems certain songs lend themselves to various languages because their messages stay intact no matter what. For instance, I think you could sing "La, la, la, la, la, la, doh-dee-doh-dee-doh" on "Smile," etc., and people would get what that song meant because the sentiment was written right into the music.
GE: Yes, it is. That's one of those songs that takes my heart and twists it into a ball. It just does that for me, and it's ironic because it says, "Smile," but what it does is makes me cry. Every version I've ever heard, from Michael Jackson to Natalie Cole, all the greats that have done it and the original... It's just one of the things that's in that music. And I think that's why Geraldine Chaplin loved the Spanish so much, because you can be so passionate in Spanish and really express emotion a lot and that does happen in the Spanish version. Also instead of saying "Smile," although it has the word in it, it's "laugh" in Spanish, because in the Hispanic sensibility you're going to laugh in the face of danger, not smile. That's more our nature, so she thought it captured even more.
MR: Nice. Is there a song here that might be the centerpiece of the album? Something that's so personal, you go, "Yeah, that's who Gloria Estefan is, that's me"?
GE: Maybe "Embraceable You," because that song is a love song, but to me it was sung to my daughter who was in the studio and is an amazing musician and loved every step of the process and she's going away to college. It's just how the album started, the idea of pianos and violins, very intimate, and you could hear every breath in there and every emotion of a mother who is so in love with her daughter and is about to go through a new phase and how that's the way it is. You love and then sometimes you have to let go. At the core of everything, I think it could also be "Good Morning Heartache." That started this album and it's a song where I dug deep, because it's not particularly about a love experience, but it's about the many times in my life that I've had to really face some very, very dark things. It's hard to pick just one, but probably those two.
MR: Is there a possibility of a The Standards II?
GE: Oh, yeah, I've already thought of what I'd like to call it. But yeah, are you kidding me? When you do something and you have so much fun doing it, remember I picked fifty songs. I had to whittle down the fifteen that ended up on this record.
MR: You have the thirty-five to go, now.
GE: [laughs] Yeah, there's definitely more, and I'll do something different and fun but still kind of ride that wave we started with. I really, really loved the experience and Shelly was amazing to work with.
MR: Gloria, you are a pop icon, and I mean that in a good sense.
GE: Thank you so much.
MR: Given that, what is your advice for new artists?
GE: Oh, my God! You know, especially now, it is so tough for them because they are facing a time where it's a singles-related thing and people's attention span is so short, it's tough to develop a career. All I tell artists is do what you love. Never let anybody talk you into changing what your musical idea is just to try to get a hit, because you're chasing your tail that way. It's not going to happen, and if you're successful, you have to do it the rest of your life. Stay true to it and do it for the sake of the art. Ben Franklin, I think, would be very happy in these times. He thought that inventions and music, all that kind of thing, should be free to the world and that's practically what we're facing right now. So he'd be happy. It's tough for intellectual property and people that write, but if you're an artist, you're going to do it because you love it and because you want to share it. Always continue to do art for the sake of doing it and then hope that it goes well and that you can make a living out of it. But it really should be about sharing your musical dream and what you feel and putting out there to the universe some beautiful music that will become part of people's lives.
MR: Beautiful, Gloria, and all the best with the record and everything you've got going.
GE: Thank you so much!
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Julian Lennon
Mike Ragogna: Hi Julian, how are you doing?
Julian Lennon: Hi Michael, good, good, good. It's a pleasure!
MR: And it's always a pleasure to talk with you, Julian. You know the phrase "The more things change, the more they stay the same?" I think that's a bunch of crap! The more things change, the more things change. Right?
JL: [laughs] I think that's confused me entirely! Especially as the first question. Oh my God, I'm not entirely sure. I think I'd need another cup of coffee to answer that.
MR: [laughs] And thus began the interrogation for your new album Everything Changes. Yay.
JL: Oh, yeah, well you know. [laughs] I tend to go for the obvious. Everything in its simplest form. I figure, why complicate issues?
MR: Indeed, Major! Julian, please would you take us on a proper tour of the album and its origins? Like, what were you feeling creatively when you first got into it?
JL: Well, for starters, fifteen years ago, I sort of gave it all up again. I keep having these fits where I've just had enough of the industry and I just want to run away. I went off to do quite a few other projects. I did a film called WhaleDreamers, which was about indigenous tribes and this, that, and the other, and now photography, I'm all over the place. These are all things I wanted to pursue outside of music, but the problem is I couldn't stay away from it. I get twitchy. Being surrounded by musicians as dear and best friends is also a difficult thing, too, because if someone comes and stays, they'll pick up the guitar and start playing and I'll go, "Ooh, I like that!" and one thing will lead to another. How the album came about was not initially with the idea of doing an album again, because in all honesty, I thought, "I could live with Photograph Smile being my last album, really, if I just didn't want to deal with this business anymore." But I guess about ten years ago, I started twitching again and I bought a whole little home studio setup and started putting ideas down--some finished, some not. Slowly but surely, lo and behold, there's enough for an album! It was quite different from the other albums; this was done the most organically, again, because I was not writing for the consideration of an album. It was just writing for the sake of writing and the pleasure of writing and the pleasure of expression through that medium. I remember how this actually came together. There was a great mixer that I'd heard of who did Sheryl Crow's album Wildflower and I loved the sound of that album. It's natural, it's beautiful, it has new and old production a little bit, the mix is great on it. Anyway, I found him on MySpace or something like that. He couldn't believe it was me. I said, "Look, there's no other way I could contact you." It's the mixer Jeff Rothschild. I said, "Listen, I love your work, and I've got a whole bunch of stuff. Any chance that we could consider working together?" He said, "Well, listen, in about two months I've got a window of ten days." I said, "Excuse me?" He said, "Yeah, I've got a window of about ten days." I said, "Right, okay, I'll get back to you over the weekend." Okay! Crikey, if I'm going to do an album, I want him to do it because he was booked up months, if not years, in advance. "If I'm going to do this, let me really pull it together." So I did. It was a lot of hard work finishing everything up and letting your baby go, so to speak. But we worked on it in London at Sarm Studios, it turned out great,,in my mind, and I couldn't be happier with it. Next thing was, "Okay, how am I going to release it?" So I did a trial release in the UK with a few less tracks on it on an indie label. You know, I don't know what it is, maybe it's just the business, the industry, the people in it, but it just was not a working situation. I decided to pull out of that and I just sat back and decided to do a bit more work on it and then thought, "You know what, I'm just going to do it myself. It's time to be truly independent. Enough." So that's what I did, and that's what I've done. I've got to say, there's a lot less stressors and strains doing it this way. But on another note, if you want people to know about it, you've really got to independently go out there and promote it. It's completely different than how you would with a label. For me, it's very much about stepping stones and word of mouth and slowly but surely. I'm not looking to have the next chart hit or success, I'm looking for longevity as an artist.
MR: How's the reaction been?
JL: The reaction has been great so far. I'm happy with it all and happy with the way it's going because I dip my toe in promoting it as and when I can, but this allows me also to get on with the other projects on a daily basis--the White Feather Foundation and photography. So it allows me a bit more breathing space as a human, too, which in the end, makes me a happier bunny.
MR: And adds to the creativity. Can it be argued that a well-rounded Julian, from doing your filmwork and photography, gives you a bigger perspective when you then approach your music?
JL: It's certainly a different perspective. Just briefly, I've been working on a film set doing artistic stills for a film called The Price Of Desire, which is about a woman called Eileen Gray who was the first Irish female modernist in regards to architecture and design. Her life story is quite incredible. Her last piece of work, which was a chair, I think, sold for about twenty-three million. A lot of people don't know about her, but she influenced design and architecture incredibly. Anyway, I'm working on stills for this and I'd been on set in Brussels--we haven't finished yet, it doesn't finish til the end of the month--but the director Mary McGuckian asked me in because she liked the photography she'd seen of mine. There's anywhere between twenty and fifty people on set, people that work around filming and shooting behind the scenes of a production, and nobody apart from her and the producer knew who I was. I've got to tell you, being the stills photographer on a movie set, you are the lowest of the lowest in their eyes. Nobody knew who I was and I haven't really been in the limelight or in the media a lot, so there were gaffers and people shoving me out of the way and pushing me, and I'm going, "Ow, f**k, I forgot what it was like to be down here." You have to work your way up. I had to show that I was willing to be a hard worker before they even accepted me by doing the work and doing the graphs and then eventually getting to show some of the pictures so that they went, "Oh, well you actually do a pretty good job." Even 'til the end, some people didn't know. It was just an interesting going back to the roots of viewing the world. It's good whether it's a scenario like that or going to shoot refugee camps in Afghanistan or going out to Kenya or this, that and the other. It's always important to not forget how far you've come and where you've come from and what other people are dealing with. I think those are some of the issues that are much more relatable to and I'm much more in touch with today than I ever have been. Sorry that was a bit long-winded, Michael.
MR: No, not all, Julian, it was a complete answer! But that also brings us perfectly to the White Feather Foundation. It's obvious you have a global view, you're more concerned with things beyond just music as we've been talking about and the White Feather Foundation is a perfect example of that. Can you go into the organization?
JL: Sure. I'll try and keep it brief. When I went off and did this film called WhaleDreamers, how that came about was I was doing the promo tour, the promo tour on crack in Australia--the neverending promo tour--and I was in Adelaide and the hotel calls me up and says, "Listen, there's an aboriginal tribe down here, they want to see you." I said, "Excuse me?" and they said, "No, no, we're very serious, Mr. Lennon, please come downstairs to the lobby, there's an aboriginal tribe down here." I'm going, "Okay, well, this is a weird one." But I go downstairs and the elders come up to me and they present me with this incredibly beautiful white feather from a male swan. It's beautiful. I used to carry it with me in my suitcase everywhere I went in the world, but I keep it at home now, just for nostalgia. But there are two points to this: The giving of the white feather to me and the elders saying, "You have a voice, can you help us?" They were being kicked off the land by their government and their story was, like so many, horrific. The other thing was dad always said that if there was something showing me a sign in regards to him being all right or everything being all right, it would be in the form of a white feather. I thought, literally, in that moment as I was being handed that feather, "Well I'd better step up to the plate here or crawl under a rock. It's one choice or the other. Man up." When I finished the film, I said, "If we make any money on this, how do I give it back to the indigenous tribes involved in this so that they can keep their culture alive, their education, their history and keep it moving forward and not lose this?" Because of those two points in particular, I thought White Feather Foundation sounded right to me. I've always associated a white feather with a dove, which relates to peace to me and love and respect and giving.
So that was that. I started the foundation where if anything was made from the film, it would go through the foundation to the aboriginal tribe and the other tribes around the world. Then I took it another step. I feel more than fortunate, so regardless of what people think I've been through or not been through or how much people think I have or don't have, I want everything and anything that I do to have a portion of it go to White Feather Foundation to continue efforts to help aid those in need. We've rebuilt orphanages in Sri Lanka, this year we've been working with NGOs all around the world, specifically in Kenya. This is the year of water with regards to the UN, so that's been our goal this year. We had our first ever White Feather Foundation event, raised a fair amount of money to be able to drill new boreholes and put in pumps for fresh water for villages and families initially in Kenya and throughout Africa, but really, all over. So it's a daily commitment to keep on trying to raise awareness and raise funds. Voila.
MR: I remember in our last interview, you said you had started a label based on trying to elevate artists who you believed in.
JL: It never came to fruition, really. What started happening, as with my scenario exactly, was that although the idea of being independent even two years ago before that was a nice idea, the actual reality of it with regards to self-releasing and viral marketing and doing all the work yourself wasn't quite there yet. That's why in speaking with a lot of artists that I was considering working with, we all just went off and did our own things because we realized we were now able to do this through ourselves and our own means and our own websites. Now for the most part, really, our websites are our shop windows, so to speak, to the rest of the world. I think some people want to give their music away for free and that's fine by them, but it's not just the recording. You've got a lot of people behind all of that and if you need help in promoting or marketing it outside of your viral, then you do need people to help you and you've got to pay for that. Nothing is free, and I think now that artist can at least directly market to fans and directly have a relationship with people. I'm literally on Facebook probably an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to communicate and keep in touch with my fans, not only on musical levels, but also on environmental issues around the world and projects and ideas. But you know, I'm not all serious. I do like a bit of a laugh once in a while. But I think it's a far different opportunity and a far different situation to be in than even two years ago. So that's the long version of the story.
MR: Once again, everything changes.
JL: In that respect, indeed. Well just to finish off, I think this way. The fact of the matter is the fans really do get to see who the real artist is. In many respects, a lot of artists' images are fronted on social networking websites and they don't really communicate directly with the fans and I think, after a while, once you see artists that are sort of true, as I feel I am as well as quite a few others, that you can actually reach and stay in touch with the artist yourself. I think that makes a huge, huge difference in how people look at you. You really are the person behind that and running the show. It's a different day and age these days, and I think actually for the better.
MR: Perfect timing for my traditional question. What advice do you have for new artists?
JL: Well, I think that is it. I've got to say one thing, it's much more difficult, in many respects, because there are so many artists out there today, we're almost all drowning. Sadly, with regards to radio and many other formats and even TV, generally, the only people that get really seen and heard on that level are people that get signed up with labels that have money to be able to support the artists and put them in the public's minds' eye. So it's a lot more difficult for you to be seen and heard, but as long as you're willing to step out of the box a little bit and try and do what you can to be seen and heard, it's a tough one. In my mind, it's about being true to yourself. I certainly don't want to sell my soul in any way, shape, or form, but I do want to let people know about the work that I'm doing. Then it's in the ether; it can be taken from there. If people accidentally fall upon it or hear it from word of mouth, I think that's where longevity as an artist lasts, in circumstances like that. I was new to Facebook about a few years ago and it's literally been me near enough twice a day every day building my fans and audience up from initially about two thousand to over four hundred thousand now. That's not using any gimmicks, any tricks, it's the fact that I'm willing to be there. Almost grow with your fans in that respect. It's quite unique.
MR: All right, we'll wrap things up, but I just want to say that with Everything Changes, I think you did achieve what you were looking for, this organic sound meets modern technology, and you could tell from the fans' reactions to all the songs that you touched a lot of people, especially with songs like "Beautiful" and the title track.
JL: Thank you.
MR: You're welcome. Does this give you more creative energy to jump into the next one now?
JL: I don't know...I honestly don't know. I'm trying to take everything a step at a time at the moment. Again, what's caught my eye for now artistically is photography. I'm probably going to go with the flow of that for a while. It depends on what happens with the reaction to the album. If I do hear murmurs and gurglings and the idea of playing live does finally hit me, then I'll get up there and I'll play, and the idea, of course, will be to write more in the future. But I have to say that I do enjoy the sort of sporadic workings with other people that I've come across. For instance, Tomi Swick in Canada, we did a song called "December Sky." Just these little opportunities that come out of nowhere and you wouldn't normally expect that make writing music a little more exciting. The idea of having to write an album, the drudgery of that in this day and age has really changed, although for me, an album is always a journey. There's conflicting interest from both sides. It's a question of figuring out what you feel like that day. I think it really does. I don't want to force myself ever to write a song. I've done that before. This album was completely not like that. I would sense that it will naturally happen again.
MR: And everything changes.
JL: Indeed it does, sir, indeed it does.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
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A Conversation with Emmy Wildwood
Mike Ragogna: Hey, Ms. Emmy, tell us a little something about yourself.
Emmy Wildwood: My name's Emmy Wildwood and I'm from Tuscon, Arizona originally. I moved to New York two years ago to play music, and a year ago, I opened my record label and vintage store combination. I just put out my first single as a solo project under the name Emmy Wildwood in June.
MR: Beautiful. So you're taking your career in your own hands. These days, a lot of artists are doing their own thing, using parts of the machine that a label would supply and doing it themselves. How do you feel about coming into this independently? Are you a feisty, independent person anyway?
EW: Yes, I am definitely a feisty, independent person anyways, I've always written for myself and my own bands, I've had my own clear vision of what I wanted music to sound like with the help of people I picked because I love their work. So I am a feisty, independent person, but what I would say about the music industry is that I think major labels can be amazing. I think they can be a lot of help if they're deeply invested in what you're doing. But there are a lot of times you get lost and become very forgotten if you're not a top priority. I like what you said about using parts of the machine, because I do treat my record label in that way. I put together a really great team, good PR, great producer, it's just on a scaled-down level. Ultimately, I get to pick exactly who I want and exactly who I love. So while I'm super independent, I really do know the importance of a great team. Half of my artistry is my producer Tomek Miernowski and we're definitely fifty-fifty musically on this particular project. I obviously could absolutely not do it without the help of these amazing people, but I do tend to like to take things into my own hands and like to have the last word in a way.
MR: Does that also apply to your songwriting and your approach to recording?
EW: What I would say about songwriting is that's my favorite part of all of it. I do write a lot, I tend to write on my own, but I take a demo that I would record on GarageBand and give it to my producer Tomek and he produces all the music around it. So I think the finished song is definitely a fifty-fifty collaboration between the two of us, but I write all the songs on my own. They're very personal, very about me, and what I'm thinking. But I do like to songwrite in groups for people. I have done that quite a bit.
MR: Hey, wait. Ain't you also Lizzie Stradlin from Guns 'N' Hoses?
EW: Yes, I am. I love being in that group. That is the most fun thing ever. That group is actually comprised of four leading ladies who all have their own projects, so that's a pretty cool experience--just four women up there and we all sort of combine our "independent thinking," if you will, in that show. We all get along really well and because of it, that band's been a really big success. We've gotten a lot of media attention.
MR: Nice. I imagine your music has been compared to "the fifties meets the eighties meets whatever," and you do appreciate punk and where a lot of music comes from. This ties in with your eye on vintage, doesn't it.
EW: It sure does! The vintage store came about because when I was back living in Tuscon and being in punk bands and performing in different groups, I always made my own clothes. I'd go to thrift shops and I'd alter these pieces, and people would always say, "Where did you get that?" I'd say, "I made it," and they'd be like, "You should totally have a store." The vision was always there, but music has always been a priority, too. So it occurred to me last year as I was bartending and playing in like five groups and working as a stylist and doing makeup just trying to pay the bills while I was crafting this new project, I thought, "I can't keep doing this. I want the music to work for me. I want this to be my job." Then it occurred to me as I was styling other bands, I thought, "I can put this all in one place." I've always wanted to have the record label part of things, I always wanted to do that. I love vinyl and I also love helping the community and collaboration, so the vintage boutique has turned into this clubhouse for musicians. We have in-store performances in here, we print seven-inches for unsigned Brooklyn bands, we just put out Mother Feather's CD. [laughs] CD? What's a CD? [laughs] We put out their vinyl single a few weeks back, actually. Huffington Post just wrote them up, gave them a really great write-up. So it's turned into this sort of clubhouse collaboration, a giant dress-up drawer for musicians, a place for concerts, a place to write songs and have songwriting sessions. It's just sort of turned into a community-based place that's also fun and generates money because it has great stuff in it.
MR: Emmy, your "ghost pop" needs a little bit of explanation. Do you want to go into that a little?
EW: So people ask me all the time what kind of genre of music it is, and it's certainly pop that I make because it's strong hooks and melodies. But I think that in some cases, pop has gotten a bad rap and I think I've always like to put the creativity into it so something a little weird, sounds you've never heard of before and I tend to write a little bit darkly and hauntingly. My boyfriend was like, "It's not pop. It is pop, but it's ghost pop." He said that to me one day and I was like, "That's exactly what it is." It's mysterious, shadowy, strange pop. So I said it one time to a gal in an article, I think it might have been one of my first write-ups for an MTV blog and then every blog picked it up and started talking about "ghost pop." I think it's funny and I love the description, I think it's really cool, but it just sort of stuck like that. I think it's just another description for creative, unusual, haunting-sounding pop.
MR: Which then brings us to "Chick Chick Boom (Tired Of Love)." This song doesn't really sound like you're tired of love. Nope. Not one bit.
EW: [laughs] I think when I wrote that song I was tired of love. It was definitely a post-breakup song and sort of a feeling that you don't have anything left, you can't do it anymore, and "Chick Chick Boom" refers to the loading and firing off of a gun. Somebody finishing something. So that's dark, right? But obviously, it's metaphorical. But yeah, it's definitely a break-up song. I was in it deep when I wrote that song, exhausted by it, so I guess that's where that came from.
MR: What do you think about the Brooklyn scene? What the heck is going on there? I need to know, tell me!
EW: [laughs] I think it's the high concentration of musicians and artists. There was obviously an exodus from the Lower East Side a while back, ten or twelve years ago, a quite big one. So there's just a high concentration of musicians and artists and fashion, initially, because it was cheaper over here, but that's not really the case anymore. But that's what it is. Twelve years ago, people came out here and started these businesses on a very small level, but they've developed into incredibly creative things like Cameo Gallery, shows like Glasslands, that was just a warehouse. And now it's turned into one of the best and coolest venues in Brooklyn, it's just, you know, people coming over here with small ideas that have developed into incredible things because they're all artists. I knew I wanted my store in a place where people like me could come and enjoy the stuff I like. So it's really that.
MR: It does seem like the Lower East Side is past the point of being able to be reinvented in the way that Brooklyn has been.
MR: There was so much entrenched in what had come before, it seemed like almost out of frustration, the exodus was necessary in order to get a jump start on new creativity in the newly trying-to-thrive artistic community of New York.
EW: Yeah, I totally agree with you. I'm noticing that even that is... I'm noticing Williamsburg is still fresh, it's still filled with opportunity, but it's spreading even further, now. It's spreading into Green Point and all this stuff is popping up, all these galleries and boutiques, and out in Bushwick, there are amazing venues, I went to see a band that we're looking to sign to the label on a rooftop in Bushwick the other day. That was amazing, the whole rooftop filled with kids. It's now become a DIY venue. Someone just put a show on the roof and it's officially a venue. I still think it's spreading. It's spreading further down to Bushwick, more towards the water and Green Point.
MR: And you've also got Fort Green with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, etc.
EW: Totally, it's amazing.
MR: When did you decide that you needed to be an artist?
EW: [laughs] I'll answer your question in two ways. The first is that I don't think I ever decided, I think I just was. I started writing songs at ten. Playing and writing songs has never been a choice. I never remember picking up a guitar and being like, "Now I will write a song." There's music around, I'm listening to things, I get ideas and pick it up. I think I've always been an artist and definitely a child of artistic parents. My mom is a painter, my dad is a musician. But I will say that a huge turning point in my life where I decided that something needed to change and this needed to be the main focus and the priority all the time was probably a year and a half ago when I decided I wanted to put out my solo record and I wanted to do my songs just exactly how I wanted them. I wanted them unbridled, I wanted not to write with an industry expectation, and I just sort of abandoned all oppressing ideas. For so long, I was worried about writing something that would be current or heard by record labels or could be on the radio. I think it sort of kept me from being as creative as I could. So about a year and a half ago, I decided to take things into my own hands and that was a massive turning point for me. I've never been as happy as I am with the music that I've made as I am right now, and with the job that I do every day and with the record label and helping people. That all happened at sort of the same exact time--starting the store, making this record, all of that. I think that was the biggest turning point in my career that I've ever had, and I think that's when things started working for me, you know? Music started taking off and people started paying attention when I started really being authentic and true to the thing I wanted to do. So that's that.
MR: You set up the next question perfectly. What advice do you have for new artists?
EW: Oh, my gosh. Okay, so I tell myself this all the time because I'm constantly hitting roadblocks. There are always problems. There are two things: The first is to just keep swimming, just keep going. I think that's Finding Nemo, right? But just keep swimming. There are days that I end up in tears because I'm so frustrated with not being able to get something figured out and that brings me to the next thing that I tell myself and that I tell other people, which is stop worrying about the problem and get to work on the problem. Don't stop working on it. Figure it out. You just have to keep going and keep working. If you're working on what you love doing and it's a labor of love, it's going to be worth it. There's nothing more satisfying than achieving the goal. I put my goals up in little pieces, one thing at a time. "How am I going to get what I need to get done today done?" That's really it. And being inspired! Always look for new inspiration, growing yourself, growing your art, trying to be better every day is something that will always help you grow and become a better musician.
MR: Really nicely said. I have to ask you, where do you see yourself in like five years?
EW: Man, I would love to have a healthy roster on the label, including myself. I want to syndicate, for sure. I'd love to have a few Brooklyn stores and locations, and frankly, I'd love to be on tour. I'm so ready to be playing my stuff for a bunch of people. That's in the works right now anyway, but I'm certainly ready to be playing for as many people as I possibly can all the time, and having the label running like a well-oiled machine. That would be amazing, five years from now.
MR: What is something that we need to know about Emmy Wildwood that we don't know yet?
EW: Oh, hmm, that's a good one. Just that songs that I have in store just keep getting better. They're exponentially going to be better and weirder and more exciting. I have a few very exciting collaborations in the works that I'm not really allowed to say yet. But that's not fun, right?
MR: That's not fair, actually! Something we need to know but we can't know yet.
EW: [laughs] I know, unfortunately that's true.
MR: After "Chick Chick Boom" runs its course, are you just going to have a steady stream of Emmy Wildwood releases?
EW: Hey, you know what? Something you don't know yet that I just realized? This is a very exciting thing to announce, so you will be the first person to say it. I have my new single coming out for my first song called "Luxurious Problems," which sort of comments on the states of young stars in pop culture. We have a competing contestant from the current season of America's Next Top Model who is the star of the video. We just wrapped on that video shoot two days ago, and her name is Nina Burns. We don't know how far she got into the competition because she's not allowed to tell us yet, but she's competing right now and she's sort of the best part of the show. She starred in the new music video and I guess nobody knows it yet. So that's a very exciting thing to announce, "Luxurious Problems" with Nina Burns.
MR: Well I wish you all the luck with everything you've got going. It's such a wonderful synergy that you've created among all the things you've got going.
EW: I just got a little chill because that's exactly how I would love the world to receive it. It's a synergy and it's a revolution. I want to feel the scene come back again and the community of music to come back again. I'm really ready for that, so it really makes me feel good that you perceive it that way. Thank you.
MR: Thank YOU!
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Tom Ruprecht
Mike Ragogna: Tom, why'd you have to go and pick on poor Salinger? Hasn't he been through enough??
Tom Ruprecht: I'm an enormous Salinger fan. My book is just a silly look at a lifestyle that was, you gotta grant me, bananas.
MR: Come on, admit it. There was bromance potential here, wasn't there.
TR: J.D. was 50 years older than me, so I don't know if we'd have been bros. But 50 years was about the average age difference with most of his girlfriends, so I'm sure if I'd been a gal, we could've made something happen.
MR: If the bromance didn't work out and you had to break up with him, how would you do it and what would the reason have been?
TR: Salinger dumped one woman by leaving a plane ticket for her on the kitchen table. I think I'd do something equally cowardly, but since I don't have Catcher in the Rye money, it'd be even cheaper. A bus ticket...or subway token.
MR: Which of your boyfriend's works did you most admire?
TR: I think "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "For Esmé with Love and Squalor" are two of the greatest short stories ever written.
MR: Out of all of his writings, which character do you relate to the most and why and do you feel Salinger could have fleshed out the character better if he'd based it more on you?
TR: Like every confused high school kid, I related to Holden Caulfield. And yes, if Salinger had made Holden like me, perhaps the book would've been a success instead of the unmitigated disaster it was.
MR: Okay, let's pretend you never had a bromance with Salinger and he met you after reading your book, how hard would he slap your face?
TR: Again, I had 50 years on him. If he wanted to fight, I'd say, "Bring it on, Grandpa!"
MR: Let's pretend he liked your book. Okay, forget that. At what point did you decide to write this book?
TR: Hold on. Salinger loved my book. (The great thing about writing a fake oral history is you can put whatever words you want in people's mouths.)
"Tom Ruprecht has written the funniest, most thought-provoking book I've ever read. I loved it!"--J.D. Salinger.
MR: Who influenced you creatively beyond J.D. Salinger?
TR: David Foster Wallace. I also think Will Ferrell is tremendous.
MR: Given you had such a man crush on him, try not to use every superlative ever in your answer, but what kind of mark do you think Salinger left on culture?
TR: Look, I've never had a crush on J.D. Salinger. My lone crush and the woman I pine for still is the babe in Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" video.
MR: Yeah, right. Who's your next target, I mean victim, I mean subject for a book?
TR: I've written a 600-page book about the babe in Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" video...it's more of a manifesto, really.
MR: What don't we know about you that would make a reader love you equal to or more than Salinger?
TR: I helped make this...the child, not the ladybug costume.
MR: What advice do you have for new or budding writers?
TR: As long as your cover has a slick photo of keys or cufflinks or something else evocative of 50 Shades of Gray, presto, your book will be published and heavily marketed. Congrats!
MR: Seriously, did you feel the loss when he died?
TR: The guy was 91. It's not like we were blindsided.
MR: Fine. Anyone, in your opinion, come close to or carries on the tradition of his writing style?
TR: Like Salinger, David Mitchell does an amazing job of capturing adolescence in his novel Black Swan Green. Wonderful book.
MR: Any prediction on how Salinger's works will be treated or thought of in future generations?
TR: Dude, once Google Glass perfects pornography, ain't nobody gonna be reading books no more.
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