JIM VALLANCE

JimVallanceWHAT WAS THE FIRST TUNE YOU LEARNED TO PLAY ON THE DRUMS?

It was a very long time ago (1965?) but I think the first song I played on drums was “Little Red Riding Hood”, by Sam The Sham and the Pharaohs.

DRUMMER JOKES ASIDE, IT SEEMS THE BEST ARTISTS (AND PRODUCERS FOR THAT MATTER) CAN PLAY SOME DRUMS, OR IN FACT BEGAN ON THE DRUMS: HOW DID UNDERSTANDING RHYTHM HELP YOU AS A SONGWRITER AND PRODUCER?

There’s this presumed orthodoxy that everything begins with piano … learn to play piano and the rest will follow.  That’s why so many kids are forced to take piano lessons.  If it were up to me, I’d say “start with drums and the rest will follow”.  Rhythm is the most basic musical building block.

I took piano lessons like every other kid of my generation — except the ones who took accordion lessons! — but it’s drums that taught me how to play music with feeling.  Even now, when I play guitar, I play like a drummer.

WHAT WAS THE ALBUM THAT GOT YOU HOOKED ON ROCK & ROLL AS A KID?

I wasn’t aware of albums when I was a kid.  It was all about singles, 45 RPM vinyl disks.  The first ones I bought were “She Loves You” by The Beatles and “Glad All Over” by The Dave Clark Five.

RodneyHiggsHOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE STAGE NAME ‘RODNEY HIGGS’ WHEN YOU WERE IN PRISM AND DOES HE, AS AN ALTER-EGO OF SORTS, EVER PAY VISITS TO YOUR MIND SET?

I live part-time in London … I have an apartment in Kensington. I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, that whole Victorian-era thing.  Rodney Higgs sounded like a character from a Sherlock Holmes story.

DID BEING FROM CANADA MAKE IT HARDER TO BREAK INTO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AT LARGE OR DID YOU SEE IT AS AN ADVANTAGE?

I’ve always wondered if it made a difference.  There were hundreds of bands in Los Angles, all of them within walking distance of the big label offices.  Whether it was Devo from Akron or Nirvana from Seattle, I think there was some novelty attached to bands that were from somewhere other than LA.  So yes, I think it helped to be from Vancouver.

IN YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH BRYAN ADAMS, HOW DID YOU GUYS WORK ON SONGS TYPICALLY? DID THE APPROACH CHANGE AT ALL OVER THE YEARS OR DID YOU HAVE A FORMULA TOGETHER?

No formula, but certainly a democratic approach to writing songs.  There’s no ego … the best idea wins, no matter who came up with it.  We both write melody and we both write lyrics.  We can bounce lyrics and melodies back and forth until the best idea becomes apparent.  Sometimes I’ll play guitar, sometimes bass, sometimes piano.  It depends on the song.  Bryan usually plays guitar when we write, although he’s actual a very good piano player.

Cars_JimVallanceYOU HAVE WRITTEN WITH A NUMBER OF MAJOR ARTISTS OVER THE YEARS, WHICH WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU AS AS SONGSMITH?

I’m 60.  I’ve been writing songs since I was 16.  You’d think it would get easier, but it doesn’t.  It’s hard work.
Every song, every artist, comes with its own set of challenges, the main one being, you want to do the best job possible.  I admit I was nervous the first time I wrote with Steven and Joe from Aerosmith — same for Ozzy or Alice Cooper — but you get over that quite quickly.  Then it’s all about focussing on the task, spending the time — hours, days, whatever it takes — writing, re-writing, honing it until you’ve got it right.
Honestly, every song is a challenge.  There’s nothing quite so daunting as staring at a blank piece of paper waiting to be filled with lyrics.  Somehow it just happens. There’s that great story about Andrew Loog Oldham locking a young Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a room, threatening not to let them out until they’d written a song.  That’s kinda what it’s like.  That’s what it takes.
ONE OF YOUR CURRENT ‘PET PROJECTS’ IS JOHN LENNON IN GERMANY FROM 60-62: CAN YOU SHARE A PEARL FROM THE YOUNG TOUGHS DAYS IN HAMBURG?

An interviewer once asked Lennon to divulge the secret of the Beatles’ success.  Lennon replied, “We were a really good band!”.  And they were.  Listen to their recording of “Kansas City”, which is straight from their Hamburg set-list.  That’s four guys in a studio, singing and playing at the same time.  No ProTools or overdubs, just a really good band taking their Hamburg club show into a recording studio.  That’s where they got good, playing eight hour sets at the Top Ten Club and the Kaiserkeller.  There’s no substitute for that kind of apprenticeship.

 HOW DO YOU RATE RINGO AND WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE OF HIS DRUM TRACKS IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE?

Ringo is one of the best rock drummers, ever. Bonham may have been heavier, and Stewart Copeland may have had more finesse, but you won’t find a more tasteful drummer than Ringo.  Plus, he basically invented the drum fill as we know it.

My favorite  Ringo tracks include “Lovely Rita”, “Carry That Weight”, “Ticket To Ride”, “Rain”.  For that matter, he played great on everything.  Never the same feel twice.

DO YOU STILL PLAY ‘SONG DOCTOR’ AND DO YOU MAKE HOUSE CALLS?

I don’t like the “song doctor” label.  It sounds like all I do is fix other people’s songs, or contribute the last 10% to fine-tune the song for radio.  I might have done that a few times over the years, but 99% of the time I start from scratch, sitting in a room with Bryan Adams or Steven Tyler, blank page, no clue where things are headed, and somehow you come up with a song. That’s a great feeling.  That’s what I love about my job … creating something from nothing. – JIM VALLANCE 

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ALYNDA LEE SEGARRA w/ HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF

Does the name ‘Hurray for The Riff Raff’ reflect a personal or band philosophy of sorts?  I would say the name comes from my love and feeling of camaraderie for the underdog of all walks of life. Growing up in New York City exposed me to people who live on the fringes of society and sometimes go unseen yet they have so much unique energy they give the city. The homeless subway singers, the runaway teenagers from middle america, the gender benders, and the Puerto Rican Poets of the lower east side. I felt at home with this lot of folk right away.

Do you have a favorite track on the new release, Look Out Mama?  I’d say my favorite track is “Ode to John and Yoko”, it was really fun to record and mess around with. Andrija Tokic really helped me bring that song to life. I had the song and some ideas but him and Sam Doores had a lot of great ideas about how we could use Beatles-esque recording tricks etc to make it what it is. Dan Cutler is the man when it comes to vocal arrangements, so with the help of the whole team this recording came about and I couldn’t be prouder.

How did the relationship with the HBO show ‘Treme’ come about?  Treme has been awesome about wanting real New Orleans musicians on the show, the crew really respects New Orleans artists and they want us to benefit from the success. I was just lucky enough they decided to use us.

Could you have become the artist you are today had you not run away from home and the Bronx at 17?   I’m sure I’d be an artists of some sort since i’ve been making art since childhood, but I think everyone has a path and a purpose in life and great things come to you when you follow your path. It’s not always easy but it’s rewarding. It was very hard for me to leave and the life was not easy by any means, honestly I wish I could have some of that time back to connect with my family. But it was what I think I needed to do to come to the place I am now mentally and artistically. It brought me to New Orleans and to the musicians who taught me how to play, in that respect I am so grateful I took the plunge and now have this outlet.

Is that when you became ‘riff raff’?  I have always felt like riff raff since I was born. I have always felt a little different than your average bear. My aunt who raised me can attest to that! But being on the road opened my eyes in many ways. There are a lot of people in this country who have no where to call home, they don’t have food to eat. There’s also people who have an extreme amount of wealth. I learned about the privileges I have and don’t have, it taught me that balance more than anything. What I want to fight for and what I want to remember how lucky I am to have. Now I’m trying to make music that I hope will have some kind of positive effect on this country and our world.

How does your Bronx upbringing inform your music today if at all?  The Bronx is a beautiful place to grow up, there’s a lot  of the hard working people there. It’s unpretentious as it gets. These folks are also Riff Raff in my mind, the person who’s just working really hard to raise their family and seems to not be able to get a break. Where I grew up it was a lot of Irish, Puerto Rican and Dominican and Jewish families. A great mix of people. I had some a great best friend who would walk the neighborhood with me. We both grew up with a respect for our elders and a longing for the New York of the 1960’s we heard about in song and stories. We both wanted West Side Story and Doo Wop music. A lot of Puerto Rican artists sang in those groups, gals and guys from the neighborhoods singing on the street corners.  In that way it effected my music very much and that Doo Wop influence is growing. I was just singing on the corners in New Orleans with a banjo.

Do songs just ‘happen’ for you or do you have to work hard on them and build them up over time?  I do both. Sometimes they fall on you from the sky, and sometimes you have to craft them. I just try to follow my inspiration.

What comes first for you; the content? melody? chords?  Most of the time it’s melody, I normally sing something and then pick up the instrument.

What’s your feeling about categories and genre’s when it comes to your music?  I feel like it’s hard for me to pick them, but if someone else wants to go ahead. Just listen to it is what I say! If you want to call it anything, call it folk music.

What are some of your influences growing up and are they still today?   Growing up I loved Judy Garland, Madonna and Marilyn Manson! I was a strange child, I had all sorts of role models. I was also very influenced by the songs on the oldies radio station that I’d listen to with my family. But as I got into middle school I began getting really into the Punk scene. That influenced me too, I loved the energy of the live shows, the political views and the community feeling. Punk led me to American Folk music, old time, Woody Guthrie, traveling songs. Punk music led me to travel and learn songs from people I met on the road.  But it’s more recent that I’ve found John Lennon, Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch and Bob Dylan. When I met Sam Doores in New Orleans he introduced me to a lot of music I missed somehow. He taught me about the beauty of a well written song. I loved his appreciation and dedication to songwriting. He became a big influence of me as well, as we all down here in New Orleans inspire and influence each other.