Paul Simon Plays Moline
When Paul Simon performed at Moline, Illinois' I wireless Center this past Wednesday night, he joked, "I might buy a place here. Let's see how many standing ovations there are." Well, he'd better be consulting with his real estate agent because in addition to the two at the show's end that sparked pretty generous encores, standing ovations were a-plenty as the otherwise reserved and attentive Midwest audience enthusiastically sprang to their feet seemingly after every third or fourth song.
Although it seems that Paul has been on the road frequently over the last few years, this particular tour seems much more date-packed as he heralds his latest and one of the best albums of his career, So Beautiful Or So What. Reuniting with producer Phil Ramone resulted in that album's tighter arrangements and return to a more concise songwriting, now also evident in the live format as new songs "Rewrite," "Dazzling Blue," "Love Is Eternal Sacred Light," and "The Afterlife" easily blended with Paul's older standards. And although there were only two Simon & Garfunkel songs that were revisited--"The Only Living Boy In New York" and "The Sound Of Silence," played like his 9/11 tribute--Paul re-imagined almost all of his solo classics, with surprising medleys bursting out of "Hearts And Bones" ("Mystery Train," "Wheels") and "Kodachrome" ("Gone At Last").
Here are some more highlights: A touching version of "Here Comes The Sun" evoked his Saturday Night Live duets with George Harrison from the series' second season; "Peace Like A River" ended with an almost shocking avant piano piece; double-drummer solos followed a newly-arranged "ta-na-na-na" vocal section that closed "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes"; "Late In The Evening" was a horn-driven, salsa extravaganza that had most of this Midwestern crowd on its feet exploring its latin side; a cover of Bo Diddley's "Pretty Thing" during the second encore allowed the band to flex its own musical and vocal muscles; and as previously mentioned, Paul presented an aching, intimate version of "The Sound Of Silence" that included the song's melody reinterpreted by touching guitar figures, this approach reverently gracing his 9-11 performance at Ground Zero.
Paul Simon may have never played Moline as a solo artist before, but he certainly was back in every sense of the word. His performances that night were as stellar as anything he had ever delivered from his best concerts over the years, and although the venue wasn't exactly sold out, it didn't matter since Paul, his band, and the crowd's electricity filled the arena regardless. And two encores later, sure, we all could have listened to more, but Paul Simon fans finally were satiated.
As I watched the party-that-was with a certain 19-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist (you can call him "Theo," not "Al"), I took occasional peeks at him to see how he was absorbing the concert. Well, he truly got Paul Simon, and for a couple of hours, he was that kid on the car ride to "Graceland." And since Paul is an artist who will always be important to me and who was my first hero, it was a real joy to witness and be part of this sort of torch passing from that elder statesman of a generation of recording artists who immortalized conversational and intelligent pop songwriting to a young artist whose duty it now is to deconstruct it, reinvent it, or in the very least, create more than musical commentaries of the past. Paul Simon, in my opinion, is the perfect role model for those exploring creative reinvention, his music still fresh, still awesome, and still crazy after all these years.
Boy In The Bubble
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover
Mother and Child Reunion
The Was Your Mother
Hearts and Bones / Mystery Train / Wheels
Slip Slidin' Away
Peace Like A River
The Obvious Child
The Only Living Boy In New York
Life Is Eternal Sacred Light
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
The Sound Of Silence
Kodachrome / Gone At Last
Here Comes The Sun
Crazy Love II
Late In The Evening
Still Crazy After All These Years
A Conversation with Bill Wyman
Mike Ragogna: Hello Bill, how are you?
Bill Wyman: I'm fine, thank you. I've got a day off of my tour, so I've got a day off so you've got a chance to talk to me.
MR: You've got a day off but they still put you to work.
BW: Oh yeah! I had a photo session this morning and I did another interview earlier. Yeah, a day off is not a day off, but I don't mind that, I'm kind of a workaholic.
MR: I definitely want to get to The Rolling Stones, but first, let's talk about the Rhythm Kings. What was the inspiration for putting that type of entourage together and to play that brand of music?
BW: Just to do music in a completely different way. I just kind of got fed up with stadiums and losing contact with the audience, and the way music was going. I thought, I love archeology, why don't I do an archeological dig into music, and just find a whole bunch of stuff from the past that people have forgotten or have never heard and just do anything. So, I got some musicians together and friends, and we just got into the studio for three days every month and cut eight songs. Then a month later, we would cut nine songs in the three days, then a month after that, we would do seven and so on. We ended up with about sixty tracks at the end of the year and they're all fantastic. They cover everything up from the '20s to the '70s. We had stuff from J.J. Cale, stuff from Fats Waller, we had Ethel Waters from the '20s, Ray Charles, Creedence Clearwater...you name it. It was just a whole mixture of stuff--rockabilly, blues, jazz, soul, gospel, spirituals--and I didn't know what to do with them. They were all great, and we always cut things in three takes, and if we don't get it in three, we just dump the song and move on to the next one. A lot of them are "take one," and a lot of them are either "take one" or "take three." I started to look around for a record company and everybody loved the stuff and have been playing it in the car back and forth to the studios, but they would pass on it because they didn't know how to put it out there and exploit it.
I got a bit disheartened, but that kind of happened with the Stones as well. We cut our first tracks in March of '63 and the record companies turned them down because they weren't commercial. So, I was hitting the same problems, and finally, a German company came ahead and signed us, then it took off like crazy. Everybody seemed to love the stuff, because there was a lot of variety there and great music, and great musicians. It was great, and then the record company says, "What about touring?" And I thought, "Oh no!" (laughs) I just wanted to make records and stay at home. So, we decided to do a few gigs as a tester, so we put out tickets for a show in Hamburg, Germany, and it sold out instantly, so we had to put a second show in that night. We did a run in Amsterdam, and that sold out, so we had to put a second show in there, and then we did one in London. I had Peter Frampton with me then and Gary Brooker of Procol Harum. The band I've got now--Georgie Fame, Albert Lee and we have Martin Taylor who's a great Jazz guitarist. It was just great fun, and I thought we might as well do this. People seem to like it, they want to come and watch us and we are getting great ovations ten minutes after the show's ended.
So, we started to do a tour of Europe every spring for three or four weeks--Europe, Scandinavia, sometimes out into Eastern Europe with Poland, Hungary, Prague, Latvia, and Lithuania. Then in the Autumn, we decided to do six weeks in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and that's what we've been doing. It's wonderful. We get called back every year and we sell out everywhere and it's just fantastic. There's no pressure on us, we just go out there and do it for the love. There isn't a lot of money in there either, it's a nine, ten-piece band playing small gigs. That's not what we're doing it for though, we're doing it to play great music, we love to play together and just enjoy it.
MR: Then you guys must be having fun on the road.
BW: Oh yeah, you'll see that. Everybody says that. When you read the reviews, they will say there is great camaraderie on the stage, everybody seems to be having fun and enjoying themselves. Everybody seems to be leaving space for everyone, everybody admires everybody else's touches and techniques and performances. Without sounding too corny, it really is like a family.
MR: I imagine your extended family jumps on stage when they're in the area to have some fun with the gang.
BW: Yeah, jazz guitarist Martin Taylor, who's fantastic, is going to come in Scotland. He played with Stephane Grappelli for years. He's been the top jazz guitarist in England for almost twenty years now. Then we've got Dennis Locorriere from Dr. Hook who's going to meet us in Brighton on a show and come on stage. We're playing Gilford tomorrow, and Gary Brooker is going to come on stage with us because he lives there. We've got Mary Wilson of course who's doing a great job as our guest this year. It's very nice but the main thing is if you go into the studio, you can have all kinds of people come in. You can't always get them to perform with you. Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton, people like that can't do it, but you can ask them to come do that in the studio and play on the album.
MR: Who's on the road with you now?
BW: The band I'm out on tour with is the band we started with, except we had Peter Frampton and Gary Brooker in it then. We've got a different piano player now, we've got Bob Dylan's favorite British piano player, Geraint Watkins--he's fantastic; Georgie Fame's on organ, Albert Lee's on guitar, Terry Taylor's on guitar, two horn players--Frank Mead, and Nick Payn. They also play harp and other instruments. Frank Mead is a wonderful Chicago blues harp player, and Nick plays harp in a different way, more of a country flavor. I have a beautiful black girl singer named Beverley Skeete who does all of our ballads and everything. I'm on bass and I've got a fantastic drummer who Roger Waters uses all of the time when he's not working for me. It's a great band and we're great friends.
MR: Do you have any stories about the recording or creative processes of your five albums as Rhythm Kings?
BW: I will give you an example when we got Beverley Skeete in after the first couple of sessions. She's been a backing vocalist for just about everybody in the business for years. She's a black girl and she's usually one of two or three. She's worked with Dusty Springfield, she's worked with Jamiroquai, she's worked with Chaka Khan, and she's on all of the Eurovision song contests. She educates and teaches all of the young artists that come through. She's worked with the Eurythmics and Annie Lennox, and so on and so on. I said, "I want you to do the Stone's song 'Melody,' I want you to sing it with Georgie Fame." We had the track done, so she came and Georgie and her went into the booth to do the vocal. We usually have a guide vocal...somebody puts it down really rough while we do the track. We don't layer or anything, we just do it live. They just go into the booth and they sing it, and I say, "Fantastic, that's it, we've got it." They say, "Can we do it again?" I say, "Didn't you like it?" They said, "We really liked it a lot, that's why we want to do it again. We're just having so much fun. We want to sing it a few more times." Of course, they sang it twice more and we got a much better take, actually. That's what I'm talking about--let's do it because we like it. That's hard to find in musicians these days, it doesn't happen anymore.
MR: Bill, why did you leave The Rolling Stones? Was it because you were tired of the arenas, all that, and you just wanted to reclaim your life?
BW: Yeah, and I was tired of traveling the world as well. I wanted more time at home, I wanted to get married again and start a family, which I did. I got married in '93. If I had still been in the Stones, I wouldn't have gotten married because the Stones were still working then. I got married and I've got three beautiful teenage daughters and it couldn't be nicer. We've been married 18 years now, and I do all of my work from home. I've written seven books in the last ten years, I do all kinds of events. I do photo exhibitions running all over the world. I've got a big one running in London at the moment, which is getting great reviews. I do charities, I've got a very famous restaurant here, I do archeology and work with museums. My life is full and wonderful.
MR: And you also invented a metal detector.
BW: Yeah, when I did archeology. I noticed that lots of young people were doing it, but they couldn't do it because metal detectors are quite heavy, and they actually tire you out on your arms. I found that with my daughter, my oldest one, wanted to come to metal detecting because she was interested in finding fossils and things. After five minutes, she found a few Roman coins and said she couldn't do it anymore because her arm ached. I thought maybe somebody could make a lighter weight one, so I talked to a metal detector company. They built me a children's one, but it was 90 percent as good as an adult's. So, it wasn't a cheap and nasty version, but it was lightweight, it had simple controls, and it still worked fairly well. It did the business and it's sold very well. Kids come back and say that they have one of the detectors. England's full of stuff, you can go into a field and just find stuff. (laughs) It's not like America, the history goes back. You can just go back into a field and find Bronze Age stuff, and Iron Age stuff. It's a whole mixture of stuff.
MR: As you mentioned, you're an author as well as a photographer. Which do you find you focus more on, your music or your other adventures?
BW: Well, in recent years, I've been focusing on photography. I do a lot of nature photography and a lot of landscape stuff. A part of the celebrity stuff. I've been shooting photography since '65, there's a lot of the Stones obviously on tour or in airports or backstage and whatever. So, I've got a whole mixture of movie stars, and friends like that. I've been focusing on that, and I've had quite a lot of exhibitions around the world. The one I've got in London right now is doing great business, and I've got great reviews for it, so that's very nice. I'm taking some of my pictures and putting them six feet wide, it's fantastic.
MR: Are you still using film or is it all digital?
BW: It's all digital now because of my eyesight. I was still using a Nikkormat with long lenses until recent years, two or three years ago. I started to realize that I couldn't get the focus as well as I used to with my eyesight. So, I went on to digital, and I was getting film back and some of them weren't in focus.
MR: Do you find that what drives you creatively for photography or making music comes from the same place?
BW: Yeah, I just move from one thing to the other when I find something interesting. When the photo exhibition finishes, I might ease off on photography and move onto something different. Maybe onto another book, maybe an historical book or I might go back and do something more musical. I just let it happen as it happens, I've always got ideas on the back burner.
MR: Are you in a constant creative mode?
BW: I'm like that morning, noon and night. The only time I stop doing things is when I go to the toilet and eat.
MR: What about your children? Do they have that behavior too?
BW: (laughs) Oh no, they think I'm mad. They're great, and they're very talented kids. One is a great artist, another one is a singer and she's writing songs and ideas. They're seventeen, fifteen, and thirteen. The little one is doing acting school, and she's been doing auditions for Harry Potter movies and Roald Dahl plays.
MR: When you look back at the Rhythm Kings years, are they some of the more important one for you making music?
BW: Well, I love my thirty years with the Stones, and the years before that, I played with my little band in South London when I was learning. I loved it in the '80s when I formed a band called Willie & The Poor Boys, and we did a couple of albums for the M.S. charity; Ronnie Lane of The Faces died of it later but we did those. I had Charlie Watts on that, Ringo was on the video, and I had a whole bunch of artists and musicians that joined me on that one. If I get an idea, I just start moving on it. I'm writing the history of my house in the country, which I've had since 1968, and the house dates from 1480--it's before Henry the VIII. It's got a moat around it, it's like a little castle. I've written a history book on that. I know every person that's lived in my house since 1150 when there was a house on the grounds before my house. That's fascinating too, so I've been doing that. I know the history of every person that lived there, I know who they married, where they were christened, where they were buried, how many children they had, what the children did. A lot of it is historical; there's famous people that came to my house; Rudyard Kipling used to come to my house. Some of the prime ministers of England used to come to my house. Through the years, they were all knights, and sirs and lords that lived there. The big family, the Chamberlin family, lived there for 250 years; the Buckingham family lived there for 150 years. They were all knights. One was beheaded at the Tower Of London. In recent years, we've had the worst gangsters in London called The Kray Twins. They used to come to my house before I bought it. The guy who I bought it off was the godfather of the Krays. There's all kind of history there, that's an interesting book there too.
MR: There must be some fascinating stories you came across, not just about the famous people.
BW: Oh yeah, it's great. One of the guys was with The Gunpowder Plot when they tried to blow up the House of Parliament on the 5th of November in the 1600s. One of Guy Fawkes's collaborators ancestors lived in my house. There's lots more and there's no time to do it all.
MR: Looking back at Bill Wyman now and Bill Wyman then, what have been some of the biggest changes that have happened to you over the years?
BW: There's some amazing coincidental happenings in my life. I've had things happen to me that are unbelievable, you could not believe it. I don't know if I've got a lucky streak there somewhere, but there are things I could tell you that happened to me that you would not believe. I was nearly killed in the war when I was a kid coming back from school. The sirens went off at lunch time; me and this other little boy--I was six--we ran to the house where I was living with my grandmother in South London where my family were up North away from the bombing. I was living with my grandma through the war. As we got to the top of our street, there was a German fighter bomber roaring up the street towards us, about ten yards off of the top of the chimneys of the houses machine gunning, and we just ran sideways behind a little wall and he just went past us machine gunning. Then we ran to our houses and my grandmother was waiting and we ran down to the shelter in the garden and he came past again the other way, still machine gunning. Then we went in the shelter. After the "all clear" went and we came out, we were all out in the streets digging the bullets out of the houses. We used to collect things like that. There's amazing stories, and I've talked about them in my books.
MR: Obviously, the elephant in the room will always be The Rolling Stones. May I ask a couple of questions about that period?
BW: (laughs) Go on.
MR: How would you describe your period with the Stones?
BW: Fantastic, I loved every minute of it. When we started off, we all thought it was going to last maybe two, maybe three, and if we're dead lucky, four years tops. We used to sit and think, "How long do you think it's going to last," and suddenly, it was 30 years. I was going to do all of these other things--photography, archeology, write books, etc.--30 years went by, and I hadn't done any of it. The only thing I had done was a couple of solo records, which were so-so popular--not too bad, and not too good, and I did a movie score and some photography in an amateur way. All of the other things I wanted to do, I didn't have time for. I really didn't have time to do the solo albums either, I did them in-between Stones things in pieces, which was unsatisfactory. So, I thought it was time to move on and it's time to do all of the other stuff I wanted to do. That's why I left. I wanted to start a new life again, and it's been wonderful. The great thing is, I'm still great mates with the band. We still send each other Christmas presents, birthday presents. I got a present from the Stones, I've got two huge, bouquets of roses, which I've got as many roses as my years. I'm 75, I got 75 roses from them and I've got a big thing of champagne. That's what we do, we stay friends. I work on projects with them as well. I was involved very heavily in the Universal 45s single box set because I'm the only one that had all of the singles. So, I did the deal with them and Universal and I gave them scans of everything, so they knew exactly how to reproduce the singles.
MR: It must be lovely to still have that kind of relationship with the band.
BW: I'm very close with Charlie, and we've always been very close and we're great mates. I chatted to him before I went on tour, we're just trying to get together. I played with him a few months ago when we did the Ian Stewart tribute together. I played bass on three songs with the Stones separately, not at the same time. Then we did the show, two shows actually; Ronnie Wood was on it, Mick Taylor was on it, Charlie Watts was on it, and I was on it. It's good to do those things.
MR: Once a Rolling Stone, always a Rolling Stone.
BW: Well, that's the problem, because the taxi driver will say, "Hello Bill, when are the Stones touring again?" I would say, "I left twenty years ago." People still think of me as a part of the Stones.
MR: Bill, what advice would you have for new artists?
BW: Try to write some decent songs first. Practice, practice, practice. Listen to the people in the past that played the instrument you're playing and learn from them. That's the way I learned, that's the way Mick and Keith learned. Just copying lines and riffs and things, then you can do your own thing. Once you've gathered that info, you can do it your own way. That's the way I do it and that's the way I always suggest to young musicians. A lot of young musicians come to the show and start asking me about what bass guitar I use, and I just say to them to practice and try to write some decent songs.
MR: What bass are you playing these days?
BW: I've been using Steinbergers for the last twenty odd years with the Rhythm Kings up until this year. I've had a bass guitar made which is like a clone of the bass guitar I made in 1961, before I joined the Stones and didn't have money to build one, so I bought one. It was by pure accident, it was the first fretless bass ever made. That's what I'm using now, it's lightweight, small scale, and it's perfect for young kids to learn on.
MR: You've been really fantastic and thank you for taking sometime to chat.
BW: Thank you so much.
Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings Collector's Edition Box Set:
Struttin' Our Stuff
Anyway The Wind Blows
Double Bill Volume 1
Double Bill Volume 2
Transcribed By Theo Shier
A Conversation with James Durbin
Mike Ragogna: Hello, James.
James Durbin: How are you?
MR: I'm pretty good. How are you, sir?
JD: I'm great, just finished up rehearsal and did my farewells to my attorney and manager.
MR: Permanent farewells?
JD: No, no, definitely not.
MR: It's now getting exciting for you, isn't it, what with anew album and all?
JD: It's getting very exciting. I flew forty minutes from Burbank to lovely Santa Cruz, which would normally be a six and a half hour drive.
MR: You have a new album and a couple of singles with "Love Me Bad" that's going to Top 40.
JD: Yes, sir.
MR: You also have a single that's headed for rock radio called "Stand Up." Both of those are featured on your new album, Memories Of A Beautiful Disaster. So, what kind of memories do you have of a beautiful disaster at this point in your life?
JD: To me, the meaning behind the album title is that I've had plenty of time to reflect on my life and look back on points of it now that I'm a little older and wiser. I'm more stupid in some parts, but now I'm able to look back, and parts that I thought were just awful and disastrous, that I wished before had never happened? Now, I can look at those and see the beauty in them because it makes me who I am today.
MR: What went into choosing the material for ...Beautiful Disaster?
JD: I wanted to find songs and write songs and partner up with people to write songs that really reflect who I am and reflect my life and reflect some of those memories of the beautiful disasters that I've gone through--and also stuff that I'm going to enjoy singing in thirty or forty years, God willing.
MR: On this album, you worked with James Michael of Mötley Crüe and Sixx:A.M.
JD: Yes--James Michael, Dj Ashba, Marti Frederiksen, Mick Mars, Hardcore Superstar, Ben Moody--there's a lot of really great writers on there.
MR: And it has been said that you've got rock royalty on this record.
JD: Yeah, and I'm not worthy. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Oh, yes you are, sir! I'd like to talk a bit about what got you here. You were on American Idol in 2008, can you go into the story?
JD: Season eight auditions were held at Cow Palace in San Francisco, and I went and sang my ass off. They asked to hear a second song and I didn't have one prepared. So, I sang the last song I had heard, which was by the same artist. That didn't really show any diversity or anything. I just waited and they said, "Sorry, you're not what we're looking for." I was pretty distraught at that moment, but I just got it out of my head. I went back and found out that Steven Tyler was going to be a judge and I thought, "Well, sh*t, this is my chance. I can really do it now." I think I have a much better chance of doing this now that I have the support from a legend of his status.
MR: And you ended up fourth, but that's still a good result, right? You did really well and a lot of people loved you.
JD: Thank you, man. I really focused on staying true to myself and really being me no matter what anybody said or what anybody wanted me to do or try to make me be. I stuck to who I am, and I think that's what made me so personable and likable.
MR: Your song choices were interesting, and version of "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" rocked.
JD: Thank you, man. Before I went on the show, the track that my mind was on was to really try and make as many possible moments for myself with stuff that people would hopefully continue to talk about. Like, "Oh, you remember that? That was really cool!"
MR: "Living For The City" was another good choice. How did you feel about your performance of that one?
JD: I loved the performance. That's probably my favorite recording because I got to work with Don Was. Don Was is an unbelievable producer.
MR: Yeah, and you sang "Don't Stop Believing," although it seems that song needs to be retired.
JD: You know, it hadn't really ever been done on the show. They were never able to get the rights for it. The previous week, my buddy Chris Jericho, who was on Dancing With The Stars, danced to that. It was his last dance before he got eliminated. So, I was trying to get a stab at him, and then I ended up getting eliminated on it. It's kind of an inside joke that we can both laugh about.
MR: It being the series-closing song on The Sopranos, that's interesting what happened with you.
JD: Exactly. That's actually our joke--"Don't Stop Believing" eliminated Tony Soprano, Chris Jericho, James Durbin, and, apparently, Steve Perry. No offense to Steve. I love Steve. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Funny. When you approached this album, how hard was it to tackle?
JD: It wasn't that hard. Everything I go into, I go into with really high expectations of myself. I'm very, very driven in the studio. I just really like to get in there, sweep the place, and get out. We were able to finish all the vocals on the record in two and a half weeks.
MR: And you had a great producer, Howard Benson, who worked with My Chemical Romance.
JD: Oh, my God. Howard is so unbelievable. The line of people that he's worked with are artists that I look up to, My Chem especially. I was a really big emo kid in high school, and My Chem were like the poster children for that, so I was definitely thrilled and excited and downright speechless to be able to work with Howard. The album turned out unbelievably.
MR: Since you mentioned your emo kid days in high school, who were your musical influences then?
JD: My Chem, Thirty Seconds To Mars, and all that old stuff is what got me through the hard times. During the good times, I was listening to Queen and Zeppelin.
MR: Now, how did the jump from emo to metal happen?
JD: Well, I've always listened to metal. But emo was what really spoke to me at a young age, because there weren't really songs in metal about being a loner or being an outcast and getting picked on. I really felt that it was my calling to join that scene and that I would be better accepted by the other kids who were like that if I was like that too. So, I did that and it did help to mold my sound and how it is today. Then later in high school, I got more into metal and got more into Judas Priest and Iron Maiden and Dio and when for the whole metal band thing. I've done so much stuff--metal and emo and classic rock and hard rock and country. There's so many factors that create this.
MR: By the way, what's your favorite Queen song?
JD: Let's see. I've always had a soft spot for "Killer Queen."
MR: Interesting choice! It's a joy to not hear "Bohemian Rhapsody" every time that question is asked.
MR: Now, what's the story behind the recording of "Outcast," which features Mick Mars?
JD: "Outcast" was mainly written by my favorite band in the world, Hardcore Superstar. They're from Sweden. I was in a hair-metal influenced band and really started getting into those guys. It really helped to listen to them a lot. Another band called Crash Diet really helped to mold our sound. I just love everything that they put out, and so I had my team contact them. We got on the phone and we just figured out what kind of song we wanted to write here, and I said, "Let's make it something personable and very tongue-in-cheek," and that's what we came up with. It was very fun. I don't really know how to describe "Outcast." I'm thrilled by it. It sounds great--it's classic Hardcore Superstar and classic James Durbin, and Mick put his spin on it. So, it's a fustercluck, but it's a beautiful disaster.
MR: (laughs) Nicely played, sir. Now, "Stand Up" has a little NFL connection there, right?
JD: Yeah, definitely. I was approached by the NFL to sing a song for the Gameday compilation album, and I recorded "Stand Up" and put it out. It was getting great reviews, so we decided to stick with it and throw it on that record.
MR: So, James, say more about the players.
JD: It's different people that played on the record. Being on Idol last tour, you don't have so much time to sit down and audition guys or even call your guys to get them together. So, I had to wait until the tour was over and finish the record. But now, I have my guys and they know all the stuff and put their original spin on it. My lead guitarist actually played on a few of the tracks on the record. He did some rhythm parts on "Outcast" and played on "Liberate" and "Crawling Home" and "Higher Than Heaven."
MR: Are you going on tour?
JD: I'm not quite sure when, but we'll probably do a couple of mixed shows this year. I'm getting married at the end of the year, so we're still trying to plan all that stuff out. I don't want to busy it up too much, but we'll definitely be going on a big tour early next year.
MR: Congratulations. You're pals with Alan Parsons, right?
JD: Yeah, yeah. Actually, right before my audition for Idol in 2008, I did a video with Alan Parsons called The Art Of Science & Sound Recording. It was narrated by Billy Bob Thornton and I sang one of Alan's songs. It was cool. It was an amazing experience and offered up some info and some advice. It was a great learning experience. I'd never really been in the studio to that extent. Oh, man, it was great. I hold that moment near and dear.
MR: Having had some success now, what advice might you have for new artists?
JD: Stick to who you are. Really know what you want to put out. Know what sound and what vibe you want to put out and how you really want people to think of you. I think that's personally what it narrows down to, whether you want to have a good reputation or a bad reputation. That can all come off of what you do with your sound and what you do with your stage show and everything. Every single show, no matter if you're opening or if you're headlining, give them hell. Play like you're the headliner. That's how you're going to get noticed.
MR: Any prediction for next year around this time?
JD: I don't know, man. Hopefully, some kind of award?
MR: Do you have any closing thoughts about your American Idol experiences?
JD: I really hold those moments near and dear to my heart. Without them and without all of the support from the fans all over the world and all over the country, especially right here in my hometown of Santa Cruz, I would've never been able to do this, to have an album coming out and to be where I am. So, I'm forever grateful and thankful for that. It was really the launching pad for my career. I'll never forget that, definitely not.
MR: Very nicely said. James, thank you very much for your time.
JD: Thanks so much for having me, man. It's been a blast. I always love doing interviews, especially when the hosts are so much fun.
MR: (laughs) Thanks, thanks for the compliment, buddy, fun it was. All the best.
1. Higher Than Heaven
2. All I Want
3. Love In Ruins
4. Right Behind You
5. Love Me Bad
9. Outcast - feat. Mick Mars
10. Everything Burns
11. Stand Up
Transcribed by Claire Wellin
A Conversation with Brann Dailor of Mastodon
Mike Ragogna: Why, it's Brann Dailor of Mastodon.
Brann Dailor: Hi, how are you?
MR: I'm fine, how are you?
BD: I'm good.
MR: What was the vision behind your latest album The Hunter?
BD: To be honest, I had a whole long lofty, psychedelic story that was written up for it but we ended up in the end going free form, and just topics ranging from meth heads running around the trees with chainsaws, and sexing up Barbarella in space. We sort of freed ourselves from the constraints of a concept album and decided to go a more natural and less stressful route with The Hunter.
MR: "Stargasm" was, of course, the Barbarella reference, right?
BD: Yeah, she looks good in that movie. The costume changes--I don't know the exact amount, but it's about 50 or 60 costume changes.
MR: So, you had an album called Crack the Skye. You know about the band, whose "Sky" is missing the "e"?
BD: The phrase actually comes from a poem: "Whips of lightning cracks the sky." I've heard the band and I think my mom listened to them. Skye was also my sister's name, so I put the "e" on there as a tribute to her.
MR: What is the creative process when you guys write songs? You're the lyricist, right?
BD: Mainly, yeah. I write a lot of lyrics, Troy writes some lyrics, Brent writes some lyrics--whoever is motivated to write lyrics and has any kind of idea of a vocal melody. We go by sounds because we write all of the music first and shoehorn the lyrics and vocals wherever they can fit and build the songs like that. There's a whole bunch of different ways it could happen, I could write a part or Brent could have an entire song written with three or four parts that he thinks could go together and make them work as a song or someone has one riff and they like it, but they don't know where to go from there. It could happen a whole bunch of different ways.
MR: Can you go into your video for "Black Tongue" and that image you also used for the cover?
BD: That was AJ Fosik. That really beautiful, incredible, triple-jawed minotaur head, he made for the album cover. It definitely helps people appreciate it more when they saw how much work had gone into it. It almost looks like some sort of CGI image on the cover itself, when you realize it's an actual thing. It's pretty cool.
MR: While we're also on the subject of videos, one of my favorites was "Deathbound," with your disturbing take on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
BD: If you want to get people to watch a music video these days, you've got to do something like that. You've got to kill a bunch of puppets, you know what I mean?
MR: That should be mandatory, every video should kill a bunch of puppets.
BD: Absolutely, I'm on board with that Utopian society.
MR: Speaking of Utopian society, are you looking at the Occupy Wall Street protests?
BD: Yeah, definitely. It's hard to participate when we're on a constantly moving vehicle.
MR: But you could occupy every city then.
BD: Yeah, we occupy clubs, and things like that, and backstage areas.
MR: (laughs) What is your take on the movement?
BD: It's definitely something that's been needed in the US for a long time. We definitely don't protest enough, we're just busy at the mall, at the Cinnabon, and the Orange Julius. I like the fact that some people are waking up and trying to make some kind of difference. I don't know what it will do, but hopefully, something changes sometime soon.
MR: Okay, back to The Hunter. "Curl of the Burl" has an interesting first line about how you killed a man because he killed your goat. And by the way, not cool.
BD: The first line is about a man who owns a pet store. (laughs) Just kidding, it's open to interpretation.
MR: A lot of this stuff is as much about putting things together in a fun way as it is about making any kind of statements, right?
BD: Absolutely, there's no soapbox involved at all. It's really about the music itself more than it is about the lyrics. With the lyrics, it's more about phrases that seem interesting, or words that are strung together that sound good. They act as another instrument; I don't claim to be a great lyricist. There are some good moments in there and then there are some questionable moments. Hey, you've got to write thirteen songs in less than a month, and they can't all be winners. I tried my hardest.
MR: How would you classify the group's music?
BD: I would love the band to be unclassifiable, but I would say we're just a weirdo rock band. We're all over the map. We have some ties to the metal community and we grew up playing heavy metal as teenagers. But we're really into Frank Zappa and we're really into music, so we want the fact that we have such an immense love for every genre to be able to come through in the music. For Mastodon to quench all of our musical thirsts. (laughs) I like that.
MR: How did Mastodon form?
BD: We're kind of two halves--myself and Bill Keliher, the guitarist, we grew up in upstate New York in Rochester. We started playing in a band together in the early '90s. Same with Troy and Brent, they started playing in the early '90s in Atlanta. For a number of years, we slugged it out in upstate New York and finally joined this band called Today's The Day, which was a step above that and touring a whole bunch. Today's The Day wasn't really our thing, we were filling in for a variable revolving door of musicians that had already joined this band previously. So, we really wanted something we could call our own. Bill's girlfriend--and now wife--lived in work in Atlanta. She wanted to stay there and he wanted to be with her and I had never been to Atlanta before but I was assured it was a wonderful city. I took Bill's word for it, went down there, and we met the other two guys within two weeks of Y2K. We went down there on January 1st, 2000, to celebrate Y2K. So, we went down there and met those guys, and everything came together really fast. We just all knew that what we had was something special and unique and that we wanted to pursue because that was what was making us happy, playing music together. Everything after that was gravy but we spent five years in our van playing in people's basements and VFW halls and whoever would have us. It eventually led to this position we are in, and it was earned with a lot of hard work.
MR: This album was produced and mixed with Mike Elizondo.
BD: That's right.
MR: He's also worked with Dr. Dre, Eminem, and 50 Cent. How did The Hunter end up sounding the way it did with a producer more associated with hip-hop?
BD: Mike is a very musical person, he's not just a hip-hop producer. Dr. Dre is a very smart individual and a very musical person, and if he's going to pick someone to produce records, it's not just about hip-hop. It's about a likable song, it's about a hook, and it's about something that can connect with people. Whether it's hip hop, metal, or hard rock, whatever it is, that element of the hook and likability to that song is the same thing. The ability to pick those moments out, that's where the artistry lies.
MR: On the other hand, many producers, once they have signature sounds or approaches, put their signatures on recordings.
BD: I don't think he necessarily does that. He likes Mastodon and he's a fan of metal. He's much like most musicians that you meet; they're not sitting around listening to their genre of music specifically and nothing else. I'm a music nerd and Mike Elizondo is the same way. He's done the hip-hop thing for a long time and he's also done a bunch of other projects. He's a big fan of music across the board. He's an outstanding bass player; he played upright bass in orchestra and things like that. So, he was really the perfect person to make the record, he embraced our progressive side along with the heavier stuff and wanted to marry those two worlds together. We had done Crack The Skye with Brendan O'Brien and it really went in a more progressive direction because I think that was what Brendan was connecting with, which was fine with us because that's where we wanted to go with that record.
MR: This album was recorded in just a few weeks, right?
BD: Yeah, it was about a month or so, a little less than a month.
MR: A different approach from how Mastedon recorded the other albums.
BD: The thing that was different was that we weren't a hundred percent ready when we went into the studio and winged it on a few parts. We said, "Hey, we will deal with it when we get into the studio." We did and it worked. We were under pressure, and it was self-inflicted pressure, basically. We had a tour booked June 1st, we were leaving to go for a month and a half, so we had all of this material written, it wasn't completely fleshed out the way we like it to be. We like to work really hard in the practice space, before we go into the studio and know exactly what we're going to do. We just didn't have the time or ability to do that for this stuff, so we just threw caution to the wind and figured that these songs were pretty well developed, and we have a good road map for most of them.
MR: So, the experience of winging it in the studio was enjoyable?
BD: Yeah, that was awesome. I loved that aspect of it. It was different and it's cool when you're making a new album, it should be a new experience. It gets boring to do the same thing over and over again. It's boring to be safe about it, you should throw some caution to the wind, it's art and music and it should be fun, and there should be moments of spontaneity that are there to revive everybody.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
BD: It's getting harder and harder to be a professional musician due to the circumstances around what that is. It's hard to get a record deal, record companies aren't signing; it's tough. You shouldn't be going into music to be a famous person, you should make music because you love making music. You should find some people that you can connect with and make music together that makes you, and the people in your band, happy. That's pretty much all you should expect from it. Try hard to push yourself in any direction that you feel necessary, and work hard to be the best player you can be. Do it because you like it.
MR: What do you think is Mastodon's biggest growth from when you first got together 'til now?
BD: We understand the business a little bit better, I would think. After all of these years, we're a veteran touring band now. We've been on tour for twelve years, so we understand how to do that successfully, whereas in the beginning, it was a little easier to burn out. It was party all of the time back then; nowadays, it's a little different. We take things with stride, and we all get along really well, which is pretty refreshing. I know some bands that despise each other, and it's just sad.
MR: I was going to ask you guys how you get along?
BD: We get along really well and we hang out together and we get dinner together. It really is like a four-way marriage, we're with each other constantly and it's important to be friends. I wouldn't want to be out here if I hated the guy on stage next to me. I couldn't see doing it for the money, it wouldn't be worth it. We all have a pretty strong bond, and if we ever get in any arguments, it usually gets squashed in a couple of hours. All we need is a good rock show to bring everybody back around.
MR: You're touring now?
MR: How long is the touring on for?
BD: It goes till December 2nd.
MR: Brann, I really appreciate your time, thank you so much.
BD: Thank you very much.
1. Black Tongue
2. Curl Of The Burl
5. Octopus Has No Friends
6. All The Heavy Lifting
7. The Hunter
8. Dry Bone Valley
10. Creature Lives
12. Bedazzled Fingernails
13. The Sparrow
Transcribed by Theo Shier
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008