A Conversation with Imelda May
Mike Ragogna: Hello there, Imelda May.
Imelda May: Hello. How are you?
MR: I'm pretty good. How have you been?
IM: Doing well. This is the last day of the tour, and it's going very well. I've been very busy and very happy.
MR: Very nice. Where did the tour take you?
IM: We were in the States for a month, and then we did a few dates in Canada as well. We did our last gig in Seattle last night, and we've just arrived in Canada. I'm speaking from the bed in the tour bus, and I've literally just woken up in Canada. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Recently you were on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
MR: How much fun was that?
IM: Oh it was terrific and I enjoyed it. It was a great experience. He was very nice, and the crew was all very nice as well, so it was a terrific day. Then, we got to do Craig Ferguson, and then we got to do Conan O'Brien, who was sweet as anything. Conan came rolling into the dressing room afterward going, "I loved that music!" So, that was terrific. It all went really well.
MR: Did Conan play with you guys a little?
IM: He didn't--he was playing with his own band a little bit. Hopefully, he'll play with us a bit if we're back...he said he wants us back. I got a great kick being in the Warner Bros. studios, that was really cool. I kept singing the Looney Tunes theme song all day. I'm sure they haven't heard that one before. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Well, let's talk about the album. Now, you've technically had three, with No Turning Back, Love Tattoo, and Mayhem?
IM: I'd say two and a half.
MR: What, No Turning Back is an EP? (laughs)
IM: (laughs) In my head, I consider No Turning Back my "dipping the toe in the water" album. It was mostly covers of favorite songs, and there were three originals in there. So, it feels like it was just my album to see what the temperature of the water was. We recorded that in the bedroom on an eight-track, and I enjoyed that very much. Love Tattoo, though, was all me on songs, and I produced that, as well as Mayhem, the next album. I got into the studio and it was more organized that way. So, two and a half albums--can I say that?
MR: Of course! Let me ask you about those last two albums. They were on Universal in the States, so are you a Universal artist around the globe?
IM: Yes. Love Tattoo I recorded without a record company. I'd gotten turned down by the record companies--they said they didn't get me, which is fine I suppose. I just did my thing, and they didn't know where to put me, I think, because I have so many different styles. So, I just cracked down and made the album anyway, and that's when everything started to take off. Then, I got a call after we were on a TV show from Universal saying, "What we didn't get about Imelda before, we get now. Can we talk?" And I said, "Absolutely," so, they bought Love Tattoo off me, and then I made Mayhem.
MR: Now, Love Tattoo and Mayhem were both number one records in Ireland, right?
IM: Yep, they both went to number one. I was absolutely thrilled that they went #1 in Ireland. Mayhem went to #7 on the U.K. charts, which is quite a difficult place to get in those charts, I suppose. So, I was delighted with how it all went. They've kind of stayed in the Top Five, and certainly in the Top Ten in Ireland for months and months. It's been great.
MR: Now, you said before that labels didn't get you. How would you describe you?
IM: Ooh, I suppose my music is a mix of music that I love. In a way, I'm lucky that I was never classically trained and never went to a music college. I'm just from a normal working class family, and happened to get obsessed with music as a teenager. I went to jam sessions at clubs when I was sixteen, and my brothers would take me and make sure that I was okay. So, I never had the feeling that this music is this and this music is that, I just loved music like crazy. I suppose my music is a good chunk of rockabilly, a good chunk of country, blues, jazz, and a bit of that post punk kind of madness in there, and sometimes it's a bit traditional Irish. It's very strange in that way, but it works for me, it makes me happy, and I enjoy making music. So far, other people seem to like it, or I hope they do. Yeah, I don't know what you'd call it. Call it "mongrel." (laughs)
MR: I want to hear about some of your early musical influences. You had a lot of rockabilly heroes, right?
MR: You liked Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent?
IM: Well, as a kid, I took a cassette from my brother's room, and on this cassette was Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly. I just went mad for it. You know, at that young age, I was excited and scared by Gene Vincent's Blue Caps screaming in the background. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck--I just loved it. Then, as I got older, I listened to different music, and I got into Billie Holiday and Patsy Cline, and other classics. I learned a lot from listening to these people. Then I went back to rockabilly, after listening to The Clash, Jimi Hendrix, and all these greats, and it made rockabilly make great sense, as to where it stood in history for me. Once I started listening to others, and then listened to rockabilly again, I'd hear interviews with people like The Beatles saying they wanted to be rockabilly artists. It made it more important to me, it influenced so much of the music that I loved. So, rockabilly became a great love of mine.
MR: Nice. Now, you performed at the 52nd Grammy Awards with Jeff Beck, right?
IM: Yeah, that was a great day, and I had a terrific time. I got to work with Jeff, who is one of the most genius guitar players in the world. Incidentally, Les Paul's son was telling us that Les said that if he ever had to have his music played by anybody, it would be Jeff Beck. So, that shows you how great Jeff is, if a genius like Les nods to him. To be asked to play with Jeff was brilliant, but most of all, it was brilliant to play a tribute to a genius like Les Paul, who invented the solid body guitar, as well as the multi-tracking system, which we take so much for granted now. It felt like a whirlwind of a day, but it was amazing.
MR: Very nice. Did you bond with folks backstage?
IM: Yeah, there were loads of people backstage. I got into the queue for the photographers between Mary J. Blige, Pink, and Nicole Kidman, and The Jonas Brothers' skipped the queue and Mary J. Blige and Pink were talking like mad--I thought that was very funny. I met Alice Cooper, who I love. There was a funny moment when we were going on stage. Apparently, Quentin Tarantino and John Legend were in the makeup room, and my manager was standing nearby. I guess when I went out to sing they were saying, "Who is that girl?" He heard them, and he just started screaming at the top of his lungs, "It's Imelda May!"
MR: (laughs) What a great moment for you. Getting back to your love of rockabilly music for just a moment, you have "I'm Looking For Someone To Love," which you contributed to the new tribute album, Listen To Me: Buddy Holly, right?
IM: Yeah, I was very delighted to be asked to do that. The lovely Peter Asher was putting together this great album. I can't tell you what a lovely man he is. I love Buddy Holly, and he was not only a great singer and songwriter, but he was a great producer, and I'm interested in producing also. I'm interested in people who create the whole music and the whole sound, and Buddy Holly is definitely one of them. Eddie Cochran was another. It was great to be on this tribute to Buddy Holly, and I love that song, "I'm Looking For Someone To Love." The band and I had a great day in the studio, and Peter Asher as well, and we had a great day playing the music. Buddy Holly is a very, very terrific man.
MR: You sound like you're in love.
IM: I know. He really got right in there to the roots of the music, and produced a whole sound that is really recognizable as his own, even now, you know?
MR: Yeah. Speaking of other projects, you were also on the "Children In Need" single with a few artists, right?
IM: Yeah. I'm always up for doing anything for the kids, and that was great to be involved in that. I'm involved in a charity in Ireland called Make A Wish who make the wishes of very ill children come true. I've just written a song for that called "Make A Wish." I don't know what will happen to that song. I just sent it to Ireland and said, "If you want to use it, then all profits will go to you." Hopefully, they can make some money off of it, and send some kids to Disneyland, or to swim with dolphins, or whatever it is that they want to do while they're having such a tough time.
MR: Very nice. Now, you wrote most of the tracks on Mayhem. What is your creative process like?
IM: Well, I wrote thirteen of them. One was a cover, "Tainted Love," and then the other one, "Eternity," isn't mine--that's Darrel Higham, my husband. I stole that off of him when I heard it because I was like, "Oh my God, I have to have that on the album." But the rest of the songs are me. For the creative process, mostly the melody and the lyrics come at the same time. I'll get a tune in my head while I'm mostly daydreaming--you know, when your mind is wandering? Then, I sit down with the guitar and start to arrange the song properly. I have a little ukulele guitar, and I recently also bought a beautiful little Martin, so I work out the songs and arrange them on that. Sometimes, I just write down ideas for a song and then I get back to them later, but I normally have at least two or three songs rattling around in my brain at any one time. I'm just trying to get the time, at the moment, to sit down and finish them off. Once I've finished them, then I get together with the guys and walk it through with my terrific band. I have a very patient band because I know exactly what I want, and I have to go through every bit with them--and they add a lot to it. Then, we get into the studio and record it. Darrel comes up with some terrific guitar riffs too.
MR: Imelda, what advice might you have for new artists?
IM: Oooh, that's a good one. I would say just enjoy yourself. The main thing is to enjoy yourself. Just enjoy every moment of it. Work hard. Looks are only a small part of it, and hard work is the backbone of it. Once you enjoy your work, you don't mind putting in 16 hours in the studio--I absolutely love that, very much. I would say, just follow your heart--actually I got that advice from the wonderful Dr. John. I was making the album, and I was arguing my case with the record company to produce my own album, which is not the normal procedure, and I think they were freaking out a little bit, worrying. I really wanted to produce it because I knew how I wanted it to sound and I had all these ideas to do. I met Dr. John and was chatting with him and he gave me some terrific advice about following what's in your heart, and what's in your gut. I fought tooth and nail to produce it, and I'm so glad that I did. In the end, the record company became very supportive and backed me up. So, I will pass Dr. John's message along and say follow your heart. Don't be afraid to make mistakes is the other thing I'd say. There are all these TV shows for music at the moment, and I worry about people that go on things like that because they don't get a chance to make mistakes, and they get watched and judged on everything they do. For me, the way I came up was a terrific way--gigging, meeting a lot of friends, meeting a lot of musicians, making mistakes when nobody was looking and learning from them, and thoroughly enjoying it. So, those music TV shows are a small way of getting into the music business, but there are many other ways of getting involved in it. For me, enjoyment and the love of it is the absolute heart and soul of it.
MR: Wow. That is one of the best answers I've gotten to that question.
IM: Oh, thank you very much. I can only answer the truth from what I've lived.
MR: Imelda, this has really been a joy. Keep us up to date about what you're doing out there. It's a really wonderful album, you do a lot of different styles on there, all of them enjoyable.
IM: Yeah, why not? I think most people have a varied taste in music, and I hope they come along on this madness with me. Somebody said once to me, "I don't know what it is, but I love it," and that's the best answer I could get. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. I'm sorry I sound like I might have smoked for eighty years, but I don't smoke, I just woke up, so sorry I sound so off.
MR: (laughs) Stop, you sound great. Imelda, thank you very much for your time, and all the best.
1. Pulling the Rug
4. Kentish Town Waltz
5. All For You
7. Inside Out
8. Proud and Humble
9. Sneaky Freak
10. Bury My Troubles
11. Too Sad to Cry
12. I'm Alive
13. Let Me Out
14. Tainted Love
15. Johnny Got a Boom Boom - bonus track
16. Hidden track accessible via computer: Inside Out - remix
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with Trevor Hall
Mike Ragogna: We're very glad to have Trevor Hall here with us today to discuss his newest album entitled Everything Everytime Everywhere. Trevor, how are you?
Trevor Hall: I'm doing well, thanks for having me.
MR: My pleasure. Your music is so eclectic and this album is no exception, was it your goal to have this album come across as a sort of music cycle?
TH: Not really, no. Usually, when I get into the studio, we just kinda lay down whatever song we come up with. Then somehow by the end, it all just kind of flows together. I did have the idea this time before going in to make this album more of a story with segues and everything. I had a rough outline, but I didn't plan it out too much because I like to give the music the freedom to do what it wants.
MR: This is your second album with the label, right?
TH: Yeah, this is my second with the label. The album is being released on August 23rd, and we're on the road promoting it right now.
MR: Great. Let's talk about a few of the songs. Can you tell me the story behind the song "Brand New Day"?
TH: That's kind of a funny story, actually. (laughs) I was writing songs and doing demos of them for the label, and they kept telling me that they needed a single that was going to be a radio-friendly song. I was like, "Oh, man." (laughs) So, I remember staying up late one night and at around two or three in the morning, I started writing "Brand New Day." I went in and did a demo thinking that I just needed to get them an upbeat song and something that people would really listen to. That previous day, I had been reading the words of some ancient mystic from India, and I came across that phrase, "Don't fall asleep in the snow..." And so I kind of based a whole song off of that idea. It's about waking up, shaking off your ignorance, and rising to a new day.
MR: Kind of along those same lines, you have the song "Good Rain."
TH: Well, a lot of time when I'm writing, the music will come first. The music really gives me the vibe and then I kind of write the words based off of that. That one was written with the producer Jamie Messer. After we got the music down, I went home with it and I knew it felt like a really simple song, and I felt like the lyrics should be the same, just really simple and honest. Those lyrics mainly just came about from hearing the tone of the song and recording it that way.
MR: Nice. Another one of your songs showcases a fun play on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, called "Dr. Seuss."
TH: Again, that was a song where the music was written first, and the sound was kind of fun...almost psychedelic, you know? And the producer just brought up the idea for the song because he had just read the book to his kids the night before. I'm actually a big Dr. Seuss fan, and I've collected those books for a little while, so we decided to make a song about the variety of life. There are so many different kinds of people, attitudes, and emotions that we wanted to showcase that in a song. We wanted to show that at the end of the day, none of that stuff really matters. Let's all just laugh and have a good time, you know? That's kind of the theme of the song.
MR: Recording this song had to put a big smile on your face, didn't it?
TH: Oh yeah. We had a great time recording that one. That was probably one of the most fun songs to make and record.
MR: Let's talk about what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful song on this album and that is, "All I Ever Know." Can you tell us about where that song came from?
TH: "All I Ever Know" is a song about, not necessarily another person, it may even be an idea. It's about knowing once you've found that person or belief or rock, no storm or disaster can tear you down because you're rooted in the firm foundation. It's like you've become a mountain--nothing can move you. That song is about having that foundation of love, you know? Whatever happens it doesn't matter because you have this firm foundation to stand on.
MR: At the end of the song there's someone speaking, who is that?
TH: That's an old recording of a monk in India reading the words of Swami Vivekananda. He's talking about being in that place of peace and understanding, on that firm foundation. It's about being in a place beyond your own worries, so I thought it was a great icing on the cake for that song.
MR: Can you talk for a second about the meaning behind your song "Different Hunger"?
TH: Well, it's not a physical hunger, obviously. It's a hunger for that supreme love and that quality of the heart, and the only thing that can satisfy that hunger is that sort of divine love, you know? What I meant when I said, "If it ain't in here, it won't be there..." is that I think we're searching for happiness and everything outside of ourselves when the truth is that everything outside of us is constantly changing. So, we're never going to be able to find that permanent, everlasting peace if we're always searching for it outside. The only thing we need to do is turn inward and look within ourselves. Once we do that, that hunger will finally be satisfied.
MR: That's a great message. You've also done some touring with interesting performers including Jimmy Cliff, Colbie Caillat, and Matisyahu. Can you tell us what it's like to be on the road versus in the studio for you?
TH: Well, playing live is what it's all about. It's where you get to share the music first hand and see their reactions. You get to make a connection, you know? I've been lucky to play in front of lots of different types of crowds, so it's been really nice.
MR: Great. You also got to record the song "Fire" with Cherine Anderson, didn't you?
TH: Yeah, that's one of my favorites on the record. That came about because a friend of mine was describing another friend and he said, "That girl is fire, everything she touches burns." (laughs) I kind of thought that that was a fun line so I ran with it. But the song is actually about that kind of feminine power and how it can be really strong. You've gotta respect it or else it's gonna burn you up. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) That's great. How did you meet?
TH: Well, I met Cherine because we were both touring with Michael Franti, she was playing in his band. We really wanted to get a female on that song, and when the subject came up, I immediately thought of Cherine and we worked it out.
MR: Nice. I also wanted to congratulate you because recently, MTV's Subway Fresh Buzz just named you one of the 20 best emerging artists.
TH: (laughs) Thanks. Yeah, that's pretty cool but I try not to pay attention to that type of thing. I wouldn't want that to make me feel like I was better than anybody else. I'm not really into rating and competition and stuff, I just like to do what makes me feel good. If it makes others feel good as well, then that's a success for me.
MR: What advice would you give to new artists?
TH: Well, I would say to artists that once you get into the music scene and get your music heard, you're going to have a lot of different opinions coming your way. Everyone is going to have an opinion--your record label, your manager, your producer, you, your band. Sometimes, that can get to be a little too much to deal with and you might find yourself asking which person you're going to try and satisfy. My advice would be to always, always go with your heart and what you think and feel is best for the music. No matter how much pressure you get from other folks, it's your music and you have to do what you feel is right. You should still be open to everyone's opinions, and if you hear something that you feel is beneficial, take it. But if not, then you need to try not to think too much about upsetting another person and be committed to your music.
MR: Trevor, I want to thank you so much for the interview and good luck with the new album.
TH: Thanks so much, Mike. It was great being here.
2. The Return
3. Brand New Day
4. Fire (feat. Cherine Anderson)
5. All I Ever Know
6. Different Hunger
7. Dr. Seuss
8. Te Amo
9. Good Rain
10. The Love Wouldn't Die
11. The Mountain - hidden track
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
A Conversation with Motopony's Daniel Blue and Buddy Ross
Mike Ragogna: Daniel and Buddy, how would you describe your group Motopony's music?
Daniel Blue: Smooth glitch psyche folk soul and roll.
MR: (laughs) Daniel, how do you work your fashion talents into the group's image and music?
DB: I designed the symbols and the logo for the band as well as worked as an artistic director/wardrobe dude on some of our photo-shoots. On stage, it's every man for herself.
MR: Buddy, are you responsible for all the instrumentation on the debut album?
Buddy Ross: Yeah. On all but a couple songs--"I Am My Body," "Vetiver," I had Daniel come into my studio, The Panther Palace, and track his 3-string guitar and his vocals. I then spent a couple months alone with them, adding programmed drums, bass lines...basically, anything you hear on there that isn't acoustic guitar. I also wrote a few of the electric guitar lines, but had our friend Nigel Ledgerwood from the Portland band, 1776, actually played them as well as editing together a bunch of tasty original licks he played. Same with the drums. I programmed all of them, then went to a studio and had our friend Ryan Peterson play the same parts with real drums, as well as adding some of his original flavor dancing in and around the loops. I think that's one thing that makes the drums pretty unique sounding. They are a blend of old soul samples, and real live drums playing the same beats. That's what gave the record a lot of that lo-fi sound. I also mixed the record. Daniel's simplistic renditions really allowed me to do what I do best, which is weave all the parts together in a way only one can do by writing them all.
MR: Much of the subject matter on the songs is surreal. Where are these images coming from?
DB: In general, I find metaphor to be surreal in and of itself. I have a "real" thing or feeling that has happened and I build a word picture, or a wordworld for this event, idea or object to exist within. The successful artist or poet or songster is creating something inside of your mind, using thoughts and energy that he/she does not own. This creative action--and hopeful subsequent participation from the listener--in these "unreal" worlds is perhaps the most really surreal experience I can imagine. To me, "song itself" is surreal.
Specifically to this album, these images came from me saying, "What did I see in my mind when such and such happened," or "What thing does it look/feel like when I saw/felt that?" I seek to link familiar scents in the halls of my mind, in hopes that your mind is at least vaguely similar in construction and operation. I think, "A leaf is like a table is like a stage is like a fishbowl is like a cage is like a riverbank." The tighter the association in my own mind, the more or less likely I feel you will gain some meaning from my mouth forming sounds forming words forming ideas forming pictures forming places set to strategic vibrations forming song.
MR: Wow. What's the creative process like?
DB: It's like life, man. What's life like? Life is like a chalk of boxed lets. An endless mystery.
BR: On this record, it wasn't completely collaborative right away. Like I said, I got Daniel's really simple renditions of his songs, and chipped away at them by myself in my studio. I'd then email him versions as they came to a presentable point. I think I personally really thrive being alone, and being able to dance around in my underwear when I first come up with the real "feel" of the music. But looking forward, now that we have a full band, there are several different avenues of creating. There are some new songs coming down the line that are just Daniel and his guitar again, but we also have some ideas that we as a band came up with together while all at our instruments. Thanks to modern technology, we've managed to capture most of our spontaneous ideas on iPhones as we come up with them. There are also now some songs that are basically instrumentals that I've made that Daniel is writing to too, kind of the exact opposite of how we did the last record, where the music is basically almost done and just needs vocals. Safe to say, we have several different ways we could go on a new record. All are equally as exciting.
MR: How did Motopony form?
DB: A stormy night on the Ides of March, 2009...we took the engine out of a '74 Harley Davidson and pushed it into the ribcage of a dying palomino. It was a bloody mess, but the lightning striking the barn caught the bio-diesel on fire...and the thing was spooked to life.
BR: I met Daniel while producing a record back in like 2004, I think. He had tagged along with the artist to help with lyrics as it was a benefit album for cancer, and Daniel had experienced the personal loss of his mother to cancer. We connected then, but never really stayed in contact. In 2009, I had worked on another album for that same artist, and he invited me to a songwriter's dinner party where I ran into Daniel there. We kinda played some songs in the round, and Daniel played "June". I was pretty intrigued by his voice and performance especially in front of such a small audience.
I played off my iPhone a horror-electro track I made, and I think made the same impression on Daniel. And from there, he started sending me songs and I did my thing to them. I was really excited about what the music was turning out to sound like. I had honestly given up on being in a band, but knew that the songs we made together wouldn't translate live unless I was to front the backing band. So, I called my friends and we started learning all the parts. And the rest is history!
MR: Do you feel that you represent the new Seattle sound?
DB: Like ambassadors from another planet, we ride our spaceship to worlds far older than ours...and offer them the audible fruits of a life loved in the hyper-green forests and salty-deep sounds, where the mountains meet the ocean in a jungle of pine. We aren't depressed anymore...since we realized that our mother favors us with rain. A mystic storm brews all up and down the West Coast...we usher in an era of magic commodified and true power revealed.
BR: I think we have generated enough of a following here that we might play a part in sculpting what is the new "Seattle Sound," but really there's so much coming out of Seattle right now, it's hard to pinpoint what that sound actually is. From Fleet Foxes, Shabazz Palaces, and Pickwick, I feel that good music is good music, and Seattle has a lot of good music coming out of it right now. So hopefully, we can be defined as unique and creative, because I feel that's what defines a lot of the artists coming up here right now.
MR: Which songs on the album are the most personal to you and why?
DB: "June." It is the story of how I became myself.
BR: Since I didn't write any of the lyrics, I think the song that holds the most weight in how it was created was "Euphoria," that was the only song I didn't work on alone. Daniel showed me it almost as we were packing up after tracking drums, which we did at the end of the recording process, and we just went in and did it in three takes together. Having only just heard it for the first time, it was a special moment tracking it with Daniel live, and I'm excited to explore a more collaborative style of creating like that on the next record.
MR: Where are you touring?
DB: This year, we have scheduled dates in much of the United States of America and some places in Canada. We hope to see the world.
BR: All Over! We're doing a few shows late august in the northwest with Daniel Johnston, and actually playing as his backing band too. And then Bumbershoot here in Seattle before we head out for likely 3 months, hitting the northeast from Toronto, all the way down to DeLuna Fest in Pensacola, and everywhere in between. It's probably best if y'all just keep up on our website as that's what I have to do to keep up.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
DB: Foster a partnership with the Author of your craft. Surrender to that which chooses to come through you for good. Choose to come through your highest self. Believe that art is magic and it waits with great expectation for a willing channel to manifest itself. Hope for your desire, but release the end result. Learn the beauty of opposites in harmony. Work toward healthy relationships with all that is around you.
BR: CREATE! In the back of my mind, I always felt I could go far, but that wasn't my focus. My focus has always been to just create, experiment, and explore. For the sole fact that the process of creating something new is what drives me, I never felt higher than when I'm sitting there as a brand new idea takes shape, something no one else has ever heard. So, I would say just strive to find that place where you are excited about what you're making. That's all that matters. And when other people start to like it, it's just cool because they are sharing in that feeling that you get when you're making it.
2. King of Diamonds
4. I Am My Body
7. God Damn Girl
8. Wait for Me
10. Wake Up