THE BLOG
10/10/2014 12:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Chatting With Andrea Morricone, John Scofield and Derek Fawcett... Plus an Immigrant Union Exclusive

IMMIGRANT UNION PRESENTS "WAR IS PEACE"

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Photo credit: Brent DeBoer

According to the Immigrant Union gang...

The video for Immigrant Union's 'War is Peace' is a darkly humorous take on a fictional home shopping channel geared towards selling products to 'global tyrants.' Australian video director, Dale Bartlett, came up with the idea after hearing the song and discussing it's lyrical content with Union singer, Brent DeBoer. DeBoer explained that after living in Australia for five years, he had gained new perspective on his favorite place in the world, The United States. He felt as if America was slowly committing suicide through costly and highly questionable wars that seemingly only benefit a tiny fraction the global elite, while the 99.9 percent slave away to pay their bills. Bartlett asked DeBoer if he would host a show for the video where he sold various items to these shadowy characters and he agreed. The result is DeBoer playing the character of John D. Ranged who keeps the business of selling deadly weapons and instruments of covert assassination light and entertaining for the customers who want to believe that what they are doing is okay because 'killing is simplified.'

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Photo courtesy Gerson Photography

A Conversation with Andrea Morricone

Mike Ragogna: Andrea! You have a major event happening soon, right?

Andrea Morricone: Hey! This event is going to be very, very special for many different aspects. For my music, what I'm going to propose first of all, for the city of Los Angeles, the city where I live, and also for the Italian culture. These are three points that will be blended together in a wonderful show where some amazing artists will be performing under my conduction. So yeah, talking about the context of this concert is very interesting to me even though I'll always find it kind of hilarious to talk about defining my music.

MR: Well, let's try to do that. It seems to cross a lot of genres. How would you as the artist describe your own music?

AM: I would describe myself first of all as a very well prepared musician. I know the music. I've studied the music a lot for many, many, many years, since I was a kid. I was already listening to the music when I was in my mother's womb. It was 1964 and there was Per Un Pugno Di Dollari--A Fistful Of Dollars. My music is the result of a lot of thinking and a lot of feelings, I would say. A lot of curiosity also, coming here to the United States has meant to me a lot from this point of view because I've had the opportunity to work with amazing players and musicians from all over the country. I have to tell you sometimes I couldn't understand what was going on, something worth learning, but what was important was where my eyes were bringing me to. I was listening and thinking a lot about many compositions of many American artists also and what I find interesting in these is that many American artists are already the result of a combination of cultures themselves. It was very, very exciting to go back sometimes to Europe through American composers and also to go back to my origins.

MR: You mentioned A Fistful Of Dollars that was scored by your dad, the world-renowned Ennio Morricone.

AM: Talking about my origins more specifically, of course, I adore my father and I think he's a genius, his music is legendary. He's a great composer. Life is made of a few very important moments, there are only a few very important moments. Of course, days go on and on but what we remember sometimes in a relationship with people are just some moments. Talking about my relationship with my father, I'm especially talking about music because that's what it always is about. Here and there he was telling me, "Now I'm doing this, now I'm doing that," but after many months, maybe seven months or nine months. Every time I would go to see him after many months I had the opportunity to talk to him about music and to see his point of view. That was also a great opportunity for me to understand my point of view and to feel the necessity and the need that my body beyond the soul was feeling to go somewhere else. As a matter of fact I am very thankful to my father. Sometimes I talk to him and I say, "I learned so much from you," and this sounds wonderful from me because I believe a lot in his idea of tradition.

MR: Naturally, you were exposed to a lot of music growing up in that creative Morricone atmosphere. But you also had your own eras of music since you lived through the sixties, seventies, eighties, et cetera.

AM: Yeah, absolutely! I believe there is a huge gap between me and my father. Now it's the time of mixing and wonderful samples. All the process of making movies is totally different. The director wants to listen to the music before it's recorded! Everything is different. What I was talking about was a more general approach to music that is not only linked to the movies. My personality is absolutely extreme to my father. I'm on the other part of the planet, and this is for several reasons which are very, very subtle to explain. What matters for me is my very strong acknowledgement of what I do because there is a stronger theoretic base to what I do. I spend so long working on the internet also, publishing my own books and I have amazing files that are of course copyrighted because they offer me so many ways of sorting out any kind of situation.

MR: What was your first instrument?

AM: The piano. Then I played the orchestra I would say. I love conducting. I can tell you that conducting is very important for a composer. When I conduct I go very much into the details and I really like to spend a long time until I have very clear ideas of everything I want. Musicians love that because they understand that when they have a conductor who knows what they want it's always beautiful. That brings out the expression from that. Sorry, I'm talking too much, I don't leave you room for questions!

MR: [laughs] I do the same thing, don't worry. Andrea, you're a very passionate person, I can tell from the way you're expressing yourself. So obviously, your music comes from a passionate place within. But is music spiritual to you as well?

AM: Yeah, I would like to talk a lot about this. Music for me is everything. Music for me is my life, music for me is God. It is the way I believe in God. It is the way I am in every day I live. What I try to bring to the other people is the best part of me. It's the only part of me that I can get to the other people actually because there's nothing else. Yes, there is the family, which is very important, and friends. I believe that from my father my music is meant to be also like you say very sentimental, espressivo -- That's fine.

I would like to mention, further to that, I recently composed a piece which is called "Anthem For Faith," "L'Inno Alla Fede," which is a piece that was bought by the Fondazione Pro Musica E Arte Sacra. I performed it in Italy last year, they went so crazy about this in the foundation -- Close To The Vatican -- that they wanted to share it with me. They are working right now on a DVD that will represent the foundation all throughout the world. This DVD contains sacred images of Rome with my music for oboe and strings. Now if I talked to you about a piece for oboe and strings of course you think of "Gabriel's Oboe" by my father, from The Mission. I would spend like three hours talking about similarities and differences between my music and that one. It's another cup of coffee, you see what I mean? There are some similarities, but it's different! You can say, "This is Andrea Morricone, period." Period! I instruct the players and ask them to do what I want just the way I think the music should be, because I think the music is based on maths -- and this is another very important aspect.

The music is based on deep roots, you see what I mean? It's not only to play just for fun. No, it's not that. The music has to be based on deep roots. Otherwise it's not memorable. This doesn't mean that the music doesn't have anything to do with being inspired by the heart of the composer of the artist. When I write the theme I can put my hands on the piano and I have this gift that it comes right away. The three notes, like Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. This is a very good example that I always do. But the problem is then how am I going to continue that theme? That's a matter of technique. That's not only technique, but there is a place in music where we are definitely going to deal with technique, and that technique is based on deep roots that only a few composers in the world know, I'm sorry to say. Those composers are the biggest. Bartók. Rachmaninoff. Brahms of the Fourth Symphony. What a masterpiece! It took me so many years to do that but it's fresh, even today. It's everlasting. This is because music is based on those natural rules that Rousseau was talking about already during the eighteenth century. There is something, which is natural that music also carries inside of itself.

MR: I think one of the clearest examples of that is your work with your dad on Cinema Paradiso.

AM: Yeah! Sometimes when people talk to me about that piece, I have to tell you, I can say probably I don't know anything about music. [laughs] It seems like something that's in contradiction with what I've been doing until now, but people keep talking to me about that piece -- and also my father! Sometimes he calls me and says, "Wow, this morning I woke up and I had this tune in my mind." But how did you make it, the love theme? I believe that there is a special quality in the theme, because I don't know what reason, but it sounds like that. There is a coming from and a going back, you see? A coming from and a going back, a coming from and a going back, which is beautiful. [hums love theme] Which makes it feel fully rounded. It's almost as if the sentence is already finished over there but then it keeps going on.

MR: Where does that come from? We've been talking technically about all these roots and essentials, but where do you think is the most essential part that you get inspired from when you're composing and conducting?

AM: You know, the story of my being human. I was meant to be a composer. I would say a big composer. [laughs] A huge composer. I'm glad that you're showing such interest to me, and now in the city, many players realize how big I am. I have people like Katia Popov, the Concertmaster of the Hollywood Bowl who loves my music, or Andrew Schulman who believes the piece I played the other day is unbelievable -- the oboe player who played that tune said, "Wow, this is one of the most beautiful pieces I have ever played. I don't want to show off, I don't care about doing that, but my goal is to express myself. My love is meant to be like that. If there was no music for me I would really be lost. This is the truth.

Sorry if I take one more minute to go back to an aspect that you were bringing before. It's really very important to me. You were talking about spirituality and I was telling you about this kind of approach. This piece, "L'inno Alla Fede" is historical. It's the first time that I'm sharing a piece with the Vatican. It's incredible. And there will be a DVD produced by a very important DVD company. But anyway I want to go back to something that you said about spirituality. You must have heard of Liebniz, okay. He was a famous philosopher of the renaissance. He talks a lot about music and he talks a lot about numbers. He talks a lot about spirituality. It all blends together. It all blends together for him in the number one. He talks to us about monads, which means one. God is one. But what is very important about Liebniz is that he talks about music like the most perfect art. He talks about music as it is based on numbers. This is very important because number are so important in music. Believe me, if I didn't have numbers it would impossible to compose. But of course the inspiration of the first notes of the theme, it doesn't come from the numbers. This comes from my heart, of course, and also when I'm conducting, but there is this struggle, you understand, that is very important in life and in the performance of the artist.

For example, number two with number three got into the history of music in the twelfth century. They didn't allow the number three to come in quite so easily. Number two was preferred to number three. And we know what contrasts it makes, the number three against the number two, from an emotional point of view. For example, "La Mer," by Debussy, there is a section where the brass go in three against the two, which means that the composition is rising to a climax, an emotional climax that really is the main goal of the composer. Sorry I'm talking too much, but I also want to talk about numbers in the experience of the nineteenth century because of course many of the achievements of the school of Vienna are significant to me. There are many ways of making numbers, working in harmonic contexts that could be derivation in a way of the music of the last century where the numbers could really give great results to the composition and could make it very, very brilliant and interesting.

MR: There are so many young people who are driven to make music but they don't know where to start. I ask everybody I interview this question, what advice do you have for new artists?

AM: I understand. It's brilliant that you wonder about that. My congratulation to you, because this is evidence that you really care a lot about the younger generation's people, as I do. It's a matter of caring for the youngest generation. I'm also very concerned. Very concerned. Because of all that we've been talking about. We have experience so we can talk this way and understand each other. But first of all, being a good composer doesn't mean being a good teacher. Most of the time I would say there's no good teacher that is not a good composer. [laughs] If you know very well how music works you cannot give up composing at least one piece every day. Every day I wake up and if I don't compose a couple of pieces I wonder why. For the biggest amount of experience I have on my shoulders I have lots of years of study every day, all the time and I would say also my own.

I'm Andrea Morricone, everyone thinks of me as the son of Ennio, but there is so much diversity between me and him. People should be way more aware of that. You know, the fame of my father because of the movies of the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, everybody knows him because the movies that he also scored were so amazing because of the directors -- Sergio Leone, Gillo Pontecorvo, Elio Petri -- all of these amazing directors. The point is that people are now stuck to that situation in a way. They still don't seem to need anything new. Or they're not curious about anything newer, which instead I want to bring in this concert, because in this concert there will be the first part which is going to be a very unique style of rock, but it's not rock because it's arranged for orchestra with strings. I don't know, it's classical rock. Then there is Miri Ben-Ari with the violin, these pieces could be avant-garde but they're always tonal and melodic. Then there is the last section which is dedicated to my scores for movies but there's not only the themes, there is the very strong concept of the arrangements. I would like to tell you that I am a very free person, and I put together a concert for the second part where I was choosing the music just because I like it. Because it's beautiful. The best music I had. Actually I would like to maybe finish this wonderful interview, if you agree, telling you the big quality of the music, the big aspect of it, the main difference of it, is if it is good music, we're talking about good music, or we're talking about not good music. There are only two ways to be. Whether good or no good, period. This is the only rule that matters. Do you see what I mean?

MR: Yeah...and this concert will only have good music, right?

AM: Yeah. It's going to be unbelievable. I've been working on it for many months. It's going to be very unique. That's a word that I would like to say. Very unique. Very fancy. Very appealing to people. When I'm on the podium I like to compose and when I'm writing I like to conduct. This means for me that as soon as I'm on the podium I like to bring the audience on a wonderful journey without letting them fall down for even one second. This is what I want to do that night.

MR: What does the future bring for you?

AM: The future is unbelievable. My expectations are wonderful. I have a concert in San Pietro Borgo now as an honored guest on October the eleventh. Then I have another concert in Santa Monica for next year already. Then another concert in Rome probably, I'll conduct this piece, and then of course the concert on November the eighth. There are already many other situations that are developing about me in other cities of the country, also because my repertoire needs to be brought to the attentions of the largest crowd of people as possible.

MR: What kind of legacy do you want to leave?

AM: Basically, nothing. I believe that in my personal private life I have put down several periods, just to switch off situations, but what doesn't switch off in my mind is thinking. My brain never stops thinking. This means that my music keeps flowing in myself in every moment. If I want I can go to the piano right now and start playing and start composing and do that for three or four hours no problem. I am also very strong as a person and so is my father. He's 85 and he's in good health. The music is my flow. That's what I'd like to say. My eyes go straight, they look inside the eyes of the other people, they know what I want. The music flows inside myself and throughout my eyes into the other people. That's the point. Did I answer your question? [laughs]

MR: Yeah, thanks. [laughs]

AM: I could say more consideration as per my repertoire and not for being the son of Ennio Morricone, which honestly I should tell you my father has never recommended me to any place in two hundred concerts. I'm doing my life on my own, you see what I mean? Like a man, on my own. This I want you to write on the paper. Not the son of Ennio Morricone. "Andrea Morricone, Period." You understand also my personality, I'm very much open-minded, but I'm very serious. When it comes to work I know what I want. There's nothing to do with me. As soon as I go to the party they know who they're dealing with and they are very careful.

MR: This has been a beautiful interview, thank you Andrea. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?

AM: Yeah, I would like to spend a word for my mother. Usually, everybody talks only of my father. Today, I would like to talk of my mother. My mother is a great woman. A great, great woman who stands on the side of my father and has been able to be on his side for all of my life, giving him all her life and looking after four sons. I want to talk about her just the way I would like maybe people to talk about Andrea instead of Ennio maybe. [laughs] You see what I mean? Seriously, my mother is a wonderful woman and very sweet. I feel myself very close to her because my temperament is sweet, I'm a sweet person. My father is a little more difficult to deal with. It's been always like that. I have to understand, I am younger, living in another time. My father and my mother were living in the time of the second World War, you understand. So I have to make the effort to understand them. Of course, the temper of my father, I cannot expect to be so easy. This is also perhaps for many other reasons. His relationship with his father was very, very tough. He would go and play the trumpet to make money when he was fourteen already. He has a huge story on his shoulders. When I talk to my father I just say to myself, "Thank God I have these parents who are so wonderful." But I really want to spend a word on my mother, because she's really wonderful. Her name is Maria.

MR: That's beautiful.

AM: And really, my last sentence should be that people have to come to this concert because it's going to be unbelievable! I'll make the city of LA blow up, okay? You know the movie by Antonioni? Okay, bye-bye Antonioni, now Andrea Morricone, there is! "Los Angeles will blow up with the music of Andrea Morricone, period!" This is the title, okay?

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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A Conversation with Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood's John Scofield

Mike Ragogna: John, what was the gang aiming for on the new release Juice?

John Scofield: On this album we decided to use rhythms from the African diaspora. Grooves from Brazil, the Caribbean, Cuba in particular, reflecting how they have surfaced in American music. This was the very general direction and a few of the songs don't really fit those categories but that's what happens! We thought that was okay.

MR: What was the composing like considering you're all known for improvisation?

JS: We are all, and have always been composers. On this record each member brought in songs we composed on our own at home, each guy hammering it out in their own way. We created one composition (Juicy Lucy) in the studio together that's really a series of riffs that each of us contributed. Although we're known for improvising, more often than not we strive to compose. We also picked 3 classic rock tunes to maul collectively.

MR: This isn't the first trip to the soundgarden with these cats. What is it about this configuration that's either alluring or fulfilling for you?

JS: They're my favorite improvising band around nowadays. They're highly developed instrumentalists, fearless when it comes to diving in and taking chances AND they're super funky. Those elements don't usually exist together. Seeing as they're a trio with keys, bass and drums, there's lots of room for my guitar.

MR: When you compose and record as a unit, does a certain figure or feel start everything rolling with that theme continued for the whole project? Do you guys ever change it up midstream from either fatigue of the initial premise or to add more or an unexpected variance?

JS: It happens as it happens and it isn't wise to be locked in to one direction or perception. We keep it loose so we maintain spontaneity. One of the great things about MMW is that they have an intuitive sense of when to change course so it doesn't get boring. I like to play that way too so it's great. We can play free rather than follow a score although that can fail miserably but with us it usually doesn't. If we are failing miserably we abandon ship quickly. MR: Do you see any value in coming up with a certain inspiration -- let's say Bach since it's obvious --and doing an improv-ish project around that composer? Because of the approach, it would be like another collaborator joined in right? Medeski Scofield Martin Wood & Bach? Maybe Hancock or Corea? Davis or Coleman? Should I stop now?

JS: I think that may be what jazz is. As students of the music, we learn the musical styles of our elders, use it and add to it. I'm sure some stuff gets lost along the way and some is incorporated. All the people you mention are among those who have helped develop our musical language, the vocabularies that we all use whenever we improvise.

MR: What was the biggest musical challenge for you and maybe the group on Juice?

JS: Playing up to our potential, playing the music as well as we know it can be and making it better than just good.

MR: What is it that keeps you engaged in music after all these years? Do you still consider what you do "jazz" or have you moved on to a hybrid or a mutated form?

JS: As said before, the challenge of getting it right keeps us on our toes but the prize is worth it -- when it clicks. I'm hooked on that feeling you get when the band throws down! I'm not sure this music fits some people's definition of jazz but... whatever. I know that what we play wouldn't exist if not for "jazz." I love music. I love it still and maybe more after all these years.

MR: Do you have a working definition for at least yourself of what "jazz" is?

JS: I read a long time ago that if you define something you limit it. I do know that we have to take chances in order to keep the music fresh otherwise it dies. I don't want to limit Jazz with a definition.

MR: Are there any young musicians out there that you admire?

JS: Tons, too many to list and I know I'd leave some out. Now that I'm sixty-two many of my favorite young lions have somehow reached middle age.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

JS: It sounds like the standard clichéd reply but "practice makes perfect" and you have to keep it loose and fun. That's when the good music happens.

MR: Is that what you would have told a young John Scofield?

JS: I would have told him to do some sit ups for God's sake!

MR: [laughs] What advice might you have given to John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood and do you think they would have listened? Would you have listened to someone advising you?

JS: I always listened to the old guys, I loved them, I wanted to be them, and I still do! I may have given the younger MMW guys examples of what not to do!

MR: What future musical adventures are coming?

JS: I'm recording with my Uberjam band next year for fall release and I have a rather large assortment of cool touring projects coming up in addition to MSMW. I'm one lucky guy!

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A Conversation with Derek Fawcett

Mike Ragogna: Derek, your new solo album Feel Better is a fresh start for you creatively. Having been the front man for Chicago's popular band Down The Line, what made you decide this was the time to release your own album?

Derek Fawcett: I've never been a hugely prolific songwriter. I kind of write "when the spirit moves me," you know? As I've been playing more and more solo shows, and spending more time in that headspace, I started writing songs that sounded different than anything I've ever written, like a series of previously hamstrung ideas had wrested themselves loose. Between that and the positive responses from my solo live shows, it seemed like a good time to record my solo debut.

MR: What style of music would you call what you're creating?

DF: I used to think that the standard "pop/rock" label was sufficient, but a lot of people keep referring to it as "Americana," and the more I think about it, the more I think they're right. The artists that I think were the biggest influences are people like Jackson Browne, Tom Petty, James Taylor, and Billy Joel...all of whom are mostly considered "pop/rock" stars. But were their signature songs released today, folks might call them "Americana" too -- American stories, told earnestly, passionately, and with melodies that won't let you go.

MR: You collaborated creatively with a few other musicians and artists on this project. What was the evolution of that?

DF: When deciding where to record, I had a couple great options, but I ultimately settled on Nashville, where Cody Fry [Ben Rector, Charlie Peacock, Hunter Hayes] and Niko Xidas [Matt Wertz], were pumped at the prospect of recording with me, while still being very thoughtful and thorough from the beginning of the process. It was extra special for me to work with them, not just because they're both tremendously talented, but they're also both former music students of mine, and we had performed together a bunch already in that context. Working with them on Feel Better was truly a 'everything comes full circle' moment, as I'm sure that I learned a ton from them while we made this album together. Cody and Niko brought on Mark Trussell [Billy Currington] and Stephen Wilder [Steve Moakler], both on "Kinda Like A Love Song I Guess." Getting to work with Tim Marks [Taylor Swift, Lionel Richie, Jewel] on bass was a truly a lucky stroke. We had met once, years ago, through my dear friend Brett Farkas [Rihanna, Lord Huron, Solomon Burke], and when my friend Duncan McMillan [Aretha Franklin, Marcus Belgrave] heard that I'd be in Nashville recording, he instructed me to seek Tim out. We met up for coffee at Portland Brew in East Nashville, talked about our mutual friends, the state of Detroit -- I grew up nearby, and he used to live there -- and our families. At the end of our time together, he offered to play on my album before I could even ask him. I've been one lucky cuss to be able to work with these folks!

MR: Do you feel that you pushed yourself harder with the songwriting and performances on this project, maybe a little beyond your work with Down The Line?

DF: Down The Line was very much a 4-man squad, each guy making his own contribution, but the weight of the band never on any one of us. With Feel Better, the writing, arranging, singing, lots of the keyboard playing...all ultimately fell on my shoulders, though again, thankfully, Cody and Niko were huge contributors here, and the album sounds the way it does because of their fantastic influences. No creative project that I've ever been a part of has drained and stretched me quite like this one...the good news is, the ultimate effect is an album that feels -- to me, anyway -- urgent, pertinent, and compelling.

MR: You being the artist, it would be interesting to get a tour of the album from its creator. Can you give us your thoughts about the album's tracks and maybe some more insight into the themes behind the songs?

DF: "Feel Better" was written in 2011, and is the first song and the title track. Lots of fun ideas followed: gang vocals, stomps, claps, etc. Lyrics here are like lead weights. The just being, "You won't get better until you stop drinking, but in lieu of that, you should go." The start of the chorus always reminds me of an intimate, vulnerable, high-voiced Neil Young moment. "Pick Up" is the first single -- a chaotic, danceable romp of a tune, borne out of a dropped, important, emotional phone call while I was in Nashville working on the album. I feel like "Tongue Tied" by GroupLove is "Pick Up"'s spiky-haired cousin. Listen hard for fun, unorthodox sonic additives. When I sing or think about the 3rd track, "Drive Away Cryin'," I imagine a couple's fiery argument outside some same-signage-since-the-'70s dive bar on Woodward Ave. just outside of Detroit. The guy projects strength, but is actually really torn up. With it's 6/8 feel, it almost feels like a more muscular Nick Drake lament. Instrumentally, Cody and Niko exchange hi-fives throughout this track, great synergy between them).

Track 4's "Never Here" mirrors what I imagine...not my scene! The euphoria-to-despondency of infidelity feels like, and now has a really dramatic piano arrangement for my solo shows (Tim Marks shines here with his leering bass lines). "Kinda Like A Love Song I Guess" is one of only two 'rays of sunshine' on the album and is probably the most "country" of the tracks. Mark Trussell's dense, layered guitar-work here gives this song a color all its own. Simple story, but lovely in its simplicity. "Romeo And Juliet" reminds me a bit of the vibe in John Hiatt's Crossing Muddy Waters album, which I love -- earthy, earnest, spacious and sad. "Not My Call To Make" is practically the Feel Better story, if written by Tom Petty. "I am admitting and coming to terms with the fact that I have no control over what you do to yourself." Despite the heavy subject matter, the payoff at the end still feels triumphant somehow. "Just In Case" is the 2nd sunshine ray, coyly saying that, "I might be able to find another way without you, but I'd rather not." Imagine James Taylor and Fountains Of Wayne collaborating with Plain White T's when they were recording "Hey There Delilah," The album ends with "Nothing Left To Say," a somber, Jackson Browne-at-the-piano soliloquy with a culminating twist. The musical idea began as an effort to write a song for a friend's wedding, but it took a strange, dark turn early on, so I finished the song and sent her a card instead.

MR: At what point did you realize the album was finished? I imagine it's hard for an artist to finally realize the canvas is complete.

DF: When I arrived in Nashville, I had some writing to do and decisions to make to arrive at 9 songs, which was my relatively arbitrary target. I finished a couple songs, wrote a couple, and got within striking distance, but I knew I was finished when I was sitting at my piano in Chicago -- between Nashville trips -- and came up with the last piece of "Not My Call To Make." It was just this little piece of "glue" that made the rest of the song work -- I had started writing it years ago, but it was always missing something. But I remember feeling like, "Whenever you sit down to write measure #1 of your next album, this section will be the piece of music that you wrote just before that."

MR: Having worked with Tim Marks who's worked with Taylor Swift, I'm sure you have an ear to what's going on in pop music right now. What are your thoughts about the scene these days?

DF: It's tough to boil any facet of music making in 2014 down into a single "scene," even at the local level. In Chicago alone, there are dozens of "scenes." Were I to try to sum it up, I'd say this. The following things are both true now and have been true for a long time... There's a lot of music right now that's very popular that makes a lot of musicians and critics roll their eyes, there are a lot of new musical gems that are getting unfairly overlooked, it's very difficult to make money making original music, it's challenging to make a musical statement that hasn't already been made -- and made better -- by someone else, and the pursuit and creation of making original music is still one of life's great thrills for all who undertake it.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

DF: I'll share some advice that I've been trying to adhere to myself since, as a soloist, I'm still somewhat of a "new artist." The most important thing that you can do is to do all you can to make great music. None of the other stuff like promotion, social media, etc., are worth anything if the music isn't arresting. Every musician now competes with every piece of media out there now: every TV show, movie, cat video, and other song. Mathematically, it's unlikely that any of us have a shot a capturing anyone's attention, but that chance goes from infinitesimal to zero if the music isn't genuinely great. To that end -- to borrow some advice from celebrated jazz singer Kurt Elling -- seek out people who are, in one way or another 'better than you' to collaborate with. You'll constantly be striving for something better because you'll need to hustle to keep up with your collaborators.

MR: What does the future hold for both your solo career and Down The Line?

DF: The Down The Line guys continue to be 3 of my best friends -- all three will stand up in my wedding in January -- and our music together continues to inform the music I'm making today. As for Feel Better, it comes out on October 7th, and I'll be touring extensively thereafter. "Pick Up" has started getting played on about a dozen radio stations across the country, and I'll also be performing live-in-the-studio for WRRW in Virginia Beach and on the Fox 2 Morning Show in St. Louis. Most of these shows will be solo performances, and I'll be getting to a lot of my tour destinations via Megabus, so I'm anticipating a lot of songwriting, photography, and "reports from the road" between shows, be encouraged to follow along!