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The Wayman Tisdale Story and Scars & Stories: Conversations With Director Brian Schodorf and The Fray's Isaac Slade

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A Conversation with Director Brian Schodorf

Mike Ragogna: Brian, thank you so much for being with us today.

Brian Schodorf: Thanks so much for having me, Mike.

MR: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with The Wayman Tisdale Story?

BS: Sure. Well, for those folks that maybe aren't very knowledgeable about the life of Wayman Tisdale, he was one of the best college basketball players to play the game. He was a three-time All American at the University of Oklahoma and went on to have a great NBA career - he even won a gold medal. Just about the time that you would think the gig was up, like you do with some athletes at the end of their careers, he started a new act as a jazz musicians. Then he became one of the best contemporary jazz musicians in the genre. The story turned terribly dark when he broke his leg and, as a result, found out that he had osteosarcoma, which is a form of bone cancer, followed by amputations. I came along towards the end of all of this and heard about Wayman's story and was amazed at how happy he was. He had just had his leg amputated and he was still happy cheerful and in a good mood - he was encouraging other people and his spirits were high. I thought that this was a story that needed to be told, and documentaries are what I do for a living. So, I called, emailed, and wrote some letters and finally they told me that they were in. We've spent the last two years putting it together and it was just released a couple of weeks ago.

MR: Were you also a fan of his during his basketball career?

BS: Yeah, absolutely. I'm originally from Kansas, then I moved to Chicago, and they would play the University of Oklahoma. He was definitely something special. If you mention Wayman Tisdale to anyone from that area, it goes quite a long way. I was also a fan of his music. I mean, he played with some of the all-time greatest jazz musicians. He even collaborated with some great people in country music like Toby Keith and created some really great stuff.

MR: There was the tribute song, "Cryin' For Me (Wayman's Song)" written and performed by Toby Keith, which also won a Grammy.

BS: Yeah. It won Best Male Country Music Song in 2007. It was written for Wayman after he passed away from cancer.

MR: There are a couple of tracks on this album that Wayman did with George Duke including "Tell It Like It 'Tis," and "Let's Ride." Can you tell us about their relationship?

BS: Well, Wayman made nine records and this was actually a posthumous album called, The Funk Record. It came out about 10 month after Wayman passed away. He always wanted to do a funk record - he's from Tulsa and anyone from Tulsa knows that The Gap Band with Charlie Wilson came out of that area. That was one of his inspirations. This album is a little bit different than his usual smooth contemporary jazz - it kind of surprised a lot of people. Wayman even sings on a lot of the tracks. It's a great record - it's really colorful, and it really shows Wayman's true personality.

MR: It's great that he wanted to not only explore his jazz side musically, but also his funk side.

BS: It's funkadelic. (laughs) That's what he would say. It's kind of his alter-ego.

MR: There's also an unreleased track on the album called Slam Dunk. I wonder what inspired the title, huh?

BS: It's fitting, right. It's a great song produced with Jeff Lorber. It was one of those tracks that Wayman had done but never actually got around to releasing. And if you'll notice, a lot of Wayman's music is basketball themed. His first album was called Power Forward, there was also, "Hang Time" and "Way Up." They were all these kind of neat basketball themes, which is fitting because this was a guy who was one heck of a ball player.

MR: Right. How passionate was Wayman about basketball after his retirement from the sport?

BS: Actually, his wasn't too interested. Wayman knew what he wanted to do after the end of his basketball career because he started out as a musician playing for his father's choir. His father was a preacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That's how he started out - he didn't play basketball. I think somewhere along the line, maybe when he was nine or ten in gym class, the coach must have said, "No music class for you today. You're coming to play some basketball." So, basketball kind of took over for a while. Towards the end of his career, he definitely started to transition away from basketball and into his new life as a musician.

MR: Well, let's talk a little bit about his life outside of basketball. Around the time that he was diagnosed with cancer, he started an organization called The Wayman Tisdale Foundation. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

BS: Wayman had a disease called osteosarcoma, which, in most cases, is found in children but does often ultimately lead to amputation of a limb in an attempt to stop the spread of the cancer. With today's technological advances, most people can get a prosthetic limb that is somewhat like a real limb. There are some with computer chips in them that could, for instance, make your knee bend when you walk. The problem is that these can cost up to $75,000. Wayman knew that he could personally afford to buy something like that, but he also realized that there were so many people who couldn't afford that kind of money or have the right type of insurance to get those. So, he and his wife Regina started a foundation that assist people in getting what they need to go on with their lives.

MR: Can you tell us a little on what you discovered about Wayman Tisdale, the man?

BS: When I went into this project, I obviously knew who Wayman Tisdale was - a heck of a ball player. But once you start watching the documentary and you actually get into it a little bit, you really start caring about him and you feel like you know him. He was one of the most genuinely caring, kind-hearted, and charismatic persons you'll ever meet. Guys like Michael Jordan and Toby Keith are in it sharing their thoughts and memories about Wayman. I talked to probably about 1,000 people about Wayman over the course of filming this, and the most surprising thing to me was that every single one of those people said that he was the most upstanding and kind person they'd known - everyone spoke so highly of him. You don't meet a whole lot of people that everybody liked. Not just a couple of them, every one. Another thing I found fascinating was the fact that he was such an amazing musician. A lot of people will watch this movie and learn new things about him as a ball player and musician and really be inspired by his story.

MR: I believe Dave Koz was one of the people you interviewed, right?

BS: I believe you're referring to Grammy-nominated Dave Koz. (laughs) He so talented and open. He's the man, and he did a great job in the movie. My mom said to me, "Gosh, he's well-spoken and handsome." I had to tell her to stop gushing over Dave.

MR: (laughs)I interviewed him a few times, he's great. Can you tell me who some of Wayman's musical influences were?

BS: Wayman grew up in a household that loved music. Some of his influences were James Brown and Michael Jackson, some of the great music of the time. But his main influence was his father. His father was a prominent preacher in Tulsa and he would go and speak for and pray on behalf of any prominent politicians or important public figures that came through the city. Wayman looked up to him, which is a lot different from the way a lot of kids view their parents. He was really grounded and his father developed that in them from a very young age.

MR: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a director?

BS: Sure. I went to Columbia College in Chicago. While I was there, I told myself that I wanted to leave there with something and I realized that what I really wanted to do was put together documentaries. When I was younger, I had a lot of interest in doing the news and that was just too slow. I wanted to tell some bigger stories and actually get involved in the process. When I was in college, I worked on a documentary called Poverty In Chicago, which chronicled the homelessness and drug addiction in downtown Chicago. I worked on that throughout my years in college and before I graduated, it was airing nationally on PBS and The Documentary Channel. Then I followed that up in grad school with project called Greensburg, which chronicled a town in Kansas that was wiped off the map by the largest recorded tornado in history. We talked with those people and followed a lot of their stories. That project was nominated for an Emmy. After that, we started this project, and this definitely took it to the next level. This project took me two and a half years, and anybody who knows documentaries and independent productions knows that it's a tough job. We definitely had to put everything we had into it because we were doing it during a recession, which meant we had to try to get funding in very tight times. But we knew we had a great story to tell and that people needed to see it.

MR: And people did see it. The Wayman Tisdale Story has received numerous acknowledgments such as Best Documentary from the Park City Film Festival and The International Christian Film Festival, plus Best Sports Documentary from the Los Angeles Sports and Film Festival and The People's Choice Award Runner-Up at the Pan African Film Festival and the 2010 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Award.

BS: People do seem to really like it. It's a sports movie as well as a Christian film. It's about overcoming cancer or just struggling through life, and it's a sports film. You can catch it on TV or you can catch it as a rerun on NBA TV or ESPN. Or you can just go online and order the CD and DVD set on Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix.

MR: Brian, who are your influences as a director?

BS: Mine? That's a good question. (laughs) Well, my uncle is Bill Curtis, a legendary broadcaster out of Chicago that went on to do A&E Television shows like Cold Case Files and American Justice. He really put documentaries on the map in mainstream television back in the early '90s and today. He's a fantastic journalist, known partially for that great deep voice, but he's also a fantastic producer. Watching him really helped me mold my craft, borrowing a few things from him and a few things from other places and really making your own craft. Everyone takes a little bit from someone else. That's what I tried to do and then made all of those pieces my own. Watching the documentary, you'll notice that this was something that we put a lot of time and vision into. I think this is a great example of the work I do because it's about storytelling and about finding those engaging characters that help portray whatever story it is that you're trying to tell.

MR: Do you have any advice that you'd like to pass along to new artists?

BS: Well, through this project, I basically got a crash course in the music business everyone knows that it's a really tough business. Between digital downloads , piracy, and people not buying music as much, it's really important to figure out what your niche is. For example, for this project, I thought that if we could team the movie with a record, we would have more success because people don't want to buy just a record now, they want something extra. It's also important to put events together, not just shows, but outreach opportunities with your tour. This album went to #1 on the Billboard jazz charts, and I think that's because we teamed this with some outreach and the TV broadcast. So, I think it's possible to succeed now, but you have to put that extra effort in. It's also important to find lots of different revenue streams because record sales are way down, so you have to go the extra mile to figure out how you're going to make money. If you want to do this for a living, you've got to figure out ways to get paid and keep the lights on. It's definitely possible, people do it every day. If you're a musician, you just have to keep striving for your craft and your passion.

MR: Do you have any new productions on the horizon right now?

BS: After working on such a fantastic film like this, you have to step it up on your next project, which is hard. But this is such a great story and it has people like Wayman and Michael Jordan in it, so it's tough to follow something like that. But I do have a documentary that I am trying to pitch on a man called Shaquille O'Neal. He's a pretty famous basketball player and coach. You may have heard of him. (laughs) I would love to do that story. I'm also throwing around a couple of ideas for musicians like Jonathan Butler and some others. It definitely has to be worthwhile, though, to follow up Wayman because he has one of those stories that's kind of hard to match.

MR: That's true. Well, thank you so much Brian for spending some time with us, discussing your film about this great athlete and musician. Best of luck to you on your next projects.

BS: Thanks so much for having me. It was my pleasure.

Tracks:

CD:
1. Tell It Like It Tis
2. The Introduction
3. Rebound
4. It s Alright
5. Ready To Hang
6. Let s Ride
7. One on One
8. Gabrielle
9. Way Up Listen
10. Slam Dunk
11. Everything in You
12. Glory Glory
13. Cryin For Me

DVD:
The Wayman Tisdale Story Documentary

Transcribed by Evan Martin

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A Conversation with The Fray's Isaac Slade

Mike Ragogna: Isaac, how are you today?

Isaac Slade: Well, Mike. Yourself?

MR: Very well as well, thanks. Let's catch everyone up on The Mighty Fray's history before we talk about the new Scars & Stories. How did you guys come to be a band?

IS: I like the name "The Mighty Fray." (laughs) We actually had some copyright infringement problems when we first started because there were other bands called The Fray. So, that could've been a good alternate name.

MR: Thanks. (laughs)

IS: We started in 2002 in a little town just outside of Denver called Arvada. I had a little band that sucked and a lot of heart, and Joe King had a really great straight up rock band that was touring around the country in a van all through High School. After both of our bands broke up, we joined forces in 2002 and played a gig for my little brother's graduation. We even put out a little fish bowl and asked for name suggestions. Somewhere between that fishbowl and the dry erase board that we put up in my room that night, we played with some band names and decided to call it The Fray. Then from 2002 to 2004, we played the hell out of Denver until everyone got tired of us. After that, we got a record deal and put a record out in 2005. Things started heating up in 2006, and being on Grey's Anatomy doubled everything that we had done. After that we sold a bunch of records, we played a bunch of shows and here we are.

MR: Grey's Anatomy did a lot as far as putting you guys out there. And it didn't hurt to have a big hit with "Over My Head (Cable Car)."

IS: Yeah, that was the first song that we got really noticed for. I had a chance meeting with a guy named Dave Herrera who writes for a local paper in Colorado called The Westword. He and I were getting dinner to pitch this cable access Wayne's World­-style public access music show that I was trying to get going. (laughs) At the end of the interview, he asked if I had anything else going and I told him that I had this band that I was working with. He came back to my studio and I played him a couple of our songs and he just fell in love with them. That was pretty awe-inspiring because we all knew of him as a writer. His was the first publicity that we, as a band, ever got. Then "Cable Car" started getting a little spin from the local ClearChannel station, which was unheard of at the time - a big, bad station like ClearChannel didn't play anything local, really, but there was a DJ named Nerf who really wanted to get us started, so he played it. After that, we started getting some good traction on the airwaves and that song became our first hit.

MR: Then, of course, you broke through internationally with "How To Save A Life."

IS: Yeah. That song came out of the first record demo when we were working on, "Cable Car." This was all before we had a record contract. Initially, I wanted it to be the last track on the record - I wanted it to be a tiny little shoe-gazer track. I was listening to a lot of really sad, pensive music and I wanted it to be like that. But the big bad Don Ienner, a record Executive for Columbia Records, thought that it could make a great single. So, he had us go back into the studio and make the drums and piano sound bigger and give the song a bigger build. We didn't really change anything except those two things and made it third on the album. Then the spaceship took off. (laughs)

MR: Then, of course, there was "You Found Me."

IS: Yeah. That was a couple of years later on our second record that came a little bit on the tail of the first record. We toured for 35 months and a lot of us got married and one of us had a kid. It was just an absolute upheaval of everything that we'd known. At the same time, a lot of our families were going through really difficult times. The economy was crashing and terrible things were happening to good people. That song kind of came out of that time and out of us trying to make sense of it all and not know how to. It was just writing a big question mark.

MR: And you guys also were on a very significant song by Timbaland. "Undertow," right?

IS: Yeah. Joe is actually friends with Timbaland and he asked Joe to write a song for him, so Joe pulled us into it. It was a lot of fun, actually.

MR: Let's not forget Christmas EP.

IS: That song actually came from that same recording session. We did that Timbaland song, and our manager was saying that we should come out with something for Christmas. We didn't want to do a full symphony album Michael Bublé style quite yet, so I just busted out seven songs and we recorded it in about two hours. It's just me and an acoustic guitar.

MR: You guys as a band have somewhat of a Christian background as well.

IS: It's funny because the things that we learned from growing up in that background are similar to the stuff that Kings of Leon learned. You kind of sniff out the real stuff and try to drop everything else behind you, and I think we did that. There is a lot of strange stuff there, but there are some really good people and they taught us some incredible things. They taught us that you only live once, and that if you want to say something you better say it well and you better say what you mean. Otherwise, you might not get another chance. And I think that that's something that came through on everything that we've done up to this point, and I think it's something that we'll carry with us in the future.

MR: Let's talk about the new album Scars & Stories. This album really is about scars and stories, isn't it.

IS: Yeah, that name actually came from a song that didn't make it onto this record. That particular song had about four verses listing all of the ex-girlfriends I've ever had in these loving little folks song couplets. The fifth verse kind of turns into a love song for my girl. It's essentially a confession of all of the things I've been through. Some things feel a little bit of a mistake, but looking back at my life, every single one of those things led me to where I am now. I also like the idea of scars, you know? Scars are kind of sexy because they mean you've lived life. You're not living in some sheltered ivory tower, you're out on the streets looking for what you want. You can get beat up when you do that. Sometimes, scars end up being an important part of a relationship - when you get to that point of confession and storytelling. Ultimately, if that person accepts you, those scars become a map to where you are now and sometimes, even a clue to where you're going.

MR: Can you tell us about "1961," like why 1961?

IS: That song came from a trip that Dillon and I took to New Orleans to try to do some writing - we rented a house and chilled down there for about a week and a half. We wrote that song about The Berlin Wall and the division it represented in regards to one unified city becoming two cities still under the covering of a country. They're both German, but in a sense, they were as far from each other as they could possibly be. I think that's how our relationships can be sometimes. Not to sound cliché, but we all as people build these walls that don't really come down until someone comes into our lives, tears them down, and says, "Enough!"

MR: And there's the song "Munich."

IS: I think "Munich" one of my favorite songs on the record. I have a sweet spot for science - I think it's one of the most artistic professions out there. There's this large particle collider out in Switzerland that is kind of helping scientists peel back the curtain on what creates gravity and mass. Some very big questions are being raised, even some things that Einstien proposed, that have just been accepted for decades are starting to be challenged. They're looking for the God Particle, basically, the particle that holds it all together. That song is really just about the mystery of why we're all here and what's holding it all together, you know?

MR: Also, can you talk about "The Fighter"?

IS: "The Fighter" was actually inspired by a Norman Rockwell painting, though I can't remember the name of the painting. I just sat down at a piano and stared at the painting. He is one of my favorite painters. It's a scene where the fighter and his opponent are going at it and there's a girl standing in the crowd shouting, "No!" I just really like the idea of this desperate and hopeless fighter trying to get through life. I think he and his girlfriend both know he's going to lose, but he has to go through with this fight. I know people like that. I'm like that.

MR: I think we're all that, really. Is there any advice that you'd like to share with new artists?

IS: I actually do some work with a local non-profit, and we have a Battle of the Bands every year and I produce a little EP for the winner of the competition. (laughs) I actually did a little three-day session in the studio with the winners recently. They're all about 19 years old, and I said to them, "We can do four or five songs if you want so that you guys have $5 EPs to sell at your shows. We can do every song you've ever written or we could just do one really good song. I think this song is the one, and I think we should get it on the radio." (laughs) The guys were a little upset because they had already planned an EP release and release party, but I told them that they were thinking too locally. I told them that I thought they were really good, and that they could totally get their song on the same station where we got our start. Really, my advice is very specific in that I believe it all comes down to one song. There will probably be one song that you're known for that will open the door for your career and that's the difference between playing shows around your hometown and getting the interest of a huge label. There are exceptions like Ani DiFranco and even O.A.R. to some extent - they don't particularly have one song that everyone knows, they just built up a grass roots fan base. If you have the financial means or patience do that, by all means go for it, otherwise, for the rest of us, it all comes down to one song. If you haven't written it yet, keep writing only because it will open doors that no other amount of sweat equity could open.

MR: What is the immediate future for The Fray?

IS: We're gonna come play this album for you! (laughs) We're coming to a town near you.

MR: Awesome. Well, Isaac, thank you so much for stopping by. It was a pleasure talking to you.

IS: Thanks so much for having me, Mike.

Tracks:
1. Heartbeat
2. The Fighter
3. Turn Me On
4. Run For Your Life
5. The Wind
6. 1961
7. I Can Barely Say
8. Munich
9. Here We Are
10. 48 To Go
11. Rainy Zurich
12. Be Still

Transcribed by Evan Martin