A Conversation with Tommy Shaw of Styx
Mike Ragogna: Tommy, it looks like Styx is back in the Billboard’s Top Ten with The Mission.
Tommy Shaw: How about that? Isn't it something? It's unbelievable. You never know with stuff, you just take it as it comes to you. This one came just roaring into us, the ideas. It was a record that had to be made.
MR: How does the band work as a unit these days?
TS: The band just really enjoys playing together. My friend came the other night who's a college scout for the Chicago Bears. He said, "You know, I look at people for a living and I have to judge them on are they good team players, for their positions," and he said, "You guys are like a team. You're looking out for each other, and if somebody starts to go off the rails you kind of go with them and bring them back. I never see any kind of bad vibes up there," and that's really the way it is. There's so much joy in this group of musicians. We've been through our ups and downs before these guys showed up, but for the last two decades, we've all kind of grown up together, too. It's like a family that has a group of kids and then one of the spouses remarried and they have more kids, and then they're growing up together. They're all brothers, and these brothers get along so well.
MR: I’ve seen Styx live a couple of times and there seems to be a strong connection between the band and its audience. Do you feel that from the stage?
TS: You do! You can feel it from the very beginning. Sometimes you go to places and cities that we may not have been to before, or not in a long time, and you can see that maybe for the first ten minutes, they're kind of checking us out, and we know how it's going to end. We're just much more prepared for it than they are. We know it's going to be a good time. We can look at the audience out there and with a lot of them, there's no way they could have been born when this music was recorded and released. But they're there in body, mind and spirit. It's just a good feeling thing every night and that's what we wanted to be. We wanted to be kind of escapism from the everyday trials and tribulations of life and the times we live in. We don't ever go there, we don't ever get political, we never do anything that's going to divide our audience. Styx is about bringing everybody together through music.
MR: Tommy, you co-developed The Mission’s storyline with Will Evankovich. How did The Mission launch?
TS: Did you listen to the album?
MR: Oh, yeah.
TS: Okay, so you know on the very end of "Mission To Mars," as it fades out, there's a little guitar riff. That's what started it. That little riff right there. Even then, when I came up with it—it's just a little riff—but I recorded it on my iPhone and I played it back, and while I was playing it back, I played the chords with it and said, "Well, I've got to record that, too." So I set my iPad up and played those two things together. Then I took it home, laid it out, and made a demo of it. When it came time to do the words, it's got a kind of limerick sort of cadence to it. I wrote the first lines, "Now we can say this is the day, we'll be underway on our mission to Mars." That's what came out, and I just added to that.
MR: What was The Mission’s intention as an album?
TS: Well, I had that first song and I sent it to Will because I knew he wouldn't laugh at me. It was just the song. He got right back to me and said, "That's a really cool song." He sent me the demo of a song that he'd been working on because he'd been hearing it in his dreams, and it was "Locomotive." The first verse was the same, but lyrically, it didn't tie into the "Mission To Mars" thing. But we looked at these songs and said, "These are both very unusual and cool songs, and they feel like they're bookends for something. So that was really the first time that it seemed like, "Maybe there's a story here." Then I wrote the overture because I thought, "If we're going to do this, it should have an overture." Then I had an idea for the chorus of "Hundred Million Miles." All of a sudden, it started taking on that story. There came a point where we realized, "This really could be a Styx album. This is bigger than a solo album." There came a point where we had to say, "Okay, let's let them hear it and we'll see how crazy the idea is." Everybody loved it! Once they jumped-in and everybody started pouring their ideas into it, it was just like there had been some blueprints sent from beyond, from outer space, that said, "Build this ship."
MR: And that ship was the "Khedive." How do you pronounce it?
TS: It's called KEY-dive, it's Egyptian for “viceroy” or “ruler.” Khedive was the ship that Lawrence Gowan's dad went to World War II in. It was built in Tacoma, Washington, and loaned out to the Canadian Royal Navy. Lawrence’s father went to war. The war was over by the time he got there, but that was his experience. His dad's in a nursing home now. He's ninety-two years old. His dad also plays piano. He has a piano in his room and Lawrence would go over there and play his version of that, and his dad finally said, "What do you call that?' Lawrence looked over and saw a picture of the Khedive in a frame in his dad's room then said, "I'm going to call it ‘Khedive.’" That's how we incorporated that. There was a ship that was going to Mars and it was like, "How can we not call the ship Khedive?"
MR: Beautiful story. So Khedive is a spacecraft that's underwritten by the Global Space Exploration program, another layer of minutia added to the story. Beyond Paul Kantner’s original Jefferson Starship album Blows Against The Empire and maybe Jon Anderson or Yes, most bands or artists don't get this intricate or develop themes this intensely.
TS: We wanted feasibility. Somewhere along the line, we got our own moon—the fifth moon around Pluto. Remember when the New Horizons mission flew by Pluto and took those beautiful pictures? Well, we happened to be in the DC area, and the guy who discovered the moon and was crucial in naming it “Styx” was part of that Southwest Research Institute. They were the ones who created the New Horizons project. They were about to do the flyby, so they invited us over. We went over and we got to meet Alan Stern, the principal investigator who dreamt it up and put the team together, built the rocket, got the navigator who sent it there for nine years, and hit it right on target. Suddenly, we were there amongst all of them and we became friends. Alan was very helpful for me when I had questions about the story and having it be feasible. I just wanted it to be believable. I didn't want it to be ridiculous. He said, "If there are parts there isn’t an answer to, then just create your own mythology, your own fiction," because a lot of times, it's the fiction that will lead someone to actually trying to make something happen.
MR: Yes, as in Star Trek especially, with fictional devices like “tricorders” and such inspiring modern inventors.
TS: Yeah! So we had some great resources to help along the way.
MR: Do you feel like there's anything you're contributing in this album that may inspire some real world advancement in either technology or even progressive rock? What do you feel like you achieved with the album, and what would you point people to as far as things you're most proud of?
TS: Well, we're proud of the story. What we wanted to have happen was for you to get engaged and listen all the way through. Don't shuffle. For God's sake, whatever you do, DO NOT SHUFFLE! [laughs] If you need to shuffle, go ahead, but you're missing out on the fun part. It's a riot. It's a trip if you can sit down and put on the headphones or get between your speakers and turn your phone off so you're not interrupted and listen. It's only forty-two minutes and eight seconds. Listen from beginning to end. That's the best way to listen to this because it really is a trip. There will be a 5.1 remix that comes later on in the year and holy s**t is THAT a trip. Wow. I've got my 5.1 setup in my studio and I can't take it down because every once in a while, my wife and I will go, "Let's go listen to it again," because in 5.1, it's ridiculous.
MR: What was the production process like for The Mission? It had to be a little more focused than just doing a regular album, right?
TS: It started out in secret because just on face value, "Mission To Mars" would be like, "What? How do you do that?" So we had to really flesh out the framework of it so you could see there was a story to be told. We made really good sounding demos before we even presented it to the guys in Styx. When you're talking about doing an album, you're talking about people committing a lot of time and a lot of spare time that there wasn't that much of. We had to do it in little bits. We were playing a hundred and ten, hundred and twenty shows a year while we were making this album, so that's why it took so long. We had to do it during our breaks. We just got used to that way of doing it, so we did it all in demos first. We got all the pieces together and then as we got closer to making the album, everybody came to my studio and we all sat down in the same room and basically recorded the album there as a production version of it. So we all got to know it. "Here are our parts, here's what I'm going to do, here's how it's going to go." Then once we knew it all, that's when we went over to Blackbird Studios in Nashville. It was always intended to have it be as analog-sounding--well, actually be analog. If you listened to Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, well, we just pretended, "Let's stick this record right in there." We wanted it to sound like that. So we found this beautiful Neve analog vintage console at Blackbird. They had two twenty-four track Studer two-inch tape machines. They had vintage microphones and they had John McBride who loves all this stuff. Everybody in the studio was like, "Yeah, this is great!" We used no digital plugins or anything. Even the delays that you hear, we had two big reel-to-reels in the room, one quarter-inch, one half-inch and one had a vari-speed control on it, so we could control the time delays. That's all tape delay. Anything we recorded on ProTools, we dumped that over to the tape machine so it became analog, too. So that's one reason why it sounds the way it does.
MR: As I listened to the album, it did seem like it fit into the paradigm you created with those two classic albums. Now it turns out that was the intention, nice.
TS: It was.
MR: How do you view Styx from those earlier days versus now? What are some of the biggest evolutionary things that happened to the band along the way?
TS: Bands have a kind of honeymoon period. First they had their Wooden Nickel days and then their A&M days. I jumped in right after they released their first A&M album. Equinox is one of my favorite albums, even though I wasn't on it. That's the album that made me want to join the band. Even on this record, we tip our hats. If you listen to the intro of "Time May Bend," that's me tipping my hat to Equinox. I love those records. We all had this innocence, we all struggled together, we never made much money to mention. But even after we started becoming successful, we still had that same esprit de corps, that all-for-one mentality. After a certain amount of success started happening, it started to pull apart a little bit. It was between Pieces Of Eight and Cornerstone. Even though we still continued to make great-sounding records, the fabric started to come apart. It wasn't all-in, it was most of us in and Dennis started pulling off in another direction, which was very successful, but that still affected the fabric of the band. We held it together for a long time. We did Paradise Theatre, we loved the band, and we did our best. But I like to connect the early band Styx through Pieces Of Eight and that's where I would like to reconnect this. This has that same group love, all-for-one, everybody was just about the music. Everybody throws down for every song. The fans can make their own decisions, it's all just in our heads anyway. But that is the thing that connects this band with early Styx.
MR: And more proof of your reverence to the origins of Styx is that you kept Chuck Panozzo in the mix. I've seen him jump on stage with you live, and you also kept him in the recording process. I think that's a beautiful gesture.
TS: Yeah, we love Chuck. He just symbolizes the power of music. He's had some health issues in his life and it's been his love of the band and his love of music that literally brought him back from near death. He's just such a sweet guy and such a great spokesperson as an historian of the band. I love reading his interviews because he's so eloquent and he has such a love of it. Man, it was him and his brother who started the band in their basement when they were little kids.
MR: So The Mission is a big hit. What is Styx's mission from this point out?
TS: Just to see where the story leads us. We keep performing the songs at the highest level we can possibly physically do and just to see where it leads next. One thing we would like to do once we've fulfilled the dates that we've committed to—if the audience supports it—is to go out and play a run of shows where we do the entire Mission album from top to bottom and then take a break and maybe play another album or play the other songs that connect to their past.
MR: Styx released a Grand Illusion/Pieces Of Eight live combo. Do you see yourselves doing something like that with The Mission?
TS: Yes! Maybe it's a two-album night or something like that, but definitely do The Mission. There are forty-three minutes max, so we would do that and an intermission and then maybe just come back and play all the songs that everybody grew up with. Something like that.
MR: Do you feel like there's a moment on The Mission that makes you feel, as an observer, that you can't believe it was Styx?
TS: Well, there's no part of the album that I don't love, and that was part of the deal. Nothing's going to get on this album that isn't up to snuff. There are no “favors” on this album. Nobody's going to get a song in just because they need something on the record. It has to be up to the standards of the record. One of my favorite things is "Locomotive," but there are things like "Ten Thousand Ways" that I love because lyrically, it's not what you'd expect for that beautiful piece of music.
MR: What are you doing with the tour these days? Are you touring hard for The Mission?
TS: Yeah, we're really trying to get fans to first of all know about it. Everybody's busy. It probably takes me ten times—unless it's a group that I already love--to hear something and go, "What is all this about," then look into it. We're just trying to make enough noise so that people who might love this record finally go, "Yeah, I should check this out."
MR: Tommy, what advice do you have for new artists?
TS: Just be true to your own voice. It's great to have your influences. If you listen to Styx, you'll hear Yes, you'll hear Crosby, Stills & Nash, you'll hear Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, The Who... By all means, tip your hat to your influences, but be yourself. Have it come out and have it be you because your voice is the one thing that no one else has, and your spirit coming through your voice is the one thing that no one else can do. Just remember that as you're going along and write from there.
MR: One last question: How do you feel about a true mission to Mars at this point in time?
TS: I think it's got so much public support. As crazy as the world is, you never hear of anything that's not peaceful in outer space. I think a global mission that NASA and everybody else would be a big part of would be a uniting thing for the whole planet, and Mars seems to be the chosen spot for it. What I like about the thing that we've stumbled upon because of our friendship with the New Horizons people was, "Well if we can get to there, what if we're able to resupply from there and then go on a few more years out to Pluto and then see what happens there? Maybe we can resupply there, too!” Those are things that are not completely out of the line of feasibility.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
CASTLEVANIA’S “TREVOR FIGHTS THE CYCLOPS” EXCLUSIVE/PREMIERE
Emmy® Award-winning composer Trevor Morris (The Tudors, The Immortals), shares an exclusive track, “Trevor Fights the Cyclops,” taken from the Lakeshore Records release Castlevania—Netflix Original Series Soundtrack. It’s an orchestral backdrop to the highly anticipated animated show. The series is from Frederator Studios, a Wow! Unlimited Media Company, written by best-selling author and comic book icon Warren Ellis. The Netflix original series debuts today and the soundtrack is available digitally today as well.
STEVE FORBERT’S “CLEAN ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE” PREMIERE/EXCLUSIVE
According to Steve Forbert...
“This is a song that indeed just says what it says. It isn't a partisan thing, just a look at America during and immediately after the November 8 election—an objective song about the extreme division between ‘red and blue’ in our country today. It does include a comment on Russia's cyber-tampering with our election.”
About the visual...
“On March 3, I arrived at a venue in Mifflinburg, PA for a solo show with some time to spare. A relentless winter wind was playing havoc with Old Glory out by the parking lot. This gave the stripes a beautiful flowing effect. The more I watched it the more I liked it, so I filmed three and half minutes.”
About the audio...
“Two Sundays ago sound man Don Duggan recorded this performance of ‘Clean Across The Great Divide’ at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival in Tappan, New York.”
A Conversation with Jasmine Thompson
Mike Ragogna: Jasmine, you released your first EP, Adore, at age 15. You’re now 16 with a new EP, Wonderland, that took a year and half to record. Do you have a backlog of material waiting to get released?
Jasmine Thompson: Honestly, there are so many songs that are still hidden away. Some of them are definitely going to be released. I’ve just got to wait for the right moment.
MR: Wonderland seems to be about your growing up in London, that being just one of the places—other locations including Los Angeles and Stockholm—where you recorded some of its tracks. Some of your co-writers include Meghan Trainor, Ross Golan, Justin Tranter, Johan Carlsson, and others. How did you collaborate with these writers and can you also take us on a tour of the subject matter and how it came together?
JT: I got in touch with a lot of different writers and producers via my managers and label to see if people were up for collaborating on my Wonderland project. It was actually an amazingly simple process working with different writers because they all share the same creative passion. Wonderland has a lot of different meanings. Yes, it's to do with growing up in London, but it's also about growing up in general because that is definitely a struggle. When I was working on this album, I just wanted to put all these emotions I was feeling for the first time into songs and I am grateful that I had so many incredible people help me make sense of it all.
MR: How did you decide to make music your career at such a young age and how has the industry facilitated your evolution?
JT: It was a really easy decision for me. I love music and I was sure that I wanted it to be a part of my entire life. When the opportunity came to start a career in music, I took it straight away. I’ve been working with my label and management since I was 12 years old, so I was pretty young. They have been so patient and given me the time to grow as a person and the freedom to run around in music land to figure it out for myself. They have helped me learn about song writing, the music industry, and even just about traveling. I have seen so many new places from being on tour.
MR: Growing up in London and being of mixed ethnicity, how do you think that’s affected your view of the world?
JT: I think it’s because of how different everyone is in London that I have grown up to be very open-minded. Most of the kids I went to school with and people I just meet randomly in London are super creative, so we connect on that level. Everyone here has a passion for something and I think it's because London is full of opportunity.
MR: How do you think you’ve progressed creatively and socially between your Adore and Wonderland EPs?
JT: It's weird but I feel like I’ve changed a lot in the past year and a half. I have accessed this whole new area of my brain simply because that’s what happens to all teens. [laughs] Creatively, I have been exploring music more, finding more genres, and trying to understand everything I hear so that I can pick things out to put in my own music.
MR: How do you decide what material makes it on to your releases?
JT: There are so many songs that I wanted to put out but I need to save them for the right moment. For this EP, I released the songs that fit with this idea of “Wonderland.” Some of it was just based on instinct.
MR: How do you feel being a young artist works most in your favor and what challenges does it present? How do you overcome them?
JT: I feel lucky to know what I want from a young age and to be able to start my career now. Everyone seems to be impressed when they find out I'm 16, but I don't want that to be the reason people think I’m talented. I try to not make a big deal about my age, so people can just focus on my music. My age can be especially annoying when I can't get into my friends’ gigs because [you have to be] 18+ or something. A lot of my friends are in their twenties.
MR: Do you have a favorite track on Wonderland and if you do, which one and why?
JT: At the moment, it’s between “Wonderland” and “Drama.” “Wonderland” is the song that really inspired the whole EP. I was so passionate about making the music video and I am so proud of it. On the other hand, “Drama” is really fun to perform live. It was written about something I was angry about, so it's a bit of a sarcastic song, to be honest.
MR: Who are some of your favorite musical contemporaries and why?
JT: I'm loving Zak Abel and Will Heard right now. I think that they're not afraid to put lots of emotion in their voices. They seem so real and passionate about music. I respect that.
MR: Who would you say are your best mentors over the years and what did they contribute to your musical evolution?
JT: My guitarist, Ben, is someone who I am so grateful for. We’ve been working together for the past three years and he has taught me so much. I was a very nervous child and he was like this big brother who protected me from the audience by showing me how to be brave and have fun with things. He's taught me so much about music, life, and has become my best friend, brother and father figure.
MR: Beautiful. Even though you’ve only had a couple of projects released to this point, what advice do you have for new artists?
JT: To never sell yourself as an artist that you are not. Don't be afraid of being you and being original.
MR: When is a full album coming?
JT: I'm not sure and I don't want to rush an album. I'm working on my next EP over the summer and I’m planning on releasing a lot of music. In the back of my head, I’m making album plans.
MR: What’s your goal? Where do you picture yourself ten years from now?
JT: My goal is to still be making music in 10 years. I want to feel like I am helping other people through my art. I'm still going to be traveling and singing for sure.
A Conversation with Nicky Holland
Mike Ragogna: Nicky, last year, you celebrated the 25th anniversary of your debut album, Nicky Holland, and this year is the 20th anniversary of Sense and Sensuality. Where does the time go?
Nicky Holland: Good question! I was just about to ask you that myself.
MR: Well, to celebrate your career further, it looks like there’s a new collection of your material, Nobody’s Girl, that assembles 13 studio tracks, seven coming from Nicky Holland and five from Sense and Sensuality, plus your cover of the Bacharach-David classic “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself,” your contribution to My Best Friend’s Wedding. Plus you added new parts and messed with older ones, having pulled the 2-inch masters. First off, what is the story behind how this collection came together and why did you want to upgrade some of the recordings?
NH: I saw my old friend and mentor Richard Griffiths in London two years ago. He said he’d been listening to my albums, and he thought they ought to be out now. Richard had signed me to Virgin Music Publishing back in 1986 and then Epic Associated a few years later, so we go back a long way. My work had never been released digitally, and CDs were no longer available, so I decided that he was right. The songs seem pretty timeless to me and should to be available. The four new mixes are all songs from my first album, which I co-produced with Derek Nakamoto. I reconnected with Derek and we decided that the new mixes should focus more on the storyteller, so we paired down some of the arrangements, and pulled back on the 1980s reverbs and delays, making them sound more contemporary.
MR: Since this retrospective is a bit of a scrapbook, can you walk us through a couple of behind the scenes stories in the creation of some of these tracks?
NH: “This Town” opens the compilation, and is the first song I wrote that I knew I wanted to keep for myself to sing. I had the title and played the music for songwriter David Batteau, who was in London, visiting from Los Angeles. I can date the song by the news events that inspired and shaped David’s lyric. The Great Storm of 1987 took place from late night October 15th until the early morning of the 16th. David had jet lag, woke up at 4:00am, turned on the news and wrote the lyric shortly thereafter. The references to Cupid in the song refers to the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus that had recently been repaired.
I wrote “On The Stairs” when I first moved to New York City in 1988, feeling the loneliness of living in an apartment building, surrounded by people on all sides, but knowing no one. This was in extreme contrast to growing up in a tight-knit community in the English countryside, in the middle of nowhere, where life was dominated by a village shop, two pubs and one bus.
MR: How did it feel revisiting these older recordings as you worked on them?
NH: It’s amazing how music can take you back in time. The process was exciting, emotional and at times, extremely difficult. In many ways, I think it’s easier to create something new than to go back, undo and redo.
MR: You used the single mix of “Tongue-Tied And Twisted,” the original version coming from your Nicky Holland album. Why did you choose that version over the album track?
NH: I used the single mix of “Tongue-Tied and Twisted” on the compilation as it is entirely different from the album version, and was only ever available in a limited single release. I went to London in the autumn of 1992 and worked with Stephen Lipson, who had produced Diva for Annie Lennox. We re-recorded the song from top to bottom, creating a new rhythm track and overall form for the song. Dominic Miller, who had been working with Sting, came in and played acoustic guitar.
MR: Nicky, obviously, these are your favorites from your two official albums plus the movie track. But weren’t you tempted to also include your own recordings of your collaborations with Peter Plate (Rosenstolz), Alex Geringas, Ellen Shipley, Rebecca Rouibon or even songs with your longtime collaborator, Polina Goudiva?
NH: No, not really. This is a compilation of songs I wrote or co-wrote for me to sing, with the exception of “Hat Full of Stars,” and “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” I may one day do an album of my favorite covers I have written, including a Tears For Fears song or two!
MR: Beyond Lloyd Cole, do you have any stories about working with some of your co-writers, such as Cyndi Lauper, Andy Partridge, Lloyd Cole, etc.?
NH: Cyndi Lauper and I wrote “Hat Full of Stars” in 1992. We lived in the same building, coincidentally, so I took the elevator down to the fourth floor, and knocked on her door. After a brief conversation, she handed me some lyrics written on yellow legal note paper. I scanned through them and was immediately struck by their vulnerability. I remembered her moving performance of “Time After Time” on Top of the Pops, and thought maybe this could be a song in that vein. I sat down at the piano and started running through a few chord progressions, mulling things over. Although this was only our first meeting and I didn’t know her at all, the lyric in front of me seemed raw and honest. Moments later, my thoughts were interrupted when Cyndi literally started moving my fingers across the keyboard, telling me to “play it more like a rap song.”
I was completely taken aback. I had barely had any time to process my thoughts and I became defensive. I took a deep breath and told her that I needed the creative license to think for myself, and in my opinion, the song wasn’t a rap song, but a rather beautiful ballad. Luckily, Cyndi broke the ice. Smiling at me, she said “Aw Nick, I didn’t mean to get your feathers ruffled. Do what you want.” Despite our initial awkwardness, the music started to flow. As Cyndi sang with that unbelievable voice, tears trickling down her face, I got goosebumps. Maybe my instincts were right. We had almost finished the song in just one sitting, and as I was leaving, she went into the hall closet, and came out with a black cloth cap, covered with little gold stars. “This is the hat,” she said.
MR: What a great story! Nicky, your song “Unbreakable" was huge internationally, hitting #1 in Germany. In America, in his campaign stumps, Donald Trump told America if he became president, we would get so sick of winning. In your case, you’ve actually won many awards. Surely, you MUST be sick of winning by this point? Oh, and feel free to throw in any thoughts on Trump. Yes, I did just type that.
NH: I would never have been able to, as you so eloquently put it, “win" so much, if the Donald had been born with appendages large enough to play the piano. He would have outdone me bigly, believe me.
MR: [laughs] Let’s see… You’ve been a background singer, musician, composer, producer, recording artist and biochemical engineer. Maybe not the last one. But why did you wear so many hats? I mean, you sing real purty and can write a catchy tune, why not stop there and call it a career?
NH: Although I had written songs from the age of twelve, I didn’t feel ready to go out and perform on my own when I first started out. Initially, I sang to show how the song should go and didn’t really consider myself to be a singer. For the first ten years of my career, I let events lead me and was fortunate to do a number of different things, including being musical director for the Fun Boy Three, and writing score for film and television. It wasn’t until after I had spent a number of years touring and writing with Tears For Fears exclusively that I realized I wanted to do something for myself.
MR: Which songs are some of your favorites and why?
NH: I love “This Town” because it was the first song written for me. To me, it has always been a song in search of a movie, perhaps one of those black and white social realist films of the 1960s British New Wave in cinema! “Ladykiller” is another favorite of mine. I love the combination of the dark, gritty Lower Eastside story with the swinging, jazzy pop song.
MR: Nicky, the billion dollar question. What advice do you have for new artists?
NH: Don’t let others make the rules for you. Make your own rules.
MR: And what was the best advice you were ever given? Did you follow it and why the heck not!
NH: "Soon we will be older. When we gonna make it work?” Roland Orzabal.
MR: Of course, “Advice For The Young At Heart” is my favorite Tears For Fears song, nice. What are you currently working on? What do you creatively still need to get to? Will you give the rest of us a break and just stop winning already?
NH: I am currently working on a new project with Rebecca Roubion called Clementine. We call it “Porch Music,” barefoot toe-tapping tunes with the sun going down and probably some brown liquor involved. I’m also still trying to perfect my plum cobbler.
MR: Did I leave anything out? Maybe what’s your favorite animal?
NH: My yellow lab.
A Conversation with Anthony Phillips
Mike Ragogna: Anthony, Slow Dance has been remastered and expanded into a three disc edition. You must like this album.
Anthony Phillips: Loathe it!
MR: Ha! First off, what is the history of the album. How did it originally come together?
AP: It was the first chance i had to do a full-scale album for 7, 8 years and had both already stockpiled ideas for a “bigger canvas” and recently got some new gear, which enabled me to write a lot of new material for it using samples from the then cutting edge Emax!
MR: What was the reaction at the time to its original release? What did the critics and your fans say about it?
AP: A lot of my fans were very moved it by it as it was unashamedly romantic and lyrical. One Italian Genesis nut still has it his favorite album since! Americans were generally more circumspect about it.
MR: Did you have any pushback from those who associated you with Genesis and were making comparisons to that body of work?
AP: Not on this one! Phew!
MR: Concerning Genesis, what were your thoughts at the time of their huge success and maybe even Peter Gabriel’s rise to solo fame? In other words, did that inspire you, make you feel more competitive or did it push your creativity in some other way?
AP: They were all very talented and deserved it! It was frustrating for me not to be able to do the large scale albums they were doing in the ’80s and so Slow Dance gave me the chance to prove myself, even if the music was quite different to theirs at the time.
MR: What are your thoughts on your body of work with Genesis or the band in general? Which are your favorite recordings with them?
AP: Early work promising but rough, later stuff, Trespass much more professional...maybe “Stagnation.”
MR: How did the process of expansion begin and where did all the extra material come from?
AP: I am very fortunate to have the services of Jonathan Dann, who is my sonic sleuth and researcher into music past. He found, as wth other releases, tracks squirreled away on old tapes. There wasn’t a vast amount of contemporaneous material that fitted this one, so we also included various different mixes of parts of the album itself, especially featuring the lovely strings!
MR: Of all the bonus material, which recordings are some of your favorites and are there any behind the scenes stories?
AP: No particular stories to those. I quite like “Clarinet Sleigh Ride” done as a post X-mas commercial idea ’cause it reminds of being a child and the lovely warm memories of Yuletide!
MR: Was there anything you might have done differently regarding any elements of Slow Dance from the songwriting to the recording to the artwork?
AP: Masses, of course! You always end up feeling you’ve fallen short and have a mystical idea in your head of how something could sound, which is, of course, intangible and unattainable.
MR: Did you achieve anything with that album that affected the rest of your musical career or creativity from that point forward?
AP: Yes, the calculate gamble—’cause I nearly had to can it as my record company went bust just in to the recording and had borrowed against the advance that, er, never came—resulted mercifully in my being signed as a film and TV writer by Virgin Publishing. This then became the conduit by which Virgin Records subsequently released my back catalogue on CD. So without Slow Dance, I could well have gone in to lion-taming, via banking.
MR: [laughs] Have you heard your musical influence in any recordings over the years and which groups or acts would they be?
AP: Well, the first couple of Genesis albums after I left still had that 12-string feel that came from the combined minds of Philips and Rutherford! A number of obscure acts definitely. Of bigger ones, a little. We were told that Radiohead had listened to a lot of early Genesis. Big, Big Train have covered a song of mine and there might be a little bit of influence there.
MR: If you were to re-record Slow Dance in 2017, how would your imagination change it?
AP: Structure the same, a few more real instruments, one or two better samples.
MR: Anthony, what advice do you have for new artists?
AP: Don’t do it! [laughs] Try to listen hard and have the wisdom to know when to take the advice or when to ignore it! Also, it’s generally hard work and luck that are needed. Keep at it!
MR: What are you plans for the future, maybe around even more reissues?
AP: Well, actually, we have pushed the boat on most of the big titles already. This is the fifth to have the big treatment. I may splash out on some of the later Orchestral pieces. 5.1 is so lovely for Orchestra! My plans are lots of library music, songs, many more re-releases, and always toying with ideas or new album. I still want to write a guitar concerto as well; perhaps a ballet and maybe a piano concerto. Scary, though!