Tori Amos Interview

Aquarian Weekly 8/12/09 BUZZ

Tori Amos Interview
Unedited Transcript 
Conducted from The Desk at the Clemens Estate to Orlando, Fla. 7/28/09

Tori Amos: Hi, James!

jc: How’re you doing, Tori?

I’m doing very well.

I guess I should start off with personally thanking you for Little Earthquakes, because back in the winter of ’95 it really, really helped me finish the manuscript for my first published book. The thing ran incessantly in the background and provided much-needed motivation, so thanks.

Tori AmosOh, good. How’s the writing going?

Um, always tedious, but it just keeps comin’. You can’t keep those words back as Bukowski used to say.

Isn’t that exciting, though. You’ve tapped in, James. (laughs)

So have you.

Look, nobody talks about this. I hear a lot from artists, the idea of a writer’s block, and sometimes I think you can really get into a paranoid place about that. Creation, as you know, is always there. It’s always there for any of us that just want to surrender to it. If you can admit that it’s just not you who’s doing the creating, then it’s there for us all the time.

I’m always after the muse, you know.


(sighs) And hopefully she’s always paying attention.

(laughs) It sounds like she is with you, if you’re able to just keep writing those words. I can’t stop it. I find that the creation is control, and when it demands that I show up – it could be in the middle of a movie or a nice evening with the husband, where I might be getting somewhere – and all of a sudden muse walks in, grabs me by the throat, (whispers) “Pay attention.”

That’s actually my first question: How is the tour going, and can you create, can you escape to continue to create and be yourself, when you have so many of these things – interviews and you have to be on planes and in and out of hotels and performing – can you escape and be Tori every once in awhile?

Uh, being Tori…, you see, it’s not segregated anymore. Tash said the other day (chuckles), “Mummy, you rock.” Just about something silly, you know? I got her something cute, and dad looks at her and says, “Well, that’s an actual true statement, you’re mom rocks.” (Laughs) And so the thing is we travel as a family, and this is our life. People have said to Tash, you know, when they’re meeting her and they don’t understand the creature, they will say, “So when do you get back to your real life.” She’ll look and say, “Do you think this is a joke, then?”

It’s funny, a friend recently reminded me when she heard I was going to be doing this interview, that you call your songs “Your Girls”, and now you have a girl and it’s weird, the balance of that.

Yeah, I mean, Tash has asked me before; “Do you love me as much as your piano?” or “Do you love me as much as your song girls?” And I say, “Uh, Tasha, I love you more than anything in the whole world”, because the mom in me is going to step in at that moment, but the truth is James, you can’t…there are no comparisons. Tash is a physical being and this is ether, and they’re immortal; the songs, they’re not trapped inside human emotions and all that. So in my mind, the way I see it is that the mother, the composer, the performer… this is not a job to me. When I do interviews, I try and put my head space as in there’s an opportunity to have conversations with people. When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to “I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.”

Getting to the “eternal ether” of which you speak, I’d like to move onto the new record, Abnormally Attracted To Sin. I found it replete with strong mythic metaphors; this idea of defining evil or specifically iniquity, which I know has informed your past work – but could you talk about the subjective defining of Sin as a theme in these new songs?

Well…… (Laughs)


Once I realized, once I really thought about it; the church authority, the early fathers of the Christian church, I started to think about how clever they had been, because as I’ve traveled, the one thing that comes up all the time with women, is the segregation of the sexual and spiritual. Women can step into these different energies, but rarely are they together, and in order to get off or get excited and feel sexy, a lot of them have to step into a cliché picture of porno, instead of being in control and allowing the moment to take over them. If that makes any sense, don’t you see then the whole porno aspect, where women will say “Well, I’m liberated, I can do whatever I want with my body”, but in order to get off a lot of them have to pervert what could be a spiritual man. What’s sexier than touching your twin flame? But, don’t you see, it’s kind of been put in a holy space, so that women turn to what I would say is perversion and negativity in order to get off. And I think that this is all connected to sin, and the definition that was programmed and passed down by the early church fathers. So you couldn’t win, don’t you see? If you step into the bad girl you’re never going to achieve transformation, just orgasm. And if you’re spiritual, you’re not going to get transformation either, because you’re disconnected from the body.

“Women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, throughout the Christian world, how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this.”

That brings me to a couple of points, and I’m reminded of an interview you did a few years ago on the subject of the subjugation of women in the early church while I was researching a book on the historical Jesus. This was in the mid-nineties actually. I was in Israel visiting the town of Magdala, which was the town of the New Testament’s Mary of Magdala, later translated as Mary Magdalene, often seen as a woman of ill repute and wrongly depicted in church parlance as a prostitute. Actually, or historically, she was a mainstay in the early Christian movement, or the Jesus Movement, which I call it in the book, and conspicuous in its absence is not one church or plaque or remembrance in the birth town of this Mary Magdalene. This, I think, speaks to that subjugation of women, not only spiritually and sexually, but literally and historically.

Yes, and then, later, once the movement was taken over by what became the Catholic Church, then, as you well know, Jesus’ message was merely a jumping off point to their own messages. And their messages became shame, that the body wasn’t holy, it was dirty and all these things. The truth, that I thought, that I felt Mary Magdalene was telling us was about integration, that she was a prophet. And if you and I go back to the great goddess culture of these women, they were whole. A lot of these women from ancient Egypt…


Yeah, they were complete beings. They weren’t just only sexual or only spiritual, and I think women haven’t had a template. It’s not as if we’ve been taught, in the West particularly, through the Christian world, we’re certainly not taught through Christianity how to be whole and complete women. You’re taught to pick different aspects of this. And this is why so many women who are respected go have these affairs and might start dancing on the street or on a poll, (laughs) because they haven’t been able to figure out how to liberate the passionate self. And the title of the record is so important, James, because it really asks you to define; “What are you attracted to?” And once you start knowing what you’re attracted to, until you really can look at what it is, and just talking to women, some of them are appalled and shocked at what they’re attracted to. Some of them have been attracted to men that don’t respect them at all. My God! So then don’t you see you have to go into your programming and you really have to reconstruct your main core outward.

That reminds me of something a woman friend of mine said years ago. She was pretty good at chess, but her father was excellent, and she said the problem there is that men are wired to parry and attack, while women are wired to react and protect, to hold back, which is doom speak in the realm of chess. You are preprogrammed not only sexually or spiritually, but also intellectually, instead of choosing to live not on the prospect of fear, but self-empowerment.

That’s right.

So in a way I think this record is attacking the way that sin was seeded and put in the psyche generation after generation. Which brings me to the lyric in Flavor; “Who’s God then is God/ They all want jurisdiction/In the book of Earth/Who’s God spread fear/Spread love.” And there is also the stanza from the title track, “She may be dead to you/But her hips sway a natural kind of faith/And I love the combination of physicality and spirituality there/That could give your lost heart/A warm chapel/You’ll sleep in her bell tower/And you will simply wake ” Which has a Buddhist feel to it. Have you ever heard of Matilda Josyln Gage.


The reason why I ask is your answer speaks to your point. Apparently, she was a latter nineteenth century suffragette who was ostracized by the women’s movement and in particular Susan B. Anthony for her vociferous stance against the church and Christianity at large. The movement subjugated her because the movement could never be ingratiated into American politics on the momentum of an atheist or pagan voice, even though her points justified the very movement she was kicked out of. And in an essay at the time that I believe ended up in one of her later books, she wrote: “Believing this country to be a political and not a religious organisation…the editor of the NATIONAL CITIZEN will use all her influence of voice and pen against ‘Sabbath Laws’, the uses of the ‘Bible in School,’ and pre-eminently against an amendment which shall introduce ‘God in the Constitution.'” In a way she is saying that all of these concepts were set up as a retaining wall to keep women from their constitutional rights, and although it differs slightly to what you’ve been saying, I thought about Gage and this quote upon hearing much of Abnormally Attracted To Sin.

Tori AmosWell it’s funny that you bring this up, because number one, I’m playing the Daughters Of The American Revolution, in Washington – DAR Constitution Hall. (sighs) The thing is, James, yes, things have changed in many ways, but you probably know how corporations are rife with a Right Wing Christian kind of leaning. And that this is not just an isolated situation I’m talking about, but across the country there’s a movement that is really about subjugating women on every level. It’s everywhere. And yes, there are corporations that are thinking more like you and I, and there are those people as well, but the fact is that in the twenty-first century there are corporations that are driven by a belief system! So the separation of church and state is a concept that is not necessarily a reality in our country at all. And I’ve had to go up against it as well; nothing like this woman, mainly because of the Internet, where I could get to the people without…(pauses) Without the Internet I’m not sure I’d be on my tenth album right now quite frankly, because the Internet came as corporations were clogging where I stood. And I was very vocal about the emancipation of all people, not just women from this tyrannical faith system that is not Jesus’ teaching. So, yeah, I’ve had to combat some pretty dark forces. And without the Internet I don’t think that I would have been able to do it, because I went directly to the people.

Working outside of the system that is set up against free thought or free expression?

That’s right. But if we didn’t have the Internet we couldn’t work outside the system. Not like we are.

Sure, and that speaks to the self-empowerment issue as well. One last question about the record, there is quite a bit of prose, almost dialogue, specifically “Welcome To England”, “Not Dying Today”, “Maybe California” – which has a gorgeous melody, by the way – this sort of almost Allen Ginsberg, Beat poetry thing. And I understand there is an accompanying DVD with the record that has videos for nearly ever song. So I’ll assume you saw a cinematic aspect to the songs that could be more direct or succinct visually than audibly?

Well, honestly, I think the audio lives on its own, as you’re talking about it. There are conversations happening. It’s a very intimate record in a lot of ways, because we’re looking in on these conversations this woman is having and what’s going on in her mind, and the deepest feelings of her heart. So I don’t think it needed visuals, necessarily, but when I saw Christian Lamb’s montages I thought of silent movies and I thought of stories being told, but I wanted the visuals to be abstract not literal. And he doesn’t work that way, so when I saw them I thought, “This is the tenth album and I want to give something sort of, I don’t know, it’s a double-digit anniversary number, I want to give something that is a little gift,” and I was really moved by his montage work.

“When you start seeing things as a job, then you start responding with a job consciousness as opposed to ‘I’m a creator who has an opportunity to create and live my life.'”

So you were inspired in that direction, which makes sense, again I find many of the songs cinematic, especially Mary Jane, which has now become my favorite drug song of all time. (laughs) There’s a Kurt Weill style that the song musically has, not sure if you agree with this, but it has that German, nihilistic sound, just as the playful lyric works against it nicely. I know you didn’t do a film for that, but it recalls an old, visual kind of play.

Oh, I’m so happy! You just made my day!

Oh, I did. Okay, good. (laughs)


It doesn’t have a film, because really to do that film justice, you know, I… I understand. Say no more. Yeah. But you were thinking in terms of Kurt Weill? Because it screams it to me.

Oh, yeah.

Okay, (laughs) That’s wonderful. This has been a treat for me. I do have two quick final questions from fans that I promised to ask – they have to know, because they’re huge fans. The first one is have you been playing covers on this tour, and if so, which ones and why?

Yeah, we’re doing a lot of covers, meaning there’s one a night, just because it fits into what we’re doing. I have a Lizard Lounge section. So it might show up there. Sometimes if it’s raucous it might show up somewhere else. I enjoy doing them. It’s also fits very well in the live format, especially if I don’t repeat the covers that it kind of tailors that show special for them.

That makes sense. And this next question I was thinking of asking myself, if the conversation veered more into the music as opposed to the literary and spiritual aspects of your work, but I know that your proficiency on the piano helped you to stand out among the many women artists that came along in the early nineties. Not only that it’s your style of playing – a facing the audience, more intimate style, and the playing of different keyboards at once. Is that style something that you have always used as a performance vehicle or something you’ve done out of necessity to lend different tonalities to the performance?

Well, all of the above. Once I was playing lounges for so many years, after I had been doing that, and as the records started to get developed and the sounds became more and more, then I thought for me to be able to deliver what I want it to sound like I’d have to include more keyboards on stage, it became…during Choir Girl…I had the harpsichord in Boys For Pele, and after doing that I just realized this is the way to go. So it started with the harpsichord and piano and then it expanded to all kinds of keyboards. In order to have a little orchestra.

Sure, I remember that specifically seeing your show out in Long Island years ago and that was one of the treats of the show. Well, I see we’ve gone a little over our press limit, so I want to thank you for your time, continue to chase that muse and bring her in and best of luck on the rest of the tour.

Hey James, will you let somebody know what book I can read, what you’re working on.

Oh, thank you for asking. Do you have somewhere I can send my books?

I’ll give you Barry and he’ll give you Chelsea’s address or he’ll e-mail you. Is that okay?

And I’ll send down some required reading for Gage, because she’s someone I think you’ll really enjoy.

Oh, yeah, could you do that? You’re the best mind I’ve talked to …ever! (laughs)

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100 Favorite Albums – Author, James Campion’s list.

100 FAVORITE ALBUMS(no live, best of…, or soundtracks included)

During a symposium for music journalists sponsored by public radio, jc was asked to list his 50 favorite albums of the rock-n-roll era, complete with mini-reviews for the top ten. Taken from the original notes rendered in the winter of 1998, jc told that he reserves the right to update it at anytime, to which he then perused and changed considerably adding 50 more titles in the winter of 2002 and yet another update in the spring of 2009. Nevertheless the list is fairly concrete, and, as usual, open for healthy debate.

Last Updated 6/17/09

1. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John (1975) Captain Fantastic
The ultimate collection from all-time song-writing team, Bernie Taupin and Elton John performed as a trip down English memory lane with one of the most underrated rock bands of the era. Killer opening tune, (title track) and dramatic closer (“Curtains”). A champion of melodies and musicianship, it combines the pomp of 70s’ pop with poetic angst. A flawless effort from artists in their prime. Highlights: “Bitter Fingers”, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”, “Writing”.

2. Quadrophenia – The Who (1973)Quadrophenia
An evolved rock ensemble tackling the essence of its author, Pete Townshend to perfection. The best concept/opera ever set to tape with an anger and sensitivity rarely displayed by artists of this genre. Defines the frustration of youth and its warped dreams of coming to age while offering a tapestry of powerful release and somber beauty. Highlights: “The Real Me”, “5:15”, “Love Reign O’er Me

 3. Exile On Main St. – The Rolling Stones (1972)        Exile on Main St.
The greatest rock-n-roll band in the world at the height of its powers, cranking out musical inspiration with nasty delight. Recorded in a castle basement with the grit of high flying junkie hipsters, it is everything the Stones did well in every stage of its existence: country, blues, gospel, boogie, and barroom rockabilly. Highlights: “Tumbling Dice”, “Loving Cup”, “Let It Loose”.

4. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967) Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
The musical centerpiece for an affluent postwar generation, it heralded the age of Aquarius, issued in the era of the album as an art form, and reinvented the most famous pop band on the planet. Lyrically effusive, musically colorful, and eminently entertaining; the history of rock-n-roll is split by its presence. Highlights: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Being For The Benefit Of Mister Kite”, “A Day In The Life”.

5. The Joshua Tree – U2 (1987)The Joshua Tree
Documenting the most fertile period of one of the 80s’ most important bands, it is a musical journey both spiritual and cathartic. One of the finest opening songs to any collection (“Where The Streets Have No Name”) sets the stage for this brilliant array of folk/rock songs displaying the apex of U2’s unique sound and fury. It’s overall lyrical vision of earth, fire and water set to infectious melodies and dark images cut deep. Highlights: “With Or Without You”, “Bullet The Blue Sky”, “Running To Stand Still”.

6. Sign O The Times – Prince (1987)Sign O' The Times
A mad genius caught in the infinite groove and the wild abandon of his mystical world, this is the quintessential collection of muses by any artist attempting to use popular music as a single career statement. Eschewing collaboration for the myopic vision, this is Prince Rogers Nelson as funk Gershwin setting impossible standards of creativity. Highlights: “Play In The Sunshine”, “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”, “Adore”.

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got7. I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got – Sinead O’Connor (1990)
The most honest account of a woman artist exorcising spiritual demons, rendered with raw passion and infinite grace. Before O’Connor’s public furor and marketing defiance loomed over the work, it is a sweet and horrific demonstration of what a songwriter can do when facing the mirror and describing the view. Highlights: “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”, “Three Babies”, “Last Day Of Our Acquaintance”.

8. Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan (1974)Blood On The Tracks
The best example of what an important social icon is capable of when turning his caustic, probing guns inward for a biographical purging. Spinning ballads and literal tales of the infamous lonely minstrel; this is Dylan on the psyche couch spitting out personal questions about the age of loss. Highlights: “Tangled Up In Blue”, “Simple Twist Of Fate”, “Shelter From The Storm”.

New American Language9. New American Language – Dan Bern (2002)
It’s pop, it’s folk, it’s rock, it’s country, but mostly it’s melodiously infectious and begs the listener to actually listen. One of the best new albums of the new century’s opening decade from a man fast becoming a musical chronicler of our bizarre times, and besides being as funny as hell, a damn good songwriter. Highlights: “Sweetness”, “God Said No”, “Albuquerque Lullaby”.

10. Living With Ghosts – Patty Griffith (1992)Living With Ghosts
Elegant melodies and provocative lyrics bloom from the pure grit of a distinctly pristine voice and come to life in these quaintly stripped down compositions. Originally recorded for a demo, it is a startling debut from a signature songwriter of her time poised to unleash the deepest fears and soul aspirations onto tape. Highlights: “Moses”, “Poor Man’s House”, “Forgiveness”.

11. Good Old Boys – Randy Newman (1974)Good Old Boys
The master of mordant metaphor and biting satire doled out in two minute ditties of twisted wit and wisdom offers up a smorgasbord of haughty characters born from the bowels of crazed self-loathing. Only a songwriting genius such as Newman could conjure such manic diversity delivered in goose-bump inducing melodies and striking orchestration. From the opening lines of “Rednecks”, this one hits hard. Highlights: “Birmingham”, “Louisiana 1927”, “A Wedding In Cherokee County”.

12. Tommy – The Who (1969)Tommy
Expanding the mind, cleansing the soul and satirizing the whole damn world. Pete Townshend’s initial foray into the Rock Opera yields a rough and tumble unit’s cerebral side. Ardent imagery and bizarre glimpses into a metaphysical era, while impaling the various modes of culture, this is a special place where philosophy meets tonality with a vengeance. Highlights: “Overture”, Pinball Wizard”, “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

13. Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon (1970)Plastic Ono Band
One man bellowing from the inside out for the whole wide world to hear. It is a stripped-down raw-wound collection of painful songs beautifully presented under the guise of healing. A signature effort from one of the most influential voices of a generation at the crossroads of a life three-quarters complete. Highlights: “Mother”, “Isolation”, “God”.

14. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (1966)Pet Sounds
Precursor for the age of studio chaos and experimentation. Gorgeous tunes with omniscient orchestration written and presented in glorious splendor by the genre’s resident ingenious loon, Brian Wilson. Sweet harmonies and dreamy arrangements set in the backdrop of childlike fantasy. Highlights: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “You Still Believe In Me”, “God Only Knows”.

15. Destroyer – Kiss (1976) Destroyer
A wonderfully noisy postcard from the ostentatiously loud and dynamic 70s’ pap/metal/fantasy troubadours. Hits the traditional highs of great albums with a rollicking opener, “Detroit Rock City” and closes with the ethereal sex rant, “Do You Love Me?”, not to mention an orchestral bombast, rousing choir and the genre’s first ballad. As good as hard rock gets. Highlights: “God Of Thunder”, Shout It Out Loud”, “Beth”.

Night At The Opera16. A Night at the Opera – Queen (1975)
A fitting title for an eclectic collection of electric arias of rhythmic playfulness, this breakout siren from one of the virtuoso bands of the period unloads the full repertoire of tricks from down-and-dirty rock, bouncy ragtime, operatic swooning and one of the finest pop songs of the 70s’ in “You’re My Best Friend” and its most outlandishly tasty bombast, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Highlights: “Death On Two Legs”, “’39, “Love Of My Life”.

Not A Pretty Girl17. Not a Pretty Girl – Ani DiFranco – (1995)
The ultimate screaming, pompous, angry, curiously romantic serenade from an incredibly diverse poet, musician, and folk singer in the zone. The evolving momentum of her work leads to this seminal musical moment and launches several more levels of creative explosions worthy of the great composers of 20th century passions. Highlights: “Worthy”, “Hour Follows Hour”, 32 Flavors”.

18. The Wall – Pink Floyd (1979) The Wall
The only known audio film, it is the signature 60s’ art band’s final stab at bassist and songwriter, Roger Waters’ career-long fascination with the artistic seduction of madness. Beautifully produced and presented in a tour de force of sound, fury and virtuosity, a well of infinite sadness resonates with every note. Highlights: “Mother”, “Nobody Home”, Comfortably Numb”.

19. Hunky Dory – David Bowie (1972)Hunky Dory
No better slice of the musical chameleon at the height of his songwriting, singing, and poetic powers. It is the framework for an an entire movement of 70s’ folk/glam/storytelling albums with a central figure speaking through the schizophrenic prisms of boundless imagination. The glaring example of Bowie’s engaging duality is on display with the opening strains of the positively charged “Changes” to the final note of the disturbingly somber “The Bewlay Brothers”. Highlights: “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “Life On Mars?”, Quicksand”.

20. King of America – Elvis Costello (1985)King Of America
Everything Costello has given to the pantheon of modern songwriting and performing is evident in this masterpiece of lyric and melody. Arguably the finest collection of songs presented in the post-Beatles/Dylan period of balladeers with a few properly placed chords wrapped around a heavy bushel of irony, Costello’s distinct voicings and unnerving timbre is chillingly powerful throughout. Highlights: “Brilliant Mistake”, “Indoor Fireworks”, “Poisoned Rose”.

21. Rain Dogs – Tom Waits (1986)

22. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)Around The World In A Day

23. Let It Bleed – The Rolling Stones (1969)

24. Around the World in a Day – Prince (1985)

25. The Sun Sessions – Elvis Presley (1976)

26. Fleeting Days – Dan Bern (2002)Little Earthquakes

27. Little Earthquakes – Tori Amos (1991)

28. Revolver – The Beatles (1966)

29.The Doors – The Doors (1967)

30. August & Everything After – Counting Crows (1993)

31. Moondance – Van Morrison (1971)

32. Girlfriend – Matthew Sweet (1990)The Doors

33. Jagged Little Pill – Alanis Morrisette (1995)

34. Dilate – Ani DiFranco (1994)

35. Look Sharp – Joe Jackson (1979)

36. Outlandos D’Amour – The Police (1979)Dilate

37. Some Girls – The Rolling Stones (1978)

38. Sail Away – Randy Newman (1971)

39. Armed Forces – Elvis Costello (1978)Sail Away

40. Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (1971)

41. Document – REM (1987)

42. The White Album – The Beatles (1968)

Document43. Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings – Counting Crows (2008)

44. Rocket To Russia – Ramones (1977)

45. Uh-Huh – John Cougar Mellencamp (1984)

Rocket To Russia46. Universal Mother – Sinead O’Connor (1994)

47. Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan (1965)

48. Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon (1978)

No Need To Argue49. Abbey Road – The Beatles (1969)

50. No Need to Argue – The Cranberries (1994)

51. Bookends – Simon & Garfunkel (1968)


52. 1999 – Prince (1982)

53. Dookie – Green Day (1994)

54. Freewheelin’ – Bob Dylan (1963)

Dookie55. Welcome to My Nightmare – Alice Cooper (1975)

56. All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes – Pete Townshend (1982)

57. Jazz – Queen (1978)

58. Rites Of Passage – Indigo Girls (1992)

59. Nothing’s Shocking – Jane’s Addiction (1988)

60. Tidal – Fiona Apple (1996)

Exodus61. Out of Time – REM (1991)

62. The La’s – The La’s (1990)

63. Exodus – Bob Marely

Sentimental Hygiene

64. Rumors – Fleetwood Mac (1977)

65. Sentimental Hygiene – Warren Zevon (1987)

66. Hard Candy – Counting Crows (2002)

67. Ani DiFranco – Ani Difranco (1990)

68. Under Rug Swept – Alanis Morrisette (2002)Hard Candy

69. News of the World – Queen (1977)

70. Central Reservation – Beth Orton (1999)

71. By Numbers – The Who (1975)

72. Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones (1968)News of the World

73. Small Change – Tom Waits (1976)

74. Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player – Elton John (1973)

75. Ghost in the Machine – The Police (1981) Southern Accents

76. Southern Accents – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (1985)

77. This Desert Life – Counting Crows (2000)

78. My Aim is True – Elvis Costello (1977) Billion Dollar Babies

79. Trouble in Paradise – Randy Newman (1982)

80. Billion Dollar Babies – Alice Cooper (1973)

81. Welcome Interstate Managers – Fountains of Wayne (2003)

Rubber Soul82. Rubber Soul – The Beatles (1966)

83. Gold – Ryan Adams (2001)

84. Maybe Tomorrow – Jackson Five (1971)


85. The Velvet Underground & Nico – VU (1967)

86. Joshua, Judges, Ruth – Lyle Lovett (1992)

87. The Game – Queen (1980)

Dream of the Blue Turtles

88. L.A. Woman – The Doors (1970)

89. The Dream of the Blue Turtles – Sting (1985)

90. This Year’s Model – Elvis Costello (1977)

91. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen (1982)

92. Fifty Eggs – Dan Bern (1998)This Year's Model

93. Recovering The Satellites – Counting Crows (1996)

94. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)

95. Hi, How Are You? – Daniel Johnston (1983)Ten

96. Ten – Pearl Jam (1991)

97. Black & Blue – Rolling Stones (1976)

98. Parade – Prince (1986)

99. Business As Usual – Men At Work (1982)Blue

100. Blue – Joni Mitchell (1971)

50 Favorite Films

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Lucinda Williams Interview

Lucinda Williams Interview Unedited TranscriptConducted over the phone lines from New Orleans, Louisiana and The Desk at The Clemens Estate, NJ – 2/22/09

From the Bayou to Bakersfield, Austin to Boston, from the high plains ballad to the raunchiest riffs and the echoing twang of an all-night hootenanny, Lucinda Williams has covered every geographical/musical base available to her. In a remarkable 31-year career that has defied label, her songs have traversed every emotional barrier with the steadiest of musical compasses. Her voice, graveled, strained and dripping of warm honey, strips bare the pretenses of performance at every turn. She is an American original, a country rocker with the soul Lucinda Williamsof a poet rising from backstreet city grit. Her intimately crafted records from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road to Essence to her latest, Little Honey (released within a year of her last effort, West) never disappoint while also skillfully chopping through the roughest lyrical terrain, making fertile otherwise barren territory. Williams, like all great authors, painters, photographers, and composers, acts as our constant guide, the world-weary traveler seeking a home, and we are always privileged for having come along for the ride.

The ten-time Grammy winner and her band, Buick 6 are rolling into Montclair New Jersey this week, and on the way, I had a chance to chat with her about the making of Little Honey, its subsequent tour, and her magnificently original and always inspiring songwriting.

James Campion: Hi Lucinda, How are you?

Lucinda Williams: Hi!

Thanks for giving me a few minutes on your Sunday.

That’s okay.

How’s the tour going?

Great. We just did three nights in a row in Dallas, Austin and Houston and it’s going great. Houston was really good, the best attendance we’ve had there in years and years. So that was really encouraging. Are you in New Orleans now? I see that’s on your next stop. Yeah, we’re here today and we’re playing tomorrow night at the House of Blues. I hadn’t realized it’s the night before Mardi Gras day.

That’s right.

That should be pretty crazy. (laughs) The House of Blues is always pretty wild anyway and now it’s going to be Mardi Gras week and it’s going to be like…(laughs) But we’re looking forward to it.

I’d like to talk about the new record. We’re really enjoying it over here. It’s wonderful. Thank you. It’s odd for any artist to release new material in back-to-back years, and I was just getting into West, dissecting the songs and living with them, and then Bang! here comes Little Honey. Is it simply a case of an overspill of creativity or was there something particular that inspired you to write so much new material right away?

Yeah, a lot of the songs that are on Little Honey were ready when West came out, and we were actually going to put out a double CD thing for West, because we had enough material for two, but we weren’t able to do that, so we just kind of divided the songs up. So Little Honey is kind of like West Volume Two…(laughs) with the addition of a few new songs. But the majority of the songs I already had for West, so that’s why that happened.

The record has a very first-take, loose, almost in-studio figuring it out vibe, in the Bob Dylan vein of here are the chords, one-two-three…go! Yeah. Is that an accurate description of the recording process for Little Honey?

“I like to leave things open for discovery, whether it’s in the studio or on the stage.”

Yeah, well it just kind of happened that way. I think it’s just a combination of the time between West and Little Honey I formed a new band, and we’ve been out on the road playing together. So I was recording in the studio with the road band, and any time you go into the studio with your road band there’s going to be more of that feel, more spontaneity and everybody’s comfortable with each other and so you’re going to have more of that “Yee Ha! Let’s have a good time!” sort of thing. So there was a level of comfort on this record that I probably haven’t experienced as much as any other record, partly because of that, but also it’s the same studio I recorded West in with the same engineer, Eric Liljestrand. So a lot of stuff was familiar territory, and I think everybody was a little more relaxed in general, and we gave ourselves permission to take chances and be real spontaneous. We wanted to have that feel end up on the record, like the false start on Real Love. I mean, nobody sits and plans that out. It just happens when the band is playing and we left it on. A lot of that stuff happens in the studio, it’s just a matter of deciding if you want it on the record. (laughs)

Does that level of comfort and familiarity translate to the live performances? In other words, when you go into the studio and its more of a live feel, I might assume that when you take the songs out they have an open-ended feeling of being able to continue to evolve with each performance.

Yeah, sometimes. There are certain instances, like now, Doug Pettibone is gone from the band and we have a new guitar player who’s replaced him, Eric Schermerhorn, who has just joined the band, so of course he’s going to be putting his own stamp on things. I mean, you know, for the most part, once the songs have been recorded and we have rehearsals and we go out on the road, I don’t tell any of the band members really what to play for the most part. I just kind of allow the band members to do their thing. There’s a certain guideline; you have to follow the song, but there’s always going to be some little neat surprises. They’re usually kind of small ones, like some nights we’ll reach a certain thing on a song and all sort of look at each other and say, “Wow that was really cool!” (laughs) I like to leave things open for discovery, whether it’s in the studio or on the stage. We’re always learning new songs, like just the other day during sound check before the show in Austin we worked up a Guitar Slim song called The Things That I Used To Do, this classic old R & B song, and I sang it that night and then we did it again last night in Houston, and of course it was better because it was the second night I’d done it. So we’re pretty spontaneous as far as working up material and trying new things.

Getting back to the record, two of my favorite songwriters are on it, Elvis Costello in the duet for Jailhouse Tears and Matthew Sweet added background vocals on a few tracks. I want to talk about Matthew Sweet first. I consider Sweet one of the most underrated pop and rock and roll songwriters working today.

Oh, I agree. Totally. I was completely taken with him. I knew who he was, but I’d never worked with him or spent any time with him, but I’ve decided he was the Brian Wilson of today. He arranged all the vocal harmonies, particularly on Little Rock Star, which are pretty complex. We sent him the tapes of the songs that he sang on with Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), and he wrote out all these harmonies and all these lush, beautiful vocal arrangements and showed up at the studio with all this stuff already written out and arranged. I was blown away. I’ve never had anyone go to such lengths and be so involved in a technical way before. I was really impressed with how he worked.

How did your duet with Elvis Costello on Jailhouse Tears come about?

Little HoneyWell, he was one of the people we were thinking of and we had a list of people and we weren’t sure we were going to get Elvis because of his schedule and everything, but it just so happened that he was in town working on something for his own record, so we were able to grab him. We had to hook up with him around eleven o’clock on a Saturday night. This was after Tom (Overby – Husband/Manager) and I had been at a Grammy party, ’cause it was the week of the Grammys last year. So we literally just…we had the track cut already… and we just ran in and hooked up with Elvis and Elvis and I did the vocals together. It was real…(chuckles) very spontaneous.

It’s a wonderful duet. It reminds me so much of say a classic country duet like Johnny Cash and June Carter on Jackson.

Yeah. That’s kind of what it’s supposed to be, yeah.

I was turned onto Elvis like most people who love him in the late Seventies, but my favorite record of his is King Of America from 1986, which has this carefree, country, Americana feel that I always thought was reflected in your best work. I’m not sure if you’re a fan of that record and that’s what brought you to Elvis for this duet, but it’s weird how that came together in the song.

No, I was…I am! That’s funny you said that, because Elvis asked me several years ago to do one of those Crossroads shows (CMT Network) together. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those, they’ve quit doing them, but they would have two different artists on, and they’d have them sing songs together and talk and they asked me to do it with Elvis. So I had to learn a couple of his songs, and the song I did as a duet with him on the show was Poisoned Rose.

Oh, gorgeous song. I would have loved to see that.

I know. I love that, and I hadn’t even…Of course I was armed with all of his albums when I was getting ready to do that thing (chuckles) and I was listening to all of them, and that was the album that there were some songs on there that I thought were a little bit different than some of his other ones. That was the one song that really stood out. I hadn’t heard him do it before. I thought it was really unusual.

That makes perfect sense. I could absolutely see you singing that song.

Yeah. Yeah.

Your dad being a poet must have influenced your view of the written word as a powerful tool of emoting, so I have to ask about your literary heroes or influences and if they weave their way into your lyrical ideas.

“All of my songs, I mean…I’m in there too. (laughs) You know?”

The main one would be Flannery O’Connor. I read all of her stuff when I was a teenager, fifteen, sixteen years old. I just really grabbed onto it. She was very influential in my writing. In fact, the last couple nights we performed a version my song, Atonement and I talked to the audience about Flannery O’Connor and that Southern gothic and particularly her book Wise Blood, which really influenced that song.

Eudora Welty was another one, just that whole genre, the local color; it dealt with the South and that sort of dark side of life.

Flannery O’Connor to me is what Diane Arbus is to photography. (laughs)

Right. (laughs)

You know what I mean?

Yes, beautifully said. Excellent analogy. You can’t turn away, despite its shocking nature. There’s beauty to the darkness.

Yeah. That’s true.

I was thinking about the literary aspect to your songwriting career lately, even your performing career; for instance you performed your albums in their entirety in New York and Los Angeles a few years back, right?

Yeah, starting with the Ramblin’ album going straight through.

That kind of pulls the veil away from those records being anything other than almost novels unto themselves, as if hearing those songs in that order matter more than simply throwing your latest and best work together to release, promote and tour. Or is that thinking it out too much? (laughs)

No, not at all. It was great. I realized the whole idea of revisiting the songs the way they were done on the records, for one reason a lot of times I don’t get to perform every single song…there are a lot of songs that get left out of most of the shows I do. So it was an excuse to go back and do a lot of those songs that I don’t get to perform very often. You know, I got to revisit my early songs and see if they still held up. (laughs)

There are a three particular songs on Little Honey that denote the idea of celebrity or stardom or artists struggling through or with the creative process, for instance Little Rock Star, a touching conversational ballad, Rarity, a beautiful track with a wonderful horn arrangement, and It’s a Long Way To The Top If You Want To Rock & Roll, the old AC/DC song.

Yeah, well, Rarity was actually written during the West period and was supposed to be on West and was carried over. Little Rock Star was one of the newer songs that I wrote while I was recording Little Honey; but I’d been working on the idea for it. A lot of times I’ll start a song and take a while to finished it – but there’s a connection, certainly those two; although they really deal with the different things. And then the AC/DC song was actually Tom’s idea (laughs). He suggested it towards the end of the album. We were looking for a good old rock and roll song. He thought it would be cool to do a cover. We had a lot of possibilities and that was one of ’em. So we worked it up and it was just kind of one of those after-the-fact coincidences for the most part that we saw that there was a thread running between Rarity, Rock Star and Long Way To The Top. None of it was thought out ahead of time…

Sure. But it’s a nice trilogy. It works.

It is. It is. It really does. Yeah.

I’m thinking specifically now of Rarity, who is the subject behind that one?

Lucinda WilliamsThere was this singer/songwriter by the name of Mia Doi Todd. A friend of mine introduced me to her music several years ago. She was out on a little independent label and I was really taken by her writing, particularly her lyrics. She’s just really, really brilliant. I like her voice too. It’s very kind of Suzanne Vegaish, sort of a non-singer kind of voice. And her songs are like poems. I’m not often that taken by contemporary songwriters. So a couple of years later I came across one of her records and noticed that she’d been apparently signed by a subsidiary of the Universal Music Group and I thought, “Oh, this is great. The world needs to hear this person.” You know how when you discover a person like that and you want to champion them? So I was really glad to see she was going to get more well known and everything and then the next thing I know she’d been dropped from that label and was back on another unknown independent label, so I thought well…there you go, another brilliant artist falls through the cracks, under appreciated, underrated and so on and so forth. And that’s what the song is about. I was thinking about her, but I was also thinking about myself when I was back trying to get a record deal and trying to get signed and going through the whole thing with the major labels and all that kind of stuff. So I kind of just put it all together. All of my songs, I mean…I’m in there too. (laughs) You know?


Even when I’m talking about…if there is another subject that inspires a song like Little Rock Star I think the writer has to always been empathetic with the subject. I think that’s true of any art form. To get back to photography, I mean the photographer has to be empathetic with whoever he’s shooting or whatever…you know, you have to put part of yourself in it in order for there to be an honesty there. I think that’s why the audience connects so well with my songs.

I’m reminded of Randy Newman when I think of putting empathy into characters, no matter how dark, no matter how deranged or off the tracks his characters are, when he is singing, you can feel he gets them and you are suddenly inside them as well.


Speaking of Randy Newman, is there a songwriter you admire now or have always admired, because you mentioned not ordinarily being blown away by any contemporary songwriters. How about ones from the past that influenced you the most and maybe still do?

“I’ve never been just a folksinger.”

Well, before when I said contemporary songwriters, I meant new, younger songwriters. There aren’t that many that I find myself saying, “Wow, this is really great!” But certainly one of the main ones would have been Bob Dylan. I started with him at twelve years old and I was immediately taken with the way he used language. Traditional music and contemporary writing blended together made a lot of sense to me. With my dad being a poet and growing up around contemporary Southern writers, but I was also greatly influenced by the traditional folk songs and all of that. I had the John and Alan Lomax Folk Songs U.S.A. that every kid had back in the mid-sixties and I’d sit around and sing all those songs out of there like Banks of The Ohio and listen to Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and at the same time I was influenced by the contemporary Southern literature that I was soaking up, that was around me, and so when I first heard Highway 61 Revisited, that was the first Dylan I heard, I just went, “Wow, he’s taken these two worlds and blended them together!” It’s like Allen Ginsberg meets Woody Guthrie or something, you know? (laughs) And it totally made sense to me. When I was twelve years old I didn’t understand every single song on that record, ’cause it was pretty complex, but I certainly got it. I got something. And I said, “This is what I want to do.” It had a profound impact on me. You know…?

I do know.


It shows in your work in a great way. I have one personal final question, as a fan; my favorite song of yours is Steal Your Love. I absolutely love that song.

Oh, thanks, thanks.

I think it’s a superb piece of irony, the rhythm and the direct sparseness of its performance is contagious. Can you recall anything particular about the writing or recording of that song for me? If I say Steal Your Love, what do you think of first?

Uh, well, when I was doing that record, the record itself, and even when I was writing that song, it was very liberating for me to be able to write a song like that and just let it go and let it be, without feeling like I had to fill it up with so many words and everything. Essence was the first record that I did following Car Wheels, and I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do. At the same time, again, to make the Dylan connection, his Time Out Of Mind album had come out right about that same time, and I was thinking, “Wow this is such an interesting parallel with his career and his different albums – his earlier ones were more narrative and kind of complex and everything – and now he’s doing this more stark album that Daniel Lanois produced and I just loved it. So there was this kind of thread going on; I was sitting there trying to figure out what I was going to do next after Car Wheels, because everyone kind of identified me with the more narrative songs, the country/rock, country/folk thing. I also was working with Bo Ramsey at the time and he really influenced a lot of the songs on that record. I don’t know if you’re familiar with him, but he’s worked over the years mainly with singer/songwriter Gregg Brown. Bo has a couple of his own albums out too. His stuff is blues influenced, but it goes beyond that. It’s just this kind of swampy thing, you know? So when I was writing, and not just Steal Your Love, but Are You Down? I was thinking at first, “Am I going to be able to get away with this kind of writing?” where the music just takes over and I just kind of…And I would never had done that before. Working with Bo, his whole approach is simplicity. Aquarian CoverHe’s the master of simplicity. Graceful simplicity, the less notes the better, the less you play the better; and then hearing Time Out Of Mind and seeing that same approach…I remember reading reviews where Time Out Of Mind got dissed because, and I think it was the Nashville paper, ’cause that’s where I was living at the time, said something like, “This isn’t Bob Dylan at his best!” and “What kind of lyrics are these?” And I remember thinking, “Let him go, let him have fun, let him breathe. Let the songs be what they are. Every song doesn’t have to be That’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” and I applied that to what I was doing. I saw a parallel there and also Bo’s music influencing me; his whole take on things, the sparseness, as you said. So I just gave myself permission; it is what it is. At first I thought, “God, what are my fans gonna think?” And I did get some criticism after Essence came out, cause it was so different from Car Wheels. But I’ve always been into different styles of music, it wasn’t that one day I just decided, “Hey, I’m gonna do this other thing.” I’ve always listened to different kinds of stuff. Like now I listen to Santo Gold and Thievery Corporation. I’ve never been just a folksinger.

Oh, yes. Obviously; country, folk, rock and roll, blues, all that’s in there.

It’s all connected, I think.

Car Wheels is brilliant, but Essence is my favorite record of yours.

Thank you. I appreciate that. A lot of people say that now. When it first came out people were kind of, well, some people were kind of like “Uhhhh”, but then I think it took awhile and it kind of grew on people and now it’s a lot of people’s favorite record of mine.

It’s like Exile On Main St. Hardly anyone liked the thing, they couldn’t “figure” it out, but now everyone not only loves it, but it routinely makes the top two or three rock and roll records ever made. (laughs)

Right. Yeah. (laughs)

Well, thanks for the time. I truly appreciate the opportunity to chat.

Oh, you’re welcome.

The wife and I are looking forward to coming out and seeing you in Montclair, New Jersey next month.

Good. It’s been a long time since I’ve been over there.

Well, thanks again for all the great records and songs and keep up the fine work.

Thank you.

You be good and safe out there on the road.

Okay, bye.


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Adam Duritz Out Of The Abyss

Aquarian Weekly 3/26/08BUZZ

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

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Continental Airlines Arena

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 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


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



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.


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.


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) 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.


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?


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.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

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“Exile On Main St.” Turns 35


Aquarian Weekly 5/9/07

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.

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Fountains Of Wayne “Traffic and Weather”

Buzz/Aquarian Weekly

How Fountains Of Wayne Peddles Middle Class Angst In Nifty Pop

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

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