THE BLOG
01/16/2015 12:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Complicated Game : Chatting with James McMurtry and Wind-Up's Ed Vetri, Plus a Jes Exclusive

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A Conversation with James McMurtry

Mike Ragogna: James, Complicated Game is your first album in six years. How complicated was its creation?

James McMurtry: The writing process was no more complicated than usual. I start with two lines and a melody and try to build from there. If the song keeps me up at night, I finish it. If not, it goes on the scrap pile to possibly be fished out and finished at a later date.

The recording process was a bit different this time. CC Adcock and Mike Napolitano produced the record in New Orleans. Most of us in my racket have to tour more than we used to because the mailbox money's not there anymore. We can't afford to hunker down in the studio for six weeks. So I'd come in for a week, sometimes with my band, sometimes solo, lay down a few tracs and then head back out on the road. While I was gone, CC and Mike would figure out whom else they wanted on the record, or whom else they could get. Often, decisions were based on who happened to be in town. You never know who might turn up in New Orleans.

MR: Your songs' topics cover a wide range yet they're all able to fit into the "Americana" genre. Does making this breed of music afford you more freedom to investigate and express than the other genres? Considering everything evolves or at least changes a little, what do you think of the "Americana" these days and do you have any favorite contemporaries? And didn't you receive a Grammy nomination?

JM: My Grammy nomination was for Long Form Video in 1994, just before Americana came to be thought of as a genre. I don't know if there was a chart for Americana Radio at that time. Seems like AAA--Adult Alternative Airplay or Triple A--had just morphed into almost what AOR--Album Oriented Rock--had been, and Americana had not yet grown up into the slightly more country version of Triple A that it eventually became. don't know if Americana qualifies as a genre, or if it's a catchall category for those of us who play a mix of country and rock 'n' roll and can't get much play anywhere else. I'm not complaining. I need the spins and I'm not sure what really constitutes a genre anyway. Americana Radio has a bright future if they keep spinning the likes of John Fulbright and Jason Isbell. Those guys are top notch.

MR: How personal does the subject matter get for you, for instance, how much of you is there in songs like "Copper Canteen" and "Deaver's Crossing" maybe as opposed to "Long Island Shores" and "How'm I Gonna Find You Now"?

JM: My songs are fiction whether I'm in them or not. I did used to cross a farm owned by some people named Deaver when I was a kid, but I fictionalized the account. I never knew the real Mr. Deaver. He's crippled up in the song because it fits the meter and makes a good story. I did meet the real Mrs. Deaver. She was delightful. The other three songs you mention are totally made up, unless you count the rattle in the dashboard in "How'm I . . ." I did have an actual dashboard rattle that got the song going in my head. I don't wash down blood pressure pills with Red Bull, but a couple of nurses I met on a cruise ship told me they did that all the time.

MR: "Peter Pan," "Out Here In The Middle" and "We Can't Make It Here" are some of your best loved songs. Do you have any personal favorites?

JM:"Restless" is always fun to play, and "Long Island Sound" off the new record.

MR: What is it about James McMurtry songs and recordings that keeps it admired and relevant?

JM: You'd have to ask a listener. I don't know what's relevant or admired.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

JM: Don't quit unless you can.

MR: What's coming down the pike?

JM: The pike itself, and lots of it.

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JES INTRODUCES "TWO SOULS"

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photo credit: Courtesy of KTEE And Planetjes Inc.

According to Jes...

"For 'Two Souls,' I was looking to write on the more progressive, more pop side of dance, but I wanted to keep the emotional and angelic feeling I love to put into my songs. 'Two Souls' has been a long journey, and it went through many incarnations. It started as a very stripped down ballad, but later took on a whole new shape. The meaning of the song is also very close to my heart. It's about coincidence in life, the ironic instances when we have met before in a different time and place, but never knew it. I know it's a bit of a different sound for me but I hope my audience will embrace it. They know I love to write and sing in so many different styles and I think this one will also capture their hearts."

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photo credit: Alison Shepard

A Conversation with Ed Vetri

Mike Ragogna: Nice to meet you, Ed. So Wind-Up Music has gone through a maturation period that seems like you've ushered-in. First off, for perspective, let's talk about your own music career background. What are some of your favorite career highs?

Ed Vetri: Hey Mike, nice to meet you. My favorite moments are dealing with the young artists, the excitement to get a record deal and get into studio, that first feeling that they are not alone anymore. Specific moments that come to mind; Creed selling out Madison Square Garden; and the album "Weathered" being #1 on the charts for nine consecutive weeks, Evanescence winning a Grammy for "Best New Artist," Finger Eleven performing the hit "Paralyzer" on the rooftop at the Much Music Awards in 2007, Seether having three #1 singles off their last record on Wind-up. Achieving a number one single at rock for the Young Guns song "Bones" after working it for 37 weeks. The first new artist to achieve a #1 on its debut song since Seether's "Fine Again" in 2003. Ironically, Seether took 32 weeks. Those long climbs to #1 songs define the tenacity and character of Wind-up. Finally launching the Virginmarys with iTunes and having it be the first artist and only "Double single of the week" with the song "just a ride". All of our my great moments are centered and based on achievements of my artists.

MR: How did you come on board at Wind-Up and what did you most admire about them?

EV: I had a relationship with the founder, Alan Meltzer, through a prior deal we did together. In the late '90s, he then purchased Grass Records--featuring a very young Conor Oberst--and upon the signing of Creed, the name was changed to Wind-up Records and I joined the team. So other than feeling we had the "tiger by the tail" with Creed and Alan's crazy and wild passion, I felt it would be a great opportunity to get into the business I loved.

MR: Wind-Up has been around for 17 years now. What do you think the label stands for these days? What's its mission compared to when they first started?

EV: I think our slogan "developing career artists" was true 17 years ago and rings truer today. The early mission was really to build a company, with Creed as its first artist, to compete with the majors. We committed to significant staff, including radio personnel, before putting out our first album. It was a "build it and they will come mentality," be successful with Creed and other rock bands would find us as the best label for rock bands. Today we are not a format specific, we look at great talent, sounds writers and amazing performers, then we deal with genre and formats. Our roster is more varied than in the past, but the common thread amongst todays roster, include incredible live performers , with powerful songs and a commitment to work very hard.

MR: What is the most unique thing you bring to their creative or business model and ideally, what would you see Wind-Up having accomplished in about five years?

EV: I have always had a focus in creating value for the company. My business background is always there to compliment the creative side, always working in tandem at Wind-up. When I started, I was deeply committed to building a publishing and merchandising business. Those would and did end up creating great value to the company, but also allows for a deeper more, committed relationship with the artists. When you have multi-right deals with the artists, we can tap into various deal structures to find creative ways to finance artist development and allow us not to be a "one and done" company, but have the ability and commitment to put out multiple albums for each and every artist, thus giving their career a real shot. I feel I strategically and properly timed the selling of our back master and publishing catalogs. Those artists were all in different stages in their respective careers and WU is a a pure A&R focused development company, so I believe selling those back catalogs allowed WU to invest in its future signings and facilitated the heritage artists to move on to platforms that were more suitable for them at the point in their career.

MR: When you look at the current music scene, what are your thoughts? What do you think are its strengths and where do you think it needs to improve?

EV: I think the industry does a great job at creating hit songs and pop stars. I am not sure you will be listening to those songs 10 - 15 years from now, but they are very popular and successful at the moment. Many feel a bit fleeting. I think we need to have more long term career artists, ones that have longevity, most of the artists filling arenas consistently are from the '70s, '80s, '90s and they do it year after year, because it is based not on one or two hit songs , but a long term relationship developed with their fans, consistent touring and an amazing catalog of songs. As labels we need to provide and platform to allow artists to grow over time and develop those deep routed fan relationships. We need artists, that write and perform their own music that have something meaningful to say and can deliver their music at a high level live.

MR: Do you think people will need a break from dancing someday and the music scene might embrace another direction with its pop?

EV: I think the is a place for all of it, EDM, POP , ROCK etc...the various festivals show collaborating artists from various genres working and performing together and I think and hope that will continue. I know there is always a place for great lve rock bands and I believe that is where the roots of music are deepest.

MR: Who are some of your current favorite artists and who are some of your favorites associated with Wind-Up?

EV: I have been to over 230 Bruce Springsteen shows so I need to start there! He is always current to me and still puts out meaningful records that have a strong message. I love Lorde, Eric Church, Royal Blood, Trombone Shorty, the list goes on...

MR: What advise would you give to new artists?

EV: They have to start the fire on their own. Don't think magic happens when you sign a record deal, if you do happen to get one, that when the real hard work begins. Be a great live act and focus on songs, its always about the songs. Your job is to write, create and perform , do it everyday and make it special. Be committed , patient and focused, play every night, like you are playing in front of 10K people, you never know who is watching.

MR: Looking back at your career at this point, what would have done differently?

EV: Jeez, for one, listened to my kids when they told me many years ago I should be looking at these DJ's and get into the live business! Maybe I should have stuck to those guitar and piano lessons, but hell , I am better finding great players than being one.

MR: What does the future bring for you and Wind-Up?

EV: I hope for great success for our artists, in however they measure success. WU and I remain committed to artist development and will look to be a leader in the independent music community for years to come Keeping the independent sector strong and healthy is critical for artists, I would hope the consolidation t the major label level stops and the indies can compete at the partner level on a fair and consistent basis with the majors. Great artists usually comes from the Indy sector first. If we are successful at having our music heard and our artists seen, then we have delivered and our employees will be happy and so will I. WU has always been about its artists first, however the consistency of its success has been its employees and leaders around this office, many that started with me "back in the day."