A Conversation with Liz Phair
Mike Ragogna: Liz, when did you feel it was time to rev up your new album, Funstyle?
Liz Phair: You know, it really was born very naturally from the musical experience I was going through at the time–usually my records are. I found myself in two different recording environments leading up to this release, one of which was my television scoring that I’ve been doing the last couple of years, where you’re doing a ton of music in a very short time and you orchestrate stuff with sort of a push of a button. So, part of Funstyle was born from that sort of experimentation. Then, the other half of it was all about jamming in the studio with other musicians and friends, and seeing what we come up with
A Conversation with Liz Phair
I just got back from the SXSW interactive conference in Austin. I went there to give a talk about fueling sustainable productivity by balancing periods of fully absorbed attention with intermittent renewal.
Peering out into that vast hall, I fear I saw the future: a sea of the digital elite hunched over blinking technologies, tweeting and texting as I talked.
Here’s what I later learned some of them were saying, all in 140 characters or less:
“I’m splitting my attention between @tonyschwartz & tweeting that 2 B gr8 U have to be willing to suffer/practice.”
“Tony Schwartz tells SXSW attendees to go to bed earlier. Tough sell.”
“How can Tony Schwartz stay sane giving a speech on focusing on task at a time while the audience is on their iPads/iPhones at same time?”
I wasn’t so worried about my own sanity — I was only doing one thing at a time, after all — but I was a little concerned about theirs. We’ve truly entered a world of nonstop input and output.
So what exactly would it take to seize back control of our lives? We need a series of deliberate practices to counter the powerful forces so accelerating our lives.
SXSW 2011 Music Day Shows How One Intrepid Reporter Attempts to Make Sense of an Entire Sprawling Festival
At this point in SXSW’s evolution as a music festival, the only way you could adequately report on every day’s show offering is to gather a hundred rock critics (literally a hundred), give them assignments and rations and canteens, send them out early enough to wait in line at all the key day party venues, and then sequester them after the shows for long enough to make sense of their notes — perhaps during the primetime showcases that are still supposed to be the focal point of the festival.
It wasn’t always like this. Back in the day, bands would just do their evening showcases, and perhaps make a couple of isolated appearances during the week at other venues. But now, bands are more likely to use their primetime showcase spot as a jumping off point to pack in as many shows in a week as possible.
For at least five years now, SXSW Music has been two festivals: one for the high caste of badge holders and middle caste of wristband holders, and another, more chaotic one in which the lines of privilege blur and thousands upon thousands come together to map out their own SXSW experience show by
SXSW Music Festival 2011 Cold War Kids and the Vague Creeping Dread of Mainstreaming What Was Formerly and Reliably Indie
Assuming that the world needs more soaring, sing-along melodies that align themselves into anthems for a subset of music fans — let’s say, for sake of argument, the same subset that welcomed Kings Of Leon’s Only By the Night — the arrival of Cold War Kids’ Mine Is Yours earlier this year should be something welcome when you, say, breeze by it and see it on sale in the Target music racks.
But if you consider yourself indie — and not just a fan of the wide spectrum of music that gets lumped in the difficult-to-pin-down indie category — Mine Is Yours is more than just a collection of new songs pointing in a more pop-oriented, straightforward direction than on previous albums. It’s, even though it doesn’t mean to be, something personal.
If you’re a fan of Cold War Kids based on the band’s pre-Mine Is Yours work, it’s likely for qualities that resonate more with college radio than hit radio. Their lyrics often veer into short story territory, detailing characters and their lurches through life, with Nathan Willett’s wailing, distinctive voice making lines like “I give a check to tax-deductible charity organizations” positively
Recently, I was lucky enough to attend Film Finance Forum West, presented by Winston Baker. They did an excellent job at rounding up some of the sharpest minds in the world of film financing, who collectively painted an interesting/optimistic/encouraging/bleak portrait of what it takes to get a movie made in today’s economic climate.
A lot of facts and figures were thrown around, and I felt my head starting to spin often as panelists discussed tax rebates, legal fees, risk mitigation, federal subsidies, gap loans, supergap loans, and more.
I’ll do my best to break it down as simply as possible. Without further ado, here are some of my top takeaways from Film Finance Forum West.
Do your homework and learn as much as possible. If you really want to produce films with a sizable budget, learn everything you possibly can about tax rebates, risk mitigation, federal subsidies, different forms of loans,
In 1983, Dom Mariani and Richard Lane formed the Stems, one of the most tuneful and tasty garage rock bands of the era. Avid fans of pop, R&B, and 60′s garage punk, their predilection translated to great punchy songs for the band. The Stems hooked up with Radio Birdman’s Rob Younger in 1985, who produced their EP Love Will Grow as well as a single, Tears Me in Two. Based in Perth – which is clear across the country from Sydney – they gained national success throughout Australia and their work eventually attracted the international garage rock audience it
From the moment my flight touched down in Austin for South by Southwest last Thursday, it has been a nonstop bigger-than-ever year of brands, start-ups, celebrities, and geeks roaming the streets. The buzz is all about who is getting funding, who is the next big thing, and how the world will change because of the digital revolution we are all a part of.
But there are also discussions that aren’t being blogged and retweeted with quite the same fervor. There are quieter conversations by about the world beyond this weekend. About what any of these ideas and new t-shirt clad 20-something CEOs will actually be able to do outside nurturing biosphere of SXSW.
I was reminded of Jerry Maguire and his passionate plea to his sports agency as he struggled with his newfound aspiration to do something more
Three years ago, when the Huffington Post approached us and asked if we’d like to premiere our short film Happy New Year online, we of course said “Hell, yeah!” Little did we know how much this decision would affect our lives. People across the world saw our 15-minute short about two Iraq War veterans reuniting in a rundown veterans hospital on New Year’s Eve. As we traveled the festival circuit with the short, we began development of the feature-length version, an extremely daunting task because our project featured a first-time director and an unknown lead.
At SXSW Interactive, you’re occasionally going to run into this profile: 22-year-old CEO of company, dropped out of Princeton after a year, has given himself the title “Chief Ninja.” And, yes, those of us whose corporate backgrounds include pre-Zuckerbergian strata have to resist the urge to eyeroll when faced with such a profile.
And yet, one person with that profile — SCVNGR’s Seth Priebatsch — delivered a fascinating keynote speech on Day 2 of SXSW 2011 on Saturday afternoon. So fascinating, in fact, that the typically cynical SXSWi crowd, known to tweet that cynicism in a richly-entertaining way that pretty much necessitates using a keynote’s Twitter stream as color commentary, was downright bubbly.
While much of the commentary was focused on Priebatsch’s youthful exuberance and general marveling over his age and dropout status, the substance of his talk is really what’s worth focusing on, because it signals a trend in online engagement that could have widespread market
Awesome New Republic (ANR)
Much hype is being made about TV on the Radio playing a bunch of shows throughout the week, which is cool, but that’s not what SXSW is all about. It’s discovering the next TVOTR before they’re famous. ANR is that band. With so many boastful layers to each track it is hard to believe the Miami-based band is the creation of only two people, but when a touch of trumpets perfectly accents “It’s Around You” you don’t really care how they made it, just as long as you get to sip your Lone Star and enjoy it.
Amanda Warner, better known as synth junkie MNDR, was my favorite act of sxsw
With Miami festivals WMC and Ultra hogging the electronic music scene this month, Austin isn’t exactly the first place you’d target for a deejayed dance party that can press on til sunrise. It’s a thick scene for the indie rock bands and raspy guitar-strumming folk singers, but nestled between them — in the time separating dinner from breakfast — the DJs, and those hungry to hear them, turn to the tables. Here, the talent known by blogs and Beatport charts, or the talent that has yet to be discovered, serves up everything from booty bass to hyped-up electro, even creating new genres in the musical breeding ground of SXSW.
Leading up to a festival known for showcasing some of the best of the unknowns, there’s a certain buzz already upping the anticipation for DJ sets throughout the
A Conversation with Lucinda Williams
Mike Ragogna: Hello there, Lucinda. How are you?
Lucinda Williams: Good.
MR: So, your new album is titled Blessed, and you brought in Don Was on production.
LW: Yeah, he was co-producing with Tom (Overby) and Eric (Liljestrand).
MR: Nice. The mix, of course, is the usual–a beautiful combination of country, blues, folk…
LW: Thank you. Yeah, I’m really excited about
This March, while South by Southwest will introduce Style X, pronounced Style “By”, an event aimed at showcasing emerging designers from around the country. Over the last few years, SXSW participants have gotten accustomed to fashion brands having a presence in Austin during that eventful week in March. American Apparel is known for its flea market setup in Downtown Austin with bargain basement pricing not available in its retail stores. And other notable brands such as Dickie’s, Levi’s and Ray Ban have sponsored performances by the likes of Kanye West, The xx and Broken Bells.
Fashion designers and labels catering to musicians is nothing
HuffPost Reviews ACDC and Jane Roman Pitt Plus A Conversation with Grammy Nominee Chip Taylor and an Elvis Costello Audio Stream
So, you think you know all things AC/DC? Really. Well, take a hit of the essays, historical photos, memorabilia, and general overkill contained between the over 225 pages of High Voltage Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Ultimate Illustrated History and you’ll be intimidated indeed. Rock journalist Phil Sutcliffe (with a little help in sidebar form from folks like Robert Ellis, Joe Bonomo, Philip Morris, and a cast of 17 others) supplies the biographical and historical spunk that takes us from Angus & Malcom Young’s vision through the Brian Johnson and Chris Slade roster adjustments and, of course, way beyond. Commentaries and reflections by Jimmy Page, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry, Steve Vai, Ace Frehley, Meat Loaf, Jack Johnson (yes, Jack Johnson), and Joe Elliott round out the over-the-top celebration that is Illustrated History. Some of the early shots of the band by Philip Morris and Bob King are worth the price of the book alone. But add club pictures by Jenny Lens and Robert Francos and the behind-the-scenes images contributed by Robert Ellis and Robert Alford, and you have a visual history that is as valid as any of the authors’ contributions or researchers’ timelines and discography. Who knew there was so much to know about this metal prototype from Australia, one that most forget contributed to the hard rock scene in the U.S. more than most American bands did. Now you know, and the rest, as they say, is Illustrated History.
Jane Roman Pitt (aka Ladylullaby) – Midnight Lullaby
When it comes to successfully marketed children’s music, you’ve got two categories: The listenable and the horrible. For the most part, the former category has been advanced by aging singer-songwriters and artists who actually are trying to establish a higher caliber of releases than the condescending junk lining the endcaps of kids’ clothing and toy stores.
Midnight Lullaby, the latest album by Jane Roman Pitt, who is in the process of re-establishing her identity as “Ladylullaby” Mannheim Steamroller-style, is a beautiful addition to not only those aforementioned outlets and the children’s section of whatever is left of record stores, but to any grownup’s CD or MP3 collections.
Jane’s vocals are like a cross between ’80s country crooner Judy Rodman and Karen Carpenter’s, and the simple instrumentation borders on country, adult contemporary, and folk, an amalgam overseen by co-producer Mac Gayden whose pop ber-classic “Everlasting Love” gets re-recorded so often (including by U2), it might as well be a Beatles song. Mac’s hypnotic acoustic guitar and slide work embrace each song with a vine-like rapture, and Martha Jacobs’ cello–along with Pete Finney’s pedal steel, and Curt Perkins’ always elegant keyboards–make this outing not just soothing for the kiddies, but a fireplace essential for the Cabernet crowd.
Apparently, Donovan insisted Jane record his “La Moora,” and Nashville hitmaker Hugh Prestwood donated his previously unrecorded “Dreaming Sweet Dreams” as the project developed. Jane’s choices of the lightly bluesy title track written by Tom Waits, Sade’s “The Sweetest Gift,” and Dixie Chicks’ terrific vocalese disguised as the song “Lullaby” show her understanding of the craft of songwriting, and her own original “Welcome Home To Love” is a song Judy Collins needs to record like tomorrow.
Midnight Lullaby is all so delicate and tasteful that it naturally will bypass hipster ears. But thankfully, most art doesn’t need pop culture’s permission to be beautiful or approval to influence, something this project could do if the right ears hear it. The album is a simple offering, not pretending to be anything more than a collection of gentle, lovely, and soothing recordings that parents and children can enjoy together. Sweet dreams everyone.
Start Here: “Baby That’s Not All,” “Dreaming Sweet Dreams,” “Forever Young” and “Welcome Home To Love”
1. Baby That’s Not All
2. My Darling
3. Dreaming Sweet Dreams
5. Midnight Lullaby
6. Welcome Home To Love
7. The Sweetest Gift
8. La Moora
9. Whisper Warm
10. Forever Young
11. Goodnight, Golden Slumbers
Intermission: Elvis Costello’s “I Lost You”
A Conversation with Chip Taylor
Mike Ragogna: Chip, hi.
Chip Taylor: Hey Mike, how are you? I am in my New York apartment away from the cold outside. The sun is shining through the window, so I feel great.
MR: Very nice, quite cozy. So, you have an album that was nominated this year for a Grammy–Yonkers, NY.
CT: Yes, this is a wonderful thing. I love Yonkers, New York and it’s something I’ve loved doing, going out and playing it around the world. In fact, I wasn’t sure that it would go over around the world as there are a lot of stories attached to it. In the midst of all the songs, every once in a while, there is a story told about different things, like in Saw Mill River Road. It takes me back to a place where I used to play music when I was 15, 16 years old in Yonkers, in a place called the Chat ‘n’ Chew, where I used to play Johnny Cash songs. So, I love these memories that I am getting from playing that stuff. But that being said, I am always onto the next thing. I have been on the road with Carrie Rodriquez promoting our new duet album.
MR: That’s the album The New Bye & Bye, a “best-of” collection, right?
CT: It’s a collection with four new songs that are kind of featured in the show, and it’s wonderful to be singing again with Carrie. We haven’t sung together in a couple of years and it’s magic to me. If anybody hears what we’ve done in the past, a lot of those folks probably get the same chills that I get every time I am on stage with her singing. It’s great.
MR: True, her violin is haunting, the vocals are beautiful. You met her at SXSW, that’s how the two of you got together?
CT: Right. Several years ago, she showed up at one of my shows, and she had just graduated from Berklee. Somebody brought her to one of my shows and we met for the first time. She had known some of my music but not all of it, and she had never sung before. She was a brilliant violinist. I saw her the next day and hired her as a fiddle player. I got her to sing harmony, and then that wonderful voice kind of came out of nowhere. We became the team “Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriquez” for several years, and it was just wonderful.
MR: And you have since recorded several albums with her.
CT: Three albums were on the Americana charts–one went to #1, one went to #2, and one went to #3. We recorded a live album in Germany with Bill Frisell and the gang that was great, and then this new one.
MR: I interviewed Bill Frisell a couple of months ago, what a great musician and a wonderful guy.
CT: Yeah, there is nobody like Bill.
MR: Now, some of the songs that Carrie knew when she met you had to be “Angel Of The Morning.”
CT: She said she knew Angel Of The Morning” and “Wild Thing,” and she had been a big, big Janis Joplin fan, so she knew “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder).” She knew those, but wasn’t familiar with my album at the time which was Black And Blue America. She wasn’t familiar with the country success that I had had so much, that’s where we got focused-in our early recordings in the folk/country side of things.
MR: I actually worked at Buddah (respelled “Buddha”), the reconstituted version that was a label at BMG. Two of the albums that I desperately wanted to put out at the time was the Gorgoni, Martin & Taylor album and your solo Gasoline album.
CT: That’s wonderful. We were signed by Neil (Bogart) and Buddah. Neil was just a wonderful innovator and he went with his own spirit, went with us, and gave me my opportunity to record my own first album which was Gasoline. That led me to Warner Brothers and Last Chance and This Side Of The Big River and Some of Us. So, I owe a lot to Neil.
MR: Speaking of Warners, I think the year Last Chance came out was on a lot of top ten lists.
CT: Well, it was a cult thing. Those were the days when all of this country stuff wasn’t happening and The Byrds made that wonderful album, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo and Gram Parsons started to get involved. He had that great stuff with Emmylou Harris and all that stuff including mine was kind of underground. It wasn’t really happening. We had a cult following, I was happy to be in that mix. I did a cover thing, a Neil Young song for Mojo Magazine the other day. I was thinking about Neil and that he was one of the great guys that we all loved, but he was one of the ones that made it into the mainstream. He remained so rich in character throughout that period of time.
MR: Speaking of Emmylou Harris, I came across her version of one of your songs that I had always loved by Anne Murray. It was one of the most touching recordings that producer Brian Ahern ever produced with her, and of course, I’m talking about “Son Of A Rotten Gambler.” When I listened to Emmylou’s version, it was in love again. And even The Hollies took a swing at it. “…Rotten Gambler,” like Tim Moore’s “Second Avenue,” seems to me to be one of those potential classics that the masses just didn’t catch a break.
CT: It’s a funny thing. You don’t like to talk about these things too much, but the truth of the matter is, it was a wonderful show business story. Anne Murray’s version of a “…Rotten Gambler” was just a magnificent record, and it was a single released from the (Love Song) album because Annie asked it to be released when she went on tour and it was quickly becoming her biggest success in years. As it was bulleting up the charts, it was around October, the company had another album planned for release, and they needed it to get final quarter billing. So, instead of continuing promoting the single, they released the other album and stopped the single as it was bulleting up the charts in one of the most terrible business decisions. They were just so short sighted to get the billing for that one year, and forgot that they could have had a classic for years and years to come. Thank you for your comments about it. I certainly feel the same way.
MR: I think it’s a magnificent record. I am with you on that.
CT: I got chills when that song came on (the radio), I remember now thinking about it. I was in the South and Anne’s record started with a fade-in organ which I had never heard before on a record, and I could hear the DJ saying “Number One, One, One…” and then you hear this fade in organ for several seconds, and then Anne starts out, “And his love will be his vision.” Beautiful.
MR: I would imagine there are pockets in this country that really know “…Rotten Gambler” as if it were a Top Ten record.
CT: I was just thinking about that the other day. I was playing in Massachusetts with Carrie and in Massachusetts, one of the first things I recorded years ago before I had the albums out on Warner Brothers and before I wrote all my hits, was a song called “Here I Am.” It was released at the same time that Glen Campbell released a song by the same title, not the same song, and it was released in the same week. I picked up the trade papers and there were both of our records reviewed, only there was one big difference. Glen was a star and I was nobody.
MR: That’s heart breaking.
CT: And so Glen got most of the big treatment for the airplay, but mine got pockets of treatment. So, in certain towns like Hartford and Baltimore, my record went to #1. It went to the ’80s on the national charts, but had it not been for that thing, it might have done better. I produced Billy Vera and Judy Clay and had two hits with them, “Story Book Children” and Country Girl/City Man.” “Storybook…” was the first one. It was not as huge a hit on the West Coast as it was in the East. It was huge here. The other one was the reverse. “Country Girl/City Man” was huge down South and the West Coast and not so big in the East. Those were the days when things like that could happen.
MR: Again, you’ve got to wonder how important a record is in certain parts of the country even when it isn’t a national hit. Artists and labels are always thinking in terms of big national hits.
MR: So, you were signed at 15?
CT: Yes, at 15 or 16. I was signed to King Records at the time, and the New York division was the all black division. I was signed by a wonderful A&R guy named Henry Glover who had signed Hank Ballard and the Midnighters and James Brown. He had written “Sexy Ways” with Hank Ballard. He was something. We were trying like crazy just to get signed by anybody. My guitar player went door to door with our acetate demos or whatever you called them. Somehow or another, Hank let him in.
MR: How did it feel being signed at 15?
CT: It was a dream come true. I was just on fire when Henry Glover called me and said, “Son, you’re on King Records.” Man, oh my goodness what a thing this is you know. It was just a wonderful, wonderful period of time. The problem was I loved making the recordings, and augmented the band with Mickey Baker and Panama Francis. These were unbelievable characters and wonderful players. We didn’t sell enough records to hold that together. I did okay with one single on Warner Brothers, but I was desperately trying to stay in the business, so I started writing for other people just to jump the gun a little bit. One of the first people, in fact the first person that recorded one of my songs, was Willie Nelson. All of a sudden, I was in the business as a country writer and so happy to be doing that. The dream was always to be a singer, but boy, anyway to get into this business was good enough for me.
MR: Was that song “He Sits at My Table”?
CT: Yeah. Remember, it was a hit of sorts. I didn’t particularly like this record as it was one of those corny over-produced records, but Willie loved that song. When I came back to making music ten years ago, he saw me and came over to me and he welcomed me back. He said, “Welcome back, Chip. You know I recorded one of your songs years ago,” and I said, “Yeah, I couldn’t forget that, Willie!” So, he sang me two versus of the song right there in the parking lot. Really something.
MR: That was your transition into a major songwriter?
CT: Yeah. It was survival.
MR: Looking at your career back then and what you are doing now in terms of your duets with Carrie Rodriquez, plus keeping in mind that music entities are downsizing, what kind of advice would you give to new artists?
CT: Companies aren’t really out there looking. They should just get rid of their marketing people. One of the biggest things an artist can do for himself is develop a following, not to write a song or to play it and say, “Oh, I have something wonderful, it’s just great.” Well, I am sure it’s great, and it’s good to have that feeling. But now, you’re better off if you tell somebody, “I had this song and I played it the other day. I play it every once in a while in person, every week in person at this little place. And now, I got a hundred people asking me for this little song every night.” If you do that, then you’ve got something going on, you know?
I would suggest not to fool yourself. Go out and if you think you got something, go test it out with people and even if you play for no money, you can start gathering fans and then fans can usually tell you what songs really move them. You learn from them, that’s the difference now. You have to do that now whereas before, it was a little different. If I felt I wrote a good song, there were some people who may want to hear it back in the day, particularly once I got published by a good publisher. But even these days, great publishers don’t have access to opening the doors for artists. Most artists are self-contained, and they have folks around them and they have their own people who write their songs or they do. So, they aren’t out there looking so much for songs. It’s not what it was like when I was back writing songs. People were looking all the time, and I had a great publisher who would take whatever energy I gave them and go try and find somebody to sing one of those little songs.
MR: Well, one of those little songs that we briefly mentioned earlier was “Wild Thing.” What was your first reaction when you heard “Wild Thing,” not only by The Troggs, but also when you heard Jimi Hendrix doing it?
CT: Both were terrific reactions and it was a wonderful feeling because it was back in the day when the business was just starting to form itself and rock ‘n’ roll was just starting to come in. Some people got it and some people didn’t, and some people who had power got it and some people who had power didn’t get it. What I am talking about are people who had something to do with recording your songs. What you always hoped for is that your song was recorded in a way that felt good–that was the biggest thing to me, did it feel good. Did it have the passion that you had for it when you wrote it? Did it get close to that? So, honestly, I can say The Troggs’ record was very close to my demo. I played it with a big open-hole acoustic guitar, and I did the demo at this little studio with Dick Charles in New York. I banged on some things and overdubbed just to keep the passion going and held the “five” chord for extra beats or whatever I felt like, you know? I always did everything by feeling, no mental things. And when I heard that The Troggs had recorded it and I heard the record I just thought, “Oh man, they got it. They just totally got this record and the feeling of this song!” So, I was thinking to myself, “If this is not a hit with them, then this is not going to be a hit because you can’t ask for anymore than that.”
So, at the same time that The Troggs’ record was happening, exploding in England, Europe and here, Jimi Hendrix heard it. I had met Jimi Hendrix a couple of years before and he was trying to become a songwriter back in New York in the day. I met him for a couple of days, and all of a sudden, he became this hero in England, and rightfully so. Jimi heard The Troggs’ record played on the airwaves over in England as he was becoming a star. He said he didn’t care if it was an uncool thing to cover a song. He was becoming this new sensation, and he used to play it at the end of every set. So, when he did it at Monterey, the folks at the publishing company set up a private screening for me and said, “Chip, you’re not going to believe what Jimi Hendrix did to your song last week. Come over tomorrow and we are going to show you a private screening.” Oh man. I remember shrinking down in my chair and thinking, “Oh my God.” As you look back it was so out there and so wonderful.
MR: While we are at it, let’s get the story of “Angel Of The Morning” when you heard Merrilee Rush do it?
CT: Well, actually, the first one who recorded it…I was producing an artist called Evie Sands with my partner Al Gorgoni, a wonderful, wonderful writer, wonderful producer, wonderful guitarist. Al and I got along great, and he played the nylon-stringed guitar on most all of my early demos that are country hits that I had. He did the demos with me. He and I ended up producing some things together, Evie Sands was one of them, and we loved her. She was something else. So, we did a version of “Angel Of The Morning” with Evie, we were quite excited about it, and it was released on Cameo/Parkway. Two weeks after it was released, the company went bankrupt, but it was out there, and a lot of stations had it and were playing it. It was the #1 record in several markets with airplay requests. There were 10,000 records shipped, and they were gone in two days, so Evie was the hard luck girl. She was supposed to be the one to have the first hit. Then my friends Chips Moman and Tommy Cogbill from Memphis asked if it was okay if they could do a version of it with one of their artists and that was Merrilee Rush. They knew that Evie’s was dead in the water, and they did a wonderful, wonderful record of it.
MR: I am a big fan of Al Gorgoni. He produced one of my favorite albums, Lay It All Out by Barry Mann.
CT: Oh, great. Yeah, he is one of a kind.
MR: And, of course, all the work that he did in that whole American Studio cartel. So, years later, it was revived by Juice Newton.
CT: It’s a wonderful kind of story how that record was recorded. Capital had been trying to break Juice Newton for three or four years. They weren’t successful at it, but they were doing okay. She was really liked in-house–and that’s a very important thing for artists to know. When you are liked by the staff, it goes a long way. If you are just a decent person, it goes a long way. When you play the rock ‘n’ roll game and get a little pretentious with folks, it could very well come back to hurt you. In her case, they liked her a lot and were trying to break her. They had a big meeting to try and figure out what to do to break Juice Newton. One of the promotion guys, from what I heard, said, “Well, we are all being silly here. If you want to break Juice Newton you can do it in one simple way. Just record a version of “Angel Of The Morning.” Everybody said, “Well, okay,” and the producer was there and said alright. So, they went into the studio right away and recorded it.
MR: Beautiful. And then it was used as the basis for Shaggy’s “Angel” in 2001.
CT: It was so exciting because the record was selling so well, I am always pleasantly surprised. One of my friends in the city who is involved in the industry and rap stuff had a little label in New York. He said “Chip, you’re the next single with the Shaggy thing, and it’s going to be big.” Then, two weeks later, he said, “Chip, this is going to be humongous.” I didn’t know, I just knew it was at #80 or something on the charts. Then, I realized how big it was getting and it was going to #1 and I really had not met him yet, didn’t know much about him.
So, I went out to Long Island to get to meet him and say hi and to figure out what in the heck he was talking about. (laughs) He is just a great guy. I went out to meet his manager and brought some champagne and some little bottles as I figured there would be a bunch of fellas out there. Shaggy had just gotten to town and he invited me to his house. I met his kids and his producer and the singers and it was just a wonderful meeting. It was great.
MR: What does the future bring for Chip Taylor?
CT: That is the interesting thing after all these years. I am so excited about things and have never been more prolific. I produced a couple of albums with a wonderful Canadian fiddler, a lovely girl, a very talented Kendal Carson. I have done some work with her, some work with a few movie projects which I love. I did an album with John Platania, and we are thinking it was heroically reviewed and it put him in a new dimension, I think. Everyone knows who John is these days–the guy that played with Van Morrison on “Moondance” and “Domino.” We have a new album coming out with John, Kendal and I sharing vocal duties called Rock ‘N’ Roll Joe, it plays almost like a little rock opera kind of thing. It has an adjoining website which will be announced and presented in March. It’s dedicated to all musicians who never got their just due, who never got enough credit like Al Gorgoni and folks like that. We have that coming out. I have wonderful folks involved in it. So, that’s coming out. And when I was in Norway last month, I recorded 15 new songs with John Platania and some Swedish musicians that just kills me. So, that will be my September release. I am just recording all the time and just loving every minute of it. Kendal has wonderful new things coming out on her own. Oh man, so good.
MR: Are you going to be at SXSW in March?
CT: Yes. The plan is we are going to present Rock ‘N’ Roll Joe there.
MR: I’ll be there and I am really looking forward to it.
CT: It’s the best. I have good memories around it every year, and it is the place where I first met Carrie Rodriguez, so wonderful things can happen down there. Last year, a fellow from Japan had seen my show a couple of times at SXSW, and Kendal, John and I got this big invitation to go to Japan next month. So, we are going. A lot of good things can happen at SXSW.
MR: Well I hope to see you when I’m down there. It would be great to catch up in person.
CT: Great, Mike.
MR: Before we go, please would you talk about “Bastard Borthers” off of Yonkers, NY?
CT: My father was a golf professional and his day off was Monday. He used to love to take us to the train station and talk to the conductors. So, here is a Monday with my Dad and Mom, my brothers. On the album, I call them my “Bastard Brothers” cause they are the guys who took the fiddle away from me when I was seven years old in order to stop the screeching in the house. They are wonderful guys. My brother is Jon Voight the actor and Barry Voight who is the guy that invented the formula to predict when volcanoes will erupt. He is a real hero in the family. But this is a Monday. “Charcoal Sky” takes us to a Monday with my brothers Barry, Jon, my Mom Barbara and my Dad Elmer at a train station.
MR: You were going to be a professional golfer at one point, weren’t you?
CT: I did turn professional for a brief minute. I was a good junior golfer and so was my brother Jon. We won some tournaments, played in the national juniors. I turned pro around the same time I was signed to King Records. I turned pro and played in a couple of tournaments, but music is what I really wanted, so thank God, I got there.
MR: Nice. Are you happy that we left the Voight connection to the very end here?
CT: I never mind talking about it, I love my family, love my crazy brothers. We are all such good friends and always interested in each others’ work. I can’t wait to hear what Barry’s doing, if he is going on one of his volcano expeditions. He is always writing to me about that stuff. And Jon is always reading me scripts of his new things and is always interested in what new music I have. They are good vibration folks to be around.
MR: Nice. Thank you very, very much Chip Taylor for visiting with us today on solar-powered KRUU-FM.
CT: Great to be with you, Mike.
1. Barry Go On (Put Yourself On The Mountain)
2. Charcoal Sky
3. Gin Rummy Rules
4. Hey Jonny (Did You Feel That Movie)
5. Without Horses
6. No Dice
7. Bastard Brothers
8. Piece Of The Sky
9. Saw Mill River Road
10. Yonkers Girls
11. Yonkers N.Y.
(transcribed by Erika Richards)
This Blogger’s Books from
by Mike Ragogna
Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Superhero
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Kittens Sunday School Streamers A Viva Elvis Clip Plus Conversations With Shelby Lynne Ryan Montbleau and Middle Class Ruts Zack Lopez
This Kitten’s got pop/new wave/indie claws. Chloe Chaidez was 11 when she was onstage with Conor Oberst and Midlake, 13 when she decided to move on from Wild Youth to start the band Kitten, and 15 when her impressive debut EP Sunday School was released. The EP was mixed by Gavin Mackillop (PIL, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Church), and Kitten was recently hailed as “The Best New Discovery of SXSW” by SPIN.com.
Check out Kitten’s Sunday School streams…
sundayschoolep by Sneakattackmedia
Viva Elvis, and here’s why…
A Conversation with Shelby Lynne
Mike Ragogna: Hi, Shelby.
Shelby Lynne: Hey.
MR: Thank you for visiting solar-powered KRUU-FM here in the Midwest.
SL: That’s pretty cool. Congratulations on a cool station!
MR: Shelby, you have a new album called Merry Christmas.
SL: Well, I did that in June, so it’s that old story about if you want to have a Christmas record out, you have to do it in June, and it’s true, it really is true. I did that, been touring a lot, I’m starting to write songs again for some new things, and I’m very excited about a project I’m going to do with my sister Allison Moorer, possibly next year. She and I are going to go out this year and do some tour dates.
MR: That’s beautiful. Have you ever done that before?
SL: No, we haven’t. We’ve been putting it off for years until the right time, but we feel like the time is lining up for us now, so we’re excited about doing that.
MR: You debuted your tour in San Francisco, at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, very nice. Did you and your sister make music together when you were younger?
SL: Well, we always sang. It was a natural thing for us to just sing. My sister, mother and I would travel to school in the car and just sing. We either didn’t have a radio that worked or we just enjoyed singing, and it passed time, so that’s where we really honed our harmony talents and learned parts. It wasn’t just a decided factor that, “Oh, maybe we want to sing.” We were lucky in having the ability to do it, and it was just natural for us to do so. So having it be a grown-up fantasy come true, and to be able to sing professionally is a dream come true for us. Also, we get to be together now, so it’s great.
MR: Nice. Kind of like Heart.
MR: Just to clear things up, did you grow up in Virginia?
SL: No, I grew up in Alabama, but I was born in Virginia, on the Marine base there.
MR: Okay, what was childhood like as far as music goes? What got you into it?
SL: Well, it wasn’t really specific artists, it was just the music. There was always a guitar lying around, and like I said, it wasn’t getting into it, it was just what we did. It’s hard to explain it, but we just oozed music. I was a terrible student because all I thought about was music, so I’ve pretty much spent my entire life with a song in my head.
MR: I think you had about five albums before what might be called your “landmark” album, I Am Shelby Lynne, right?
SL: Yeah, I had five albums in Nashville that I put out, and they did alright. But I never had a big record by any means. I just pretty much made records from the time I was eighteen on, and I’m still making them. I’m glad to still be at it and working here, it just feels good.
MR: How did you get “discovered?”
SL: You know, out of determination–just sheer determination. I feel like I spent my whole life trying to get to Nashville and get somebody to hear me. There used to be a Nashville television network that is long since passed with a program called Nashville Now, and through many hands and a cassette tape, I wound up on there and got offered a record deal. That was back in the day when you could still do that and everybody still wanted a record deal. That was a totally different time, twenty years ago. It’s amazing how different things are.
MR: You won a Grammy in association with the I Am Shelby Lynne album, right?
SL: I did. I won for Best New Artist in ’00 even though I’d been around for thirteen years before that. I’m still glad to have the Grammy, and I hope to one day get her a partner.
MR: (laughs) Maybe it will happen with Merry Christmas.
MR: I’m always amazed when I look at artists’ histories and see some of the cool things they’ve done. You, for instance, were on the Forever Cool album with Dean Martin, singing on the song “You’re Nobody Until Somebody Loves You.”
SL: That’s right.
MR: I remember music man Rob Christie was involved with that one. You recorded your track in Capitol studios, right?
SL: Yes, produced by Phil Ramone and recorded by Al Schmit. It was a wonderful opportunity, being a Dean Martin fan. I already knew that song from my childhood, it was the kind of music we grew up on, and I was a big Dean Martin fan anyway. They had it set up, I walked in, put on the headphones, and there’s Dean, so I sang my ass off, and that’s it. It’s a little part of history, and I love that I’m a part of that record.
MR: You also had a song in Bridget Jones’s Diary, right?
SL: Yeah, long ago. That was a record label thing. I didn’t really have much to do with that, you know? That’s just one of those marketing tools.
MR: So, they submitted it to the director, or whatever?
SL: Yeah, music people. There’s a whole line of people involved with film that you wouldn’t believe, and they have nothing to do with who makes the movie.
MR: Speaking of Phil Ramone, you teamed up with him on the album, Just A Little Lovin’, the Dusty Springfield tribute, right?
SL: Yeah, the great Phil Ramone–a wonderful producer and an excellent friend. I felt like it was time to do a cover record. After eighteen years in the business I’d never done a cover record, and at the same time, I got to honor one of the great singers of pop music. So, I killed two birds with one stone, and got Phil Ramone to do it. It was a great five days of recording at Capitol studios, and those are amazing songs. The hardest part was choosing the material.
MR: You sounded like you totally identified with Dusty. Was she one of your favorites?
SL: Not really. I admire Dusty, and I love her voice, as we all do, but I didn’t come to know Dusty until really late in my career. The songs, more than anything, and the fact that I got a chance to sing those songs, was the wonderful part.
MR: In the past, we’ve spoken about Tears, Lies, And Alibis.
SL: Yeah, a great record.
MR: Let’s go into that again for just a little bit more. It’s had some time to become a fixture, and you’ve toured to support it. After all this time, do you look at it now and think of changes you would make?
SL: No, I don’t look back. It’s just like in life–once something is done, why think about it?
MR: You were associated with what was to be a John Lennon tribute back in ’01, right?
SL: Yeah, I was. I was asked to perform at what was originally planned to be a John Lennon tribute, but then 9/11 happened, so they kind of turned it into a celebration of New York, which was great. It was a beautiful night.
MR: What song did you sing?
SL: I sang “Mother,” which I recorded on an album several years ago. It’s one of my favorite Lennon tunes.
MR: In a way, it kind of cements a little connection to John Lennon.
SL: Well, as just a fan. I really appreciate John’s honesty, and his integrity as an artist–never compromising who he was, or his thoughts or feelings to sell records. He just said what was on his heart, and to me, that’s the most important thing about being a writer–bearing your soul and not holding anything back.
MR: Yeah, those early albums especially seem to be such works of art as opposed to works of commerce.
SL: I think that’s the most important thing about music. People know the difference. People know when you’re not speaking your heart.
MR: Exactly. Hey, going back to your tour with your sister, are you thinking about recording an album with Allison?
SL: Yes we are. We’re just in the thoughts and talking process right now. We are at the very beginning stages of the discussion, but there will definitely be an album in the future.
MR: Very cool. I have a mischievous question for you, which is–brace yourself. I know you read the news because we’ve had discussions like this in the past, but what’s got your eye lately?
SL: Where do you want to begin?
MR: Anywhere you want.
SL: You’ll have to be more specific, man. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about what the world is going through.
MR: What concerns you the most?
SL: I don’t know. I think we have a situation where politicians want to get elected, and they don’t really care about what the issues are. That’s what really weighs on my mind. I love my President, I think he works very hard, and I wish he didn’t feel like he didn’t have to be on the campaign trail, but still.
MR: Although, my personal opinion is, I wish he had gotten in front of the camera every week, like Bush did, to put a face on what’s going on in government. My fear is that people have thought he wasn’t doing anything because he wasn’t in front of the camera frequently.
SL: Well, I feel the opposite. I feel like if I see him on TV anymore I’m going to go crazy. I don’t even know where you get that.
MR: (laughs) Well, it did seem like it amped-up for the campaign season, I’m with you on that.
SL: I feel like I’ve seen more of Obama on television than any other president I’ve ever seen, please.
MR: Even more than Bush?
SL: Oh God, yeah.
MR: Well, of course, the other side of the aisle wanting to repeal what they’re calling “Obama-care” as soon as they gain power again is scary.
SL: Well, after all that hard work, if they want to focus on repealing something that is very necessary, go ahead. It’s another waste of money and another waste of time.
MR: Well put. And with the whole Tea Party thing, I personally have no idea what they want other than no government.
SL: Yeah, well you have to have some government. That’s what Medicare is, that’s what Social Security is.
MR: And that’s what paving your roads is.
SL: That’s right. We have to have government. We have to pay taxes and we have to have government.
MR: I suppose if you have to demonize something, you demonize something that doesn’t have a face to it, and seems God-awfully big, you know?
SL: Yeah, it can get you bogged down. But the thing is, we all just have to try to accept one another, try to keep our personal beliefs out of it, and let everybody be “to each his own,” you know? We live in a world where everybody is so skeptical and scared, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be that way. That’s why I’m so glad to be a musician–I can sing every night, and no matter what church you go to or who you vote for, music truly will bring us together, and that’s what I live for.
MR: Very smart. You’ve had such a wonderful career to this point, is there any advice that you’d like to give to new artists?
SL: No, absolutely not.
MR: (laughs) Okay, do you think they just need to sort of find out on their own?
SL: No, I don’t give advice. My path was my path, and their path is their path. All I can do is say, do what you want to do, and don’t do what anybody else wants you to do.
MR: Well, that’s good advice, right?
SL: Well, you didn’t hear it from me.
MR: It’s always so nice to talk to you, Shelby. Thank you so much for joining us here for The Huffington Post and at Solar-Powered KRUU-FM.
SL: Well, thank you for having me. It’s always good talking to you too. It’s good to talk about music, and it’s also good to be asked sometimes what you think about the world. Often people say, “Oh, shut up and sing.” Well, I do care about my country, and I do care about who’s running it, how it’s being run, and what the world consists of out there because if you have the authority to pull the lever and vote, then you have the authority to have an opinion.
MR: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I interviewed Courtyard Hounds, which, of course, features Martie Maguire and Emily Robison from the Dixie Chicks. We discussed how the whole “shut up and sing” thing didn’t really work for them either.
SL: Well, that’s a shame. I don’t think that it should be exploited by any means. But I think you have to have a little tact, and if you want to talk, you have to be able to hear the repercussions
MR: Exactly, and that’s not to say that they weren’t aware when they were expressing their point of view, that there could be repercussions. I just think that they didn’t have any idea what was going to happen.
SL: Obviously not. I think the worst thing they ever did was apologize for it.
MR: There you go. Then again, they sort of didn’t, and then they came out with an album who’s title track said, “We’re not apologizing.” Again, Shelby, this has been a great conversation, and whenever you release your next album or whenever you just want to come talk about whatever you want, it’s always lovely talking to you.
SL: Thank you so much for your time, and I hope to see you all out there. We’ll have to get there sometime soon, you all have some good festivals out there in the summer. Maybe my sister and I will get out there.
MR: Absolutely. We’re in Fairfield, Iowa, and if the closest you get is Des Moines or Iowa City, you just let us know.
SL: Congratulations on your solar-powered station, I’m all for that. I think every radio station should be solar-powered.
MR: Thank you. You know, it’s amazing to me that, at least in the Southwest of this country, everything isn’t operating on solar power.
SL: That is brilliant. We should make use of our gorgeous country’s natural resources, I believe in that one hundred percent. Thank you for your time, man.
MR: Yeah, thank you very much, Shelby.
1. Sleigh Ride/Winter Wonderland
2. Ain’t Nothin’ Like Christmas
3. Christmas Time Is Here
4. Silver Bells
5. Christmas Time Is Coming
6. O Holy Night
7. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
8. Xmas 5:16$0.99
9. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
10. Silent Night
11. White Christmas
(transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)
A Conversation with Middle Class Rut’s Zack Lopez
Mike Ragogna: Hello, Zack.
Zack Lopez: Hey how’s it going?
MR: I hear good things about you. You are from Sacramento?
ZL: Yes. We are both from Sacramento.
MR: Yes. You and Sean Stockham, the drummer. You recently had a lot of airplay with a song called “New Low.”
ZL: Right. They were playing it quite a bit here. It kind of existed in its own bubble here in Sacramento which we are trying to pop and get it out. But, yeah, they had heavy support for this band for a long time.
MR: Nice. Now, you guys go way back to the group Leisure.
ZL: Yeah. That was the first band that Sean and I started out of Sacramento 15 years ago.
MR: And you were on the DreamWorks label?
ZL: Yup. We got signed to DreamWorks in that band.
MR: So, what’s the evolution, let’s get the history lesson. Where do we go from Leisure to Middle Class Rut?
ZL: Leisure was our first project and I think throughout, we had a total of six or seven different singers. So, each time we would get a singer, we would actually record music, release it, get in the scene, play shows. But then, each time, it would just fall apart. So, we did that for a long time, and then we got the record deal, got another singer, and then the whole thing fell apart and went nowhere really fast. This band kind of came out of the first time Sean and I started playing together after taking about a three year break or so and not even thinking about hanging out or playing music. We kind of came back together in the same practice space and started jamming together, and we built this band from there.
MR: Nice. Does the album title No Name, No Color come from any specific lyric or from a concept?
ZL: It was the name of an old song that we wrote a while back that had a title that stuck around in my book. When it came time for looking for titles, I had always been logging-in potential titles, and this is the title that won the lotto and we ended up using it.
MR: Your last releases weren’t full albums.
ZL: We self-released two EPs by ourselves independently and once we got picked up by the label we are on now, we released a third EP. So, we have three EP’s out, a couple of seven inches. This is our first full-length album.
MR: Your approach to this record sounds a little different.
ZL: It is kind of the way that we do things in general. We came from a time where you are spending a lot of time in the studio, overproducing things, tuning perfectly, people looking over your shoulder to make sure you are doubling your guitar exactly right. Kind of a non-organic way of doing things. I think we knew with this band, we were going to go the opposite route. Sean became a pretty good engineer over the past couple of years, so we record everything ourselves. We essentially have the mic’s set up at all times, so if we are writing a song–once I know I have all the words I need for it and the melodies–we just kind of lock it in and record it right there on the spot, then just go back to writing. So, we are kind of constantly balancing and going back and forth between writing and recording, I think, whether it’s for our release or not. We are just stockpiling in the event that we need to release something.
MR: You have influences that seem obvious like Rage Against The Machine and Jane’s Addiction. Are there any other acts that have been either influential or that you guys are really crazy about?
ZL: What we listened to when we were younger is night and day to what we are listening to now. I think when we were younger, that kind of thing kind of sculpts who you are as a musician. I think as you get older, you’re not necessarily influenced by whatever you’re listening too, it’s just kind of what you’re listening to. It’s kind of like when you are growing up, your personality is already shaped and once you are an adult, you don’t change a whole lot from then on. We grew up in the ’90s so we are obviously influenced by all that. We were influenced by the sub-scene, like Quicksand, and those kind of bands. We are pretty much off the radar in terms of discovering anything new or groundbreaking that we are really into, if for no other reason, that we are out of that loop…you know what I mean? There is tons of music we listen to now like singer-songwriter stuff. We are huge Dylan fans, but stuff like that has no bearing on the way that we sound.
MR: Okay, who are your heroes?
ZL: When I first started playing the guitar, Rage Against The Machine was a huge influence just in terms of a band with crazy energy that I couldn’t get enough of. I discovered them at a time when I remember going to the store…you know, I have this tape and no one had even heard of them and they were really hard to come by and I remember being obsessed with that band. They are a super simple and raw band, that was a huge influence. In terms of singing, I didn’t even start until this band, so any influences that come out just happen to be how my voice sounded. I haven’t really been singing for longer than four or five years now. Back when I was listening to bands like Jane’s Addiction, I loved all that music but it is just a coincidence that when I open my mouth, it happens to be a high voice.
MR: It’s also interesting that the band has had six singers.
ZL: Yeah. We joke about how it took us a long time to come to that realization.
MR: Are you touring?
ZL: We just finished touring with Filter in the States, then we went to London to do a BBC session over there. I just got wrapped up with being out for a while.
MR: I imagine you are always writing and looking at the next project.
ZL: Not so much as of recently in the past month or two because the only time we are able to do that is when we are touring hardcore. I think over the summer when we were trying to wrap everything up, I put together tons of songs. We are already writing stuff. We don’t necessarily put it into any category, like this is going to make a second record, we already have a bunch of stuff to pick from. As long as there is stuff to write about and the inspiration’s coming, we are trying to get everything out in case it goes away at any point.
MR: What would be your choice of a Middle Class Rut theme song for any movie or television series?
ZL: Oh man that’s tough. I wouldn’t even know where to start. I’m not sure, man. I have been living in a van for the past four weeks, so I haven’t really seen any television or watched a movie. My brain is fried on that end of things you know.
MR: I got it. How an act usually discovers such things is when your manager, record label or publisher calls you and says “Oh, by the way, we got you on etc., etc.”
ZL: Yeah, it’s a lot easier to have something presented to you and you can say it’s a horrible fit, no way, you don’t want your music associated with a hamburger commercial. It’s way easier than trying to conceptualize something to have an opportunity brought to you and then just screen it from there.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
ZL: Just write good songs, that’s all you can do. You can find all these tricks to try and pull–online exposure or trying to get on a certain show. It all boils down to do you have good songs that seem to find their way to the right people. That’s all you can really do. Find opportunity along the way. If you are writing good music, people are going to gravitate towards it, and you are going to get opportunity because of that.
MR: Any other words of wisdom before we end?
ZL: Come out to a show and come check us out on tour.
MR: Thanks so much, Zach.
1. Busy Bein’ Born
3. New Low
4. Lifelong Dayshift
5. One Debt Away
6. Are You On Your Way
7. Alive or Dead
8. I Guess You Could Say
9. Sad To Know
10. Dead End
11. Thought I Was
(transcribed by Erika Richards)
A Conversation with Ryan Montbleau
Mike Ragogna: Ryan, you have a new album called Heavy On The Vine that was produced by Martin Sexton, and this is your 6th album.
Ryan Montbleau: Yeah. I started making records around 2002. I like to think they keep getting better.
MR: What did Martin Sexton bring out in you?
RM: Well, what was interesting was that he was a huge influence on me from early on when I was first starting to make records. Martin Sexton was one of my biggest heroes, so now it’s come full circle. In this record, I think he did a really good job of getting us to ease up and getting us to sound like ourselves and play the best we could. He kind of freed things up. On previous records, we tried to make everything really airtight, and I think he freed it up and let us sing and let it sound as much like as ourselves as we could.
MR: Who are the writers that influenced you?
RM: Well, like I said, Martin Sexton was a big one. As far as writers, I always loved Paul Simon. As far as straight writers, I love Greg Brown, and Deb Talan from The Weepies has always been a big influence. But I’m also influenced by a lot of other artists, kind of like everybody. I would say though Paul Simon is a big one.
MR: Your song “I Can’t Wait” seems like it has a little Paulie in it.
RM: I mean, I hope so. I hope it’s in there without ripping him off. He’s definitely been a big one. A lot of his stuff sounds so conversational when it comes out, but so much work goes into those words in just making them perfect. He is such a master at presenting these images that in the songwriting process, he presents them for you and your mind can run with them. I think, in the past, I may have been too literal with sort of saying exactly how I feel or even bordering on telling people how to feel. I think as I go, I’m trying to whittle it down and do as Paul does and try to present more images for the listeners mind to run wild with.
MR: You have a song called, “More And More And More” on Heavy On The Vine. It’s a fun slam on commercialism and a little bit of a treatise on, well we kind of all want what’s on this shopping list.
RM: It’s funny, we were on the road in Atlanta, and I slammed my finger in the car door of our van. So, it was four in the morning and it was right after a gig and I just got my GPS and found the Walgreens right down the road from wherever I was in a neighborhood I didn’t even know just to buy some Ibuprofen to get the pain down. It just got me thinking about the neighborhood I was living in at the time. I would go to this huge drugstore all the time and it was right across from this other huge drug store right across the street. It just made me think about how much stuff we have. It almost just makes it harder to choose sometimes. So, I just started sketching it out right there in the van.
MR: You are Massachusetts-born and you have a little history there. Can you give everybody an update on the Boston scene in which you played up until your first album.
RM: It’s funny, I’m never home anymore. I’m always on the road. People ask me about the Boston scene and I’m like, I don’t know, I hear it’s pretty good. Yeah, I grew up north of Boston in Peabody, Massachusetts, in the suburbs. A lot of our band grew up outside of Boston. I basically went to college in Philly at Villanova and I got out of there in ’99, and that’s when I decided to do music. So, I came home and got a job at a club in Cambridge at the old House of Blues. That’s really where I started. I really didn’t know that I wanted to make music before then, I was 21 when I decided. I think the best part of Boston are these little hole in the walls. You have to hit them on the right nights, and if you do, there’s so much music going on in Boston. There’s so much happening, you just have to go find it. So, that was the beginning of that for me. I worked in the club for a couple of years and saw what went on. I started playing during that time a lot and I just kept taking any gig I could get. Bars, coffee houses, and sports bars. I even played TGI Fridays and in the street. So, it was cool to see. Boston is a pretty culturally rich place–a lot of music, a lot of musicians, it’s a really great place to learn. Ever since then, I’ve been on the road constantly. It’s hard for me to comment from New Mexico on Boston, but I’m sure there’s some great stuff going on there.
MR: You also won The Boston Music Award?
RM: I did. I got nominated once and won another one. I got Best Local Male Vocalist a couple of years ago. It’s cool that they do those things. I got a trophy. It’s shiny and I have it at home.
MR: You don’t take it on the road with you?
RM: No, though I want to. I want to put a chain around it and wear it as a necklace. It looks like a big Grammy in the shape of a B. It’s really nice. You don’t get many trophies in this line of work, at least I don’t. So, it was kind of nice.
MR: You cross genres quite a bit on this record. I can think of one song in particular–”Songbird.” It’s like reggae meets country. When you were recording with Martin, how did the sound and the arrangements come about?
RM: Well, he had ideas. What he wanted me to do was to make solo acoustic, really stripped-down demos of all the songs I had and sent them to him, which I did. Then he picked out the ones he liked the most and had ideas for arrangements. “Songbird” was already a song that we had been playing as a band and playing out. It had a pretty strong arrangement on its own. To me, it was a reggae tune and to all of us, it was, and we sort of had the arrangement down for the record for that song. Martin’s idea for that song was more of a Jack Johnson-type acoustic kind of thing, which we never really did because that was a song that the band already really had a strong arrangement on. Once we played that for him, he liked that just as well, so we went with that. But on other stuff like “More and More and More,” we had never played it that way. We kind of had a long day in the studio, and we had recorded a different version of it and he had us go in there and try a Rolling Stones goes to Nashville version of this. We were like, “Okay, whatever this is, it’s stupid,” and we just went in there and did it. That is the one that ended up on the record, so he had great ideas like that which would sort of take us out of our own element.
MR: I wanted to get to “Fix Your Wings.” You added those great wiseass, gospel-ish background vocals.
RM: Well, the gospel choir was a lot of Martins idea. He does that a lot on his own records where he sings his own background vocals and he has different groups that he creates just using his own voice. He has the cowboy trio and the gay men’s choir and just some funny stuff he can do with background vocals. He had us go in there and do this gospel thing.
MR: And then there’s the instrumental, “Hands.”
RM: I was really proud of that one because that was all the guys. The band just wrote that song on their own and came up with the arrangement and did it. I love that stuff.
MR: Which introduces the song “Here et al.”
RM: Yes, which was always called “Hear It All,” but “Here et al” made sense too, so I changed it. I figured it kind of gave it a little bit of an interesting twist.
MR: Back to touring for a sec. What’s it like touring as hard as you guys do?
RM: It’s pretty intense. It’s pretty great, but it’s pretty intense. We have been doing around 200 shows a year for the last seven years. We tour as much as anybody else I know. We play a lot. I mean, it’s been great. It’s made us gel as a band, and it makes you hear things that you’ve never heard before when you play with the same people night after night, year after year. It’s been great and it’s something that we’ve needed. We also run the risk of kind of burning ourselves out or not spending enough time on the writing or the recording as we’d like. You’re always trying to find this balance. That was actually a part of the title of this new record, Heavy On The Vine. I like to give the records titles that relate to the material, but also reflect where we are as a band or where I am in my career. That’s why I called the first one Begin because I was like, alright, it starts here. Heavy On The Vine is this latest one. We’ve been at this for so long now for a fair number of years, playing so much together. It gets intense and it gets heavy sometimes. At the same time–I know it sounds kind of corny–but we keep ripening, we keep getting better, and we all want to get better. And we are like a ripening fruit. So, Heavy On The Vine is that. We are just kind of sitting there heavy and fully-grown and ready to drop into something bigger.
MR: So, you’ve just finished promoting this album. You’re thinking of the next album, aren’t you.
RM: I am, yeah. It tends to happen. You get this big burst at the end of trying to finish a record and then it frees you up for new stuff. At soon as we finished this, I started writing a bunch of new songs and some old ones that I hadn’t finished. I’ve been doing a little bit of co-writing too. I’m already dying to make the next one. Early next year, we are taking our first break in a long time and then planning on doing some more touring. I’m definitely looking forward to recording some more. I feel like we keep getting better and better with the records we make.
MR: What is your advice to new artists?
RM: It’s funny now. Sometimes, I’m the guy that people ask advice from, and that kind of blows my mind. I feel like the little pipsqueak at the end of the totem pole trying to talk to the big guy. We’ve definitely made some progress, I’ve definitely made a career. The only way I know how to do this is how we’ve done it, as far as building a career–just building it one room at a time, playing shows and playing out. It’s hard to get your foot in the door at first, but it doesn’t take long before you can get a lot of gigs and do them. You just have to really want to do them. So, I tell people get out and play. If you can only get a crappy gig in the beginning, go play the hell out of that crappy gig. As far as recording, it’s kind of the same thing. You’ve got to go and do it, you have to make something happen. With as much touring as I’ve done, I haven’t spent as much time as I would have liked on some of the records. We just had to get them done early on because we had to go on tour. It’s good when people can take their time on it too. The bottom line is if you want to go out there and make music, then you have to just go out there and do it.
1. Slippery Road
3. I Can’t Wait
4. Fix Your Wings
6. Chariot (I Know)
8. Here et al.
9. Love Songs
10. More And More And More
11. My Best Guess
13. Lonesome Serenade
14. Straw In The Wind
(transcribed by Theo Shier)
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by Mike Ragogna
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In two weeks, I will be speaking at Social Media Atlanta. The panel entitled, “Tips for Success in Multicultural Social Media” is on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 from 9:30 – 11 AM.
Earlier this year, I participated in a similar panel at SXSW. It created a bit of a stir, since we had representatives from diverse communities speaking about the struggles and opportunities from the vantage point of each community and these conversation have historically not been had in public. I believe it was the first time something of that nature had been done at SXSW. I for one was not surprised by the response, as I know from first hand experience that that often happens when new ideas are introduced. Despite the stir it created with some, in its totality the event was a resounding success and I am hopeful that the conversation will carry on in the years to come at SXSW.
I am delighted to be involved in a similar conversation at Social Media Atlanta and particularly excited by the framing of this particular panel since from the outset it stresses both the commonalities and the differences that exist. I am hopeful that it will be a provocative conversation that challenges assumptions and misconceptions and provides some insights as to best practices and opportunities as well as a path forward for brands and marketers who are interested in partnering with said communities through social media.
More details on the event below. You can register here. I hope to see you there!
While in Atlanta, I’ve also been invited to participate in a reception at Spelman for Women of Color. This is a follow up to the DIGITINI event at SXSW which honored female luminaries in tech such as Charlene Li, Randi Zuckerberg, etc. I will share more details on that second event as it becomes available.
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