iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Mike Ragogna

GET UPDATES FROM Mike Ragogna
 

Michael Jackson's "The Immortal Megamix," Plus Chatting With Chris Isaak and Phil Manzanera

Posted: 11/04/11 12:59 AM ET

Curious about the new Immortal album by Michael Jackson? Wonder no more, check out "The Immortal Megamix" by MJImmortal, a blend of Jackson's hits "Can You Feel It," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Billie Jean," and "Black Or White." Aloha.

The Immortal Megamix by MJImmortal


2011-11-04-51mjqH4DO4L._SL500_AA300_.jpg

A Conversation with Chris Isaak

Mike Ragogna: Hello Chris. How are you?

Chris Isaak: Good. I'm doing good man. It's nice to talk to you.

MR: Yeah, it's nice to talk to you too.

CI: It's kind of nerve wracking to me because I realize that right now, we're broadcasting to perhaps dozens of people--if the sun is shining--so...

MR: (laughs) Well, we do have some Eveready batteries, just in case the sun isn't shining. And don't be too nervous because we're "taping" this one.

CI: Actually, I hear it goes straight to disc now.

MR: That's right. Nothing truly goes to tape anymore. Oh, analog, how I miss you. Maybe we should strike "tape" from the vocabulary.

CI: It's funny--somebody will come up to me and say, "Hey, I liked your last record. Oh wait, I guess you don't call them records anymore." But record was just short for recording, so yeah, it's still a recording.

MR: Yeah, and speaking of records, you have a new record out called Beyond The Sun, on which you visit a lot of the old great ones.

CI: I remember one time we were in Germany on tour, and we were going to a radio show for some big state owned radio in Germany. The building was...old. They had all the old microphones and all the old radio equipment in the hallways, and I couldn't believe that they had wire recorders. I'm into that kind of old equipment, and I get like, "Yeah, let's try this."

MR: A lot of artists have tried to go back to more vintage recording methods because they're not liking the harsh sound of digital.

CI: I've made a lot of records because that's what I do, and I've listened to a lot of records, and I have to tell you the truth--it wouldn't have mattered if The Beatles had recorded "A Hard Day's Night" on Silly Putty. It would have sounded good. Do you know what I mean?

MR: Yeah, funny.

CI: The main thing to me...people go, "What do you listen to at your house," like I'm going to have some wonderful sound system, and I think, you know, nowadays things are so good that for a couple hundred bucks, you can have fantastic sound quality at your house. It's not like the '50s where you really had to shell out a bunch of money. Besides that, I used to listen to things...I have a jukebox in my house, and I'd buy old, scratchy 45s and throw them on there, and the scratches and everything else doesn't bother me. It's just, "Is the music good?"

MR: That's the thing about the old records--it was always about the song, it was always about the arrangement, the performance and what went into the production. The concept never goes away, really, does it?

CI: Yeah, I think you're kind of hitting on something there. On those older records, they didn't have the ability to go in on each track and clean things up or mix things--that kind of perfection that people think they're going to get now. So, they could never lose sight of the big picture, which was, "We want to hear Johnny's voice singing the song, and it's got to be good." Then, if you hear a little bit of the drums in the background? Okay. If a truck rumbles by in the background? That doesn't bother them either. It was like they were going for the big picture. When we went to Sun Studio and made this record, we kind of did it with...I'm the only one I know who has gone in and done it with really the old style, which was to bring the whole band into a room and do it in one take. I sing it, they play it, and we don't fix it. There's no overdubbing the guitar part. There's no fixing the vocal later. It's like you go in and you do it. That's the way they did those songs, and I think that makes it more exciting when you're cutting them, and nobody is wearing headphones because everybody has to listen to each other.

MR: What gave you the idea to record an album of songs from Sun Records?

CI: I've made a lot of records over the years, and this was always the record I wanted to make. When I first started off, when I packaged this album, I put some pictures in there that are going to make people go, "What's that picture?" It's me when I'm a kid. I had borrowed my dad's white '50s coat. I had thrown hay all summer, and I had bought a microphone and a mic stand. I was so excited I had a guitar and I thought, "I'm going to be in show business." I had these pictures taken, and I don't know what I thought I was going to do with them, I guess I thought, "These are my glossy pictures that I'll show people. I had no idea how you got into show business, but I was trying. I've finally used the pictures now. The music that I was listening to my whole life was Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. I listened to all those records, but this was before you could look things up on the Internet, and I didn't realize that all those artists came out of one little studio in Memphis called Sun Studio with Sam Phillips. So, I got into music, and when I actually got my own band, I thought it was important for me to get my own sound out there. I made all these records with my songs and I got lucky and had "Wicked Game" and other songs that were hits, but when I was home, I was sitting in my hallway, where it sounds nice, playing early Elvis, "I'll never let you go cause I love you." I was singing those early songs. Finally, I thought, "I've done enough records of my own and people know what I sound like, so I could do this record now."

MR: Nice. You mentioned Elvis, but I think you also pulled off a very interesting Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. I thought that was kind of cool.

CI: I love all those singers, and I didn't really want to try to be...you can never do those songs as good as they do them. But I just had so much fun doing the record. I said to the guys, "We've got to learn the records, really learn them, and focus in on them." We all stayed at my house. I bought a bunch of spaghetti, we'd have band practice all day, then we'd have dinner, and then one by one, people would trickle back down to the room. We were supposed to be done playing, and we'd end up playing all day and all night. What I said was, "We've got to learn these songs and then forget it." When you go to the studio we couldn't try to be Elvis or Johnny Cash, but we had to do it our own way when we get to the studio. If you learn it right, it will sound like it came out of Sun Studio, and that was kind of our goal. I have to say, it's the most fun I've ever had making a record. We went to Memphis, and if I lived there another couple of months, I'd probably be doing some damage because everything they gave me there was fried. Have you ever had fried pickles?

MR: Oh no, don't even say that.

CI: Seriously.

MR: No.

CI: I went, "Fried Pickles?!" I was eating at this restaurant, and besides me, I think everybody else there was black and dressed to the nines because they had just gotten out of church. There couldn't have been a nicer restaurant or nicer people, and I turned to somebody and said, "I've never had fried pickles. Are they any good?" They all looked at me and went, "You've never had fried pickles?!" It was almost like they were saying, "You've been living in poverty. Come on!" I'll tell you, the food in Memphis was awesome, and the people were awesome. Sun Studio is the same studio that has been there since Sam Phillips started it early on in the '50s, and by a miracle, it never got torn down. So, we go in there and you go, "I'm standing in a shrine. This is where Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis played." We played 'til the middle of the night, and they told us that there was this little diner next door that had been there since the '50s, and they said, "Listen, at night, if you want to make yourself a sandwich or milkshake or something, you go over to next door and help yourself." We played 'til two or three in the morning, then went over there and made milkshakes and sandwiches, and then went back and played some more. They have tours in the afternoon, and as the people would be coming in for the tours, we'd be walking out of there beat.

MR: Now before we get too far into this album, I just want to point out that you have a version of this album that has a whole extra album attached.

CI: Well, usually when you go in to cut a record, you cut sixteen songs to get thirteen sides--you get a couple of extras. On this one, my manager called and said, "How many songs have you cut?" I said, "Well, we're up to thirty-eight now, and we're still going." She goes, "You got to stop!" I said, "We're having a ball, man. I know this stuff and I can sing it in one take, let's go." At one point, we were in there and we were just about done, and I remember the guys all calling their girlfriends letting them know that they were almost done. I looked at them and said, "Hey, we've still got like forty-five minutes on the clock, we've got time." I asked my piano player, "Do you know how to play all the stuff for (sings) "...wise men say, only fools rush in..."? He says, "Yeah, I think I do." So, I said, "Well, let's just try it and see how it sounds because the piano in this room sounds so good." We went over and started playing, and everybody just started filtering back one by one. Everybody came in and we cut ("Can't Help Falling In Love") in about twenty minutes, and it's one of my favorite tracks that we cut. That was like the story of the whole thing. We had done all the practicing before we got there, and it was just fun to play.

MR: Was it almost like the ghosts of Sun were there with you?

CI: You know, I'm the most pragmatic, straight ahead kind of American guy. I'm not someone who goes, "Oh, the angels helped me write this song." I always heard Carlos Santana talking about angels doing stuff, but I never got it. Well, on this one, I understand and I finally get it, Carlos. I was in that room and you really did feel--I think it was just that you know all those great people were in there, and you just feel like you have to be you best. Everybody is trying a little harder because they go, "If Elvis stood here and did it, well I better do my best." It was fun.

MR: On the bonus disc, you do a version of "Oh, Pretty Woman." Roy Orbison. What a surprise. (laughs)

CI: I've always loved that song. I told somebody once, "If you had to teach Martians how to rock 'n' roll, "Pretty Woman" is the song because it teaches you everything about a rock song; it's got a great beat, it's got a great riff, it's a story song with a surprise happy ending, and it's even got a trick sound with the growl he does in the middle. I think that might be the best rock song there is.

MR: Wow. So...like Roy Orbison much?

CI: (laughs) That's the understatement of the year. I got to work with Roy when he was alive. We were friends and he couldn't have been a sweeter guy in real life. One of the stupidest things I've ever done--and I've got a long list of them, but I put this one right at the top. Roy called me and asked me to be on his Black And White special, and he called me twice to be on it. At the time I had a different manager, but I said to my manager, "Roy Orbison called me, and I get to be on the Black And White Special!" He said, "Nope, you're booked at the Tick Tock Tavern, and we already sold fifty tickets." I was incredulous. Whenever I see that special, I kick myself again. It was a lot of fun to go in there and cut a couple of Orbison tracks too.

MR: Now, I have to ask you about the story behind your classic "Wicked Game" and also about your connection to David Lynch.

CI: Well, "Wicked Game" was one of those rare things that comes together once in a while. Most of the time, when I write songs, I start off fooling around with my guitar, then I get a little bit of an idea and that's the inspirational part. Then to get it finished is homework because there's always that third verse. The first two verses come easy, and the third one is just like doing homework; you've got to sit down somewhere and think about it. "Wicked Game" was different though. I had a girl that was a bad influence who had called me to come over and--unspeakable things were discussed--by the time I hung up the phone and said, "Oh, I shouldn't have had her come by. I know I'm going to be in trouble." I wrote that song before she got to the house. I wrote it, and it was just one, two, three--it came out really fast. I wish they all came that easy, but they don't. That one was just fun.

MR: Okay, you've left me hanging. How many wicked things actually took place that night?

CI: (laughs) You know, by the time she got there I was so happy about the song that I don't think anything that wicked was done.

MR: (laughs)

CI: I enjoy talking about David Lynch because he's such a great guy. The question I get about him is, "How is David Lynch? Is he scary or spooky or something?" I don't think it's ever guys who make films like David makes or who have that kind of weird bent in their artwork--those guys are probably the nicest guys in real life because they've expressed all of their weird angles. The guys you have to watch are the guys who go, "I'm a scout master, the proud father of two children, and I'm also a deacon in the church." Then you go, "Be careful." If he's out in the back yard at night with a shovel, be careful because he's burying something.

MR: (laughs) I don't even know what to say after that.

CI: David is still a friend, and he's one of those guys that when I'm around him, I'm always amazed at how straight ahead he is. I do a lot of interviews and stuff because of what I do, and I was on MTV or something one time with David on the same program. They asked us each, "What do you think is sexy in a woman?" I made some sort of wisecrack and made it funny, and then they got to David and he goes (David Lynch impression), "Well, I'll tell you what I like. I really like red high heel shoes--I find those really attractive--and nice stockings." He proceeded to completely, without any kind of covering, tell them exactly what he thought was sexy. They looked at him like, "You're from outer space." He's funny because he's so direct.

MR: Yeah, he's very direct. It's sometimes hard to understand how a human puts some of the stuff on screen that he does. It's almost like there are statements constantly emerging from the subconscious or wherever it's coming from with him. I'm lucky, I got to interview him once. He's brilliant.

CI: For all the strange things he brings us on the screen, I've worked with him on a film set and I don't think I've ever seen him yell at anybody, be rude to anybody, or even act like most directors. Most of the time on a film set, the director is kind of like a dictator because whatever he says goes, but (David) treats everybody with respect. You know, he's really big into meditation. I come from a small town in the West. I mean, I grew up working on farms, and meditation wasn't something people talked about except to make jokes about it. Yet, when I see how it works in his life, and if he's the result of that, then that's pretty cool.

MR: So, when did you first start getting into music? How young were you?

CI: Well, I have pictures on this record...I have pictures of when I was really young, like I was talking about before. In those pictures, I'm posed just like my heroes. When I was young, all those guys from Sun Records were my heroes. I have two pictures in my whole house--one is my mom as a little girl, and the other picture is of Johnny Cash at Sun Studio, which was sent to me by Johnny, by the way. I did a special with Johnny and I brought a new picture because I thought it would be polite to give him a new picture to sign. I said, "I love this picture of you because it's the era when you were at Sun. Would you mind signing it?" He looked at it a long time--I mean, a minute, which seems like a long time when you're standing next to Johnny Cash--and then he looked at me and goes, "I was a good looking man." I love him, man.

MR: Can you picture yourself doing that, in what, another forty years?

CI: You know, I'll be thrilled if anybody remembers me. I always hope that somebody will. I don't ever think, in my mind, that I'll be as big as the people that are legends to me, but I do the music and I think, "Who knows, maybe someday, there will be a guy sitting in India, and he goes, 'I don't know what he's singing about, but I like this song.'" When I was a kid, I was listening to all these records and they really changed my life. I went from throwing hay and hoping that I could get a job at the box factory if I worked hard, to all of a sudden starting to think that I wanted to be a singer. It changed my life. Johnny Cash didn't know Chris Isaak in Stockton, but he sent that record there like a message in a bottle, you know?

MR: Do you think you've lived up to your own expectations of yourself in your musical career?

CI: At different points in my life, I would have wanted my life to be different. I wanted to have as many hits as Elvis, I wanted to be big like The Beatles--you know, everybody thinks that. But I have to tell you, I think whatever I've had has been more than enough, it's been fantastic, and I think I have a better life than a lot of the people I idolize. Roy Orbison was gone by my age, Elvis was gone by my age, Carl Perkins died young, Buddy Holly was gone young--a lot of people in rock 'n' roll went quick, and a lot of other people had lonely lives. I've always had a pretty good career. I got signed to a record company, I've always had records out, always made movies, and it was never like I was forgotten because I always had work. My job is I get to sing. Some people don't think about this, but when you're a musician, if you have a band that...like, I've had the same band for twenty-six years. Those guys in my band are really nice men, and what makes my life fun is when we go on the road, it's not "Chris Isaak," it's the band. We get on that bus, we're making jokes, we're eating pizza, and we're going five hundred miles a night and that's my life. I just thank God that I have people in that band that are like my family, where I go, "I like hanging out with them." You don't have to pay me to hang out with them because I'd do that for free.

MR: Chris, what advice would you have for new artists?

CI: Play out a lot. Don't just make records, but get out on stage and play all you can. These days, everybody has a studio. If you've got a computer, you can make a record at home. Equipment has gotten really easy and everybody can make a pretty good sounding record. But my advice would be to make sure you get out and play live because you learn a lot by playing out in front of people. You can make a record on your home studio, but you won't know if it's good until you play it for a crowd and they'll tell you, you know?

MR: As you were talking about making good records, I got to thinking about your catalog, and I have to tell you that I love San Francisco Days.

CI: Thanks.

MR: Every once in a while I find myself singing that song (sings), "San Francisco days..." With virtually all your albums, you're capturing periods in time.

CI: Thanks. You know, I started that record in a weird way. I had broken up with a girl I was really nuts about and I guess I'll always be nuts about. But we broke up and my friends said, "You have to forget her and not talk to her." So, I was trying to get over this, and I was walking down the street and just about fell out of my car because I looked and went, "That's her!" I started to realize that I would see her every place in San Francisco, but she wasn't there. That song started out of that.

MR: Directors have used that device a lot, where you think you see the girl you used to be with, but it only looks like her from the back.

CI: What's the Hitchcock film with Jimmy Stewart? I think it's Kim Novak that he sees and says (mimicking Jimmy Stewart), "You just remind me so very much of somebody. Could you put on her clothes, and just stand on the bed and sort of wiggle?"

MR: (laughs) You know, that's the best Jimmy Stewart I've heard, like ever.

CI: (laughs) I love Jimmy Stewart. When I grew up, Jimmy Stewart was a big star, and I think, in a way, he made you better. You know, Brad Pitt is a huge star and a great actor, but when I watch Jimmy Stewart movies, he was inspirational. You looked at him and you go, "He's a good man." I think it was good to have those kinds of stars. You looked at Jimmy Stewart and you saw that he was a decent human being.

MR: I know, I feel the same. Where are all the heroes.

CI: You know, I'm a musician, and I'm part of the problem I guess because musicians are known to be smart alecks and wise guys and cynical. Cynicism...at some point I just go, "You know, there's a lot to be said for people who are just polite, straight forward, decent people."

MR: As long as they're not in your back yard, burying something.

CI: As long as they're not burying somebody. "What are you burying over there?" "Um, candy. It went bad and I have to bury it so the ants don't get it." That's a true story. There was some serial killer that was always burying things in the back yard, and when somebody asked him what it was he said, "Oh, I make candy, and when it goes bad, I have to bury it or the ants get it."

MR: (laughs) Well Chris, before you leave us, is there anything else we need to know about Beyond The Sun?

CI: Well, it starts with all those '50s records that you like. I've got a few of my originals on there, but not enough to bother you because I think they blend in. These are the artists that Sam Phillips discovered, and then I also took it to where those artists went later in their careers. "Pretty Woman" wasn't Sun Studios, but I put it on so you get a little perspective. If you ever want to buy a record, I think this is a great record. It was a labor of love and out of all the records I've made, I think this is the most fun I've ever had. I think people are going to like it if they get it. I'll probably sell ten, and I'm still thrilled that I got to make it.

MR: Very nice. And there is the deluxe edition for those who do get it.

CI: To me, I put them all on one disc, and I listen to it as I was driving around town, and maybe it's because it's other people's songs or something. But it's my favorite one to listen to. I think it rolls through pretty good.

MR: It does. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today.

CI: Thanks for having me.

Tracks:

Disc One
1. Ring Of Fire
2. Trying To Get To You
3. I Forgot To Remember To Forget
4. Great Balls Of Fire 1:55 $0.99
5. Can't Help Falling In Love
6. Dixie Fried
7. How's The World Treating You
8. It's Now Or Never
9. Miss Pearl
10. Live It Up
11. I Walk The Line
12. So Long I'm Gone
13. She's Not You
14. My Happiness

Disc Two
1. My Baby Left Me
2. Oh, Pretty Woman
3. Doin' The Best I Can
4. Your True Love
5. Crazy Arms
6. Lovely Loretta
7. Everybody's In The Mood
8. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry
9. Love Me
10. Doncha' Think It's Time
11. That Lucky Old Sun

Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney

2011-11-04-51VVyPwHsAL._SL500_AA280_.jpg

A Conversation with Phil Manzenara

Mike Ragogna: Phil, it's a pleasure to be talking with you, let's just jump right into your new album, Corroncho. "Complicada" is one of its more intense tracks.

Phil Manzanera: "Complicada" was the reason I did the Corroncho album, because that was actually written by Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. She was married to Lucho Brieva who I did the album with. The reason we did this Corroncho album was because we said to Chrissie Hynde, "You should do some tracks sung in Spanish on your latest album." She had this track called "Complicated Person." We said, "Don't worry, we will translate it for you, we will sing it and show you how to sing it in Spanish. You can come into my studio, and we will just lead you through it." When she heard us singing it, she collapsed over laughing, she said, "You guys sound like Cheech & Chong or something, you should do a whole album based on this." Lucho said, "Oh that reminds me, in Colombia there are these guys called corronchos from the Barranquilla coast where he comes from and where my mother comes from. We could do it based on these two characters who are these "corronchos" who go out on this road trip, and that was the leading point for us going to do this album.

MR: I was going to ask your relationship with Lucho Brieva, how did you guys get together?

PM: I'm in this building right now that's three stories and it's this old Victorian warehouse in London. I'm set up with my studio on the ground floor, and one day, Chrissie Hynde and Lucho came in. She was about to go out and do a Pretenders tour and the floor above was for sale, and she didn't know that I lived there. I hadn't seen her for years and she said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Well I've gotten divorced, and I've moved and I put my control room there and I'm living in this bitty, typical rock 'n' roll musician story. The money comes and the money goes." She said, "This is my husband Lucho," and I said, "You sound a bit South American." He said, "Yeah I'm from Colombia." I said, "Where in Colombia?" He said "Barranquilla." Needless to say, they bought the floor above. So, I live in the same building as him and we've become great friends. He's a sculptor, really, and works in metal.

Because of Chrissie and everything, we started writing songs, and just having a big laugh and having a load of fun, which lead to this album, which has a life of its own. It's got amazing reviews everywhere, and people love the humor in it even though they don't seem to understand what it's all about. It's baffling for me and for us. Then we started developing the thing a bit and we started to do a translation of a Bob Dylan song, "Forever Young." What we realized was that when you translate some of this stuff into Spanish, it acquires a different meaning. So, "Forever Young," became "Tu Juventud," which ended up sounding like a hymn for emerging countries in South America. Then we had guests come on and sing, and it was like a "We Are The World" for South Americans. The strangest thing was Chrissie actually ended up playing it to Bob Dylan. She came back the next day and said, "I played it to Bob over dinner." We said, "Oh that's so embarrassing," and she said, "He loved it." It's just bizarre.

MR: It's not bizarre at all, the reviews are not misplaced. As far as the album, I found myself laughing in spots from how you communicated through the performances, especially on songs like "Esta Vida Prestada" they're like mini-celebrations.

PM: What we did was we took those two characters, almost like cartoon characters. It's kind of like a Latino Gorillaz. We sort of took these characters, which were extensions of our personalities, and we used them as a vehicle to go through a lot of issues that have to do with Latinos and Latin society. Not only in South America, but with Latinos all over the world, and in a humorous way, we deal and go through all of those issues. Originally, we thought we would just do this for Colombia and it came out in Colombia and it created a complete shock. We came out on the front page of El Tiempo, which is the main newspaper there, because no one could believe that we called the album Corroncho, because it's politically incorrect to say it. It's the name that people from Bogota call the people from the Barranquilla coast. Corroncho literally is the name for this very ugly fish. It's so ugly that the fisherman, when they fish it out of the Rio Magdalena which goes into the Caribbean, they take one look at it and throw it back. They say this fish is so ugly that no one is going to want this fish, so they throw it back. It became a term of abuse that people from the capital call the people from the coast, like they're a bunch of Corronchos, and we named the album that. (laughs) It's kind of the Zappa mentality of, "You go right out and come out with the thing right there and present it on the table," and people go, "What are you doing?"

MR: (laughs) You are of Latin decent and you lived in Colombia for a bit.

PM: I was brought up in Cuba and left about three months after the revolution, then Venezuela. My mother was Colombian, my father was British, and I have a huge family in Colombia. I have like 60 cousins--it's a large family, so I've always had one foot in South America and one foot, bizarrely, in Europe. With Roxy Music, it had nothing to do with South America, so I have that duality.

MR: You also inherited your mother's Spanish guitar. That was your first guitar?

PM: On the first guitar, which is sitting in front of me right now, I learnt to play Latin folk songs in Havana in 1957. It's just what they call "accompanimento," which just means accompanying yourself on guitar. My mother had guitar lessons when she was in Havana; when you're six or seven, you just want to get your hands on whatever grown-ups are playing with. She just taught me a few chords and it got into my system. Remember, when I was there in Havana, this is the time when the people who eventually became the people from the Buena Vista Social Club were at their prime. They were people performing at the Tropicana Club and places like that. As a little child, I was there. I was watching and getting into the grooves of Latin music. It really gets in your DNA, and it was already in my DNA from my mother. That humorous side always comes out. It's always been a part of my life. For the first ten years in Roxy Music, nobody asked me about it. Eventually it's come out.

MR: You have a lot of guests on this album, not only Chrissie Hynde. You have Annie Lennox and Robert Wyatt among others. Who are some of your international guests and their importance?

PM: For instance there's a guy that I've produced, who's like the Spanish David Bowie, called Enrique Bunbury. Enrique Bunbury was the singer in the most famous Spanish rock 'n' roll band called Héroes del Silencio. Mr. Bunbury is still only 40 now. I've been producing him since he was twenty. He plays in places like LA to 20,000 people; last year, he played the biggest ever concert in Mexico City. He's going to be touring next month all over the States. He's on it...I've got a Catalan singer who's huge in Spain, I've got Chrissie, Annie from the Eurythmics, Robert Wyatt, I've got Paul Thompson from Roxy. I've got a great young Cuban pianist, Aldo Lopez Gavilan, who I'd helped to get a classical music scholarship here in the '90s, and he won all sorts of awards for playing. He's a great jazz pianist and he plays the very first bit of piano on the album, which they call, in Latin music, Tumbao, which is a riff really. He's a wonderful jazz saxophonist here, an Israeli guy, and a wonderful Israeli bass player, so it's very multi-national. Mixing it all up is what I like to do.

MR: Look at the kinds of music you've been associated and the artists you've been associated with. You've been with Stevie Wonder; you produced David Gilmour; you worked with Steve Winwood, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards... And there's Roxy Music. When you're doing your solo work and projects like this one, are you working on them simultaneously with producing projects by others?

PM: It's quite simple, really. I got into the music business because I wanted a social life. (laughs) I wanted to meet people; through music, you can meet people and it brings people together. People I work with have been friends of mine for the last forty years. I met David Gilmour when I was 16, I met Robert Wyatt when I was 17, I met Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno when I was 21. I knew Chrissie when she first started. Annie was a supporting act with the Eurythmics on the Roxy Music tours before they were the Eurythmics. I see them socially, I live next door to David Gilmour, I see him every other week. Our spouses get on and my wife does Pink Floyd's press. Robert Wyatt comes and stays here and records his albums in my studio. It's like working with your friends, it's not like business; it is part of life. When I work with Spanish speaking acts--I produce a lot of Spanish speaking acts--some of them become friends. So, you see them socially and they happen to be in the studio while you're working on something, and you say, "Why don't you stick something on that. It's just one big musical family." I don't compartmentalize, there's no plan. It's the same as Roxy. I will tell you the truth, there was really no master plan; we just fumbled along doing what we felt like doing. That's where there are so many solo projects and things. We were doing Roxy Music in January, February, and March this year. Me and Andy didn't want to keep touring, so Bryan continued doing the same show as Bryan Ferry.

MR: When you get together with Bryan Ferry, what's the creative process like?

PM: With Roxy, its writing has always been done the following way, really. I do a demo and he would try to write a top line to it. It wouldn't be the conventional way you would write, it's not like I've got this couple of chords and these words. Conventional songwriters will sit down and throw things backwards and forwards. Roxy was never like that. We would do all of the music and say, "There you go, try and write something on top of this." Sometimes, it worked. Sometimes, it was a disaster. Overall, with the Roxy albums, we had a good hit rate, and sixty-five percent of it was really good, and the rest is average going down to rubbage.

MR: Your run of albums such as Manifesto, Flesh And Blood, and Avalon established Roxy Music's "dance" image.

PM: Some people hate that period, and some people love it. It's really funny that different countries and different places loathe Avalon but love the first one, and others came to Avalon when they first got into Roxy, and hate the beginning stuff. It's quite compartmentalized because it's difficult for us when we talk about this because you get people taking sides. We just went from A-to-B; we were just doing our jobs, so to speak.

MR: When I think of Avalon, I think of the era and a sound that was very mimicked, especially by many European "new romantic" acts. In some respects, I feel that it helped establish the more elegant sounds of the' 80s. Do you agree with that?

PM: Well, no, not really. In some countries, they did. But in England, among critics, the latter became too smooth, it lost our mojo and the early thing, when Eno was in it was really the best period.

MR: Well, that's critics. I can remember the time and bands doing the Europop dance thing, and they were definitely mimicking you. I think you were the forefathers of a lot of that music.

PM: It's vaguely flattering when you think about it for fifteen seconds and then you've got to keep looking forward.

MR: I think that was just a beautiful period for your influential music.

PM: I totally understand, and people say that all of the time. Sometimes, you can hear a little bit of influence and sometimes you think, "I can't hear us in any of those bands." Maybe it was the ideas behind what we were doing, and not literally copying the music.

MR: Of course, yes. And two Roxy songs of that period are classics..."Dance Away" and "More Than This."

PM: We had great trouble, live, persuading Bryan to sing "More Than This." He just doesn't like singing it at all. A number of times, I would say, "People like to hear it, for God's sake." On the Roxy tour, we played it about four times in sixty gigs. Luckily, we recorded one. He just wasn't into it.

MR: Was it the octave jumps?

PM: I think it probably has to do with the fact that at the time, he could sing very high, and as you get older, your voice lowers. I think he finds it a bit uncomfortable.

MR: Ah. Okay, back to Corroncho. I want to ask you about a couple of songs on here. "Angeles Y Lobos?"

PM: Yes, that's "Angels And Wolves."

MR: It starts out with a signature Spanish guitar. Are you aware of how sensuous a part you're playing might be and then build on that?

PM: Absolutely, and remember, we're dealing with these two characters here. In this relationship of these two Latino men. Lucho is the Latin lothario, the lover and the sneaky guy in the whole album. The funny thing is when I was writing with him, I was looking at him because he's a good looking guy and had a lot of girlfriends at the time. I was thinking, "I was writing about you and your relationships. I didn't really realize it, and we were having a lot of fun like this." This is a sort of "Bolero," which is a type of Latin love song. This guy who obviously has no chance of having a proper relationship is singing this love song. It's so ironic; this is the same guy who was driving the low rider car before. Now he's singing this traditional Latin love song. Because we're superimposing it on these cartoon characters almost, it's much easier to get into the mood of it. It's almost a road trip that these guys go on--it's the adventures of the Corroncho. So, throughout the album, there's a lot of things that happen. "Noche De Putas" is about a party that actually happened on the floor below here, while I was asleep upstairs. This party occurs where he's chatting up this girl, and he asks what she does for a living, and she says she's a prostitute. Then she breaks the toilet in his downstairs and he's stuck at five in the morning trying to stop the water from coming out with his finger. It's the adventures of these characters, but half of it is true.

MR: How about the song "Diario."

PM: What happens is the album finishes, and it's us writing our diaries and I'm upstairs where I am. This is where real life melds with these cartoon characters. He's downstairs, where he actually lives, working. I'm writing my diary about my experiences about doing the album and thinking about polluted ideas and politics and the invasion of Iraq. He's downstairs trying to chat up women on the phone and trying to get his old girlfriend to come back around and they're all rejecting him. It turns out that Phil, the guy upstairs, is going out with his ex-girlfriend. It's a weird sort of thing that turns from a story into a reality and back again.

MR: And there's always humor.

PM: The other tradition in South America is writing humorous songs. When I was growing up in Venezuela and I would go up to Colombia, there would always be the latest song, which had a cheeky lyric in it. It would add lots of innuendos and humors, basically. Underlying that, we slipped in all of these other issues, which are really important issues, but we put it across in a humorous way. It's always better to put things across like that. You get to have things stay with people longer if you don't put it in a very serious obvious way.

MR: Speaking of humor, wasn't your TV debut playing the hands of the guitarist on Red Dwarf.

PM: You know about Red Dwarf in America then?

MR: It was a great series, but it didn't catch on here. Doctor Who and other British shows did, but Red Dwarf, not so much.

PM: Yeah, that was great fun. At the time, it was very popular here and it was fun to go down and be the hands of that character. It's a great actor's trick, I put my hand through the other persons back and it looks like it's their hands. They put the guitar in front, obviously didn't film any of me, just my hands, and it looks like that guy was playing.

MR: What guitars are you playing lately?

PM: Gibson has asked me to try out their new revolutionary guitar called Firebird X. I'm famous for using a red Firebird, but this guitar is quite different. I'm actually trying them out in the studio now...there's four of them. I've decided to try and write some new songs for the next album literally today. I took a picture of it and it's going to be up on the Gibson website in the States. There may be a little footage of me starting to use this. That is hot off the press, literally an hour ago.

MR: A scoop! Obviously, you're also playing some acoustic guitars.

PM: Yeah, although another thing about this Firebird X is that it can simulate an acoustic guitar. I was trying that out a little bit. I have some lovely Gibson acoustics, and I have my guitar that was my mother's guitar in Cuba. A Gibson Elvis Costello guitar, which is a real beauty, I saw around David Gilmour's house, and I said, "God, I need one of these."

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

PM: My biggest advice for new artists is listen to the biggest range of music you can because all of that stuff goes into your brain and comes out at some point. If you limit yourself to types of music, you won't have such a great pallet of colors to work from. That is my biggest bit of advice. I was brought up with South American music, then brought to London with The Beatles and the '60s in London, jazz, funk, soul, rock 'n' roll, r&b... Now, I just listen to all new stuff all of the time.

MR: Any parting words of wisdom?

PM: Keep healthy. (laughs) Your health is your wealth.

MR: I so appreciate your time. All the best with your exhilarating Corroncho.

PM: In times of possible grayness, this is what we need, cheering up.

MR: Yes, sir. Thank you again Phil.

PM: Thanks so much, Mike.

Tracks:
1. Lowrider
2. Complicada
3. Rosa
4. Para Ti Nengon
5. Suavecito
6. Angeles Y Lobos
7. Esta Vida Prestada
8. Cancion Para La Que Sea
9. Noche De Putas
10. Tu Juventud
11. Coyote
12. Diario

Transcribed by Theo Shier


STEAFÁN HANVEY AND THE HONEYMOON JUNKIES


 
 
 

Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008