THE BACON BROTHERS’ “DRIVER” EXCLUSIVE
According to Kevin Bacon...
“Driver is a memory song about summer love. It’s about the power of letting a woman take the wheel. We have always had strong woman in our lives. Mike found some old footage that was shot by our grandmother and we thought it would fit well.”
Michael Bacon adds...
“We shot the video at Lehman College in The Bronx. My students are in the video and it was edited by a former student.”
A Conversation with The Bacon Brothers
Mike Ragogna: Kevin and Michael, over the years, you’ve recorded many projects together, contributed to charitable events, were associated with the film and television industries, and you both have had great individual success. How do The Bacon Brothers use music together as an outlet for your creativity these days?
Kevin Bacon: Well, I think that it really always goes back to songs. We write the songs and then we have this desire first off to play them for our wives and to play them for each other and for the band and to play them for whatever relatively small audiences we have at a show, and then eventually, we say, “Well, we’ve played it, now we want to record it and put it out.” There’s never been any big plan, it’s really just about, “Oh, here’s a song, we enjoy performing it and now we want to put it out there.”
MR: You guys have been making music together since childhood. How has your relationship changed over the years?
Michael Bacon: It really hasn’t changed all that much, particularly for me. From an early age, my intuition was that I would be a musician. When Kevin joined me publicly twenty-plus years ago when we put the band together, that was really an extension of the way we were brought up. We were brought up in a highly creative household where it was about art lessons and dance lessons and acting lessons and music lessons. My sister and I had a band and Kevin used to sit on the stairs going down to the basement and listen to us practice. Later on when I was playing percussion by myself, he played percussion with me. When the band formed, we switched gears a little bit because I think we went from being Tin Pan Alley-style “Get rich quick” songwriters to trying to write songs that really reflected who we are, because the audience is real people who paid real money and we sort of felt that that’s what we did best. We’ve had the band for twenty years and it hasn’t really changed all that much. I think we’ve gotten a lot better. I think we really solidified our style as a band and I think we’re just better at what we do well.
MR: You both have other gigs, so when you’re making music together, is it a respite, or is there a musical drive always going on with you guys?
KB: It’s funny, I’ve had people mention that before―“This must be a great break for you, from that acting thing you do”―which kind of lends the assumption that I don’t like acting, that it’s drudgery. It’s really not true. I love acting and performing. Acting hasn’t lost any of its appeal to me. It’s just another outlet of creativity. It’s a different kind of thing because there’s no character between myself and the audience. I also think it’s a lot more akin to live theater in that you play one show and it’s never going to be exactly the same place to place or night after night. I definitely don’t see it as a respite.
MR: You mentioned how music is a chance to be yourself to an audience, though it’s hard to extract Kevin Bacon from the characters you’ve made famous. What is that balance psychologically for you?
KB: [laughs] Well, that’s a pretty long conversation. I think even before I knew what it was to be an actor or a musician, from my earliest memories, I remember feeling like I wanted to walk into a room and have people look at me, or listen to me, or make them laugh or affect them in some kind of way. I don’t know why I have it, but that’s what I have. That’s where my life has gone. Given that I have that drive, when it comes to something like acting or music, like anything else, you think, “This could be a cool thing to do, I could get some girls, I could make money and get famous.” Then all of a sudden, you realize, “Holy s**t, this is really hard.” I don’t think it’s all about, “It’s in your blood,” or having screen presence, or all these things are things that you really have to work hard at. It’s the same when it comes to music. You can pick up a guitar and maybe write a pretty good song in the first six months with the three chords you know, but if you really want to get good at anything, you just have to put time and effort into it, and I think that’s how we approach the band. We didn’t take anything for granted in terms of, “What am I deserving of because I’ve had a successful movie career?” Am I deserving of people to come out and enjoy me as a musician? I never really thought that they should. I thought they should come if they want to come and if they don’t like it, don’t listen.
MR: Michael, you’re an Emmy award-winning composer. Coming into The Bacon Brothers, what comes over from that other field?
MB: There are a couple things I can say to that: The process of being a composer, writing music for other people to play, whether that’s a film score or a cello concerto, is a very different process from songwriting. In songwriting, you’re adding the whole dimension of lyrics and meaning and communication. Music is completely not reality. There’s nothing about music that has any meaning at all. A lot of people disagree with that, but it’s basically true. You can listen to a piece of music and fifteen people will give you fifteen answers of what it’s about. When you add lyrics to it, all that goes out the window and you have to communicate on a different level. Most of the time, I find the two things pretty independent of each other. My whole life, I’ve always had one foot in the classical world and one foot in the rock, pop and folk world. On one of our records, I wrote a string chart, but I think overall, my songwriting style is pretty independent of my compositional style. Just in terms of who I am... It’s so funny, when Kevin and I do these interviews, we learn a lot about each other. I don’t want people to look at me, I never have. That’s all learned behavior for me. When I first started performing, I had to learn to do that, whereas with Kevin, it’s a much more natural thing. I think a lot of the difference between us has actually worked out very well for the band, because you see these very, very different brothers and you also see a strong musical connection.
MR: Given your relative fields, when you are writing songs, do you think of them as mini-movies?
KB: It’s funny that you say that because Michael sometimes thinks that my lyrics are visual, or that they feel cinematic. If that’s the case, it’s not intentional. I’m not thinking of mini-movies, but obviously, I’ve spent the lion’s share of my life on a movie set. It’s like a home to me. When I walk into a set, I could be in my living room. Reading movies, watching movies, I’m a consumer of films and television. Scripts, ideas, directing, all that stuff, it can’t help but effect me in some way. There are a few songs I’ve written from a character’s point of view. Every once in a while, I say, “Let me try to put myself in the shoes of someone other than me. We have a song on 36¢ called “Hookers And Blow,” which is very much like that. It’s not me, I’m not stuck in a hotel room for seventy-two hours doing coke and ordering hookers. But I decided to think about who that guy is, and in the same way, I would approach it if I was in character, playing the role. You try to immerse yourself in that character’s mindset, so it’s a song that’s written from the point of view of that character. But for the most part, most of the songs that we do are from our own perspective. That’s not to say that every single moment is real, or has happened to us. There’s a lot of poetic license that happens, a lot of things that happened symbolically or metaphorically, but most of the stuff we write is from our own point of view.
MR: Are you looking at some kind of end goal as far as where you’d like to get with the music, or are you just letting it evolve as it evolves?
MB: When I first started writing songs, I was probably about ten or twelve years old, and the first thing you think as a songwriter is, “Can this be a hit? Can this come out and people are going to hear the song and like the song and then they’re going to like you and you’ll get famous and rich?” That hasn’t changed a bit. I have never had a song blow up, I’ve never had a song take off. I have lots of friends who that has happened to, it never happened to me, but that doesn’t diminish the desire I have to do that, and every time we release another song, that’s always a part of it. It’s not really a desire to get rich but it’s more a desire to be accepted and write something that’s in the public domain, something that becomes bigger than itself. Pete Seeger’s song “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” is the greatest anti-war song ever and it will be used in a very positive way for humanity long after they’ve ever heard of Pete Seger. I think that’s something all songwriters are trying to get to. It’s like, “Why do you want to have friends?” You want somebody who will hold up a mirror to you, and understand you, and empathize with you. I think the kind of songwriting that Kevin and I do―and Paul Simon and James Taylor and Gordon Lightfoot and Jim Croce do―is really that desire to reach out and connect with people.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
KB: It’s interesting. Michael is a music professor and we were talking yesterday about how so many of his students make music alone on computers. Certainly, all of us use digital technology when it comes to writing and producing and doing demos and all that kind of stuff. But when we started playing, it was really about trying to get with other musicians and listen and learn and try to get a feel and a sense of musical camaraderie. I think it would be kind of tragic if that gets completely lost in the musical culture. When you look at pop music right now, if you’re really searching for bands, there aren’t going to be a whole lot of them out there. There are tons of good bands, but they’re not being embraced. There were tons of big, famous, influential bands when we were kids, and that’s just not really out there anymore. I don’t know... That’s probably bad advice when it comes to a career standpoint, but I think it’s certainly good advice in terms of musicianship. Play and play with other people.
MR: Nice. Michael?
MB: What I tell my students...they’re film-scoring students, so they’re trying to break into a very changeable world where technology is really driving it financially and just in terms of the aesthetic of film scoring. What you’re hearing now is very, very simple, minimalist music for most film scores. There’s nothing left of the days of Bernard Herrmann. What I’m trying to teach my students is how to survive in this world where everybody has access to all the sounds and anybody can get any sound and if you get sounds, you’re going to have the same sounds as everybody else. I ask them, “What is about what you do musically that nobody else can do?” I say, “Find out what that is, and get to be really good at that.” That’s your best way, so you’re actually separating yourself from your competition rather than diving into the competition and getting the same sample libraries everybody else has. I had a student who was a Juilliard graduate in the contrabass and he was studying film scoring with me. I said, “Well, you’re a contrabass player, why don’t you use that? Make that be your sound. Who else plays the contrabass at the level that you do?” To me, that’s it. How do you really define and explore your individuality? And I assume it’s probably the same in acting.
MR: Kevin, what do you think?
KB: I agree.
MR: I have to say, one of my favorite moments for you guys was your performing “When The Morning Comes” on Live From Daryl’s House.
KB: That was so much fun. That was one of the really big high points of our years together.
MR: I have to discuss the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon. I think that’s died down, but there was a long while when you heard it everywhere you turned.
MB: I think we still hear quite a bit about it.
KB: You’d be surprised.
MR: [laughs] Well this conversation makes me one degree, which is pretty cool, thanks. Kevin, what do you think of your movie career to this point? What would you say about that person?
KB: Well, first off, let me say that I’m generally someone who doesn’t glance into the rear view mirror that often; I’m generally looking down the road. I would say that there are some days where I go, “Wow, I’m not where I want to be,” and there are days when I say, “Yeah, this is pretty good.” The one thing that I will say I’m really happy about is that while I may not get everything that I want or things at a level that I want, the things that do come my way are so diverse in terms of the kinds of characters and the genres and the tone and all that kind of stuff. That’s what I always tried to work towards. I didn’t want to become stuck in one kind of thing, “He’s the comedy guy,” “He’s the action guy,” “He only plays assh**es,” Whatever it is. That’s something that I’m happy with because it’s something I try really hard for.
MR: And Michael, a great musical moment on television was your score for Jewish Americans.
MB: Thanks. That was a really interesting challenge.
MR: So when is the new album coming?
MB: We don’t know yet, we’ve got to put enough songs together.
MR: Are you guys writing for it now?
KB: Yeah. We’re out on the road now and we have four new songs on the set including “Driver,” so that’s a pretty good start.
MR: And these days, it seems to be a lot more about EPs.
MB: Well, I’m confused about the music business. I can’t get away from the idea that you put together ten or twelve songs and you call it a record and you support it as it releases and then get the other one going. We’re just kind of putting stuff out now. We’ve got the two videos and two songs that we’re putting up on iTunes and such. We’re coming, and hopefully lightning will strike and people will like the stuff.
KB: We did a video in 1996 that I directed for this song called “Boys In Bars.” It was kind of a memory song about being in New York in the seventies. We decided to start playing it again in the set and my brother had this idea to play along with the old video. We re-recorded the song and did a video where we intercut the way we look now with the old video from the nineties. It’s pretty amusing.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
ROB SIMONSEN’S “LET’S PLAY” FROM NERVE EXCLUSIVE
Rob Simonsen shares the lyric video for “Let’s Play” taken from the original score to the film Nerve. Written and performed by Rob Simonsen (Foxcatcher, Life of Pi), it features White Sea (Morgan Kibby of M83). It’s an energetic synth-driven track that captures the adrenaline-fueled thrill ride of the lead character’s experiences acting out the online game “Nerve.” The song has a decidedly ‘80s vibe capturing both the joyous rush of stepping outside the norm and its sinister consequences. Lakeshore Records released the score on July 29th.
MAPS & HIS MOTHBALL FLEET’S “NOTHING AGAINST DOVER” EXCLUSIVE
Maps wrote this song after reflecting on a fallen soldier’s flag-draped casket with a determination to change his attitude and live life without taking anything for granted.
According to Maps...
“This is a ‘survivor’s guilt’ tune that came to my head while standing in formation at a Dignified Transfer Ceremony one night at an airfield in Afghanistan. That is a solemn ceremony where fallen soldiers’ flag-draped caskets are loaded into cargo planes and flown directly to the military’s main Mortuary facility in Dover, Delaware. The concept is that I’m sure Dover is a nice town, but I didn’t want to find myself going there in a casket. I was also trying to wrap my head around the fact that the guys who were had been alive just a day or so earlier, unaware that their end was so near, and I was determined to change my attitude and live my life without taking that for granted.”
A Conversation with Stephen Bishop
Mike Ragogna: Stephen! You have a new album called Blueprint. Could this be a...wait for it...blueprint for creative things to come? I say this because it seems there are a couple of themes on this album I don’t remember you touching on before.
Stephen Bishop: I’m all ears!
MR: Well, there’s “Blue Window,” for one. Not many artists are willing to commit to a point of view so as not to alienate their audience.
SB: I wrote the song about fifteen years ago. It was before 9/11, but all those things keep happening. Oil spills, planes going down, these things keep happening through the years. I felt back then that it was my real “true” song, because I wanted to say how I felt about life.
MR: The lyrical humor, phonetics, and vocabulary used in “Asleep On The Plane” reminds me of a Paul Simon or Mary Chapin-Carpenter song. That’s also making me feel that Blueprint might point to a new direction for future projects.
SB: I’ll tell you how it started and why it’s called Blueprint. It’s just like you said, one day I was in my man cave, lying down and going, “What the hell am I going to do with myself?” I thought, “Wait a minute, I want to make an album! Why don’t I get all my songs that are demos and try to find the best ones.” I have a ton of demos that I’ve worked on through the years, songs I wrote for movies or different projects that didn’t work out, so I just decided to record them. All of these songs are pretty much on demos and they served as a blueprint for the actual finished recording. It kind of gave a place where we wanted to go. We changed our minds a lot, but for the most part, it started off with demos. Now it all sounds great.
MR: Did you build on the demos or did you re-record.
SB: We re-recorded all the tracks.
MR: What was the recording process on a song like?
SB: Some I built from the guitar up, like “Blue Window” and “Someone Like You.” The producer, Jon Gilutin, really did a terrific job, building the song around the guitar or his track.
MR: Blueprint doesn’t feel very blue. It’s an uplifting album.
SB: I should tell you I wrote “Holy Mother” with Eric Clapton.
MR: What was the story on the creative process for that song?
SB: I was staying at Clapton’s house years ago―his castle. We’d always wanted to write songs together, we’d been friends since he played on my album in ‘76. He said, “Hey Bish, let’s write a song.” So he came up with the title “Holy Mother,” it’s kind of a religious song and I was going through a tough time at the time. I wrote part of it and he wrote part of it so it became a collaboration. He recorded it on his August album and also recorded it with Pavarotti, which was also a trip―hearing Pavarotti singing words that I worked on, it was just amazing. Now I’m finally going my version.
MR: You mentioned a lot of these songs are beefed up demos and movie connections. One of those is the revisited, up tempo, Justin Bieber-y version of “It Might Be You.”
SB: Justin Bieber is the best stuff that I’ve been hearing lately, to tell you the truth.
MR: I think that last album was pretty good, with Diplo and Skrillex involved in his production.
SB: It’s very creative.
MR: But you revisited “It Might Be You” and made it a little more up tempo. Honestly I was a little afraid to listen to it because I love the old version, but you upgraded it in a way that was so natural. How did you do it?
SB: My producer Jon Gilutin kept saying, “Do everything different!” Can you imagine all the years I’ve been singing “It Might Be You” in concert? I’ve sung it a trillion times. I didn’t write it, but it’s a great song. It’s written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Dave Grusin for the movie Tootsie. So it wound up that I would sing and he would go, “Do something different.” That’s why I added all those weird little vocal trips, and we didn’t do a thing at the end going, “Yeah, yeah!”
MR: How much did these songs evolve from their originals?
SB: Well the album starts out with “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon,” that’s the old song from 1965. It was totally different, it had this funny little vocal―but I’m a songwriter and I could really spot good lyrics in that so I wanted to do it. I’ve been doing that song on stage for years and years now. “Ultralove” is kind of an R&B type of thing, I thought that came out great. Then I did a little tribute to John Lennon on “And I Love You,” and kind of a tribute to Steely Dan on “Asleep On The Plane.”
MR: What is the difference in modes for you when you’re writing narratively versus when you’re writing love songs?
SB: It’s all the same, really. I have two different styles of writing, for the most part. I have this one style that’s the kind of romantic thing, “Love is groovy,” and I have this strange side, which is in a lot of different songs I’ve written, like “I’ll Sleep On The Plane.” They’re a little wacky, a little unusual. I had another song on my Blue Guitars album called “Picasso Played A Blue Guitar.” I like to do that sometimes, write esoteric, strange little songs.
MR: You could throw “Madge” into that, too.
SB: Well “Madge” stands on its own, because it was written from a dream. I woke up and wrote the song, and I’ve never had that experience with any other song.
MR: What has happened to your creative process through the years?
SB: I guess I didn’t hop along on the rap thing. The only thing I could rap about would be running out of Perrier, probably. My step son is so into rap, he loves it. I don’t know, this is the just the natural process, I guess. This is my ninth album, I’ve been doing this for so many years now―God, forty years of making albums. I started my first album in the summer of ‘76. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to say thought, people might say, “God, what an old fart. I’m not going to play his music!”
MR: “No, I wouldn’t play a classic album that had two major hits on it.”
SB: Well, you never know.
MR: Yikes, that makes it forty years since “On & On.” I walked into my favorite record store one day in 1976 and the guy there said, “Okay, you’re going to buy this album,” and he handed me Careless.
SB: Oh really?
MR: You had instant fans with that album, and then Bish was basically a continuation.
SB: Yeah. For Bish, I wanted to make a really romantic album. It was pretty mushy.
MR: And Art Garfunkel picked up on that and recorded like half his albums that way.
SB: He actually recorded about seven songs of mine.
MR: I always wondered why Art didn’t do a Stephen Bishop cover album.
SB: It’s funny you mentioned that, because at first, when he was using Richard Perry and they were recording Breakaway, he talked about doing more of my songs. He knows a lot of my stuff that a lot of people don’t know, too. He knows quite a lot of my material.
MR: You’ve had a lot of success through movies, especially, the memorable “It Might Be You” in Tootsie. That was a big hit for you.
SB: And “Animal House”!
MR: Yeah, of course, “Animal House.” It comes off like a credit scroll.
SB: The song is all written from the script. I put all the characters in there; “Babs and Mandy having a pillow fight; Flounder’s left shoe’s always on his right,” It just made a whole thing of the actual cast, so that’s what I put in the song. [cheering] “Animal House!”
MR: You contributed to Unfaithfully Yours as well.
SB: I did “One Love” for that, too.
MR: And “Separate Lives” from White Nights was another of your trademark songs.
SB: That’s my favorite, probably. I thought I was going to win an Oscar for that, but I didn’t.
MR: Damn the Academy!
SB: [laughs] Lionel Ritchie told me that he gave seventy-five thousand dollars to a guy named Happy Goday to promote his song “Say You, Say Me.” He got it done. “Happy Goday”... It’s the strangest name but I never forgot it. But I’m in the Academy; I love being in the Academy.
MR: What do movies mean to you? Have you seen any movies recently and thought, “I wish I’d done the theme?”
SB: Oh yeah, sure, sure. I just saw a great one with my wife, Captain Fantastic.
MR: Oh yeah, that’s an Alex Somers score.
SB: That’s a good score, I would’ve loved to do a song for that. I’m dying to work and do more movies, I just don’t really have a manager anymore since my manager got into her family.
MR: [laughs] Sorry...
SB: I wanted to give you a little phrase that I say sometimes when things go wrong: “There are two kinds of people in the world: There’s a person, and there’s somebody who f**ks with that person.” That’s my philosophy. Isn’t that true?
MR: I think that might be truer than not! Stephen, what advice do you have for new artists?
SB: Be different. Try using unique lyrics. There’s a big hit on the radio now called “How Deep Is Your Love?” Hello...The Bee Gees already had a huge hit with that. Why have another hit with the same title? As far as getting somewhere, it’s really difficult. I think the best thing to do is get social. Get with other people who are songwriters; meet with them and see what they’re doing. I was greatly helped in my career by one of my best friends Leah Kunkel, who is Cass Elliot’s sister. She actually suggested some songs of mine to Art Garfunkel. Her husband Russ was playing drums for Art at the time and she gave him a cassette and started me on my little journey.
MR: So there is a little bit of “who you know” that matters.
SB: There is. It helps. It definitely helps. Radio is so different now, the categories and everything. I’m an artist that can do a lot of different style. I was pegged as this “middle of the road” kind of guy, but that’s really not me. I’m totally different than that. “I’ll Sleep On The Plane” is certainly not “middle of the road.”
MR: Many artists have covered your material. Diane Schurr’s “Red Cab To Manhattan” is one my favorites, by the way.
SB: Oh really?
MR: Yeah, nice choice for her. And there’s Cleo Laine’s cover of “One More Night?”
SB: Oh God, it’s really rare that you know that stuff. When I did that “Red Cab to Manhattan” with Diane Schurr she sang both verses, and Phil Ramone was producing her. I’d known Phil Ramone for years, he’d helped me out with a lot of different things. I got Diane’s attention at one point and I said, “The first was fantastic, it was so good, and the second verse was really close to it, but maybe just put a tiny bit more emotion in it?” She fell apart. “What? I’m not singing it good? Phil! Stephen says I’m not singing it good!” I felt bad. I was like, “No, I’m not criticizing you!”
MR: One person we haven’t talked about yet is Phil Collins. You have a great friendship with him. How did it start?
SB: I met him at Eric Clapton’s home in ‘78. So how many years ago is that? A million? He had a big, huge beard when I met him. He said he was a big fan and he knew my stuff. We became really good friends, and in ‘88, he played on and produced some tracks on me for my Bowling In Paris album. “Sleeping With Girls” and “Walking On Air.”
MR: Ah, you were one of the lucky few to initially use a Phil Collins LinnDrum sample.
SB: [laughs] Yeah.
MR: Those were the days.
SB: He loved those drum samples. I also sang on his albums. I sang on his first album, Face Value, I sang background on “This Must Be Love.” I also sang background on his hit “Do You Remember?”
MR: Nice. I bet you wouldn’t have minded being an actor as well as a musician, like Phil Collins. After all, you’re such a “Charming Guy.”
SB: [laughs] That was my credit in Animal House, “Charming Guy With Guitar.”
MR: And you were “Charming Guy” in Kentucky Fried Movie, “Charming Trooper” in The Blues Brothers and even a “Charming G.I.” in The Twilight Zone Movie!
SB: Sometimes my wife doesn’t think I’m so charming.
MR: [laughs] What about Orson Welles? Did he think you were charming when he had you in his very last film?
SB: I don’t know. That was the only time I ever shook hands with someone who looked the other way. I can say the times I shook hands with people who had completely no interest in me would be the time I shook hands with Orson Welles and the time I shook hands with Robert Redford.
MR: Oh no! Well, regardless, Stephen Bishop keeps popping back into culture, like your shoutout in American Psycho―which, by the way, is back as a Broadway show.
SB: God, that’s right! Do you know about that book?
MR: Required reading. Patrick Bateman loves you!
SB: That was weird! It was weird being in that book. I enjoyed the mention, but wow!
MR: And now you’ve got the song you wrote with Eric Clapton on Blueprint, I bet that’s the emphasis track, no?
SB: I don’t know. I wouldn’t say that’s the main track. If anything, it might be “It Might Be You” just to get people to go, “Oh, I remember him!”
MR: Did you have favorites on this album?
SB: There are certain songs that are very personal to me. I wrote “She’s Not Mine” right after my first divorce. I was so wrecked. That’s a pretty strong love song. “Before Nightfall” is about depression. Not my depression, another person’s depression. It’s got a wide variety of songs, that’s what I like to do. I don’t like those albums where you put it on and it’s pretty much the same thing all the way through. I think the songs are all pretty different.
MR: Do you think your new marriage and stepson will affect your creative process in any way?
SB: That’s a good question. Yeah, it does. He’s fifteen and he’s really into circus arts so about four times a week, he goes and practices these amazing things and I drive him home. On the way home, I like to put on the radio, and he goes, “Can I play my music?” “Oh. Okay.” He plays some of the weirdest, weirdest stuff, but I’ve learned a lot. Some of it’s pretty good, actually.
MR: Does he listen to the Top 40?
SB: No. Not at all. Can’t stand it. He told me one day, “I hate rock ‘n’ roll!” It was like a dagger in my heart. “What? What do you mean? That’s what I grew up with. I love rock ‘n’ roll. The Who, The Stones, The Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, Prince.”
MR: Sounds like a conversion process is in his future.
SB: [laughs] I know but he’s got very strong opinions.
MR: So once Blueprint is out, where do you go from here? Are you looking forward to getting to a next project?
SB: Not really. I’m totally into this a hundred percent right now. I would think I’ve got more coming, I’ve written like six hundred and fifty songs. Some of them are really weird, like “Beer Can On The Beach,” “There’s A Hair In Your Enchilada”... Weird, weird songs that I wrote. And then I’ve got other songs that are quality songs. I’ve written a lot in all different styles. I consider these songs on Blueprint to be my best right now. They’re not all new. I think “Someone Like You” is twenty-eight years old, but the lyrics were so good, I had to use them. “Who said that love is a dance? The sound of her heartbeat, the rush of romance, love is the sound of her tears falling on the ground, trying not to care.” That’s good!
MR: It is!
SB: “I’ve always been good since I started getting good, since I gave up the beer can on the beach.”
MR: Ha! Now that you’ve got this new album, are you going out on the road for a little bit?
SB: I am going out on the road!
MR: With a band or solo?
SB: Sometimes I play with Ambrosia and they back me up. We’re going to Honolulu next Friday, then in August I’ve got gigs in Atlanta, Louisville―God, it’s already almost August. I’ve got to start rehearsing.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
DAVID NYRO’S “BITTER WINE” EXCLUSIVE
According to David Nyro’s folks...
“Seattle-based singer songwriter David Nyro shares the video for his new single ‘Bitter Wine’ which features vocalist Katie Kuffel. It’s Nyro’s fourth single for The Koral Young Group and he’s continuing to hone his carefully crafted songs by again bringing Kuffel on board [she last appeared on his single, ‘Violence of the Heart’]. This time, she’s fronting a trio made up of Nyro on piano, Marc Miller on upright bass and Sean Lane on drums. Kuffel provides a striking performance evocative of the theme of love and loss in the song. Hearkening back to the immaculately crafted power pop of the ‘70s and ‘80s, ‘Bitter Wine’ was produced by Nyro and Jakael Tristram at Robert Lang Studios.”
SNIR YAMIN’S “CONCRETE CITY” EXCLUSIVE
According to Snir Yamin...
“This is the second single and title song of my upcoming EP, Concrete City. I had written and composed the song on the streets of New York City. ‘Concrete City’ describes the amazing life of a lone man in this incredible concrete jungle. While it’s indeed an amazing life, sometimes, when a man is living in by himself, it becomes a tangle of feelings and emotions. This tangle of emotions is what the new single, ‘Concrete City,’ is all about. Furthermore, the single has in it a lot of different aspects from my long-coming and well satisfying journey to America as an artist.”
A Conversation with John Gorka
Mike Ragogna: John, your “new” album Before Beginning is a 1985 alternate version of your I Know debut. Why was the initial album shelved and why was it important to get this version released?
John Gorka: I guess I was new to the recording world and musically finding my way. I had never recorded with other players before and it all happened so quickly. When I came back to Pennsylvania the only thing I had was a cassette of the sessions and my head was spinning. I was too close to it. Although I felt that it was good I didn’t know if it was the “right” kind of good. I remember playing the cassette at Godfrey Daniels Coffeehouse after I got back. Jesse Winchester had played there that night and I remember him listening saying “I like it! It sounds commercial.” I don’t know if that was I was hoping to hear. I wasn’t sure it was the musical direction that I was going for but I’m not sure I could tell you what that direction was.
I decided to put this remixed version out because I thought it was worth a listen. The players and the arrangements are different from I Know. The energy is also different. I’ve always been of the opinion that songs are bigger than any one recording of them. I don’t sound like that any more. I just thought it would be interesting to put it out and see what happened.
MR: Usually, projects like this end up being the second disc of a Deluxe Edition of a classic album reissue. what makes this version of the album special to you and with a 2016 perspective, how were each of the albums successful and what did each of the them accomplish for you creatively?
JG: I think Before Beginning is best heard and seen as a physical CD. It is an artifact from another time. The story on the cd package and the photos enhance the listening experience, in my opinion. I also think the CD sounds better than the MP3 or downloadable version. There is some really nice playing on the record, especially Stuart Duncan’s mandolin and fiddle playing. “I Know” was a little more intimate in production, especially “Love is Our Cross to Bear.” Although I have never had a comfort zone, if I did, I Know was probably closer to it.
MR: The original sessions included future Americana artists such as Shawn Colvin and Lucy Kaplansky, both of who you’ve worked with since this album. What do you think their performances added to the album and have you considered a reunion with them and the rest of the band to tour in support of Before Beginning?
JG: I love their singing, on their own and with me. It was one of my great joys in music to sing with them. They are great singers and great harmony singers. I have not considered a reunion. When I work with other people I like to treat them well and pay them well. I don’t think logistically that a reunion is in the realm of the possible. In fact we don’t know for certain who the keyboard player was who played on the sessions. It was one of the two keyboard players credited on the liner notes.
MR: What were the sessions like with Jim Rooney producing? Any interesting anecdotes?
JG: Jim was great to work with. He put me up at his place so I didn’t have to find a hotel. I really liked his production style as well: pick really good players and create an atmosphere where making good music is not only possible but almost inevitable. As I mentioned in the notes, John Prine came by while we were mixing. That was a thrill. And I got to meet Jack Clement.
MR: What were some of the surprises in returning to this album? For instance, over the years, did you forget about parts or players and what was your reaction to the very first playback of the baked multi-tracks?
JG: I was surprised at how fresh the tracks sounded. It was alive, maybe because we were all playing and singing in the same room. I think a lot of that energy was captured on tape. I hadn’t listened to them for almost 30 years. I was just glad the tapes would play and it was fun to hear those arrangements again.
MR: Do you think anything would have been different in your life had you gone down the road not taken and the original version been released instead of the re-record?
JG: I’m sure things would have been different but I don’t know what that might be. I’d have to visit the alternate universe where that was my decision to see how that played out. I don’t regret my decision way back when but I’m glad people can hear this new/old record now.
MR: What kind of creative growth do you feel there has been over the course of the twelve albums you’ve released since I Know? How has your approach to creating music evolved over the years?
JG: I’ve learned a little bit about making records. I’ve recorded in quite a few different ways: live with the other players and singers with no click track, live with players and a time reference; solo, playing and singing at the same time and separately. You have to be flexible and do what is best for each song or group of songs. My favorite place to be is still in the middle of a song, especially in the writing process when I feel that I’ve reached a point of inevitability where the thing I’m working on is not just an idea. It is a song that can go out there and maybe have a life of its own.
MR: What are your favorite songs on the project and are there any titles that you now prefer in their original version?
JG: I really like “Down in the Milltown” on Before Beginning and there are moments here and there that I prefer over the 1987 version and vice versa. For example I like the sound of the horns coming in on the bridge of song “I Know” on Before Beginning...but I miss Shawn and Lucy’s singing on that song as in the 1987 version. I also like the synth part on “I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair” on Before Beginning but like the intro on that same song better on the 1987 version.
MR: Which is your favorite John Gorka album?
JG: That is like asking which is my favorite child.
MR: Your material has been covered by quite a few artists including Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith. Which are your favorite covers?
JG: Mary Chapin Carpenter and Nanci Griffith have sung my songs but neither have recorded them to my knowledge. Maura O’Connell’s recorded version of Blue Chalk is one of my favorites. Mary Black has beautifully recorded several of my songs. Mary Travers’ singing of “Semper Fi” on Peter, Paul and Mary’s Discovered album also comes to mind as a favorite.
MR: What do you think of the state of the “singer-songwriter” and “Americana” genres?
JG: I don’t know enough about the current state of those things to hazard a guess or have an opinion. I do feel that I’m seeing musical evolution right before my eyes and ears. There is so much talent out there and they seem to be getting better at a younger age.
MR: In a thousand words or less, who were your musical or creative influences?
JG: There are so many! There are the ones I listened to on record and the ones I got to hear live at Godfrey Daniels Coffeehouse. On record I listened a lot to the singers and songwriters who came from the folk and blues world. Often, their names began with the letter J: Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Janis Ian, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez. I also loved Flatt & Scruggs, The Earl Scruggs Review―my first live concert, Eric Andersen, The Band, Tim Hardin, Steve Goodman, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, Leo Kottke, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Billie Holliday, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Elvis, The Roches and The Staple Singers. People I got to hear and meet at Godfrey’s include Nanci Griffith, Jack Hardy, Erik Frandsen, Claudia Schmidt, Stan and Garnet Rogers, Rosalie Sorrels, Utah Phillips, Kate Wolf and Dave Van Ronk. I am leaving out so many! I don’t know if they show up in my music but these are some of the people I listened to live and on record early on.
MR: You also have a John Gorka Guitar Collection and you’re considered a bit of an aficionado when it comes to guitar. What was your musical training?
JG: I don’t consider myself to be a very good guitar player. I mainly use the guitar to accompany my singing. Since I most often perform solo, I have tried and am trying to become a better player. Every once in a while I surprise myself to find I’m playing something I’ve never played before and it sounds okay. But it appears to be unpredictable.
MR: How has recording and scoring for film and TV affected your approach or creativity when songwriting or recording?
JG: I haven’t done all that much of that but I’ve found that I can sometimes write a song on demand to suit a specific situation, character or scene. I need to be emotionally moved by the material or specifics, however.
MR: Are there any other artists, new or older, who haven’t quite broken through that you admire?
JG: There are many that I admire who are in a similar position, some of whom I’ve mentioned above. The music documentary 20 Feet from Stardom is very instructive here. Sometimes you can have all the talent in the world, have all the drive, with a big record company behind you and sometimes the world says, “No.” The size of the audience doesn’t always seem to equal the gifts of the artist. Musical taste is very subjective. Sometimes the audience seems to be inordinately too small. You just have to pursue your vision and seek out the people who might see it your way. It helps also if you never let up. You have to be reaching new people all the time. I remember Garnet Rogers speaking of his brother Stan, “He wasn’t so much a hopeless romantic as a relentless one.”
MR: John, what advice do you have for new artists?
JG: I don’t know if my advice has any value because the music business world I came from is long gone and won’t come back. In general, I think high standards, low overhead and realistic expectations are a good way to go. I also think of Jackson Browne’s line from Running On Empty: “You’ve got to do what you can just to keep your love alive and try and not to confuse it with what you do to survive.”
MR: What do you still want to do creatively? How about no so creatively, like bucket list stuff?
JG: I still love working on songs, making records and I enjoy performing now more than when I started. So I hope I can stay healthy enough to do all 3 of those things for a long time to come. I would like to get better on guitar, piano and banjo. Also, I would like to do a show in Hawaii. It’s the only state that I have not played in.
MR: Any parting John Gorka words of wisdom?
JG: Follow your heart, then use your head, and be kind.
GUILTY PLEASURE: MITCH GOUDY’S “YOU THROUGH MY EYES”
Mitch Goudy’s music is progressing nicely, its country-flavored Americana as charming as the artist who creates it.
Check out this simple video for his original “You Through My Eyes”...
THE CONGRESS’ “HOME AGAIN” EXCLUSIVE
According to The Congress...
“We recently set up in our guitarist/vocalist Scott Lane’s living room in Richmond, Virginia and played some tunes that lend themselves to stripped down acoustic instrumentation. ‘Home Again,’ our latest single off of our forthcoming studio album, The Game, was one of them.”
Joey Wharton directed and edited the video for “Home Again,” and it was filmed by Wharton and Craig Zirpolo. The Game will be released on September 9 on American Paradox.
A Conversation with Peter Cincotti
Mike Ragogna: Peter, “Long Way From Home” is the latest emphasis track form your EP Exit 105. You have an international audience and are often a long way from home performing, so might that have inspired the song?
Peter Cincotti: Possibly. I’m not sure where this song came from. I wrote it a while ago, before any of the others on this album, so it’s hard to remember it’s exact inspiration, but I do think it influenced the other songs on the album and created a “conceptual base” for many of the other topics.
MR: Was the EP title an actual exit along your travels?
PC: Not so much among my travels, more throughout the years of my childhood. I grew up spending many of my summers on the Jersey Shore, where my family had come to escape the Manhattan heat in the summer for maybe 100 years. My father would always talk about his childhood on the shore, and I grew up experiencing my own version of that “youthful bliss,” which existed past exit 105. I recorded this entire album in the house I grew up visiting, almost 20 years after we stopped going.
MR: “Sexy” doesn’t seem very PC—ahem, your initials―especially given the woman’s description. Then again, nobody seemed to mind Hall & Oates’ “Maneater.” You’ve written songs that push the envelope in this area before and I’ve always just summed it up to a Rat Pack-ish, frat approach you sometimes apply to your art. But what is your philosophy or thoughts on romance and women in 2016?
PC: Well my thoughts on romance and women in 2016 are different from my thoughts on and inspiration for the song. Having said that, I’ve always had an affinity for women with confidence. But real confidence, which is pretty hard to find. “Sexy” illustrates a scenario that part of me wishes I could endure, just for the fun of it. But in reality, if I were involved with a woman like that, I’d be the one leaving her “high and dry.”
MR: What’s the story behind “Roman Skies”?
PC: I was in a taxi cab in Rome a few years ago and we hit a red light. I rolled down the window, looked up, and watched these beautiful moving clouds gliding above me. I then took out my phone and typed in “Roman Skies.” Since that moment, I spent a good bit of time in Rome, on and off, and I think those experiences ended up informing the storyline behind the song. Not to a t, but enough. It was always a title that I knew I wanted to develop. It always seemed to want to be a song about infidelity, escape, and lost opportunity. So that’s what it is.
MR: “Made For Me” finds you with the perfect partner. Do you actually have one of those?
PC: In the spirit of not trying to dodge your question, yes there is someone who inspired many of those words. Having said that, “Made For Me” is more about recognizing the beauty of imperfection. The woman in the song is flawed, but so is the singer. It’s about two irregular pieces fitting together.
MR: The production on “What’s Sara Doing?” seems very contemporary. How did you approach the production for the EP?
PC: “What’s Sara Doing?”’s production is somehow a bit different from the rest of the EP. Not sure why, but like every other song, I try to give the melody and lyric the kind of production it is asking for. For some reason, many of the songs on the EP―and on the upcoming record―were products of dreams. “What’s Sara Doing?” was a very specific instance of that and in the dream I was actually on my iPhone searching for a song called “What’s Sara Doing?” on youtube. But it was 1985 in the dream. I was with a girl, just hanging out, everything was very ‘80s. We were on a water bed or something, searching for this song on a 1985 iPhone. Johnny Depp was playing bass in the corner, but he was morphing between himself and Robert Downey Jr..
Anyway, you figure that one out.
I woke up from the dream, and the song was literally at my fingertips. I went to my studio and began recording it the same day.
MR: Will all five songs appear on you new album Long Way From Home that’s coming out this fall?
PC: Yes but some of them will having different mixes and some featured guests.
MR: What’s your advice for new artists?
PC: Only do this if you have to. Otherwise, go into tech or something.
THE NIGHTOWLS’ “RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER” EXCLUSIVE
According to The Nightowls’ Ryan Harkrider...
“Last December, we spent two days recording our new EP, Royal Sessions, at the historic Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. After the first couple days of tracking, we set up a few cameras and played our song, “Right Around the Corner” live in the studio. We wanted a music video that captured the band recording the album, but also a video that looked and felt as old and historic as the studio itself. So, we brought in our friend and director, Jeff Ray [see music videos by Sigur Rós, Third Eye Blind, Eli Young Band, Blue October], who shot the band performing the song live and also captured the black and white still shots you see woven throughout the video. One of our favorite moments on both the song and the video is the very end where the entire band, including Grammy award winner―Boo Mitchell, are all seen dancing around the studio.”
BLADE OF GRASS’ “SKYDREAM” EXCLUSIVE
According to Blade Of Grass’ Mike Hurst ...
“The song ‘Skydream’ came together during the first time we met Amos our new drummer. He laid down a dancehall beat and then I programmed a looping dub bass line that Josh started singing over. As you can hear, Josh’s voice has a tone of urgency and desire in ‘Skydream.’
“Mike layered on some synth sounds using his Korg and Arturia synths and the song fell into place over the course of the next couple of hours of sonic exploration.”
REUBEN BIDEZ’S “CAN WE SURVIVE” EXCLUSIVE
According to Reuben Bidez...
“The track ‘Can We Survive’ is my first single off my upcoming EP called Turning to Wine. I actually wrote this song while driving back to Nashville from my hometown of Atlanta. I feel like this song is the overarching theme of the EP. Questioning whether a love can survive when faced with adversity. Love is not always hugs and sunflowers. Sometimes it’s cuts and salt in the wounds. But I find that those loves that withstand such turmoil and do survive come out stronger in the end. I really just want to write music that makes people feel human again. I think our culture truly desires a return to romanticism. We’ve become so skeptical and jaded. I feel this even in my own life. That’s why I write songs like this.”