Stevie Nicks' brand new album In Your Dreams was released last week to rave reviews from fans and critics alike. See Stevie talk about each track on the album and the process of making In Your Dreams along with producers Dave Stewart and Glen Ballard. (http://wbr.fm/StevieIYD )
In Your Dreams Part 1
In Your Dreams Part 2:
A Conversation with Matt Nathanson
Mike Ragogna: Hi, Matt.
Matt Nathanson: Hello.
MR: You were a blast at SXSW (South By Southwest), let's just get that out of the way.
MN: Oh man, that was a fun time. I was starting to see imaginary elephants and stuff by that time. We did like three shows a day and I was starting to trip.
MR: I was going to ask you about that--sir, it was like you were SXSW.
MN: Dude, I felt a little bit like an overworked prostitute but in the best possible way.
MR: (laughs) And your riffing on all that was Black Swan is absolutely priceless. Would you please revisit that for our readers?
MN: Oh man, what did I say? I was not a big fan of Black Swan--I kind of felt like it was late night Cinemax with Natalie Portman.
MR: (laughs) Okay, your new album is Modern Love, and with all the topics on here, I would say I'm with you. You actually unite all the music under the flag of Modern Love.
MN: Everybody in my life--like all my friends--were going through these relationship upheavals around the time I was writing these songs. So, I was getting all of this information coming in and I was obviously interpreting it through my own filter. But the songs are all kind of about the way that love exists now, in the time of everything moving at hyper-speed, you know what I mean...in a land where people can be best friends on Twitter and never have met?
MR: Oh, Modern Love, you rascal you.
MN: Yeah, the record is about love, and how that volatile, emotional, human, great, amazing, collision that is love between people exists now, in a time where things move so fast.
MR: Speaking of the concept, Modern Love's first track is appropriately titled, "Faster." It has a little bit of a "Not Fade Away" beat going on.
MN: Oh yeah, I bring a little Bo Diddley into the times. It's happened before--George Michael did it, and now, it's time to bring it back.
MR: That's a good lead into finding out who influenced you.
MN: You mean as a kid or for this record?
MR: Musically, in general.
MN: When I was a kid, I was hugely into hair metal, and I still am to an extent. But when I was a kid, I grew up outside Boston, so for me, it was like Van Halen, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, and that kind of stuff. So, that's how I started. I think the first band I ever fell in love with was KISS. Then, U2 came along and sort of bridged the gap for me between the stuff that was hair metal and the stuff that can sort of go down with less pyrotechnics. There is great songwriting in hair metal, I just think it's fantastic. But for me, U2 kind of came along with all the bombast and greatness of those bands, but kind of segued me into Dylan, Lou Reed, and that kind of stuff.
MR: In the song "Modern Love," the girl basically says she's used to liars. But to me, it's like she just wants to get that portion of her life over with. How far off am I?
MN: "Modern Love" is sort of about this girl I knew who just couldn't get together with anyone besides these douche-y men, you know what I mean?
MR: Oh, yeah. The characters that are on this album are really well fleshed out, and it's not like you're doing Harry Chapin narratives, but you are doing enough of a descriptive narrative that listeners can relate to them personally. Take "Room At The End Of The World" for example. Who hasn't felt like retreating in that way?
MN: For me, this was the first record where not every song was like a diary entry. I've made a bunch of records, and all of them sort of felt like letters from me to certain people. This record was the first time I could digest and interpret other people's stories and my own. It's sort of freeing to not feel like you have to write about yourself or that you can write about yourself through other people. It felt like a lot less of a confessional record, even though it's just as confessional. It just felt kind of cool to be able to tell these people's stories.
MR: My favorite line of the album is, "I let go of love once it finally had me figured out." What a great line.
MN: Thanks, man. Yeah, lyrics to me are kind of the thing that I take the most pride in, and are the thing that I sort of labor over the most because to me, lyrics make a song. If there is an amazing song with terrible lyrics, I can't hang with it. For me, it's all about communicating on the level of the voice, the music, and all that stuff, but lyrics always kind of blow my mind. That's one of my favorite lyrics too, actually. They go through little changes too, over the course of the process, where it will be like I have ten different versions of that same line with one word changed every time--I'm kind of that type of writer.
MR: You were also able to slip in a line about Sinatra, thank you.
MN: Oh, Frank.
MR: Every guy still wants to be Sinatra, right?
MN: Other than the whole misogynistic part of Frank, everybody wants that suaveness. He sings, and it just destroys you. Elvis had a similar way about him, but if you want, you can deflect Elvis, and sort of keep it at bay. With Sinatra, it's just impossible--his voice just had a sadness in it and a power in it. It changes over the course of his career too, to where you get a certain type of Sinatra and then he sings the same song and you'll get a very different song, but it all has this vulnerability to it.
MR: And if there are different levels of cockiness, there it all was in his voice.
MN: It's totally true. I wish that I had been able to be a bigger fan when he was alive--I came to him later. He's impossible to deny. That voice.
MR: Speaking of voices, you've got this sort of Bono-esque thing going on, but you've also got some of John Mayer's "Ooh, ooh," like on "Clarity," but you know what? They're not worthy to carry your microphone, sir.
MN: Now, Bono I can see, but John Mayer, I don't know if I've ever seen in me. U2 is one of my favorite bands of all time, so I feel like every record I make, I try to either make Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, or Achtung Baby.
MR: Nice. Which one would this album be?
MN: I don't know, it's got a little more of Achtung Baby than not.
MR: Back to the songs, another one of my favorite lines is from "Kiss Quick": "Stop talking...put your back into it."
MN: I like that song a lot. I was trying to portray a certain type of person, and I feel like the song did it. The way that the song moves, the way that the song unfolds, the way the vocals are delivered, and the way that the lyrics are--I feel like that was a real turning point for the record. We recorded a bunch of songs before that song, and then sort of did battle with that song--pulling parts out, re-recording different parts, and kind of struggling with it. When it finally started to turn the corner, I remember we took the drums off and we put a loop on. We had Jason McGerr, drummer from Death Cab, play drums for us on most of the record. I was sort of explaining to him, after I was frustrated, "You know, we recorded this and spent all day tracking this version, but I'm hearing this loop." I was kind of explaining that to him, and then he went and laid down another track on top of it, and then laid down percussion on top of that. All of a sudden, the whole song shifted, and that was when the record kind of...it was like, "Yes, that is the way we should do this. This is it. It should sound like the future in the way that those great Tears For Fears records still sound like the future." I wanted my record to do what those records did to me, and that was what "Kiss Quick" did. All of a sudden, it was like I was watching Blade Runner or something--it was just this great moment. Then, the producer and I...immediately, the ship turned, and all sails pointed to this idea. So, "Kiss Quick" is a very pivotal song.
MR: Everybody is used to loops by now, but I'm not sure people are aware they've become cornerstones in many of our favorite records of the last few years. To me, grooves add that potentially missing layer of "feel" to what could otherwise come off as a book reading, especially with lyric-focused recordings.
MN: Rhythm is so important, and the groove. Those great records from INXS, and The Pretenders--the groove on those records are just solid. It's all about the vocal delivery and the groove, and everything else just kind of hangs. Everything else is like colors, but it's really that the foundation is the groove, and then the vocal.
MR: Right, the delivery of the vocal being incredibly important. So, what inspired "Mercy."
MN: That song kind of came out of my desire to write a song that melded Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and a guitar riff--I'd never written a song around a riff. It kind of came from the idea of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club meets Def Leppard. That chorus, to me, was total "Armageddon It," and that was kind of how we wrote it. I'd never had songs where they were propelled by a guitar riff, and there are a couple on this record. I feel like that was the beginning of this thing. Maybe my next album will be made entirely of riffs.
MR: And, of course, there will always be metal lurking in there somewhere.
MN: Oh, yeah.
MR: By the way, I can so relate to some of the lines in "Mercy" because I get ridiculous too.
MN: Oh my God, "I get ridiculous" is the best line from this whole interview--that's like its own song. That song was the most singer-songwriter-ish. The image is the idea of how you're getting ready to run into a burning building and someone is sort of yelling to you, "Don't do it, the building is on fire," and you're like, "Yeah, but it's really cold out here, and it's warm in there." They're like, "No, don't do it, the building is on fire." Then, as you're burning up you're like, "Oh my God, if I could only have kept my wits about me and kept my hands to myself, I wouldn't be in this situation of sort of burning down my life."
MR: In my life, that's what I call a Tuesday. Why do we do that?
MN: It's passion. Passion and stupidity--it's like a lethal cocktail of the two.
MR: Plus the pair makes for an amazingly driving force.
MN: When that trigger gets fingered, it's the kind of thing where you'll move mountains for it and you'll throw anybody under the bus for that feeling until you get a handle on yourself.
MR: I'm there. By the way, I love the honesty of "Run" with its "I want to watch you undress" admission.
MN: Dude, it's funny, my business manager's wife sent me an email that said, "I love this record, but I have to tell you that I take umbrage with "I want to watch you undress. I feel like it's a little too direct and you could have been more subtle." I told her, "I appreciate what you're saying, but sometimes, you just have to straight up tell someone that you want to watch them undress.
MR: Randy Newman was not shy about saying, "You Can Leave Your Hat On," you know? (Note: My interview with Randy Newman will be posting next week.)
MN: Dude, Randy Newman is rarely shy. He's been called many things, but not shy.
MR: (laughs) Matt, what is your advice for new artists?
MN: My favorite thing is this idea that I'm realizing that as I progress through my career, I wish somebody had said to me its all about listening to people's advice but not taking it as gospel. Art and your expression of art--everybody tries to pretend they know better than you, but really, you know better than anybody. So, I think I spent most of my career trying to find my center, while spending a lot of time being knocked off my center by people being like, "You need to be like this." In my pursuit of pleasing people, I think I went astray in the way I made records. There is a certain kind of confidence that only comes with time spent, which is kind of cruel because if you had it at the beginning, you could do wonderful things with your first records. Sometimes, people luck into doing amazing things with their first records, but for me it was kind of like nobody knows you better than you know you, and you're sort of your best friend. So, the more you trust yourself artistically and in decisions that you make, the better off you'll be. You'll at least feel that wherever you end up, you got there yourself. It's a little hippy, but it really is fundamental because in this industry, everybody wants to tell you who you should be.
MR: You have an interesting career because you not only had your top ten hit with "Come On Get Higher," but we can consider you as having major hits just from the sheer amount of shows that your material has appeared on. Actually, I think you may be one of the most musically exposed artists on television.
MN: It's fun. It's always fun to see your songs played against somebody else's drama, and then it kind of blows open your songs in a cool way that you didn't really expect.
MR: How did you react to "Come On Get Higher," when that became a hit?
MN: It was a pretty nice feeling. Truthfully, I've probably only heard it about eight times on the radio over the course of my life, so for me it was just one of those things that people kept telling me about. People would be like, "It's going great. The radio is really playing this," and I'd be like, "That's great, but I don't hear it." Then, I remember we did a summer concert in Des Moines, Iowa, and people had always sung along to songs, but we played "Come On Get Higher" at that show, and this entire lawn of people at this huge, outdoor show erupted and sang along. That was a moment when I was like, "Whoa, so this is what it feels like."
MR: And when you heard it on the radio the first time?
MN: That's always a trip. The first time you hear it, you get self-conscious and start pulling it apart, but the second time you hear it, you enjoy it. The first time you're like, "Oh, what's happening with my voice? We shouldn't have done that bass line." Then, all of a sudden, the second time you hear it you're like, "Oh yeah, this is right on."
MR: Nice. By the way, you're talking to Iowa--Fairfield, Iowa--right now.
MN: (laughs) Oh, are you in Iowa?
MR: Matt, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to me again. It's been a lot of fun keeping up with your albums.
MN: Oh man, thanks for having me. This has been great.
2. Modern Love
3. Love Comes Tumbling Down
4. Room at the End of the World
5. Kiss Quick
8. Run - with Jennifer Nettles & Kristian Bush
9. Queen of (K)nots
10. Drop to Hold You
11. Bottom of the Sea
FYI, Modern Love will be released June 21st and you can go to www.mattnathanson.com to pre-order.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with Roger McGuinn
Mike Ragogna: Roger, are you there?
Roger McGuinn: I'm here, Mike. How are you?
MR: I'm doing well. How are you, sir?
RM: Fine, thank you.
MR: I'm so glad that you could join us here at solar powered KRUU-FM.
RM: That's cool. We're solar powered at home too. We have a 6.2 kilowatt system, and it runs everything. Our electric bill is zero, except for administration fees--we sell them more than we use.
MR: How does that work, selling it back?
RM: It's called metering. You have a meter that goes both ways, so when the inverters get done supplying the house and all the stuff in the house, the stuff left over goes back to the grid, and we get credit for it at the same rate that they charge us.
RM: Yes, it's wonderful. It takes a little bit of doing to get the power company to go along with it--they're not really eager to get it going--but once they do it works fine. I wish more people would realize that it is more cost effective than they think. I talk to a lot of people in the Northeast and the Midwest, and they say, "Oh, we couldn't do that. We get too much cloud cover and too much snow." Well, look at Germany, they have really cloudy weather most of the year, and they use solar panels over there to a wonderful extent. So, I think people just don't realize how well it could be done here. I use it not just for the house, but also for transportation. I've got an electric, little motorcycle that I go to the supermarket with every day, and it's powered by the solar panels, so it's really got a zero carbon footprint.
MR: Nice. It's clearly becoming a more feasible energy source, and as power companies come around to giving the credits, it's totally the way to go, don't you think?
RM: I think so, as oil gets more expensive and alternatives are available.
MR: Absolutely. Well, we've had a great solar power discussion, but I also want to let everybody know that you are going to be performing this Friday night over at Iowa City's Englert Theatre.
RM: Yes, I am, and I'm really looking forward to it. It's a beautiful theater.
MR: I think the last performer I saw there was Lucinda Williams, what a nice venue. Have you played there before?
RM: No, I don't believe I have, but I love the old theaters--it's my favorite kind of venue to play. We've narrowed it down to...we don't do outdoor festivals, we don't do clubs. We just do theaters and that's all we want to do.
MR: What material will you be playing? Will you be running the whole gamut?
RM: Yeah, I do stuff from The Byrds...I think people would be disappointed if I didn't play "Turn, Turn, Turn," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "Eight Miles High." Some of the songs have evolved a bit over the years, so they're not the same as the records. I talk about the stories of how the songs were made, what went into them and what they mean to me. I do some stuff from my solo CDs over the years, and some of the folk tunes I have on The Folk Den, which is my website for preserving traditional music, at www.mcguinn.com.
MR: Can we talk about that for a second or two? When I interviewed you back in Pittsburgh last year, we talked about if briefly, but let's clue everybody in on what you're doing with your site.
RM: Well, I started it back in '95, when the internet was just being turned over to civilians from the military. I realized back then that I wasn't hearing as much traditional music as I heard before. The new folk singers were singer/songwriters, which was fine, but they weren't doing the old traditional stuff as much. So, I thought I'd do my bit to save the old songs that I thought could get lost in the shuffle by putting them up on the internet for free downloads. I put them up on my website, and it's actually called "The Folk Den," which is named after a little room at The Troubador folk club in Hollywood where The Byrds got together back in the '60s. The idea is just to keep the songs going. I put the lyrics, the chords, a little story about the song, a picture, and an MP3 file you can download free. There are over one hundred-ninety MP3 files on the site for people to download, share with their friends and families, learn the songs, and keep them going.
MR: Wow, that's pretty conscious and generous and of you to offer that.
RM: Well, I felt like giving back a little bit. Everybody's been good to me and I just felt like giving back.
MR: I noticed on one of these projects, Treasures From The Folk Den, you had Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and Odetta. So, you're educating beyond merely the material. You're also educating people in the context of who is important in the field.
RM: Well, I believe so. A lot of people don't realize the heroes of folk music over the past fifty years, even though that wonderful PBS thing went out with John Sebastian narrating it. It's called Folk Rewind on PBS and it's kind of fun. Pete is 92 now, and he's still going. It's wonderful.
MR: Can we get into a little bit of history? I really want everyone to have the full spectrum experience of Roger McGuinn.
MR: First of all, let's start out with some of the basics--the formation of The Byrds in a billion words or less?
RM: Well, I talk about this so much that I put it on my FAQ on my website. So, if anybody is interested, they can look it up there--I wrote the whole thing myself. I talk about it in the show, and it's kind of a giveaway to the prospective audience members reading this. You can find it at www.mcguinn.com, in The Byrds FAQ.
MR: Okay. You still have relationships with the remaining Byrds to this day, right?
RM: Yes, Chris Hillman and I email, and I've talked to David Crosby over the years. They are the only ones surviving from the original Byrds.
MR: Can you share any stories of The Byrds' material?
RM: I think my favorite is "Turn, Turn, Turn." I just love the way Pete Seeger put that together. He tells a story about it and I can tell it to you because I don't know that it's in my show. Pete got a letter from his music publisher that said, "Pete, you've got to stop writing these protest songs because I just can't sell them." Pete got mad and said, "You've got the wrong songwriter because that's all I do, write protest songs." He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket--evidently he'd been going through the Bible, taking notes--and it said, "To everything there is a season. Turn, turn, turn." He put the "turn, turn, turn" in it, made up a tune for it, and started doing it and it caught on. That's the origin of that song. I just love the song for what it says, the melody, and it just makes you feel good.
MR: It does. Another huge hit and cultural milestone, "Mr. Tambourine Man," was almost an introduction to Bob Dylan.
RM: Yeah. Well, a lot of people...in fact I heard Bruce Springsteen say that he hadn't heard Bob Dylan until he heard The Byrds do "Mr. Tambourine Man." So, that's kind of interesting, the way that worked for some people, although Bob was popular as a songwriter and a folk singer at that point. Jim Dixon, who just passed away last month, I believe, found the song "Mr. Tambourine Man," and he was the person who introduced it to us. We didn't really know about the song and he made us all audition to see who was going to sing it. First, Gene tried to sing it, then David Crosby tried to sing it, and I did too. We all tried it, and I got the part. That's how it all worked out.
MR: Thus begins the bromance between The Byrds and Bob Dylan.
RM: Well, we just appreciated his songwriting so much that we wanted to do as much of his material, as we could find. Fortunately, there was a whole lot of it, and it was all good. I think Columbia Records, which is now Sony Music, put together a compilation of The Byrds doing Dylan at some point, and there were enough songs to put a whole album out.
MR: Years later, Roger McGuinn goes on Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue with him.
RM: I did. I was invited to go on Rolling Thunder in '75, and I had some commitments with my band on the road at the time, which I had to cancel to do it. I really never regretted doing that because it was so much fun with Joan Baez, Bob. And Jacques Levy, my friend, was out there as the director of the show. It was just a great experience.
MR: Joni Mitchell also was out there on that tour.
RM: Yeah, she was out there. I used to sit next to her on the bus--I tell a story about that and sing her song.
MR: Nice. When you look at your body of work, do you acknowledge The Byrds' contribution to pop music and the California sound or country-rock?
RM: Well, people tell me about that and it's a very nice thing to know about.
MR: Now, your first Roger McGuinn solo tracks were released on the Easy Rider soundtrack, right?
RM: Well, let's see, I guess I was still with The Byrds at that time. In '68, The Byrds were still together, so yeah, my first solo things were on the Easy Rider soundtrack.
MR: "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and "Ballad Of Easy Rider."
RM: Right. Peter Fonda asked me to do those songs. "Ballad Of Easy Rider" was a song that I kind of co-wrote, but it was later given to me as a solo song.
MR: Going through The Byrds' albums, they were all incredible, but the one that seems to have stuck with the culture strongly was Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Why do you think that was?
RM: Well, the Sweetheart Of The Rodeo album was a surprise to everybody. It was a surprise to people that were fans of The Byrds because they were used to a certain kind of music--the combination of folk and rock--and they were pretty much rock fans, who weren't expecting a country album. Then, the people who liked country music listened to it and they didn't know what to think of it. So, it didn't do really well back when it came out. After--what's it been now, it came out in '68?
MR: I think so, yeah.
RM: Anyway, it's become one of the best received Byrds albums of all time, making the Rolling Stone top five-hundred or whatever, and that's kind of cool. At the time, though, people didn't know what to think of it--it was too much of a left turn for them or a right turn.
MR: It's also considered the sweetheart of the California country rock movement.
RM: Well, in all fairness, Gram Parsons had a band called The International Submarine Band, where they did some grand stuff, and kind of did the same kind of music that The Byrds did on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. So, it wasn't the first time that had been done. We had done country-ish music back as early as the Turn! Turn! Turn! album, which was our second Byrds album. So, country was in The Byrds' repertoire, but Sweetheart Of The Rodeo was the first time we did an entire album of that kind of music.
MR: Also, it isn't the first time you influenced or inspired music in the culture. You guys were also the basis for a lot of alternative and Americana that evolved into other genres over the years.
RM: Well, I guess so. You could say that.
MR: And, of course, Tom Petty was quite an admirer.
RM: That's what I heard. (laughs)
MR: Me too. (laughs)
RM: I can't really talk about this stuff--it's for somebody else to say--but thank you.
MR: To this day, what is your favorite guitar to play?
RM: My favorite guitar now is my Martin HD-7 because it's got everything. It's got the jingle-jangle thing from the twelve string, it's got the flexibility of the six string, and the bass notes where you can do bass runs and that sort of thing. I love the twelve-string Rickenbacker--I play that a lot--and I have a twelve-string acoustic that I love to play, and a five-string banjo. I love them all, but the HD-7 has the overall sound that I like so much, so I really spend more time playing that than any other guitar. It's a guitar that came about from a breakage on an airline. Did you ever see that Dave Carroll video, "United Breaks Guitars"?
RM: He got eight-million hits on that, and United finally caved in and gave him some money or something. I had a guitar broken on an airline, and I went to the Martin company--it was a twelve-string acoustic--and I contacted Dick Boak, who was the artist relations guy there. We sat down at lunch and kind of designed a hybrid between the twelve-string and the six-string. For me, the best part of a twelve-string is the g-string pair--you've got an octave g-string with a regular one, so you can play lead up and down the neck on that and get a twelve-string sound. But then, you can bend it on the top strings like a blues guitar and you can play bluegrass runs on the bottom strings like a bluegrass instrument. So, really, it's a hybrid between the twelve-string and the six-string. I had one made at Martin and other guitarists came in and liked it so much that they wanted one, and they called it the Roger McGuinn HD-7.
MR: Nice. 7, of course, for the seven strings, right?
RM: Exactly. Most people think the HD stands for "high definition," but it's "herringbone dreadnought" Martin designation.
MR: Now, how heavily are you into keeping up with what's happening with technology, Roger?
RM: Well, I've got a MacBook Pro, and a copy of ProTools 8.0--I'm thinking about 9, which has ninety-nine tracks, but I don't find myself using that many, so I'll probably just stick with 8.0. It's always best to stick with the earlier version because sometimes, Apple gets some updates in there that break ProTools. I had that happen once, where I was doing a lecture at a university and went to fire up ProTools, but it wouldn't work because Apple had sent an update for Safari or something that interfered with it, and I went, "Oh, man!" Anyway, I am pretty tech savvy. I keep up on it and keep up with the latest in computers and technology.
MR: Nice. And I imagine you're constantly recording.
RM: I record a song a month, for sure, and sometimes, more than that. In fact, we have a new CD that is going to hit Amazon, CD Baby, and our own website mcguinn.com pretty soon called, CCD. It's twenty-three songs of the sea, all traditional sea shanties with a couple that I've written myself. They are the old songs that the sailors used to sing when they pulled the sails up, pulled the anchor up, and the work songs on ships.
MR: Will you have any guests on this?
RM: No, it's all me (laughs).
MR: (laughs) As well it should be, sir.
RM: I did all the tracks, yeah.
MR: Now, I guess one would call it a "comeback"--I dislike that term--but I was surprised by the huge success of your Back From Rio album in '91.
RM: Well, that was one of the albums that had more major league flavor to it because it had Arista Records behind it--Clive Davis--and it had the power of the big record company, a big-time studio, and a lot of guests on it like Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, and people like that. So, I guess you could call it that, but you know what? I went out on the road with that, with a band, and I really like going out solo, as kind of a folk singer, better. It was kind of an eye-opener that maybe I didn't want to pursue that whole lifestyle of being a rock 'n' roll star. Maybe I just didn't want to do that anymore. I wanted to be more like Pete Seeger, my hero, who I'd seen when I was a kid. I remember when he was with The Weavers, and then, when he went solo, I was a little skeptical, wondering how he was going to pull it off solo. I went to one of his concerts, and he blew me away. He was incredible.
MR: He was a major influence on you?
RM: Yes, he was, and still is. I admire him tremendously for his body of work and all the things that he does like the Clearwater project, cleaning up the Hudson. He's a great guy.
MR: And his recent album with the kids won a Grammy.
RM: Yeah, wonderful.
MR: That's amazing. Before we leave Back From Rio, when you have hits like "King Of The Hill" and "Someone To Love," how did you make the decision to go more of a solo, folk route when you were having such wonderful success with another style?
RM: It's hard to understand, it's very personal. The wonderful thing about having your songs on the radio is that people are going to go out to your concerts and buy your merchandise and that sort of thing, and it feels good to get that level of name recognition. But people don't realize how much work it all is. I'm not twenty anymore, and that's really what hit me. It was like, "Man, do I really want to do this?" I was doing like ten interviews a day, going to record stores and there was a lot of leg work that was involved. When people write books, they go on these book tours, get up at five o'clock in the morning to catch a plane, and fly to ten different cities. "Do you really want to do that?" The answer was, "no." I really wanted to do what I'm doing, which was kind of just ambling around the country with my wife. We take an RV and we just take the back roads of America, meet great folks, play beautiful theaters, and everybody is happy. That's more like it.
MR: Beautiful. Have you heard any rumblings about a Will The Circle Be Unbroken IV? I imagine you'd be on that too, right?
RM: I haven't heard anything about that.
MR: You did "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," with Chris Hillman on the second one.
RM: Yes, we did, and that was a lot of fun. We got a Grammy nomination for it, and we flew out to LA and it was exciting.
MR: One other thing, you were the guitarist on The Beach Boys' "California Dreamin'," right?
RM: Yeah, I played guitar. Terry Melcher invited me out to do that, and I'm in the little video too, standing up somewhere out in the street with Michelle and John. That was a lot of fun, seeing those guys again.
MR: When you think back on your early California days, coming up with all those young artists, it has to still be inspirational. It had to be an incredible time.
RM: Yes, it was very enlightening and it made you feel good. There was a lot of vibrant stuff going on, and a lot of songwriters, singers, great pickers, and we all learned from each other. We'd sit down and show each other licks, sit down at The Troubadour, which was open all day long, and you could kind of sit down and exchange musical ideas with other people. Then, there was the freedom that you had in Laurel Canyon, which just felt like--it's hard to describe--it was kind of like a dream world, really. It was a wonderful time, with other musicians, exchanging ideas, and writing songs.
MR: It must have felt like a loose family.
RM: It did. It felt like a big family, and the atmosphere was very friendly with a lot of sharing going on with everything. It was great.
MR: During that sharing period, as The Byrds were starting to have hits, did that change the dynamic, or did it energize your contemporaries to want that kind of success as well?
RM: Well, we were still sharing, but we were sharing with other people, like John Phillips and people from The Beatles. We knew all these people, and we'd hang out with each other. It was still a friendly environment.
MR: What advice might you have for new artists that are coming up?
RM: Well, the times are different. Back then, there wasn't as much competition, but there weren't as many opportunities, so you had to go with a big name record label to get anything going and that's not true these days. You can get a viral video on YouTube, like that guy Dave Carroll. You can get people to download your MP3s and get viral hits with your music. I think the good thing about the internet is to give something away and to sell something else. Get a business model like that because the old brick and mortar record stores are falling apart, and the big record companies are collapsing under their own weight. But there is a viral thing going on where you can use the internet to promote yourself. Play as many open mics as you can, get yourself out there, give away CDs, and give away thumb drives with your music. Just get people interested.
MR: Nice. You're a fan of technology, but you're also a fan of natural ability, I presume, right?
RM: Well, yeah, definitely. That's something you have to have before anybody is going to want to listen to you.
MR: Okay, but we have things like autotune, which is amazing technology, and you have shows like American Idol, which promotes being a personality over being a musician.
RM: Well, I think autotune--the overuse of it--is a novelty like The Chipmunks. It's just a gizmo, a gimmick. If used properly, it can save you a lot of time in the studio. If you've got one sour note in a perfectly good performance and you want to fix it, I have no problem with that. Using it as a constant, though, for someone who can't sing but maybe looks good? I find that to be cheating. As for the American Idol thing, we've always had amateur shows. Back in the '50s, they had The Ted Mack Amateur Hour, they had Arthur Godfrey where Shari Lewis got discovered. So, it's nothing new to have amateur shows, but they used to have a little more diversity. In some ways, it is sort of a cheating thing, where you get to go zero to sixty in one second, as opposed to paying your dues through the system, to learn the ropes and all that. I think it's valuable to learn the ropes, to know what you're doing, and to pay your dues. That way, you know what you're doing and you're really ready for opportunities when they arise. Some people, though, just happen to have a lot of raw talent, and they can pull it off right way and more power to them, I guess. The bottom line is, do what you love. If you don't love what you're doing, don't do it. Just keep doing what you love, and you'll be okay.
MR: So, you'll be doing what you love over at Iowa City's Englert Theatre on Friday, May 20th?
RM: Absolutely. This is not about money, stardom, or anything like that.
MR: Roger, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today. Best of luck with your show, and best of luck with The Folk Den, and all your endeavors in the future. This has really been sweet.
RM: I've enjoyed talking to you, Mike, and keep up the good work, being solar-powered...that's really cool.
2. The Argonaut
3. Lilly of the West
4. Michael Row the Boat Ashore
6. Let The Bullgine Run
7. The Gallows Pole
8. The John B's Sails
9. Willie Moore
10. St. James Infirmary
11. Kilgary Mountain
12. The Twelve Days of Christmas
13. Wild Mountain Thyme
14. New York Girls
15. Streets of Laredo
16. Mary Had A Baby
17. The House of the Rising Sun
18. Greenland Whale Fisheries
20. The Bonny Ship the Diamond
21. Sailor Lad
22. This Train
23. Liverpool Gals
24. Home On The Range
25. When the Saints Go Marching In
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with My Chemical Romance's Gerard Way
Mike Ragogna: Gerard, Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys is your fourth studio album?
Gerard Way: Yeah, that's right.
MR: The first couple of songs on the album seem to arc the material back to your first few albums.
GW: Yeah! A lot of this album feels like we went back to the original spirit of the band and I think that may be why it feels that way. There's definitely more of an experimentation and artistic freedom to this one that makes it like the first records.
MR: Might there be something that unites all of Danger Days' songs?
GW: To me, the thing that unites these songs is the desire to go against what was happening to the band, and I'm sure this happens to other bands, where you get into your thirties and you've explored all of the younger artistic places. You hit a point where you sort of hit a crossroads. We can keep exploring all of these artistic places or we subconsciously sort of give in and get assimilated and comfortable in the thirty-something rock culture. So, to me, what unifies us on a day-to-day basis is a desire to not be a part of that. Maybe it's the last thing for us to rebel against is that assimilation, and that, to me, is the big unifying thing. The songs on this album are very direct and deal with things that are happening right now. They're talking about life.
MR: Yeah, although a majority of these songs also seem to be potential singles or emphasis songs, right?
GW: Yeah, actually. We put out a lot of songs before this album actually came out because we were trying not to be too precious about everything. We wanted everyone to get a scope of what the record was like, that's why before the record came out, I think there were about six songs released so that people could hear them.
MR: How do you feel the band has grown from the first album to this one?
GW: I feel like this is the first time we started using color and I find that to be very interesting. We've made it as a band for 10 years with a certain aesthetic, and even though that aesthetic has been played within that sort of monochromatic pallet, now is our first time using color, now is the first time that it's not so much about the dark stuff, and I think that's the biggest thing. We've changed a lot in that way. In a lot of ways, the way I feel about this album is that it almost feels like a reboot of the band, which is interesting. The record did not take long to make, and I guess since the first attempt at the album took so long to make that once we had hit our creative stride, we really felt like we'd rebooted this band. So, I feel like this is, kind of, just the beginning now. It's the beginning of our next 10 years.
MR: Nice, and you had Rob Cavallo producing again.
GW: We did, yeah! We had Rob Cavallo who made Black Parade with us. We used to have this rule that we wouldn't go back to Producers even if we had fun with them because the band changes so much, but Rob also changes so much. I really feel like he's the fifth member of the band in a lot of ways.
MR: Yeah, it very nice when a producer lets the band be itself, but also brings extra creative flavors as well.
GW: Yeah, and he's an extremely challenging producer. I mean, he's fun and he's an artist, but he's really hard on you if he feels that you're not taking things to the next level. He's very tough on the band, and it's really good. He challenges us greatly.
MR: Now, when the band is in the studio who is in the driver's seat? Do you guys take charge in the studio?
GW: Yeah, and I feel like that's the way Rob really likes it. If the artist is making the album, I think he feels that that's the way it should be. In a traditional sense, if an artist comes in and just expects the producer to lead them, I don't think it will work. I don't think they will hit greatness. The band kind of needs to be in the driver's seat. The cool thing about this album is that we all wore different hats at different times. We stopped making music as just a singer, or just a guitar player. It didn't matter who was doing what, we went in and everyone wrote music to drum parts.
MR: Out of all of the songs on this album, which would you say is the truest representation of what the band has to offer?
GW: Well, it's interesting. Personally, I think it would be "The Kids From Yesterday." That may not be showing what people think might be the obvious best side, but to me, that song kind of shows where the band is heading. It's showing the ability to now make songs that aren't solely relying on just the traditional guitar, bass, and drums. There's a lot of programming on that track because we just sat down and constructed that song. I feel like that's where the future is heading for us. That song was the last that was written and recorded for this album, so it's a true representation of where we're headed. But on this album, it's truly hard to say what would be the best or truest representation of our work. All of the songs kind of are so varied that it feels like they all make sense. I feel "Sing" was the first universally lyrical song that we've written in terms of what it's saying about the world. Also, at that point, we stopped making music as a genre band or a rock band and started making music simply as fans of music.
MR: Your brother, bassist Mikey Way, came up with the name "My Chemical Romance," but the name itself also has ties to 9/11.
GW: Well, I think that's another interesting thing about the reboot of the band. The first 10 years and even the genesis of the band was a reaction to something that was happening, though it was obviously not a direct political reaction, but a reaction to something that happens and affects a lot of people and causes them to reconsider what they've been doing with their lives. So, the reaction to seeing all of that and its affect on people and the world shaped the first 10 years of the band. Now it feels like we're not reacting as much to that one event, but being proactive and creating something new.
MR: Is it fair to say that you guys are still true Jersey boys?
GW: Yeah, we're still very much Jersey boys. We live in California, but most of that is just because of work. It's easier to make records out there.
MR: Let's go way back to your "Taste Of Chaos" tour in 2005. How has the band changed from that tour to now?
GW: Well, that was actually one of our earliest tours. Now, more than ever, it feels like people are actually getting to see who we are as people on stage. They can see how we've changed and grown but also who we were before the band started or before we got big. Your identity kind of gets stripped away sometimes with fame. Our shows are very different now and they feel more real. Casual is the wrong word because they're still extremely aggressive, but they're also fun and very fast paced. I guess we're a little more relaxed in the sense that we're not trying to prove anything anymore--we're just getting up there and trying to be a good band and just doing what we love to do. We really enjoy playing. It's less about nerves now and more about enjoying the people that you're sharing the stage with. I know the touring industry has taken a pretty hard hit, but I haven't really noticed any of that. I did notice, though, that more than half of our audience is new.
MR: Speaking of new, do you have any advice for new artists?
GW: Yeah, the thing that we say most, based on personal experience, is that starting a band for the right reasons is really important because the music industry, they say, is doing so poorly that you really have to love doing it and you really should have something to say as a band. Just always make the music that you'd want to hear and the music you feel like the world is missing. Just do it for the right reasons! To me, that's the recipe for, at the very least, being a band that can get in the van and keep touring. That's all we'd ever wanted. Anything else was kind of a bonus.
1. Look Alive, Sunshine
2. Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)
3. Bulletproof Heart
5. Planetary (GO!)
6. The Only Hope For Me Is You
7. Jet-Star And The Kobra Kid / Traffic Report
8. Party Poison
9. Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back
13. The Kids From Yesterday
14. Goodnite, Dr. Death
15. Vampire Money
Transcribed by Evan Tyrone Martin