Adam Duritz Out Of The Abyss

Aquarian Weekly 3/26/08BUZZ

ADAM DURITZ OUT OF THE ABYSS
Counting Crows Front Man Battles Identity Crisis and Serious Mental Illness to Emerge with a Powerful New Two-Act Record

Counting CrowsSaturday Nights & Sunday Mornings will be the last Counting Crows record.

Not because they’re breaking up, but because who makes records in this ghostly digital world anymore?

Apparently the Counting Crows do, and their singer, primary songwriter, lyricist, and spiritual center, Adam Duritz demands, “If the music business is falling apart and no one is buying records anymore, and if this the last record anybody makes, we’re going out with a bang!”

Fifteen years ago, in the band’s debut single, “Mr. Jones”, Duritz pleaded from the edge of oblivion; “I want to be someone who believes.” And now, after nearly two decades of walking what he describes as a tightrope of fame and fortune while teetering on the edge of a serious mental disorder, the same voice laments in “Sundays”, “I don’t believe in anything at all”.

For the better part of the past two years Duritz was debilitated from a psychosis called Dissociative Disorder, causing him to retreat into isolation and gain an alarming amount of weight. He stopped reading, a purgatory for a Lit Major from Cal Berkley, and worst of all, stopped writing songs and performing, what he describes as his “touchstone” to the world.

It was a culmination of what Duritz says was “one long downhill slide” from which he has emerged after entering a program and receiving the correct medication. He is eating healthier, dropping the weight while writing and recording the gripping Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, which he describes as songs about “dissolution and disintegration and climbing out of the hole”.

“Every chorus of ‘Mr. Jones’ ends with ‘When everybody loves me I’ll never be lonely”, which you know is not true,” Duritz argues today. “Winning a popularity contest cannot fix your life. You’re supposed to see through that in the song. The guy has a dream, and it’s a great dream; you should have it – go ahead and want to be a rock and roll star – but that dream is not going to fix your life. I knew that even then. Before it happened to me.”

It has been a long, strange trip from evangelical to agnostic; most of it’s details bleeds from every track on what may be the final collective yawp from his band, the Counting Crows; the canvas for his journey from endless night to a new morning. One Duritz is not afraid to share in song or on the cover of another rock and roll weekly.

There appears to be a concerted effort to push the Saturday Nights part of the record in your face, electric guitars, edgier lyrics, and then unfurl the second half as a mellower, reflective collection of songs.

If you’re an artist, you owe the truth. Period. That’s all you really owe. People can make judgments whether they like it or not. For me, it’s exactly how I felt. Maybe my style’s over-raw.

There was no concept to it. The songs define it, and then you make it work; but once it’s there, there is no compromising. There were people who told me to take several songs off this record, “1492”, for instance. “It’s says ugly things about yourself like you can’t count on me. It’s embarrassing, so get it off! Pick a more positive song!” So, it says really ugly things about me? “On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago” is embarrassingly raw too. I admit it. It’s ugly to them, but to me, its kind of the point of it all, like it or not. Maybe they’re all embarrassing. Maybe “Tuesdays” is over-raw. Who knows? But it can’t be over-raw if it’s exactly how I felt. If it’s over-raw then that’s who I am, so either way is true. If you’re an artist, you owe the truth. Period. That’s all you really owe. People can make judgments whether they like it or not. For me, it’s exactly how I felt. Maybe my style’s over-raw.

Could there be a song that you’ve written that would never be released because it’s too close to the bone?

No, I don’t think so. Too close to the bone would be the reason for releasing it. That would be the point. You want to get as close to the bone as you can.

What about the second part of the record, Sunday Mornings?

As my life changed, we were finishing up what you would now call Saturday Nights. I started writing other songs, and I could see this other kind of record as a companion piece. So we started expanding on that while we were recording the second set of sessions and at the same time learning how to record and arrange what became Sunday Mornings. It was this one album that gave birth to something else it is now.

We had this great idea, it was cool, and it told a different kind of story than it would if it were a shuffle selection of easy listening songs. We were looking to do something different. Definitely by the time we were recording Sunday Mornings we were aiming at what we eventually ended up with.

You mentioned your life changed. You’ve been pretty candid about the period you’ve gone through in the last year and half to two years, your bout with mental illness and depression; and going through it in your work. Is there any fear among artists that without a constant harangue or that constant inner conflict, you can’t create, or is that complete bullshit?

I think it is. I couldn’t write when I was at the worst. I didn’t write for years. It’s not really depression, though. It’s a different thing entirely; it’s a Dissociative Disorder. The world literally seems like an hallucination. The world just doesn’t seem real. Imagine living for twenty years as if you were having an acid flashback. That’s what’s been going on in my head. And it will never stop. It’s not going to go away. The challenge is to learn to live with it, to not panic.

The depression or anxiety comes when the world seems like an hallucination. You tend to get a little fat and worried, because, you know, it sucks.

The truth is in the past year and a half I became complete debilitated to the point where I could not function at all, but it was a long decline. It’s part of the reason I’ve had trouble all of my life.

Adam DuritzBut as far as creativity goes; if you’re a writer, you write. I write when I feel things. Sometimes I can be very happy and it can remind me of things in the past that are gone. I wrote “On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago” a few days after “Accidentally In Love” (Shrek II soundtrack/nominated for 2004 Academy Award). They’re both about the same thing. “Tuesdays” is about this idea that while I’m completely in love right now, which is incredibly beautiful, what if it’s just a post card, what if I’m looking at this moment in my life like a snapshot of something that was and now isn’t a long time from now. It’s a very sad song, as opposed to “Accidentally In Love, which is a completely ebullient song about unabashedly falling in love. I don’t know which of the two I like better. It’s harder to write about something that’s happy, maybe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. It just means you need to be a good writer.

To write about those things is a lot harder, because it’s harder to be happy…for me. At a certain point you get tired of trading your life for song. I’ve done it for a long time now, under this impression that my life wasn’t anywhere near as important as being an artist. I’m not sure that’s a very good decision to be continuing to make.

The song “Washington Square” reminds me of the Henry James novel of the same name, mainly because it seems to describe this struggle with identify and self-doubt in a world of wealth and privilege.

Well, it’s definitely about a loss of self, and it’s about losing your mind. It begins with a complete loss of sense of who you are. I hadn’t read Washington Square; so I can’t really say it relates to that, but yes, the first part of this record is definitely about completely losing all sense of your self, and the second part is how do you put your life together when you don’t have a sense of self. How do you go get it if you completely let go of your life while trying to live it again? You don’t know how to do it, so you’ll mostly fail. But that’s okay. Life isn’t always about succeeding in everything. Half of success is in the doing.

I notice a theme of your work is to use cities as a metaphor for whatever you are getting at, whether it appears as the name of a song, “Omaha” or “Miami” or in the case of this record, where city names appear in almost every song and some titles.

I suppose so. I don’t use cities as metaphors so much as I tend to write detail. I think I read once of Hemmingway that you begin with one true thing and then you go from there. You don’t want to say; “I love you” as much as you want to say; “All at once you look across a crowded room and see the way the light attaches to a girl.” The details of what’s going on in the room, the books on your shelf, communicate something about the way you feel. If you just say, “I feel this way” it actually doesn’t communicate real feelings, because it’s just the words that stand for something rather than mean something. So I believe in writing details and cities are where things take place. “I wandered the highways from Dublin to Berkeley” from “Washington Square” has to do with the two cities I left behind and ending up in New York City and then having to leave there again.

You’re living in Manhattan now, and were there for most of the time you wrote and recorded some of these songs. So seeing how cities are part of your canvas, how did living in New York City influence these songs?

Imagine living for twenty years as if you were having an acid flashback. That’s what’s been going on in my head. And it will never stop. It’s not going to go away. The challenge is to learn to live with it, to not panic.

I suppose New York effects me because I write about my life, so any place you are will be a different tone than another place. They all have an effect on me. I don’t know where I can metaphorically interpret how New York fits in. I definitely wanted to record Saturday Nights here and Sunday Mornings in Berkley. But a lot of it had to do with not wanting to leave home to record. New York City has an affect on me, but it was also nice to go home and record Sunday Mornings too. There’s something about the tone of Berkley.

I began to dissect some of the new songs and noticed epilogues or at the least hints of reprised lyrics from earlier songs; more directly; “Now I’m the king of everything, and I’m the king of nothing” from “1492”, harkening back to “Rain King” from the first record. “Dreaming Of Michelangelo” from the second record. “This dizzy life” from “Hanging Tree” reminded me of This Desert Life, the title of your third record. “The girl on the wire” from “On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago” and “I walked out into the air” from “Washington Square” repainted the picture from “Round Here”, again, on the first album. Were you thinking in terms of looking back, encapsulating the last twenty years of your life and paying homage to the band’s legacy, or am I reaching here?

I don’t really write in a calculating way like that. I don’t think things through. But then there is “Michelangelo”, which was begun twenty years ago. I had this idea of Michelangelo lying on his back painting the Creation: God reaching out to Adam, and in my mind not being able to quite reach God. Obviously it’s the opposite, God has just touched Adam and he is alive. This is what’s happening, but in my mind it was always he reaching out and not quite touching God. But I couldn’t flesh this out. So the idea crops up in “Angels Of The Silences”, but as I changed, experienced more, and understood what the song was going to be about; it became about the constant struggle of the artist to reach for something divine, to create something out of nothing, which is the original divine act; there was a void and let there be light, making something out of nothing. Anything! Build a chair, make a song, make a jump shot, but always try and reach for something different. But to me I would never, ever be able to reach an understanding, a feeling of satisfaction in it. Finally, what the song is really about for me is that while you’re spending your whole life stretching out from something you can’t touch, you forget to touch everything else around you, and that I had become so divorced from the world through this disorder that the only thing I ever focused on was the music and it was the only touchstone I had on earth, and I had lost touch with everything else, and that is what that song was about, and now I knew how to write it.

I will say the use of “Come on, come on,” in “Cowboys comes from the nadir. He’s lost his mind entirely. He can’t feel anything, and he can only touch the world through acts of violence, and he’s trying to get something to come into him and come out of him, something to pull his life out of his numbness, and he’s screaming, “Come on, come on, come on, come on!” But, again, it’s a very different feeling than the celebratory “Come on, come on, come on, come on!” in “Accidentally In Love.

I wrote “Cowboys” all in one night and I certainly wasn’t thinking of “Accidentally In Love at that point of my life because I was completely out of my mind and I certainly was not in love.

Having gone through all you described, your disorder and identity crisis, writing and singing about it, putting it together in art, is there a sense that you’ve come through and the record reflects the failures and successes as you described them?

Well, I’m no doctor and there is no exact science for psychosis; but it’s scary. It’s a difficult thing. You have to be careful every day to ground yourself.

Take it day by day.

Yeah, but I’m thinking a lot further forward these days.

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Bruce Springsteen 2007 Tour In New Jersey

 

Aquarian Weekly 11/1/07

THE ROLLING MOSES REVIVAL SHOW
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Continental Airlines Arena
 10/9/07

East Rutherford, New Jersey

Bruce SpringsteenNo one is more beloved for his survival in the rock and roll idiom than Bruce Springsteen. Not the Stones. Not Dylan. No one. While they are also grand survivors of age, generation, curious career choices, and an unforgiving waver in and out of our pop culture radar, it is somehow different with Springsteen. He stands alone in being worshiped as a kind of brother figure – a confidant, not a god, a buddy, not an icon.

All of this is exhibited clearly as Springsteen and his nine-piece E Street Band, (more like a battalion) roll across America like an old-time gospel review baring witness to the long road behind and ahead.

Back in the bosom of New Jersey, Springsteen, clad in black with worn road boots, looks like a warrior Moses descending from the mountain to whip the faithful into fury. He lifts his aged Telecaster as a staff to rouse the throng from first note to the last, counting down the commandments one by one.

As usual his band is air tight, despite rumors of limited rehearsals and mercurial stage audibles; it manages to bludgeon a well-conceived line-up of songs from nearly forty years of material. If there is a serviceable answer to the question: Why do we need four guitars and two keyboards assaulting our senses? It is passionately on display here.

Nearly half the show, the fourth on his 31-city world tour, unfurls the better parts of Magic, a new collection of slickly produced harangues against false idols and social disorder. But they do not dirge. They swing, they pummel, and they make their stand, specifically “Long Walk Home”, “Last To Die”, “Livin’ In The Future”, and “Radio Nowhere”. There is a bounce to the songwriter’s step that is clearly evident when Springsteen plays these songs, leading seamlessly into segues of earlier numbers, which reflect their place in The Boss’s canon; “No Surrender”, “The Promised Land”, “Reason To Believe”, “The Rising”, and “Badlands”.

The set appears to be more a singular statement than a mere concert. There is no room here for the isolated strains of “Jungleland”, the crooning plea of “Thunder Road”, or a rousing retelling of ‘Glory Days”. There is a method, a plot, a thorny story line you must follow, like the chosen shuffling through a parting sea.

But then there is also the obligatory stomp and revelry of a Springsteen encore, which includes a spirited version of “Thundercrack”, a rougher-edged “Dancing In The Dark”, and, of course, “Born To Run”, which goes a long way to providing a sledgehammer thesis to the echoes of survival – musical or Biblical.

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Eric Hutchinson Sounds Like This

Aquarian Weekly 9/19/07 BUZZ

ERIC HUTCHINSON SOUNDS LIKE THIS

Eric Hutchinson wants to be popular and he doesn’t care who knows it. If he can squeeze a little soul, humor or angst into the mix, he’s all for it, but what he really wants is to make pop records that have you singing on the way to the club and dancing once you’re inside.

Eri HutchinsonHutchinson is a rare breed on all counts; a lily white kid who funks like Stevie Wonder and grooves like a young Michael Jackson, a ruffle-haired road warrior with nary a should chip, and a bright, witty, gregarious sort who portrays the role of “lovable loser” in both song and story. He’s a performer who loves to entertain, a songwriter looking for the magic hook, and a serious musician who openly mocks his musicianship.

If you’re looking for another brooding despondent poser go somewhere else. This is a famished 27 year-old who would gladly trade in the starving artist badge of courage for a hit, and if he hasn’t done so with his studio debut, “Sounds Like This”, a funky, soulful collection of ten wonderfully crafted songs, he’s certainly presented a convincing case.

His sound, which, when pressed, he describes as “acoustic soul, but with a hip-hop influence in the beat”, his stage demeanor, something akin to a vaudevillian hipster, if there is such a thing, his entire sensibility as an artist aims to please. But don’t think you’re getting the usual empty-headed soda jingle shtick either.

“I don’t listen to ‘sit around your apartment and kill yourself’ kind of music,” he muses. “I happen to like a lot of pop music, but pop music these days is something different than what it used to be. When I think of pop music, I think of the Beatles and Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel, and all that really means is that it was popular and everybody liked it, as opposed to Britney Spears and things that nobody really likes but somehow everyone listens to anyway.”

By his own account, Hutchinson has produced his dream record, “a collection of songs,” as he states in his liner notes, “that showcase the kind of music I’ve wanted to make for a long time.” His first full studio effort is pure pop. “Sounds Like This” doesn’t break ground, nor does it usher in a cultural movement, what it does is force you to bop your head and drum on the dashboard, get off-yo-ass and move your feet. It is an ambitious fusion of musical genres, sweet melodies, and infectious rhythms; all the things that made you dig music in the first place.

On stage, as he was last month at his record release show at the Cutting Room in NYC and will be September 20th at the Knitting Factory, Hutchinson is a pisser. A polished showman who manages to give off a vibe that he’s somehow getting away with murder, Hutchinson moves flawlessly from piano to guitar leading an airtight trio while bemoaning the loss of the sub-let on his Brooklyn apartment and offering up a “Let Eric Hutchinson Sleep On Your Couch Contest”.

Hutchinson’s most endearing quality may be the dissection of his songs immediately after playing them. Take the case of “It’s All Over Now”, one of Hutchinson’s best, which he tells the audience he is sure will be a hit because it’s already been a hit three times before. He then proceeds to play snippets of previous smash hits that sound uncannily like his own and remarkably like each other. He cleverly follows this up with, “Hey, I just realized another song of mine is a complete rip-off of the entire White Album!”

It was this self-deprecating persona – one minute confident troubadour and the next a confused victim of circumstance – which attracted me to Hutchinson’s burgeoning career more than a year ago. That, and I watched him blow Joe Jackson off the legendary Town Hall stage. When we met later that year he told me how he lives for such nights. “I actually prefer the challenge of opening up, especially in the atmosphere of a theater like that,” he enthusiastically recounts. “I love the idea of converting people from having no idea who I am to leaving as fans.”

“If you’re going to see somebody in person, I feel as though you should get a little something extra. I can listen to the cd at home. I want to get a sense of who this person is, which, by the way, I’m not necessarily the person I am on stage.”

Hutchinson’s Cutting Room show needed no converts. The line for the performance stretched out the door and before long the room was alive with an army of young, smiling, clap-along revelers who knew all the lyrics and shouted them out with contagious glee. His most ardent fans, many of whom have been coming to see his solo performances for five years now, not only expect his special brand of biting humor and teasing banter, but they demand it.

“That was something people made very clear to me,” Hutchinson recalls with all seriousness. “When fans found out I was going to start using the band, I had a lot of them come up to me at the shows and say, “Fine, you want to use a band, that’s cool, but you better keep talking between songs.

“I love when some people say to me with disdain, ‘Oh, you’re an entertainer'”, he smiles. “But hey, I’ve got this live Frank Sinatra recording where he does that kind of stuff back at the Sands. If you’re going to see somebody in person, I feel as though you should get a little something extra. I can listen to the cd at home. I want to get a sense of who this person is, which, by the way, I’m not necessarily the person I am on stage.”

The person off-stage is once again a stark contrast to Hutchinson’s smooth “entertainer” bit. He is humbly soft-spoken, even painfully shy with a quiet air of determination. You wonder where he finds the incredibly strong, bluesy voice that jumps from verse to chorus, bending a growl and then soaring into falsetto pitch.

All of these sides are found inside every song in “Sounds Like This”, which range thematically from one-on-one laments to desperate pleas for connection and quickly into detached third-person storytelling. For all his pop sensibilities, there’s introspection behind Hutchinson’s groove. “I like the idea of having a broad picture,” he says of his lyrics, “and throwing some details in there that allow people, if they’re paying attention, to figure it out.”

When asked about undermining his feel-good ditties with exposés of an illicit affair in “Outside Villanova”, spiritual turmoil in “Oh!”, love affair inertia in “It’s All Over Now”, and recitative break-up fever in “It Hasn’t Been Long Enough”, Hutchinson is candid. “I’ve been actually trying to write more positive songs,” he argues. “I had a girl come up to me after a show in L.A. and say, ‘I really like how all your songs are about how everything sucks.’ I thought, what is the message I’m trying to get across? It is not that everything sucks. It’s that things may not be the way we want, but there’s a way to change it.”

While maintaining a delicate balance between melody-machine and insightful lyricist, Hutchinson is first and foremost a vocalist in both style and purpose. His songs are fueled by an emotional tone that comes from his most vital instrument, which gets a full workout on “Sounds Like This”.

“The thing I’ve always loved doing is layering the vocals,” he notes. “I don’t consider myself an instrumentalist at all. I play guitar and piano in spite of myself. I thought of them as accompaniment to my main instrument, my voice, so going in the studio is the closest I can come to really riff.”

“Sounds Like This”, recorded in two studios on both coasts under the direction of two producers, harkens the Motown era, when Rhythm & Blues combined a street slick sheen with a Brill Building glitz and the singer/songwriter placed heart on sleeve in honey-voiced tunes backed with a booming kick. You can hear it in songs like “Food Chain”, as the piano acts as both click-track and backing track beneath Hutchinson’s cool phrasing, and “Rock n’ Roll”, a ska-laced foot-tapper worthy of Sam Cooke’s most cheerful odes to letting loose.

The record’s first two songs, “Okay, It’s Alright With Me” and “You Don’t Have To Believe Me” would fit neatly into any era from Smokey Robinson to Beyoncé, once again, a pop staple.

Hutchinson, an astute observer of music history and a film student in college, understands the components of getting to the gut in a song, tapping into a sentiment and bringing it to the surface. According to his calculations he composed 40 to 50 songs for the record. His love for the craft goes back to his early childhood, and even in the midst of the touring dog days or the conclusion of lengthy chats with journalists, his enthusiasm for it soars. “For as long as I can remember I’ve loved doing music,” he told me, with an emphasis on doing. “It was the only thing that really appealed to me, and I felt like I could make it on my own. But there are definitely times when I say to myself, “How did I end up here”? or “Why am I doing this?” because it’s such a difficult line to walk between art and commerce.”

The origin of that line resides in a record like “Sounds Like This”, the most unique of all Eric Hutchinson contradictions, a debut album that is as fresh and alive as anything out there, but as familiar and comfortable as your favorite pair of sneakers.

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Melissa Ferrick/Union Hall, Brooklyn

 

Aquarian Weekly 7/18/07

MELISSA FERRICK / UNION HALL, 6/22/07

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Melissa FerrickForced to sit due to what she duly warns the tightly packed audience is “a taping” of her show, Melissa Ferrick, dressed ultra-casually in a plain white tee shirt with rolled up sleeves, jeans and sneakers, cruises through an inspired hour-and-a-half set as if she were a bolt of pure energy tethered to a fraying rope. Bursting, straining, fueled on self-purging lyric, whiplash strumming, and a soaring vocal range, Ferrick is not your run-of-the-mill “angry woman” artist – affected, pouting, rebellious – just the opposite, she is charmingly humble, furtive in her approach, and utterly joyful. And none of it smacks of insincerity. To watch her perform is to be let in, shown all the parts, the emotions, and the fury. And oddly, in a music/image marketplace of fabricated angst and X-chromosome fist pumping, this full-voiced folksinger cum country siren can still manage to kick the collective ass.

Ferrick is a rare breed of artist in that to witness her unique expression you are left feeling as though you are doing her the favor by listening. The songs, many of which appear on her most recent release, In The Eyes Of Strangers, unfurl less as a manifesto than a plea, something to be savored rather than ravished; simply crafted chording and infectious melodic structures that seduce rather than assault.

One after the other, Ferrick regales the receptive crowd, crammed into the tiny downstairs room of the quaintly decorated old building, with heartfelt numbers. The wonderful sing-a-long quality of “Never Give Up”, which has the house clapping and bellowing, the churning rhythm of “Inside”, or the deceptively cheerful, “Closer” are songs which reveal approachable emotions like fear of commitment, insecurity in relationships, and the strands of an unruly life beginning to, albeit reluctantly, “settle in”.

“I like to interact with people, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.”

In a recent conversation, Ferrick discusses her method to locate these endearing odes to relatable everyday battles; “The best way for me to write is at home, just sitting in the living room with the television on mute for stimulation. Certainly all the best songs come from absolutely nowhere, out of the blue, when I’m a little agitated or annoyed with something, but I don’t know what it is, and then usually a week or so after that I’ll write a bunch of songs and I’ll go; ‘Oh, I guess I just needed to get the emotions out of my head and down on paper’.”

In most cases, as with all truly effective songwriting, Melissa Ferrick songs are so eerily relevant, their meanings, even to the writer, become ambiguously open-ended. “I know it’s a good song if I don’t even realize what it’s really about,” she explains. “I like the songs that other people help me understand, and then I’m like; ‘You know what? You’re right’.”

An excellent example of Ferrick’s signature style is the understated brilliance of “Come On Life”, a wistful ballad to what I immediately dubbed as “justifiable paranoia”, which she politely chuckled upon hearing. It pulls no punches, raw and unapologetic, utilizing the words “back-stabbing” in almost every refrain. I queried if it might be about anyone in particular, akin to Alanis Morissette’s controversial “You Oughta Know”.

“When I first wrote it and started playing it live I didn’t have the ending part, the last line; ‘There’s a singer out here and she’s stabbing.’ That just came out when I was playing it and I thought, ‘That’s how to turn this around and have the audience think that maybe it’s me I’m singing about’.”

No matter what she might be singing about, Ferrick is a proficient vocalist with a natural ability to sound demure, subtly whispering, and then, out of nowhere, belt out a long, high, ripping note, tearing through the room with reckless abandon. Likening herself more a “rock and roller” than “folk”, which she argues is a lazy way the music business attaches a genre on every woman singer-songwriter. “Do you really think Joni Mitchell is a folksinger?” she exclaims. Ferrick displays an array of dynamics, creating the illusion that an entire ensemble is accompanying her.

By show’s end, she is sweaty, breathless, and exhibiting the exhausted smile of an artist who has just shared a genuine experience with her audience, and by her effusive praise of the overwhelming cheers, she’s glad to have sparked it.

“I’m not much of a quiet wanderer,” Ferrick chuckled embarrassingly a few days before the performance, providing a fair glimpse behind what sparks her. “I like to interact with people, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.”

On this night the crossroad is the historic Union Hall in Brooklyn, New York.

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Melissa Ferrick Interview

6/19/07

Melissa Ferrick InterviewUnedited TranscriptFrom Boston to The Desk 6/19/07

Melissa FerrickJames Campion: I usually start a songwriter interview with this one: Where are you at now? A good place, still? The reason I ask is the last record; “In The Eyes of Strangers”” reflects that you are or you were in a good place.

Melissa Ferrick: I’m not in the place the record reflects now, mainly because it came out in November and I wrote most of those songs, I guess, over maybe an eight month period before the record came out, but I would say I’m in a new place. It’s a great place, though. I’m having a great summer. The weather’s been good.

The reason I bring it up to begin is the record really does reflect a sort of “turned the corner” thing, whether its love or other personal relationships and an honest confrontation with inner turmoil, politics or social issues – all good song themes, by the way.

Yeah, I hope so. That sounds good (laughs). Certainly any time you turn a corner there’s other corners. It’s sort of how life goes. Once you clear an obstacle you get breathing room for a while and then there’s another one. But that’s what keeps it interesting.

I’m kind of at a crossroads of adulthood now. I turned 36 years-old and I’m saying good-bye to a lot of youthful things I held onto through the beginning of my thirties; that whole idea of new love, falling in love, going from one relationship to another over and over and over again has gotten boring to me now. That high doesn’t really interest me anymore. (laughs) So that’s kind of cool. And also sad at the same time. There’s a certain amount of sadness that goes along with realizing that you don’t get the same kind of jolt out of that behavior anymore. It’s like saying good-bye to an old friend.

That’s what I get out of the first song on the record, “Never Give up”, this idea of “settling in”. Some may consider the word, “settling” as a negative, but here it comes out as a positive.

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. That word “settling” can be used in two different ways, implying that you’re settling for less. But it also implies that you’re settling into a comfortable chair, which is how I was using it. Settling your feet into the ground. I play golf, so it’s like the way you settle your feet when you play golf, or you’re up at bat, the way you set into your stance. That’s more a positive than a negative, but you’re still getting your footing; “I want to get myself set into this, but not quite there yet.”

Right, if I can continue the sports analogy, it’s as if you’re settling into a sprinter’s stance, and in a sense starting to run into a new time in your life.

Yeah, definitely, but it takes a while to understand what you’re doing consciously. When I wrote “Never Give Up”, it was the summer of last year and I was at my sister’s house with the kids, my sister’s got three kids, and the older one was egging the younger five-year-old boy to dive into the deep end, and I was realizing how scary it can be when you first venture into the deep end of the pool and you want everyone to watch you. So you just give up and jump. You just have to jump in at some point. So, yeah, I was a lot better at taking those kinds of risks and doing those things when I was little. It’s just a matter of trying to regain that youthful fearlessness.

I was just writing an essay about that last month; the envy I have for the fearless nature of youth, and like you say, the very early stages of our development, unencumbered by the fear of experience. Experience is the death of fearlessness.

Right, exactly, yeah.

Would you say the country/folk style lends itself to this kind of reflective songwriting? Assuming it’s okay to label you country and/or folk.

Sure.

So do you think working in that genre lends itself to the act of being reflective or introspective, more than any other style of musical expression?

Yeah, I think it does. Although I always considered myself more of a rock and roll songwriter in the truest sense of the word, in the vein of…well, I always really loved Springsteen a lot, the early E Street Band stuff. I always considered myself to be that kind of songwriter. I don’t have a band, but I always envision my songs with a rock and roll band behind me; in that introspective “thinking rock and roller” vein, as opposed to the “screaming rock and roller” type; a blue-collar folk musician or songwriter rather than a white collar one. You know what I mean? (laughs)

I’m more apt to write from a place of introspection or reflection on how I’m feeling, or how my direct actions create a reaction.

I’m more apt to write from a place of introspection or reflection on how I’m feeling, or how my direct actions create a reaction. I normally tend to create reactions in my life, do things to create a reaction, whether it’s physical or emotional; talking with people or something in less than a quiet way. I’m not much of a quiet wanderer. (laughs) I like to interact with people and get them to talk, get them to tell me what they’re thinking and what they’re feeling as best they can; but in a way that’s not destructive to either them or me – so as to not drag them through the trenches of my life. (laughs) It’s kind of an interesting crossroad.

Glad you mentioned Springsteen. I recently watched one of the mid-seventies concerts with the E Street Band that’s out now on DVD. I must admit I grew up in Freehold, New Jersey, so I was inundated with the whole Bruce thing to the point where I rejected it. It wasn’t until college or even the last few years that I have come to respect this kind of beat poet thing he had going with the band, this kind of revival thing that people love about him. And I was reminded of it the one time I watched you perform. It’s there, with just you and the acoustic guitar, this revival, gospel sort of presentation.

Well, thanks, that’s really nice.

Certainly.

I just think the whole period of the late eighties, early nineties, when this barrage of “folk” music came out again, it was really a word they attached to female singer/songwriters, because there was such a lack of them happening in the eighties when we were inundated with The Cure, and The Smiths, and Jean Loves Jezebel, and things like that, which I love, I loved that music too, but it was just this era of pop music devoid of women voices. For me, really, that Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians record, “Shooting Rubber Bands At The Stars”, that was really the first experience for me, in my growth, in my high school years of hearing anything that didn’t have a synthesizer on it. And they called it folk because there was an acoustic guitar on the track. And then of course we have Suzanne Vega, and her first album is way more “folk” than the second, “Solitude Standing”. I mean Luka, the only thing folk about that song is there’s an acoustic guitar playing the lead part instead of an electric guitar. I don’t know, when I think of folk music and what it means I think more Alro Guthrie. I don’t even consider Joni Mitchell a folk artist either. Do you?

Not particularly. I always thought of her as more hippy music. (laughs)

Not that it’s a bad word, folk. It’s interesting though that it got transferred from these classic troubadour singer/songwriters, Woody Guthrie and Dylan and all those guys who were traveling around telling stories that they had heard or experienced, the transfer or the telling of stories, really. I don’t even know if rock and roll really exists anymore, and I really don’t understand why they attach the term “folk” to female singer/songwriters and not so much to guys.

I’ve spoken to Ani DiFranco about the same thing, this idea that a woman writer is being aggressive and nasty and attacking, when if it were a man it would be considered brave and edgy and whatever. It’s the same old stuff; proactive males are envied and the same quality in women is to be feared and shunned or mocked as in, “She’s a bitch.”

Right. Right.

It’s interesting you mentioned the term “troubadour”; Dan Bern and I always talk about that, this idea of the traveling poet to a commentator on life as it happens, and “folk” can go into that category as this idea that the songs are coming from the land or of the people. For instance the Irish folk music is so much fun to sing, so rousing, really a group purging, although they deal with grim subjects, they are so much fun to sing.

Yeah, totally. My friend Aram Kellem says they call it a chorus because everybody’s supposed to sing along.

(laughs)

(laughs) And I love that about folk music, that there is a sense of everybody knowing the story, everybody having their own personal attachment or life experience to the story you’re telling, whether it’s about your heartbreak or your breakfast in Demoines.

Mellisa FerrickThat’s what great about being a songwriter, you get to play these songs and have people sing along with them, and they know every word and they go, “I heard that song as I was traveling wherever”, or maybe, “I was going home to bury my dad,” really personal deep shit, or not even deep at all, like “I was riding my bike to the beach and someone’s car was parked there and your song was playing and I asked, ‘Who’s that?’ and the person says, ‘Melissa Ferrick’, and now here we are having a cup of coffee and how weird is that?’ But I tell them, it’s not weird, it’s life. It’s kismet. It’s supposed to happen. And that’s the invisible power of music as a spiritual connector. I truly love that about music.

It’s truly a catharsis.

Yeah, it’s a vehicle to meet people and to have common ground; the ultimate icebreaker.

Speaking of folk and folk singers, can you reveal the subject of “Come On Life”? The folksinger “who is out here stabbing”? I don’t know why but I assume it’s you. By the way, I wrote here in my notes, “It’s the best song written about ‘justified paranoia”. (laughs) So, am I correct in that assessment? And also, is that about someone in particular or is it about you?

That’s a very good question. It’s about both me and an actual thing that happened to me. But after I wrote the song I realized that I had done that to people in my life. So, that’s what I love about that song, that the listener doesn’t know, and therefore as a listener you can be either the one who’s been a backstabber and the one who’s been backstabbed. When I first wrote it and started playing it live I didn’t have the ending part, the last line; “There’s a singer out here and she’s stabbing.” That happened when I was playing it live in some city and I thought, that’s how to turn this around and have the audience think that maybe it’s me I’m singing about.

That’s true art when it’s malleable like that, not set in stone. It’s a wonderful song. Great imagery. You mentioned musical influences; do you have any specific literary ones?

You know, I’ve never been a big reader. Poetry mostly; Baudelaire, T.S. Eliot, Burroughs are probably my favorite poets. I used to read a lot of poetry in high school and college and studied a great deal of Jungian stuff in college. I went to Berkley College of Music, but all of my extra-curricular classes that I took were all in poetry and spirituality. So I learned a lot about Jung and the Krishna thing, Judaism and Christianity. I was always, and still am, intrigued by different religions and people who are religious in the truest sense of the word, you know? I think a lot of people consider themselves religious, but to actually have the kind of discipline it takes to practice a religion is intense.

I lived in Los Angeles for seven years above a Persian family who were very religious, by the book, and it was intense. I’d never seen that before. I grew up in a regular run-of-the-mill Catholic family, where you go to church on Sunday and that’s about it. And as I got older I went on the holidays. (laughs) There was no real discipline in my religious upbringing, so when I got to college, that kind of spirituality was something I wanted to study and get interested in, and also the types of people who are as disciplined about their religion as I am about the music, like horses with blinders on – a way of life, of touring and playing music and making records, and just doing this. You can transfer it to anyone who is obsessed with their work or with their way of life.

I’m loathed to promote my work during interviews, but you might dig my third book, Trailing Jesus. I spent a month in Israel and Jerusalem literally trailing the historical Jesus, and there’s a good deal in there about a similar path I was on driven by curiosity and spiritual pursuits beyond my equally pedestrian belief system.

Oh, wow.

Maybe I’ll throw you a copy when I see you.

Oh, yeah, cool, that’d be great. A friend of mine went to Jerusalem. She’s Jewish, her father was born in Israel, and she actually went to there for Chanukah, and she hadn’t been there since she was a kid, but she has family that was born there and live there. It’s so interesting, because she says her father doesn’t claim himself as Jewish, but Israeli.

Where did you grow up?

Ipswich, Massachusetts.

So you’re a New England girl.

Yeah.

Can you talk a little bit about your record company, or your self-producing, independence within the industry now?

Even when I was on a major label – I was on Atlantic for a couple of records – I didn’t have the quintessential classic horrific experience that people automatically assume I would have, and you have to remember this was ’93 to ’95, so it was right when grunge really hit and Liz Phair’s record came out, and to be completely, brutally honest, I made records that weren’t the right sounding records for that time. And that is the reality of being on a large label. It’s a huge business. It’s about making money. It’s not about supporting a growing, young songwriter. At the time, I thought I had found a home at Atlantic. I signed a seven-record deal, I thought I would be around for seven years, but “room to grow” on a label like that didn’t exist anymore. And for me it all started to happen in the nineties, when the music industry became this huge machine of making pop, real pop. After grunge hit, that was the end of record labels putting out songs. Even Liz’s record, which was a brilliant album, the next thing you know, it’s the Spice Girls, and it was over.

I would certainly love to have more of an artist community. It’s one of the things you lack being an independent, it breeds isolation, and that’s one of the problems I’m starting to see in my community. There’s all of these artists putting out records on their own and I can’t find any of them.

I certainly prefer putting a record out on my own label now. It started in 2000, and it’s what I needed to do, because I needed to put a record out and I couldn’t get a deal. I had been on an independent label and I realized that wasn’t making any sense financially, so I was like, “I’m just going to do this myself.”

Obviously, Ani is such a great example of what you can do on your own. She completely blew up and got huge from an independent perspective. And I started see Aimee Mann open up this United Musicians thing she’s got, hooking up with her friends Bob Mould and Michel Penn, and kind of making these little homes for independent artists and helping each other, I thought it was awesome.

Also, I think that the jam bands scene out of all that pop Britney, Back Street Boys and N’Sync insanity – Phish, MOE, and the String Cheese Incident – were putting records out, and getting in tour buses and doing festivals and not paying any attention to corporate music America, so I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve become pretty good friends with the guys in MOE, and I’ve gotten to jam with them a lot. I’ve been given the opportunity this year to play with Ani (DiFranco) a bunch, and that’s awesome, and Dan (Bern). And certainly, Dan has had his bouts with being on labels and whether he should be there, but Messenger Records has proven to be a really good home for him, that guy Brandon (Kessler) is a really good guy, you know?

Yup. He is.

He believes in Dan, and he believes in his talent, and I know Brandon is not just doing it to make money. I think that’s what it really comes down to. I would certainly love to have more of an artist community. It’s one of the things you lack being an independent, it breeds isolation, and that’s one of the problems I’m starting to see in my community. There’s all of these artists putting out records on their own and I can’t find any of them. (laughs) If we were all in the same agency, or if we networked better, and I think that’s something being on a label with other artists, or being at an agency with other artists that you are a fan of, I think that’s one of the things that can help.

I’ve been fortune enough to be with Fleming now for seven years and that’s how I got to play with Dan for the firs time, and that’s how I met Chris Whitley. There’s a number of people, Kelly Joe, Willie Porter, the list goes on and on. People I’ve never heard of – Rachel Davis, who I think is brilliant, Natalia Zuckerman, who is brilliant, there’s a bunch of artists on Fleming who are not as popular as a Kelly Joe Seltzer or Willie Porter or Dan Bern, but are all incredibly talented. So, that’s been a real home and a real community for me. It would be nice to be on a label that had other artists that I dug and I could get them to come hang out and play on my records or whatever.

It just takes a lot of work because you’re traveling and making records an making tee shirts and finding somebody to come travel with you for hardly any money and help you out on the road, and in the meantime you’re supposed to make friends with all the artists you love and admire, so that you guys can tour together and more people will be at your shows. (laughs) It takes time and it takes patience to do it independently. If there is anything that’s lacking in the DIY world it is community. As long as we stay aware of that and are willing to admit that, and as long as we work hard at build a community, even though it’s hard, I think we’ll be all right.

It reminds me of the United Artists concept with film at the beginning of the 20th century, this idea that all the people making the films should work together to create something meaningful, artistically and economically, and feed off each other and promote each other is quite a noble and productive idea. I wish they had that for writers, beyond unions and such, a community made up of artists. I would champion that, for sure. Is that something you have actively pursued recently, or has it just sort of dawned on you after it being there subconsciously?

The only way I’ve figured out how to do it is by sticking around. There’s got to be a way that it doesn’t takes seven years for other artists, because a lot of people wouldn’t give it seven years. They can’t afford it. They can’t live at their parent’s house and get someone to give them a credit card, play five college gigs so they can buy a car. They don’t think in terms of that. There are conferences like the Independent Music Coalition, which are a really great group of people.

I just think there’s more need for…it would be good if there was more than one conference like that. It would also be great if it didn’t cost hundreds of dollars to go to the conference. The people who need the help, once again, are the people who don’t have any money. They don’t have $250 to register. Somebody like me does have the $250, but…(laughs)

It’s this idea I’ve always had with record deals; they’re always backwards. You know, you’re a brand new artist; you don’t sell any records but you’re really fucking talented, then you should be making seventy percent of the record sales. (laughs) And when you’re an artist that moves fifty thousand copies maybe you should make forty percent of record sales. You give back sixty percent to the label or whomever you’re working with so that they can help the artist that doesn’t have any fans. Spend your money there. It’s so backwards. Rich people never pay for dinner and poor people don’t have any food.

I usually try and keep these things to a half hour, but I have two more questions for you.

Okay, yeah, sure.

I’d like to ask you one political question, if I could; and it might be touchy, but I know you have been open about your sexuality, and forthright in covering it in your work, so I wonder if you could comment on the subject of gay marriage, or the civil union issue that is, I believe, sadly misinterpreted and has gone way off the rational rails in this country.

Melissa FerrickSure. I don’t think the subject is touchy at all. I think the fact that people think it touchy is part of the problem. I think people should be allowed to marry whomever they want to marry. I think separation of church and state is at a huge crossroads here. I don’t really see too much separation these days with George Bush in office, and I think it’s really important to remember that the foundation of this country is people escaping a country because they couldn’t practice the religion they wanted to practice, so they said, “Let’s separate government and religion!” Even the abortion issue, at its crux, is an issue of religion and faith, and not whether or not it’s a woman’s right to choose what she does with her body. And I think it’s the same with gay marriage. Mostly it’s the fear of white straight men, who are homophobic. They’re afraid of gay people. It’s fear. All fear based. If people would just live and let live more the whole world would be a better place. And that includes letting the “fear-based straight white guys’ live the way they want to live. I understand that much.

The whole “fear-based”, religious point is well taken, but here’s my point, and I’d like to get your feedback on this. I feel that’s all well and good, you can be afraid of whatever, you can debate it, like with abortion, when does life start or what is murder and what is the role of the state in mandating the personal, emotional, moral, and most importantly, physical actions of a citizen, but gay marriage is not even in that ballpark. It is a civil issue. This, to me, is a basic constitutional, Bill of Rights issue, which I believe would sink in the face of legal investigation and final decision.

This is why the Bush administration was trying to enact a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage, to usurp the letter of the law and not make it a civil rights issue, to subvert the rational, legal argument by defining it as a union between a man and a woman and deny, amazingly, the rights of adult citizens to gain the advantages of civil unions, and not religious ceremonies, because they know they will lose.

This is the same argument opponents of granting women the right to vote used; “Well if you allow women to vote, they what’s next? Dogs? Lamps? Five-year olds?” Now they just say; “Two men or two women marrying? What’s next? A man marrying a cow? A woman marrying a two-year old?” These are ridiculous assumptions, as were postulated with the civil rights issues of the fifties: “We allow black and white children to sit on a bus together the very puritan fabric of our nation will crumble!” The religious issue, jamming it together with abortion, which is philosophical, eventually and cleverly clouds its true insidiousness: Denying basic freedoms to tax-paying citizens is a civil rights abuse.

What I remember in reading about it is they haven’t amended the constitution in a really long time, and they were actually going to do it to ban gays from marrying. So it’s unbelievable, to me, that everyone can’t see how fucked up that is.

Right. The difficulty in anyone seeing it the way you see it, which I totally agree with, is the fact that it brings up the issue of someone thinking about what it’s like to have a man having sex with another man. (laughs) It’s just that simple. And yeah, you’re right, it’s the same issue as women voting, or black people voting, or interracial marriage, equality.

You’re right, it’s a civil rights issue, and the fact that Bush wants to make it an amendment to the constitution in and of itself is so huge. I don’t remember the last time it was done. What I remember in reading about it is they haven’t amended the constitution in a really long time, and they were actually going to do it to ban gays from marrying. So it’s unbelievable, to me, that everyone can’t see how fucked up that is.

It is the most absurd issue. I hope five years from now, but I fear it will be twenty years from now, maybe thirty or forty, but people are going to laugh at this that way we do now at the way they mistreated women or minorities the way they did, or whomever they were trying to deny, laughably, the basic rights given to the citizenry of this country since its inception. It’s the same shit every friggin’ generation. It’s the same shit.

Yeah, I know. What’s the big deal? It’s such a big problem you’re going to amend the constitution? Is it that dire? I mean, what’s the divorce rate? (laughs)

(laughs) All true. One last one before you go: How do you like to write? Do you do so better at home or on the road, in a coffee house, in buses, in hotels? Do you get your best songs from observation or contemplation? Do you create better in a vacuum or in a swirl of events? Where do you get your material? What is the best way for Melissa Ferrick to practice her craft?

Best way for me is at home, just sitting in the living room with the computer on and the television on. I like to have a lot of stimulation. So, I usually have a TV on mute and a guitar lying around on the couch and I start. Certainly all the best songs come from absolutely nowhere, out of the blue, and you just write them. But I do notice that I usually right before I have a spurt, because I tend to write a lot and then I won’t write, I’m a little agitated or annoyed with something, something’s bothering me but I don’t know what it is, you know?

Sure.

And then usually a week or so after that I’ll write a bunch of songs and I’ll go; “Oh, that’s what it was! I guess I just needed to get words out of my head or emotions down on paper.” Whether or not they make any sense or even have anything to do with what was going on then, it’s just a release. I’m not really good at writing on the road. I have a hard time with that. I’ve never been very successful doing that, but I’m sure that I utilize all my life experience, or I hope I do, in the art that I make.

I think it all ends up out there. Sometimes more hidden than others, and most of the time it’s a good song if I don’t even realize what its really about. I like the songs that other people help me understand what they’re about, and then I’m like; “You know what? You’re right.” That’s kind of the experience I had with “Come On Life”, like after I sang that part and somebody asked if the song was about me because of the last line. And I said; “Oh, really?” Then I thought, it could be, and now that’s what I like about that song. So those are the ones I like the most, the ones I learn from.

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“Exile On Main St.” Turns 35

 

Aquarian Weekly 5/9/07
REALITY CHECK

THE NASTY, JUNKY, FUNKY, LOWDOWN COUNTRY BLUES ”
Exile On Main St.” Turns 35 This Week

I gave you diamonds, you give me disease.

Mick & KeithOn May 12, nineteen hundred and seventy-two, the greatest rock and roll album by the greatest rock and roll band, smack dab in the middle of the genre’s golden age, hit the streets. Recorded in a fog of mystic fumes, bad vibes, drug hysteria, bohemian hedonism, and sweltering temperatures in the dank and foreboding basement of a 19th century French villa called Nellcote, Exile On Main St. emerged raunchy, raucous and anguished. Every track reeks of dangerous liaisons, broken spirits, fueled aggression, outsider longing, and outlandish mischievousness. It perfectly captures a period of decadence and revelry unlike anything of its time. It is the sonic version of The Great Gatsby or The Grapes Of Wrath; Mick Jagger as Jay Gatsby and Keith Richards as Tom Joad, setting to music the final toll of sixties fallout and the harkening of a baby boomer dirge.

The previous summer the Rolling Stones left England en masse as tax exiles to settle in Villefranche-sur-Mer with seemingly no plan, no songs, and no semblance of boundaries, even for them. Richards, the band’s unquestioned musical leader, was a full-blown heroin addict whose outlaw antics was fast becoming the stuff of legend. Jagger, beginning a second career as jet-setting celebrity, had just married Nicaraguan beauty Bianca Perez Morena de Macias beneath a spectacular crush of media. The band was a mere two years removed from burying their founder, Brian Jones, who’d died mysteriously in the pool at his home, and even less than that from Altamont, the disastrous free concert in San Francisco which ended in mayhem and murder.

Honey, got no money, I’m all sixes and sevens and nines.

So, the most powerful rock band left standing (the Beatles were gone, Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison had died within the year) packed up to live in a cavernous mansion once inhabited by the Gestapo in World War II with a lunatic junky, his crazed witch of a de facto wife, Anita Pallenberg (many claimed she could actually cast spells) and an astonishing lineup of freaks, weirdos, bandits, bikers, and pop royalty (John Lennon puked all over the place in an LSD frenzy) to create a timeless classic. These sordid weeks of car-wreck creation are recalled darkly and amusingly by author/journalist, Robert Greenfield in his revealing new book, Exile On Main St. – A Season In Hell With The Rolling Stones.

“The Stones were so far in front of the culture when ‘Exile’ came out most people just didn’t get it because it was such a disjunctive leap,” Greenfield told me this week. “The reason it’s so brilliant is that they’re not just in physical exile, they’re in psychic exile, and what the album is saying to people who weren’t there yet is ‘you’re all about to be dispossessed, the culture is about to throw you out, really grim times are coming’, and because they got there early they already know the outlaw counterculture is finished, rock and roll as a statement of social protest is at an end, and they’re recording the transition.”

Kick me like you’ve kicked before, I can’t even feel the pain no more.

It is a postcard from oblivion, a great rock band in its prime doing what great rock bands do. The sloppiness is there. The passion is there. The black arts, flesh-ripping, throat-clearing fury is all there – pure, raw, gutsy, balls-out grunge.

Therein lies what separates “Exile” from just any other classic rock album; it quite literally puts on tape the soul of a band, and in this case, the band. Emotions are not just hinted at or broached with expression, but gushed about, thrown around, poured out furiously through amps and bass drum kicks and cockneyed wails, ripping leads, blasting horns, groaning harps, and seedy honky tonk piano. Where fear and paranoia is needed, it reverberates from our speakers, when loneliness is expressed, the listener is not cheated. And when the boogie hits the road, there is magic, real magic in the performance. It is a postcard from oblivion, a great rock band in its prime doing what great rock bands do. The sloppiness is there. The passion is there. The black arts, flesh-ripping, throat-clearing fury is all there – pure, raw, gutsy, balls-out grunge.

“I think it’s safe to say nobody will ever make another album the way the Stones made ‘Exile'”, Greenfield recalls. “To jam for hours, night after night, without songs or ideas; ‘Let me get a riff going,’ Keith would say. They were truly artists going out there on their art without limits.”

Soul survivor, you’re gonna be the death of me.

Originally released as a double-album (yes, kids, albums) with four sides of distinction – funky gives way to country, then into blues and gospel, and then all-out rocking. Exile is everything the Stones did well to imitate, negotiate and discover all in one wonderfully jumbled package. It is one, I have often said, for the time capsule. Why are the Rolling Stones so great? My answer has always been Exile On Main St.

“Having been there when they recorded it, and watching them mix it, I can say that the music in Exile very much comes from the place where it was created,” Greenfield adds. “The villa was not just a house, it was some kind of a cauldron, a mixing bowl where lives were turned around. It was as if all these people were trapped together on another planet. As one of the other inhabitants of Nellcote has told me since, ‘The Seventies began in that place'”.

I’m the man that brings you roses when you ain’t got none.

There have been other more hit-laden, influential, and traditional Stones records. Many more. But there was never a better one. Aside from the infectiously groove-maddened “Tumbling Dice” or the explosively whiskey-smoked “Happy”, none of the remaining eighteen tracks has survived the band’s decades of concert tours. This is probably why Exile has grown in stature over the years; it is not overplayed, gutted for hits, or genuflected to like Sgt. Pepper’s or Dark Side Of The Moon. Yet it consistently makes the laughingly sanctimonious glut of annual Top Ten lists and is accepted without much argument among critics and rock historians as the finest of pure rock collections.

His coat is torn and frayed, it’s seen much better days. Just as long as the guitar plays, let it steal your heart away.

“The Stones never make another great album after Exile,” Greenfield concludes. “They make great songs, but nothing like this. It was the end of an era.”

In more ways than one.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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Fountains Of Wayne “Traffic & Weather”

Buzz/Aquarian Weekly4/18/07

THE MUNDANE, F TRAIN, SO LAME YUPPIE BLUESHow Fountains Of Wayne Peddles Middle Class Angst In Nifty Pop Tunes

The rock and roll idiom, usually filled with the strain of angry misanthropes and subculture gits, sexual bravado and rebellious revelry, is lost on Fountains Of Wayne. This is a band obsessed with the obsession of normalcy, everyday annoyances and mini-tragedies, subconscious frailties and overall stuff of non-legend. But it’s not so much its subjects that set the band apart from its genre, but its manic dedication to rare pop sensibilities, infectious melodies and sweeping harmonies. The man in the gray flannel suit has a song to sing, and it is a real good song, and you cannot help but hum it all the way to the commuter train.

Fountains Of WayneThis month Fountains of Wayne is releasing its first record in four years since the brilliantly crafted pop masterpiece, “Welcome Interstate Managers”, with its sordid tales of white-collar woe and weird suburban revelations, office politico pleas for redemption and sad sack dreamers from Hackensack. The “regular” guy and gal from Anytown USA is back in the 14-track “Traffic And Weather”, and so are the real good songs, slick production, and formidable detail to wit and wisdom.

There are rhythmic odes to girls behind the DMV counter who “wait patiently to see six forms of ID” and a suped-up baby blue ’92 Subaru. Broken hearts at the Gap, renewed love vows at the airport baggage claim, a borrowing cash blues, and a ballad to driving on I-95. Oh, there are songs about the rock and roll life too; a wonderfully foot-tapping tale of touring with its “highway hotels and their air-conditioned cable-ready cold padded cells.”

And these guys don’t fuck around. Only two of “Traffic And Weather”‘s songs run over four minutes, and yet no emotion gets the short shrift. There’s no fear of dropping the odd “yeah” or “baby” but the collection also manages to balance the type of lyrical observations that would challenge the best of Dylan’s meanderings. One of the damn things even boasts references to Cosco and Liechtenstein.

For reasons only clear to the painful process of media promotion, the band’s bassist, co-songsmith, and record’s producer, Adam Schlesinger, agreed to discuss all of this with me.

JC: Why four years between records?

AS: Well, we toured for a long time on the last record. So we were out for over a year and then, you know, real life sort of got in the way for a while. But we started to write during the break, and we actually got into recording fairly quickly after that. But it took a while to get the record together. Then it takes a while to get into the release schedule. In short, I don’t know why. (laughs) All those things added up to four years. We can’t seem to make it go any faster.

Speaking of the writing, your main themes of the “Everyman” as the archetypal hero in everyday settings seems to permeate Fountains Of Wayne songs from your “Utopian Parkway” record through this one.

I’m just sitting there putting lines together and letting it write itself. And that’s how you end up with Cosco and Leichtenstein in the same song

I think it’s something that’s developed over time. When Chris (Collingwood) and I first started writing songs we wrote about more general things, but we found that the more specific and, in a way, realistic details we put into our songs the more people liked them. (laughs) That’s what seemed to be what we were doing that people responded to. When we first started we were in more of a guitar-pop Crowded House kind of mode, where the stuff was a little more ambiguous, but then we just started having fun putting these details in and reflecting on things we’d actually seen in our own lives and that grew into a style for the band.

Do you make a concerted effort to put references into your songs for fun? I’m reminded of this David Letterman quote about one of my favorite songwriters, the late Warren Zevon, that only he could manage to jam “brucellosis” into a song, but I say sticking references to Cosco and Leichtenstein in the same song is just as impressive.

(laughs) I think it’s just the fun of playing with language. It’s not premeditated. It’s not like, “How can I fit these two words into a song?” It’s more that you’re just free-associating when you’re writing. A lot of times I’m not even really sure where the story’s going. I’m just sitting there putting lines together and letting it write itself. And that’s how you end up with Cosco and Leichtenstein in the same song, which is pronounced wrong on the record by the way; something I discovered after the song was finished. (laughs)

Do you record your observations in a notebook for later reference?

Not really. It’s more of a mental notepad. I’m pretty disorganized, actually. I wish I were a little better at keeping track of ideas, both musical and lyrical. A lot of stuff I’ll just forget about and then a year later say, “Shit, why didn’t I work that out?” But I’m mostly scattered.

Do you work from a chord progression or a melody or do you work off the lyric?

I try and change up my method so I don’t get into ruts, but more often than not I start with lyrics or at least a piece of a lyric and then start working on music. But there are a few cases where I did the opposite just to see if I could. The song “Someone To Love” was written to a track that I worked on just humming a melody. “Strapped For Cash” was kind of the same thing. It started with a track and some chord changes and I tried writing something on top of it.

I noted on “Someone To Love”, when listening to the record, I scribbled “A 21st century ‘Eleanor Rigby'”.

That was kind of the idea. Pretty much spot-on. In fact, before I had the chorus figured out I was sort of just singing the chorus from “Eleanor Rigby” as a placeholder. (laughs)

The twist to it, which separates the song from the melancholia of “Eleanor Rigby”, is the two main characters – while being sympathetic to a point, they eventually enact their myopia on one another at the end.

I see it as being a near miss. I had these main characters and was trying to come up with what should happen to them. Should they meet? And then I thought maybe they shouldn’t meet, maybe they could almost meet.

That reminds me of the lyrics in “All Kinds of Time” from the last record, which is a phrase used in the stable of commentary for NFL color analysts, but when taken out of context is pure nonsense. What the hell is “all kinds of time”? Yet you managed to stretch it to a metaphor and compose a beautiful ballad out of it.

Yeah, a lot of times that’s what I’ll do, sort of focus on a phrase that you take for granted or that you don’t really think too much about and see if you can do something literal with it or stretch it out or do something unexpected with it.

Did you dig what the NFL did with the song as a promo?

Adam & ChrisOh, yeah. I loved that, man. That was actually something I was lobbying for because that song was inspired by those NFL Films, so in terms of a use for our song against pictures, that was pretty much the perfect thing.

Do you have any particular literary heroes that influence your writing?

There’s a lot of writers I like, but I don’t know how much they’re directly on my mind when I’m writing a song. But there’s writers I like that use a certain amount of humor but try and not stumble too much into straight-out comedy.

How about musical influences?

There’s so many. I think we do the genre-hopping thing because we love so many different kinds of music. There are certain songs where we try and do a sixties thing, others we’ll do an eighties thing or a new wave thing. Sometimes we’ll go for something that’s more classic rock, seventies, FM sounding. All of us know way too much music.

So you make a conscious effort to take a style and sort of Fountains Of Wayne it up.

Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s “Hey, let’s take this style and see what we can do with it.” It’s more like if I have some lyrics I’ll try and give it different musical beds. Depending on how you couch it musically it completely changes the meaning of the lyrics. You can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant. Or you could go the other way and just put it against something that’s fast and bouncy and it changes the meaning of it.

You produced the record alone this time.

I’ve always taken somewhat of the lead on the records. It’s something that Chris is perfectly capable of doing; he’s just not that interested in it. He doesn’t want to spend hours sitting in front of the console and I actually enjoy that stuff. This time around I did more of the grunt work, but that’s not necessarily what always happens with us. There’s been a lot of times where we’ll sit together in the studio, as in “Welcome Interstate Managers”. It was credited to me and Chris and Mike Deneen, who was our engineer, because the three of us would sit around and discuss every song and make a range of choices. It’s just that this time around I was doing a lot more of that work on my own.

What do you look for in a studio sound? Are you an analog freak? You must fool with digital recording.

We use Pro Tools and we’re not afraid of modern gear, but we definitely start with vintage amps and really good mikes and sort of keep it organic at the most basic level. I think because we’re kind of a traditional rock band we record in a traditional way. We set the band up and try to get good sound on tape and towards the end we’re not opposed to using modern devices like plug-ins or synths or whatever it might be.

Do you find producing Fountains Of Wayne decidedly different than sitting in as a producer for an outside project? Plus, you’re playing on the record, so you’re in the band, yet you’re acting as producer, which is a role normally left to an objective ear.

Yeah, it’s definitely easier to produce someone else, because, as you say, you’re the guy that can step back from the whole thing and maybe see something that the artist is doing that they don’t see themselves. When you’re producing your own record it’s very easy to let your insecurities get in the way of being objective. A lot of times what we do is bring somebody in at the mixing who is also a trusted ear or producer in their own right. In this case it was John Holbrook and Michael Brower, both of whom are just incredible mixers but also good producers, so there’s that eleventh hour help of getting somebody from the outside to catch stuff that you probably missed.

What about writing for someone else as opposed to writing for Fountains Of Wayne? I understand you wrote songs for the film “Music & Lyrics” and you penned the title song for the Tom Hanks’ film, “That Thing You Do”. Is it liberating to write for different styles and voices as opposed to your own?

We all have normal lives at home now, families and stuff like that, so we can’t be like a bunch of 21 year-olds hopping into vans and disappearing for a year.

In a case like that it’s a very specific assignment. You don’t have time to sit around and wait for your muse to strike. It’s like, “Well, we need a song on Thursday and it has to be about this and it has to be this long”. It’s as if you’re a carpenter and you’re just trying to deliver what the director wants, just like the set director or the costume designer. (laughs)

I’m not sure how “Music & Lyrics” did as a film, but the soundtrack did big numbers on ITUNES.

The film did okay. The record at least on a certain level did well. I didn’t actually write all the songs for it, I wrote three. I sort of got more credit than I deserved on that movie, because there were a lot of other songwriters involved, but I had three pretty prominent ones in the movie.

Is that the same kind of deal as the Tom Hanks’ film. Did you already have “That Thing You Do” or did they say, “Write us a pop song that reflects a vanilla early-sixties pop group”?

I didn’t have that song beforehand. I heard what they were looking for after I got some notes. It’s a little bit different because in that scenario I was just one of a bunch of people just trying to submit stuff on spec, whereas with “Music & Lyrics” I was hired for the film. I had the chance to rewrite stuff and try again. It was more of a hired job up front.

It must have been a kick, in the case of the Tom Hanks film that song is plays every 30 seconds. (laughs)

Yeah, the first time I saw it I almost wanted to apologize to everyone in the theater.

You’re working on the music for the new John Waters’ Broadway musical, “Cry Baby”. How is working out the music for a Broadway play?

In some respects it’s completely new. I’ve never written anything for Broadway or even for theater particularly, but in other respects it’s the same. You’re given an assignment and each song has very specific meaning in the script and in the story, and you just have to make it work. I’m lucky to be working with the top people from that world. The guys who wrote the script are the guys who wrote “Hairspray” and “The Producers” and “Annie”. They know what they’re doing. I’m working with lyricist David Javerbaum, the executive producer of The Daily Show, and the two of us are just trying to deliver songs that fit into their script.

What’s the mind set when you go from songwriter to recording artist and producer and then working on films and musicals to a touring act again?

It’s fun in a totally different way. In a way the hard part of the work is over, because you’ve written and recorded the songs and now you’re just going out and playing them and having fun. It’s much more visceral. I don’t think anybody in this band wants to live on the road. We like to go out for a couple of weeks and then take a break and then maybe do a couple of more. We all have normal lives at home now, families and stuff like that, so we can’t be like a bunch of 21 year-olds hopping into vans and disappearing for a year. (laughs)

Is there pressure in promoting a record as opposed to just playing the odd gig here or there?

You know, compared to most things you have to do for a living, it’s hard to complain about it, really. (laughs) If I have to talk about myself for a couple of hours it beats flipping eggs, as my drummer always says. It’s our catchphrase whenever we’re stuck doing something kind of crappy, it’s like “Well, it beats flipping eggs.”

Unedited Interview Transcript

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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Adam Schlesinger Interview

Aquarian Weekly 4/6/07

Adam Schlesinger InterviewFountains Of Wayne “Traffic And Weather” Unedited Transcript

Fountains Of WayneJC: Why four years between records?

AS: Well, we toured for a long time on the last record. So we were out for over a year and then, you know, real life sort of got in the way for a while. But we started to write during the break, and we actually got into recording fairly quickly after that. But it took awhile to get the record together. Then it takes awhile to get into the release schedule. In short, I don’t know why. (chuckles) All those things added up to four years. We can’t seem to make it go any faster.

Speaking of the writing, your main themes of the “Everyman” as the archetypal hero, this Joseph Campbell thing of an ordinary person challenged to his limit, reaching a peak-culminating experience, overcoming the “supreme ordeal”, but in everyday settings, seems to permeate Fountains of Wayne songs from your Utopian Parkway record through this one.

I think it’s something that’s developed over time. When Chris (Collingwood) and I first started writing songs when we were younger we wrote about much more general things, but we found that the more specific and, in a way, realistic details we put into our songs the more people liked them. (laughs) That’s what seemed to be what we were doing that people responded to. When we first started we were in more of a guitar-pop Crowded House kind of mode, where the stuff was a little more ambiguous, but then we just started having fun putting these details in and reflecting on things we had actually seen in our own lives or maybe fictionalized from our own lives and that grew into a style for the band.

Do you guys, or perhaps yourself, when you’re writing, make a concerted effort to put references into your songs for fun? I’m reminded of this David Letterman quote about one of my favorite songwriters, the late Warren Zevon, that only he could manage to jam “brucellosis” into a song, but I say sticking references to Cosco and Leichtenstein in the same song is just as impressive.

Right. (laughs) I think it’s just the fun of playing with language. It’s not premeditated. It’s not like, “How can I fit these two words into a song?” It’s more that you’re just free-associating when you’re writing. A lot of times I’m not even really sure where the story’s going. I’m just sitting there putting lines together and letting the story write itself. And that’s how you end up with Cosco and Leichtenstein in the same song, which is pronounced wrong on the record by the way; something I discovered after the song was finished. (laughs)

(laughs) I questioned my pronunciation of it, but I only remember Leichtenstein because at one time, I’m not sure this is still true, but it was the smallest nation on earth.

Right. Right.

Do you keep notes on the road, or do you find other ways to put certain observations into your songs?

Not really. It’s more of a mental notepad. I’m pretty disorganized, actually. I wish I were a little better at keeping track of ideas, both musical and lyrical. A lot of stuff I’ll just forget about and then a year later say, “Shit, why didn’t I work that out?” But I’m mostly scattered.

Do you work from a chord progression or a melody or do you work off the lyric?

I try and change up my method so I don’t get into ruts, but more often than not I start with lyrics or at least a piece of lyric and then start working on music. But there are a few cases where I did it the opposite way just to see if I could. The song “Someone To Love” was actually written to a track that I worked on humming a melody that didn’t have any lyrics. “Strapped For Cash” was kind of the same thing. It started with a track and some chord changes and I tried writing something on top of it.

I noted on “Someone To Love”, when listening to the record, I scribbled “A 21st century ‘Eleanor Rigby’ for the tri-state area set, but with a twist.

That was kind of the idea. Pretty much spot-on. In fact, before I had the chorus figured out I was sort of just singing the chorus from “Eleanor Rigby” as a placeholder. (laughs) The twist to it, which separates the song from the melancholia of “Eleanor Rigby”, is the two main characters, while being sympathetic to a point, they eventually enact their myopia on one another at the end.

That’s what I love about your stuff.

I see it as being a near miss. I came up with these main characters and was trying to come up with what should happen to them. Should they meet? And then I thought maybe they shouldn’t meet, maybe they could almost meet. (laughs)

Right. Therein lies the tragedy. (laughs) That reminds me of the lyrics in “All Kinds of Time” from the last record, which is a phrase used in the stable of commentary for NFL color analysts, but when taken out of context is pure nonsense. What the hell is “all kinds of time”? Yet you managed to stretch it to a metaphor and compose a beautiful ballad out of it.

Yeah, a lot of times that’s what I’ll do, sort of focus on a phrase that you take for granted or that you don’t really think too much about and see if you can do something literal with it or stretch it out or do something unexpected with it.

Did you dig what the NFL did with the song as a promo?

Oh, yeah. I loved that, man. That was actually something I was lobbying for for a long time because that song was inspired by those NFL Films, so in terms of a use for our song against pictures, that was pretty much the perfect thing.

Do you have any particular literary heroes that influence your writing?

There’s a lot of writers I like, but I don’t know how much they’re directly on my mind when I’m writing a song. But there’s writers I like that use a certain amount of humor but try and not stumble too much into straight-out comedy.

How about musical influences?

There’s so many. I think we do the genre-hopping thing because we love so many different kinds of music. There are certain songs where we try and do a sixties thing. There’s other songs where we’ll try and do an eighties thing or a new wave thing. Sometimes we’ll go for something that’s more classic rock, seventies, FM sounding. Between me and Chris, between all four of us actually, we know way too much music and we love so much music.

So you make a conscious effort to take a style and sort of Fountains Of Wayne it up.

Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s really like “Hey, let’s take this style and see what we can do with it.” It’s more like if I have some lyrics I’ll try and give it different musical beds. Depending on how you couch it musically it completely changes the meaning of the lyrics. You know?

Sure.

I mean you can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off but put it against a melancholy ballad then suddenly it becomes so much more dark or poignant. Or you could go the other way and just put it against something that’s fast and bouncy and it changes the meaning of it.

I’m 44 now, and I saw in your bio that you’ll be 40 this year, so we’re in the ballpark of influences.

No. What? I’m 19, man. What are you talking about?

Oh, sorry, you’ll be 20 this year… (laughs) That kind of kills the question. But I’ll forge ahead nonetheless. Being a child of the seventies, I still have a soft spot in my heart for those WABC pop songs of the time. My brother was born in ’67 as well, but he was more of an eighties cat. But is it right to assume that pop music was always a jumping off point for your work?

Well, we love pop music. We love catchy songs you remember after the first time you’ve heard them. That’s just our taste, you know? That’s a quality in pop music that isn’t specific to any one era.

But I personally love that period of time, that AM radio period, when they would play “Smoke On The Water” and then the DiFranco Family back-to-back. This whole mosaic of pop, everything from funk to country to hard rock fell into.

Exactly. It wasn’t about a genre, it was about good songs. I have K-Tel records from the mid-seventies with these incredible swatches of all different popular musical styles from that moment, and they’re all great.

I’ve got the same albums. This is what I’m talking about with you guys. You hit that chord with your stuff.

I hope so, yeah, thanks.

You produced the record alone this time.

I’ve always taken somewhat of the lead on the records. It’s something that Chris is perfectly capable of doing; he’s just not that interested in it. He doesn’t want to spend the hours sitting in front of the computer or in front of the console doing edits or whatever it might be and I actually enjoy that stuff. This time around I did more of the grunt work, but that’s not necessarily what always happens with us. There’s been a lot of times where we’ll sit together in the studio, as in “Welcome Interstate Managers” it was credited to me and Chris and Mike Deneen, who was our engineer, because really the three of us would kind of sit around and discuss every song and make a range of choices. It’s just that this time around I was doing a lot more of that work on my own.

What do you look for in a studio sound? Are you an analog freak? You must fool with digital recording.

We use Pro Tools and we’re not afraid of modern gear, but we definitely start with vintage amps and really good mikes and sort of keep it organic at the most basic level. I think because we’re kind of a traditional rock band we record in a traditional way. We set the band up and try to get good sound on tape and towards the end we’re not opposed to using modern devices like plug-ins or synths or whatever it might be.

You built a studio in Manhattan, Stratosphere Sound. Was it structured in the style of how you personally feel a studio should be, or did you even have a hand in designing it?

Well, Stratosphere is owned by three guys; It’s me, James Iha, and Andy Chase, who I play in the band Ivy with. Andy was the one who actually started the studio before James and I got involved. But when we got involved we moved into a new space and we were all involved in the design and building from scratch. We hired a guy named Fran Manzella, who is one of the country’s best recording studio designers and really talked about what are uses for it would be, and it really came out great. It’s a perfect studio for the kind of bands we all play in and produce. It’s definitely geared towards making rock records and its very comfortable without being too sterile. He has a nice clubhouse vibe to it.

Do you find producing Fountains Of Wayne decidedly different than sitting in as a producer for an outside project? Plus, you’re playing on the record, so you’re in the band, yet you’re acting as producer, which is a role normally left to an objective ear.

Yeah, it’s definitely easier to produce someone else, because, as you say, you’re the guy that can step back from the whole thing and maybe see something that the artist is doing that they don’t see themselves. When you’re producing your own record it’s very easy to let your insecurities get in the way of being objective. A lot of times what we do is bring somebody in at the mixing who is also a trusted ear or producer in their own right. In this case it was John Holbrook and Michael Brower, both of whom are just incredible mixers but also good producers, so there’s that eleventh hour help of getting somebody from the outside to catch stuff that you probably missed.

That takes care of producer, but what about writing for someone else as opposed to writing for Fountains Of Wayne? I understand you wrote songs for the film “Music & Lyrics” and you penned the title song for the Tom Hanks’ film, “That Thing You Do”. Is that liberating to write for different styles and voices as opposed to your own?

In a case like that it’s a very specific assignment. You don’t have time to sit around and wait for your muse to strike. It’s like, “Well, we need a song on Thursday and it has to be about this and it has to be this long. It’s as if you’re a carpenter and you’re just trying to deliver what the director wants, just like the set director or the costume designer. (laughs)

You become a craftsman in a sense.

Yeah, obviously you want to do something good and that you personally like, it’s not that cut and dry. You still have to put your own inspiration into it, but it’s definitely got to be right for the film more than anything else.

I’m not sure how “Music & Lyrics” did as a film, but the soundtrack did big numbers on ITUNES.

The film did okay. The record at least on a certain level did well. I didn’t actually write all the songs for it, I wrote three. I sort of got more credit than I deserved on that movie because there were a lot of other songwriters involved, but I had three pretty prominent ones in the movie.

Is that the same kind of deal as the Tom Hanks’ film? Did you already have “That Thing You Do” or did they say, “Write us a pop song that reflects a vanilla early-sixties pop group”?

I didn’t have that song beforehand. I heard what they were looking for after I got some notes. It’s a little bit different because in that scenario I was just one of a bunch of people just trying to submit stuff on spec, whereas with “Music & Lyrics” I was hired for the film. I had the chance to rewrite stuff and try again. It was more of a hired job up front.

It must have been a kick, in the case of the Tom Hanks film that song is plays every 30 seconds. (laughs)

Yeah, the first time I saw it I almost wanted to apologize to everyone in the theater.

Did I read you’re working on the music for the new John Waters’ Broadway musical, “Cry Baby”?

Yeah, it’s kind of in the workshop stage. The plan is hopefully to be on Broadway at the beginning of next year.

Is Jimmy Vivino from the Conan O’Brien band acting as musical director?

Well, actually Jimmy Vivino played on and produced all the demo recordings when I was writing the songs. I don’t think he’s going to be the music director because he’s got so many other things on his plate. He may be involved in some kind of consultant capacity because he did play all the guitar licks on the original demo recordings, so whomever they bring in is going to have to imitate him, which is no easy task.

How was working out the music for a Broadway play?

In some respects it’s completely new. I’ve never written anything for Broadway or even for theater particularly, but in other respects it’s the same, you know? You’re given an assignment and each song has very specific meaning in the script and in the story, and you just have to make it work. I’m lucky to be working with some really smart and top people from that world. The guys who wrote the script are the guys who wrote “Hairspray” and “The Producers” and “Annie”, and all kinds of huge shows. They know what they’re doing. I’m working with lyricist David Javerbaum, the executive producer of The Daily Show, and the two of us were just trying to deliver songs that fit into their script.

Back to the band, have you guys played any shows promoting “Traffic And Weather”?

No, we’re just starting. We’re still in rehearsals. I think the first thing we’re doing is an acoustic thing at the Apple Store in Soho on the 20th, and then we start playing full band gigs after that.

When was the last time you guys were on the road?

We’ve done some sporadic gigs here and there over the last couple of years but in terms of really heavy touring I think we wrapped it up in maybe early 2005.

So what’s the mind set when you go from songwriter, to recording artist and producer, and then working on films and musicals to a touring act again?

It’s fun in a totally different way. In a way the hard part of the work is over, because you’ve written and recorded the songs and now you’re just going out and playing them and having fun. It’s much more visceral. I don’t think anybody in this band wants to live on the road. We like to go out for a couple of weeks and then take a break and then maybe do a couple of more. We all have normal lives at home now, families and stuff like that, so we can’t be like a bunch of 21 year-olds hopping into vans and disappearing for a year. (laughs)

(laughs) Is there pressure in promoting a record as opposed to just playing the odd gig here or there? Just doing something like this, doing interviews, making appearances, making yourself constantly available for promotion.

You know, compared to most things you have to do for a living, it’s hard to complain about it, really. (laughs) If I have to talk about myself for a couple of hours it beats flipping eggs, as my drummer always says. It’s our catchphrase whenever we’re stuck doing something kind of crappy, it’s like “Well, it beats flipping eggs.”

Where are you now? At the studio?

I’m at home. I live in Manhattan about three blocks from the studio so it’s a very easy commute. I’m about to head over there now, actually.

I live about ten or so miles from the actual Fountains Of Wayne. I know you’ve been asked this a billion times, but is there any particular reason why you named the band after a garden furniture store?

Well, I grew up in Monclair (New Jersey) near there and it was just one of those names that we had in our back pocket along with a lot of other band names. We used to spend half our lives thinking up band names. That’s the one that stuck. It’s actually worked out well for us. We sort of took a lot of shit for it at the beginning because people thought it was a horrendous name. In some ways it is. It doesn’t really roll off the tongue. I feel like it’s ended up fitting what the band’s about and sort of bonded us with people from this area somewhat.

How about the proprietors of Fountains OF Wayne?

Yeah, we talk with them, and when we were working on our first record we went to those guys and made sure they were cool with it. We didn’t want them to be surprised. They gave us their blessing and said let’s stay in touch, and we’ve talked with them occasionally over the years. And every once and a while a journalist with call them up and ask them questions and they play along with the whole thing. (laughs)

Yeah, well, of course now that you’re famous, but back then I can only imagine, “You’re naming a what after us?” (laughs)

Right. Right.

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James Brown – 1933 – 2006

Aquarian Weekly 1/3/07

JAMES BROWN – 1933-2006

James BrownHe was black. Very black. Hard-core, greasy-skids, funk-gut, foot-spin, mike-punch, kick-on-the-one, snap-the-snare-on-two, big-blast-horn-section, cape-flip, snazzy-jazz, rip-the-joint black. Dark as night. Dark as soul. Brotha dark. Mutha Popcorn. Real black. Black, as in beeeeuuutifulll. Not streamlined for the burbs, sold to the kids kinda Chuck Berry or Little Richard or Jimi Hendrix off-black. No. Black. Down and dirty. Dangerous. Pure as silk. Nasty as they come. Holy as they go. No slave. Fist. No dispassion. Scream. No quarter. Paper money, please. High. Mighty. Groove. Sex. Midnight. All night. All right!

Godfatha.

He was thump-thump. Hah! Heh! Git-up! Git-on-up. Shit. Like a boot in yo ass. Two-boots. Or Bootsy. Hah! Heh! Huh! Gimmie-da-beat, sucka. Like a machine. Grinding. Thump-thump. Swack! Thump-thump. Swack! Heeeaayyy. Fuck ya’ll. Push it. Pump it. Righteous fool for the rhythm. Grimy. Sweaty. Glorious rhythm. Like Billie Holiday, angel. Like Robert Johnson, blues. Like Charlie Parker, fuse.

Mr. Dyn-O-mite.

He was Da-Funk. Uptown. All the way up. 125th. Still alive. Apollo. “Ladies and gentleman…” Rafters shake. Git-on-yo-feet. New Yawk Citttaaayy. Lemmie-hear-ya-say-HUH! Hardest working man in Show Biz. Ahhhhh-feeeeel-good. Lak-ah-nooo-that-ah-wooooood. Proud. Violent. Raw. Jungle groove. Can I git a yeah? YEAH! He was black. Very black. Dream black. No light. Too cool. Cold, like sweat. Prism. Dance. Like a man. Like a riff. Like a stroll. Like a crawl. Clap. Say clap. Say dance. Say the Band. One mo-time.

Black. Soul. Funk. Smooth. Brown. Real brown.

James Brown.

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Eric Hutchinson/Cutting Room NYC

 

Aquarian Weekly 11/22/06

ERIC HUTCHINSON / THE CUTTING ROOM 10/17/06

New York City

There are rare occasions in a journalist’s existence when he/she stumbles on something that appears, at first glance, to be a sure thing. It happens once in a great while covering sports, more infrequently in politics, and when it comes to music, there is the slimmest of possibilities you will sit down in a club or a theater and someone will come on and hit you smack in the face and you just know they’ve got it, and that whatever “it” is will take them somewhere far away from the place. This happened to me with a 25 year-old lily-white soul singer/songwriter called Eric Hutchinson.

Eric HutchinsonI caught Hutchinson’s act – jumping back and forth between piano and guitar, alone with nothing but his incredibly elastic voice and biting wit – a few months back at Town Hall, where he opened for Joe Jackson, and quite frankly, with all due respect to Joe, put on a better show. The kid was funny, bright, a talented musician, and an engaging songwriter with a stage presence as smooth as the proverbial baby’s ass.

Wanting to see him headline and meet up, I trudged down to the Cutting Room in Chelsea for a chat and then watched as Hutchinson commanded the stage in the back room, regaling the packed house with his more established material (featured on his live debut CD, Before I Sold Out) and a new batch of startlingly catchy songs that display a distinctive maturing of his craft.

Hutchinson is a major talent with nary a trace of pretension in him. “Seriously, thanks for coming out in the rain tonight,” he told the rapt audience. “I’m not sure I would have.” Then he proceeded to make up a song about braving the elements and missing the Mets playoff game to hang out at the club. The crowd clapped and sang along, as if they had heard it hundreds of times before.

And that’s the visceral beauty of a Hutchinson tune. It’s as if you’ve heard it before – bluesy and soulful, a be-bop chugging rhythm-machine that twists metaphor with symbolism wrapped around tasty hooks and eminently humable melodies. Regardless of subject matter – terrible break-ups, torrid affairs, dire environmental warnings, or uplifting mantras – it begs you to tap a foot and sing along.

Mostly, it is a treat to watch Hutchinson tie it all together. Everything that happens on and off the stage is part of the gig – at one point a young woman snapped a picture of him, for which Hutchinson struck a rock and roll pose and then incorporated the moment into the song he was beginning to butcher due to the interruption. Once again, the audience loved it.

Why not? Eric Hutchinson took them far away from the place.

It happens once in a great while.

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