DAVID SAFRAN

What are you working on and why are you excited about it?  I finished a novella called “Fenichel” last October. I hope to get this published soon. Beyond that, I’m co-writing a musical, “The Hotwife of Hyde Park,” gruelingly in development since 2014.

Did you grow up with music in your family?  A bit, yes. My mother listened to sixties folk music. The genres my father admired are better left unsaid.

Was there a live concert experience that impacted you early on?  In 2001, John Cale played a pub in Evanston. I had a ticket but, because I was underage, the pub (Tommy Nevin’s) wouldn’t let me into the showAnyway, I unhappily roamed downtown Evanston when, suddenly, I spotted Cale and his people leaving Pete Miller’s Steakhouse. I approached him, explained the Nevin’s issue, and mentioned I saw him live a few years earlier at the Knitting Factory—and no one at that venue cared I was a teenager. “Well, aren’t you a little recidivist,” he said, snobbishly dismissing me. His entourage chuckled. I felt incredibly stupid, but still asked Cale to sign a copy of “Fragments of a Rainy Season” I had with meUsing a needlepoint pen, instead of a signature, he drew various squiggles across the disc. After rigorously scratching my CD—making his music unplayable—the old Welsh rocker in the neon orange hoodie and baseball hat departed down Sherman Avenue.

What was your first public performance?  I can’t recall my first public performance. But I remember my last one: I performed with a friend who, in addition to songwriting, is a Chicago television journalist. Before soundcheck, he mentioned Rahm Emanuel would be at our show. This rumor swirled around the venue for an hour or two. In the end, of course, Rahm didn’t appear. I played to a small crowd utterly indifferent to my music, and a room smelling of calamari. A pretty typical David Safran gig.

How do songs come about for you?  At the moment, my songwriting process means fighting the urge to write songs.

How do you feel about playing covers and what are your personal fail-safe go-to’s?  I’ve never really played covers before. It’s a beautiful skill I seem to lack. But a few years ago, for Valentine’s Day, I recorded Lou Reed’s “HookyWooky” and sent it to my girlfriend, Emma.

What songwriters are on your Mt. Rushmore?  After my John Cale encounter, I stopped carving human beings into a rock.

What advice would you give to a young musician seeking a path?  My advice? Be sure that alongside your career path there is a revenue stream. The best advice, though, comes via my maternal grandmother, Hilda. Many years ago, my cousin was in the middle of his bar mitzvah, and flubbing it. He couldn’t remember the Hebrew bits. Aware her grandson was panicked, Hilda called out from her seat, “Just keep going—it’s not like we have any idea what you’re saying.” Really, that’s my only advice. Just keep going—it’s not like we have any idea what you’re saying.

Are you jazzed about any new artists or releases we should know about?  Actually, I was about to ask you the same question. I’ve been listening to the same five songs for the last twenty years.

Your time machine is set for the 70’s, what recording session do you sit in on and what suggestions might you offer to slightly alter rock & roll history?  Recording is a horribly boring activity. A studio is the last place I’d send my time machine. That said, I own a Smithsonian Folkways record called, “Calypso Awakening from the Emory Cook Collection.” I wish I could travel back to, I think, the 1950s and watch Small Island Pride record a song called “Taxi Driver.” – David Safran

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PATRICK McGRATH

1.0 – How do you compare 2006’s Wet Nurse To A Dirty Bag with the new EP, When Black Is Blue?

Wet Nurse To A Dirty Bag was a recording process that spanned almost two years for various reasons, both good & bad.When Black Is Blue, however, had 2 full days of tracking with a little extra off site tracking. The feel was spontaneous and organic. Musically they meld together being that my live show intertwines the two successfully. Wet Nurse To A Dirty Bag leaned more towards a grungier, darker, rock feel, whereas When Black Is Blue leans towards a more rootsy and, at times, quirkier side.

2.0 – It sounds like it came together rather serendipitously, or is that spin?

Ain’t no spin. It was pretty much a serendipitous affair. I had received a message from drummer, Randy Schrager, that he had a weekend free in between tours for Scissor Sisters and Jesse Malin. I then contacted producer, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, and he told me the weekend in question was free at Cowboy Technical Services in Brooklyn, NY. After rounding out the rhythm section with bassist Jared Engel, we rehearsed twice and went in and cut the basic tracks live.

3.0 – How was it working with legendary producer Eric Ambel?

Recording with Eric Ambel was as enjoyable as it was educational! The professionalism in the studio was the real deal while the vibe was loose and comfortable.

4.0 – What lead to the decision to do an EP versus a full length at this time?

The decision was reached via money or lack there of. I wanted to record a full length and had more than enough material but the budget was rather blue collar.

5.0 – What track on the disc are people gravitating to most?

I would say most people are gravitating towards the title track, “When Black Is Blue,” with “Heavy Thunder” running a close second.

6.0 – As a folk story teller of sorts, do you draw from personal experiences or approach songs as mini-novels?

I mostly tell stories derived directly from my own experience with a few name changes and a little necessary fiction when needed. Although the mini-novel approach is apropos when developing a concept rather than a specific experience.

7.0 – How are the east coast tour dates going for you?

The east coast tour dates have been a cool mix of gigs. They’ve ranged from playing in front of a couple of hundred people when I opened a bunch of dates for the great, Mike Doughty, to driving 5 hours to Annapolis to play in front of 5 people. Both ends of the gig spectrum are good times and lessons learned.

8.0 – Do you prefer the solo dates or fielding a band?

They are two totally different animals that I enjoy but lately, due to a few new collaborations, I enjoy fielding a band.

9.0 – What guitars and amps are you playing on tour? is that important?

It is very important. I play a National Resophonic Junior and a Fender Stratocaster through a VOX AC-15. I play a Martin DM acoustic guitar.

10.0 – Ray Davies stops by for tea, summons you to pick up a guitar….you start playing – what song?

Hmmm? … Bizarre question. Perhaps “Afternoon Tea” in honor of him. I might wanna run my new tune, “At The Rock Show,” by him to see what he thinks.