A Conversation with Robert Francis
Mike Ragogna: Hey Robert, here comes the corny joke: It looks like someone’s in Heaven with his new album. And this time out, you’re backed by the Night Tide. What’s the “Night Tide” a reference to?
Robert Francis: Well, I remember I was playing a show in Zurich, Switzerland, and at the time, I was playing with some of who I would consider the best musicians in LA. I got in with some really heavy musicians in the jazz field and I was looking around the stage and even though it it sounded great I didn’t feel like there was an energy there, it wasn’t palpable. Even though it osunded good I felt like the audience couldn’t feel it and one of those reasons was because perhaps when you’re hiring people and playing with session people they’re not necessarily as invested in the music as much as a band member would be. When coming back to do this new reocrd I wanted to try to do somethin different and have the camaraderie of a band and to pick musicians and assemble a band that would be totally different. So even though there were definitely some of the most raw moments on any record I’ve made where it’s just me and a guitar, the band itself I think, when they’re on the laubm it’s them and it’s very much a certain sound.
MR: Basically, it’s David Kitz and Ben Messelbeck with you, right?
RF: That’s right, and now we have Maxim Ludwig, who’s joined the band on the guitar. But he wasn’t on the album.
MR: Robert, I interviewed you for your last two albums and felt that Before Nightfall, at the time of its release, was a brilliant album. And I’m hearing a lot of similarities between that one and Heaven.
RF: Right. It’s similar to Before Nightfall because that was more like a band as well. Those guys are some of my best friends. After that album, when I moved into Strangers In The First Place, that’s when I started entering different territory and we had different people playing on the record. Even if it was someone as close to me as Joachim, the more people you start including, the less of a thread there is to tie everything together. I don’t know, it just feels so good on stage, to be a singer-songwriter or whatever you call it, what you have to carry on stage and deliver yourself is just so much, it’s nice to have people to fall back on. I know the Beatles said that’s what killed Elvis, that he was all alone whereas they had each other.
MR: The Night Tide is a visual that I think goes hand in hand with the music of the album. I think you knew that was the vibe of this project all along.
RF: I did! And because we’re all from the same place and we’ve all grown up basically in Santa Monica, that name just feels appropriate. It felt very natural to make this type of record with these guys.
MR: I think that’s part of the magic of what Ry Cooder was about.
RF: Yeah! For me, especially as someone who plays guitar all the live shows incorporate such strong moments with the guitar that I’ve never been able to appropriately capture on an album because so much of my guitar playing is a response to the place and the time and the feeling, it’s sort of like something that happens once. In a recording situation there’s too many possibilities to listen back and say, “Oh, I don’t really like the timing of that,” or, “I don’t like that part of the solo” and I know with Ry it’s the same thing. Compared to what he does live the albums are really shy I suppose, but he always incorporated these moods and these elements and these textures in the songs. It’s another way to express yourself on an album as opposed to just being like, “Guitar Guy.”
MR: You know, you sort of look like Bruce Springsteen.
RF: It’s very interesting. I think people are waiting for me to make the Springsteen record. [laughs]
MR:So “Love Is A Chemical” is your video of a song from the album. What was it like putting that together?
RF: Well in all honesty, someone made a video in Europe, they compiled it from some footage that I had that was supposed to be lyric video, and MTV really liked it in Europe. When I saw the video I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, this is horrible. I hate this video.” so they were like, “Well MTV likes it and you’re going to lose a huge opportunity in Europe, it’s going to be airing on TV across multiple countries.” So I was like, “Well, shit, how can I turn around a video in one day?” The video that’s online now with me and Nastassja Kinski’s daughter Sonja, I was trying not to do the “car and girl” thing anymore but just naturally I was like, “I know I can do this,” so basically we just drove around and this really well-respected photographer Piper Ferguson shot it and me and my drummer edited the video, stayed up all night and turned it in just so we could make this deadline.
MR: “Love Is A Chemical” starts with your usual falsetto, that’s becoming a bit of a trademark for you. Perhaps that’s another reason you’re getting the Springsteen comparisons.
RF: He definitely does it.
MR: In the early days, anyway. But that reminds me a little bit of the vibe on “Junebug” from the Before Nightfall album.
RF: Yeah, yeah. These are things I’m aware of, they’re not accidents. I sort of realized the “Ooh” thing; “Keep On Running” also has “Oohs”; “I LIke The Air” has “Oohs” on Before Nightfall, a lot of songs have “Oohs” on them but on those songs they’re featured and mixed up front.
MR: Especially when you’re doing the falsetto and it’s not the group vocal, they’re really prominent. My favorite single of yours is “Wasted On You,” the lyrics on that are incredible. Do you have a couple of stories for these songs? I just want to sit back and listen.
RF: Yeah. So much of my life is spent with me trying to access the part of my brain that has been shut down. I remember when I was making One By One, my first reocrd, the purity and the naivete, everything that ecompasses that process, you’re making something that’s pure and just for yourself and nothing is attached to it, no expectations. For me, making records is trying to be honest with myself to try to access that mentality again the best I can. For “Wasted On You,” I wrote it in Ypsilanti when we were on tour, playing the college there. It’s just about the desperation and wanting to feel again, bleed for someone. Human beings naturally have to desensitize themselves so they’re not as vulnerable, they have to protect themselves, and I felt that to get over this relationship that consumed my entire life I had to get tough, and at one point I remember just sitting there alone in our hotel watching a train go by and thinking to myself, “Yeah, I don’t feel anymore.” It’s just about realizing that vulnerability as a songwriter is a must and it’s okay to be vulnerable and it’s okay to approach life this way and be an open wound, that it’s okay and I don’t have to be that tough guy. It’s about admitting myself that no matter what happens my mind is just drunk on this person.
MR: Are some of the other songs, including “I’ve Been Meaning To Call,” inspired by that?
RF: Yeah, and “I’ve Been Meaning To Call” is a similar notion. I met this girl on the road and when I cancelled it as I was going through what I guess I’d call a nervous breakdown I didn’t go home and I ran away with this girl that I met one time and went up to the upper penninsula of MIchigan and drove and drove and drove until we hit the top where Copper Harbor is. You turn on the radio and it’s Canadian radio because it’s so close to Canada, it’s just separated by Lake Superior. I basically just lost myself in this person and fantasized and created this world of being someone else and doing something else and the second I went back to LA, I realized that i was completely running away from everything. That’s the story behind that.
MR: The title track is another one, where “Heaven.” What inspired that one?
RF: When I was a kid my dream was to become a musician and tour and travel, pre even being that obsessed with music I remember watching Paris, Texas, because my sister thought it was cool. I couldn’t really understand the subject matter but seeing Harry Dean Stanton walk through miles and miles of desert, I became obsessed with that and I said, “What do I do? How can I become a musician?” or, “How can I travel like that?” I thought the only way to really do it was to be come a musician. So you spend your life thinking, “Oh, if I tour with this person or if I hang out with Neil Young or sign with this record label or put out this record or do this all these things are going to equal happiness,” that that’s my own personal fulfillment or my own personal heaven. Once you check off all these things and realize that you’ve accomplished them I was like, “Why do I want more? What is this? Who am I? What does this mean?” It’s sort of about that, it’s about that pursuit of what it means to be happy or the equilibrium that I’m searching for. I think everyone goes through that, every single person on this planet is in search of something and oftentimes when they get it, they still don’t understand why they’re not fulfilled.
MR: You’re happy, you’re content with this album and you’re going to be supporting it as a musician, but where do you go from here?
RF: Let’s see… I just got back from Europe, it was my first tour since 2012 and I really had a good time. I didn’t expect myself to enjoy touring again because of the way that it went last time, but I think this little break that I’ve taken in creating my own record at my own pace has allowed me to step back and fall in love with being a musician again. I used to have a bit of a chip on my shoulder in the sense that I felt like whatever I created was great and that I could sit on my hands and ride to the top. For the most part I watched myself self-sabotage a lot of situations because I think internally I knew that there’s so much for me to do, I had to step back and realize that before pursuing music seriously again. So now, I’ve returend to this state of mind where I’m really excited to perform. I feel like Heaven is a perfect bookend for these four albums, I’ve sort of said what I needed to say there and now I’m extremely excited to go into this new landscape of music that probably will be quite different from the records I previously made. I don’t know, I’m just excited to do it again. It’s pretty fun.
MR: Robert, what advice do you have for new artists?
RF: Coming back to one of the first things we talked about, it’s about being vulnerable, and to not be scared of that vulnerability.It’s really hrd to put yourself out on the line and share your deepest thoughts with the entire world. But I think as long as you’re true to yourself that right there should at least point you in the right direction. And don’t be discouraged by this strange new world we live in. I can’t even believe how much things have changed since we started. There was no Facebook, tehre was no Twitter, there was no Instagram, people really had time to listen. I think now I find a lot of songwriters are really confused, they’re like, “How do I get heard?” “How do I do this and how do I do that?” because people don’t have the time anymore to really listen like they used to, but you can’t let that derail your music. If it’s real and it’s good and you just tour and work hard and find someone close to you to help you, whoever that person may be, I think you’ll do just fine.
MR: Considering the family that you grew up in, you had a different angle coming into the music. You came in soul first.
RF: Yeah, I was lucky. Because of my “heritage,” I suppose, I never second-guessed myself once, that I would fail in this industry. I think that’s an important thing, you’ve got to be wide-eyed and go in and believe in who you are. Knock down every door.
MR: Which kind of brings me to “Hotter Than Our Souls.” “Hotter than our souls, I’ll be leaving here without you, if there’s a road you are forgiven, you are forgiven long as it goes, if there is a wind you are forgiven long as it blows, if there’s a story you are forgiven long as it’s told.” This is a song to yourself, isn’t it.
RF: It is. The song is like an ode to forgiveness, I suppose. I needed to forgive myself and forgive this person whom I was in a long relationship with. In order to let go you have to be able to forgive yourself and forgive the other person even though it’s the last thing you want to do. That’s how that song came about.
MR: Between you and Mary Chapin Carpenter, I don’t know who had the more traumatic relationship.
RF: [laughs] I think she probably did.
MR: I already kind of asked you where the future is heading, but are there any other creative avenues you’d like to explore? Novel writing? Visual arts?
RF: I’ve been compiling this book of poetry forever and I think it’s almost ready. I’ve almost written, also, a book, but that’s going to take a little longer until it’s released. I think if all goes well this book of poetry will be released before the end of the year, but most of the year it’s going to be touring. We’re doing a month and a half in the US, going back to Europe for another month and then coming back and doing another US run and then recording the next record at La Frette studios in France, it’s this old mansion that sits about thirty minutes outside of Paris, and then try to get far out.
MR: [laughs] Forgive me for asking this, but here goes. Do you think you’re ever going to get over the woman who’s been haunting you for all these years?
RF: You know, I don’t. I don’t think I’m ever going to get over it in the way I thought I could get over it, and I think in knowing that, finally after seven or eight years of this I think that’s going to give me the freedom to accept this for what it is and pursue something different. For so long you’re comparing everything to this one thing, “Why don’t I feel like this?” At some point, you realize everything is different. In that I’m learning to be excited. When something doesn’t work it just doesn’t work, you’ve got to realize that at some point.
MR: And just to be clear, what’s your favorite ice cream?
RF: Mint chocolate chip.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty
Mike Ragogna: Dan, let’s talk about all things Nazareth and Rock ‘N’ Roll Telephone, your twenty-fourth album, right? That’s a great achievement. How did you get here?
Dan McCafferty: I think we’re just a band that grew up and started to write our own songs and stuff. Coming from Scotland at that time, there were really only four or five big gigs that people used to come and visit. It’s not like that now, of course. We started like any other band, doing Chuck Berry covers and Little Richard covers and on through the early eighties and then you start to write your own stuff. We played every place, eventually got signed and made records. It was a gradual buildup, but we always worked. Up until I got sick, we were doing two hundred, two sixty gigs a year. It was that work ethic thing, “It’s got to be a proper job.” Plus, you enjoy it so much! It just kind of flew by, Mike, I hope to tell you, but it was very interesting along the way.
MR: Dan, how did you guys develop your sound?
DM: I guess just paying attention to what was going on and what we really liked. I found out at a very early age that I preferred people like Little Richard to Cliff Richard, that kind of thing. Pop music was okay, it was better than listening to your dad’s music, but it didn’t have enough balls. As the years go on you develop, and when I discovered American music, Little Richard and Chuck Berry and then later in life people like Bob Seger and all the Detroit bands, it was just like, “Whoa, what’s going on here?” Because at home, we had The Shadows and people like Billy Fury who were all kind of pseudo-American imitations of Elvis and stuff, where you guys were producing stuff that was frightening to us at the time and we wanted to go there. It was like, “Whoa, this is very cool.” Except it was very “good” at that time, there wasn’t such a word as “cool.” “Oh, this is exciting.” It was just a fair bit of stuff coming out of there and we got involved. I guess you just get influenced all the way along. My father was a great jazz and blues fan, so once I heard stuff like Chuck Berry I thought, “Yeah, man, my dad’s got that stuff.” It wasn’t Chuck Berry, but the stuff before that had the same kind of vibe and I’m going, “Hold on a minute!” It was a very interesting journey to get to who you want to be. Eventually, we played all sorts of gigs as cover bands and we covered The Beatles and The Stones and everybody else that as running around at the time just to get some work and pay for the equipment, and then we started to write our own stuff, and people actually liked it! It wasn’t like a plan, it wasn’t like, “We’re going to be rock stars, we’re shooting for this.” I guess it was like going through school, you know?
MR: Dan, all the songs on this album are originals. How did you guys put this album together? Was it any different from the others?
DM: That was pretty much the same. The last three albums Pete and I have written some of the stuff but mainly it’s been Lee and Jimmy, and that’s been working for us, so if it’s not broke don’t fix it. There was just so much material for this album, and we ended up with thirteen tracks which we thought were the best tracks and again, it’s just a natural thing, “Do youse all like this?” “yes,” and if you don’t like something it’s just so much easier to get it together. That’s how this album went, we made it in six weeks. It was incredible.
MR: When you look back at your career, you’ve had international hits, but who would’ve guessed one of your biggest hits would be a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”?
DM: Right! Back in the day, when we were touring everybody used to have cassette players and you’d play cassettes on the bus as opposed to CDs. You’d make up your favorite tracks at the time of other people’s music and we found out that Joni’s “This Flight Tonight” used to come on all the time on everybody’s tracks. We thought, “We all like this, why don’t we try and do something with it?” Obviously, Joni’s version is so personal for Joni, it’s such a love affair she was talking about, because she’s that kind of writer, but for us it was like travel music, “This flight tonight, again?” We wanted to make a rock song out of it. It had the same sentiment, you’re leaving people you love, maybe you’re making a mistake taking this flight, whatever, but you’re always gambling. It was a natural choice. The nice part of it was when the single was released in Britain we were actually in the States starting a tour and Joni was recording Court And Spark at A&M studios, so we went and said, “Hello, we’ve recorded one of your songs,” and she’s going, “A rock band?” But we played it and she loved it. It was great. About a year later I’d been all over the world except America, and she was playing in London and she said, “Now I’m going to do a big Nazareth song” and she played “This Flight Tonight” which we thought was rather nice of her.
MR: You also rocked up “Love Hurts.”
DM: Yeah, believe it or not I think officially it’s the first rock ballad. Somebody told me that, I don’t know. But yeah, it was just a song that we had done as kids playing in bars and stuff and we liked it because Pete and I could both sing it. We did a lot of Everly Brothers stuff because they were popular at the time, and always will be with me. When you were making albums in those days you had to record a few extra tracks of B-sides for vinyl and stuff, so we did “Love Hurts.” Jerry Moss came over to hear the record and he said, “No, no, no, I want that one on the album.” So thank god for Jerry Moss, because we put “Guilty” on the European one.
MR: It shows how awesome A&M was, Jerry Moss deciding to break that record.
DM: Yeah! When Jerry signed us, they only had one other rock band at the time because it was all The Captain & Tennille and Joan Armatrading and that kind of thing. I think they were trying to get into the rock business, so he decided to sign Nazareth. I could see Jerry’s thinking: “Well this will get on–” at the time–“AM radio.”
MR: You must have been ecstatic when Guns ‘N’ Roses covered your “Hair Of The Dog.”
DM: Oh yeah, sure! It was brilliant, it was great. We met the guys a hundred years ago, we played some shows in California and the boys were fans so they came along. They’re great lads, they’re really good boys. They’ve had a few problems but they’re great. I’m sorry they’ve split up actually. In fact we were recording Big Dogz and Axl was playing in Prague, so we went to see him. Kid’s great. He hasn’t got a watch and he doesn’t know what time it is, but he’s a real performer. “The show starts at eight, Axl. Eight. Not twelve.” [laughs] He’s a nice guy.
MR: Speaking of “Hair Of The Dog,” that became an American classic. I think it got renamed “Son Of A Bitch” over here.
DM: The thing is initially we wanted to call the album Son Of A Bitch and A&M said, “Oh, you can’t call it that,” and we said, “Why not?” and they said, “Well, Sears won’t sell it.” We said, “Who are Sears?” We’re from Scotland, we had no idea who Sears & Roebuck were. So we called it Hair Of The Dog which in a way is “ear of the dog,” which is “son of a bitch.” It was just twisted humor, I suppose. We couldn’t understand this false morality in America. “You can’t sing ‘Son of a bitch’ on the radio,” but John Wayne, who is the nearest thing to a pope America’s got, surely, says it on the movies.
MR: Selective censoring.
DM: [laughs] Whatever. It doesn’t matter because music will find a way to do it anyway I always feel. If it’s good and people like it they’ll play it anyway. They’ll play in the jukebox or they’ll go out and buy it.
MR: What are a couple of your favorite tracks on the album?
DM: I really like “Boom Bang Bang.” Actually, the opening track, because it’s kind of a rude and dusty old man, which I kind of like. I like “Rock ‘N’ Roll Telephone,” of course, and I love “Speakeasy.” I like this album, I really do, because it’ll possibly be my last album with Nazareth anyway, because I have COPD and I can’t tune anymore.
MR: I’m sorry, Dan.
DM: It’s a hellish thing, but hey, you’ve got to get something, I suppose. I’d love to complain and bitch and whine but who the hell is going to listen? But I’m really so proud of this album. I really am.
MR: Dan, what’s your advice for new artists?
DM: This is going to sound really old, but do what you like. If you don’t you’ll get talked into something by people telling you what you should do and you’ll end up not liking yourself very much and being pissed off by what you do. So enjoy what you do, and if it’s good and people like it, great. If it’s not good and people don’t like it, you’re enjoying it. It’s like saying to a painter or a guy that’s a good car mechanic; do something you like. Don’t be trendy, don’t really listen to establishment votes. And get a lawyer. Definitely get a lawyer. Definitely. And get a lawyer to watch the lawyer.
MR: Now that you’re going to be taking it easy from Nazareth, what are you going to be working on?
DM: Well I can sing two or three or four songs in a row without having to have a break, so I’m going to do a thing in January, “Rock Meets Classic” it’s called. I’ve done it before, it’s really good fun. And there’s a guy I know who’s writing an opera and he wants me to sing on a song in it. But I can record anything! I can record for anybody. I’m looking for a job here, if anybody needs a singer to make a record I’m your man. Apart from that I don’t even know, I’m just waiting to see if anything comes along.
MR: Can you believe you sold thirty million albums worldwide?
DM: No, I can’t. It’s like a telephone number to me. I’ve got two managers to should be in jail. It’s the rock ‘n’ roll story. If you’ve not been ripped off twice you’re not a proper rock ‘n’ roll band.
MR: I love that the name Nazareth was inspired by a song by The Band of all things.
DM: That’s true! That’s actually true. When The Band came out for us we were just getting our start, we were looking for a name and all that. Big Pink was such a good album. We’d heard Ronny Hawkins and the Hawks and all that, but this was a whole different side of the coin. And we heard them backing up Bob Dylan who’d went electric. We came to think we knew what the guys were about but we didn’t at all. It was just a stunning album.
MR: What a classic. “I pulled into Nazareth…”
DM: It works for me!
MR: Are you going to be on the road with the guys at all, supporting this album?
DM: No, I don’t think so. They have a new singer, a guy called Linton Osborne who’s very good. I’m really glad, because I would’ve felt kind of bad if the band stopped because I’d left. I’d feel bad, some kind of Catholic guilt or something.
MR: [laughs] Do you feel guilty that so many Doctor Who fans are going to be very upset with the cover photo of an exploding telephone booth?
DM: Well, you know, no. Not at all. You know The Doctor will come back as another person…
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with The Mavericks’ Paul Deakin
Mike Ragogna: You’re on the Twenty-Five Live Tour. What has that been like? Has it been any different from any of your non-anniversary tours?
Paul Deakin: I probably have to lump in since we’ve gotten back together, since the hiatus, and to be honest with you although we did look at a retrospective and the name of this tour this year and maybe next year, because that marks the twenty fifth anniversary which is a milestone, the difference is that we consciously went all the way back to the beginning and picked and chose some songs that were representative of the band over the years, including some covers that we did at the time that reminded us of that. But really, the main difference in the band dates back to the year before this when we got back together and just that it was a lot of fun again.
MR: What are some of those things that make it fun to still be with the band?
PD: Originally, the idea was just for the band to get together for a reunion tour, somebody offered us a ridiculous amount of money and we’d been gone for seven or eight years, but I said, “I’m going to have to talk to Raul and Robert and make sure everyone really wants to do this,” because they were talking about twenty shows or something like that. When we met for dinner I hadn’t seen him in many, many years, and he was like, “It’d be disingenuous to just go out and play the hits. I want to do a new record and Scott Borchetta will help us put it out on Big Machine.” I was like, “You’re kidding!” We went right into the studio. We hadn’t played a note live and he was producing the record and he said, “I don’t want to do give any work dates, I just want to work it out and let it happen organically. If we get two songs the first week or so that’s great, if we get five, even better.” We got nine songs in two days. It just fell right back in. Really Eddie Perez is the only one in our lineup who wasn’t with us from the very beginning, but he was on the last one and arguably he should’ve been in the band from the very beginning because he fits in so well. But Jerry Dale came out of his retirement from music, out of his art career to come and play. When the Mavericks were on hiatus I played with a lot of great artists, none in the country field really, but there’s something with this band that is unique. I know you asked to describe what’s fun about it, and it’s that for some reason chemistry happens. Sometimes it’s inexplicable, or it’s hard to explain why this band does what it does together. I can pinpoint that we’re all audiophiles and we all have a love of playing but there’s something hive mind like within this band in the studio and live that I’ve never experienced with any other band or artist.
MR: Over the years, you’ve been shoehorned into the country genre even though you incorporate rock, R&B, Americana… How would you describe The Mavericks these days?
PD: [laughs] If I were Raul right now I’d say, “You expect me to do your job for you?” Somebody’s called it genre-non-specific, someone called it joyful noise, I don’t know, we started out more in the country field but in a way we’re kind of a self-pleasing band. It’s been kind of our blueprint for success. Pleasing ourselves and having fun has always seemed to work, and that transfers into the audience. We weren’t really concerned with genre when we started out. We’ve got our awards and success in the country field up until Trampoline turned into a pop hit in the UK. When we got together Scott Borchetta was kind enough to say, “Make whatever record you want.” The label didn’t care what it was, they just said, “Whatever you do, make a Mavericks record,” so that’s what we did. I think it stretches even further on the record we just recorded into other areas that maybe we haven’t touched on. There’s definitely still a country element in there because we love classic country music, so it’s really whatever we’re listening to and whatever makes it into the song that Raul wants to sing and record.
MR: After all these years, does it still feel like The Mavericks is a solid creative outlet and foundation regardless of what else you’ve all worked on, like solo careers, etc.?
PD: Yes, very much so. Obviously Raul had a very successful solo career, I think he said that he found himself missing finding some songs that he thought would be good for The Mavericks and wanting to do that. As I said, when we got back together that’s what I felt, after seven years off you don’t necessarily forget, but you don’t really feel how special this is until you’re sitting behind the drums playing with this band. One of the compliments I got was, “You drive this band, you’re so good,” and I’m like, “Thank you, I do play with passion, but I couldn’t move this band if I wanted to.” Like I said, it’s a hive mind, it chugs along and does what it does. That chemistry that’s inexplicable, not to compare ourselves to the Stones, but the Stones seperately don’t sound like The Stones. There are bands like that for reason that click together, the sum is greater than its parts.
MR: What do you think is the future for The Mavericks? Any plans?
PD: We just recorded a new record, so we’re going to be going at least another couple of years. Raul said what started out as twenty dates for the reunion tour might end up being another twenty years. There’s a plan to keep it going, so we’re really, really enjoying ourselves and having a lot of fun out there. Again, going back in the studio and realizing, “Holy shit, we did it again,” it feels really good. I haven’t heard the record yet even though I played on it. I was talking to someone else and they said, “How’s the record?” and I said, “I can’t tell you” because when you go in The Great Raul produces and he doesn’t let you hear the songs, we don’t do any preproduction, he barely even plays it for you before we actually record it because he wants that organic impression. He says, “I don’t want you to listen to the demo tapes and be married to that, it’s just template, let’s see what we come up with.” We go through a couple of different versions of things and record by the end of the week and it’s all first takes. “What did we do Monday?” I couldn’t tell you, I played that song once. Once he gets done with Niko Bolas, who’s coproducing it with him again he’ll let me hear it.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
PD: Get a day job. No. Honestly, I taught for ten years, and I was always very honest, I said, “Look, the chance of you making a living at this isn’t very good, but I really believe your best shot at doing this is to find your voice and stay true to that, whatever it is as a band or an artist.” Definitely please yourself first, don’t follow a trend, do what you want. Obviously we all are inspired by different kinds of music, follow your passion. Then, if it doesn’t end in the success that you wanted it to, you’re still ahead of the game because that’s your gift right there, being able to play what you love. Strangely enough, that’s your best shot at success in life.
MR: If you had any advice to give to yourself when you started out, what would that have been?
PD: Oh, good Lord… I don’t know if I want that printed! [laughs] Uh, floss? I don’t know. I look back on those early days and they were insane. I’m glad we survived it. The first time that happens to you and fame and success happens–I never really believed in the whole fame thing anyway, I was old enough not to really believe in that–we didn’t think it was going to end. When you’re in that moment and you’re on your up ride you always think, “Oh, it’s going to keep going” and nothing bad can ever happen, so you’re a little crazy and reckless, and we were. I probably wouldn’t have eaten so much room service, I probably could pay my mortgage with my room service bills. I probably wouldn’t change that much honestly because it was the experience of a lifetime, and to be able to experience it again with a different take on it, obviously we’ve grown somewhat more mature and it’s more about the music than it is about the partying. We probably partied a little too hard in our early days. That was one of the reasons we had to take a break.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with NRBQ’s Terry Adams
Mike Ragogna: Let’s get down to Brass Tacks, Terry.
Terry Adams: What was that fifteen seconds of silence about?
MR: That’s just to get my recording software synched-up.
TA: We used to say, “We’d like to have two minutes of silence before this performance, please,” and everybody would just go wild. [laughs] It never worked for our audience, they were screaming and throwing stuff, “Come on!”
MR: Okay, let’s get down to… oh, right, did that lame joke. Sooo, tell us everything there is to know about Brass Tacks. What went into this album? You’re on keyboards and vocals again and you’ve got Scott Ligon and Conrad Choucroun and Casey McDonough, how did you approach this differently from the other albums?
TA: Well every time we get together we record a couple of tunes, so there wasn’t time to stop and make an album, but the last few times were together we did a few songs and then we said, “Hey, we’ve done enough, let’s see what we got.”
MR: That’s a comfortable arrangement, huh?
TA: Yeah. It’s no rush, we took our time and did it when we were together. We don’t play all the time, we’re not always on the road. There’s some breaks between tracks. So what do you think of it?
MR: I think it’s cool! I think it’s your usual nutty, collective genius. Do you mind if I use the word “nutty”?
TA: [laughs] Okay. [laughs]
MR: Your arrangements are as sophisticated as they are fun to listen to. What’s the creative, nutty genius process like these days?
TA: It’s getting the right sound and the right tempo and the right feel for the songs we write. It’s rpetty simple, pretty basic.
MR: What about as far as the songwriting and all that? What goes into that these days, and maybe versus how you did it in the past?
TA: Well, there was an instant song on this album called “Love This Love We Got.” It was probably the only time I’ve written with someone else, Scott and Casey, where I got this idea and within fifteen minutes we all three wrote a song and recorded it right then. Every other time I co-wrote it was really me finishing a song up to one certain point and then just saying, “Hey, I need a line here” or a bridge or something like that, but this was all at once. I like that one.
MR: Over the years, what has the brotherhood of NRBQ been like? What has it evolved into at this point?
TA: [laughs] I’m always the guy when we’re in hotels it used to be dial nine and then the room number or something and we’d call each other, “What’s on TV?” When we’re not on the road I’m still that way. Even if we had a week off I’d be bugging guys at home, “Hey, you watching channel five?” It’s recognizing the same things. Loving the same commercials, whatever it is that happens to stick out in the current times. Did that answer anything? [laughs]
MR: [laughs] Yes, that proves that you guys are after all these years.
TA: With Casey and I, we’re alway sending each other pictures of Julie Newmar. Still hung up on Julie Newmar! I haven’t gotten past that yet. But you know what we also found out? One of my biggest pet peeves is gas-powered leafblowers, I can’t stand it that people would rather do that–they wear ear protection but anybody walking by doesn’t, and they burn gas instead of using a broom–it’s a pain to me. I found out that Julie Newmar has maybe an even bigger hatred for gas-powered leafblowers than I do! So now I really want to meet her. Not only do I have a crush on her but I also want to talk about this.
MR: Now how in the world did you find something like that out?
TA: Well, you know, people just tell me. I guess all information’s available today. Maybe she had a court case suing somebody because they were using this thing next door and she couldn’t stand it anymore. The pitch that they make is more detrimental than a gas-powered lawnmower, it’s a higher pitch that gets under your brain.
MR: That brings us to “Get That Gasoline.” You might express it in a humorous way, but you do feel strongly about conservation, don’t you?
TA: Oh yeah. I was always the guy in the band who, going back to motel rooms, “Okay, we’re going to go play now, make sure you turn your lights off in your room.” I couldn’t stand it when a member of the band would leave all their lights on in the room and the TV set. I’d say, “What are you doing?” “Uh, so anybody walking by will think somebody’s in here and they won’t come in here and rob my pajamas.” It’s a big trade-off. You’ve got your pajamas, but pretty soon you won’t need any pajamas because the Earth will be dead!
MR: Gotta love when Congresspersons and Senators doubt climate change exists and if it did, nothing can be done about it.
TA: Yeah. Everybody knows the old thing where people say something but they’re really saying something else. It’s really not about whether or not you believe it, it’s whether or not you want to keep making money that way. People do that all the time. They say one thing and there’s a hidden, self-serving message.
MR: Ignorance is a really big cash cow.
MR: Speaking of social issues, there’s “Greetings From Delaware” on the new album, and it’s all about credit cards. What’s the story on that one?
TA: Well, living on the road, you have to have credit cards, but it’s just… [sighs] There’s a line in there about, “I’ll show you how you can live it now.” It’s wild how can keep going, you fill up one, you fill up another one. You’ve got to be spontaneous on the road, “We’re changing hotel rooms, we’ve got to book this flight” and so on. Even though I’d written the song a little while back I know how it feels now. I don’t know about your side of the country, but we get the bills from Delware. I think all the banks hide–er, live there. They have a tax shelter or something over there, so whenever I see mail from Delaware it’s always, “Hey, how are you doing?”
MR: Especially Wilmington.
TA: That’s right! You know about that.
MR: I have my fair share of mail from there myself, thank you.
TA: [laughs] That’s a fun song, though, isn’t it?
MR: Yeah, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from NRBQ, sir. So…do you guys even know how to define yourselves?
TA: No, we never have! I’ve never had an answer for that. The reverse is the crazy one, to say, “What kind of band are you?” and then come up with some narrow thing, “We’re a this band.” What are you doing to yourself? “Oh, you’re one of fifteen hundred thousand of this kind of band.” Why be one of something? Why be a part of it? In the fifties or before that things were more localized, DJs could play songs in the south that they didn’t play in the north and there really was something to that, growing up in that area, but we’re living on the planet now. It’s honest language to use sounds to express yourself.
TA: If it’s time for this, it’s time for that. It’s not ever a display of different stuff, it’s just speaking. This is the way we are now, this is the way the world is.
MR: Well when you look at NRBQ, I’ve heard people describe you as being anywhere between Tower Of Power and Frank Zappa. And you’ve had songs covered like “Get Rhythm” and “Me And The Boys.” You know song structure, yet NRBQ is almost like structured madness.
TA: [laughs] And I feel as strongly about bringing in songs that I didn’t write as I did about the ones I did, although there’s no thanks for it, I don’t get any money for it, I never took credit for it. Now I wish I had. I have a gift that I can hear music and know something that no one else is thinking of and figure out how it should be, how it could be applied ot the modern world as NRBQ. Somebody will say they’re doing the cover of Johnny Cash, there’s no “cover” there, this is new music, as I see it.
MR: Exactly, you’re using the bare bones of the piece but you’re making it NRBQ. The band has perservered over the years, you’ve had your fair share of stuff happen. Recently, you lost Tom Ardolino, how did that loss hit you and the group?
TA: Tom stayed with me and played up until maybe two years ago. He could read my mind, he understood my approach to music and culture. I just found a box full of letters from him dating back to 1970 before he was in the band. They’re all just enthusiasm for records that he found or things that I played for him or sent to him and he’d find something else. He just had a great, broad scope of appreciating culture, especially from entertainment television and music, and a good attitude about it. He never did really have to deal with a real world, as some people would call it. He didn’t have to grow up. Every day not just me but I’m sure some of his other close friends, too, want to reach out and pick up the phone and call him. Especially, as I was saying earlier, “Hey, check out Channel Five right now! Look who’s on the news.” He’s the guy that you want to turn to. I miss him a lot, but now if I want to say something to him instead of just keeping it to myself I just say it out loud to whoever’s with me, I say, “This is what Tom would’ve said.” [laughs]
MR: This has been a particularly challenging period, huh.
TA: Well, yeah. It is, but it’s something that I knew I was going to do to keep the band going. My resume is only “Leader of NRBQ.” I’m looking for a job. “You got a band called NRBQ I could be the leader of? I’m the perfect guy!”
MR: I really am surprised that you haven’t been tapped to host a late night show.
TA: I wouldn’t mind hosting an old movies show or something like that.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
TA: Well a musician has to figure that in the world today people are bombarded with music all the time. Listening to music is sort of a lost art. A lot of people can’t sit down, take the time out of the evening and actually listen to music without the visual stimulation and all kinds of stuff that has nothing to do with it. My advice to an artist today is to make music that will stop people and make them listen to it. You can’t just throw it in there and expect it to make a difference today. There’s just too much going on. That’s my opinion.
MR: So where is NRBQ going from here? What is the big plan?
TA: Well it’s an ongoing project, the band gets more popular every year. It’s something I’m seeing through.
MR: But you hate it, right? You’re just doing it out of obligation?
TA: [laughs] No, no. We have a lot of dedicated fans who have been with us for years, that’s the good thing. The bad thing is that we’ve had fans that have been with us for years, too. Some people want to wrap things up and put them on a shelf or in a jar and say, “This is how it is.” That’s the last thing that NRBQ could ever do. We don’t know yet what this band’s going to do. I’m determined to make this band the biggest band on the planet.
MR: That’s part of the plan?
TA: [laughs] We’re going to be tremendously successful as the years go by. Every time we put out a record it’s the one that people will start to hear. Same with every performance. It all really matters. It’s not about moe or the band, it’s about bringing the gift to the people.
MR: NRBQ hasn’t even peaked yet, has it.
TA: No, no way. Not even close. That’s not to take away from anything that’s ever happened, because all that’s been incredible. I love everybody that’s ever been in the band. I wish I could see them now, I’d give them a big kiss! I think that’s all great, but I’m not ready to sit back and bring out the photo album. That’s the last thing I want to do, turn into a reunion band bringing out the photo album. That’s so not NRBQ or anything that I believe in.
MR: So the number one record might have done more harm than good for NRBQ?
TA: [laughs] Well, I don’t know abou that, but I see what you mean.
MR: Maybe with a different career trajectory, NRBQ wouldn’t have kept the spirit and the feistiness. You’ve quoted Duke Ellington who said, “Jazz is the music of personality.” Is this personality becoming even bigger?
TA: What I meant by that was that the players react to each other, it’s not a plug-in, rehearsed–a lot of records today it doesn’t matter who’s on bass or who’s on drums because it’s really about the girl with the nice ass up front. This is really about how musicians play together, and the personalities play a big part of it. “Do these guys really like each other?” for one thing. “Are they listening to each other?” Yes, that’s the answer, yes.
MR: Your music is so subtly sophisticated, I really appreciate that about you. Do you see the recipe for NRBQ changing or evolving?
TA: Well it’s about getting better. The music is maybe complicated, but it’s the simple music that’s hardest to make.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Entertainment – The Huffington Post
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