A Conversation with Mac Quayle
Mike Ragogna: Mac, you've composed and overseen the music for Mr. Robot as well as The People v. O.J. Simpson and American Horror Story: Freak Show. Before we get into Mr. Robot, what got you into scoring for television?
Mac Quayle: Well, I had a previous phase of my career which was in the music business in New York, working as a producer and a dance remixer and musician. When the music business started to crumble in the early 2000s, it seemed like a good idea for me to relocate, so I picked LA with a vague idea of maybe getting into scoring. A couple years after I had been here, I landed my first real job, which was working as an additional composer for the show Cold Case under Michael Levine. Through him, I met Cliff Martinez, who I was a big fan of. I ended up working on twelve films with Cliff as an additional composer. All of that spanned like a decade, basically. The last film I worked on with Cliff was called The Normal Heart, an HBO film that was directed by Ryan Murphy. Through that, I met some of Ryan's team members. We hit it off and about six months later, I just got a call out of the blue from one of his producers saying, "Hey, we're looking to go in a different direction with American Horror Story this season, would you be interested in writing a piece of music for us?" I wrote a piece of music and the next day, they hired me. This was like September of 2014. I had my first show, which was very exciting, and even more exciting, I got an Emmy nomination for that season. But then Mr. Robot came right on the heels of that, and then the other two Ryan Murphy shows--Scream Queens and ...O.J.--so 2015 just turned into a very busy and exciting year.
MR: You must have learned a lot over these projects. What has changed these days regarding your approach?
MQ: The biggest change is that I've put together a team that helps me. The volume of work is so high. Maybe there's one person out there who could do it all, but I certainly need help. Like the role I was in with Cliff as Additional Composer on those films including The Normal Heart, now I have a couple of people who work with me in that role. Learning how to do that, how to manage a team, that's been one of the biggest changes in how I work.
MR: So The Normal Heart was a film that Cliff composed for and you helped him as additional composer and now you have additional composers. So how do you work with the additional composers? As the leader, is the focus with the group to keep the appropriate "theme" or "sound" going, then you come in to make course corrections?
MQ: That is important. Ultimately, the music needs to serve the project to help tell the story, and there's a lot of ways to do that, but I think having a consistent sound is one of them. It can't sound like, "Oh, this cue was done this way, and this one is something totally different," and it's a hodgepodge of different sounds. I do try to keep it consistent, and the people who are working with me are trying to work within that framework, just as I did with Cliff and others. My view was, "This is Cliff's musical universe and I'm going to now inhabit it and do my best to work within those parameters.
MR: Can I credit you for something? I think you're the first film and TV composer that I've interviewed who's ever referenced his creative staff.
MQ: It can be a little bit of a taboo topic, but it's how I learned. I came up through that way and I was fortunate enough to work with people who acknowledged me. There are people out there that use this model and they never talk about it and they never credit the people that work with them. The people that I worked with were not like that. I went down on the cue sheet; I was credited, it wasn't hidden. I wasn't ghostwriting. I feel like that's the right way to treat someone and I've tried to do the same. I've still got my hands on every note that's getting delivered. I'm not just turning stuff over and saying, "Hey, just do whatever you want." I'm very hands-on with what's happening. The end result is certainly a reflection of the sound I'm looking for and my team members are getting some nice creative input into it as well.
MR: What are the challenges with Mr. Robot? How do you approach it differently from other projects you've worked on?
MQ: As with most projects that I've been involved with, it all begins with a conversation with the creator of the project, whoever's artistic vision is going to be driving the train. It always starts there, with, "What are they looking for? What are they looking for from me? What kind of ideas do they have?" Out of that conversation, we begin to have conversations that will guide where the music is going to go. For Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail is the creator. We sat down and pretty quickly came to the idea that the show would have a totally electronic sound.
MR: In addition to the electronic sounds, I noticed you layer sounds on the soundtrack that also are acoustic.
MQ: Well, there's a piano. That's pretty much the only nod to a real instrument in season one. But that was kind of the parameters we came up with, and that's how I started working. I write some music, I give it to Sam. He listens, he comes back with notes and some great ideas of how to make it better, how to make it help tell the story the way he wants the story to be told. It's back and forth like that until we get what ultimately ends up in the show.
MR: I imagine your instincts about what a scene needs are flowing a little easier by now.
MQ: We are starting to get a vocabulary, definitely.
MR: Mac, you assembled these two volumes of series music, which still don't have every piece of music from the show. How did you choose what appeared on the releases?
MQ: First, I'm so thrilled that USA wanted to release the music. When we were initially talking about it, there were various ideas going around. One was, "Well, it should have a bunch of the songs that are in the show, and score." That kind of didn't make sense because all the songs were already available. You can go on Spotify right now and listen to a playlist of every song that's in Mr. Robot season one, so the idea became, "Let's do score," and Sam says, "Let's do as much as we can." "All right, we'll do a double-CD release," which has the potential for being a hundred and fifty minutes of music. That was pretty exciting, that I was going to have that much time to play with. The other idea that came out of that was, "Let's see what it sounds like if we do it chronologically," so the first volume would be episodes one through five and the second volume would be six through ten. I just started going through the episodes and picking what I thought were my favorite pieces that would work well outside of the show, just for listening. Once I had that collection, it was way too much at first, so I had to start trimming it down and swapping pieces out. I just played around with it until I got something I thought was listenable, a good experience that represented a lot of what had happened during the season.
MR: Do you think the music will evolve as the show goes on?
MQ: That would make sense. I'm not really supposed to talk about it. They're being very careful this season--after all of the attention the show has gotten--to not release much information about it. But yeah, it does make sense. The characters are going to evolve, the story will evolve and the music will evolve a little as well, but still be familiar.
MR: How big of a fan have you become of the series since you started working on it?
MQ: Oh, I'm a huge fan. When I first saw the pilot, I thought it was really good, and I was excited to get an opportunity to meet Sam and maybe work on it. I worked on it, I scored the pilot, I thought it was really good. Episode two came in, I thought, "That's really good." Episode three. Episode four. All of a sudden I realized how deep the show really is. My opinion went from, "Really good," to, "Wow, this show is amazing." By the time we were done with the season, I'm a serious fan of the show.
MR: It's an amazingly popular show right now. It already won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series.
MQ: It did.
MR: Has demand for you as a composer gone up since you've associated with all of these iconic, cultural shows?
MQ: I'm definitely now getting mentioned. I'm coming up on lists when people are looking at new projects and that was something that wasn't happening. We were trying to get on lists, trying to get someone to have a meeting with me, and now there have been some nice people saying, "Hey, is Mac available?" That's definitely been a change.
MR: What about your other musical careers? You've been producing and creating remixes for a while now, working on projects associated with Beyoncé, Donna Summer, Sting, Madonna... Do you miss doing that and are you getting more demand in that realm as well?
MQ: That has not come about since all the TV work. I really enjoy doing remix and production work and I haven't done much of it lately. I think the last remix I did was probably a couple of years ago, but I think something will come up in the future. I'd love to do something else if the right project came along. If someone were to hear the Mr. Robot soundtrack and say, "Hey, it would be great to get Mac to produce a cut on our next release" or something like that, that could be exciting.
MR: Did you take anything from the remix and production years that makes you a better composer?
MQ: I think "production" is a good word. I learned a lot about how to make things sound good, how to make them sound a certain way, how to arrange types of instruments and sounds together. That's been very useful in scoring. I'm composing but I'm also producing a score and delivering this final product, so those skills have been invaluable.
MR: In your world or in general, what advice do you have for new artists?
MQ: It's about following your heart, having a passion about what it is you love to do, learning your craft. Learn how to do it well. I only know my path, really, which is working for other composers, so I can recommend that. You can see a lot of people who have gone that path. Find someone that you admire and maybe reach out to them about whether you could help them.
MR: That's what helped you?
MQ: Yeah. I was introduced to Michael Levine initially, offered him my services. He ultimately hired me for Cold Case, he introduced me to Cliff, I offered him my services and he eventually hired me on a film.
MR: What advice would you give yourself years ago?
MQ: That's a good question. Just to be a little more relaxed and not afraid of what might happen. Trust that the right path will unfold.
MR: What will you be working on in the future?
MQ: These same projects that we've just talked about are all coming back for more seasons. I'm just finishing episode one of Mr. Robot season two; American Horror Story season six will be returning; Scream Queens season two; American Crime Story, which I've read--it's going to be somehow about Katrina--all those are coming back and will be carrying me through into next year.
MR: Because you've spent more time than most fans with the footage of Mr. Robot, what are your thoughts about the topic of "hacktivism"?
MQ: It's a little scary, I guess, to see what's possible. We're seeing it in the headlines. There are hacks happening all the time where information is getting stolen and released. It seems very real. There are a lot of very skilled computer people out there who can break into systems and do things, and your opinion might be that some of them are doing it for bad reasons and others are perhaps doing it for good, getting information out there that people need to know.
MR: Like WikiLeaks or something like that?
MQ: Yeah, something like that. A lot of things have been brought to light by them. There was the whole Panama Papers thing that happened a couple of months ago. I think it's important that that stuff is getting uncovered.
MR: Is there any episode of any show that you're most proud of in terms of how the music worked?
MQ: I was always fond of episode one of Mr. Robot, maybe just because it was the first one and a lot of themes were created during that time, but there are so many others as well. It's a tough question because each show is different. I was pretty thrilled by how the first episode of O.J. turned out.
MR: What advice would you give to Mr. Robot?
MQ: [laughs] It's hard to do that without letting everyone know about season two, and I can't say anything about that. I'm going to plead The Fifth on that one.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
JASON WILBER'S "I AM THE COSMOS" EXCLUSIVE
According to Jason Wilber...
"I always liked the quirkiness of the whole Memphis/Big Star/Alex Chilton/Chris Bell world of songs. I think it was Paul who suggested maybe doing a Big Star song. I went through some of my favorites like 'The Ballad of El Goodo' and 'September Gurls,' but they had all been done before and I didn't think I could add much. But he had also mentioned this Chris Bell song, which had been recorded several times, but occurred to me in a different light than it had previously been done. I also liked the escapism of the sad but hopeful refrain, '...every night I tell myself I am the cosmos, I am the wind.'”
A Conversation with Bobby Rydell
Mike Ragogna: Bobby, you wrote an autobiography, Bobby Rydell, Teen Idol On The Rocks, A Tale Of Second Chances. To promote the book, some publication is quoted as saying you were, "The Justin Bieber of the Camelot era." Not really seeing that.
Bobby Rydell: Yeah, I don't know who wrote that. I think that was somebody who was writing for The Huffington Post who put that in there.
MR: [laughs] But let's touch on that. Even though singers aren't really put in this category, mainly actors, you basically were a child star. There are many issues later in life that come up with that unique group. How did you deal with being a celebrity at such a young age?
BR: First of all, I think it goes back to my upbringing, being Italian, being born and raised in South Philadelphia. I was living with my grandmother and grandfather who came from the old country, and then my mom and dad, so there were a lot of values in the home. Later on in the business, a man by the name of Bernie Lowe, who was my boss and the president of Cameo, which later became Cameo/Parkway, quoted me a line: "Remember Bobby, you'll meet the same people going up the ladder as you do coming down. If you happen to be a rotten guy when you're up there and you happen to slip a little bit, they'll give you a shove to get you down a little bit quicker. That always stuck with me. I had great management, Frankie Day, who was a bass player in a band called "Billy Duke & The Dukes." I met him when I was fifteen years old. I had wonderful people around me and I think that's what kept me level-headed throughout all these years.
MR: When you look at the people around you back then, they all had pretty clear heads. Red Skelton was a mentor of yours and you were on his TV show so often, they gave you a recurring role as Clem Kadiddlehopper's young cousin Zeke. Even Frank Sinatra was a fan. I find your place in rock 'n' roll pretty interesting and unusual with the only comparable person being Bobby Darin.
BR: Well thank you, Mike. That's a hell of a compliment.
MR: You both had unique musical agendas, evolving simultaneously in both rock 'n' roll and more mature material.
BR: Yeah, like songs from the American Songbook. I had the good fortune of knowing Bobby and seeing him perform many times, and vice versa. I don't know if Bobby did it or someone else did it but there was a charcoal picture--an old eight by ten--of Bobby's face, autographed to me from Bobby. It says, "To Bobby, I wish for you what I wish for myself. Always your friend, Bobby Darin." I've used that line for a lot of the people that I've known in the business, going back to the late Buddy Rich. We were very, very dear friends because I was a drummer when I was like five or six years old and I saw Gene Krupa with the Benny Goodman band. Buddy recorded his album with the famous rendition of "West Side Story" and he has a lot of autographs on the inside cover of the album, and I happen to be one of the people fortunate enough to have an autograph to Buddy in the album. There were people like Judy Garland and Milton Berle and Cary Grant--all of the heavies. I just wrote to Buddy what Bobby wrote to me. "To Buddy, I wish for you what I wish for myself. Always your friend, Bobby Rydell." Matter of fact, to this day, I do a tribute to Bobby in my show. We do four songs; "Splish Splash," "Dream Lover," "Beyond The Sea" and "Mack The Knife." His son came in to see me a few years back when I was in Vegas. Dodd Darin came in and he thanked me for keeping his father's memory alive. I told him, "You know what? Your father wasn't just talented, he was scary talented." The man did everything, he sang, he danced, he played instruments, he was a very fine actor, so I was fortunate enough to be around him and consider him a friend.
MR: During your Cameo/Parkway years, you were around many great acts. Sadly though, because Cameo/Parkway material wasn't reissued on CD until sales were a fraction of what they were, your original albums were never refreshed and a lot of good music went into obscurity.
BR: Well, fortunately, now with ABKCO, everything is being re-released. Jay Klein came to see me just about a month ago, I was in Atlantic City at the Golden Nugget with a seventeen-piece orchestra. He wants to do something in conjunction with my new autobiography, possibly coming out with some sort of a new compilation. And over the past seven or eight years, they have released remastered versions of not only me but a lot of people on the Cameo label.
MR: Sure, but it's a shame that post-Napster, CD sales took such a hit that people stopped valuing recorded music the way they used to, especially during eras when artists were getting reissued and anthologized. On the other hand, vinyl's revival could be a good for your music
BR: Oh, absolutely. Are you kidding me? There's nothing better than vinyl!
MR: Okay, back to the book, though I think there should be a movie to do your life justice. Maybe it can star Justin Bieber?
BR: It's funny that you should mention that, because my wife has an email that she printed out for me. I can't remember the gentleman's name but he just did a picture with John Travolta and he said that he would like to have the screen rights for my new autobiography. That's a nice thing to do, but we're not going to jump at it because I just had the opportunity to have a cameo role in Robert DeNiro's new movie called The Comedian. The director was a guy by the name of Taylor Hackford who did The Idolmaker, the Ray Charles movie, Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll... He's a guy who's interested in that kind of stuff, so we're thinking of sending the book to Taylor Hackford, Ronnie Howard, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, as off the wall as that may sound. You never know! You send a book out, these people read it. You know the old saying: "You throw enough stuff against the wall, something's got to stick."
MR: Someone's got to bite, it seems pretty obvious to do a movie of your life with everything you experienced.
BR: There's a lot of interest going on with the book so who knows, it could possibly work into a screenplay, or possibly something like The Jersey Boys. You never know, everything is cock-eyed in this business.
MR: After having so much success with classic pop and doo-wop you changed course into material such as "Volare." Following your success with that 45, things must have changed significantly, no?
BR: It may have changed to a certain degree, but not the way that I really wanted it to change. My father loved big bands, so when I was five, he took me to see Benny Goodman. At a very early age, I started listening to Benny Goodman, Tex Beneke, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Duke Ellington... I was a jazz lover going back to Coltrane and Miles Davis and Philly Joe Jones; you name it, I listened to them. I hardly ever listened to a rock 'n' roll record. Maybe when we were just hanging around the street corner with an old 45 record player. Some of the girls in the neighborhood would have [Elvis] Presley or Bo Diddley or Fats Domino. As far as doing songs like "Volare," "Sway," and "Old Black Magic," that was quality material, but they were still kind of like pop. I really wanted to get into doing albums with big bands and doing [material] from the American Songbook, which unfortunately never happened. That's something I've regretted as far as my career is concerned with recordings, but it's something that I do now within my show. So not only do I do my hits, but I do songs from the American Songbook and stuff that I love to do. I think there are a lot of people in the audience saying, "Jeez, we never knew that Bobby could do this type of material!"
MR: At a certain point, Sinatra comes into the mix. There was a meeting that was going to happen, but you got a little nervous about it, huh?
BR: It was The Copa in New York City, and he was in the room to see Joe E. Lewis. Matter of fact, Frank made a movie about Joe E. Lewis' life called The Joker Is Wild. Frank was in the club and one of the waiters, Carmine, said, "Would you like to sit with him?" I was nineteen years old and my father and my manager were there, so I said, "No, no, just put me with my dad and my manager." At the end of the show, Joe E. introduces him and he goes and I said, "Well, that's it. I blew it." That was my first chance just to say hello to the man. I go upstairs to say goodnight to Jules Podell--this is all in the book--he was like the boss of The Copa, and Sinatra comes walking through the kitchen doors and I said to Jules, "Uncle Julie, all I want to do is shake his hand." Sinatra was sitting with Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, two great lyricists, and Richard Conte and Joe DiMaggio. Jules said, "Frank, I want you to meet the kid." Sinatra stood up and with them blue eyes, he looked at me and he said, "How you doin', Robert?" I said, "I'm fine Mister Sinatra, how are you?" "I'm wonderful. Would you care to join us?" I said, "It would be my pleasure." I sat down and that was my first meeting with Blue Eyes. He turned to me after a couple of minutes and said, "What do you drink, Robert?" I said, "C-c-coke." I figured if I said, "Scotch and water," he'd smack me in the face. I was fortunate enough to be able to hang with him. He was always wonderful to me. I once thought it was Frank Jr. who said I was one of his favorite singers, so I thanked him and he said, "I never said that, that was my father." [laughs] I said, "Not to put you down in any way, Frank, but it sounds better coming from your old man."
MR: Nice. You headlined The Copa at nineteen?
BR: Yeah, I was the youngest who ever worked The Copa.
MR: Can you still remember how you felt that night?
BR: Nervous as hell!
MR: Can you remember any of the songs?
BR: My opening song was "Lots Of Livin'," and I had two great men, Lou Spencer and Noel Sherman, who put my act and my staging together. We worked together for months, practically a half a year before I went into The Copa, just to make sure that the act was fine tuned before I hit New York City. When they introduced me all of the captains and the waiters are slapping me on the back, "Go get 'em, Bobby, knock 'em on their asses. Kill 'em." They're all hitting me and I'm walking out on stage and the band is playing the vamp of "Lots Of Livin'." My opening line is, "There are chicks just right for some kissin'"; when it came out, I was shaking. I was so nervous! But I think it took me a matter of, oh, four to eight bars before everything settled in and then I was fine. But just walking out there for the very first time, there was a lot of nerves.
MR: By that point, you already were a staple on TV. You performed on American Bandstand how many times?
BR: Oh, God, I don't know, I did a lot because I never left Philadelphia, and God forbid somebody didn't show up, I'd always get a call from either Dick himself or a guy by the name of Tony Mammarella, who was the producer of the show, saying, "Bobby, can you get your ass down here? So-and-so didn't show up and we need somebody to fill the guest spot."
MR: Bobby, your first dramatic acting role was on Combat!
BR: Yeah. I loved that. The episode was called "The Duel" and it was me, Vic Morrow and two German soldiers and a German tank. That was it. Working with Vic was wonderful, he was really great to work with. I remembered him from the movie Rock Around The Clock and then all of a sudden I'm working with this guy that I admired from when I was a kid growing up.
MR: You also were on Danny Thomas' TV show.
BR: Yeah, yeah, Make Room For Daddy, where I was a wise guy. Danny Thomas tried to take me under his wing and I thought all he wanted to do was try and make money from me. I played a smart ass and he straightened me out, and there I was at the end of the show singing at what was supposed to be The Copa. When I first met mister Thomas, I was fairly young, of course, and he was a big guy with ALSAC--Aiding Leukemia-Stricken American Children--The Saint Jude Hospital. He asked me if I would be the teenage chairman for ALSAC, and I was. I was the teenage chairman for like two years, and after my two years were over Bobby Vinton took my place. I've had the good fortune to work with all kinds of people, Danny Thomas, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, George Burns, Perry Como, I've had a wonderful career, I really have, and I've worked with some of the best.
MR: I love that you were close to Red Skelton.
BR: Red Skelton became like a second father to me, for crying out loud. He lost his son via Leukemia at a very early age--Richard was like fifteen years old when he passed away, so Red took me under his wing. We became very, very close, very dear friends over the years.
MR: We've talked about the early years, let's get to the later years. You performed as The Golden Boys with Frankie Avalon and Fabian, but then there was a certain point where you got sick. In 2012, you had to replace your liver and kidneys.
BR: Correct. That's basically because I was an alcoholic. When my first wife passed away in 2003 via breast cancer, what a void there was in my life. There was nobody to lay in bed with, nobody to talk to, nobody to laugh with, nobody to cry with, and all of a sudden vodka became a very dear friend, to the point where it almost killed me. I was lucky enough back in 2012 to get a new liver, and also I had gone into renal failure as well, so I got a new kidney. That's what the book is saying, Bobby Rydell, Teen Idol On The Rocks, A Tale Of Second Chances. I've got my second chance. I guess the guy upstairs said, "Nah, I don't want you yet. I'll give you a few more years."
MR: Good for you, I'm glad.
BR: Thank you, me too.
MR: My first exposure to you as an actor was when you co-starred with Ann-Margaret and Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie. Considering how big a star you were at the time, "Conrad Birdie" might have been the most obvious role for you. Instead, you played the pretty miIquetoast character, "Hugo Peterson," but made him equally memorable.
BR: I think that was all because of George Sidney, who was our director. I think he saw some kind of magic between Ann-Margret and myself. The part of Hugo Peabody in the legitimate show did no singing, no dancing--he didn't have a line, matter of fact--he was just kind of nerdy and hung around, but Mister Sidney saw some kind of magic and each day that I'd go back on set my script got bigger and bigger and bigger, there were more lines, there was more singing, there was more dancing. I don't consider myself a movie star by any stretch of the imagination but f I had to be associated with one movie in my life, Bye Bye Birdie is a classic like Grease--and even in Grease I've got the high school named after me, Rydell High for crying out loud.
MR: And apparently The Beatles were inspired by you for "She Loves You," right?
BR: I don't know if it was from "Swinging School" or "We've Got Love," but the thing that Paul McCartney mentions in his documentary is, "We got 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' from Bobby Rydell."
MR: Did you ever meet them? Got any Beatles stories?
BR: I had the opportunity to meet them before they became what they became. I met them in 1963 on a bus in London. I didn't know who they were. Helen Shapiro was a girl singer there and I was touring with her and she introduced The Beatles to me. "Okay, so they're four guys who gig around the UK, they do night clubs, they do dances and so on." We met, we shook hands, they knew me but I didn't know who the hell they were, just four guys in a band. I come back home, 1964, I'm watching The Ed Sullivan Show, there they are. I said, "My God, I met those guys!" Who knew? I could kick myself in the ass because that would've been a great picture. In the middle of the UK, ten o'clock at night, we're going from town to town, what a great picture that would've been with those four guys on a touring bus. That would've been a wonderful picture to have.
MR: Bobby, what advice do you have for new artists?
BR: Oh boy, that is so hard. It's really hard when your parents put you on YouTube at fourteen years old and overnight, you become a sensation and millions of dollars are thrown at you. That can ruin you. That can really blow your mind. Unfortunately, that has happened to people like Justin Bieber. Myself and a lot of the guys around my age, we didn't have any kind of Vaudeville, but my dad used to take me around to clubs when I was seven, eight years old. At least I got an inkling of what the business could be like. All I would say to a lot of these young artists is try to keep your head on straight. Hey look, I was an alcoholic, I straightened myself out. Stay away from alcohol, stay away from drugs, try to lead a good life and nurture your craft. Just work and work and work at your craft.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Highland Kites' "Humiliated" Exclusive
According to Highland Kites' Marissa Lamar...
"'Humiliated' can come across as a really angry song and while I did write it in a moment of anger and frustration, the song is more about seeing that someone you have put your trust in is hurting you. Most of the angst and chaos in the song comes from the feeling you get the moment you realized you have been fooled, that someone you thought cared does not, and the feeling of humiliation that comes with that, which I feel we have all experienced in some way, at some point in our lives. Recognizing this truth allows you to finally move forward. It sort of has a similar theme to the rest of the songs on the new EP; the idea that things can get better, that you can cut ties with things and people that aren't benefiting your well being. I believe in hope, getting better, and taking control of your life, and that general undertone will always be present in our music."
Highland Kites' new EP Let Me Run is out July 22nd.
A Conversation with Eric Krasno
Mike Ragogna: Eric, you’re mostly known as a Grammy-award winning artist who produces, composes and plays innovative guitar. However, your new album Blood From A Stone features your vocals for the first time. How do you think you did? Which vocals are you most proud of?
Eric Krasno: I really love how the vocals turned out. My main goal was to deliver the songs with as much honesty and conviction as I could. I think the vocals on “When The Day Comes” were my strongest. I recorded this one toward the end of the album process after I’d been working on my singing a bit more. I’m no Stevie Wonder, but I think we put together some great vocal performances. I’m excited to record the next album now and get even deeper into the vocal side of my work.
MR: Was this collection of songs created specifically for this album or are any of them songs you and co-writer David Gutter stockpiled from other writing adventures?
EK: Most of the time we were just recording and writing without an exact purpose. Sometimes after the song was done we’d say, “This one would be great for Susan [Tedeschi] or imagine Aaron Neville singing this!” In certain cases that actually happened. We’d also have moments like, “Oh yeah, this one is for your record [EK]”
MR: How do you and David write together?
EK: It’s slightly different every time. Sometimes I send him an instrumental with a melody, maybe with a hook idea and he’ll write verse ideas and send it back. If we’re in the same place we’ll sit with a guitar and play each other ideas until something sticks.
MR: What was the recording process like?
EK: The recording process was fun because we really thought we were just doing writing sessions. There was no pressure. We set up a studio where the Rustic Overtones [Gutter and Ryan Zoidis’ former band] are based up in Maine and brought in a bunch of gear. I contributed some guitars, amps and mics, while Ryan pieced together a tape machine and basically built a studio for this session. Chris St. Hilaire and Stu Mahan from The London Souls came up and helped out putting down the initial tracks. It was great because we were writing the songs and recording at the same time. The band would be putting down parts, while Dave was writing a bridge in the other room. It was like we were in a little song factory for those few days. We came out of that sessions with maybe a dozen songs and the tracks sounded killer. I have to say that Ryan Zoidis and Jon Roods, also in Rustic Overtones, did a great job recording everything. We used minimal gear, but it was done right and that is mostly what you hear on the record.
MR: Do you feel there is a conceptual theme linking the material on Blood From A Stone?
EK: Both Dave and I were going through break ups when the album was being written so a lot of the material came out of that and relationships gone wrong—“Please Ya,” “Waiting On Your Love,” “Torture,” “Jezebel,” “When The Day Comes”… Some were also written in the rise from the ashes so to speak—“On The Rise,” “Unconditional Love”. Musically, my guitar also plays a thematic role throughout, there’s always a guitar solo or melody coming at some point in every song.
MR: Did you bring in any techniques or things you learned from working with other artists?
EK: Definitely. I learn a ton from every album I work on. I try to absorb as much as I can every time I work with a new artist. I’ve been very lucky to work with some great ones.
MR: What do you think of today’s popular music?
EK: I think there’s a lot of good and a lot of bad, like everything. One thing I think is missing in a lot of modern music is dynamics. When you take the live instrumentation and human qualities out of records they start to lack emotion, which makes me look to older albums to fill that void. BUT then you have artists combining technology and great musicianship and coming out with amazing art. I’m a huge fan of Tame Impala and listen to their albums a lot. I saw them perform the other night and was blown away by the production. I also love artists like Anderson Paak, Kendrick Lamar and Kamasi Washington for pushing music to new places and defying genre.
MR: When you approached Blood From A Stone, were you conscious of current musical trends and tried to incorporate them in the production, et cetera?
EK: I wanted it stand up if it came on your iPod after a hip hop record or any modern song. But i also wanted it to be live enough that we could recreate it on stage with a band. I have been experimenting with blending more production elements for some new tracks that I’m working on for the next project that I’m really excited about. You can hear us leaning that direction on “On The Rise.” I’m also doing a project with Gramatik [EDM producer] that remixes some of these songs and some new ones we’ve cooked up. You can hear our first collaboration on his version of the song “Torture.”
MR: Who are some of your favorite current artists and are there any you would love to work with?
EK: As I said, I love Tame Impala. I also really like Emily King, Kaytranada, White Denim, Marcus King & a new group from Maine called, Jaw Gems.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
EK: I’d say get out there tour and build your brand. Don’t rely on anyone else to “blow you up.” Work at your craft, create your own sound that really represents you. Last… Learn the business, even if you have good management you need to know how to navigate within the music business if you’re going to survive.
MR: Which song best represents Eric Krasno the human on Blood From A Stone?
EK: I really dig “On The Rise” because of the message, as well as the fact that it really isn’t in any particular style. There are elements of hip hop, soul, rock, psychedelic, etc. That’s been the hardest part of making a solo album is picking a direction. I love so many styles and they all live in my head. This track seems to blend them together into something new.
MR: What other projects are you currently working on or will be in the near future?
EK: I’m working with Allen Stone on his new record and have been in the studio with The London Souls working on their new album, as well. Soulive also has a project with Pretty Lights that we recorded a while back that we’re putting finishing touches on. I think people are gonna dig that one!
The Janes' "Can't Let Go" Exclusive
According to The Janes' Tayla Cornelia...
"At first we were upset that our video came out the same day as Fifth Harmony with similar concepts. But then we remembered we're doing this without a record label backing us. So we must really know what we're doing if we're doing the same things as major label releases."
Jaime Swartz says...
"It's so cool to see our dm's flooded with people from the U.S. to people on the other side of the world! Being able to reach all different cultures and have them relate to 'Cant Let Go' is unreal."
And Kelly Crapa adds..
"From the moment we recorded the song, we knew we had a hit on our hands. There's was an energy that filled the room."