ADAM LEVY w/ THE HONEYDOGS

What do you feel is the high point of your new release, The Honeydogs; What Comes After?

This whole record feels like a solid offering to me. Hard to pick faves, just like your own children. The ending of “Devil We Do,”  “Broke it, Buy It,” The string arrangements on “Everything in its Place” and “Turned Around.”

What other Honeydogs release would you say is closest kin to the newbie?  

Hmmmmmm.  The record feels like a synthesis of our older roots records with some of the more elaborately arranged records of the last decade.   It has elements of our first two, and a few moments of 10,000 Years or Amygdala.

Now ten albums on, has the process of choosing the album title changed at all and how does “What Comes After” sum up what this record is bout to you? 

Album titles are in some ways like song titles.  They have some significance.  “What Comes After” has a bit of a spiritual ring to it–i was thinking about life and death matters quite a bit in the last year.  it’s also self-referential as an artist–I always like to keep moving forward artistically.  I have a number of projects percolating, and feel in a more creatively productive period than at any point in my career.  I hope to continue to always ask the question, “what comes after?”

How do you work as a band when it comes to new material; has it changed over the years? 

As the band has gotten more adept at learning songs the unit has become accomplished in the art of learning tunes on the spot; this record I brought a lot of songs the band had never heard.  They learned the songs and we tracked them immediately, sometimes in one or two takes.  That said, the band and my songwriting, while having a signature style, has always tried to not be predictable.  We don’t want to retread previous charted territory.  The band as players have developed some great antennae and abilities to learn quickly and fashion parts that feel new. This record was the easiest one we’ve ever made.  We worked with young engineers.  The band didn’t labor over details and we tried to retain as many of basic tracks and vocals as possible.

When is it time to get into the studio for The Honeydogs? Is it an organic process or does it take a lot of pre-production at this point?  

its time to go in the studio when I feel like I’ve got enough songs to work with.  The band loves being in the studio.  We grow a great deal every time we do this.  As I mentioned, little or no pre-production happened on songs for this record.  It is a very collective process of giving shape to a new body of work.  I always have ideas and make suggestions about parts.  But the more we work together, the more I trust everyone’s amazing instincts in this band.

Did you have any personal goals for this record? 

Sometimes not having expectations has some interesting results.  We didn’t have big plans tracking this record.  I felt like the songs were very personal and felt very comfortable in the studio with results happening quickly.  Not having any expectations always leaves you pleasantly surprised.

How did you gravitate toward ‘folk’ as the framework for your expression as a young artist?  

I grew up with the 1970’s pop folk landscape of radio. All of those bands listened to blues and folk and country.  My early favorites were all bands that merged older American musical styles with various other musical traditions.  I studied cultural anthropology in college and managed to soak up a lot of early American music in my studies.  I played in country VFW bands, old school honkytonk, and woodshedded to old blues and jazz records.  My early songwriting leaned heavily on Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Richard Thompson, Dylan…I never wanted to be a museum piece simply curating old musics and always had it in my mind to refer to these musics while offering something different.  My favorite artists have used the past as a touchstone to produce inspired hybrids and fresh interpretations.

What was the first song you ever learned to play and sing at the same time? 

Ha ha ha ha ha.  Badly or well?  KISS’s “Detroit Rock City”  badly.  “Sweet Black Angel” from the Stones’ Exile on MainStreet.

Who was your favorite guitarist growing up? 

I loved Mick Jones from The Clash.  Jimi Hendrix taught me the most.  I studied him hard.  Keith Richards and Pete Townsend taught me the importance of riffs and funky minimalism.  George Harrison taught me the importance of composing parts sometimes to create memorable music.

What advice do you give young artists looking to hit the road?  

Do it while you have time and freedom.  Create a great band.  Make everyone feel invested, loved, appreciated, and hope they areb equally driven.  It takes time to build a good team.  Be patient but be relentless and learn from failures…over and over and over.  Don’t listen to your parents.  I say that as a parent!

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WILL PHALEN

1.0 – Your solo release, HolyGhost/GoldCoast feels incredibly organic, did making it without other’s input per se help accentuate the flow? There’s something about working alone, late at night, when the rest of the world is quiet that really works for me. When I can get into a zone working on a track and just take it from start to finish over the course of several hours and really develop an idea and experiment with any sound or color I want — I love that. When you work with others, there’s a process you have to go through. Often, it’s very healthy and productive. But sometimes it feels like you’re auditioning your ideas for other people. “What if we did this?” And then you have to sell your partners on the idea, or maybe it gets rejected outright. Again, these are not necessarily bad things. Lots of good work comes from collaboration. But it’s also very freeing to not have to audition. You just do whatever is on your mind and you are the only one you’re working for. I like that. In the end, you’re the only one responsible for what you’ve done, so there’s that risk involved, but I’m okay with that. If other people like what I’ve created and can relate to it, that’s the best thing ever. But at least I know, before anyone else gets to hear it, that I have created something that I can live with.

2.0 – Is this something you had wanted to do for some time?  It really wasn’t something that was premeditated. I write a lot of songs. Sometimes more than I know what to do with. The solo album idea really came up as a way to collect some new and different material that I wanted to share. The Stereo Addicts were busy working on a separate bunch of new songs, and I had these other songs that I knew wouldn’t fit in to the bigger rock sound that we were working on at the time. So I just held on to them till I felt the timing was right.

url3.0 – How did you record it?  Each song on the album was written, recorded and mixed in one day. Meaning: one day, one song. Actually, there may have been one or two exceptions to that, but, by and large, that’s how it came together. And they were all pretty much made in the same place. I was staying in this tiny one-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Late at night, I’d stay up writing and recording songs while the neighbors were sleeping next door. I think that’s probably the reason the album has such a quite, mellow feel to it. I couldn’t make too much noise, and that lead to some interesting experiments. Instead of using real shakers for a percussion track, I’d rub together two pieces of paper and use the magic wand of studio wizardry to make them sound like they were shakers. Or I’d record the sound of my sandal lightly tapping on the floor and use it to create a kick drum effect. And obviously I couldn’t be blasting my amp, so I’d either play really quiet electric guitars or else just stick to acoustic. That’s why I love recording at home: the limitations of your space define what you’re able to create. I think those kinds of limits are absolutely essential to making any good or interesting piece of art.

4.0 – Did you have a sound in mind or did it evolve as it came together?  I didn’t. Like I said, I think the environment was fairly key to developing the sound of these songs and recordings. But I never had any specific idea about what kind of sound I was going for. All of these songs were composed as part of a project I’ve been involved with called the Song League. It’s like a virtual song circle that I started a couple years ago with a handful of songwriter friends. Each week everyone in the League has to write a song, record it and share it online before Monday morning of the following week. Basically, it’s a deadline: produce something now or else appear impotent before all of your friends and respected peers. And when you’re faced with a deadline like that, and you don’t exactly have something ready to go, it sometimes forces you to create things that you might not normally create, or more importantly, things that you might not normally share with others. At least that has been my experience, and it’s been the most healthy thing that’s happened for me creatively in years. So when I have to write a song for the Song League, I just let it come and whatever it is that takes shape, that’s what it is. I worry about where it fits in later. So for this record, I had produced a bunch of songs that I liked, I picked the ones that fit together best and that was the record.

5.0 – Are all the songs new or were there some left overs from The Stereo Addicts that just fit this project better?  All the songs were new. I was going through this very productive phase in which I was writing songs all the time (mostly because I had to for the Song League). And it was always fairly obvious to me which ones were right for the Stereo Addicts and which weren’t. So those other songs, the ones that weren’t exactly Stereo Addicts material, were kind of floating around in some sort of limbo. I had them recorded and I wanted to share them with people, but wasn’t sure how to best do that. Ultimately, I just decided to pick the ten songs that fit best together as one album and put it out as a solo release. There’s still a bunch of songs from that period (and the time since) that haven’t seen the light of day. But maybe someday soon…

6.0 – Are you going to perform the songs alone on tour or do you plan to have accompaniment?  I’ve been performing the songs with a trio and hope to continue doing it that way. I think there will probably be some solo shows here and there, but that’s not exactly my favorite way to play these songs. It’s a “solo record”, but many of the tunes are fairly layered with various instruments and sounds. For me, those extra colors and textures are as important to the song as the lyrics or guitar part. So playing them by myself doesn’t really convey the full picture I’d like to paint for the listener. I really enjoy having the ability to create a similar, or at least equally interesting, sound on stage as was created in the studio. It’s a very different challenge, but it’s a fun one. And as we’ve tried to play these songs live we’ve found some really cool new ways to approach the arrangements. In a lot of cases, I like now like the live versions even better than the recordings!

7.0 – What led you to pick up the guitar originally?  I grew up surrounded by music. My father is a musician, and he had (and still has) a huge collection of LPs, cassettes, and CDs. And he also had a nice collection of instruments too — mostly guitars — many of which I’m fortunate enough to use when I perform these days. So it was basically inevitable that I’d pick one up someday.Oddly enough though, I first gravitated towards drums and started learning how to play the kit when I was around the age of 12. A year later I started learning guitar at music class in school. We had a really incredible music teacher named Larry Theiss. He’s still around teaching and composing and recording. Just an incredible guy. He taught us how to play drums and guitar and bass and everything. My entire seventh grade class — almost every one of us learned how to play drums! It was amazing. So that’s where it started, and then my father helped me a lot along the way. There were guitars at home, so I was playing all the time. I fell in love as soon as I learned my first song: the bass line to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Kurt Cobain was still alive and everybody wanted to learn how to play those songs. Just learning that bass line was the coolest thing ever. The day I learned it, I came home from school and played it for hours until my parents asked me to stop. They’ve been extremely supportive and tolerant of my music and all the noise that accompanies it over the years, and I don’t blame them for needing a break from it every now and then!

8.0 – Who or what did you want be when you were a kid?  I distinctly remember being asked that question when I was in second grade. It was for some kind of presentation I was supposed to give about myself. I had no idea what to say. I said, “A fireman.” I don’t know where that came from. It wasn’t true. I just said it because I had no other answer. And when I went to college I still didn’t know. Even by the time I graduated I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I was going to do. But I do remember the first time I really saw a rock concert video when I was about 10 years old. It was called “Eric Clapton and Friends.” It was the Eighties. Phil Collins was the drummer. I thought he was amazing. They all were. From that point on, I always wanted to play music, but I never really believed it would be my job. Now that it is, it’s pretty surreal. But I’m very, very grateful to be able to play and write and produce and just share music with other people. I can’t think of anything nicer to be able to with my life.The funny thing is I’m about to turn thirty and I still ask myself that question: “What am I going to do when I grow up?” And I think I finally know the answer. I really want to grow as a producer and keep making records with other people. This past year, I’ve been very fortunate to work in that role with a handful of really fantastic artists. Musikanto, who I think you interviewed here a few months back; Julie Meckler, a rising star in the Chicago music scene; my friend Chris Anderson on his project, Old Fashioned War — which is basically a who’s who of Chicago’s best musicians — and the songs are beautiful. It’s been a dream come true to have these opportunities, and that’s what I’d really like to keep doing.

9.0 – Why did you leave Milwaukee for Chicago and how are you enjoying the windy city?  The Milwaukee area will always be my home, but I came down to Chicago to be with my girlfriend at the time. Now she’s my wife, so I think it was a good move! Anyways, I gradually started spending more and more time in Chicago (which coincided with the making of this album) and eventually I was just down here more than I was in Milwaukee. But I still make it up to Wisconsin all the time, so it kind of feels like a dual-citizenship, if you will. I like it that way. I’d miss my family and friends in Milwaukee too much if I wasn’t making the trips back and forth.And you asked if I’m enjoying it here. Yes, definitely. It’s a great city, and the people I’ve met down here, both in the music community and otherwise, have been extremely welcoming and kind and generous. I’ve made some really strong friendships and found a very solid group of musicians to work with and hang out with. It’s a very supportive and loving scene. People are playing together in a variety of different projects and sharing their talents. That’s something I’ve always wanted to be a part of.

10.0 – When did you become a ‘Stereo Addict’ and what would rehab be like?   Ha! Good question. That’s one I have not been asked before! I just like the ambiguity of that name. If you’re a Stereo Addict, you could be really into audiophile stereo gear, like speakers, receivers, equalizers and all that. Or maybe you just really love the aural illusion created by two channels of audio: as in stereo recordings versus mono. You know, the way sounds move from one ear to another when you’ve got headphones on, and it’s two in the morning and you’re listening to a Jimi Hendrix record. It’s magical. To me, it’s just all about the love of sound and what it does to you. We’ve got two ears, so we live in a stereo world, and I’m so glad the gods saw fit to give us the gift of music. If I couldn’t have it, I wouldn’t want to live.

(photo portrait of Will Phalen by Kait Rathkamp)

GWENDOLYN

1.0 – How would you compare your new disc Bright Light (September 20th release) to your debut Ultrasounds back in 2000? 

Ultrasounds is collection of recordings I made here, there and everywhere I could over five years. I was experimenting – trying all kinds of sounds and recording techniques with friends of mine. At the time I didn’t imagine they would come together as an album one day – happily, they did! I love that album – It’s like looking at old photographs of myself.

Bright Light on the other hand was born out of a clear intention. With a pocket full of country-folk songs and very little time, we recorded the album live in 3 days and then invited our favorite musicians to come and play on it. The whole thing was mixed and in the can within three weeks. We knew the album we wanted to make. And producer Ethan Allen navigated those waters masterfully.

2.0 – “Discover Me” is a great introduction to both the record and new fans, is it your favorite track?

Sometimes when you hold on to songs too long they can become heavy in your heart. You may outgrow them or just plain ol’ forget how they go.  Many of the songs on Bright Light had been kicking around my guitar case for a while.  What I like about “Discover Me” is that it came to me a week or two before we went into the studio. It was fresh and made me smile to play it and share it while it was still so relevant in my life. I especially love how Tony Gilkyson played guitar… with Danny McGough on the B4 organ just barkin’ back at him… and Josh Grange on the pedal steel sort of floating over it all. Beautiful talent!

3.0 – You have a flair for the whimsical, does that come naturally?

I actually looked up “whimsical” (1. spontaneously fanciful or playful 2. given to whims; capricious 3. quaint, unusual, or fantastic) and I thought, hey – that’s not too bad… at least it’s not boring!

4.0 – When did you first start singing and who did you enjoy emulating most? 

My parents used to sing together. My dad would play guitar and my mom would sing harmony and we’d have little hootenannies in our living room. So I suppose I emulated a lot of my dad’s record collection growing up… Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, Incredible String Band, The Beatles… I also attended a school with an active choir and arts program – so singing was a big part of my childhood. Although I never considered myself a “singer”… I knew I had a love for performing but it wasn’t until late in my teens when I picked up the guitar that I actually started singing more seriously. I suppose it was more about the writing for me.

5.0 – How did you write your first song ever? 

I came home one afternoon and found my sister (four years my junior) playing my dad’s guitar. So of course I wanted to do it, too! My first song was a two string bluesy folk fusion about a woman destitute in love – talking about how some man came and ate her heart but it go stuck in his gossiping throat. The lyrics were like something out of a Salvador Dali painting. The chorus was complete Celtic gibberish but super catchy. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before and I loved that about it. I forget what it was called.

6.0 – Do you write the same way today or is it more collaborative with the band?

Leave me alone with my guitar and inevitably a song will come. These days with work for TV, family and other projects, I have less time to write for myself – but back in the day I was quite prolific. My band understands the natural ebb and flow of the creative process. And they generally like my songs. I just start singing and they play along and somehow it all comes together… like stone soup.

 7.0 – How did the current band come together and what is your favorite thing about them as a team? 

I played solo for quite a few years. The first person I played with was Roger Park (on upright bass). He got busy with life and shortly thereafter I started to play with high school pal Douglas Lee who had just moved home from living in New Orleans. He was going on about some kind of glass instrument he was planning to build and I encouraged him to build it cause I wanted to start a band with him. Then Robert Petersen (another high school friend) moved home from the Bay Area where he was playing in Thumb Of The Maid (now known as The Moore Brothers). So together we started playing as quite a weird little folk trio (well, weird for 1996). Eventually we met Brandon who wanted to join us on the pots and pans and found objects he could bang on. That suited us nicely. By now, we’ve been having so much fun we’ve been playing for about ten years together. More recently, Scott Doherty rounds out the band with his keys and various guitars. And guess who’s on pedal steel? Roger Park! So it comes full circle. My favorite thing about them is who they are as people. At this point we’re friends first and band mates second. It’s really quite a nice group of friends.

8.0 – How did the WEEDS show placement come about for you? do you like the show? 

LOVE the show! I can’t think of another show that has reinvented itself so fantastically over and over again. The writers and actors are so good at what they do. The folks we work with allow us to constantly try new things – it all makes for a creative Camelot. It’s been a hugely positive experience in my life. And it was all luck of the draw, really. Well, sort of. My dad always told me there are two rules in life: 1 – be ready. 2 – keep showing up. So there I was playing in a band I have for preschoolers called Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang. Turns out the creator of Weeds and her three kids are big fans (true Hollywood story). Being “whimsical” as Jenji can sometimes be, she asked if Brandon and I would audition to become the second season replacement composers for her show.  Now granted, there were hundreds of composers and we were just throwing our hat into the ring. Faithful to my Father’s advice, I never turn down an opportunity… Turns out, they really loved what we did and gave us the job… That was like six years ago and we’re still working on the show – very lucky! And very grateful – it’s taught me so much about music and storytelling and what it means to make my living as an artist.

9.0 – When you explain your music to new friends who inquire, what words come up most? 

Uhh… folk. Country folk. True stories. Stuff I’ve written. Mostly, I’m stumped for a description.

10.0 – Your standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and you see a Dead Head sticker on a Cadillac that’s slowing down to take a look at you….can you trust them?  

Oh, sure. But number one rule still applies. You know the old saying… nobody rides for free.


JAMES McMURTRY

Since “Live In Europe” is your 2nd live album, what led you to the decision to record again live? The project was originally supposed to be a DVD project. A web stream company had rigged up a multi camera shoot at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. They asked if we wanted to video our show. We said “you bet” and we paid an extra three grand to multi trac the audio so we could mix it properly. They forgot to mention that they were not going to save the raw video footage, meaning we would not be able to edit the video. Consequently, most of the video looked like hell, cross stage shots at McLagan through a forest of mic stands, quick cuts from my face to the kick drum pedal in the middle of a vocal line, etc. . . There was no way I could charge money for the video. But the audio sounded pretty good and we had to get that three grand back somehow, so we mixed the audio for a record and included the few decent looking videos for a bonus DVD.

As far as “the band” goes, how did you prepare for theses live sessions?
We gigged every night for a month or so.

How does your European audience differ from playing stateside?
The West Germans and the Dutch and the Belgians pay extremely close attention. They speak english, but they’re about three words behind usually, so they’re silent. It can be a bit unnerving. The East Germans generally don’t speak any english, but some of them go crazy for any kind of rock’n roll. They’ll get on their feet. The British and the Irish can get pretty rowdy too. Stateside audiences also vary in temperment, depending on the venue and the region. Seems like it’s easier to get them moving in mountainous country, don’t know why.

Did you have multiple live recorded versions of each track to choose from?
We recorded two shows, the one in Amsterdam and another in Geislingen Germany

Which tune on “Live In Europe” is the trickiest to pull off live?
Just Us Kids used to seem tricky for me. The right hand clutch took a while to feel natural.

James McMurtry 0326107.0 You have a uniquely warm electric guitar tone throughout this and your other records, any hints? Got lucky this time, rental gear. Always play through two amps if you have room. One of them might not suck.

8.0 Do you have a philosophy when it comes to being comfortable on stage?
Remember to have fun.

What do you feel is the high point of “Live In Europe”?
I like that version of “Hurricane Party”.

Now, imagine a movie called “James McMurtry” – which of your tunes would be playing in the background as the finishing credits roll out? I’d rather it were a Kristofferson song off “Silver Tongued Devil”. I believe the title is “Pilgrim Chapter 21”, something like that.