James Brown – 1933 – 2006

Aquarian Weekly 1/3/07

JAMES BROWN – 1933-2006

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

Godfatha.

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

Mr. Dyn-O-mite.

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

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

James Brown.

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Eric Hutchinson/Cutting Room NYC

 

Aquarian Weekly 11/22/06

ERIC HUTCHINSON / THE CUTTING ROOM 10/17/06

New York City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It happens once in a great while.

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Randy Newman at Carnegie Hall

 

Aquarian Weekly 11/8/06

RANDY NEWMAN / CARNEGIE HALL, 10/11/06

Randy NewmanNew York City

As his proud southern gait ambles Randy Newman across the legendary stage, it is almost possible to see the considerable weight it must convey. It is as telling as his silver hair or sunken jowls, the ever-present spectacles, or the way he leisurely slumps over the grand piano at center stage. The way he tilts his head back to croak out a note or leans into a particularly difficult musical passage. How does he carry all of these characters – despicable, compelling, dangerous, empathetic creatures – trapped inside of him? And where do they come from?

For almost 40 years now, Newman, singer/songwriter/composer/satirist, has created some of the most beautiful, haunting, hilarious, and brave music of his generation, a generation filled with martyrs and megalomaniacs, revolutionaries and immortals. He has stood apart from the mainstream by settling at its core, penning scathing attacks and soulful odes, never wavering from his cocoon of painful truths and seductive lies.

If there has been one artist, literary or not, who has embodied the very spirit of Mark Twain (both hail from the same Bayou incubator), it is Randy Newman.

To watch him perform in the grand stage at Carnegie Hall, dressed in black and tanned by California sun, is something akin to spying. There is none of the grand accompaniment in Newman’s signature string arrangements, much of it displayed in his nearly two-dozen film soundtracks garnering him a record 15 Oscar nominations and one Academy Award, or the privileged list of studio names that graced his 12 studio albums. He is alone, naked on the stage, raw and probing, the way he most certainly was when he pieced together these tales of depravity and turmoil, longing and confession.

But he is not alone, is he?

There is the harping bigot in “Short People”, the brazen pervert in “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, the penitent drunk of a louse in “Marie”, a stalking murderer in “In Germany Before The War”, the former bleeding-heart glutton in “It’s Money That I Love”, the neo-con madman of “Political Science”, the insidious slave-trader of “Sail Away”, and even the indifferently mocking voice of the Lord in “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)”.

To watch him perform in the grand stage at Carnegie Hall, dressed in black and tanned by California sun, is something akin to spying.

But no matter the villain or flawed everyman, Newman’s songs hammer home an empathetic tone, a place for the wretched and shunned to land, safely, without remorse. Sometimes the voices have no redemption, they just are, but the narrator, or even the narrative, does not judge – cold and unblinking in it nature.

Then, just when you think you are mired in a rogue’s gallery, Newman unfurls his most fragile and endearing characters: The spiritual voice of the fallen soldier in “Song For The Dead”, the jilted city-dweller in “Living Without You”, the proud hick in “Birmingham”, the disillusioned waif in “Real Emotional Girl”, the paranoid observer in “Mama Told Me Not To Come”, the relentless pessimistic optimist in “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today”, or the innocently sweet offer of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me”.

And the characters come and go quickly – many of Newman’s songs run barely three minutes – verse/chorus/verse, and thank you very much. But what a ride in those three minutes. Newman goes from blues-standard trotting to ragtime romps and classical inversions in and out of key and back again with such ease it is hypnotizing in its effect – a master craftsman and stirring storyteller at the top of his game.

Newman, much like Twain, is also a clever and unassuming anecdotist, bending an elbow on the piano to regale the audience on the origins of his songs and personal asides. “It’s rare I write autobiographical songs,” Newman mused at one point during the show. “If I did, then I should be in prison or a mental institution.”

Then, on cue, out come the first-person vignettes – self-effacing and profound, almost wincing as they go: “I Miss You”, a heartfelt apology to his first wife, “while I was with my second wife”, “Dixie Flyer”, the bouncy tribute to his childhood, or the exceedingly amusing tell-all journey through celebrity ego in “My Life Is Good”.

Many a marquee boasts “An Evening With…”, but Newman delivers on this promise, because for two hours and two encores you are invited into the unblinkingly stoic resolve of a true commentator on humanity and society, wrapped neatly in wonderful melodies and tied up nicely in loose conversation. There are sing-a-longs and briefly spoken interludes during instrumental breaks, and even a new number or two, but mostly it is the richest of experiences to be able to witness the intimate craft of songwriting and performance in a way few artists dare reveal.

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Paul Stanley Interview

Aquarian Weekly 10/18/06 BUZZ

THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE
Paul Stanley on Life After Kiss & His Solo Album “Live To Win”

Paul Stanley is to forty-somethings what Paul McCartney is to fifty-somethings. Laugh if you must, because Stanley and his bandmates from a little distortion combo called KISS have likely heard all the derision any mega band could possibly endure despite dominating record sales and sold-out concert tours for three-decades. With or without the infamous make-up, Paul is something of an icon to us children of the 1970s’, where hype and glamour and cocaine disco dreams meet somewhere on the rock and roll crossroads to form a generational coagulation worthy of Fitzgerald’s’ best roaring-20’s nightmare.

But here he is fans, with countless miles of big road behind him, and fifty-or-so KISS reunions winding down, and his partner in crime, Gene Simmons, continuing to make a spectacle of himself in Realty TV hell: Paul Stanley, once the star child, and the co-founder of a monstrous pop culture machine, segueing nicely into a matured but still feisty solo artist, staking claim to nostalgia and prescience all at once by crafting a new record, Live To Win as his sonic manifesto.

James Campion: First off, thanks for getting me through middle school. It was a great time to be a kid and be pummeled by rock music, so thanks for all your efforts to that end.

Paul Stanley: Well, that’s what I’m here for.

So, tell me what it’s like to go from where you were for 30-plus years of being the heart and soul of KISS, and now to turn the page as a solo artist.

Well, turning the page doesn’t mean throwing away the book. You know, KISS is a huge part of my life, and it will be and has been, but there’s always room for another chapter.

I’ve been waiting a long time to do this. And I’ve always felt that in some ways it was really my responsibility to make sure that KISS was always solid and in good shape, and while everyone else was running off doing other things, I usually had this feeling that somebody had to be there to bail water when the Good Ship KISS might spring a leak. I tended to believe that was my role, other than writing a good deal of the songs and doing the other things I did within the band. So, I really waited until I felt the band was in tip-top shape, and I also felt that I reached a point where I had to move on and do this album of my own.

It was exciting to go off and write for myself as opposed to writing for KISS. You know, when I write for the band, I write for the musicians – for their strengths and weaknesses – and for a narrower scope in terms of the identity of the band. So, to go do my own thing means that, in a sense, like a film, you have a script and you get to cast your film. So, I get to write the songs and then pick the musicians who best suit the songs rather than writing the songs that best suit the musicians.

I always found it interesting that in the case of a solo musician like Bob Dylan, he creates the character for his musical and lyrical voice, but with bands there is a collective voice created, and especially within KISS, where you guys actually, physically created characters, and in most cases, wrote songs that reflected those personalities. So, how does Paul Stanley morph from his Star Child persona into the one that wrote, produced, and performed these songs for Live To Win? Assuming there is a distinction to be made.

“I usually had this feeling that somebody had to be there to bail water when the Good Ship Kiss might spring a leak. I tended to believe that was my role, other than writing a good deal of the songs and doing the other things I did within the band. “

Well, you know, again, I can’t really separate myself that much from KISS. I mean, that’s not a charade. Being in the band is not portraying a character that isn’t part of me. But again, the key word there is “part”. I think that the character, the embodiment of who I am in KISS is narrower than who I am outside of KISS. So, it’s not as though I would do something unrecognizable, but I would certainly feel that the boundaries were limitless, or they would only be ones I set on myself.

Having said that, are the songs on Live To Win a reflection of your experiences over the past 30-plus years on the high wire of rock fame within KISS or are they expressions of brand new experiences outside of that?

I don’t hoard songs. I don’t believe in keeping songs from the band, because I write for the band. But this is me writing for my solo album, so these are the most recent songs I’ve written and they were written specifically for me. An album should be like fresh newspaper, where you get the ink on your hands, ’cause you get the latest news. I wanted an album that was about me now. Not something that was trying to replicate what I had done before or digging up something that, although might be good, wouldn’t be reflective of now. To try to copy the past is only that, it’s a copy, as opposed to something that you’re doing instinctively. So, I wasn’t interested in anything except rolling the dice today and letting the chips fall where they may.

The live show: You’ll obviously be playing the new stuff, but what about some older things and some stuff from the KISS catalog?

It’s a great night of me! And you can put an exclamation point after that. I’m doing songs from my first solo album, songs from Live To Win, and KISS songs. You know, songs that are obviously the classics, and songs that I think never really got the chance they should have, or perhaps have never gotten to be played live. So, it’s really going to be as much fun for me as anyone there. It’s really a chance for me to indulge myself and the fans, and cover all bases.

Does a tour like this allow you to realize, on a more intimate level, what you have meant to your fans, and what KISS and these songs, beyond all the hype and showmanship, have meant to your audience.

Well, I appreciate the impact I’ve had on the fans, and that’s never lost on me, although I’m always humbled by it, and very, very respectful of that bond that we have. So, to do this tour I’m doing now is awesome because most of these shows have sold out as soon as they went on sale. And it was really just a chance for me to go out and get to play for a small group of devoted, die-hard fans, and it’s an honor to know that they’re buying up the tickets the way they are, and I’m going to make sure I give them something they won’t forget.

Last one: And it’s a two-part question. Is there a song on this record that defines you now more than the others, and is there one from your past work, with KISS or otherwise, that defines what you were at that point in the journey?

Well, the title track Live To Win is really my philosophy. It’s my mantra of sorts that I’ve lived by, that we’d all do better to follow: The idea of setting your goals and setting your aspirations and not letting anything get in the way of attaining them. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always going to get them, but it means that you always win by either succeeding or failing on your own terms. If you fail, but do it your own way, you’re a winner anyway. So, the idea is to listen to your gut, your soul, your heart, and charge forward and not stop until you either fall or get what you’re after.

And in KISS, you know, it’s funny to have written the song that most embodies Gene, and the song most people associate with his character, which is “God Of Thunder”. So there’s an irony and a pride in that, but really “Love Gun” or “Detroit Rock City” are two songs I think embodies my work within KISS, and those songs still go over like a storm, because they’re great songs. And I still look forward, even today, to playing them because of that.

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Conversation With Dan Bern On “Breathe”

Aquarian Weekly 9/13/06BUZZ

TENDING OXYGEN BAR WITH DAN BERN A Conversation On Reflection And Dissection In “Breathe”

Dan BernThe paradox of the desert landscape is ample enough proof of the ying/yang turmoil which fueled the songs on the new Dan Bern record, “Breathe”, an aptly titled homage to hope and regret, pain and promise, heart and bones.

Of course this is the place where these introspective compositions were born, where their composer strides comfortably to his daily tennis forays and mineral baths and bicycle sojourns to nowhere. Of course this is where the beat-up acoustic guitar leapt from the wall of Bern’s private artist bunker, strewn with soiled paint brushes, discarded beer cans and pistachio shells, the crackling of ancient Hank Williams crooning from the corner tape player placed carefully above the perpetually suspended game of Scrabble.

Of course.

Somewhere out in the badlands of New Mexico, beyond the endless horizon of sun-scorched rock and bending cacti, framed by mountain peaks painted with snow, in a town better suited as the back lot for a black and white John Ford epic, Bern fashioned his ode to middle-aged angst, soulful longing, and blunt observations on love, life, and the brokered faith of uncertain future. This, his sixth full-length studio recording, accompanied over the past decade by five ep’s, four books, and a continuous schedule of touring the world with or without a band, encapsulates the road-weary experience of a true American troubadour.

Joined by what Bern calls his “dream team” collection of musicians and helmed by legendary producer Chuck Plotkin, who not only steered Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen recordings home, but Bern’s masterpiece “New American Language” five years ago, the pleasing melodies of “Breathe” are cleverly couched in humble arrangements that ferry the poignantly ruthless lyrics as if easing the sting of medicine.

James Campion: I believe it was one of the last times you played in New York that you prefaced one of the songs that ended up on “Breathe” as a song that was born of your environment, of being home and immersed in the idea of being introspective, retrospective, and then looking forth from where you were in life, an exercise in reciting to yourself in song. So do you view “Breathe” as a collection of songs written in a place of comfort where you could exhale?

“Stop what you’re doing and breathe” is like the answers are there, the answers are inside, but you can’t keep going at this pace and expect to right the ship.

Dan Bern: Yeah, taking time away from the road, being here in the desert, looking at the sky, just trying to get healthy. It also came from a completely different approach to writing songs for me. I think in the past I’d always written what the writer wanted to write and then sang it accordingly. At some point I got it into my head that I was a singer, so I started writing for the singer. So a batch of songs like “Remember Me”, “Tongue-Tied” sort of came out that way, as if some singer walked in and you’re a songwriter and he wants something to sing. So you give him something he could actually sing.

Did you plot ahead how you wanted to record “Breathe”, or who would produce it or play on it? Or was it merely serendipity how it all came together?

I think it was as I was writing these songs and thinking about making a record. There became a kind of urgency with this stuff, particularly with the songs “Breathe” and “Past Belief”.

How so?

Well, it’s a message: “Stop what you’re doing and breathe.” It’s the return of the messiah; the return of the “Jerusalem” guy from the first record and this is what he has to say now…to the whole world. If I was to find myself in front of five billion people suddenly with three minutes to tell them something…

…that’s what you’d say: “Stop what you’re doing and breathe”?

Yeah, rather than some specific thing like “Fix this!” or “Do this!” or “Do this differently.”

“Stop what you’re doing and breathe” is like the answers are there, the answers are inside, but you can’t keep going at this pace and expect to right the ship.

It’s like in the past when I had something like “Bush Must Be Defeated”, it became an urgent thing, and something that I needed to get out right then and sort of get behind. This is the ’05 version of that, I suppose.

So the theme of the record might also be a way of responding back to the younger you, the messiah, and you’re now at this point, or the messiah is at this point, and you’re commenting from that perspective. This makes me wonder if all that time on the road stumping against Bush for close to a year in ’04, the blood and guts you displayed for something you truly believed in, and all the shows and the two ep’s you put out and everything you accomplished, and in some ways painfully failed to accomplish, lead to the voice of “Breathe”. Could you have written the songs on this record had you not gone through that experience?

Oh, probably not. Some of it was the result of being broken, and not so much broken…um…I really don’t feel like my spirit was broken, just that my body was broken. (laughs) It required me to sort of learn how to breathe and listen to my insides.

So it was certainly cathartic.

Dan BernOh yeah. It’s funny because everybody reacts to the new thing you do based on the thing you did before. When I did the overtly political stuff, people were surprised by it based on what I had just done prior to that. You know, “Why are you doing this, I don’t understand?” And now people will probably go, “Well, have you abandoned the political stuff?” To me this is in some ways also political, it’s just more personal too, which is really, I think, what I do. There’s the stuff that’s out there and then the personal stuff. To me it’s always intertwined. I don’t really make the distinction between the personal and the political. The political stuff is personal to me, and the personal stuff is political. So I don’t know if I’ll ever make a record again like this one, because I was in a very specific head space for these songs, but I think I needed to make this one.

It’s very interesting that the two songs that became the impetus for this new collection are polar opposites in many ways. There is a conflict there. “Breathe” is a hard look from the inside and “Past Belief”, with that great line, “I’m willing to go on faith, but I’m past belief” is the viewpoint of a man who is more cynical about the things outside of himself he cannot control.

I don’t know that “Breathe” is just about “listening to yourself” as it is about all the rhythms of the universe being in there. Through listening to yourself and being aware of your breathing and slowing it down will lead you back out. And “Past Belief” is basically all the stuff that’s out there – “water’s are rising and world’s on fire.” Things you can’t control. At the same time that leads you back into “right here-right now”, this kind of “What have I got to do to get a little shuteye?” (laughs) It is kind of like breathing; the in and the out. They kind of reflect off each other.

There’s a great deal of outside forces mentioned throughout the songs on “Breathe” like the rain and the wind and standing against it, not unlike dealing with much of what you cannot control sometimes…like politics, no matter how personal you make it.

Yeah, and it will break you if you try and fight some of the big forces. It’s like those trees that bend in the wind. They’re fine, but the ones that try and fight it are the ones that end up broken and lying in the ditch.

The irony of the whole thing is breathing is involuntary, yet it seems like a metaphor for being more in control of your immediate environment: “Just breathe already!”

It’s weird, because it’s a subtle thing. It’s not controlling your breathing so much as it is being aware of it and allowing it to work for you. I mean, by breathing through different parts of your body you can open up all those cells that sometimes get clenched without you ever being aware of it. I don’t want to sound too fruity with all of this, (laughs) but it is a pretty primal thing, and I think everybody at some point in their lives needs to get down to these basic things. Having said that, in the first song on the record, “Trudy”, let’s discuss this “escape route” you write about “from my life, from my time”.

Do you feel when you brush off the dust of the road and you’re back home and you’re forced to be introspective and more isolated you become this other person? The one that writes, “Just one push of this button over here/New clothes, new face/New name, vanish with no trace.”

“I think a few years ago it would have scared me to make a record like this. I would have squelched it, short-circuited it somehow. You know, ‘I’m Dan Bern, I’m supposed to write about pop culture, I’m supposed to mess around with images of Jesus and Elvis and Einstein. That’s what I do.’ But that’s as limiting as anything else.”

Oh yeah…yeah. There are times I definitely forget that I even go out on stage and play, and have this life beyond what most people know of me, especially in the past few years when I was having a lot of ambivalence about ever doing this anymore. Well…yeah…you and I have had these conversations where I told you “I’m done. I quit. I’m not doing this anymore”, so it became necessary that when I do have breaks to completely disassociate myself form that aspect of what I do.

Strangely, I think I’ve come through that. Check with me in six weeks, (laughs) but I don’t think I’ll quite have that difficult a time with that anymore. But, yeah, there is that thing where at times you need to do different things: paint, play tennis, ride a bike, and sort of get back to yourself the way you were when you were 12-years-old.

I think almost all of the songs on “Breathe” are about, in one way or another, defining one’s self or redefining one’s self. For instance, the line from “Feel Like A Man” – “I’m lost, crazy lonesome/a plane with no place to land/And I do what I have to/ to make me feel like a man.” To me it’s coming from a person who lets go of himself, and like the line says…does what he has to do.

Yeah, I think to get back to there…you have to let go. Getting that far away from that grip that we have on ourselves, feeling like we can maintain some control, and to really let yourself get blown around by the wind, you can never get back from that. You know, we’ve seen people raving in the streets and they don’t know who they are. That’s extreme, obviously, but we sometimes go through some version of that, and if we come out the other side, we’re better for it.

Is this the most introspective of all of your records?

I think a few years ago it would have scared me to make a record like this. I would have squelched it, short-circuited it somehow. You know, “I’m Dan Bern, I’m supposed to write about pop culture, I’m supposed to mess around with images of Jesus and Elvis and Einstein. That’s what I do.” But that’s as limiting as anything else. There was a time when that was freeing, but if that becomes your job description and doesn’t allow for anything else…? I mean the reason you’re an artist in the first place is so that you don’t have to conform to what you or anyone else decides your place in the world is.

Was this a fun record to make?

It was probably the easiest record to make that I ever made. It was just really congenial. I liked everybody. Everybody got along. It was done pretty quickly. I was living on the beach, swimming in the ocean every morning before we went into the studio. There’s probably something in the songs that didn’t want to be terribly messed over and over and over with. Most of these are first and second takes. Almost all of them were live vocals. I tried to redo them or improve them, but, almost without exception, the vocal I sang as the whole thing was going down is what seemed the most right for the thing.

Which is the complete polar opposite of the last record you recorded with Chuck Plotkin, “New American Language”, which is a brilliant record, my favorite of yours, but one that took a year or so to finish, and one you pained over, right?

Yeah. It was just a completely different process. That one we did in two different towns over a long period of time. Chuck wasn’t there for all of it. He’d come in two or three times for a few days, and I’d send him tapes and we’d talk, but it wasn’t a soup to nuts kind of process for him.

We just took it a tune at a time and shook out the arrangement. Then we’d record it. If there was something we did six or seven, eight, nine times, it was usually the first or second take that we ended up using.

You’ll be touring this record?

Yeah, but I don’t really know how to tour a record as such, because what happens is I write some songs, we go in and record them, and at some point you gotta say, “Okay, that’s done.” Then the next song you write is for the next record, but it continues. But I’ve never felt like I’m touring a record. It’s like, “I have a new record for this tour,” which is cool.

Do you see being on the road with the new material as the final snapshot of the recording experience? In other words, do you see a tour of this kind as a celebration of the complete experience or have you already entered a new headspace and left the work back in the studio?

Well, both, really. Because in some ways once its mixed and mastered, it’s done, and I’m working on other songs, but at the same time it’s part of the whole sphere surrounding the whole thing. So, yeah, it is kind of a celebration, and I probably will emphasize the songs on this record. And there is a way the record doesn’t quite feel complete until you’ve gone out and played it and given people a chance to hear it and talk about it, and go on the radio and play a few songs from it.

This way you can just let the songs speak for themselves.

Yeah, it’s like “You want to know about the record, then listen to it…and then you tell me.”

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Jane Siberry at Zankel Hall

 

Aquarian Weekly 3/22/06

GLIDING THROUGH THE ETHER
JANE SIBERRY / ZANKEL HALL 3/11/06

New York, New York

Jane SiberryEmerging out of the winged shadows like a Beat diva from the fog of Warholian lore, accompanied by the strains of pre-recorded strings and the faint echo of birds, singer-songwriter, Jane Siberry settled into ninety minutes of free-form poetry, a cappella yearnings, an engagingly dry wit, and an eclectic spectrum of song styling which seemed oddly comfortable in the Broadway surroundings. As a storyteller, Siberry has few peers, as a poet she floats random association headfirst into a post-modern cul de sac, but as a songstress, and most chillingly, as a vocalist, she is one of the finest I have ever seen.

Alone on piano and acoustic guitar for most of the performance, Siberry deftly, almost too comfortably, commanded the auditorium as if she were literally born in mid-lyric. Her expression as art, body and soul is astounding to witness, as esoteric as a Sixties drifter and as elegant as a pre-war siren. Confronted by the sweet caress of the melodies, woven with dissonant jazz chords and vicious key changes, it is not hard to fit her songs, or her supple voice, into any era, any genre. Even the drawing of her breath pulses in key.

The intimate surroundings of Zankel Hall, and its rapt audience, framed the perfect canvas for the willowy Siberry, who demurely announced during several encores that she is championing a new way to sell her music: an on-line “self-determined” pricing of her 10-plus CD catalog, including live recordings. “I am restless to reduce the abyss between the audience and the artist,” she gleefully announced amid cheers.

The set, partially and beautifully, backed up by a quartet of violin, cello, French horn, and oboe, illustrated the point perfectly. Each song – strike that – each note was presented with the utmost care and attention to detail. The ensemble buoyed such goose-bump inducing numbers as “You Don’t Need”, “I Paddle My Canoe”, the wonderfully moving, “In My Dream”, and the brilliant, “Love is Everything”.

Siberry, the consummate composer with a unique reverence for the spoken word and a subtly to emote, adroitly eschews the pretension of the eccentric artist for the transparent minstrel: songs as parables, poems as mirrors.

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Patty Griffin at Town Hall

 

East Coast Rocker 5/19/04

AN EVENING WITH PATTY GRIFFIN / TOWN HALL 5/8/04

Patty GriffinNew York City

A rich texture of melody and rhythms chugged and slinked from the versatile four-to-five piece band supporting the soulful country-blues silk of Patty Griffin’s songs during a nearly two-hour performance that raised the historic rafters of Town Hall. The cozy venue normally reserved for opera and classical ensembles soared with energy from the sold-out crowd throughout, turning an intimate evening with one of America’s finest singer-songwriters into an electrifying revival.

Grinning shyly beneath a wild crimson mane, the delightfully engaging Griffin chatted with the audience, sharing the stories behind her most moving compositions, while deftly jumping from acoustic guitar, piano and lead-singer stances that recalled a youthful Janis Joplin.

Griffin mostly concentrated on the striking new material from her latest collection, Impossible Dream, the highlights of which included the whimsical optimism, of “Kite Song” to the gospel-tinged, “Standing”, to the baleful siren, “Love Throw a Line” to the chilling “Mother of God”. She also offered up old favorites like the sweet melancholia of “Rain”, the Muscle Shoals reverberation of “Chief” and a playful rendition of “Be Careful”, during which a giggling Griffin forgot some of the lyrics on two different occasions and sought the eager assistance of the packed house.

“This is a rare momentary lapse,” she chuckled beneath a telling whisper. “And these are the moments that make a night like this pretty special.”

But finally, it was Griffin’s angelic pipes which were in finest form on this night, as she wailed and crooned and bellowed to the rafters in a magnificently pitched performance worthy of her recorded work. A musical storyteller of exquisite range and emotion, Griffin thrives on the energy of a concert setting, providing a naked glimpse into the soul of her craft and a window into her limitless potential to describe the view.

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Hangin’ With Dan Bern

Aquarian Weekly 5/5/04 REALITY CHECK

SPRINGTIME FOR BERNSTEINTwo Months, Two Novels, A Dozen Songs, and One Serious Bonfire

Moore and Bernstein First week of March Bernstein calls me from the road. “I’m in Oklahoma,” he says. “Buying porn and The Anarchist Weekly”. I was excited, but reticent. He called again, and again. Reports from the road: He’s writing a song, listening to talk radio, reading a story about work farms, eating a tuna fish sandwich and talking to me all at the same time. The phone died. He survived. I braced. It would not be sufficient enough time to prepare. Two months with Bernstein in NYC, both of us carrying our novels and healthy doses of grudge against the greater good.

He arrived in town a few days later. My friend Buzz and I saw him at a wine and soda joint down on Astor Place on a snowy Sunday night. He was dusty from the road. He pulled out his beat up old guitar and played some songs, real good songs; hearty, angry, funny songs. Then he broke a string, said goodnight, and walked off. I told Rita Houston from WFUV that Bernstein wrote a book. “Bernstein writes songs,” she said. I told her again. She shook her head and smiled. “Damn it!” I screamed at her. “Bernstein is a novelist! His songs are great, but this fucking thing was better. I hate his guts. I’m the writer!” She backed away, but I could tell I’d convinced her. Brandon Kessler from Messenger Records was there. He did not appear nervous. “I’m in the damn thing,” he said. “We’re all in the damn thing.”

It had been four long months of back and forth with Bernstein on his book, excerpts, rewrites, long nights of dialogue. I sent back notes. “This puppy moves. It has legs. I’m going to burn my manuscript and send the charred remains to my agent.” He wrote back on mine. “It’s good. It’s bizarre. I need more reality.” I wrote back, “Less dialogue!” He wrote back, “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

When I next visited Bernstein, he was whitewashing a room in an artsy hotel suite downtown. Throwing paint around the room while he repeated over and over, “I hate George Bush.” After awhile it began to sound like a child’s limerick. I asked him, “You hate the man or the method?” He said he feared the whole thing. Made him pick up his guitar and write about it. Made him come to New York to stay awhile and then off to San Francisco to see Barry Bonds shoot up and bang homers. He was going to sing about Jesus being a Jew and about how going to Mars beats living alone and how being president might be a kick.

“If you could pick anyone, whom would you want to be president?” Bernstein asked me at a coffee shop on Third Avenue.

“You run for president!” I shouted. The place froze with terror. They knew who he was. And they were pretty sure I wasn’t stable. I hadn’t tasted real coffee in awhile and I was sufficiently jacked on the caffeine.

Bernstein seemed pensive. He rolled a cigarette. I stared him down until he answered. Bernstein thought about my proposal and shook his head violently. “Not me,” he said. There was a collective sigh. “I’m here to write songs. I’m here to make noise. I’m here to put things right.”

He played me songs. Good songs, funny songs, serious fucking songs. He and my wife splattered paint all over the ceiling of the Saint Holy Armistice Suites in midtown Manhattan. I paced and talked about the new bohemian revolution, about how there isn’t one.

He wrote a song about it. “The President’s Song.” He penned a manifesto of change and common sense and humanist theories. I left him alone. He looked happy. I was worried about him, though. We needed to make a bonfire. Bernstein agreed, but kept on writing. He wasn’t ready. I didn’t think we would ever spark that bonfire.

My wife showed up the following week. I think it was late March, maybe early April. She brought Bernstein her portfolio of disturbing images. He loved it. “Let’s paint like we don’t care anymore,” he said to her at dinner. She smiled. My wife loves to create with no purpose. This is why I married her.

A woman from a publishing company came down to see Bernstein. He brought his drawings. I made copies of them. Many copies. We distributed them in Bryant Park. The woman wanted to see the text. He handed her handwritten pages stained with coffee and soy sauce. “I can’t submit this,” she said. I told her about Kerouac’s toilet paper roll and “On The Road” and the puke stains on Bukowski’s best work. She didn’t understand. I told her my novel was recently optioned for a Hollywood film. “It’s bizarre, needs more reality,” Bernstein said, continuing to pull dog-eared, stained pages from his duffel bag.

“Type this!” the woman yelled at us. So Bernstein bought an old Brother electric typewriter. “Why do you need a typewriter?” the kid behind the counter of the hockshop asked him. Bernstein grinned like the Cheshire cat and rolled another cigarette. “I’m gonna type,” he said.

He played the next night at the Housing Works Used Book Café in the East Village. It was one of those Indian summer nights. We had Indian food. He was fantastic. Right in the mood. Played the old songs, played the new ones, played “The President’s Song.” The crowd cheered. “This pissant little writer I call jc wants me to run for commander and chief,” he told them. I knew what he was doing. He was calling me out. He was putting this charade on me. “This man is a charlatan!” I cried. “He’ll kill us all!” Bernstein just smiled and played “Jerusalem” and everyone calmed down, even me.

I received a call about mid-April when Bernstein was in Canada complaining about the food. It was from a man going by the initials, C.M., claiming to have actually written Bernstein’s novel. “Jesus, man, these are serious charges,” I told him. “Bernstein’s not even here to defend himself. He’s busy riling up the Canucks with songs about revolution and baseball and porn.” It did not matter, C.M. told me. He wrote that book and he could prove it.

I had a planned interview with Ani Difranco the following night and told her about Bernstein’s dilemma. She was worried. She knew him. She worked with him. She had her doubts about the veracity of my reporting skills, despite refusing to talk to anyone but me. “You don’t work for Ms. Magazine,” she said. Yet she believed my story. She told me she’d recently run into Bernstein at an airport hub in British Columbia and they spoke as if nothing had happened, but she sensed something odd. I concurred. We agreed not to alarm him. Ani felt it could lead to more peculiar behavior with drawings and paint.

Bernstein returned unaffected by Canadian food or the DiFranco détente, but was resolute. Ani met with him again down in D.C. at a women’s rights rally. She played songs. Bernstein played songs. He said, “This is why I picked up a guitar in the first place.” She agreed. He told her she was in his book. She asked if her character died in a fiery explosion. He did not answer. Maybe she did.

“Hey jc, it’s Bernstein!” his message began days later. “The publisher rejected my manuscript! Fuck it! I’ve been rejected by better than them. We’re gonna beat this thing. We’re gonna put this sucker out and let the world decide who wrote this book!”

Only one week before his van pulled west, we scrambled around. There was the Parker Posey motorcycle incident. There was the NY Circus mishap. There was some unforeseen trouble on the FDR and missing designer soaps at the Trump Plaza. I read Bernstein my published nonsense. “Wow,” he said. “Where do you stand politically?” I told him, “On the fence.” He said, “There is nothing so courageous as conquering fear.” He played me songs. Good songs, funny songs, serious fucking songs. He and my wife splattered paint all over the ceiling of the Saint Holy Armistice Suites in midtown Manhattan. I paced and talked about the new bohemian revolution, about how there isn’t one. Bernstein rewrote the novel C. M. accused him of stealing. “I know all about C.M.,” he said. “He’s mad. I stole nothing. He wrote a children’s book about science. I wrote about me.”

He had one more gig. We were done. The wife and I gave him a hug. “We never did start that bonfire,” I told him. “Bullshit,” he said, rolling one more cigarette. “Go downstairs.”

I don’t know if I’ve seen a better bonfire than the one that burned on lower Broadway that night. Goddamn, if Bernstein didn’t come through. “More reality!” he shouted from the hotel window.

I hate his guts. I will miss him.

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Patty Griffin Digs Deep

Aquarian Weekly 4/28/04 BUZZ

COLLAGES, GHOSTS & THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM Patty Griffin Digs Deep and Takes to the Road

Patty GriffinAt first it’s the voice that grabs you. Floats up out of the speakers of your stereo and pierces something untold inside. It’s hard to describe in words. You have to hear it, like Tom Waits’ scowl, Sinead O’Connor’s wail, Billie Holiday’s sadness or Sinatra’s martini-soaked sonatas. Patty Griffin could be singing about taking out the garbage or the death of a loved one, swooning to old romantic movies or recounting the plight of a poor kid down the block who walks home from school everyday in worn-out shoes. The subject doesn’t matter. She sings about grief, and she sings about love and loneliness and the other stuff you’ve heard a thousand times, but somehow while she’s doing the singing, you’re feeling every bit of it.

It is a talent unmatched.

And the songs, well, they’re some of the most beautifully haunting melodies you’ll ever want to hear. The lyrics are unpretentious, but insightful, and always bittersweet. Whether she is writing for the Dixie Chicks, as she has from the beginning of their precipitous rise up the charts, or for her own four captivating studio records over the past eight years, Griffin is digging deep and holding nothing back.

Before embarking on the East Coast leg of her 2004 Spring Tour, which will stop off at Town Hall in NYC for two shows on 5/7 and 5/8, I had a chance to talk to the woman whose music helped get this tortured soul through a few nagging manuscripts these past years. I found her in giddy spirits and excited about her latest soulfully reflective record, “Impossible Dream” released last month.

jc: I have always wanted to ask you what inspires such insightful and emotional songs?

PG: It usually starts for me with the music. I really just feel like I need to sing or something, and then I start making noise and get a picture. That isn’t every single time, but that’s kind of how it works for me. I don’t really have a plan, or I’m not very organized about it. (laughs)

jc: Have the same things always inspired your work?

PG: I think, yeah, they probably do. I get a little deeper into them as I go along, but as some things change, there is definitely a common thread.

jc: Do you write predominantly autobiographical?

PG: No.

jc: (laughs) The reason I ask is that your songs have always struck me as intensely personal with a surprising clarity to the description of events within them. For me, that’s where the inspiration comes, drawing from personal experiences and creating characters to express them.

PG: Well, thank you. Yeah, they kind of show up and take me there.

jc: So the process is more spiritual or emotional than intellectual?

PG: Right. Exactly.

jc: That brings me to your first record, “Living With Ghosts”, a brilliant example of emotional expression. The recording technique itself was more spiritual than technical.

PG: Well, they gave me money to make a real record from my demos, and I went and did that and they hated it. (laughs) So I said, “You really loved those demos, what’s wrong with putting those out?” And they were brave enough to do that.

jc: I bet you get this all the time, but that record is a masterpiece.

PG: Well, thank you. I’m grateful that those songs were presented that way, because, number one, that was the most honest representation as far as my performance, and number two, I had to tour the record that way. So I logged a lot of hours on stage by myself, which was really good for me. It gave me a lot of confidence.

jc: Now to this unearthly voice of yours. When did you discover you were blessed with this amazingly pure gift to express your art?

PG: Well, my mom was a singer. She sang around the house all the time, really beautifully. My sisters and I would sing along too. So singing was pretty normal around my house. Nobody was professional or anything, but there was always singing going on. So sort of from the age of 12 on I decided that I really wanted to try and become a singer. I didn’t know if I could really do that or not, (laughs) but I spent some time singing with records and going out of my way to work on it. I think was about 17 or 18 when I sang in front of a bunch of people for the first time and they let me know that they thought it was exceptional.

“If I were a visual artist, I’d be making collages.”

jc: This is ostensibly a rock and roll, pop culture magazine, and when someone asks me what kind of music does Patty Griffin write and sing, I want to say folk with a country flavor, but country music today is so fragmented. You’ve written several songs for the Dixie Chicks, who have crossed over to pop and rock, and I don’t expect artists to place themselves in a specific genre, but whom would you say were your main influences?

PG: There have been quite a few along the way. I would say the original inspiration was John Lennon and the Beatles. I moved on from there to Aretha Franklin. I remember watching Ella Fitzgerald on the Mike Douglas Show and going, “Wow!” We were raised with so much stuff, AM radio, everything – all across the board. It’s funny. I just noticed in the last couple of weeks that there’s all this collage stuff on my record covers. And I specifically asked Traci Goudie, who did the artwork on the last record and this record to maybe not have it be as collagey this time, and it’s twice the amount of collage work! (laughs) But, you know, I have to admit it’s pretty appropriate, because that’s what my music is. If I were a visual artist, I’d be making collages. I’d be using a lot of different mediums and drawing from a lot of different places and influences.

jc: The new record, “Impossible Dream” has a distinct soulful sound. Was that your aim this time, to be more bluesy or soulful?

PG: I think that a lot of the songs were coming out of very dark places, some places I’d never really dug down to before. And I was having trouble figuring out how to get those across. So I drew from some music I’d been listening to before I worked on this record like Johnny Cash and the Staple Singers. I was also listening to the Velvet Underground. Definitely different styles, but all of those artists have this in common; they are talking about some really hard stuff lyrically, but their music is uplifting. And I wanted to find a way to have something you can almost dance to and still be real for me. It’s important for music to literally uplift. That’s what gospel music does, and Johnny Cash does that too. He’s sittin’ there telling you about a hanging, but he’s chugging along. And you can groove to it, you know? (laughs) It’s important to be able to communicate that stuff without having to drag ’em through the dirt.

Patty Griffinjc: Your song, “Truth No. 2” is mentioned prominently in a publicity memo I received with an advance of “Impossible Dream”. The song appears on the last Dixie Chicks record, “Home”. It says here “the song spoke most clearly for the band about what its like to be censored.” Does that refer to the whole ridiculous flack – banning their records and burning them or some other such unwarranted nonsense – resulting from their comments about the president while on tour a couple of years ago?

PG: It just sort of worked out that way. They recorded the song before any of that happened. The song is really about being honest to who I am. Putting some faith in that. I think the Chicks have to have that message available to them as well. They’re really high-end entertainers and they are in show business, and it was a really difficult situation to be put into. I was actually in England about three months before them and feeling the heat as well. The polls were 70% against the war. There were huge protests and we were standing up on stage with these people looking up at us skeptically. All of us live in Texas, so I can understand how that came out of their mouth when it did. I don’t think they were planning to get on a political bandwagon, but sometimes just by being yourself you end up in these crazy places. “Truth No. 2” is sort of like, “I’m gonna take the chance and show my true colors, because I don’t have a choice.”

jc: Regardless of the penalties that sometimes follow the telling of truths.

PG: Right. And there are definitely penalties involved. (laughs)

Unedited Transcript of Entire Interview

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Patty Griffin Interview

4/7/04

Patty Griffin Interview Unedited TranscriptConducted over the phone lines from her home in Austin, Texas and The Desk at Fort Vernon, NJ – 4/7/04

Patty GriffinAt first it’s the voice that grabs you. Floats up out of the speakers of your stereo and pierces something untold inside. It’s hard to describe in words. You have to hear it, like Tom Waits’ scowl, Sinead O’Connor’s wail, Billie Holiday’s sadness or Sinatra’s martini-soaked sonatas. Patty Griffin could be singing about taking out the garbage or the death of a loved one, swooning to old romantic movies or recounting the plight of a poor kid down the block who walks home from school everyday in worn-out shoes. The subject doesn’t matter. She sings about grief, and she sings about love and loneliness and the other stuff you’ve heard a thousand times, but somehow while she’s doing the singing, you’re feeling every bit of it.

It is a talent unmatched.

And the songs, well, they’re some of the most beautifully haunting melodies you’ll ever want to hear. The lyrics are unpretentious, but insightful, and always bittersweet. Whether she is writing for the Dixie Chicks, as she has from the beginning of their precipitous rise up the charts, or for her own four captivating studio records over the past eight years, Griffin is digging deep and holding nothing back.

Before embarking on the East Coast leg of her 2004 Spring Tour, which will stop off at Town Hall in NYC for two shows on 5/7 and 5/8, I had a chance to talk to the woman whose music helped get this tortured soul through a few nagging manuscripts these past years. I found her in giddy spirits and excited about her latest soulfully reflective record, “Impossible Dream” released last month.

jc: Your music has inspired me greatly while finishing the manuscript to my last published book, specifically, “Living With Ghosts”. So I was wondering what inspires you to write such insightful and emotional songs, and have the same things always inspired your work?

PG: I think, yeah, (laughs) they probably do. I get a little deeper into them as I go along, but there seems to be some things that are…some things change, but there is definitely a common thread.

jc: Do you write predominantly autobiographical?

PG: No.

jc: (laughs) The reason I ask is that your songs have always struck me as intensely personal with a surprising clarity to the description of events within them. For me, that’s where the inspiration comes.

PG: Well, thank you. Yeah, they kind of show up. (laughs) And they take me there lots of times.

jc: So then do you take personal experiences and perhaps create characters to express yourself so completely in song?

“It usually starts for me with the music. I really just feel like I need to sing or something, and then I start making noise and get a picture.”

PG: It usually starts for me with the music. I really just feel like I need to sing or something, and then I start making noise and get a picture. Something like that will happen usually. That isn’t every single time, but that’s kind of how it works for me. I don’t really have a plan, or I’m not very organized about it. (laughs)

jc: Then you would say the process is more spiritual or emotional than intellectual? You feel the message more than aim to articulate it.

PG: Right. Exactly.

jc: Well then that brings me back to your first record, “Living With Ghosts”, a brilliant example of emotional expression, which one could also say that the recording technique was more spiritual than technical. You released your original demos made for the record company as your first record, right?

PG:: Well, they gave me money to make a real record from those demos, and I went and did that and they hated it. (laughs) So I said, “You really loved those demos, what’s wrong with putting those out?” And they were brave enough to do that.

jc: I think it was brave for a first time recording artist introducing herself to the world with such a raw and emotional record, just you and the guitar in a room with no accompaniment or frills at all.

PG: I didn’t really have much choice at the time. I was really pretty down about having my record that I made with all the fanfare rejected, so I was not in a very good mindset to make another one. But that’s how I played those songs then. That was the way I performed them live. I never really played with a band before, so it made a lot of sense to me that that would be the way they would be done best.

Anyway, going in to play with a band, I was really shy at the time. It was a big, big, big emotional drain (laughs) to go in and record with a lot of strange people. I knew that was not going to work, (laughs) so I didn’t have much choice but to put those songs out the way they were. I think that the really impressive people were the people at the record label. A & M, back in the day, and this was before the really big take-over, they were about artist development. So they really put the money where their mouth was, and they put a record out that wasn’t going to sell a billion copies right away. So they really did it. I thought that was brave of them, really.

Living With Ghostsjc: I bet you get this all the time, but that record is a masterpiece. I have it listed on my web site as one of my top 10 favorite all time records.

PG: Well, thank you.

jc: You’re very welcome. The funny thing about “Ghosts” is it fits in with many of the records on that list like John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” and Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks”, in that it is a personally emotional statement. However, those records are by established monster artists that didn’t need to put on airs. But, again, you accomplished this right out of the gate. I mean, the first song on your first record, “Moses”, an amazing reflection of loneliness, is right on the mark. The performance is haunting. I wonder could any of those songs have been presented any better? In hindsight, could you have seen yourself being splashed upon the public any more honestly than just you and your acoustic belting it out?

PG: Well, I feel really grateful that they were presented that way, because, number one, that was the most honest representation as far as my performance, ’cause they really did capture pretty honest performances, and number two, I had to tour the record that way. So I spent a lot of time on stage and logged a lot of hours by myself, which was really good for me. It gave me a lot of confidence on stage, which I did not have before and it was really important that it turned out that way.

jc: Now to this unearthly voice of yours, reflected in every utterance on that first record and the three other studio efforts since. It’s an incredible instrument to have available to emote these lyrics of yours. When did you discover you were blessed with this amazingly pure gift to express your art?

“If I were a visual artist I’d be making collages. I’d be using a lot of different mediums. My music, I think…I’m drawing from a lot of different places and influences. “

PG: Well, my mom was a singer. She sang around the house all the time, really beautifully. So singing was pretty normal around my house. Nobody was professional or anything, but my sisters sang around the house and I sang around the house. There was always singing going on, so sort of from the age of 12 on I decided that I really wanted to try and become a singer. I didn’t know if I could really do that or not, but I spent some time singing with records and going out of my way to work on it. So I think I was about 17 or 18 when I sang in front of a bunch of people for the first time and they let me know that they thought it was exceptional. It gave me a sense that I could do this. (laughs)

jc: This is ostensibly a rock and roll, pop culture magazine, and when someone asks me what kind of music does Patty Griffin write and sing, I want to say folk with a country flavor, but country music today is so fragmented into pop and traditional and so on. I know you’ve written several songs for the Dixie Chicks, who have crossed over to pop and rock. I don’t expect artists to place themselves in a specific genre, but whom would you say were your main influences? Who inspired you to be the singer/songwriter you are today.

PG: There have been quite a few along the way. I would say the original inspiration is John Lennon and the Beatles, and I moved on from there to Aretha Franklin. There are so many talented people out there. We’re really lucky to be living in a time and place that we have access to so much music. It’s almost too much. I sometimes go to the record store and I can’t buy anything, because there’s too much. (laughs) I can’t take all this in! You feel like your life’s not long enough. You start getting anxious at the record store. (laughs) There’s just so much stuff. I remember watching the Mike Douglas Show and watching Ella Fitzgerald on there and going, “Wow!”, you know? I mean we’ve been raised with so much stuff, AM radio, everything – all across the board. I wish I could be more specific and say something brilliant and articulate and nail down one thing.

jc: (laughs) You don’t have to.

PG: You probably don’t have the artwork for the record yet, but once again it’s a collage. The last record was collage work too. Actually I think the artwork on “Living With Ghosts” was collage work. (laughs) And I just noticed in the last couple of weeks ago that there’s all this collage stuff that was originally used to represent what I do by the artist who received the record to do the artwork. And I specifically asked Traci Goudie, who did the artwork on the last record and this record to maybe not have it be as collagey this time, and it’s twice the amount of collage work! (laughs) But, you know, I have to admit it’s pretty appropriate, because I have to say that’s what my music is. If I were a visual artist I’d be making collages. I’d be using a lot of different mediums. My music, I think…I’m drawing from a lot of different places and influences.

jc: That’s profound. (laughs)

PG: Well, I think that’s what the music is, you know?

jc: That’s a suitable metaphor. You mention Am radio. I grew up in the 70s’ when pop radio gave you all different styles jammed up against one another, seemingly incongruent styles and genres, but it was an interesting stew. (laughs) And that was a great palate for enjoying different things. I recently remarked to a friend who writes songs that back then songwriters literally wrote ballads, where they tell stories and the emotions resonate through them.

PG: It’s true. But I wouldn’t say that’s gone away forever. It’s definitely not the popular place to be working from right now, though. (laughs)

Patty Griffinjc: Listening to the new record, “Impossible Dream” I’m reminded of two of the women artists you mentioned earlier, Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald. It has that soulful kind of sound. That’s how I hear it. Was that your aim this time, to be more bluesy or soulful?

PG: I think that a lot of the songs were coming out of very dark places, some places I’d never really dug down to before. And I was having trouble figuring out how to get those across. So I drew from some music I’d been listening to before I worked on this record like Johnny Cash and the Staple Singers. For the last couple of years the Staple Singers are a regular part of my listening. I was also listening to the Velvet Underground. Definitely different styles, but all of those artists have this in common; they are talking about some really hard stuff lyrically, but their music is uplifting, I think. Beautiful. And I wanted to find a way to have something you can almost dance to and still be real for me, because I go to see people who you can dance to their music and more. Bruce Springsteen’s a great example. There is music out there that has substance and you can dance to. (laughs) There is! And that’s important to have literal music, music that literally uplifts. That’s what gospel music does, and Johnny Cash does that too. He’s sittin’ there telling you about a hanging, but he’s chugging along. And you can groove to it, you know? (laughs) That’s really important to be able to communicate that stuff without having to drag ’em through the dirt.

jc: (laughs) I think you walk that wire well on your records. I call your music “bittersweet”. The melodies are so romantic and endearing and yet sometimes the lyrics are harsh and the points are straight to the bone. I believe that’s what all art, whether it’s a painting or a film or a book, should have two sides. Your songs can be at once heartwarming and chilling.

PG: Mmmmm.

jc: For example, let’s talk about your song, “Truth No. 2” that is mentioned prominently in a publicity memo I received with an advance of “Impossible Dream”. The song appears on the last Dixie Chicks record, “Home”. It says here “the song spoke most clearly for the band about what its like to be censored.” Does that refer to the whole ridiculous flack – banning their records and burning them or some other such unwarranted nonsense – resulting from their comments about the president while on tour a couple of years ago?

PG: “Truth No. 2” is about that? I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

“The polls were 70% against the war. There were huge protests and we were standing up on stage with these people looking up at us skeptically. All of us live in Texas, so I can understand how that came out of their mouth when it did. “

jc: The blurb intimates that the song, like many of your songs, frankly, has more than one meaning, and for the Dixie Chicks, who recorded it, it became more or less prophetic.

PG: Well, they sort of used it as a tool for discussing that. It just sort of worked out that way. They recorded the song, obviously, before any of that happened. To me, the song is really about being honest about who I am, when I wrote it. Putting some faith in that, knowing what that is and presenting that. I think the Chicks have to have that message available to them as well. They’re really high-end entertainers and they are in show business, and it was a really difficult situation to be put into.

I was actually in England about three months before them and feeling that heat as well. (laughs) The polls were 70% against the war. There were huge protests and we were standing up on stage with these people looking up at us skeptically. All of us live in Texas, so I can understand how that came out of their mouth when it did. I don’t think they were planning to get on a political bandwagon, but sometimes just by being yourself you end up in these crazy places. “Truth No. 2” is sort of like, “I’m gonna take the chance and show my true colors, because I don’t have a choice.”

jc: Regardless of the penalties that sometimes follow the telling of truths.

PG: Right. And there are definitely penalties involved. (laughs)

jc: Well, if you could see just a third of the hate mail I get for just expressing an opinion it would frighten you.

PG: (laughs)

jc: What can you tell me about this tour you will be embarking on this spring that rolls through here shortly, the band and the interpretations of these new songs?

PG: I’m sorry, I was rubbing my eye. I’m having an allergy attack (laughs) Could you repeat that question?

jc: (laughs) That’s quite all right. Are you going to live?

PG: Okay. (laughs) I feel better now.

jc: Good. (laughs) I was hoping to just get some color on the upcoming spring tour and the new band.

PG: There is a full band that I’ll be playing with. Some of the things I’m just going to be doing with my guitar player, Doug Lancio, but we are leaving Austin on the 29th of April and we’ll be out for three weeks on the East coast and then three weeks on the West coast.

I have a really great soulful slinky rhythm section lead by Doug who is also my bandleader. Michael Ramos will also be coming. He played horns on the record. We’ve only had one gig so far for “South by Southwest” which went really, really great.

jc: Excellent. Looking forward to seeing you at Town Hall in May.

PG: Awesome, that’s great. I’d love to see you there.

jc: You have a wonderful summer and thanks for all the great songs.

PG: Thanks, you have a great summer too.

 

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