Your new record If We Never sounds immediately comfortable – how do you view it in relation to your other musical incarnations?
Very personal and uncomfortably comfortable. The songs were written for me in most instances. Two of my friends died while I was recording it. My son’s godmother Patti and my best friend Buff. It made me examine my life, the life of men my age, my relationship with my family (wife, children, friends, etc.). In many ways, it’s a rumination of a middle-age man’s life; all the lust, love, betrayal, sorrow, joy, the finality of life. It’s no doubt my most personal effort as I’ve really examined my own ego and id on this one. (hear track “Sometimes I”)
How do you approach song writing for a solo release versus, say, GIANTfingers?
No difference, really. Just different players. Interestingly enough, this record began as the second GIANTfingers CD and the morphed into my own solo effort. I recorded some tracks with the band and then started laying down more personal tunes, very sparse, in some instances just my voice and guitar with a few embellishments. But I don’t know if I really approached this record any differently than any of my other records, song-writing wise. I don’t write a song and think of who will play what. I just let it flow and then decide what works for me vs. what may work better for GIANTfingers. I’ve always felt that a good song can be played just as readily on an acoustic guitar as it could be on a cello. Melody is (the) driving force.
Do you think the concept of a full-length record will be spun out in 50 years or stick like the symphony has, as a revered format?
Very good question. I think the full-length is dead right now. How many people ingest a full-length album today? I’d like to see that poll. We buy tracks. Artists like CeeLo Green have been done well by releasing killer tracks like “Fuck You” or earlier with “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley that made folks stop and notice. And they were done before the albums were released. Besides, did it matter to the Beatles or the British Invasion bands way back when? Nope. They just released singles that got compiled into albums. There is just too much music, too much culture for people to pay attention to an entire album. Much of my favorite hip-hop has always been best ingested by individual tracks and not entire albums. However, if an album is a magnificent effort and the songs flow into one another, then it rewards the listener like a novel or short movie. Even my own CD is stupid, even though it’s a concept album about middle-aged angst. I’d be a fool to suggest that anyone spend the 40 odd minutes to listen to it. But if they do, I hope they’ll enjoy the experience. I think it works best while driving or riding the subway. Ingest it like an audiobook. I also think that providing strong visual components for your music can act as a barker for your brand. Recently my video for the track “Secret Window” featuring the French actress Stella Velon won Best Music Video at the LA Film & Script festival. And the cover art was rendered by artist Jeff Zenick.
Do you see rock & roll as a reasonable raison d’etre?
Reasonable? No; necessary. Two guitars, bass, and drums. A garage. Some dudes that want to let it all hang out, and voila… Let there be rock! Rock and roll will never die. Long live rock! Rock is just like any other musical genre. Once you introduce it to the status quo, it will ascend, peak, descend, and then settle in to itself. Rock probably had its Renaissance during the late ’60s/early ’70s. Those bands and tunes have stood the test of time. Just like jazz in the ’50s, classical music in the 19th century. But then again, punk rock kicked it in the arse and it had a rebirth. Rap kicked it in the teeth. And on and on…
Did you have to fight or embrace cynicism to keep on keepin’ on?
Not at all. FIrst and foremost I have to be engaged myself. I don’t look at songwriting, or painting, or writing a great novel as any different. It’s all about the journey for any artist. You have an idea, you produce the idea in some format, and then feel compelled to share that idea with other people. Then you leave it up to others to embrace it or reject it. An artist need only worry about pleasing oneself. Any attention after that is extra gravy. But it’s easy to be cynical given today’s music culture. Especially when so many people feel that music has so little value that they have no qualms stealing it. I often ask these same folks why they don’t steal art off of walls. Normally they have no irrefutable rebuttal. Musicians need to make a living, too.
If you had to pick, what one year in rock is your all-time favorite?
Wow, great question. Certainly my pre-teen years in the late ’60s defined me, and probably unconsciously informed my own musical style, my ethos, pathos, id, etc. ’69 to ’72 were memorable for me because my older cousin who was attending Kent State bought me Abbey Road and Led Zeppelin and introduced me to heavier music. I was already a Beatles fan, but Abbey Road was the album, especially side two, that made me appreciate the album as an album. Wasn’t long after that I began ingesting Cream, Bowie, Dylan, Santana, Hendrix, The Doors, The Allman Brothers, Neil Young, et al.
Sometimes artists reach similar places completely unaware of one another and that cohesion is what creates a ‘scene’. Was there ever an artist you heard that made you think “yeah, that’s my scene man!”?
You know I’m often inspired in the least likely places. Sometimes it can be a tiny jazz club in the Village or rock club or even a private party, but I think that when Americana hit in NYC in the late 90s it was a scene I really felt a kinship and bond with. Many of the bands played the same venues, sometimes sharing the same bill. That was also was period during the mid-to-late 90s where I was producing a series of Americana gigs at CB’s Gallery (next to CBGB’s) called The Front Porch Series. And if was often my band and 4 other bands sharing the night. Most of us waved the flag of roots-rock, alt-country, Americana. Then one day I was a playing a BMI showcase at the original Living Room and Ollabelle was performing before us and it was like, “Holy Shit! That’s it man, that’s the sound, that’s the vibe, that’s the band. That’s all of what I wanted to convey. I turned to the dude next to me and said, “wow, they should be signed immediately.” And he said, “they just were. T-Bone Burnett is bringing them in to CBS.” I was stoked for them because they so deserved it. They just nailed it! Ditto for early Daniel Lanois and his solo records and gigs.
Any goofy behind-the-scenes stuff at Creem that like to laugh about now?
Nothing goofy really. But I do have some cool rock and roll stories. One of my fondest memories involves riding around Glastonbury during the festival with Robert Plant. He was headlining the main stage that Saturday night and I assigned myself to cover that event while at the helm of Creem. I took the train up from London and met him at his hotel. We climbed into his Mercedes and he drove me around Glastonbury sharing stories of King Arthur and the Holy Grail and the Maidens of Tor. He then asked me if I was a Moby Grape fan. I was even though I was introduced to them much later in my rock and roll life. He proceeded to try to ring up Jerry Miller, one of the guitarists and songwriters in the band. When we got back to the festival, we caught some the Velvet Underground’s reunion set, some of Midnight Oil, hung out with the Black Crowes backstage, and then Plant finally played. He was magnificent, as one might imagine.
What is your take on the new media and where does Culture Catch fit in?
New media is now. As I say, “converge is the word.” Web content has converged with TV content. The content is delivered on multi platforms and devices. Most consumers have access to two of the three screens — mobile, laptop, and desktop. Most folks in America could care less what size the screen might be. Plus, you can watch your content when you please in any environment. CultureCatch.com was one of the first companies to actually produce and post audio podcasts and vidcasts/webcasts on iTunes when we launched 6 years. My show featured compelling, long conversation with celebs in all areas of the arts. I think because I had this great access I was able to draw attention to our website. So we were part of the birth of new media. We even ran the podcasting symposium at Macworld the year they launched the iPhone. It was quite the event. Apple has been very kind to us. Really helped promote our programming across multiple platforms. Ditto for Verizon Wireless and some other forward thinking brands. Just this week we were mentioned in the New York Times by Mike Hudack, CEO of Blip.tv, as one of his favorite shows on his network. Am I getting wealthy from it? Not yet. But I’ve got no gatekeepers telling me what I can or can’t program. As long as there are interesting artists willing to share their stories, I will keep producing my content.
Rumour has it you were once purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, how was it working with Prince?
No rumors, nothing but the truth! Yes, I was the only journalist to interview him in the early ’90s while I was at the helm of Creem. He was then known as “the-artist-formerly-known-as-Prince”. I had agreed to a cover story with him, but I had to accept certain conditions. Interview would be conducted at Paisley Park, in person. However, I couldn’t bring a tape recorder, pencil, pen, crayon, et al. to document said interview. I would have to create an interview with my memory and creative moxie. I was up to the challenge as I felt he’d appreciate my humble Akron, Ohio roots. Hung out all day at Paisley Park. Met all of his band and folks that work there. Finally got to meet and hang with him towards the middle of the afternoon. He was too cool, a bit shy, but deep. A few months later, he ended up hiring me to publish and edit his fanzine New Power Generation. That lasted for a few years until he got distracted with other things.