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 Caleplayed a pub in Evanston. I had a ticket but, because I was underage, the pub (Tommy Nevin’s) wouldn’t let me into the show. Anyway, 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 me. Using 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
Your new record as Wood Shampoo is a greatest hit of sorts; must be great to get 17 songs off your chest?
If feels like we just won the WBA title against Mike Tyson and we even have the bite marks to prove it. We took some of the best songs we had written in the last couple of years that no one has ever heard and a few new cuts as well and we started up the band’s Lear and headed up to Gateway Mastering Studios in Maine to see the master himself, Bob Ludwig. After Bob performed his magic, we were all systems go.
It seems so few records these days have a sense of humor unless it’s tied in with a band’s gimmick overtly, where does Wood Shampoo fit in that spectrum?
Our motto is simple: we have nothing to lose, so let’s have so fun for crying out loud and try to put a smile on our fan’s faces. Life’s tough enough, so we want to give everyone an outlet to escape from that. Anything goes in our writing: from sexy girls, vampires, aliens, the crazy world of the stock market, dead rock stars, crack, cover girls, gambling – you name it, we probably have a song about it and if we don’t, then we will for the next album.
Do you think being from New York gives you some sense of entitlement when it comes to rocking (hard)?
That’s an interesting question. Would you be able to make that a multiple choice question and give me a wink when I am near the right answer (that used to work for me in my high school French class)? I think there is so much top-shelf quality homegrown music here thrown in with the greatest bands in the world always stopping by to make NYC an extremely competitive market. You just cannot survive in front of the NYC fans unless you are at your best because they will not settle for anything less. They’ll take you out in stretchers if you’re off your game – they’re that sledgehammer tough. Even my own family throws rotten tomatoes at me in those cases, so use your imagination.
What are your favorite cuts on the disc and which is your least?
I would say the cut that’s our least favorite is Three Cheers because it doesn’t fit into the format as well for this album, but we put it on there due to popular demand. It’s like early Bruce Springsteen meets Lou Reed and they decide to take a walk on the wild side. There’s great sax on that one from Frankie Tee.
What I’m about to tell you is the absolute truth (writer’s note: be aware Murph Daniels is currently wired up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and has been connected to a Delco car battery by a couple of independent contractors who work for a nameless agency. They are also wearing cheap suits.). We were in the studio and one of my producers, who also happens to be a guitarist on the record, Eddie Martinez, asked me to play him the day’s songs I had written for the session. Turns out nothing caught his ear that day and we just don’t waste our time with a song that doesn’t make that first cut, so he suggested a song I had done on a Murph Daniels’ solo record that he really loved, but thought we could do it much better now. That song was Crack, Crack Heart Attack and everyone at the session knocked in out of the ballpark that day. On a crazy side note, when I get a bad headache, I have found if I play this song really loud in the car, it will cure me after a play or two. Try it for yourself, I’m not kidding.JJ Cale had been an inspiration for me with the writing of this song because I thought if he could have a hit with the song Cocaine then why couldn’t someone have a hit song with the drug crack. He just passed away and will be missed.
There are some monster players on the album: how does one assemble such a line-up without a major label budget?
Well, without getting into the budget, because the accountants are watching me 24/7, it’s really quite simple. You don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on studio costs, so why not get the greatest musicians alive to come down and do it right in one or two takes. Co-producers and guitarists Tommy Byrnes and Eddie Martinez are masters at their craft. They also put a crack (excuse the pun) team together. We not only captured Wood Shampoo at its prime, but had fun doing it. I called up Gateway Mastering and sent them the tracks and Bob Ludwig and team thought it was something they could definitely work with. They brought out sounds from the mix I had never even heard before. Bob is a genius and just an all around great guy. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I learned from working with him. And let’s not forget our fifth Beatle, Rich Gibbons. He was our engineer and mixer on most of the tracks and always had Wood Shampoo’s back. Rich fits in so great and I think part of the reason is that he is a Senior Producer at The Howard Stern Show and with that job comes a great sense of humor.
How does the writing process work for you and how do you know or feel a song is complete and ready for recording?
I usually hear or read something that catches my attention and knocks me off my feet. I then use that phrase as a building block for the rest of the song. Other times I come up with a catchy riff first and the lyrics follow somehow as I play the riff over and over again on guitar. I take the songs to my producers, which usually is Tommy, and they continue the process. Inspirations for some of my songs have been from hearing someone saying “you suck” to their parent and wanting to find a funny way to use it in a song which turned out to be You Suck (Mr. Vampire), to having my best friend ask me for years if he could have my guitars when I die and that one later turned into My Best Friend Died (and Left Me His Guitar).
What’s the first album you ever bought and the first you ever tossed out in a disappointment (if any?)?
I think the first album I ever bought was Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.” I was truly amazed by the musicianship. I think I probably traded the albums I didn’t like for the ones I wanted at a local store so I never actually would throw one out.
Gun, or billy club, to your head: what are your favorite three albums of all time?
I’m a huge music fan and I really love a mix of everything from Talking Heads, The Clash, Guns N’ Roses, Elvis Costello, Nirvana, Otis Redding, James Brown, Johnny Hallyday, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, The Jam, Al Green, Joe Williams, My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Roy Orbison, Hoodoo Gurus, Moby Grape, Toots Thielemans, and Johnny Hallyday. Stop me when I pass three okay?
If you had put out a Wood Shampoo double-live opus in the 70’s, what would it have been called and how were sales?
I think we would have called it “Wood Shampoo: One Lump or Two?” and it would have been a limited sold-out run of one million copies in blood red vinyl.