A Conversation with Gin Blossoms' Robin Wilson
Mike Ragogna: Hi Robin. We're recording this interview using solar power, something you probably know about being from Tempe, Arizona.
Robin Wilson: Well, I believe right around the corner from my studio is the most advanced experimental solar array on the planet.
MR: Wow, go into that.
RW: Well, I think it also causes like airborne magnetic fields and s**t that ends up screwing up the recording of guitars in my studio intermittently.
MR: (laughs) Uh-oh. Perhaps we should move on...
RW: Yeah, that combined with the brewery next door makes it so I sometimes have problems at my studio recording guitars. It's completely impossible to predict, but I think it has something to do with that damn solar array that's like three hundred yards away.
MR: (laughs) Damn you solar power! Well, you know, every once in a while, you discover a fly in the system. Or a mixed metaphor.
RW: That's right.
MR: So, how about that new Gin Blossoms' record No Chocolate Cake, huh? Apparently, this one was approached very differently than all of your previous albums as far as the recording and writing processes, right?
RW: Well, the writing process was similar to our last record, Major Lodge Victory, but the recording process was something new for us, yeah. Basically, Jesse already had his songs recorded, and we recorded the rest of the stuff at my studio in Arizona. It turned out to be a long and aggravating process. So, what do you want to know about that?
MR: (laughs) A lot of bands swap tracks over the Internet or post them on a host site in order to be able to complete projects these days. It comes from being more practical, but it's also because technology has come to a point where you can do it that way.
RW: That's true, we wouldn't be doing it if it weren't for the technology. It does save money, and that's really what it comes down to. We didn't have to do it this way, but it's what we did. In my mind, I'd prefer for a band to go somewhere, as a unit, and kind of hole up and do it in a condensed period of time--not necessarily a short period of time, but just going somewhere for the recording of the record to be an experience unto itself. Going somewhere with a producer and a director--not necessarily in your hometown--you can knock it out in a month. That's the ideal way for a rock band to make records. I wish we could have done that, but that is a lot more expensive, and Jesse already had tracks done for almost all of his songs.
MR: This seems like a good point to catch people up with the Gin Blossoms lineup. Jesse Valenzuela is one of the band members who has been around since the beginning as well as Bill Leen, and you have Scott Johnson. But you also have a guest drummer on this album.
RW: Well, actually, there are a few. But mostly, we play with a guy named John Richardson who we've known for a long time. He also plays on the road with groups like Badfinger and The Shoes. John did a lot of the drums on the record, but not all of them. Jesse is definitely like the leader of our band. He's the strongest songwriter, he's the strongest producer in the group, and he's a leader.
MR: Yeah, and I noticed Danny Wilde from The Rembrandts had some credits.
RW: That's correct. Danny and Jesse work together quite a bit because they live relatively close together, and they have developed a great songwriting partnership that's been really productive for them. They write great songs together, no doubt about it.
MR: This new album is on 429 Records. How did you hook up with that label?
RW: They found us. We were at a show and my manager called to say, "By the way, a label's coming to see you tonight." They all seemed really cool, and I liked the idea of working with a label that had that sort of history. I wanted to work with a label because I wanted a chance to elevate the level of the band, and I didn't think we would be able to do that on our own quite yet. So, I wanted to sign with a label so we could abuse their marketing department, but we'll have to see how that all works out. It's a roll of the dice when you're working with a label, and we're going to have to see what they're willing to do. I remember when we released New Miserable Experience, we did a showcase in Hollywood just before it came out. I remember standing on stage, and the only people in the audience were from our label, basically, and some of their friends. I remember looking at them all and saying, "Okay, we're going out there to do our job. I really hope you guys are going to be paying attention to the fact that we're out there working out butts off. We'll do our part, and I hope you do your part." It was really bold for a twenty-six year old to say that to the A&R department of a major label, but I was nervous about it then, and I'm nervous about it now. I just want to go out there and succeed. I don't want to ever have to answer the question, "Are The Gin Blossoms still together?" I'm really tired of that question, and in my mind, working with the label, we have a better shot of achieving that.
MR: New Miserable Experience is full of hits. You have "Hey Jealousy," "Until I Fall Away," "Hold Me Down," "Found Out About You," plus "Lost Horizons" and what I think could have been a hit single, "Pieces Of The Night." What a classic album and what a fine "product" for a label to work with.
RW: We were lucky to have so many great songs, and of course, so many of them were Doug Hopkins songs. We were fortunate to be in a band with Doug, and it's too bad that he wasn't able to be a part of everything we ended up doing. That being said, yes, it's really cool to have made a record that is that solid. I remember just before we went to record it, I was with my roommate and we were listening to Drivin' N' Cryin'. They had an album out at the time called Fly Me Courageous, which is just a great record with eleven awesome songs. I remember saying to my roommate, "God, I hope that we can make a record that is this good." My roommate kind of raised his eyebrows and said, "I don't know, Rob. This is a really good record." That was kind of what we were shooting for, to compete with who we wanted to be our peers. To have pulled that off, and to have made a record that stands up like that is what it's all about. We're very lucky. All you ever dream about when you're growing up dreaming to be a rock 'n' roller, is to make some sort of impact and to have that kind of a moment. We're really lucky that we did.
MR: Yeah, that's a classic album. When I heard "Hey Jealousy" on the radio, I had like a The Jerk moment--"If this is out there, I wonder what else is out there!"
RW: Right, and that's what it's all about--to be able to reach people the same way that Tom Petty or Cheap Trick reached me.
MR: What would you say is the strongest song on this new album?
RW: Well, I would say the single "Miss Disarray" is probably the strongest song on the record.
MR: I love the concept of it, which seems like the polar opposite of "Mrs. Rita."
RW: I suppose it is.
MR: I'm hearing that because "Mrs. Rita" is the one you go to for "advice," and "Miss Disarray" is the one you might want to stay away from.
RW: (laughs) Well, I guess that's part of the point. Fortunately, being in the Gin Blossoms, I don't have to think too much. I'm curious about your opinion. When I first heard this song and this batch of material a few years ago, I called a halt in the middle of practice and I said, "Guys these are great songs and this is our chance to recapture some of what we lost when we broke up." Again, one of the most frustrating things in my life is to be asked, "Are the Gin Blossoms still together?" I feel like this batch of material is strong enough to answer that question for good and all. I'm hearing Train on the radio and TV with their new single, and they're a very similar story to ours. So, I can't help thinking it's possible for us to achieve something along the lines of what's happening to Train right now, and I'm really interested in your honest, objective opinion as to whether or not we have a shot.
MR: Well, you have a very solid record here. I also thought Major Lodge Victory was a solid record. In fact, I don't know if you remember, but the late Bob Mercer and I campaigned hard to try and get Gin Blossons resigned to the Universal group. I may be a little too prejudiced because I'm too close to you guys, but on the other hand, trying to be objective, yeah, I think this is a very solid record. I would say this is my second favorite next to New Miserable Experience for sure.
RW: Thank you. I agree that it is definitely our second best album because it's the most solid group of material that we've written since then. What do you think we would need to do to get to where Train is?
MR: Well, you know Train is on Columbia.
RW: I don't know--Super, Gigantic, Mega-Million Label? They obviously have resources way beyond what we have.
MR: You being on 429 Records means that you're going to have a certain amount of access to promotion, marketing, being able to get things on the radio, etc. I think with a group like Train who has a powerful, major label behind them, the people in that machine can get the word out in a very different way than a smaller or normal sized label.
RW: I know it's within the realm of possibility, but what do you think our label needs to do?
MR: (laughs) If I were speaking directly to your label? Now I'm in trouble. Okay, I would say, at this point, the most important things would be an Internet campaign, press, maybe a YouTube video? You have some kind of video coming, right?
RW: No, we don't because half of the band decided that it doesn't make sense to make videos anymore, so we're not making a video. I'm thinking of making one on my own.
MR: I know you guys are used to having big hits.
RW: No, I'm definitely used to a lower level of the entertainment industry. I've grown quite accustomed to that.
MR: (laughs) You know how it works.
RW: Just like I said in '92, "I'm ready. Put me in a car and get me to work, I'll do it."
MR: You go back and forth between Arizona and New York, right?
RW: Yeah, but I'm hardly in Arizona anymore. The only thing that really keeps me there is my recording studio. I have to show up at least once a month to sweep out the dead crickets and collect the meager income, but it is worth it because it's a great studio. It's really hot right now because the alternative station in Phoenix, X-103.9, is holding a series of concerts there. So, I've had some of the biggest alternative bands on the planet in my studio over the course of the last year. It's been really exciting. In just the next few weeks, we've got Switchfoot, Hot Hot Heat, and Anberlin all doing private concerts in my studio. I'm very excited about how that's going.
MR: Are you doing anything more with Gas Giants?
RW: No, but I'm assembling my material and making plans to do some sort of solo project. I suppose I could call it Gas Giants if I wanted to, but in these times, it's probably smarter to just stick with Robin Wilson. We'll have to see. That's another conversation we can have in a couple years when I get that done.
MR: That must be tricky.
RW: When I was in the Gas Giants it was constantly, "Former members of..." I could never break out of that and that was aggravating. But that was '99, probably the most aggravating time in the history of the music industry. It was the wrong time to release a record.
MR: Now, the Gin Blossoms wrote a song with Marshall Crenshaw, "Til I Hear It From You," and that was from a certain movie, right?
RW: Empire Records, yes, a classic film that only a handful of people really saw, but it definitely made and impact on that generation. It was really cool to have been a part of that and to have co-written a song with Marshall Crenshaw that went to the top of the charts. It was the peak of our career, and it was at the peak of the machinery that was operating. A&M was so in tune, and so good at what they were doing that we recorded the song, made a video, and it was on the radio in like four months. It was an amazing experience putting that song together on so many levels. It was rewarding to co-write a song with one of my heroes and for it to succeed on that level and be part of a system that worked so well. It was a once in a lifetime experience, really.
MR: I think his first album is a great moment in music history.
RW: Yeah, Mary Jean & 9 Others was always my favorite.
MR: "Rockin' Around In NYC" is one of my favorites, but it never ends up on any compilations. Now, you're probably "Goin' To California" soon, aren't you?
RW: (laughs) I imagine we are. We've got a couple of California songs on the record. I'll tell you though, my favorite line on the record is from "Dead Or Alive On The 405." The line is, "Give me my Eddie Money." I think that's the best line on the record, and pretty much in a tie with "I'm just a cover band drummer stuck behind a Hummer." That could actually be the best line on the record, and one of the best things I've ever been asked to sing.
A Conversation with Gin Blossoms' Jesse Valenzuela
Mike Ragogna: Jesse, the new Gin Blossoms album is titled, No Chocolate Cake. What's that about?
Jesse Valenzuela: Gibberish, rock 'n' roll gibberish. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" was taken.
MR: Wasn't there a "Chocolate Cake" song by Crowded House years ago?
JV: Was there?
MR: It was a really odd song, it went after Andrew Lloyd Webber. Love the group otherwise. Anyway, you're the main songwriter on this project, and this could be my favorite record other than New Miserable Experience.
JV: Oh, good for you, I love that.
MR: Robin was talking about how you have, more or less, taken on the role of lead songwriter for this project. How did this evolve?
JV: Well, there's no great mystery, you know how it is. You sign up with a label, present them with a bunch of demos, and they pick the songs they want to use. That's just how it was.
MR: 429 Records has sort of bravely taken on a lot of singer-songwriters. The type of artist they sign seems to no longer have a home on major label. Major labels mainly seem focused on trying to hit that demo between fourteen and maybe twenty-four.
MR: It seems there needs to be a new paradigm in the music business.
JV: Well, I think there is a new paradigm. I think there are a lot of hit records out there right now. We had a manager in the mid-'90s who told me that kids want there own heroes, so enjoy your time in the limelight because there will come a time where you aren't on the radio like you are now. Hopefully, you do your groundwork now, and you can work as a songwriter or musician for the rest of your life and enjoy it. To think you can be constantly out there, let's just say it doesn't happen very often. Very few bands make that transition.
MR: Right, but it must be difficult after having the amount of hits you've had, such as "Hey Jealousy," "Found Out About You," "Til I Hear It From You," and there are many more songs everybody knows.
JV: Yeah, it's a good thing to have.
MR: A very good thing to have.
JV: If someone were to listen to our band now, they'd think that this is actually the most enjoyable part of our career. It's a wonderful thing to simply play music and not be that concerned about radio placement. We're on 429 which is an indie, and I don't see that many people our age in the Top Forty. At the same time, with our situation and with the situation of a few of our contemporaries, we're still able to go out and play major shows, play to a great deal of people, and still sell to a core audience. There are always new people showing up and grabbing on. I just don't think two million is realistic anymore.
MR: Yeah, and things change. You move on to the next stage.
JV: Who knows what things could happen? In our situation, I think if you wound up with a song in a movie that did well like John Hiatt on Benny & Joon, those are probably the situations that are going to happen. A great band like Train, for example, is right in the bucket we're talking about right now because they have a big smash. They're a great band, and they really never broke up, though they took a couple of years off, but who doesn't? Then, they're still with Columbia and they've always had a devoted following over there. And what a singer, my goodness. So, I just say congratulations to them.
MR: You're right about the Benny & Joon point. And John Hiatt is just one of those performers who, over the years, has really gotten the short end of the stick. He's had hits with other people, and he's a phenomenal artist in his own right, but he never turned the corner on his own records.
JV: I think Bring The Family was gold.
MR: That's a different kind of success, but you're right.
JV: The last interview I read of his, he sounded like he was pretty happy with his situation.
MR: Yeah, and maybe if he had had Top Ten hits as a recording artist, he'd be pretty happy with that too. But what a track record. He's had very solid releases on MCA, Columbia, Geffen, A&M, and Capitol.
JV: He's been on every label, he was a journeyman. I don't know, in terms of the Gin Blossoms it seems unlikely that we would be on AC radio. I'm not saying that it's is impossible, but I guess I'm at peace either way.
MR: Well, if you have a song placed in a movie or television show at just the right moment, you never know.
JV: If everyone could create it, there would be nothing but million selling records.
JV: Let me tell you this though--the last record we released sold, to our estimation, a lot of records for what people sell these days. Even major artists, with the exception of Lady Gaga or something, don't sell that many records anymore, do they?
JV: This is funny. Scotty Johnson and I were talking the other day on the tour bus that we had each gotten a call from a mutual friend who said, "Hey, I just got your new record and I really enjoyed it." We were like, "How did you get the record?" "Well, I downloaded it." So, it's already available even though the record doesn't come out until the end of September. That's the world, baby.
MR: That's another point in this. A lot of the artists I've been interviewing, especially the younger artists, get the concept that they're not going to be making any money from album sales anyway. The label is going to be deducting money from Day One.
JV: That's true, that's the way of the world these days. Hopefully, you get something on the radio that sticks around for a little bit, but selling records doesn't seem a viable way to chase cash anymore.
MR: That's a great way of putting it. Jesse, you have actually had a career in songwriting outside Gin Blossoms. For example, you co-wrote with Judy Collins. How did that happen?
JV: David Anderle was my A&R man, and he got a call from someone looking for somebody for Judy to write with because she had a big compilation she was putting together and she wanted some new material. She happened to like a song I had written that she got through Seymour Stein, and she came to Saturday Night Live sometime in '96 when we were on the show. She showed up at rehearsal and sang the song to me, the one that I had written. I said, "Wow, you know that song. How do you know that song?" She told me what had transpired, so we talked about working together, and I was thrilled because I loved her records since I was a kid. It just sort of happened, and later on that winter, they flew me to New York and I lived there for a while writing songs. Then, I made the record with her too.
MR: It sounded perfect for her.
JV: It's a beautiful song. She was great to write with, and we've been friends ever since. In fact, there's a picture of her here in my living room that I'm looking at right now. She was a very nice woman, and hopefully the next time I play New York, I'm going to call her and see if she can come down for a show.
MR: Nice. Judith is one of my favorite albums, and Arif Mardin had a lot to do with that. One of my favorite songs on that album was "Born To The Breed," which was about her son.
JV: Yeah, oh my goodness.
MR: And then what happened afterwards, with her son passing way, what a tragedy. When I interviewed her for HuffPost, I wanted to mention that song because it's so touching, written from the perspective of a mother watching her son leaving home at sixteen to go on the road as a musician. But then I thought it would be best to leave it be.
JV: Such a great tragedy. Yeah, you're probably better off. I know she has a granddaughter who has the same big, beautiful eyes that Judy does.
MR: Yeah, "Suite Judy Blue Eyes." She also talked about a book.
JV: Yeah, she had written a book maybe eight years ago. It was a fantastic book and a great read. If you can find it, I'm sure you would enjoy it. She talks about her early days. She grew up in Santa Monica and Denver and traveled quite a bit. I think her father was a salesman or something, so she was a little road kid.
MR: She's worldly wise, you can really tell that. She also talked about Bill Clinton and her having total access to the White House.
JV: (laughs) I know, isn't that amazing?
MR: (laughs) That was a great story. So, tell me who hooked Gin Blossoms up with Marshall Crenshaw "Til I Hear It From You"?
JV: I've known Marshall for so long now...I think it was Tom DeSavia of ASCAP who did it because he was handling Marshall too at the time.
MR: I remember Tom, yeah.
JV: Tom's now in publishing and he's got a beautiful company that he's running.
MR: Nice. What's his number?
JV: (laughs) Noble Music. Is he giving advances? Anyway, Tom put us together at South By Southwest. Since then, we've written a few other songs together and he's become a very good friend. He's someone I call with questions. He's a very knowledgeable hip cat, and I really appreciate his friendship.
MR: He recorded an album called Miracle Of Science that has my favorite Crenshaw recording called, "Starless Summer Sky."
JV: That's a beautiful song, and it's an older song. He told me he wrote that years and years ago.
MR: Glad it finally came out on Miracle Of Science.
JV: Marshall tells a funny story about that record. You know the picture of him screaming?
JV: The photographer said, "We need like a really extreme picture of you, so scream. Imagine that you've been kicked around your whole life." And Marshall says, "I don't have to."
MR: (laughs) Well, that's kind of funny coming from the guy who got a big break in Beatlemania.
JV: He's a Hudson Valley man, isn't he? It's a beautiful part of the world. The winters would be too much for me, but I love having my summer time up there.
MR: Speaking of writing, you co-wrote many of No Chocolate Cake's songs with Danny Wilde from The Rembrandts.
JV: We write together a lot actually.
MR: How did that all come about?
JV: I got called to write with him on a record he was doing in '94 or '95, and we wrote a song that was a hit in Japan, but it was his last record for Elektra. So, we had a hit together in Japan, and I think it did pretty well in Europe, and then we became friends. We were quick friends. He's a terrific guy, and he lives near me in California, so we've always just written together. In fact, the song "Don't Change For Me" was written with Danny and another artist friend of ours, Matt Moon. We wrote that song for a movie called Soccer Mom, and it was in the closing credits. Then, it was picked up by NBC and used in a commercial for the last Olympics.
MR: Oh, wow. Who's version?
JV: Matt Moon's version. Matt's a terrific artist from Colorado, though he's living in Venice Beach now. As a matter of fact, he just sent over a song that Danny, Matt, and I had written together but had forgotten about. It's actually a sweet song, and I thought, "Wow, how did we forget this?"
MR: Speaking of forgetting, before I forget, Robin had mentioned that some of the best lines he's ever been asked to sing are from "Dead Or Alive On The 405."
JV: Well, it's funny. It's not quite a gag song, but it's got a little story and I like that song. I think it's pretty good.
MR: He especially liked the line, "...drummer stuck behind a Hummer." What is the story behind that song?
JV: Well, I came up with that first musical bit, but a lot of it was just a story about this guy who probably lives in the great North Valley and he's trying to get to a pickup gig in Redondo Beach on a Friday night. So, you can imagine, having spent as much time in California as you have, the 405 is just a death sentence.
MR: It's a horror story. It's a reason to leave California, actually.
JV: It's a reason to go to Iowa.
MR: Right! (laughs)
JV: So, I quickly put it down on acoustic guitar with little bits, and I sent it up to another friend of mine, Craig Northey, who is in a band called The Odds. He's in Vancouver, Canada, and we've had some success together. We wrote the theme song for a Canadian TV show called Corner Gas, which just finished it's eight year run. So, we wrote that theme song, and we've made a buddy record together. But I e-mailed him the song and he started laughing. I decided we needed to talk about silly things like this kind of gibberish or that kind of gibberish. When I was a kid, we used to say, "Give me my Eddie Money" which really just meant, "Pay me for the gig." So, that's where that line came from. When I was in high school, we all had bands, and we used to play bars. At the end of the night the oldest guy in the band would be counting out the dough, and I'd say, "Give me my Eddie Money."
MR: That was the other line that Robin was talking about, by the way.
MR: I also love things like, "...and in between the classic Styx, you play your hit from '89, I'll sing mine from '95..."
JV: Yeah. (laughs) Granted, I don't necessarily have to do shows like that anymore, but once in a while I will, and it really came from a true story. I was playing some gigs down at some card houses in the South Bay area. Anyway, I would go play this show, and I would play my hits from '89 and '95. I was doing this with Danny Wilde, and we obviously didn't need to, but it was fun.
JV: On a Friday night you go down to this casino, they feed you, you get free drinks, and you play for forty-five minutes on acoustic guitar. That's the genesis of that song.
MR: Now, I abused Robin about this, so you're getting it too. This interview is for The Huffington Post, but it's also being aired on solar powered KRUU-FM. What do you think of solar power?
JV: I love it. Why not, let's do it.
MR: One other thing I want to talk to you about is your solo career. I have an album by Jesse Valenzuela from a couple of years ago, but it turns out you're recording a new one, huh?
JV: Yeah, I did that one and I made the record with Craig Northey, and I have a new one that I'm trying to finish, though we've been very busy. You know how it is with running around and playing shows. This new record is a little more acoustic-y, but it's not a folk record. After finishing The Gin Blossoms record with all the guitars and big drums, I just thought, "You know what, I can't make two records like that in a row."
JV: So, I thought I'd use some filtered drums to give them an interesting sound. It gives the songs more of a chance to breathe in a different direction is what I'm hoping.
MR: Nice. Was there a lot of co-writing also?
JV: There's not as much co-writing on this one, though I wrote a great song with Danny on it, and I think I've got another really nice song that I wrote with my friend Kelly Ryan. I'm just kind of honing it down, but it's got a kind of country vibe, and it has some sad moments in it.
MR: Is this coming from an autobiographical perspective?
JV: I think everything does. Hopefully, you filter out enough so you're not reading your diary.
MR: (laughs) Or you're not hearing it on the Internet two months before it's released.
JV: (laughs) Just so you know, so you don't embarrass yourself too badly. That's the whole key to this business.
MR: It's funny because it's like, "Oh no, it's bootlegged. How horrible...how awesome."
JV: Whatever. Kids want to rock, they just don't want to pay for it. It's fine with me.
MR: I have a kid in the studio right now who just gave a, "Yeah!" He just came back from songwriting camp with all sorts of people like Marc Cohn, Darrell Scott, Pat Pattison, and Steve Seskin. He came back and he's a new person. He heard that I was interviewing Gin Blossoms and he invaded the studio.
JV: Well, good. I was invited to one of those camps, but I wasn't able to do it because I was playing shows and stuff. It sounds like an interesting process, you know? Peter Case does songwriting showcase stuff.
MR: Oh yeah, he's someone I'd love to interview.
JV: You should call him, you know? He's got a new record out.
MR: He's another one of those artists that I scratch my head and go, "Why can't he turn the corner into super stardom?"
JV: He's the king of Santa Monica.
MR: He is, I always heard and saw him when I lived in the area.
JV: He's always around. You see him up on Pico.
MR: Yeah, and also in McCabe's Guitar Shop.
JV: Yeah, McCabe's is on Pico, so he's always there.
MR: Well, Jesse, I think we kind of have to wrap this up. There are a couple of songs on here that are potential singles or whatever you want to call them. "Wave Bye Bye" and "I Don't Want To Lose You Now"...
JV: "I Don't Want To Lose My Lunch?"
MR: (laughs) That one. Any advice for new artists?
JV: f you really want this bad - maximize your odds by listening to your competitors, be flexible and cooperative with changes in your songwriting and song choices, it's marketing and your imagery. If sticking to your guns is really important to you as an artist, stick to them - I get it, and am all for it. Yet It doesn't fit everybody's business model--often the labels. Success for 98% of artists does not come easy--in some ways, Gin Blossoms were adaptable, in other ways, they were not. Luck plays into that part as well. Bottom line, odds for success increase with some degree of flexibility in several categories. If an artist can't work with open mindedness, it can be a problem for others in the team. It's really bitter-sweet when a second attempt for a music career is successfully achieved by an artist with the attitude they wished they had on the first go around. Don't study the 2% of there miracle artists that made it to the top easy. Why would one ever feel they are not going to have to adapt somewhat and work their ass off.
Sticking to your guns? Lower odds, yet the satisfaction is at it's highest level when your gut is the winner! We always fly to shows with a back-up flight--there's better odds of making the show while the people are still in the seats.
1. Don't Change For Me
2. I Don't Want To Lose You Now
3. Miss Disarray
4. Wave Bye Bye
5. I'm Ready
6. Somewhere Tonight
7. Go Cry Baby
8. If You'll Be Mine
9. Dead Or Alive On the 405
10. Something Real
11. Goin' To California
Note: The Amazon Daily Deal will be in place Monday 9/27/10, the day before the release date Tuesday 9/28/10. The album will be 3.99 for the whole day, and the link is the following - www.amazonmp3.com.
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
A Conversation with Luke Doucet
Mike Ragogna: So, Luke Doucet's on tour?
Luke Doucet: Yes I am. I'm just in Nashville, Tennessee, heading to the airport to fly to Atlanta, Georgia.
MR: You have a new record, Steel City Trawler, and it's a little complicated in that it follows a theme, doesn't it? The press release says that it's about "A stagnant northern town caught in an era where blue collar industry matters less and less, and the working class era is a dying breed." Ain't that the truth?
LD: I guess so. I don't know that I set out to make that record. I think that's a fairly accurate synopsis of what's involved, but I think that scene emerged once the record was done. Once the songs were all compiled that sort of came out of it. But I do think that the North American landscape of what it means to live and work in a city is different than it used to be.
MR: Now, your album is coming out accompanied by a David Collier comic book?
LD: David Collier did a comic book for it, that's right.
MR: Did he take your album and basically make the comic from it?
LD: That's right. We had one meeting because I called him as a fan of his work, and I said, "What do you think? Would you do something for me?" And he said, "Okay, that's fine." So, we got together for a brief meeting, maybe an hour or two, and we hung and chatted a bit, and that's it. That was the only consultation we had, and I didn't tell him what to do. In fact, he requested the lyrics from the record, and I said, "Well, you can certainly have them if you want, but you don't have to make this comic book be a biography of me. It doesn't even have to necessarily relate too closely to the album. You make this about whatever you want." I gave him complete carte blanche to create something that he thought was in some way inspired by the album, and when he presented it to me, what he presented was a finished product. There was no back and forth, there was no rough draft, it just was what it was. He's a great artist, and I just wanted to give him the opportunity to do his work.
MR: What are other works David has been associated with?
LD: David has never worked on an album project before. He's had some of his artwork syndicated in the National Post, which is a Canadian national newspaper, and he's made a few different comic books over the years. He's kind of a Hamilton, Ontario, version of a Harvey Pekar, but he's never really worked closely with a musical artist before.
MR: Where did the idea come from for you?
LD: Well, there are two things. I had seen Big Brother & The Holding Company with Janis Joplin, and Robert Crumb did an album cover for her, and I liked the way that looked. Part of it is that the sun is setting on the music industry. Not to be morbid or overly dramatic, but it's looking like the time where people will be purchasing a hard copy record is winding down, and if that's the case, then at some point, somebody, somewhere is going to make the last album ever. Obviously, I don't really believe that's what I've done, but sort of riffing on that theme, if that were the case, I want to make sure that what people end up with in their hands is something unique, special, and tactile that you can hold in your hands and flip the pages constantly like you used to do as a kid when you'd be looking at LP covers. So, I guess I'm just trying to give people a wider experience. But to be fair, the concept of incorporating the comic book art with an album is probably my wife's idea. She was actually talking about it for a long time, and she never did it herself, so I stole the idea.
MR: What part of Canada are you from?
LD: I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I was primarily raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Then I lived in Vancouver for a while, followed by Toronto, Nashville, and I currently live in Ontario, which is about half way between Toronto and Buffalo.
MR: You are Juno Award nominated, and you're a Canadian Folk Music Award winner. What did you win it for?
LD: I won that for an album called Blood's Too Rich. I won for Canadian Contemporary Folk Album Of The Year, which I think is a little bit ironic because to my ears, Blood's Too Rich is a rock 'n' roll record, but I was flattered to be recognized. If what that says is that the parameters or the definitions of folk music are a little broader than they used to be, then I think that's good.
MR: It's reminiscent of the Grammy Awards giving the metal award to Jethro Tull one year.
LD: That would have been for an album called Crest Of A Knave, which was one of my favorite albums that year.
MR: Now, you were a young guitarist with Sarah McLachlan.
LD: Well, I had already been on the road for a few years with a band out of Winnipeg, and I had been playing. I guess she discovered me. She auditioned a bunch of guys for her band and I got the job and I was quite young. So, I guess you could call it that. But we were both young; she was in her early twenties and I was nineteen, and I just ended up being in her band and we've been friends ever since.
MR: Nice. And you've been on Sarah MacLachlan's records.
LD: Well, this last record is the first full album that I was in the studio for the whole time. I contributed bits and pieces to different albums, and I was in the touring band on the Fumbling Towards Ecstasy tour, Afterglow, and this new record, Laws Of Illusion. Sarah's touring band and her studio recording are not necessarily the same thing. Pierre Marchand, who is in Montreal, produces her records, and he'll pull different people in for different tracks here and there. But those records are largely his and Sarah's. They make those records together.
MR: Let's get into your record a little more, specifically, "Thinking People." You have the best line on there with, "I can't follow God if he's not home." It's really about having to really go beneath the surface, and I really love the intent of that record.
LD: Obviously, instigating social or political discussion in the context of a rock record can be a little dicey. I think in following the media, reading, and trying to figure out what's going on, it seems to me that there are thinking people and working people that make things happen, and then there's a whole other sector of the population that seems to do neither of those things but still manages to retain a whole lot of control. I think we need to move to a point where that's not the case. I think that superstition and supernatural fear mongering are far too large a part of our culture, and I hope that at some point, we can move past that. Again, this may not be fodder for rock 'n' roll music, but these are the thoughts that linger in my head at five in the morning when I'm going through a particularly bad bout of insomnia.
MR: And you might get that insomnia from seeing things like the rise of The Tea Party and Sarah Palin.
LD: Well, Christine O'Donnell makes my blood-that's scary. That is some terrifying stuff.
MR: Well, we'll see what happens in November, but you're right on. We could have a whole discussion about this, but let's instead talk about your song "Magpie" which I felt was rather Simon & Garfunkel-ish. Could you tell me a little bit about that song?
LD: There's no doubt that when I was a kid growing up in Winnipeg that I was listening to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" like a lot of my friends were. Paul Simon's Still Crazy After All These Years was massive in my house when I was growing up. The finger style approach I use on "Magpie" I've used on a few different songs in the past, and I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I probably got that more from "Dust In The Wind" than from anything else. I quickly realized that it had a lot of southern gospel textures to it, and I've since discovered the likes of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and others that would use that style. I'm a big fan of that approach to playing.
MR: Now, your producer on this was Andrew Scott of Sloan. How did that come together?
LD: I'm a big fan of Sloan, and I just asked Chris Murphy, one of the singers, "How come your records are so good." They produce them themselves, they record them in their rehearsal space, and they use their live sound engineer as their recording engineer. By all rites, those records should be crappy, but they're fantastic. He basically said their secret weapon is Andrew Scott, so I just called Andrew and away we went. He had never really produced a record before, and he said as much. But I wasn't concerned about that because I had produced records in the past, and I knew we would get to the end of it somehow. I was just willing to take the chance that he would bring some of his magic, and he did. So, good for me.
MR: Can you go into the history of what motivated you to write "The Ballad Of Ian Curtis"?
LD: I watched a couple of films. I watched the Anton Corbijn film called Control, and I also saw a documentary about Joy Division. Growing up in Winnipeg, I had heard Joy Division because a lot of my friends were listening to music like that, but I was never a big fan. I just sort of thought he was a compelling figure. He could have been a race car driver or a sculptor and I probably would have still written the song had I watched a movie about him. I'm not even sure that I'm a huge fan of him. By all accounts he didn't treat people very well. He treated his wife poorly. I read a biography that she wrote about him, and it doesn't cast him in a very favorable light, but I still think he makes a great subject for a song. I think he's an interesting person, but whether or not I think I would like him very much I don't know.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists right now?
LD: Well, you have to spread yourself thin, and I don't care how talented you are because that's not going to get you very far. You have to work really hard. Here's the advice I would give: If you can be something else, a landscaper, lawyer, or a graphic artist, do that. The only people who should make music are people who have no choice because they're driven to it and there's nothing else that could keep them happy. If you can do something else, you should do something else because it's too hard. The people that succeed are separated from the people that don't by one thing only, and it's determination. If you're not one hundred percent sure that it's what you want to do, you should probably do something else.
2. Thinking People
3. Hey Now
4. The Ballad of Ian Curtis
5. You Gotta Get It
8. Dirty Dirty Blonde
9. Love and a Steady Hand
11. Some of You Folks
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
A Conversation with Tony Lunn
Mike Ragogna: You have a new album, Reckoning, and we'll get to that. But we should start by catching people up on your past. You started out as part of the Chicago scene, right?
Tony Lunn: Yeah, I started playing music in Chicago. I had a band called Brennantown which was a bluegrass rock band back in the late '90s. We played all kinds of fun bluegrass songs, but also some originals. That went over big in Chicago, and we had airplay on WXRT and we played all the great places in Chicago like Shubas and Cubbie Bear. Then, when that broke up, I moved out to California and worked in music for a little bit and got kind of entrenched in the music scene out there. I worked at Virgin Records, I worked at Capitol Records, but when the music industry really started to fizzle out is when I really started taking my music very seriously.
MR: Your previous album was titled Last Days Of Diresville, and the title track has something to do with that, right?
TL: When I wrote "The Last Days Of Diresville," it had a lot to do with the end of the music industry in a way. It had already been such a strange and horrible place to work, and now when it fizzled out, it was kind of the last days of something that wasn't that great in the first place. So, that's where "The Last Days Of Diresville" title came from. I understand there is a Dyersville in either Iowa or Indiana--I think it might be in Indiana--but I didn't know that. It was more of a metaphor for the music industry, and what was going on in my life at the time.
MR: But there's more to that song's story.
TL: The idea for the song actually came from where I was living. In Laurel Canyon there was a big fire, and I had this dream about the fire and losing my house. In the dream, I just wandered around for days, looking to put back the pieces, so that's also kind of where "The Last Days Of Diresville" came from.
MR: One of the songs on that album was called "Change," and it was everywhere. You also had a couple songs on television.
TL: Yeah, I had a couple of songs that were used for a WB show back when the CW was called that.
MR: Which one was it?
TL: "Change" was used for an NBC show, and that was back in '06 or something.
MR: Do you remember the name of the show?
TL: It was a show called High School Reunion on WB. Then, I had two songs that were used on Rosanna Arquette's documentary, All We Are Saying, along with a bunch of other good songwriters. So, I've had some songs placed in film and TV, so that was really good. As a DIY artist, it's always good to get paid back a little bit for making an album, and those really helped to get me paid back after putting a lot of time and money into making that album. I pretty much did everything in the studio because Pro Tools was just kind of coming, for me, and I liked to do things in the studio with the full band and everything. So, you know, it takes a little, but it was good to get some placements and get paid for that.
MR: It's very hard for a musician, especially a DIY musician to get placements. You really have to work your butt off, don't you.
TL Yeah, you do, and we did. We did a video for "Change" that we did in one day that's on YouTube. We ran around L.A. all day and shot that video, and it had good timing along, picked up by the Obama campaign. I heard it got shown in some Democratic headquarters. Yeah, change was a definite metaphor for that album. A lot was changing in my life, and all around at that time, so that was a big song from that record.
MR: I remember they took the song and actually made a commercial out of it, didn't they?
TL: Yeah. For some of the Democratic headquarters all around the country, there was a little clip that showed Obama or people holding up signs, and it was playing my song. That was exciting, and I'm glad it got used for such a perfect purpose.
MR: You keep your eye on all things social consciousness-wise, don't you?
TL: I do to some extent, yeah. I try to just write what kind of inspires or evokes emotion for me. For instance, when Katrina happened back in '07, I wrote a song that is on my new album called "Salvation," and that was just a response to what happened down there with Katrina. It was just the idea that we were going through this together with those people, and yet no one felt like they could help in any way. There was such a lag of people seeing all this but feeling like they couldn't do anything. So, that's kind of where "Salvation" fit, with the hopelessness that arises from these situations, but then also the hope and help that comes through in the end. There's always a light shining for you somewhere, whether you find it through God or friends and family, or whether you find it by just lending a hand. Salvation can be found just by reaching out a hand to help you through the day.
MR: Nice. Now, I'm curious as to why you called your album Reckoning?
TL: Well, that's a good question. I think most people would say other bands have had albums named Reckoning. R.E.M. had an album named Reckoning, and there are others, but I knew that and I still called it Reckoning because the definition of "reckoning" struck me. I never really knew what it meant.
MR: What does it really mean?
TL: It basically means, "The sum of all your calculations." I thought that was such a neat idea. I always thought a reckoning was sort of like an apocalypse, but in actuality, it's the sum of all your calculations. So, it hit me that I'd been working on this record, and I said, "I'm a DIY artist, so I kind of have to spend my money wisely and thriftily." But it takes a while, so I'd been working on this record for like three years now. In those past three years, I really played with a lot of people starting out with Jim and Dani Lacey-Baker who are Austin musicians that were out here in Los Angeles. They were really my first band as a solo artist, but I played with a lot of different people and wrote all these songs and kept recording. Ultimately, this album is the result of all that. So, it's the sum of all the writing, because I wrote thirty to forty songs for this record, and these are just the ones that I wanted to put out.
MR: Wasn't there a story behind "I'm In Tune?" Weren't there a couple of different recordings of it?
TL: I had recorded that a while back with Rick Parker, and it was definitely when I was more into some rock and pop kind of things, but it changed. That song is really about being in a band, playing music with a bunch of people, and just the feeling that you get form being able to do anything you want. Playing on a Friday night, it was always one of our first songs, and it was a rocker, for sure, but it went through some different incarnations. It's still got a rock vibe, though. I actually tried to change it to acoustic for this record, and it just didn't have the same vibe. So, I actually ended up bringing back some of the more rock elements of it. "I'm In Tune" can be taken both as one on one with another person or with a band. You know, "I'm in tune with you, and we can do anything." It's that kind of idea, but that's one of the ones that most people seem to gravitate towards.
MR: Can you talk about "Train Song?"
TL. Yes, I've always been a big fan of trains. My dad was obsessed with trains, and I've always had a fondness for them. But that song was one of those songs where I just sat down at a piano and had the chords right there. I literally think I wrote it in one day, and I didn't even change it very much. I loved it from the day that I wrote it, and for some reason, it was just a fun song. It's always kind of been a fun song to play live because it's an audience favorite for sure. It's a lament for the Old West and the way that trains used to run across the country, taking people to and fro. It's a lament for the way trains were meant to be and should have been before cars took over the country. We could have had trains running all over this country, and it would have been great.
MR: Tony, what is your advice to up and coming artists?
TL: What would I say to a new artist right now? I'd just say keep doing what you're doing and be persistent. If you want to make music, be persistent and just keep at it. I would also say be diligent about sending your music out, sending your best music out, and getting the right lists of people to send your music to, from record companies to music supervisors to publishers. Just be persistent and diligent about getting your music out because you can send one hundred e-mails out, and ten people might get back to you, but those ten people you have to work on. Yeah, I'd just say be persistent.
3. I'm In Tune
6. Morning Song
7. John Brown
8. Train Song
10. Get So Lonesome
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)