A Conversation with Tedeschi Trucks Band's Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks
Mike Ragogna: Why, it's the dynamic duo of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks with their debut album Revelator. So, first things first...how are you?
Susan Tedeshi: We're great, Mike. Thanks for having us.
MR: Let's talk about "Come See About Me." It's the perfect track to start off this album.
ST: It is such a great song. That's one of those songs that after we wrote it, we went in and recorded a working demo that wound up being our final. It was just one of those magic moments that you sometimes have where the band is having a blast and has a really good time. That comes through in the music. I always liked it because I thought it sounded like Little Feat meets...I don't even know what. I don't have a really good way to describe it. (laughs) It's got good energy, it's really upbeat, and it's a lot of fun, and Derek just plays the heck out of it. I love his guitar playing on that song.
MR: What was the process like recording this album? Did you basically go in and play live and build on that?
ST: Well, it was one of those experiences where we kind of wrote the record as we were going. We had written a bunch of music together as a band and thought we had the record all figured out. Then, we started writing with some other songwriters. Derek and I got together with writers like John Leventhal, Gary Louris from The Jayhawks, David Ryan Harris who is a fabulous singer-songwriter, Oliver Wood from The Wood Brothers, Jeff Trott, and the list goes on and on. There were a lot of great songwriters that came down to our house that we got to write with, and as we were writing with these people, we just kept writing songs that were kicking our original songs off the list, maybe because those songs were fresh, I'm not sure. The songs were really great, and it was just one of those things where we would write the song and the next day, the band would come in and we would show them the song and then record it. A lot of the time, at that pace, those tracks ended up going right on the record. So, we just had a lot of luck with this band--they're just so versatile and talented. We tried out a lot of different things, and basically, just went into the studio we built in the backyard of our house and worked on the record. A lot of the stuff went down in the first or second take when it came to basics, and then we would build on top of it. Maybe even some of the original vocals stuck.
MR: Beyond you on the vocals and Derek on the guitar, who were some of the other people that visited your backyard studio?
ST: Well, of course, The Burbridge Brothers are on the record. They're also on tour with us. We have an 11-piece band on tour with us right now and everybody out on the road is on the record. That's actually a very unique thing. Usually, you have a different horn or background vocals that you use on the tour, but this is actually the touring band that's on the record. The only people that were on the record that didn't join us on the tour are some of the songwriters like David Ryan Harris and Oliver Wood...they sang on the record as well. We have two fabulous drummers--J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenlaw III, aka "The Falcon." We have Mark Rivers and Mike Mattison singing beautiful vocals--you can hear them singing on "Come See About Me." Then, there are the horns. We have Kebbi Williams on tenor sax, Maurice Brown on trumpet, and Saunders Sermons on trombone. It's just a blast. It's a really fun band and it's pretty much the same group that was in the studio.
MR: Nice. Is seems like the reason that everyone is now on tour with you is because it was a so much fun recording the album. Is that a safe assumption?
ST: Yeah. It was a very fun record to make. I think the key element on making this album, though, is Bobby Tis who is our guitar tech and monitor engineer on the road, but in the studio, he's an engineer and he's fabulous. He has an amazing ear and really great taste--he's very talented. So, he and Derek, along with producer Jim Scott who is also an outstanding veteran in the industry, did an amazing job putting together this record. I'm very proud of it, and I think they really captured the essence of the band on record, which is really hard to do.
MR: Derek, why do you think this album retained such an "honest" feel?
Derek Trucks: Well, I think a lot of that is the maturity of everybody that's on the record. We kind of formed this band in our home studio, so the band is really comfortable playing in that room. A lot of times, you get a live band that's used to just playing on the road and then you get them in the studio and you get that sterile vibe. Since this band has played a little more in the studio and really found its chemistry in that room where we recorded, you feel that comfort and musical honesty where everyone knows where everything sits and you're not second-guessing it. Also, I think recording the songs right after we wrote them gave it a real freshness as well, you know, because that way, you're getting the first take on an idea. And the way Jim Scott and Bobby Tis are creating records is just classic--there are no frills, you don't over EQ things, you just get great sounds and you let the musicians create music. It's a really simple equation. But you have to have people who can really play and listen to be able to do that. Having the right chemistry is right as well. We spent a good year and a half putting this band together and making sure the chemistry was right, and it really peeked when we started recording this record. It was great to be able to catch the ideas fresh and it kept the band's chemistry really fresh. I'm really happy with the way it all came together.
MR: At this point in time, why did Tedeschi and Trucks finally merge talents for a full album ?
DT: Well, we've been talking about it since we got together 10 years ago. But I really think the timing wasn't right until now, you know? We were so busy with our solo careers and having kids and raising a family that this was the first time that we could take a deep breath and do it right. I think, personally and in our relationship, we've matured to a point where it just seemed like the right thing to do. The timing couldn't have been better. My group was together for 16 years, so it was kind of the right time to take a little break from that too. We just have so many musical similarities in our background that we really felt like we'd find the right place. We took our time with it, we didn't rush into it, because we wanted to make it right musically rather than just doing it because it seemed like it was right on paper. (laughs) We wanted to make sure that musically it was really flying and holding its own. We did a New Year's show in Jacksonville, and that was the first time that we had the 11-piece band together and it really took off. That's when I knew we were fully onto something.
MR: When you first begin listening to this record and you hear Susan's vocals, you could just assume that this was a Susan Tedeschi album. But because of the arrangement and the way your guitar joins her vocals you can really see that this is a duet album, would you agree?
DT: Oh yeah. And it's a band album, too. There are so many talented musicians on the album, but everybody really just supports the tune, serves the song, and serves the group. That's a rare thing especially with really great players. It's nice that we found the right group of people that are willing to just do whatever it takes to make the song king, and if there's room to do anything on top of that, you add it. Really, the album is just the tip of the iceberg. The live shows have really started to break open and go in a different direction, but that's the exciting part--starting with great songs and knowing that you can always build upon that. With good musicians, you can make any song sound good, but with this album, we wanted to make sure we started with really strong tunes, which is why we ended up writing 35-40 tunes before we landed on the ones we cut on the record.
ST: I agree. To reiterate what Derek said, this album was such a group effort. It's such a fabulous effort by so many people. This album is more polished and professional, and I think this is really the first time that a record has actually captured my voice the way that it really sounds.
MR: That's very interesting, especially your having been nominated for five or six Grammy's in you career.
ST: Yeah, five or six.
MR: (laughs) Nice. Susan, what does a creative session between you and Derek look like?
ST: Basically, we'll grab a bunch of guitars and go out to the studio, and if anyone has an idea, maybe a guitar riff or a hook or a melody idea, we kind of start from there. We all just sit around in a circle and throw ideas out from there. Someone might say, "Oh, that's really cool. But can we try it in this key?" or whatever, and it's just really a free-for-all. It's whatever anybody is feeling. There's no specific way to start it, usually it just starts from somebody having an idea.
MR: How did you end up with Sony Masterworks?
DT: Well, I was signed to Columbia in 1999, which is also Sony. Since then, I've just been kind of bounced around. We somehow survived all of the cuts that the labels have been through in the last few years. We found a great team of people at Masterworks who were very musical and very in-tune with us, and we just kind of ended up there. I mean, it worked out for the best, we're really fortunate. We have people in our corner at the label, which is really rare these days. It's always been rare, but even more so now. We have high hopes for us here, you know? They're supportive all the way down to picking the right producer and spending the right amount of time on an album. It's great being able to take the time to be meticulous with the sound so that when you cut the vinyl, it sounds right, you know? You only get out of this what you put in, so it was nice this time around to make sure everything was perfect. I have a test pressing of the vinyl at home and it's just such a beautiful wide sound. It's pretty exciting.
MR: Did you ever wish, while listening to the test pressing, that vinyl was still the primary medium of music?
DT: I do think that, actually. (laughs) People listen to vinyl differently--it's interactive. You've got to get your ass out of your seat and turn it over after 22 minutes, and it makes you listen to the album as a whole. (laughs) I think when you're downloading things digitally, it's really easy to get a little bit ADD and blow past songs without giving them the time that they need to mature, you know? I know I listen a lot more intently when I'm listening to vinyl. So, in some ways, I wish it was back to that--we'd have more of a captive audience. But it's 2011, so you have to be willing to do both.
MR: Now, this is such a solid album that it's kind of hard to pick a song to get into the minutia of, but let's start with one of my favorites, "Midnight In Harlem."
ST: Well, that's a beautiful song, and it was mostly written by Mike Mattison. Mike is an outstanding songwriter and he's really one of my favorite current songwriters. He wrote "Midnight In Harlem" and "Bound For Glory," those are songs where Derek and I wrote the arrangements and worked closely with him on them. But for those two, I would have to give credit to Mike. "Learn How To Love" was an idea that Eric Krasno had. He had been writing it with some friends of his, Adam Deitch and a couple of other guys, and they came to us with a riff and we wrote the lyrics and the form. So, these songs happened all different ways.
MR: This album is sequenced in such a way that by the time you get to "Until You Remember," you've almost built this beautiful story arc.
ST: (laughs) Yeah, that's true, and there's definitely an art to putting the order of an album together, and I give Derek and all of the guys credit for that because we've definitely switched it around a billion times until it felt right, until you really want to play it again and again. There's definitely an art to that.
MR: Derek, which songs are your favorites on this album?
DT: You know, I've got to say that I listened to this album more than anything else I've ever worked on, and different songs float to the surface at different times for me. I can't say that there's one time that I listened to the album that I've wanted to skip past one of the tunes, which is really rare. But there are certain moments that definitely stick out. "Midnight In Harlem" is an amazing tune and there's some beautiful interplay between the guitar and voice in "These Walls." The song with David Ryan Harris was also amazing and I really love the Oliver Wood tune "Ball And Chain." But, you know, different days, different songs, different attitudes. (laughs)
MR: And I imagine that's how it was when you were recording as well.
DT: Completely. When we got together with each songwriter, it would just be the three of us--myself, Susan, and the songwriter with a couple of acoustic guitars and Susan singing. We would just kind of run through things. But we made a point not to force it in any one direction and just based it on how everyone was feeling that day. With the guys that we were working with, it was so creative that there was really never a dull moment. I look forward to going back to those tight songwriting sessions where there are three or four ideas a day and seeing if we can delve right into those. As soon as you finish a record, you're thinking about the next one because it takes a year to put one together and get it out there, so by the time you take a break, you're already behind the curve. (laughs)
MR: But you have 30 or 40 songs so you have about three albums here!
DT: Yeah, we've got a good head start on the next one, for sure. (laughs)
MR: Of course, I have to ask, did you use your Gibson SG re-issue for this album?
DT: Yeah, for most of it. I have an old vintage Firebird that I used on some of it as well, which is just a great sounding guitar.
MR: Derek, you've also worked with The Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Joe Walsh, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, and you toured with The Rolling Stones. Do you bring any of those other artists' styles to your playing and recordings?
DT: Yeah, especially in the case of The Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton where I was on the road with them for an extended period of time. Their styles definitely become a part of who you are, you know? And that music was really the first kind of music that I dug into as a child, so the influence is always there.
MR: Duane Allman was one of your earliest musical inspirations, right?
DT: Yeah, he was a huge influence on me, and getting to play that music with those bands and those artists gives you a different perspective and a greater respect too.
MR: Susan, you were also one of the Founding Mothers of Lilith Fair, weren't you?
ST: Yeah, I sure was.
MR: Now, you both were child prodigies as performers--Susan, you were understudying on Broadway at age six, and Derek you were turning heads in the music industry at age nine. What was that like?
DT: You know, that's a pretty common thing with music. I think people gravitate towards music very early. I also think your brain, at that age, is just open to absorbing anything. Kofi Burbridge, who plays keyboard and flute in our band, was a total prodigy early on as well. I think it can be a pretty common thing. My daughter just started playing violin, and it's amazing to see how quick they can pick up on those kinds of things if they're wired for it.
MR: Will you guys be touring for this album?
DT: Well, we just got back from Australia and New Zealand, and we started a West Coast tour in the States. So, we're touring with a lot of music for this record. We're even doing some of the songs that didn't make it. It's helps us keep the set list fresh.
MR: That's great. Oh yeah, how does it feel to be named one of Rolling Stone's Greatest Guitarists of All Time?
DT: It's funny because it's never something that you would expect and I try not to put too much stock in things like that. There are some great people on the list and then there are some omissions like Albert King that make me think it can't be that accurate. (laughs) You don't take that stuff to heart too much. I mean, it's nice to be a part of the conversation, but you have to be your own worst critic. (laughs)
MR: Derek, what's the story behind you being discovered as a musician?
DT: Well, I bought a guitar at a garage sale when I was nine years old and just took to it quickly. My dad played a little and he had a few friends that gigged around town, so he asked them to give me a few lessons, and then I started sitting in at the local blues bar on Mondays and Thursdays. It was sort of an open mic. So, I would play two nights a week and that led to touring with local blues bands at nine years old. Then, one thing just led to another. It really was just getting out there and doing it. You know, at that age, you don't really think about it, you don't think about what's possible or how fast you're supposed to progress. If you enjoy it, you do it, and if you hear something and you can emulate it, or if you hear sounds in your head and you can find them on the guitar, then it's kind of a game at nine years old. It's just something I took to, you know? And now I see what my kids do. They have the kinds of minds where they'll hear something and they want to go find it on the keyboard or on the guitar. It's a lot of fun. At that point, it was just something that I enjoyed doing, but it wasn't something that I started taking seriously until years later.
MR: When you're songwriting, do you hear the guitar part in your head as you're writing?
DT: Yeah. A lot of times, there'll be little melodies that immediately pop into your head that you know are going to be incorporated. Other times, you know it's a framework that's wide open for improvisation over the top of the base of the song, it's kind of riding that fine line. Sometimes, you imagine it and other times, you just have a blank canvas that you know will work well for whatever you can create. It depends on the tune, really.
MR: Where do you think that inspiration stems from?
DT: I think it comes from that collective well of all of the music that you've listened to over the years. Sometimes, it's an emotion getting across; sometimes, its some nameless thing; and sometimes, it's music that you grew up with. The beauty of improvisation is that you play things and they'll be familiar and you're not sure why, and maybe a few days later, it hits you where that inspiration came from. It may be some obscure solo you listened to 10 years ago. (laughs) That's why you have to be careful what you listen to because it all stays in there somewhere. You have to make sure that you put the right raw materials in there (laughs)
MR: Out of all of the people you've toured with, which experiences were your favorites?
DT: I would say my solo group and this group. When you're really close with the group, it makes it a lot more fun. It's like a band field trip when you get 10 or 12 people moving in the same direction. It's a fun way to travel. I also really enjoyed being on the road with Eric Clapton. That was a great run. and me and Dolye Bramhall, the other guitar player, became running buddies. So, that tour was a lot of fun, getting to do 23 countries in a year was amazing. You get a lot of sightseeing in. (laughs)
MR: And speaking of Eric Clapton, he sought you out to play with his band.
DT: Yeah, that was actually through Doyle. Clapton was looking for another guitar player to incorporate into the band, and Doyle had given Eric a few of our records. That was the original connection. I had been on the road for quite a while by then, though. It was still really unexpected to get the Eric Clapton cell phone call saying that he wanted me to come out and play on his record, which then, of course, turned into a year on tour. It's not something you expect, for sure. That's definitely on the short list of the most exciting things that's ever happened to me.
MR: How do you guys think you've changed from being child prodigies to the artists you are now?
ST: For me, I would say having a family. A lot of the girls that I started Lilith Fair with went on to do bigger things in the music industry, but then fell behind in putting a family together. Some of them did, but not all. I just feel like I've grown so much as a person, not just as a musician. Honestly, I just keep enjoying playing music and making records and meeting a lot of wonderful people. I continue to do what I love to do and I feel so lucky to be involved in all of it. I feel really blessed in that way, and one of the great things about being a parent is the fact that it gives you so many more things to draw from for your music, because in the old days, you wrote about relationships, you know, or whatever you'd experienced until that point. (laughs) Life is nothing but a bunch of experiences, and all music is just writing about those experiences.
MR: How about you, Derek?
DT: Well, I think my sound and the attack is similar and the idealistic outlook is still the same, but you do a lot of living between 12 and 31 and having a family, like Susan said. (laughs) There's a maturity now. I think my favorite artists are the ones who mature properly. You go through so many phases and then really try to distil all of that down into a potent sound and approach to the instrument. That's what I'm going for, and that's where you hope to end up.
MR: So, where do you see yourself in another three or four years?
DT: Just charging down the road, you know? I mean, that's really what we do. I'm not going to be like some of the greats doing 300 dates every year for 40 years, but we're musicians and we tour and we play. We just keep making records and doing our things.
ST: Well, I hope to see us playing bigger venues and having the kids out with us full time. Home-schooling them on the road. Just doing what we're doing now, but with more money. (laughs)
MR: What advice do you guys have for new artists?
ST: I would say don't get frustrated. Just keep working at it, you know? It's a really tough time right now, so don't expect to sell millions of records or have the price of gas go down anytime soon. (laughs) Try to book a lot of stuff nearby. (laughs) Honestly, just write your heart out every day and get out there and do it and love it, and if you don't love it, I don't really know how to speak to that. Just do it 'cause you love it, and don't get frustrated. It'll get better.
DT: Yeah. I think that once you get the bug for this, you have to realize that it's a life-long study. Hopefully, it doesn't come too quick and easy...in my opinion, you're better prepared when it's a slower build to this level. Just be willing to hit the road and do it. The real way to make your career work hasn't changed in years and that's to get out there and work and cut records and take your lumps and roll down the road. The old paying your dues adage is true. You just have to be willing to strap in and know that it's not the best way to make a living, you know? Tom Dowd, a legendary producer, used to always joke that in the music business, you can't make a living, but you can get rich. (laughs) So, you have to be willing to not make a living and keep doing it. (laughs) All of the people in this band made that choice very young. They were going to do it regardless of successes. Once you get in that mindset, everything else is icing. If it does happen to work out, you're really pumped.
MR: Susan and Derek, thank you so much for sharing your stories and your music, it was really great.
DT: Thank you very much, Mike.
ST: It was our pleasure.
1. Come See About Me
2. Don't Let Me Slide
3. Midnight in Harlem
4. Bound for Glory
5. Simple Things
6. Until You Remember
7. Ball and Chain
8. These Walls
9. Learn How to Love
10. Shrimp and Grits (Interlude)
11. Love Has Something Else to Say
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
A Conversation with Sony Masterworks' Alex Miller
Mike Ragogna: Alex Miller, head of Sony Matersworks, how are you, sir?
Alex Miller: Great, Mike. Good to be with you and thank you for expressing such an interest in what is actually a really great group, 2Cellos.
MR: Of course. Can you tell us a little bit about the group?
Alex Miller: Well, I was discussing in-house with staff members about how major corporations these days need to be more nimble and faster than ever before in taking part in new trends, and modifying strategies for this new digital and cloud-based world. So, by way of example, I wanted to point my staff to a video that had caught my attention earlier in the day, which I found to be very crafty and smart. Everything from the way the video was made to the arrangement of the song, "Smooth Criminal," to the musicianship. It was a song by Michael Jackson played with two cellos in a very unusual way. What I didn't expect was that within an hour of sending the clip to my staff members, the video had already registered around 100,000 more views. It was clearly in the very early stages of going viral. It went from being an example of what I thought was a DIY attitude to what that I thought would be helped by a little exposure and a label company. So, that's literally how I discovered them and how their burgeoning fan base caught my attention.
MR: The pseudo-classical group Bond was a similar experiment that crossed genres.
AM: That's absolutely right. It was also manufactured for the marketplace. In the case of Bond, I believe it was Decca that had the idea of creating a classical crossover act. So much like some of Simon Cowell's creations like Il Divo, it started with just that idea. Then auditions were set up for the group, and it was as if a solution was created in which the variables had to be populated. It was just the opposite of that in the case of 2Cellos. It turned out that these were two classically trained musicians who had the idea of taking two cellos--an instrument they were both trained on in Croatia--going into the studio and creating a song. Then a friend of theirs heard the song and said that he'd like to create a video for them, so they made a video, and as Stephan, one of the two cellists said, "We created this video in a day, and posted it online. Then, I went to the bathroom and by the time I came back, a million people had seen it." (laughs) So, one of the challenges that I felt I was facing was not to make too heavy of a footprint as a New York record executive on these guys who have around 5.5 million hits on their video. I wanted to let the natural talent do natural things, so we reached out to them and other than suggesting that they not go by their first and last names, which are somewhat difficult to pronounce, we tried to be neutral.
MR: How did 2Cellos originate?
AM: How the group name came about was also a very organic process. After I expressed interest in them and we engaged in a little bidding war--several other record companies expressed interest several days after I found them--we brought them into New York and told them that we had to think of something a little more commercial for their name. As we were sitting around listening to music and asking them what they'd like to record next, we went through dozens of pop and rock 'n' roll songs, and they just kept dismissing them. Then, when they would come across one like "Welcome To The Jungle," which will be their second single, they would exclaim in unison "Two cellos!" (laughs) And so, when that happened about a dozen or so times, we knew that we had found their name.
MR: Do you have a specific battle plan for this group?
AM: Well, like their discovery and their creation is falling into place regardless of how I wish to make it run, some beautiful things have just happened. (laughs) We reached out to them and they were a bit surprised--they got a call at their homes in Croatia, and put together a deal between us on the phone and with their attorneys, and we began thinking about what the plan should be. When you have a viral video, which was one of the only things I saw with their stuff, the first question has to be what else do you have? As they were going about explaining that they wanted their first album project to be contemporary and well-known rock 'n' roll hits, we put into designs a second video thinking that this group has a certain life. I mean, who knew how long they would get 100,000 hits a day?
We knew that we needed to decide on a second track, get them an agent, and put them out on the road. Then some very organic things started happening. Because Luka was trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Elton John was preparing for this summer's tour, Elton picked up the phone and called the Dean of the Academy saying that he saw this video and he would like 2Cellos to be a part of his stadium tour this summer. Then, Luka got a phone call from the Dean saying that he was going to be getting a phone call very shortly from someone very famous that could be the opportunity of a lifetime...Sir Elton John. (laughs) So, you can imagine how quickly things began falling into place.
Next, Ellen Degeneres and her producers discovered the video and they reached out, they wanted to be the first ones in the US to bring them over and perform. After that came iTunes, which hosts a festival every July that's broadcast live on iTunes, and they wanted them to be a participant. They only ask a dozen or so artists. So, we do have plans for them and we are trying to move them along, but we are continually interrupted by other, grander plans that are coming in from the outside. Now the plan is for them to finish their record, which we expect to have out in July, film a second video in the first week of June, and also in June, they'll be going out on the road with Elton John. Then, they'll be doing the iTunes Festival, and then we hope to have them do some touring in the US. Elton is also bringing his show back to Las Vegas and 2Cellos is going to be a part of that as well. So, this is a gift that keeps on giving at this point.
MR: It's nice to be a YouTube phenomenon.
AM: Now, the challenge, of course--much like Facebook or other social media sites--is how do you turn a "like" into a "purchase"? How do you turn a YouTube phenomenon into touring phenomena? That's the challenge that we face ahead.
MR: Right. But you're no stranger to phenomena. You once had something to do with a certain Titanic movie soundtrack, right?
AM: (laughs) Yeah, and you know, those kinds of phenomena don't usually happen a second time in one's career. I hope, in some way, that one tenth of the excitement that was generated by Titanic comes about.
MR: Can you tell us a little bit about your daily routine and responsibilities as a honcho at Sony Masterworks?
AM: Well, my title is Senior Vice President over a company called Masterworks. Sony Masterworks is responsible for the classical music holdings of the Sony companies. Those responsibilities also extend to Broadway, and we have the largest historical Broadway holdings in the world since Sony merged with the RCA properties, so all of the Broadway shows that were recorded on RCA or RCA/Victor through the years as well as all of the Sony Masterworks and Columbia Masterworks are all in one place. I'm also blessed with the opportunity to do other things as well--music that interests me and those on my staff. This year, on June 7, we'll have a new release by Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks in the Tedeschi Trucks Band, two people that had nearly 20 years of touring experience with their separate groups. So, my responsibility is running the US company called Masterworks on behalf of Sony Classical International. We have artists like Lang Lang, a pianist, Vittorio Grigolo, who is an operatic tenor, as well as all of the Broadway holdings. Most recently, we did the cast recording for Promises, Promises with Kristin Chenoweth, and we just signed a new production entitled Wonderland, which is the contemporary re-telling of Alice In Wonderland. We do a lot of music that just grabs our attention and that we like, and so, I'm very lucky. I get to go mainstream and still serve the core of the classical and Broadway crowds.
MR: Do you have any advice that you would give to new artists?
AM: The first advice that I would give is to be true to yourself, true to your art, dedicated to learning and mastering your craft. They also need to realize that the old paradigms aren't true any longer, the digital world is putting more power in the hands of the artists more than the large multi-national corporations. For instance, if Luka and Stjepan from 2Cellos hadn't created that song and video on their own, we wouldn't be talking about them today. It didn't take a committee to assemble that group or come up with the idea. The power today to "create your own tribe," as Seth Godin would say, is stronger than ever, and you need to do what Bob Leftsetz says in his newsletter and realize that being an artist is difficult and that's okay because nothing worth doing is easy.
You have to dedicate the 10,000 hours or more before you can claim any level of expertise, then the biggest things is creating your own tribe and you'll see that there may be people looking to help take you to the next level either in live performance or signing you to a record contract. There's just so much that people can do for themselves and they can even do it out of their homes. That's the major concern of major music companies because there used to be an advantage to a corporation owning the studio and having the access to the producers and the equipment. That's no longer the case. It's a DIY world and I think that's great. I think it puts the power in the hands of the artists who have, for a long time, felt powerless. It's not as if the only thing they need to do is write a good song and everyone will come calling. These days, you have to write a good song and put it out there and develop your own fan base.
I wouldn't have opened the door to 2Cellos if I weren't assured that they had the chops to recreate what they had already done and go beyond that to something else, and we're already seeing that. Simply the fact that Sir Elton John sees enough value in these guys to not only have them join him as an opening act, but he's actually putting them in his band for the tour. They'll be playing with him throughout his set, and then they'll be highlighted on a couple of songs and have the opportunity to play their own music. So, it's very important, from an artist's perspective, that you feel that you're in it for the long run.
MR: Do you think that this new age of bidding wars between record companies for digital and social media artists will be the trend from now on?
AM: Well, I may have used the words "bidding war," but it was not a bidding war in terms of money. I think my competitor was ready, willing, and able to ratchet it up in terms of money, but the first thing that I wanted to hear from these artists when we first contacted them was what they were interested in doing, what they thought the design on their career would be, because I feel that the best role that I could have as a record executive is really as an amplifier of sorts. I am not comfortable going to an artist and saying, "These are your songs, this is the path for your career." There are elements of that in the business, inevitably, but what set my relationship with 2Cellos apart is they saw that we wanted to allow them to be themselves and realize that our role was to organize and amplify their message.
MR: Because you have always shad an eye toward innovation, do you have any thoughts on what this industry will look like in five years?
AM: I don't know that my imagination is that good. When we began to hit a wall back in 2000 because we had reached the highest level of sales that the world had seen cumulatively and the masses were also beginning to learn how to trade music files, things became very disruptive. I don't think that back in 2000 I had the imagination for cloud technology or iPods. So, in five years, I think multi-national corporations will have figured out how to go from survival to beginning to thrive again. But more than anything else, within two years, a couple of young people working from their college dorm will develop another form of DIY business that will help transform the multi-national business. At the same time, I think that there will be less distinction between musical styles. In the past, record labels were divided within the organization by genre, and I think that will disappear. I think that should be very encouraging to new musicians.
MR: Being a part of the music industry, as an artist or an executive, can be very difficult because it can be extremely cut throat and it's not easy to surround yourself with those you can trust, which was not at all the case during my time working with you. Do you have any suggestions for those who have an interest in the business side of a music career?
AM: Well, I'm honored to be included in the group of people you trusted and enjoyed working with, but the underlying factor for an artist or a businessman has to be a love of it. As an artist, I feel one has to have that to be able to face that level of rejection and get through the next day and work those part time jobs before you can turn music into a full time occupation. Love, however, is not a word that goes down well in many boardrooms. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) That's very true. But if you can foster that sort of energy in the people that you're working with, how can you fail?
AM: You can't, and even if in one area it does, there's always someone else there to catch you, you know? When you love what you're doing and you love and trust the people who work with you, you will do anything to get beyond any brick walls that you may come up against as a team. You will eat the bricks, you will run through them, you'll jump over them...you will do anything. (laughs) I once had another executive come to me after a business meeting that I had conducted and express some amount of concern that in that meeting, my staff didn't seem to be afraid of me. Of course, my thought was, "Why should they be afraid of me?" His feelings were that because I was the boss, everyone should fall silent when I walk into the room and be afraid of me because that, apparently, is how it's supposed to work in the music industry. But my thought is that when they're afraid of you, they will say anything to assuage your concerns. If they love you, they'll tell you the truth rather than appeasing you with what they think you want or need to hear. At the time, I referenced a book I read on John F. Kennedy and how he conducted his staff. He would come to a meeting and consult all of his leadership about whatever issue needed to be resolved, then they would pause and come to a decision. In my opinion, that's the only way that business should work, otherwise you'll simply be surrounded by sycophants who only say what you want to hear. I just don't see that as a long lasting strategy.
MR: That's an extremely good point.
AM: Love is the fuel by which artists create, but I also feel that it can fuel a healthy business. I think good business comes out of associating with good people. It's also important to associate, not only up, but down, by discovering and nurturing really good talent. But I think it all comes down to the basis of love. I use that word a lot. (laughs) It makes the world go 'round. One of the clearest recent examples I've seen of that musically is in the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Seeing how their love for each other translates to their music is really incredible, and I strongly encourage people check out the new album online. It's just great.
MR: It really is. Alex, thank you so much for stopping by. It was really great getting to chat with you again.
AM: Thanks, Mike. The pleasure was all mine.
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
Intermission: Keb' Mo's "...Whole Enchilada"
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Keb' Mo's new single "The Whole Enchilada," the song being from his new album The Reflection is dropping August 2nd, and the streaming audio of the track is presented here.
Keb' says, "This was written with John Lewis Parker, with whom I wrote 'Just Like You.' We go way back to The Papa John Creach Band, and we've been playing music a long time together. It's about when you actually get the girl of your dreams--how do you maintain that relationship? If she gets crazy on you, will you be able to deal? The work begins when you've made that commitment to work through things and go for the long haul."
A Conversation with Flogging Molly's Dave King
Mike Ragogna: Looks like we've got Flogging Molly here with us today. Dave, how are you?
Dave King: Doing very well, Mike. How are you?
MR: Let's dive right in and talk about your album Speed Of Darkness, specifically, the song "Revolution." It seems to be a commentary on your thoughts about the current social and political state of the world. Can you tell us a little more about what motivated and inspired it?
DK: Yeah. We wrote this album between Ireland and Detroit, and both of those places are mirror images of each other right now, and when we were writing this album, we were noticing that we couldn't get away from what was going on in the world. Although we don't really have the ability to change what's going on, we can be a part of the social commentary as a band. We're not afraid of that. We couldn't just turn away from it, especially living in Detroit. For example, we wrote this album in the basement. Every time I went to take the dog out for a walk, I would go around noticing all the boarded up houses and so many people leaving. As I said, I don't know the ins and outs of why things happen, but I do see the results. I have seen the results of it in the neighborhood that I live in, I really just couldn't get away from it, and a sense of humor part of all of this is being Irish, because for some reason, being Irish makes you write about the worst things that could happen to you. But we do it with a sense of humor. It's our way of getting you through it, you know?
MR: Nice. Okay, I know that you're no politician and don't claim to be, but what do you feel is going on in America right now?
DK: What I see is, I think, a result of several things going on in the US right now. Living in Detriot, where in the '70s, it was almost 2.8 million people, it's now fallen to about 700,000 people living there. Half the schools are closed now.
MR: But don't you feel that what's happening in Detroit represents a bigger problem?
DK: Of course. Because we're a touring band, we get to see a lot of the nation. We noticed on our last tour that a lot of the little spots that we used to go to are gone. People just aren't really able to make ends meet, and it's the same in Ireland. People are now immigrating to Australia. It's back to that again, you know. In Ireland, they were giving mortgages to people that people couldn't afford to pay. We got ghost towns now in Ireland. Companies are building houses and there's no one in them. We have a house in Detroit right now, and it's a very modest little place and we pay over $8,000 in taxes every year on that house. Now, we're a touring and working band, but can you imagine trying to pay that if you'd just lost your job and had to pay that on top of the already ridiculous mortgage payments?
MR: I know. It has seemed, for a while, that the world had become very coarse and cold in these terms. Do you think it might be getting any better?
DK: I think it is in certain areas. I know people in Ireland, for example, have lost their forms of income in the building industry. But I know one person who, believe it or not, set up their own animal farm with a restaurant inside of it, and I went down there recently and the place was packed--kids and families everywhere. I know it sounds menial, but they just thrust themselves into something completely different from their original occupation and it worked out. I also have friends in Detroit who have opened up restaurants. They've actually gone into buildings that were derelict and turned them into amazing little places, doing all the labor themselves, rebuilding a community. I think that's what we need...we need a community spirit back down at the root level. I really think we can overcome all of this. That's the thing, I like singing about all of this stuff, but only because I truly believe in the human spirit.
MR: Beautiful. Let's go back and talk about your latest album Speed Of Darkness, which I think is my favorite Flogging Molly album thus far. It almost seems like a concept album. What went into creating the songs for this one?
DK: It's funny you should say that, Mike. Every interview that I did when we recently toured through Europe thought that this was a concept album. (laughs) There is definitely a cohesion to this album that I don't think we've really had before, and I think that's what might make it seem like a concept album. In a way, it is a concept album because it's about life. It's about having a job and losing a job, or having a love and losing a love. I tried to make it about the things that I'm surrounded by because that's all I can write about. But as a band, I think we've spread our wings musically, and I think as a band, it's important to do that--you have to feel like you're growing, especially in an economy that's halted. But we've still got to feel like we're putting the best music that we can out there, you know? Our fans have grown with us, and it's just amazing to see the way the crowds still respond to what we do.
MR: I've been to one of your shows, it's like being ringside in an Irish pub.
DK: Well, we bring the spirit of it with us. We played in an Irish pub for about four years every Monday night, so we definitely have that spirit in us. I think that's a huge part of who we are, and we take that with us wherever we go.
MR: What was the recording process like for this album? Did you do anything differently than you usually do?
DK: Well, the last album we did, we recorded in Ireland and we all had to live together in a house by the studio. That could have been a really bad experience, but it was actually really good. So, this time, we thought we should do it again. We knew we had to be in a place where we'll be all together. We're also working with Ryan Hewitt, a great producer, and he had us doing a song a day. For example, if we starting working on "Revolution" in the morning, we would have 90% of that song done by the end of the day, and we always recorded live. It helps you get to know the song better as you're going through the day. Actually, there were two songs on this album--"This Present State Of Grace" and "So Sail On"--that are completely live recordings. No overdubs or anything.
MR: I think that's great. That, in my opinion, is the best way to record a song because when you add in all of the other elements and toys, you sometimes lose sight of what the song's essence is or what it's truly about as you're recording it. Do you agree?
DK: Absolutely. When you're in the studio, you have 17 or 18 songs you need to work on, and when you do it day by day like we did, you do get to know each song as it's own entity and it's own song. It helps make it a very cohesive thing, you know? And for a band like Flogging Molly to do a song like "Power's Out," something that we've never tackled before with a very simple beat, it took that whole day of focusing on just that song to go from that simple beat in my head to what you hear on the album. It's brilliant. We started in the morning, and by the end of the day, we heard all of these things developing in the song.
MR: I also wanted to say, since you mentioned it, that "So Sail On" is one of my favorite songs on this album. Is there a story behind that one?
DK: That song is a brush with my late father. It's just my way of tipping my hat to my late father. But, as I said about being Irish, I'm not mourning his death but celebrating his life. That's the way I try to look at it.
MR: That's very beautiful. I know there's a lot of pressure in the music industry for each album to do exponentially better than the last, so are you guys doing anything different in your marketing ? And are you still touring?
DK: Well, we started our own record company. We have a whole new crew behind us now. We did it for the simple reason that SideOneDummy Records, which was a fantastic label, encouraged us to branch out and start our own label. The thing is, we didn't do this just for this album, we did it as a group venture. We also want to sign new bands that we like. There's a band we like right now called The Drowning Men who will, hopefully, be joining us on our label so that we can get them out on the road and in front of people. With the economic downturn, it's very hard for bands right now, especially when you've got no outlet. I mean, it's very hard for a band like Flogging Molly to get on a radio station, and it's impossible for a band like us to get on MTV. It's hard for live bands out there, so whatever we can do to get a great young live band out there, we're trying to do. I think another thing about this album for us is that when we were making it, it just felt so right. We just thought "Let's take what we've learned over the past few years and turn it into something creative." Not just musically, but as a venture as well.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
DK: Well, obviously, you're doing something that you really love. The thing is that you're going to get a lot of knocks on the way. I mean, a lot of people are going to disagree with what you think. I think it's important to start with something that, deep down in your heart, is your own, and don't be afraid of influences. We certainly weren't and I think that's what made us what we are today. If you listen to Flogging Molly's first album and then you listen to our new album, you can hear the growth and all of our influences from over the years. So, don't be afraid of your influences and do what you truly believe in.
MR: What's in the immediate future for Flogging Molly?
DK: Well, right now, we're in Utah playing at a Festival. Then, I believe we have a little bit of time off before we head to Europe to tour. Then, it's just playing in festivals in Europe and a few here in the States as well...we'll be playing at Lollapalooza this year. So, we're definitely busy for the next 8 months, thank God. (laughs) As I said, we're very lucky to be a working band and able to get out there and play in front of people. It's a wonderful experience.
MR: Nicely put. Dave, thank your time. It was great talking to you.
DK: Thank you so much, Mike. It really was a pleasure being here.
1. Speed Of Darkness
3. The Heart Of The Sea
4. Don't Shut 'Em Down
5. The Power's Out
6. So Sail On
7. Saints & Sinners
8. This Present State Of Grace
9. The Cradle Of Humankind
10. Oliver Boy (All Of Our Boys)
11. A Prayer For Me In Silence
12. Rise Up
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
A Conversation with Lindi Ortega
Mike Ragogna: Hi Lindi, let's do this thing. Why did you really tell a little lie or three when she looked at you and asked if you loved him still? Was it that he really didn't know what was true or was it just a bunch of game playing?
Lindi Ortega: It's not really about playing games, it's about when a relationship starts breaking down and no one is listening to the reasons or seeing the signs as to why things are deteriorating. Yet, we sometimes cling on to these dead relationships because we are used to them, or we can't quite find the courage to say the words "it's over." So, its that moment of slight resentment that the other person refuses to figure out, and you don't want to spell it out, so you indulge them with half-truths or little lies because they don't listen to you when you try to tell them what's wrong. That's why the crux of the song is "...look a little closer, than the truth becomes clear." In other words, it shouldn't have to be spelled out.
MR: How could you stand waiting this long to release your full-length album debut?
LO: My career has never been instant gratification, it's always been a long slow climb. I am use to waiting, I am okay with the fact that my record has taken this long to come out because it's given me time to learn and grow which is a good thing. In saying that though, I admit I am very excited to share this record with people, it's been a long time coming for me. I've been itching to put a full-length out for a good while, and I can't wait for people to hear it!
MR: How would you describe your music?
LO: I would describe my music--or at least my romantic version of it--as a roadside motel love affair between old school outlaws and country crooners. But I suppose it falls under the "Alternative Country" category, whatever that means. As long as people are listening, they can call it whatever they like!
MR: Who are your musical influences and heroes?
LO: Musically, I am influenced by old school outlaw country cats like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr, and Kris Kristofferson, but I also really dig Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton. In addition to that, I grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen. But there is a hint of an homage to Tom Waits in my song "Little Red Boots."
MR: Okay, what's so special about your little red boots that we're going to know you by them?
LO: Ever since I got me this pair of little red boots, I have not stopped wearing them. When I played shows across the Midwest with Kevin Coster and his band The Modern West, people who saw me perform would come up to me commenting on my red boots. I figured if they stood out so much, then they surely deserved a song, so that's when I penned the tune "Little Red Boots" and started imagining the comic book version of Lindi Ortega. Me and my boots go hand-in-hand--you wont see me on a stage singing my tunes without wearing those boots!
MR: I certainly hope not! (laughs) Lindi, if you're no Elvis Presley, seriously, who are you? Okay, not so seriously...
LO: (laughs) I am just a gal that loves to write songs and sing 'em, I don't have any grand illusions about my talents. I do, however, sometimes picture myself as that character in some spaghetti western comic book in my mind where I am this busted-hearted outlaw named "Bootsy." I know there is a Bootsy Collins, but I just have such an affection for wearing boots that I kinda appropriated the name for myself. Indeed, I am no Elvis Presley, just a bit of an odd bird with a penchant for creating my own fiction to spice up my reality.
MR: How do you come up with your arrangements?
LO: When I write songs, I like to kind of think of the songs as planets and each song has their own atmosphere and I get to decide what that atmosphere is. I like to set a tone and a mood with each song using instruments that reflect what I am trying to convey. It's up to me to take the listener on a three-minute journey through my world, so I try to make it interesting for them.
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
LO: My advice for a new artist is to listen to those who are more experienced than you and do not be offended by constructive criticism. I would also advise recording shows and watching them back to see where things could improve, and never stop being a student of your craft.
MR: If all the stars do align as you suggest, what would you say the result will be regarding your career and music?
LO: Well, really, all I want is to be able to do what I love and make enough to sustain my existence...you know, pay my rent and feed myself. Its tough wondering how you're going to make it from month to month in this business. It would be nice to be at a level someday where maybe someone like Willie Nelson would consider singing a duet with me. That's more of a dream than a reality. But if it happened, I would certainly think some kind of stars were aligning.
MR: What did I forget to ask you?
LO: I don't think you forgot to ask me anything, but if you did, feel free to ask me any ol' time!
MR: (laughs) Lindi, all the best, thanks a lot for the fun and for your time.
LO: Okay then. Thank you for writing about me and my music. I really and truly appreciate it.
1. Little Lie
2. When All the Stars Align
3. Blue Bird
5. I'm No Elvis Presley
6. Little Red Boots
7. Dying of Another Broken Heart
8. All My Friends
9. Fall Down Or Fly
10. Jimmy Dean
11. Black Fly
12. So Sad