A Conversation with k.d. lang
Mike Ragogna: k.d., hey there.
k.d. lang: Good morning, or good afternoon...I'm not really sure.
MR: Are you touring around in support of your new album, Sing It Loud?
kdl: Just about to go. We're headed over to the U.K. first, so we're in the calm before the storm right now.
MR: One of my favorite tracks is the album opener, "I Confess," which sounds like Brill Building meets country, meets...okay, I'll shut up now.
kdl: No, those are all perfect. I sat down with my friends, Josh and Daniel, who are in the band, and said, "You know what? I really want to write a Roy Orbison tune," and that's what came out. The whole record was done with such ease, joy, and positivism, and the "Siss Boom Bang" just happened to be this perfect convergence of energies. It all has turned out so far beyond my wildest expectations.
MR: Who played on Sing It Loud?
kdl: Well, Josh Grange and Daniel Clarke, who were on the Watershed tour with me. My co-producer and my co-writer really was Joe Pisapia, who is from the band, Guster. Lex Price, who is a musician in Nashville, is the bassist, and Fred Eltringham is the drummer, he's from The Wallflowers.
MR: As playful as the album gets at times, its arrangements are often touching. And a few of these tracks feature some of my favorite vocals by you, such as "Sugar Buzz" on which you rock strongly.
kdl: Well, it was a big learning curve for me because it was a lot more rock and a lot more electric guitar than I was used to playing with, and a lot of it is live off the floor. So, it's just reactionary, natural, instinctual singing, which is what I do best, really. I think when I'm on stage, that's when I feel most comfortable, when I'm reacting to the moment, and that's what we were able to capture.
MR: Was it set up like that? Was it set up like a live project?
kdl: You know, it just sort of unfolded naturally. When we had the songs written, we put together this session with these people, and the second they walked in the room, it was obvious there was magic. We just connected--there was love, respect, excitement, and it just happened naturally. They gravitated towards the instrumentation naturally, and Joe did such an amazing job in his studio in setting up the headphone mix, which is sort of a really technical, insider thing. But it's so important that when you get in there to start making music, it feels good and sounds good and you have space and you can hear everyone and communicate. He had it all set up and we just ramped it. We did eight songs in three days.
MR: What was the creative process like for the songs?
kdl: Super easy. I flew to Nashville in coach on Southwest--completely out of character for me. My girlfriend was like, "You're what? You're flying to Nashville to work with some guy you don't even know?" I said, "I just feel it. My instincts are telling me that this is the right guy and the right time." So, I just went and we wrote "The Water's Edge" and "Perfect Word" on the first day. Then, we wrote "Sugar Buzz," "Inglewood," and "I Am The Winner" the next day. It was so crazy. It was just so easy and there was so much creative energy between us. I don't know--I hate saying it was too easy because a lot of people think you have to suffer for art, but there was no suffering, I can tell you.
MR: Are there any songs on the album that stand out to you as being particularly special, relatively speaking?
kdl: Well, "Sugar Buzz" was kind of that way. I told Joe that I wanted to write a song called "Sugar Buzz" and Joe didn't get it, but we started texting lyrics to each other. So, I went back to Nashville and got the form knocked out, and we were like, "Okay, now we have to do some lyrics." I went, "Wait a minute," I opened my texts, and I literally read the texts all the way through the song. It was done and we just laughed and laughed.
MR: Its lyrics that really stuck with me were "Can't get enough....can't live without what this love does to me." It's so true.
kdl: (laughs) Nothing new, but pretty direct.
MR: "Sing It Loud" is another one of my favorites, with its lyrics, "Sing it loud, so everyone knows who you are."
kdl: Well, I didn't write it--Joe wrote that. He actually recorded it years ago with his band, Joe, with Marc's Brother. He sent it to me out of the blue, and I don't know if he even knew why he sent it. I don't think he actually thought I was going to react the way I did, but when I heard it, I said, "Oh my God. For me to sing that would be such an anthem for people who feel slightly left of center." You know, I kind of represent a different section of humanity, and I just thought it was a good song to support that.
MR: Speaking of "left of humanity," you're officially now a Glee-er.
kdl: (laughs) I didn't have an appearance, I just lent my voice to the soundtrack. I wasn't actually in the show.
MR: But you're no stranger to acting. Salmonberries was basically you, right?
kdl: Yeah, that was me. He wrote that movie for me, but it's not something that you need to run right out and Netflix. (laughs) Acting is something that is not in my innate understanding. I understand singing, but acting, I don't totally get. So, I think, rather than being one of those people who have a perfume line, clothing line, a car interior company, and a music and acting career, I'm going to stick to singing.
MR: On the other hand, you did combine the two when you did the Black Dahlia role, right?
kdl: I know, I know, and I did not want to do that, but they twisted my arm.
MR: (laughs) I'll just throw out, for education, that you were also in Eye Of The Beholder.
kdl: I was, that's right.
MR: So? What was it like working with Ewan McGregor?
kdl: Oh, McGregor was funny, all we did was look for vodka the whole time. That was in his drinking days, so we spent a lot of time in the bar. It was fun. It was a good experience.
MR: One last thing before we leave movie connections. I wanted to ask about Gus Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. That was a kind of break for you, basically, being your soundtrack, wasn't it?
kdl: Well, "break," I don't know. That kind of destroyed my career in a way because I followed Ingenue with the soundtrack to Even Cowgirls Get The Blues and the movie stiffed and the record did worse. Then, just through the retail process, that's where my marker was, so I took a big hit for that decision. But creatively, it was very liberating and I would never regret it.
MR: Sometimes the best works are not necessarily commercially rewarding.
kdl: Oh, definitely. You can definitely see that in painters and stuff for sure.
MR: Now, you're a four-time Grammy winner. How do you feel about all the awards today? I imagine you're grateful for receiving them, but what role do you feel they play these days?
kdl: You know, I just don't even think of myself in that realm anymore. There is so much competition these days...I swear to God I just feel lucky to have a label at this point. I've been in the business for twenty-eight years and that's a long time. Especially in the middle years, there's kind of this awkward time in one's career, in the middle years--I'm sure Tony (Bennett) went through it, I'm sure Johnny Cash went through it, and Peggy Lee, and all those people who have had life long careers. You're in the middle, where people aren't that interested in you because you're too young to be a legend, but you're too old to be hip and pertinent. I kind of feel like that's where I'm at right now, but I just keep doing what I do because I love the music.
MR: You mentioned Tony Bennett before, and you recorded "Moonglow" with him...
kdl: ...yeah, in '94, I think, which won a Grammy. Then, we did "A Wonderful World" together, which also won a Grammy. So, I have good luck with my friend Tony.
MR: Was Roy Orbison an idol to you before or after you recorded "Crying" with him?
kdl: After. I was a bit young to really be a huge fan of Roy. At the time, I was asked to sing the duet of "Crying" with Roy in '87. Through that, I got asked to do the Black & White Night, which is just a stellar recording of his concert. It had Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, and Bonnie Raitt, and I just happened to be a part of it. That's when I really started to study his music and really became a fan. Sing It Loud is definitely an homage to Roy, and that influence sort of went through my being and came out on this record.
MR: You know, I felt like the vibe of Sing It Loud was definitely Roy Orbison, but I was shutting up.
kdl: No, are you kidding? I would light a torch and sing it loud. It's definitely an homage to my experience with Roy, for sure.
MR: Another homage--and you have one of the best versions out there although it seems like everyone has recorded this song--is your take on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
kdl: Yeah. I don't know, it's just such a good song. I think everyone has a good version of it. It's just a beautiful, beautiful song.
MR: It is. By now, it would be impossible to hear every version out there.
kdl: (laughs) Probably. You'd probably die, I think.
MR: (laughs) So, having your new album out there, how do you feel about k.d. lang now compared with when you first started out?
kdl: Well, obviously, I think you look back and take stock every time you make a record. But to me, this is very similar to the energy I had at the very beginning of my career. There is a youthfulness and freshness to it--I guess it could be considered my mid-life crisis record. I think there is a certain joy and a certain abandonment that this record has that really comes from the "live"-ness, the spontaneity, and the fear factor of recording live.
MR: k.d., do you have any advice for new artists?
kdl: I would not have any, and calculatedly so. I think that a new artist--and I'm using artist in the most empowered sense of the word--they don't need advice, they need support and they need momentum. I just think that advice is really self-projected. I don't think I have anything to offer someone who has energy, motivation, and inspiration.
MR: Beautifully said. What does the immediate future hold for you beyond touring?
kdl: That's it. I can't say. I'm just getting ready, crossing my fingers and getting my clothes dry-cleaned. Other than that, we're just going to be touring.
MR: k.d., thank you for spending some time with us, and also for appearing on solar-powered KRUU-FM.
kdl: Solar power! Let the sun shine!
I. I Confess
2. A Sleep With No Dreaming
3. The Water's Edge
4. Perfect Word
5. Sugar Buzz
6. Sing It Loud
8. Habit Of Mind
10. Sorrow Nevermore
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
Intermission: Exclusive Audio Premiere
The Mike Mills' directed/co-written Beginners is his first major film release, and it centers on his own childhood memories and "unique" evolution. Starring Christopher Plumber, Ewan MacGregor, and Mélanie Laurent, its soundtrack features original compositions by Dave Palmer and Roger Niell with Brian Reitzell, and it will drop on May 31st.
A Conversation with JD Souther
Mike Ragogna: J.D., since the title of your new album is Natural History, may we start with a little history lesson about you and your career?
JD Souther: We don't really have to do that. My version of my history seems to digress and ramble all over the place.
MR: (laughs) Aw, now we really do have to.
JD: (laughs) I started playing violin when I was seven and then clarinet at 10, tenor sax at 11, then drums at 12. Drums this day are the thing that I'm really good at. Then piano, and after I went to college, it was drums, drums, drums. I loved it, and I was a jazz kid my whole life. Then, when I went to California, someone left an acoustic guitar in the apartment and I didn't know how to play it, and I had already been writing poetry, so I decided to pick it up and give it a try and everything just seemed to work.
MR: So, you merged your poetry with what you were working out on the guitar?
MR: Eventually, you meet Glenn Frey, and since you both are from Detroit, you guys bond, and one of the things that grows out of this friendship is Longbranch Pennywhitsle.
JD: That's right, the world's first acid acoustic duo.
MR: (laughs) You must look back fondly on those times.
JD: Oh, yeah! (laughs) They were absolutely joyous. We were really just kids and we owned nothing. I had an old Triumph motorcycle and a guitar and he had an old beat up Falcon and a guitar. We lived in this tiny apartment and we got to go wherever we wanted and play music. It was great. And then our friend Jackson (Browne) moved out of the apartment below us, so we each had our own apartment, and after that, we all three got record deals so we each got little houses. (laughs) So, yeah, it was great. I generally thought of myself as being unsentimental and not the least bit naïve, but I think back then, I had a great deal of naïvite about how difficult it was to make it in the music industry. Back then, I never had a Plan B because I had been playing music since I was a kid.
MR: It's interesting that as a kid, you listened to lots of jazz and grew into a jazzer.
JD: Yeah. Well, my dad was a big band singer, his mother was an opera singer, and her parents were actually big Gilbert and Sullivan stars. So, actually, I grew up listening to Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and so on. That was the music that I grew up listening to in my house. My Dad was a huge big band and jazz fan, and we both sort of enjoyed be-bop, but man, it required so much skill to play it. And then there was cool jazz, the era that Miles, Coltrane, and Ornette ushered in, and that found a home in me. It turns out that that music was just really where I breathed.
MR: It's no wonder you're able to write such melodic and passionate songs. So, someone left a guitar in your apartment and you met Glenn and began writing with him, right?
JD: Actually, on that first album, I think he and I only wrote one, possibly two songs together. We were both obviously singing and playing each other's songs, but we hadn't actually become a writing unit at that point. The thing is, when I got to California, my formative year was 1969. In '69, we hung out at The Troubadour Bar the whole year, and every great songwriter you can think of in the past 30 years passed through that bar that year. We saw Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Elton John, Kris Kristofferson, the unbelievable Laura Nyro, Judee Sill, Gene Clark, Tim Hardin, James Taylor, Carole King...I can hardly think of a songwriter that's prominent in the last 40 years that didn't come through The Troubadour that year. So, we had the best songwriting university ever. That really was the thing that moved me off of the tenuous spot that I was on between all of these fields of music that I grew up with and made me realize that what Duke Ellington said was true: "There's only two kinds of music; good music and bad music."
MR: So, was that a catalyst for a revised style of California country-rock?
JD: Well, you also have to realize that the sound of the music also has a lot to do with what the craze is at the time. You know, I wasn't around for the "folk scare" of the '60s. (laughs) But I was a part of the country-rock addiction in the '70s. So, I imagine that, when I moved to California, if the men and women my age were still playing jazz, I would have still been playing tenor sax and drums. But everybody had guitars and they are so much easier to carry than a drum set. And you can't put a piano on the back of a Triumph motorcycle no matter how hard you try. So, the fact that I could just get a strap for my guitar case and go and play a gig was, believe it or not, a big part of my musical development because it was what I could carry. So, because I couldn't play it very well, I had to invent things - some of which I didn't find out what they were called until 30 years later, I would just find something on the neck of the guitar and play it. I had no idea what those cords were in the bridge of "Prisoner In Disguise" when I wrote them, I had to go over to Don Gorman, the piano player, and ask what in the world I was playing. And he'd tell me he didn't know, but he thought it was beautiful and he'd help me figure it out. So, as Pascale said "An artist's style is defined by his limitations." It really is! That was just the style that was available to me at the time. My secret heroes were Joe Morello, Ray Charles who is, in my opinion, the most dominant figure in musical history in the 21st Century, and Frank Sinatra. Those are my heroes. And as a writer when Bob Dylan came along it was a miracle because he gave us all permission to say anything! And I don't mean that in a bad, loose vernacular way, I mean you can address any subject in a song now. Stand-up comedians say that anyone in the audience can be funny, but people paid to see us because we're just a little bit funnier. In the same way I think anybody can play music - in fact I think everyone has music in them, but some of us can do it a little better. So we have to drag ourselves through airports and such traveling and that's stuff is not any fun but the two hours that we get to spend on stage playing music is really, really fun.
MR: When you look at your catalog, the sheer volume of songs that you've written and that people have covered, what are your thoughts?
JD: Well, I have to preface this question by letting you know that I am probably the least nostalgic person that you will ever meet. I always think that today is the best day that there's ever been. The song that I'm working on is always the best song I've ever written. The woman I'm looking at is the most incomprehensibly beautiful woman I've ever seen. These dogs that I have now are, by far, the best dogs I've ever had--although, so were the last pair of dogs I had. (laughs) I always think it's about living in the present because I don't think you can do good work if your head is lingering in the past.
MR: Getting back to Natural History, as you revisit some of your older catalog, the reinterpretations of the songs on this album seem to be a reflection of how you see them now. Is that a fair assessment?
JD: That's right.
MR: How did "Faithless Love" and "Prisoner In Disguise" come to Linda Ronstadt's attention?
JD: I was in my little piano room at the back of our apartment at two or three in the morning, and I guess I woke Linda up. So, she came down the hall and asked me what it was that I was playing and I was trying to write the bridge of "Faithless Love." I told her I thought it was gonna be a really great song but it's kind of hopeless. I had a modulation going into the bridge and one coming right out of it and it seemed too crazy and I didn't think it was gonna work. She said that she thought it was beautiful and she wanted to sing it.
MR: That's great. And then, of course, there was Glen Campbell's version that came out years later, which was one of his last big country hits.
JD: Glen is a great singer and it was a completely different market and came out a reasonable amount of time after the other version. It was even nominated for a Grammy. He really made it a big record. The funny thing is the public memory seems to be that the hit came from Linda's version in the same way that people thought that "Desperado" was a hit for The Eagles, which just wasn't the case. It's just by virtue of accruing an audience that really liked those songs over the years and sort of made them into standards, even though in their initial release, they weren't singles or hits.
MR: Producer Fred Mollin, who also oversaw Barry Mann's Soul & Inspiration and Jimmy Webb's Ten Easy Pieces remake albums, did a great job with you on your own revisit of your older work. Let's talk about working with Fred and the musicians you used on this more intimate take on your older work.
JD: Well, those musicians are actually my band that I play with in various smaller combinations. Except on two songs, Chris Walters is on piano and Viktor Krauss is on bass, and they travel with me all the time, and when he can, Rob McGaha is on trumpet, he's my regular trumpet player. Jeff Coffin on saxophone, he's my regular sax player. In addition, the guys that we brought in were great--Brian Sutton on guitar on a couple of things, and John Hobbs played my exact same piano part on "Go Ahead And Rain" so that I could focus on singing and not have to play at the same time. So, yeah, they were great players...God, everybody played absolutely beautifully. I had some misgivings at first because I did not want to play my what I call "Blankety-blank-blank old songs," and certainly not a whole album of them. (laughs)
Fred, my producer followed me around for a year trying to get me to do this, he had already done the same thing with Jimmy Webb and Kris Kristofferson with wonderful finished products. Basically, the idea behind it was going back and recording those songs that you wrote that were hit songs for other artists so that when people hear them, they then associate them with you and your body of work, and it also gives you a chance to see how far you've come through the years and think about how you would interpret those same songs now. I fought it and fought it and fought it. Then, I listened to a Frank Sinatra record called Sinatra at the Sands, and it's Frank and the Count Basie Band with Quincy Jones doing the charts. He does this amazing version of "I've Got You Under My Skin," and I thought to myself, "I've heard, at least, two other Sinatra versions of this song." So, I went through my personal record collection and found four completely different cuts of that song, one was all the way from the late '30s when the song had a sort of "Begin The Beguine" beat, all the way to this incredible heart-pounding double brass section that Frank also did in the late '50s or early '60s. I began to realize that there was nothing wrong with reinterpreting your own songs and that it was okay, and just about the time that I was almost convinced, Chuck Mitchell from the record company told me that I couldn't say no to this project. He asked me how many artists get the opportunity to record an album of their own standards, and that made me feel really old, but he told me to get over that because I was a part of the American songbook now. So, they asked me if I did any of those songs now, would I do them, how would I change them, and how I feel about them in 2011, and that sort of opened the door to me revisiting these songs.
Then, we started recording and the album started terribly. I had been the producer for myself for 25 years, and I was grumpy and kind of impossible about the whole thing. I still feel bad for all of those artists that were playing with me for the first two or three days. (laughs) And then, it finally dawned on me that this was such a breathtaking opportunity and I began to get excited. Then, we all got the flu right before the holidays. (laughs) It was just like that old Bing Crosby song. Everybody was home sick...I don't want to go into too much detail, but it was gross. Everybody was home sick through the holidays, sessions fell apart, we had to stop because I lost my voice, and one piano player left town--it was just a scrambled mess. Then, I had one of those moments of clarity that you sometimes get when you're sick and things just sort of crystallized. I thought to myself that this new project was really a chance for me to repay my debt and pay tribute to all of that music I listened to as a kid...I get to make a crooner album. I actually just got to go in and sing my prettiest songs, or at least half of them. The list that people kept coming back to me with was about 25 songs long, so there will probably be a part two to this album.
MR: Nice, because I was going to ask about "White Rhythm And Blues," one of my favorite JD Souther songs.
JD: Yeah, we missed a lot of them. We missed "Heartache Tonight," and "Her Town Too," "The Last In Love," and "Victim Of Love." But I think for this one, we got the best of them, and especially stuff that fits the way I'm playing now and the musicians I'm playing with now. The confidence to do this album, for me, really came from spending the last two years on the road with these kinds of musicians playing these songs and also some older ones, because we are bats**t crazy onstage. The last time we played in Memphis, we opened with a Fats Waller song and at the merchandise table later, people kept asking, "You know that new song of yours that you opened with?" I'd have to explain to them that it was actually written in 1916. But I thanked them anyway and told them that I was so glad they enjoyed it. (laughs)
MR: So, in a way, you're educating folks by doing that, and your album of revisits almost serves that purpose as well. It's kind of a dilemna, with so much music being constantly released, a lot of the classics of the past are getting lost. I mean, how does one keep up, you know?
JD: You don't! The numbers are too huge. I mean, the first year that I put out an album, there were about 1,000 others released as well. And in 2009, there were 115,000 albums released. It's pretty diluted.
MR: I also wanted to talk about The Eagles' "Best Of My Love" and "The Sad Café" which are two of my favorites by the group. How did your relationship with them come about? I'm sure it started with your friendship with Glenn...by the way, I've always thought of you as the sixth Eagle. (laughs)
JD: Yeah, when there were four of them, they used to call me the fifth Eagle. (laughs) "The Sad Café" is both a literal and metaphorical place. It was The Troubadour bar and this Italian restaurant that was two doors down, and we practically lived in both of those places because we had crap places to live in at home. As we made money, we were actually able to afford to eat well in the Italian restaurant, I think that that was where we realized that our innocence was irretrievably lost. That's what that song is about. It was really the thematic window into this album because I had never sung that song before, I had never recorded it myself. I, of course, loved The Eagles' recording of it. It was absolutely breathtaking. But I really wanted to get in there and make the song small as if it were only talking to one other person.
MR: JD, of course, there are so many songs on Natural History that were recorded by other artists, but you feature your own hits as well, "You're Only Lonely," being one of your best known. Is there a story behind the song?
JD: There is, actually. It's a very short, but very instructive story. I actually wrote it many years before I recorded it. I wrote it in Colorado one winter. This may sound insane to you because you live in a place where it gets cold, but I lived in Southern California then, and I would get so hot and bored during the summer that I couldn't wait for the winter to come so that I could move to Colorado and live in this little cabin on a ridge. I stayed snowed in most of the time and wrote most of my songs there. I wrote that one for a girl that I was seeing at the time who was flying in to Colorado to see me. She always seemed to be creating these very intricate webs of detail around what were basically simple human problems, such as "You're only lonely. There's nothing else wrong with you. You're not crazy, and your family's not abusive. Your career is great, you're beautiful, everything's fine! You're just lonely." So, I wanted to write her this song to send her home with, and it's just two verses with a refrain line at the end of each verse. When we began recording the album that became You're Only Lonely, the working title was White Rhythm and Blues, which, obviously, was not a popular title with the record company. At one point, I was playing Waddy Watchel all of these songs--I write slow songs and dirges anyway, I have the slowest approach to tempo imaginable--and he told me that I had to have something that was a little bit more up-tempo. I told him that I had one but it wasn't really finished yet because it didn't have a bridge, or a chorus...hell, it didn't even have a last verse. There wasn't much to it at all. But it was catchy and it was pretty and it was pure. Anyway, I played him the song and he slapped his head and said, "That's it! That's your single!" And I explained to him again that it didn't even have a last verse, and he told me to just sing the first verse again. So, I did, and that's how it all happened. (laughs)
MR: Now, I have to ask even though it's not on this newest album, one of your more topical singles was "Her Town Too," which was your duet with James Taylor. Everyone had their own theories regarding what it was about, including me. But I would love to hear what's really happening in that one. (laughs)
JD: Absolutely not! No. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Okay, bluntly put, was it the James Taylor/Carly Simon breakup song?
JD: No, absolutely not! It has nothing to do with Carly. It was written about something else. James, Waddy and I were hanging out at me house, which is what guys like us did in the '80s. Then, Waddy said that since there weren't any girls there, we should all write a song and James and I kind of looked at him dumbly and asked what it should be about. So, Waddy tossed some ideas out and we started singing lines back and forth to each other. It was literally written about the same way that it sounds on the album--I'd sing a line and he'd respond or vice versa. And I have to say, for a record that did really well and that people really did like, that was the easiest song to write. It was just a conversation between James and I about a situation that we knew. It's not about Carly at all. Carly was neither mentioned, implied, nor was she the origin of that song. All the other events took place way later than that.
MR: Cool, understood. But you can see why people might misunderstand, right?
JD: I can. It's okay though because when "New Kid In Town" came out, people asked me for two years after that if it was about Bruce Springsteen. Of course, it's not, it's just about older guys in general losing their jobs to the kids that are coming up behind us. I actually started that song sitting in a Mexican restaurant, which is why it sounds the way it does on this new album. It began as a much more "Tex-Mex" sounding piece of music. I had the chorus in my head for about a year, but I didn't know what to do with it. Where could I go with the story? It was like I knew what I meant but I couldn't fill in all of the details. So, I played it for all my boys and Don and Glenn just said, "Yeah, man. That's the one. Let's go to work on it." So, we made this story and, again, it was sort of a call and response kind of collaboration with each other. It was very competitive, but still very supportive of each other. We wanted the message to get across and be taken seriously. This was a song that we wanted to last 50 years not five weeks, you know?
MR: Yeah, and it's yet another Eagles song that is definitely most memorable.
JD: It seems like it. I'll tell you something, the list of songs that are on this album, with the exception of "Little Victories"--which is actually the theme of the album--the rest of the songs are pretty much the ones that are most requested. But "New Kid In Town" was a great piece that was the result of my collaboration with two great writers, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. But that song never would have been fleshed out to the dimensions it has without those two guys. We all made each other better writers. In my opinion, working with those two guys gave me the confidence to be more of a singer as well.
MR: That's great. Now, you're not only a singer, you're also an actor who's been in several projects. Like, weren't you on Thirty-Something for a bit?
JD: Yeah. I was on for about five episodes or something.
MR: Yeah, and you were also in Postcards From The Edge?
JD: Yup, I was, I played Meryl Streep's friend. And I was also in--and bear with me until I get to the end of this--I was in a Sci-Fi cowboy movie with Sam Shepard and Eric Roberts called Purgatory. It was really fun! And it's also rentable and Netflix-able. I just watched it again the other night! It's just silly as can be and so wonderful.
MR: You're also working on a new film that's coming out soon.
JD: We finished it actually. We shot it in the winter at just about the same time as I was recording this album. We had shooting days in between recording days and sick days. (laughs) It was really a tough winter this year. But it's a wonderful movie called Deadline and it's based on a book entitled Grievances by Mark Ethridge. I don't want to spoil anything. It's just a great screenplay, based on a great novel, which was based on real events that happened right here, outside of Nashville. It's about two murders that occur 20 years apart but they're directly linked to each other. It's a very interesting piece of work.
MR: Nice. With the amount of knowledge and experience that you've gained over your career, do you have any advice for new artists?
JD: I don't think they'd take it. (laughs) I wouldn't have. My dad once told me that I got where I was by ignoring everyone that ever gave me a piece of good advice. (laughs) It's not really true because I took his advice often and the advice of a wonderful composition professor that I had in college whom I am still friends with. Career-wise, I think things have changed so much since I started. You have to remember when I first started trying to get a record deal, I was so in awe of the standards of the things I was hearing on the radio that I was a bit overwhelmed. First off, every artist had to fit through the keyhole that was guarded by record executives and that's not necessarily the case anymore. So, for me, to get in at all was so surprising. The point is I no longer know what the ground rules are for new artists. I don't think anyone has yet figured out the paradigm or model for success that even has a remote chance of succeeding continually. It's obvious that anything that doesn't cost you a lot of money and spreads virally works in your favor. But it's also obvious that you can spend a fortune on promotion and recording and everything and still flop or be eclipsed by someone who was the flavor of the week on American Idol. The rules have all changed. There's no way to be sure about it, but there is a way to be pure about it and that is to absolutely reject things that don't feel true to you. What I said before about your style being defined by your limitations is true. But if you're really doing the best you can, the thing that will emerge through that permeable cloth of limitations will be your style.
MR: Very wise words, sir. This has been terrific and, again, best of luck with your new album Natural History. You're going out on tour to support it, right?
JD: That's right. We'll be going out the week after the album is released.
MR: Well, you'll have to come back sometime to talk again, maybe even about Natural History, Volume 2.
JD: Oh, yeah, that'd be great. Thanks, Mike.
1. Go Ahead And Rain
2. Faithless Love
3. You're Only Lonely
4. The Sad Café
5. Silver Blue
6. New Kid In Town
7. I'll Take Care Of You
8. Little Victories
9. Prisoner In Disguise
10. Best Of My Love
11. I'll Be Here At Closing Time
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin
A Conversation with Bobby Long
Mike Ragogna: Bobby, your style has been compared to that of "...an early Bob Dylan" by Pollstar, and your song "Penance Fire Blues" is a good example. Do you feel there are any similarities between you and him, and are you a fan?
Bobby Long: I think a lot of people get compared to him because he is so influential. When people see a solo performer who plays harmonica a bit, you always get the Dylan tag. I love his music but there are others who i am influenced by as much as him.
MR: Your album A Winter Tale seems to be a collection of introspective songs. Did you write them from personal experience?
BL: I think they all came from a personal place, but I'm not sure they all came from a direct experience. Often, the thing with writing is you can throw yourself temporarily into a situation or a feeling. As it's coming from you, it always has a personal feel, but imagination is an important and fun tool.
MR: Would you describe your style as "folk"?
BL: I thing that there are folk influences, but "folk" now is such a broad genre. In terms of the traditional ideas of folk music like storytelling, I think that some of my stuff floats inside the boundaries of that.
MR: Songs like "In The Frost" and "The Bounty Of Mary Jane" seem to emphasize your British roots, considering the topics, lyrics, and melodies. On the other hand, "Sick Man Blues" seems pure U.S. folk-country. Who were your musical influences, both British and American?
BL: On the American side, I love Dylan, Young, The Band, Elliott Smith, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman and lots more. English bands The Beatles, The Kinks, the Who, Zeppelin, The Stones, and loads more. I listen to a lot of different music from all different times.
MR: How did you land The White Stripes' producer, Liam Watson, for A Winter Tale?
BL: He was producing my best friend's band, and we hung out and found we got on well. An opportunity sprang up, and we just fell into it. I just started with a 4-day session where we recorded 5 songs, and then I decided I would do the album there.
MR: What was it like working with him?
BL: Hes great and knows how to get the best out of everyone. He also has a really great team around him so the whole experience was a lot of fun.
MR: What was it like working with Nona Hendryx?
BL: She is incredibly kind and really supportive with new artists. She took 10 minutes to do her part, and told us some great stories and left. She has always been really good to me, and I felt lucky she sang on my record.
MR: Where will your album tour take you in the coming year?
BL: So far, me and my band have been all over the US and Canada, and I just came back from Australia. I'm heading to Europe in a week to play some shows there too. It's been really great so far, and I'm excited for what's to come.
MR: What's your advice for new artists?
BL: Just to stick to your guns and work hard.
1. A Winter Tale
2. Who Have You Been Loving
3. The Bounty Of Mary Jane
4. In The Frost
5. Sick Man Blues
6. Penance Fire Blues
7. A Passing Tale
8. Dead And Done
9. Being A Mockingbird
10. Two Years Old
11. A Stranger Song
photo credit: Mike Ragogna
Blogging tonight from Fairfield, Iowa's Cafe Paradiso. Nice work, Apocalypso Tantric Boys Choir's Jimmy Moore, David and Eric Hurlin, with guests Jonnie Cohen, Steve Giacomini, and Willie Mosto
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