A Conversation with The Fray's Isaac Slade
Mike Ragogna: How do you feel you did on your recent Jimmy Kimmel appearance and does performing on network television for millions get you guys a teensy bit nervous before or during a performance or are you hardcore broadcast warriors by now?
Isaac Slade: You know, I do still get nervous. Usually, when we're trying something new--new song with new lyrics, new city we've never played in. We've done Kimmel enough though that he puts me right at ease. He's so chill, helps a lot. We always say, "Hey," side stage right before we play. Jimmy's a class act.
MR: Can you take us on a quick tour of Helios' songs, it's creation, et cetera?
IS: Yeah. We started writing Helios last January. We hammered out maybe three dozen songs, all over the map. Wrote with a handful of other writers on this album, which we've never done before. It was thrilling to see how the real pros get it done. We put together band demos at our studio in Denver and then started working on them at Henson Studios out in LA with our producer Stuart Price. He's really focused but laid back at the same time. Absolute pleasure working with him. Busted out a dozen or so songs by the end of the summer and whazaam--our fourth record.
MR: Which song was the most challenging to create and record and which was the most satisfying after its very first studio playback?
IS: The most challenging song for me was one called "Give It Away." It's brand new territory for us, musically and lyrically. Took a long, long time getting that one up on its feet. The first studio playback of the rough demo was so great though--kept us chasing it 'til we got it right.
MR: What's the creative and recording process like these days and how has it evolved over the four albums?
IS: It has evolved considerably. We can play our instruments a bit better than that first record--'bit' being quite the understatement. We broke free from some of the constraints we've had over the past three records and really let loose on this one. Usually, I'll do 20 or 30 takes on a vocal track. Stuart came on the talk back after take three of our first song and said in his perfect British accent, "Alright. Think we got that one." Naturally, I made him record 17 more takes until I realized he was right. First two takes were still wrapping my head around it, nailed the third with energy and fire, and then the rest were all tired caricatures of that third take. Never done that before. Felt refreshing.
MR: Has making music together for this long made you more close?
IS: It really has. Most bands start close and just start splitting apart more and more as the success--or failure--grows. We've had the opposite. Through the ups and downs of twelve years together, I still love making music and living with these guys. We've laughed and cried a lot together.
MR: What is the group or artist that influenced you the most in your life? Are you still a fan?
IS: Usually say U2, although that's shorthand... Love that band, seems to sum up my influences pretty well. But probably the biggest influence on me personally was Third Eye Blind. That first record was unbelievably good. Still a believer to this day.
MR: Which cover songs might you like to take a swing at recording someday?
IS: I don't know. Maybe some old school De La Soul track, or maybe an obscure Willie Nelson song. Loving me some rap and country lately.
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
IS: Man, I don't know. Keep at it. Long as you can. If you do it long enough, and if you do it well enough, someone will eventually come along and pay you for it. No guarantees they'll pay you enough to make a living at it, but it's sure worth hitting it with your best shot. Glad we risked it all. Got to quit our ice cream and coffee jobs...literally.
A Conversation with Los Lonely Boys' Henry Garza
Mike Ragogna: Henry, why did Los Lonely Boys call the new album Revelation?
Henry Garza: Because it was revealed to us by God.
MR: At this point in your lives, are you and your brothers looking at the world differently than when you began making records?
HG: We look at ourselves the same, but not the world.
MR: For the new album, you expanded the sound. Was that intentional or did it happen organically?
HG: A little bit of both.
MR: The music on Revelation ranges from intimate acoustic tracks to baroque to reggae to rock making this album the most musically diverse project of your catalog. How does the band approach writing, arranging and recording the material these days?
HG: We write the same way we always do, but for this record, we had a different plan to step outside ourselves and allow ourselves to let the songs be what the songs wanted to be rather than molding it into something we wanted. We also wrote with other writers and worked with different producers. We felt like for this record, the more people we could get excited about working with us, that it could only be a good thing.
MR: "Give A Little More" kind of explores reggae via Los Lonely Boys. Do you see the band ever recording an album in a style that's even more exploratory for the group, maybe in a genre like soca?
HG: I see us recording any style of music you can come up with from soca to Broadway musicals as long as it has Corazon--Texican Corazon!
MR: How has making music and having successful careers together affected your relationships as brothers?
HG: Our relationship as brothers is the same; if anything, we've only gotten closer and stronger and a lot wiser about the music business.
MR: What does the future hold for Los Lonely Boys?
HG: Let me ask the crystal ball...just kidding! Seriously though, that is a question and answer we leave up to God. We just hope to wake up tomorrow and can still help our families.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
HG: I would tell new artists today if this is something you really want to do NEVER GIVE UP, but if you are in it for the fame and fortune, turn back now.
A Conversation with Graham Colton
Mike Ragogna: Graham, what mainly inspired the material for your new album Lonely Ones?
Graham Colton: The album making process was so free and positive. For the first time, I really didn't feel tied down to write autobiographically. Is that a word? Anyway, I wanted to the album to feel lush and open. I wasn't as focused this time around on being heard. I almost wanted my voice to sink into the tracks more and stick out less.
MR: The production on Lonely Ones seems more "retro," its music edgier with more minor keys than the material found on Pacific Coast Eyes. Were you surprised by the direction the album took after you had your first tracks recorded?
GC: Not at all. Before I wrote a single lyric or chord, I wanted to find a sound first. I knew if i was inspired by the noise in the room, my bandmates were making, the lyrics and melodies would come. I wanted to do everything differently. Normally, it all starts with the songs and lyrics on paper then the band plays on top of that song. This was done in the opposite way. The band played a bed of music and I had to find the song inside somehow. It was really freeing.
MR: In some respects, this album sounds like it connects more with your Drive and self-titled albums, almost skipping what Pacific Coast Eyes. How would you view your musical evolution through your catalog?
GC: That's really cool to hear you say. It definitely gives me the same feeling as those albums, like I was in uncharted territory creatively. I always like feeling a little uncomfortable in making new music and this one was the most uncomfortable I've ever felt....in a good way. It's fun to look back at my body of work as a whole because it's kinda like looking at old photos. Even the songs that make me say, "What was I thinking?" make me smile.
MR: What are your favorite albums that were released after you recorded Pacific Coast Eyes?
GC: A few of my favorite albums recently are Beach House's Bloom, First Aid Kit's The Lion's Roar, and Broncho's Can't Get Past the Lips.
MR: Pretend you weren't Graham Colton and you were listening to your album for the first time. What would be your perception of the artist and what would your favorite track be?
GC: I love this question because I made this album as if it was my first. I'd wonder if Graham Colton was a guy or a band. I think my favorite track would be "Summer To Me."
MR: With "Before The Fall," you end the album apocalyptically albeit through a love song. How do you view the world these days and where the human race is heading? I know, it's a pretty heavy question.
GC: That song is a picture I've head in my head for awhile. I love the idea of young love and two kids running far away from all the chaos. They're high above it all and uninhibited. I think the world is moving so fast it scares me a bit to have a daughter growing up among the noise. I wish things would slow down and kids would go outside!
MR: While working on the album, what was the relationship like creatively between you and The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne?
GC: Wayne and i first met at a few years ago and his ex-wife and my wife became close friends. Wayne's a bit hard to get to know even though he showed an immediate interest in making some music together. We started hanging out a bit and he became a great sounding board for me. I played him new songs, borrowed his equipment and slowly we started collaborating on some stuff. The first was a song called "Don't Take My Sunshine Away," he asked me and Jarod to help record. The track was a tribute to the late Mark Linkous of the band Sparklehorse. The thing that really inspired me about working with Wayne was the way he looked at songs and how they're created. It was the total opposite from the singer/ songwriter formula I was used to working from. We spent a bunch of drunken nights talking about music and listening to The Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac records.
MR: Is there anything we need to know about the album that we haven't discussed?
GC: I received tremendous support for this album via Kickstarter, my family, friends, and fans made it all possible.
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
GC: Stop being so precious with your music. People don't want perfection. They want honesty.
MR: What does the future bring for Graham Colton?
GC: I just want to keep going. I feel like I'm just now figuring it all out. Talk to me in 5 years, I'm sure I'll say the same thing.
MR: All the best with the new album, Graham. By the way, your recording "Graceland" from Pacific Coast Eyes is one of my favorites of the last few years.
GC: Thanks so much my friend! That means so much to me.
A Conversation with Michael Schenker
Mike Ragogna: First, please would you get us caught up with Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock?
Michael Schenker: I have a brand new album out with Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock titled Bridge The Gap featuring ex-Rainbow singer Doogie White, ex-Scorpions rhythm section Herman Rarebell on drums, Francis Buchholz on bass, and Wayne Findlay on seven-string and keyboard. The album came out on the seventh of January, and I'm doing a few shows in the States to promote the new album and to introduce my new singer Doogie White. Also I'm promoting the album's line-up's upcoming road tour, which starts in Japan in March and will be in the States around autumn of 2014.
MR: Michael, what inspired the latest musical lineup choices and also can you give us a little history lesson?
MS: Well, you know, one thing leads to another. We basically started with the first Temple Of Rock album that I recorded with Michael Voss. I had MSG in Shepherd's Bush, London, and Pete Way showed up and Herman Rarebell. They were jamming with us and we decided to go to the Coast and put together a touring project--Pete, Herman, and myself. I wanted to play "Strangers In The Night," I hadn't played that for some time, so we started to put something together, the most popular songs. Then I felt like it was time for me to make a record so I went to a recording studio, made a demo at Michael Voss' and asked him to help me with the vocals. I heard that he could sing so I asked him to be the singer on this album. We started and I played the demo to Herman and Pete and they wanted to do the rhythm section, so I had the beginning of a band without actually looking for anything. It just kind of appeared. Then Michael Voss did this incredible intro and I said to Mike, "It would be great if we had a famous actor doing that speaking there," and then a few days later, I get a phone call from Captain Kirk's agent asking me if I wanted him to play on his record. I went, "Ah, this is the guy! Please ask him if he would speak the words to our intro on our album." So he ended up doing that and I ended up on his album and then everything was developing in a really interesting way.
I said to Michael Voss, "Maybe I should invite some of the great musicians of my past," and we ended up with a list of twenty people. Most of them were available. My brother Rudolf was there, Carmine Appice, Simon Phillips, Chris Slade, Paul Raymond, Robin McAuley so many people, so we turned it into a really good album. By the end of the album, Michael Voss wasn't available for a world tour so I had to figure out how to do it. I asked Robin if he would sing in America and Michael Voss was available in Japan and then Doogie White for Europe. But when we came to the Europe part with Doogie, Pete Way wasn't doing well so I asked Herman to ask Francis Buchholz what he was up to and if he would like to. Francis was more than happy, so from the moment he joined, we had Doogie and Herman and that's when the great chemistry was noticeable. Doogie had sang "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead," which is a song I especially wrote for him for the first Temple Of Rock album. It became kind of an underground hit in the UK. Here we were with that particular lineup and right from the rehearsal, there was a great energy. We started touring and we were getting better on a daily basis, and at some point, I thought, "I'd better arrange a video shoot to at least have a memory just in case something happens." I decided to do it in Holland because that was the most convenient place. I got that out of the way, and we were getting even better and getting more offers for Europe, so many that we had to add a second leg on the European tour. The first one finished around end of September 2012 and then the beginning of the second European leg was going to start in April, so I saw the opportunity to make an album. I asked everybody what they thought of making an album and they were all very excited, so I started writing and by the end of 2012, I had enough material, I gave it to Doogie and said, "Bridge the gaps and think melodic." He took that and did an amazing job. I knew the title before I even started writing because with Herman, Francis and myself, we only made one record together with The Scorpions, Lovedrive, so here we are after all these years having the opportunity to make a second album, so we bridged the gap to now.
Anyway we went to the studio and made the arrangements, I have a special studio for drums, we put the bass down, the seven-string and the keyboards and then when it was ready, we selected the best pieces and put it on the record and finished it on the thirty-first of March. But now the album's not going to come out for a few more months. I had to make a hard decision; I basically put the album away and didn't play it for anybody because I knew we were going to be in tour mode and I didn't want recording mode to interfere with tour mode. By the end of the second leg of the tour, I played it for everybody and the good thing about it was we all had fresh ears and we knew exactly what we could do to improve it. So we edited some parts and we mixed it, remastered it and that was it. It turned out that much better. The first version of the album was done by the thirty-first of March 2013 and we had our first tour set in April in Russia, so we put the album away and then after August 2013, I played it for everybody and we made the improvement and here's the album.
MR: Can you take us on a tour of the material for this project?
MS: For me, it's not so much about the songs, even though there are some that kind of stick out for various different reasons because life is different from radio and people have their own personal tastes, it just all depends. But I looked at this album, I was thinking fast, hard, heavy, and melodic. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep it exciting and put enough flavor in there to find something interesting all the time, keep it up and keep it energetic. So I kind of thought of the album as a book, to read nicely through it to the end and keep it exciting. From one album to another, I keep playing and discovering and when I bump into riffs that I like I put them onto my cassette recorder and then when I'm making an album they inspire me to write additional things. I never really know what the album is going to be like, or any of the songs will be like until they're finished. It's like building a house. If you build a house, you kind of know roughly what the house is going to look like, but it's like putting one stone on top of the next. It's kind of exciting because you don't really know what's going to happen but you know what's involved and you have a blueprint of something that you think it's how it's going to be, with the exception that you don't know what the singer's going to do. That makes all the difference. It's what he puts on top of it that makes it or breaks it. Doogie did an excellent job. He has an incredible voice, I like that metal voice that's strong and dramatic, with a bit of darkness. It's very melodic, he kept that going.
"Lord Of The Lost And Lonely," for me personally, is a great song for radio or for people who want to know in one go what this band is about because it has lots of elements in it. It has the upbeat, it has the melody, it has the heavy parts in it but it also has the pumping parts in it, it has melodic solos and so on. So in general it's a very good song for that kind of stuff. "Horizons" too, it kind of gets straight down to business, it's a fast song, it's a great melody, vocally, there's a great solo on it. Then, of course, we have "Where The Wild Wind Blows," which is, again, another song that includes everything. It shows all of the qualities of the band. "Neptune Rising" was written especially for Wayne Findlay because he loves the undersea world and he reminds me of Neptune. He comes out of the water with his crazy hair and beard, he looks like an undersea god so I decided to make a character out of him. Everybody has a past in a big way but Wayne has been developing since 2004 on the seven-string. He's becoming his own entity. He brings to the band something very important that no one else can bring to the band. So he becomes a very important figure, and I'm going to emphasize that too. Because he reminds me of Neptune, I asked Elliott [Rubinson] from Dean Guitars, "Why don't we design him a Trident guitar?" The name Michael Schenker has basically been used as a platform for this lineup. It's trying to create its own entity. I already have ideas for the next album to put a little bit more seven-strings to keep that deep sound to the whole thing. We have the song "Neptune Rising," which means for the next album, I already have ideas. Sitting together in the studio, somebody plays a riff and everybody spontaneously adds their stuff to it, that could be very interesting because it's a great chemistry, so something really good can come out of this. Everybody contributes on the spot. Then there's the "Rock 'N' Roll Symphony" that sums it all up. It's off the wall and very unusual but I had a lot of fun doing it because it's so different than everything else. So basically, the whole album goes from one thing to another and keeps it all interesting.
MR: And after all these years, you're still loyal to the Flying V.
MS: Yeah, well, the Flying V has got a weird shape, and if you sit down and play with it, you get used to it and when you play a different guitar it kind of falls out of your hands because you're so used to that shape and the balance. And anyways, if it's not broke, don't fix it. I've stuck with the flying V all my life and it's become a part of me.
MR: Legend has it your brother introduced you to it.
MS: Oh yeah, he was playing the V already, he had the vision of the V, but I just accidentally bumped into it and realized that my '51 Marshall with whatever that guitar was a very good combination sound-wise, so I bought it off him and I've played it ever since. I was sixteen years old.
MR: Since the musicians on Bridging The Gap were in Scorpions with you, are you revisiting the brotherhood that was in that group?
MS: Well, how it happened was I finished Strangers In The Night with UFO and left the band. My brother found out about it and asked if I could come over and help them out because Matthias [Jabs] wasn't ready to make a whole album. So he sent me some music and I wrote all of the melodies on top of "Coast To Coast," "Holiday," and "Another Piece Of Meat." I think "Always Somewhere," too, but I can't remember. Then they asked me to join, but I couldn't make that move--I had just finished with UFO, I had played arenas, I was successful. I knew what it was all about, but there was something else in me that was more important...I wanted to experiment with music and do things my own way at my own pace. So I did not join the Scorpions, but they went on and at least I opened the door to America for them. When my brother took over, I withdrew basically and experimented. The first stage of my life was focusing on expression and developing as a guitarist and making a musical contribution to the world. The middle years of my life was about personal development, and the third stage, which is now, is about being back in the loop of rock 'n' roll. I need to be here to emphasize that incredible era of rock that started with bands like Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and so on, and then later, it was Leslie West and Rory Gallagher and Johnny Winter, so many great guitarists worldwide. Some of them have already passed away, incredible, important musicians like John Bonham and Ronnie James Dio, Gary Moore, Lou Reed, Alvin Lee, Keith Moon, Jon Lord, so many great musicians. This has been an incredible, fantastic journey and I'm back in the loop to celebrate that. I want to make sure that once again everybody is re-experiencing them, and so am I. We want to celebrate them. One day, it's just going to be a memory, there's going to be no one left from the era of Handmade Rock. So that's what I want to do.
MR: What do you think of today's rock?
MS: I don't really consume. I was born to create. I love creating and I love to focus on pure self-expression and contribute to the world. I don't really know, but because I have lots of young people around me, children and so on, a range from sixteen to twenty-five--it's the Computer Age, and things are starting to be done differently. So that's why I call it the era of Handmade Rock. It will be just incredibly great. Not just different. It will take it all to an absolute unknown new level that will have incredible outcomes, but this is the era of Handmade Rock that I'm talking about that cannot be repeated. Exterior circumstances are changing, so you can't go back to that.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
MS: That depends on the motivation of the artist. An artist is an artist, but why does a person want to play an instrument? It's a personal thing. It's what they want to get out of it. If they want to get out of it what I was going to get out of it... I discovered the guitar and was fascinated by what I could do with a single string. That, in itself, was the payoff for me. I love to play and discover. That, for me, is fanatic. That's where my passion is. I was just being myself, so I kept being myself, and many years later, I started to hear people telling me that I had influenced so many people and so on and I was presented with awards and stuff like this. "What, me? What for? I was just being myself!" I think what's important is that there's nothing right, there's nothing wrong, just do your thing and stay strong and you'll know when you're doing your thing. Your thing is something that makes your heart smile, if it's copying or playing or just consuming, enjoying, listening to it. There is different stuff we prefer to do and each person finds their own spot of enjoyment. I think that's the most important part. We need to feel that whatever we choose to do, if a person just loves to sit there and copy things and is happy with that and their heart is smiling, we know they're doing the right thing.
MR: There's an impression one gets when they hear the phrase "Temple Of Rock." After this interview, however, I feel like "rtock" is the temple to which you go. Would that be true?
MS: Ah, Temple Of Rock...I can explain it in different ways. I am like a monk, staying away from external music like a monk stays away from external life. When I write, I always get from within, from the infinite source of creation. It's like Holy Scriptures. When I was faced with coming up with an album title, I was thinking like, "What can I do?" I invited all of these musicians from the past, and I was still writing the same way I've always written, from within, so it's like Holy Scriptures...it's my Temple of Rock. It's my body, and what comes out of it is the source. But there's also the Temple or Rock externally. The foundation was laid by Zepellin and Black Sabbath and all the great bands from America and so on. So whoever was very active in the late sixties--Jimi Hendrix, et cetera--that's the generation of rock that I fell in love with, with distortion guitar. The seventies was the pillars of the Temple of Rock, AC/DC, Judas Priest, UFO, et cetera, and then the eighties was the bricks and the clay and walls and so on, and now we're getting to the roofing of the Temple of Rock. My dad used to be an engineer, an architect, and every time he finished a house, just before the roof was put on they had a celebration. That's what I'm doing. I'm celebrating the roofing of the Temple of Rock. That's basically where all of the bands from the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, two thousands and so on, we are all sharing the stage together, celebrating it without maybe even realizing.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
JORDAN MAYLAND & THE THERMAL DETONATORS' "I CAN CONTROL YOU"
photo credit: Graham Gardner
"The idea behind the video is how an obsession, good or bad, can easily end up controlling you," says Jordan Mayland. "A song, a relationship, a situation, life, death, a person, the thing you thought you had control of ends up really controlling you. The idea that you have to be in control really means that that thing you're obsessing over is actually controlling you. It's nice to have goals, to have a point, but a lot of things end up being out of our hands and sometimes it's nice to let go. I think this video and song is my interpretation of finding that balance."
Video by DEFT Visuals (Bruce James and Caleb Smith), "I Can Control You" from the album I Wrote It All Down, recorded at Wabi Sound in Des Moines, Iowa.