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Mike Ragogna

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Havoc and Meatbats: Conversations With Alanis Morissette and Chad Smith

Posted: 08/20/2012 12:00 am

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A Conversation With Alanis Morissette

Mike Ragogna: Is this Alanis Morissette or is it God? Who is this?

Alanis Morissette: It's both, really. Whatever you want.

MR: (laughs) I loved your appearance as God in Dogma. So let's talk about your new album Havoc and Bright Lights. You worked with Guy Sigsworth and also Joe Chiccarelli in LA on this one, and it's about four years since your last album. You had about thirty songs going into this album. What was it like approaching a project this time around?

AM: I was at that critical juncture, that according to my mom-friends is not an unusual one, which was an alpha-mom vocational/serviceful living imperative combined with really wanting to be the kind of mom that I aspire to be--the attachment mom that requires me to be fully available to my son. I also value my marriage and I know the energy that needs to be put into marriage to nurture it. So I had these huge priorities that are all kind of battling each other right at the top three. And by the way, you might notice that my self-care is nowhere up there, so I had to push that one up there once in a while. Basically, I invited Guy Sigsworth from London to come into our home; we created a makeshift studio and I went between writing and "mom-ing," back and forth.

MR: I wanted to get into "Guardian," your single and first track off of your new album. That's a beautiful video, how it pays tribute to Wings of Desire and it's got the balance between the concept of "angel" and "guardian."

AM: Well, "City of Angels" is a song I wrote uninvited for and it was the remake of the Wim Wenders' movie, so there was some sweet poetry to that--just tipping the hat to the original generative idea. And then the twenty-fifth anniversary of his movie came while we were on tour, and I came up with a treatment that I wanted to have for the video that included a touch on bullying and postpartum conversation and children in general and caring about the developmental stages of their life...and then wanting to have that empathy and compassion and otherworldliness that is just part of this mama bear thing. So that was the best way to do it, and we were going to be in Berlin, which was all very fortuitous.

MR: Obviously, between the mom-ing and the recording, you're balancing a life, trying very hard to make sure your mom-ing does not get lost to the recording career aspect. How does this tie into your overall outlook on life as far as wellbeing, physical, spiritual, the whole deal? It's like a big package for you, isn't it?

AM: It is, and they're all integrated to the degree that I can do it. I think that's the new frontier of 2012 and onward--integrating everything, whereas before, everything was very compartmentalized and sometimes, things would fall through the cracks, and they still do because I'm human. Boundaries are one of the greatest leading forces. Setting boundaries is a profoundly spiritual act because in order to do that, I need to connect within my own self, I need to be aware and be in reality with what's going on with my relationships--professionally, my marriage, with my son--and then I need to be reverent and respectful of the intuitive process, and then I need to connect with spirit to know what to do at any given juncture. So I have to keep all of those soils tilled in order for me to know what choices to make. There are choice points a trillion times a day as a mom--and I know moms can testify to that, and dads too, frankly. I need to know what source to call upon when I'm making these choices all the time, and also, I have this huge imperative to serve as my vocation and my calling and my career. It's getting what I can here and there, and that's here for seventeen minutes. Instead of shopping for three hours, now it's a sixteen-minute concentrated power-shop. Everything's really concentrated.

MR: And one of the major qualities, you might say, is "Empathy."

AM: Yeah, empathy and connection. With the women's movement and, quite frankly, all movements, it was all about men going to war and women going into the workplace and saying "I'm autonomous...individuation...individuality." That was the order at the time, and then it segued now, thankfully, into "I can be empowered, I can be individuated and I need you." It's hip and cool and sexy now to be interdependent. The whole Days of Old where we thought we were overly dependent, way earlier, where we were property; we were owned as women, and that turned into, "No way, I'm burning my bra." It was a beautiful rite of passage, a lovely link in the chain, mandatory, and now we're into this whole pace where it's okay to say we need each other. So that's why I wanted to write "Empathy" and the whole idea of partnership and win-and-win, because that's the new world.

MR: "Woman Down" puts a slant on the concept of how we think of that concept, too.

AM: Yeah, and I think also what's emerging is this archetype of being the alpha-woman, which I always was. In days of old, we'd be burned at the stake and have our heads chopped off just for being who I am, and for our sensual selves being expressed. So this fear, too, of expressing anger directly or just being authentic, this fear of retaliation, fear of being hit, there's misogyny and being on the receiving end of the sexually-traumatized North American way, which can be really predator-esque. There are so many things to take into account as a woman that sometimes we've buckled in the past, but understandably so. And now there's a new world where we're being championed for who we are, if we happen to be alpha.

MR: Nice. Wonderfully said. And you have the song "Lens," as in the lens we all look through, it being revised.

AM: It has to be, and it is or it isn't. It happens to be revising and revised and updated as we go, and then some of us keep our lens where it was and we don't want to update our religions, and we don't want to update our traditions, and some of that, I think, is really awesome and adorable and reverent, you know? And humble. But then, there's some other element of that that's anti-life and doesn't allow us to evolve.

MR: Which might lead us to our next question, which is about the good ol' concept of "Celebrity." You took a good swing at our obsession with fame. Working off of a lot of what you just said, you've got to balance some things. Doing everything for fame doesn't allow for an individual to be themselves, be real, because they're so busy chasing this idea of what a human should be when they're famous.

AM: And we're certainly sold that bill of goods, right? And we're told it'll raise our self-esteem, it'll have us be surrounded by lovely friends, everything will be lovely. But I found that in and of itself, with fame as an end rather than a means to an end, it really just amplified everything, so if there's any self-hatred or self-sabotage, it just amplifies it tenfold. Later in the nineties, I decided that I wanted to use fame as a tool to serve my agenda of service and social commentary and engaging in the larger conversation with whomever would join me in there and there are tons of us. So now, I think it's just fun, that's not to say that I don't enjoy my sixteen-inch heels and my glitter and my ShivAChi purses, because I really do. But they're not the end, you know?

MR: By the way, do you really think we're at the "Edge of Evolution"?

AM: Oh, yeah. And not all of us really want to be there. It's literally, adorably, aversion of volunteering. Somewhere along the way, consciously or otherwise, I just put my hand up and I said, "I'm going to join whatever million amount of people who want to push those front lines," and have this warrior-willingness to get our heads chopped off. We're willing to stand up and say something unpopular, we're willing to consciously evolve our awareness. It's a small blip--this lifetime, in the grand context of things, is a tiny bit of lifetime, and if I can contribute an ant's sand-piece-worth then I'm happy.

MR: Alanis, I love that you were in The Vagina Monologues.

AM: I think in the West, we're all really sexually traumatized; we're all completely dissociated from our bodies. It's a terrible, scary, dangerous thing, and I can be a part of the conversation that can assuage that and shine another light on the body experience while I'm going through it myself in real-time.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists these days?

AM: That's it's totally appropriate to reach out for support. If I could say anything to my twenty-one year-old self, it would be, "You don't have to insulate." I appreciated that I needed to kind of hide away, in a sense, in order to protect myself. But at the same time, I realize that I could have benefited from having a lot of people around me that could just pet my head.

MR: (laughs) Among your albums is the classic Jagged Little Pill. Looking back to then and now, what do you think is the biggest growth for "Alanis Morissette"?

AM: I think being steadfast with embracing each emotion--frustration, anger, depression, sadness, lust, infatuation, fear--just having them all continue to show up. They transmute a little bit, there's a little less reactivity in some of them, and thankfully, I'm applying some of the courage it took to write those songs to my personal life, because I used to be a coward and think that I could just write the song and I wouldn't have to deal with anything directly in my relationships. Songs are cathartic to write, but they're not healing. I'd sing "You Ought to Know" night after night and then I realized that I wasn't healing anything around that relationship, and I actually was going to benefit from being courageous and showing up with my authenticity in actual day-to-day life. So those were some revelations over the last few years.

MR: Now you as a leader--and you've got to look at it like that, because people buy yours and albums by like Joni Mitchell to you for a little bit of life advice. Well, after someone has listened to Havoc and Bright Lights, what are a few things you want people to come away from that with?

AM: So many things. One of them is just for people to know that I love them. That's a big one. The other one is that I want to support relationships. I want to support the nurturance of the relationship and the spirit with each other--where there are marriages, parenting, professional relationships--how to render them functional, and then also the relationship within one's own self with the inner parent and the inner child. The verses for "Guardian," it's really about my having seen the kind of love and attunement that I was offering my son twenty-four hours a day, that I might benefit actually from checking in with myself more often than once every six months. So if there's a message at all, it would be to nurture those three relationships and that healing for this planet is not going to be through concepts and through intellectualism, it's going to be through nurturing our relationships and being brave and attempting to be more intimate.

MR: Beautiful. This was really sweet and very special. I appreciate your time, Alanis. Thank you very much.

AM: Thank you, and thank you for your thoughtful questions, I appreciate that.

Tracks:
1. Guardian
2. Woman Down
3. 'Til You
4. Celebrity
5. Empathy
6. Lens
7. Spiral
8. Numb
9. Havoc
10. Win and Win
11. Receive
12. Edge of Evolution

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


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A Conversation With Chad Smith About His Bombastic Meatbats And More

Mike Ragogna: Chad, you've got a new album, Live Meat And Potatoes. First let's chat about those Bombastic Meatbats of yours. What's the history?

Chad Smith: From the beginning, I would say it started with my friend Glenn Hughes who is a bassist/singer who played with Deep Purple in the '70s. He's a great solo artist. We became friends and I would play in his band from time to time whenever he was around and I was around and we needed each other. The nucleus of the Meatbats was Glenn's live band, which was myself, Ed Roth on Keyboards, and Jeff Kollman on guitar. We would be at rehearsal jamming and sometimes singers aren't always on time. I don't know if that's a blanket statement, but in my small time working, it's been my experience. We would jam on instrumental whatever it was...music...and it was fun. I was like, "We should write some songs and make a record." That's what we did and here we are. A few years later, we did two records. We did a live one we recorded at our home away from home, The Baked Potato in North Hollywood, LA's oldest jazz club. It's a good representation of what we do, and that's that.

MR: You have a couple of interesting covers on here, one of them is "Moby Dick" by this obscure group, Led Zeppelin.

CS: Is that a new and upcoming group, Led Zeppelin? I'm unfamiliar with them.

MR: They're some young whipper-snappers.

CS: I'll show those kids from England. (laughs) Yeah, that was my favorite band growing up. Of course, many would argue that John Bonham was the greatest rock drummer. He was a big influence on me. We did a version of that, but I'm not going to do a drum solo. That would be blasphemy, like covering a Beatles song or something. How can you do it better than them or make it your own? We do a slower, funky version of the musical part of the song. I'm not playing with my hands or flaming gongs or anything. It's a real homage to John Bonham, my favorite drummer.

MR: Personally, I feel like rock changed after Zeppelin went away.

CS: They were the quintessential '70s blues, hard rock band. They covered a lot of ground. You have to remember the time when they came out in 1968. I've been fortunate to know people who were around. They were like, "What the hell is this?" They were taking blues to a whole other level. Of course, Jimmy Page? Incredible producer/player. Robert Plant? No one sang like that. You got the sound, the style, and the musicality of John Bonham with big drums and the way he played. They were a really creative innovative band for me.

MR: Let me think, was there another creative innovative band where people said, "What the hell is that?" Perhaps Red Hot Chili Peppers?

CS: I don't know about the first part of your statement, but I've certainly heard "What the hell is that?" We're just doing our thing. We are very happy, grateful, and fortunate to be together for so long and have great musical and personal experiences and be able to put that into music. That's a gift, and we are very lucky and we love it. That's why we continue to do what we do. We love making music with each other and we love everything about it. It's the voice of the people.

MR: I think that you guys helped write the book on what we call "indie" rock.

CS: I don't know, we've never felt like we were part of any movement. We've always just kind of done what we've done. Of course, we were influenced by everything. When we were coming out in the early and mid-'80s, we were on college radio, and those people initially embraced our band--skaters and alternative, as some like to call it. We were just playing Red Hot Chili Pepper music. We weren't trying to be a part of any trend. We were just doing what we were doing and we've continued to do that. If that can inspire anyone to be yourself and stick to your guns of being open and honest, I think people connect with that. That's the kind of music we like to play.

MR: I imagine your wardrobe bills weren't pretty big, especially since you had all those socks.

CS: Here's what you do. Early on, you get these things when you play at shows that are called "riders." You can ask for things, like, "I would like 12 bottles of water, and 16 towels." You heard the old Van Halen, "No brown M&M's in our backstage," and all that kind of crap. Ours were very simple. We needed socks...clean socks. Everybody likes to have clean socks. Underwear also, clean underwear is good. We're really into our hygiene. Very hygiene-orientated. We're entertainers, and sometimes, those take on different forms of expression.

MR: Yup, clean socks and underwear, always a must, especially if you're performing on stage in them. Okay, Chickenfoot must be a lot of fun, you know, when all of you superstars get together.

CS: Yes. It started out as fun and it remains fun, which is always a bonus. Those guys are always a riot. I used to jam with Sam (Hagar) down at his club in Cabo, and we became friends. Then Mike (Anthony) joined in, then we got Joe (Satriani) and started to write songs and see what happened. It's really easy for us to go to that place where we make the music because it's everybody's influence when you're youngsters. The kind of hard rock blues is the music we grew up on. For me, to play with Sammy Hagar is a big deal because I was a huge Montrose fan. I loved those records that he was on, especially the first one; it's a classic. Then Mike playing with Van Halen...when I was a kid, that was it. "Joe's a great fantastic guitar player...why not?" It's fun, and I hope to do more in the future with them. We made two records and hopefully, we'll get together when everyone's schedule permits. We have a good time, and music is supposed to be fun.

MR: Alright, I want to throw three words out at you with regards to your Meatbats and get your reaction. Madeski, Martin, Wood.

CS: Those guys are great, they are very innovative musicians. I think a Meatbats tour with them would be great.

MR: You both improv phenomenally. I imagine you guys improv a lot when you guys perform, right?

CS: We do. We have songs and song structures with verses, chorus, and melody. It's not just play and everybody plays a solo. That being said, in that structure is a lot of improvisation. We play off each other and never play it the same way twice. It's really free and we take risks musically. I think that's really important for any artist. Those are the ones that attract me to play with and to see. It inspires me. We just have musical conversations and sometimes those last seven minutes, or four minutes, it's always different. It's still in a proper song structure, but sometimes, the solos are longer. It's really rewarding to play that kind of music.

MR: I have one of your fans here in the control room and he has a burning question. His name is Gabriel Bishop. Gabe, go for it.

Gabriel Bishop: Chad, what is your creative process like?

CS: I would say we get into a room, which is called "The Tiki Room," at my house. It's like a mancave with pool tables, musical instruments and dart boards. We just go down there and it would start with my playing a certain kind of groove, and then it could be maybe Jeff playing a guitar melody that he just got hit with or he brought from home. Or Ed the keyboard player has a riff for something. Then somebody will grab onto it and it goes from there. It's really organic. There's a lot of spontaneity and improvisation. The one thing that is really great, different or easy, is that we don't have a singer. We don't have to worry about the length of the verse or the melody. There's more freedom, but you can't take it easy. It needs to be interesting and dynamic when it's just instruments people are listening to. It's a real challenge and very fun. That's how a typical Meatbats song would come about.

MR: Looking at the ...Meat And Potatoes track list, I'm seeing a kind of menu. You got "Mountain of Meat," "Pigs Feet," "Bread Balls," "Lobster Legs,"...

CS: That's interesting, I've never thought of it like, that but yeah, there is a theme. We don't take ourselves too seriously as far as our personality goes with our cover art, and certainly with the song titles. It reflects that we don't have to name the song or be influenced with the words. We all have in-jokes and nicknames. Anything goes with the song titles, but yes there is a food theme. And Chickenfoot, Red Hot Chilli Peppers...what's going on? Maybe I should open a restaurant.

MR: (laughs) You end the album with "Into the Floyd," a take on another obscure band.

CS: Yeah that was influenced by a jam where someone said, "Play something Pink Floyd-y." It doesn't sound like Pink Floyd, but we reference different things. "Into The Floyd" is a reference to the Black Sabbath song "Into The Void," who I just saw. We played Lollapalooza last weekend and Black Sabbath played Friday. It was great.

MR: Are there bands out there that you're still dying to see that you haven't yet?

CS: There are bands that aren't around anymore that I won't get to see. I'm pretty fortunate that I get to travel a lot and there's all of these festivals in Europe. We get to see a lot of groups that we love. It's a good question, but not really at the moment. I got to see Black Sabbath when I was a kid and I love that music. The songs are amazing; it's like the soundtrack to my childhood.

MR: Yeah, kids that are coming up now seemed to have had an affinity with classic rock more than any other music. I guess they were raised by the classic rock of their parents, and they aren't rebelling against it.

CS: You're right. The music is timeless. It's great music. When I was a kid, it's what I listened to in the early '70s. My parents were listening to Bobby Goldsboro, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis, which is great, and I learned to love and appreciate it. At the time, I felt like it was old people's music, my parents music. Most generations want to claim their own and rightly so. For me, I would come home after school and crank Sabbath as loud as I could. I loved it but I knew it pissed my parents off. I liked that because I was very rebellious. It was perfect and it was my music. It wasn't The Beatles; my music was ten years later. It was Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and Queen, which is great music. I understand why kids connect to their own music and still appreciate the bands from the '70s because they hear it from the music they and their friends like. It stands the test of time. It's great music.

MR: Chad, I noticed the album cover for Live Meat and Potatoes emulates KISS' Love Gun.

CS: When I was a kid, I really liked KISS. They're not breaking down any barriers musically but for me, when I was 13 years old, anyone who was breathing fire, spitting blood, and blowing stuff up, I loved it and bought it. Alice Cooper...love the entertainment part of it. I have a soft spot for it.

GB: You being a musician, being famous, etc., what keeps you creative and pushes you to continue?

CS: I got really fortunate from an early age. At seven years old, I found my passion, which is to play music and play the drums. I always loved it and I always wanted to play, learn and grow. I was a curious little critter. I played sports too, like a lot of the other kids, but when high school came around at 15, I was all about music and drums. I just continued that path and wanted to learn more about playing music. It was all-consuming to the point that I barely even graduated from high school. I just wanted to be professional and play right away; I knew it's what I wanted to do. For many years, I played at clubs in Detroit and made 165 bucks a week playing 3 sets a night, 6 nights a week, traveling all over the greater Detroit area. I loved it and knew it's what I wanted to do. I had a yearning to learn and grow, change, and get better. It's really satisfying. As an artist, you must change and grow and seek out new things to inspire you and challenge you and help you grow on your instrument. You're never done. When you say, "That's it, I'm good enough, I've got my thing"...it's great to have your thing on your instrument, but to not want to continue to challenge yourself, I think, you're dead in the water. To me, that's not fun anymore. It's fun to explore new things, whether it's things in life, music, movies or art...whatever it is. I'm a sponge and I take it in and it comes out through my instrument. Fortunately, I have a way to express myself and I want to keep doing it because it makes me happy. Luckily, sometimes people say "Wow, that's pretty good, I like it too."

MR: You've already touched on this in your last answer, but do you have any advice for new artists?

CS: Wherever you are, do your thing and do it with all of your heart, love, and open honesty you possibly can. Listen to everything. Steal from everybody. It's not going to sound like them. I listened to Led Zeppelin and I love John Bonham but I'm never going to sound like that guy. It would be like me doing a poor imitation. Go to stuff you really love and eat it up. Then go to stuff you don't love and don't understand it--like why does everyone love George Jones or Hank Williams or Bob Marley? Even if it's not your thing, check it out, because there's always something good you can learn to make yourself a better musician. Be well-rounded. I wish I was more well-rounded at an earlier age. I stuck to that real rock because that other stuff was more challenging for me, but once I got turned on to great jazz drummers like Elvin Jones and Tony Williams and Billy Cobham...I would never be playing like I do now or for the Meatbats or the Chili Peppers. Soak everything up. It's out there more and more with social media and, in general, with our media-driven culture, good and bad. If I could have seen my favorite drummer playing on YouTube when I was 10 years old, I would have been freaking out. I just listened to records. There's so much stuff out there and so much information. It's really great. Find some like-minded people and make some music just to make it. You'll be a happier human being because of it.

MR: You might just say that new artists should always be moving on to "Higher Ground."

CS: Yeah, Stevie (Wonder) said that. Just find other people where you are who are into the idea of wanting to create and be creative people, whatever it is. Be hot where you're at and have fun at it, especially when you're young. It should be really fun.

MR: Socks and underwear are in the riders for the Chili Peppers, but what do you have on your rider with the Meatbats?

CS: Depends... No, not "Depends." (laughs) I don't know. We don't have a rider. We make a $100 when we play for 80 people. It's really fun. Our friends come to see us at The Baked Potato in LA. Literally, it's like a basement in Indiana somewhere that hasn't changed in 40 years. I think you can hear it on the disc. It's real informal and we don't take ourselves too seriously. Lots of people think that instrumental music is a lot of notes and serious, musicians-only music. From our song titles and our nicknames, you can tell we have fun. So on the rider...maybe a couple of comic books and a KISS record.

MR: Comic books, nice! What are you reading?

CS: Tom Morello has some cool ones like Orchid. He's done them. He's cool, I like him. We've worked together a few times and he's smart, funny, and a creatively talented gentleman. There are many ways to be creative. I just love to collaborate with other people, that's why I do all of these other things. I love the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That's my home. Those guys are my friends and my brothers. It's also fun to do other things and challenge myself. It's a real life blood for me and gives me balance in my life. I'm fortunate that other people want to play with me.

Tracks:

Disc 1:
1. Oh! I Spilled My Beer
2. Passing The Ace
3. Mountain Of Meat
4. The Gunboat Is On!
5. Night Sweats
6. Topps Off
7. Pigsfeet
8. Need Strange

Disc 2:
1. Deathmatch
2. Battle For Ventura Blvd.
3. Moby Dick
4. Shilo's Forbidden City Blues
5. Breadballs
6. Lobster Legs

Transcribed by Theo Whitley

 

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