Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

2Jul/140

Chicago’s Robert Lamm On Winning Over The Critics, New Music + 47 Years Of Rock And Roll

Chicago
Earlier this year I had a chance to speak with Robert Lamm, founding member of Chicago, the legendary "rock and roll band with horns." The veteran keyboardist/vocalist is always an engaging chat and on this particular occasion, there was plenty to talk about. The band had just performed on the Grammy Awards, melding the old school with the new during their performance with Robin Thicke. They had also just put the finishing touches on Now, their 36th release (which happens to be in stores now as you're reading this). According to Lamm, they've already got another album on the schedule, which means potentially we might hear a lot of new music from Chicago this year.

The band is unbelievably in their 47th year of touring and once again, they're on the road, playing summer dates with REO Speedwagon. During a recent area appearance (prior to the tour with REO), the band performed for more than two and a half hours and showed that they've still got plenty of gas left in the tank.

As you'll read in our conversation with Lamm, there's a lot that they still want to do before they hang up their rock and roll shoes.

It looks like you’re in Canada.

I am in Canada.

How are things going? Is everything good?

Yeah, we started around a week ago and we’ll continue until around mid-March. We traveled first all of the way east to Prince Edward Island, which is pretty far east, and Nova Scotia and all of that.

Has the band had a good Canadian following over the years?

I think that like many of the international markets, I think that that to some degree we neglected them during the ‘80s and ‘90s and it really wasn’t until I sort of threw down the mantle about 10 years ago and I just said to everybody “Listen, if we’re not going to try to maintain a global audience, because it’s a global world now -- because we’re all connected, then I’m not interested in just staying in North America.” So then we started traveling quite a bit internationally and it’s been great. Not only in Canada, but Europe and Asia. There’s a lot of audiences there that missed us and they showed up.

I was going to ask if that touring had taken you anywhere that you hadn’t been, even this far into your career.

Well actually, Prince Edward Island is one place we’ve never been! [Laughs] There’s been a few places. We recently played in Moscow a few months ago and that was fantastic and we’ll probably be returning. Eastern Europe for so many years, it was easier for the mega-tours, you know, the Lady Gagas of the moment, to play those markets. Of course, before the ‘80s, Eastern Europe especially was pretty much shut down. Except for I think, bands from the U.K. who were established and bands like Abba who had the international thing. They had easier access because they were closer and it wasn’t as expensive to take a whole tour there. But that’s all changed and so we play everywhere now.

You obviously know what a big deal it used to be to go to a place like Russia. These days, what kind of challenges do you encounter going there to play a show.

You know, really, not much in Russia per se. It’s getting the visas to be able to go. Russia is very careful about who they let in, even now. We were fast tracked, but it was still a lot of paperwork and red tape to do it and I’m sure that’s true for everybody who wants to play there. There are other places that require lengthy in advance visas, places in Asia like Singapore, Thailand, Korea and Japan. They want to know who you are and why you’re coming and how long are you going to stay and when are you going to get out. That kind of stuff. But it’s the normal thing, anything to do with the business end of the music business.

The band had its share of critics, something that you famously addressed with the song “Critic’s Choice.” It seems like the band and their legacy has been critically re-appraised in a favorable way in recent years -- does it feel that way to you?

Yes, it does. There’s a lot of reasons for that. The critics that are doing the critical re-appraising are not necessarily the critics of 25 or 30 years ago who began to turn on the band as we became very, very successful. I think it has to do with somewhat of an appreciation for a band being able to play live and certainly even someone who was born in the late ‘80s or ‘90s, they hear our music all of the time.

The younger generation doesn’t really care who you are, where you came from or any of that other stuff. They just want to hear that song. Everybody is on random play, whether it’s internet radio, streaming or whatever. So I think there’s a lot of reasons for this new appraisal of Chicago. I think that there’s an open-mindedness that we all have now for music, wherever it comes from and whatever vintage it is.

You’ve been predominantly an album kind of guy, just as Chicago has been, up to this point, an album-based band. As a songwriter, have you had to adjust your thought process as far as how you write? Some songwriters work off of themes and those themes develop into albums, but here, you’re working in pieces.

Yeah, are you aware of the new songs?

Sure, that was actually what I was referencing.

Well, what has shifted is rather than chasing radio-friendly songs as we did in the ‘80s with a lot of success, I think that now to a certain degree, music and the business of music and the listening to music is kind of like the Wild West. All of the old rules and all of the old models are meaningless. So for me as a songwriter, what it’s allowed me to do is to write songs -- I’m not adjusting my writing at all, I’m actually kind of loosening it up, if anything. So I’m able to do a song like “Naked In The Garden of Allah” and there’s a number of other songs [like that] actually that are stylistically or [genre-wise] kind of all over the map and that’s kind of who I’ve always been. So now I don’t feel as restrained as I once did.

My perception of some of these new songs that you’ve been writing, it seems like some of this stuff in the recent past might have wound up being solo work for you and now they fit as Chicago songs. It’s cool to see that shift.

You’re very perceptive. And the fact that Lee Loughnane, who doesn’t really write a lot, felt the freedom and the urge to write a song like “America,” I think that’s a really great indication. Because other than Lee and the other guys in the rhythm section, in the last 20 years, there’s been a lack of interest in recording and even exploring new songs. But now that’s completely changed. So everybody’s on board.

What I’ve been telling the audiences every night is that for most of our career, 90 percent of all of the songs that we’ve recorded came from within the band. That trend or tendency is what’s occurring now. There’s a lot of great stuff coming from within the band that will find their way not only onto a new album that we hope to release this summer, but within six months, there will be another new album.

Knowing that all of this is leading towards an album, as you’re working on the songs, do they start to gel collectively and feel like an album, even though you’re releasing it in pieces?

Yeah and actually we’re going to stop doing that. [Laughs] We’re not going to be doing that anymore because now there’s a delivery date that will require us to deliver a 10 or 12 song album by May 1st at the very latest and then six months after that, another album. It’s sort of an arrangement that we’ve made with a company that has new appreciation for Chicago.

The initial intent, you’re right, was to just release songs one at a time. We thought “Why not?” But now, we’re seeing that there is the pressure of a finish date, which is sometimes good so that you don’t just spend forever making final decisions. Because in the end, when you do any kind of project, regardless or whether it’s a painting or a piece of music, at some point you have to stop working on it and say “Okay, I’m done.” That’s part of the creative process is knowing when you’re done.

How did you arrive at the idea of putting out two albums within six months of each other? What’s driving that besides having the material?

I’ll go back to my Wild West comment and that is, because we can. Really, if you consider the very early years of Chicago, we were doing an album roughly every nine months. So it’s not that it is undoable, it’s just that it hasn’t been part of the formula for so long. We figure as long as we can and as long as there are songs and everybody has great energy, why not do it?

What do you think triggered the change that got the band back to writing? I know you’re always writing yourself.

Yeah, I always write myself. I’m a slow writer -- it just seems like I’m prolific. [Laughs] I’m a slow writer just because I’ve never stopped. I’m not exactly sure what it was. I’ve never really considered myself a leader. I’ve considered myself kind of a contrarian and a loner in the context of this very large group. So I guess the attitude in the band is that “Well, if Robert wants to do it, let’s do it.” That kind of thing. But I’m not really sure. You’d have to talk to a half-dozen guys in the band.

It’s interesting to hear you say that about being a leader, because I think there are a lot of folks that when you look at this band in the ‘70s, you were considered a leading voice of the group. So it’s interesting to hear you say that you feel or felt that way.

Actually, Lee Loughnane has always been in terms of the company structure, he’s been the president of our little corporation for almost the entire time we’ve been together. He has actually stepped up in terms of getting a handle on the technology that we use, not only in live performance, but also assembling the gear that we travel with to record. It’s just something that he got interested in. He got interested in technology and computers pretty early on.

So at some point, he taught himself by sheer grit, the most prevalent software, both recording and sequencing software. Because when we play with an orchestra, which we’re doing more and more, for the orchestra’s sake, we need to have some sort of reference they can hear, whether it’s a click track or just a count off. The only way to do that is to use the technology and use software that lets everybody play together. So he’s kind of mastered that stuff.

He’s also the guy who looks over the booking contracts for each gig, because somebody has to do it -- you can’t just let somebody in the office do it. So he’s kind of been the behind-the-scenes COO of the corporation for lack of a better term. So in many ways, he is a leader of an area that’s required for a band like Chicago to survive.

What are some of the songs that you have in the mix for these upcoming albums that you’re excited about?

I’m excited about all of them. I think the third single was “Crazy Happy.” That’s something that Jason and I sketched out maybe 10 or 15 years ago and we just sort of put it aside. A friend of mine said “Hey, what about that song ‘Crazy Happy,’ what are you going to do with that?” It was somebody who was interested in either arranging it or adding to it as a co-writer. I started listening to it again and I got a hold of Jason and I said “Jason, do you remember that song, blah blah blah,” and one thing led to another and I just kind of sat down with it again and restructured it and it sort of came to life.

So some of the songs are ideas that never got developed. Believe me, I have painstakingly gone through all of my old sketches. I’m telling you, like boxes of cassette tapes that you can barely hear because the tape is so old, trying to see if there’s anything in there that I missed. [There’s] stuff that I’m sure that no one ever wants to hear, so I’ve tossed a lot of stuff away, but I have found a couple of ideas on which to build and sort of bring into the 21st century. What that does is it presents new ideas and I continue to be curious about other styles of music and music of other contemporary cultures. A lot of that is finding its way into the new songs.

There’s a song that I started working on when I was doing my album The Bossa Project. I was just sort of stuck on it and right about two or three years ago when Lou came into the band, I started working with him. He’s an amazing musician and an amazing writer. He and I put together something that I always thought of as kind of Brazilian and when we finished it, I sent it to a couple of my Brazilian friends and they said “That’s a great tune,” but they never said “Oh, how Brazilian of you” or “That’s really modern bossa nova,” which is how I was thinking about it, but it’s really not that. It’s just where that influence started for this song. So like I say, I’m all over the map with the new songs.

Which song is that one?

It’s called “Watching All The Colours In My Head.”

That’s a very Robert Lamm song title, as is “Naked In The Garden Of Allah.”

[Laughs]

The Chicago Transit Authority album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame this year. It seems like it was a really good time creatively to be in a band, because similar to how things are now for Chicago, there were really no limits or boundaries to what you could do, did it feel that way at the time for you?

Yes. Added to the fact that we were young and naive and had all of this energy…

It was a double album debut!

Yeah, exactly! [Laughs] That took a lot of courage on the part of the record company, Columbia, and Jim Guercio, who believed in us and really thought that it was worth capturing that energy. So yeah, there was a similarity in that time to what it is now. I mean, there’s some great music happening now and great bands. I happen to love a band called Deerhoof and Kings of Leon. I don’t know if you know the band Little Dragon.

Yeah, I’ve heard them.

I’ve been listening to those bands, they’ve been around now for at least five years or more. So I find the whole scene very encouraging and you’re right, it’s not unlike the sort of post-Woodstock world.

The notes that I have here say that this year was the first time that Chicago had performed on the Grammy Awards. How is that even possible?

Yes. There was one year when we were nominated for Best New Artist. Then many years later, there was a Grammy that we won for Best Performance By A Group, but we were on tour in Europe. So we won a Grammy, but we accepted it over the phone live on television and that was pretty much it.

The collaboration with Robin Thicke seemed like it was pretty cool. How much work did you have to put into that?

Just a couple of rehearsals. You know, he’s a very good musician. He’s already got quite a large body of work as a producer and he knows his way around a studio and he knows his way around a microphone. So really, we just sort of did a lot of communicating back and forth between him, Lee Loughnane and myself and Ken Ehrlich, who is the producer of the Grammy show who had the idea of pairing us together.

We also had communicated on the internet and then scheduled a rehearsal. We met less than a week before the Grammys and we spent a few hours rehearsing. We were also in the midst of doing performances with the Chicago Symphony, so we went and did those and came back and did a dress rehearsal on the morning of the Grammys to refine the whole thing and then we just did the show. He’s good, we’re good and we’re able to perform live.

Obviously on a show like that, with a lot of the high production values of the performers, there’s a lot of singing to tape going on, but I think the thing that the actual live audience for the Grammys loved was the fact that we were playing live. Robin Thicke and Chicago performing live and we got a lot of kudos for that.

That’s something that to you credit as a band, for people who haven’t seen this band in a few years or many years, the band still packs a heck of a punch live.

Thank you, we try. [Laughs]

The band had to kind of revamp itself in the ‘80s and you had a lot of success although it seems like there were pros and cons to that. What was that time period like for you?

It was a little confusing and disorienting. It’s kind of like being lost in the woods and coming upon a stranger who seems to know his way out of the woods and so you sort of decide to follow him. When you come out of the woods, you’re not where you thought you were going to be, but you’re glad to be out of the woods.

I loved some of the stuff that you yourself had on the 18 album --- how did you come to collaborate with James Newton Howard and Steve Lukather on “Over and Over?”

James and I were racquetball pals. [Laughs] He was kind of going through a thing in his life where he hadn’t quite found the film score thing yet. I was trying to write and trying to figure out how to collaborate with people, because it was a fairly foreign thing at the time to me. So he had this little piece that he had done with Lukather, because James and the Toto guys are all sort of out of that same Westcoast rock thing. So he just kind of sent me that piece of music and I kind of massaged it a little bit and I wrote the lyrics. It was a very cool thing. I’ve never been in the same room other than a party or something like that with Lukather. [Laughs] I mean, I’ve known Luke forever, but we’ve never actually sat down and tried to write a song together in the same room. That’s happening more and more now. You know, everybody just writes over the internet now, sending files back and forth.

Chicago also was one of the early groups to successfully replace a prominent lead vocalist in the days before you could just go and find your next singer on Youtube. Did the band audition a lot of people?

We did. We [also] auditioned a lot of guitarists after Terry Kath died and that was impossible. Then when Cetera left, we tried a lot of tenors and a lot of the tenors we heard were not the right...I mean, they were all really good, but they didn’t sound right. They didn’t have the right sound for the band until we got a demo tape of a song that Jason wrote and sang on. We brought him in and he fit very well, plus the fact that he could play bass.

Similar to what you guys are doing now, I think that as much as you had to adjust during the ‘80s, you did get to do some interesting sound experimentation. Like some of the sounds that you got on a track like “We Can Stop The Hurtin’” or let’s say, “Niagara Falls” from the 18 record, you got some really interesting sounds in places in that decade.

Well, thank you. You know, the ‘80s records sound so shrill. Because we were all sort of discovering digital instruments and software, really in its infancy. A few people were able to tame it and I’m not sure that we did, but we sure fooled around with it. [Laughs] A couple of the things turned out okay, but you know, whenever you hear a digital delay on a snare drum that’s the loudest thing on the track, you know you’re listening to a song from the ‘80s -- not just Chicago, but any artist who was recording then.

Yeah, I think drummers in the ‘80s could take lots of sick days.

Yeah, really.

1Jul/140

Guitarist Marty Friedman: “I Wanted To Be Sure That I Wasn’t Looking Back And Repeating Something I Did Before”

Marty FriedmanShred is not dead. That’s one thought that comes to mind as you’re listening to Inferno, the brand new album by guitarist Marty Friedman. As Friedman himself tells us during our conversation, it’s been a long time since he’s released an album in this vein and beyond that, he’s been away from the metal community for quite a while, having spent the past 10 years living and working in Japan. So he’s aware that his guitar work might not be front and center in the minds of many at this point.

The former Megadeth guitarist rounds up an intriguing list of guest players and friends on Inferno, including Danko Jones, his former Cacophony conspirator Jason Becker, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Gregg Bissonette and David Davidson of Revocation, just to name a few.

When you title your album something like Inferno, the skeptical music fan usually says “Well then, you’d better be able to back that title up and deliver an album that is worthy.” Have no fear -- you won’t waste a single minute here. Friedman’s Inferno is all of that and then some.

We spoke with Friedman recently from his home in Japan to get the inside scoop on the new album.

I like your comment in the bio for this new album, about how you wanted to go “balls out” when it came to your approach to this record. Before I read that, I was listening to the opening track and title track of this album and I found myself thinking, “Man, he is not messing around on this one.”

[Laughs] Definitely not. It’s kind of my first simultaneous international release in a long time. The record company was pumped even before we started, so I didn’t want to let them down and I didn’t want to let anybody down. I knew if I did my normal amount of work on something that it would be great, but if I just went to the verge of killing myself on the record, it would be fantastic. So that’s what I did!

As you mentioned, it’s been a long time since your last proper solo release here in the States, Music For Speeding in 2003, if I’m correct. You’ve continued to create in that time with your Japanese releases. With this being your first proper American release in a while, did you find yourself writing with a certain purpose or goals, or does it all end up as the same songwriting and creative process?

It usually is the same, but actually you’re right, I did have different goals this time. I was definitely conscious of concerning myself with what I thought the entire world as a whole wanted from me. You know, I could fool myself and tell everybody that they want me to do this exploratory experimental Japanese avant garde thing, but that would just be fooling myself. I was honest with myself and I knew that I think for the most part, people want me to play my ass off and play aggressively, which is fine, and in a metal context, which is also fine. But I also wanted to be sure that I wasn’t looking back and repeating something I did before or getting nostalgic or anything like that. It was of the utmost importance to me to do something new, challenging, modern and totally fresh at the same time. So with those two criteria in mind, that’s how I approached the entire album.

I would imagine that in the past, you’ve probably had people come to you in the past and say “Hey, we’d love to get a record from you that has the classic Marty Friedman sound” that you’re known for. Is it hard for you to approach something like this and not put yourself into that box?

I don’t really think about it too much that way. I pretty much do what I’m up for doing at the time. I kind of always had it in the back of my mind that I was going to do a total ballbusting killer album of this style. I always knew I was going to do it, but the opportunity never arrived and I have just been too busy with my own Japanese activities to pursue it and I knew if I were to pursue it, I would have to go completely in, no half assed doing it in the break of something, during a break of a tour or a break of some kind of television program or something.

I knew I would have to devote real time to it, so I always kind of put it off and put it off until Prosthetic, the record label, they came to me with the idea and it was something I always wanted to do, but I don’t think I would have ever approached it unless I had the enthusiasm of a record company behind me. Because you go and do it and then the thing gets ignored. So I really wanted to make sure that a record company was into it and lo and behold, it was actually their idea and they were the ones that pushed me into doing it, which I was very happy to be pushed into doing.

The guests on this album, many of them who have been influenced by you as a player adds an interesting angle to the album, but nothing feels out of place. It all feels like an album collectively.

Oh, thanks! That’s really important to me, because having guests for the sake of guests is a complete waste of time and the reason why I got into this guest thing is because I remember that Michael Schenker once asked me to do something with him and do an album together. Being a fan of his, I remember the enthusiasm that I felt as we started working on stuff together. I was just so beyond pumped up to do it. I wanted to give other guys that feeling and get that feeling on a record, you know, get it in the grooves and get it on the vinyl and all of that.

So I purposefully set out for people who had their own style, but who have said really nice things about me in the press that might feel the same way I felt about Michael Schenker back then. I really think that I captured everybody’s enthusiasm and all of the guests who joined me were really eager to please me for whatever reason. We’d keep going back and forth working on a demo and every time I would just step it up a few notches, they would go “Oh, well I’ve really got to up my game now!” and by the end of the day, it’s a really nice quality piece of music that’s a collaboration and not just some guest banging out something.

How together were the songs as you started to work with each of these people?

Every single guest is a complete collaboration, with the songwriting and of course all of the lyrics are the guest’s lyrics and the music is the guest and me together. Often cases, the music is written more by the guest than me and my position is more of a co-writer/arranger/guitar player. So I really get these guys working their butts off and I can do the things that I like to do, which is arrange and play guitar solos and produce and co-write. Sometimes I just like the sound of my guitar playing over other people’s music even more than my own, because it’s just a different flavor that for whatever reason makes my playing sound better to my ears.

‘Sociopaths’ is a track that seems like one that might have put you through your paces. Can you talk about developing that one with David Davidson?

David Davidson was a guy that was referred to me by the record company. Actually, a publicist sent me a list of all of these current metal and rock artists who said nice things about me in interviews and stuff. I knew maybe less than half of them and so I started researching all of them and I found David Davidson and his band Revocation blew my mind. They are pretty much exactly what I kind of hoped that Megadeth was going to turn into. Just a real futuristic atomic powered thrash band with really great musicianship and a real current exciting sound that just keeps getting heavier and heavier, but rooted in thrash metal and that’s what I thought Megadeth was. I thought if I would have seen Megadeth turn into something more like that, I might have been challenged to stick around a little bit longer. Anyway, that’s the way I felt when I heard Revocation -- I was like “Wow, this is thrash metal, but it still sounds like 2012” or whenever I heard it. I liked it, so working with him was a big pleasure, especially to find out that he was influenced by me in his playing, which I couldn’t hear, because he’s got such an original unique style of his own, which is fantastic.

Do you find yourself asking somebody like that when they tell you that and you don’t hear it, do you probe deeper and ask them what elements of your playing they took from?

Not really, but I always tell them that I’m flattered, because it’s one thing to be influenced by my playing, but it’s another thing to be influenced and then carve your own identity and carve out your own success with your own playing. That means a lot to me. If someone was a complete clone of mine, I would say “Wow, it’s really nice to have a fan like that,” but when I hear guys who say “Yeah, I was influenced by you and here’s my four albums and this album is this and that and I’ve done this and that” and they’ve got all of these great accomplishments that really have nothing to do with me, that kind of speaks bigger volumes in my book.

Of course I love any fan of mine in any capacity, but that’s the biggest thrill when there’s someone who you wouldn’t necessarily know is a big Marty fan and they turn out to be. Ben Weinman from Dillinger Escape Plan, we did this thing on Fuse TV together and I think his music is absolutely just amazing and it doesn’t remind me of myself at all, but it turns out that he was very much influenced by my playing. So I really like it when guys are influenced by me, but they take their own direction and it’s far away from mine. I don’t know what they got from my playing, but whatever it is, it kind of moves them into a good direction. I get really stoked about that.

I love the stuff that you did with Danko Jones on this record. You guys had some fun.

Yeah, he’s the guy on the album that we’ve been friends for years already, so he wasn’t someone new to me, but we had yet to work together. We’d always threatened each other to do something and this time it worked out just fantastically. It was just a blast.

Another old friend of yours that pops up on this album is Jason Becker. What was the collaborative process like working on ‘Horrors’?

It was very similar to what we’d originally done. We’d both have ideas and put them together and make these crazy epic kind of songs. The only difference now is that he’s creating music with his eyes on a computer and we’ve both grown in extreme levels musically, mainly because of the time, but also because of all of the experiences that we’ve both racked up since then. So it’s really a rare opportunity to hear this kind of growth in a project like Cacophony, to hear it so many years later and we’ve both really been pushing our music to the limits up until now, so it’s a great little peek into what could have been and what actually is.

It’s a really epic piece. I like the way that one unfolds….a lot happens in the nearly seven minutes that the track runs.

Yeah, it’s one of those things that I don’t think we could have even come near something that cool in the Cacophony days. Our minds weren’t deep enough to do that. At that time when we started working together, we didn’t really know what to keep and what to throw away. We kept what we thought was fun to play and what we thought was cool, but we weren’t so efficient in the art of listening back and deciding if it’s really making our hair stand up on end or not. We were just kind of like “This is great, let’s put it out like this.” But with ‘Horrors,’ especially with my arranging, I’m a big listener now, so I listen to a lot of things and just throw away tons of stuff if it’s not mind-blowing. That’s the main difference between then and now, so I don’t think we ever would have been able to come up with something that deep back then.

It’s interesting to me, hearing how this album is sequenced and the way ‘Resin’ moves into ‘Wicked Panacea.’ Do you start to hear stuff like that early on?

That was one of the earlier things. That’s really the only way I could excuse that ‘Wicked Panacea’ entrance -- it’s just an acoustic guitar, but I knew it would be really cool if it was falling off this big cliff of noise, which the end of ‘Resin’ is. That was one of the earliest things of that whole record, was that transition. I knew I wanted to have a big dramatic drop off, because acoustic guitar by itself is fine, but it would have so much more impact after this big airplane hangar of noise -- it would just mean so much more. There’s two groups that do this great. There’s a group called Mono in Japan that are absolutely the kings of this stuff, the dramatic quick changes and Opeth is really fantastic at that. So that’s my little homage to that type of thing which I really love and it’s quite hard to do. It was a challenge, but that little transition right there is one of my favorite parts of the record.

You referred to this album as being “American-made from the ground up,” right down to recording it here in the U.S. Clearly with technology being what it is, you could have stayed in Japan for the recording process and worked with the other musicians remotely. What made it important for you to take a different approach?

It was kind of [related to] logistics, because I did want guests to come and join me actually in the studio. Danko came down to the studio and Jorgen from Shining came to the studio in L.A. and a lot of the guests and my drummer were in America. Gregg Bissonette came into the studio -- I had guys coming in and out of the studio the whole time. So I kind of wanted to be in a little bit more reachable place for that and I wanted a certain engineer and he was American and he had a great studio. I also wanted to be in the vibe of America for this record.

The only thing I did in Japan was I did some bass tracks here and I did some additional guitars, but everything else was American. I have such a different mindset between Japan and America. It’s kind of hard to explain, but when I’m in America -- you know, I grew up in America, so I feel more like I’m making an American project. I’ve been living in Japan for 10 years, so I feel like I live in Japan, which I do. It’s a completely different feeling and I’m lucky to experience both. This album definitely called for a more American vibe overall.

Moving to Japan like you did, that’s a very interesting transition. I don’t know that you could have seen it playing out the way it has and being as massive as it has been with all of the stuff that you’re wrapped up with.

Yeah, there’s no possible way. I didn’t expect to do as much as I’ve done at all. I just hoped to be in some kind of domestic Japanese music situation. Things have just blown my mind as far as what I expected and what I wound up doing, with things that have opened themselves up to me. But at the same time, there’s a give and take, because it’s been at the cost of cultivating the rest of the world. You know, I work so hard in Japan.

My career is doing fantastic here in Japan, but a big majority of the rest of the world just knows me from the last time I released a platinum album and that would be with Megadeth, a long, long time ago. Which I don’t blame them, I mean, you’d have to learn three or four different languages to find out everything I’ve done in between. [Laughs]. Only my hardest core fans really know what I’ve been up to in Japan, but I think people deserve to get something.

I’ve been very lucky to have fans around the world who have supported me way back in the beginning and even now and a lot of people who’ve probably forgotten about me because I’m out of their radar now that I’m in Japan and I hold nothing against anybody. I just really want them to have access to what I’m doing, because I think people will enjoy it, if for no other reason than that. I think people outside of Japan would enjoy even the things I’m doing in Japan, but it’s really hard to get all of those things available to everybody.

So now that I’m on an American project and it’s a worldwide project, this is my one chance in a long time to allow people to hear what I’m about now and possibly compare it to what they know me from and hopefully hear the insanely vast improvement and the depth that has changed so much since they last heard my playing.

With all of the stuff that you’ve been doing, have you been able to see as a player how that’s all fed back into the kind of record you made with this record as opposed to if you would have made this new record 10 years ago?

Oh God, yes. You hit it right on the button. I’ve been in Japan for 10 years and I’ve done a billion projects -- lots of solo albums here. I listen to the output that I’ve done in the last 10 years and you can not even compare it to the 10 years that I did before as far as depth and intensity and density and growth. It boggles even my mind, first of all, how friggin’ hard I’ve wound up working.

The 10 years prior to that, of course I was doing fantastic things. I was making history with a great band that I loved. It was great. But as far as musical growth and depth and stuff that really turned me on musically, I was moving at a snail’s pace. Ever since I came here, it’s made my mind blow up from stimulation and the result is an album like Inferno, which just came out naturally.

You’ve done so many things since moving to Japan, and part of that has been a ton of TV work. You’ve said that “TV facilitated the ability for me to do exactly what I wanted to do musically without having to compromise.” How did it open the door for you to really do that?

Well, first of all, my music is not exactly Justin Bieber. It’s not super-commercial and super-mainstream, although I’ve done a lot of songwriting, recording and producing and guitar playing for Top 10 acts here in Japan all of the time, which I love doing because I love popular music, especially in Japan. But Marty Friedman, the solo artist, is definitely not the most commercial thing in the world. It’s a bit eclectic and it’s very intense. There’s a lot to listen to and it can be quite hard to listen to at points, but it is what it is. So I think that had I not been so visible on television, it would be harder for me to get a major label anywhere to release my stuff, especially with all creative freedom in my corner. I mean, nobody really tells me what to do.

I can only attest that to the face familiarity [I have]. They know me from being on TV or being in the media and stuff like that, so it’s kind of almost like a free pass to do what I want, despite the fact that it’s not going to necessarily be the biggest mainstream commercial hit that they’re going to make billions of dollars off of. But I’ve consistently released album after album after album, all on major labels here, and they’ve all done respectably well and gotten me to the next step. I can only say that I’ve been allowed to do that because of doing all kinds of other activities in Japan as well.

I know you’ve been playing some live shows. How much of this record is in the set?

We’ve been playing four songs off of it, which is a lot for a brand new record, but the response has been fantastic. Actually, this record is really what I want to play and represent live. I basically chose the setlist as mostly Inferno stuff and stuff from my previous solo albums that kind of fit into the Inferno vibe. I kept it really heavy and dark and intense and not too light. I only did one ballad in there and the rest of it is just full throttle, balls out ripping kind of stuff.

Did you have to do any sort of conditioning to be able to pull off a set like this?

Not really, if anything I’m an endurance junkie. Endurance is the easiest thing. I’ve never really had a problem with stamina or that kind of thing. For whatever reason, when I’m playing live, I get this jolt of energy and I’m not even the most athletic person at all, but I just go completely ape-shit when I’m playing. So that comes kind of naturally, especially after our first few gigs, it’s just off the hook. It was a very natural thing. My band is really good, so it makes it really easy to play this stuff, although it sounds kind of difficult. I think it would be difficult if it wasn’t my own, but since it’s mine and I spent so many months recording this stuff, I know it only too well. So it was rather easy to put together a setlist.

Who’s in your band on this run?

The guitarist is Takayoshi Ohmura and he’s also in a band called Babymetal and they’re starting to breakout worldwide. The bass player is a guy from Israel named Or Lubianiker and the drummer is a guy named Johan Nunez from Gus G’s band Firewind. Those two guys are relative recent members of my band, but Takayoshi has been playing in my solo band since 2008.

I know you spent a lot of time working on this record. It seems like it might have been a lot to jam creatively into one album. Do you still have additional songs and collaborations that you didn’t get to on this one?

Well, I’ve got a lot of additional songs and collaborations that I threw away to narrow it down to only the stuff that I really liked. I spent a lot of time listening and even if I worked hard on a song and even if it got finished, if it was just a 9.5 in my book, I just said “You know, I’ll just pass on it and wait until I’ve got something that really excites me.” That’s one of the joys of not having a deadline. So yeah, there’s probably an album and a half’s worth of stuff that’s been thrown away and I doubt that I’ll even revisit it. Because I’m one of those guys that if it’s not good now, it’s not going to be good three years later. So just delete it and come up with something new.

15Apr/1415

Richard Marx On Songwriting And His ‘Beautiful Goodbye’

richardmarx
I spoke with Richard Marx in early March for a story that ran locally prior to his show here in Cleveland in April. For those of you who are regular readers of the blog, it will come as no surprise that I'm a lifelong Marx fan. Even if I wasn't a fan, just learning that he's a fellow liner notes nerd like I am would have gone a long way.

We talked about his upcoming album, Beautiful Goodbye (which was still untitled at the time of our conversation), which is set for release sometime in June. I've never interviewed Marx before, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to dig into the songwriting that he's done, both for himself and other artists.

It was a good chat and it left me wanting to hear the new album. I'm curious to hear where he's going to go with this one. From hearing "Turn Off The Night," the one new song that he performed during his Cleveland appearance, the initial mojo on this one feels good.

Let’s start at the top --- I saw that you were writing songs with Ringo Starr last week. That’s an experience that probably tops many other experiences for most people.

It’s pretty crazy. I wrote a song with him I guess two albums ago after I did a tour with him, he asked me to write a song with him. I went over to his house and he had a track that he had already played drums on and it was a piece of music that was pretty fleshed out, but it didn’t have a melody or any lyrics. So I started singing a melody and then we started writing lyrics together and we wrote a song that ended up becoming a song called “Mystery Of The Night.” So he called me a couple of weeks ago again and said “Hey, I’m doing a new album -- I know you’re in L.A., do you want to come over and do the same thing?”

So I went over last week and we wrote this new song. But then just this morning he called me and said “Do you have time to write another song? I love the song we wrote and it was so easy. Do you have time to write another one?” and I said “Dude, I’ll make time!” Then he said “You know, why don’t we just do something from scratch -- whatever you think would be good for me to sing.” So he sort of gave me carte blanche to come up with some ideas for him. So next week we’re going to sit down and [work on it]. I’ve got to tell you, aside from being Ringo, the Beatle, he’s just such a lovely man. He’s such a great hang and it’s time well spent because he’s a blast and he’s fun.

It seems like once you do one of those All-Starr Band tours, if you play your cards right, you’re in the family from that point forward.

Pretty much. One of the things that happens is that once you know him and certainly once you’ve toured with him, if you just happen to go see him play somewhere, you have to get up at the end of the show and sing “With A Little Help From My Friends.” It’s a law that is written somewhere -- I’m not sure where, but trust me, it’s written somewhere. He doesn’t discard people.

If you treat him the way he treats you, which is with respect -- and he is, for everything that he embodies and what he’s experienced in his career, I don’t know of a more respectful musician. He’s such a fan of other people and he’s so good at giving other people props. He’s a good human. He could be Ringo Starr from the Beatles and not be that great of a guy and I wouldn’t want to work with him just because of who he is, but he’s a really cool guy.

You’ve done a lot of writing and co-writing with folks in recent years. It seems like there might be an additional level of intimidation that might creep into the process for some people, because you’re writing with Ringo Starr. Yet it would also seem like you maybe had a bit of benefit going into it, since you had toured with him of maybe having a comfort zone that some people don’t have.

Yeah, I definitely did have that. He and I, we’re social friends -- we’ve had quite a few dinners together and we talk on the phone every once in a while just to check in with each other and we’re friends. So I definitely have a comfort level with him as a person, which makes the co-writing process that much less uncomfortable. When you sit down in a room with somebody and you’re going to just sort of throw ideas out there that might suck or might be brilliant, there’s a trust that needs to happen and sometimes that definitely has to take time to develop.

You know, there’s certain people that I’ve written hit songs with and when we get back together to write again, it’s just as uncomfortable as the first time. You don’t ever get past a certain level of discomfort with certain people. It doesn’t mean you don’t produce great stuff, it just means that it’s a different kind of dynamic. And then there are people who I couldn’t be more comfortable around, but maybe I haven’t written a hit song with.

I look at every co-writing venture as a place for me to learn something. That includes writing with young writers like Jason Wade and Chris Daughtry, those guys who will tell me “Well, you’re the veteran -- I’m going to defer to you now” and I said “No, no -- there’s no such thing -- just because I’ve written x number of hit songs doesn’t mean that I’m going to be the guy that carries the ball over the touchdown line on this song. It might be you!”

I spoke with your buddy Matt Scannell about the latest Vertical Horizon album and he was telling me how you came in and as he put it, rescued things by helping him get the vocals where they needed to be with that record. I guess I’m curious if you’ve ever had somebody do the reverse and come in to rescue you with your own situation.

I don’t know that I’ve ever been rescued. I’ve certainly had….you know, look -- more importantly, Matt Scannell is somebody who has come into my life and rescued me personally and that’s way more important than musically. I don’t know that there’s a songwriter...I’ve really only had bout of [writer’s block] and I was very young. It was my father who pulled me out of it -- he was my ultimate mentor. He just simply said “Writer’s block is bulls--t” and he said “You either write songs or you don’t write songs and if you’re going to use an excuse like ‘I’ve got writer’s block,’ then there’s really nothing to talk about -- you must not want to be a songwriter that bad.”

It was tough love and it was the greatest f--king thing that ever happened to me, because I never experienced it again. He just reminded me that there’s always something to write. You may not write a particularly good song day, but you can write something. It’s a choice. So I put writer’s block way behind me when I was a teenager. So I don’t know that there’s ever been a mentor or somebody that kind of came in and kickstarted my creative thing again. I don’t know that there’s that. But like I said, more importantly, there have been a couple of people and Matt Scannell is certainly at the top of the list, [of] people who came in at certain pivotal moments of my life and pulled me out of the wreckage and were incredibly helpful, kind and loving friends to me.

At least from the outside, it seems like you two met up at a time when both of you were looking to do some new things creatively.

Yeah, well I was already kind of in a place where I felt like my artist career was something that would be somewhere between a hobby and not a good thing. I felt like I had a really great turn at that for 10 years with hits and I’d experienced all of the bucket list things I’d signed up for when I was young. I felt like you know, it’s not my turn anymore -- it’s other people’s turn -- so I’m going to write and produce and do all of that and still make tons of music, which I did and I have done. But I’m not going to really pursue the performing thing.

Matt was coming off of a pretty rough experience with his label and that [Vertical Horizon] album Go and that’s when he and I became friends. I think it was just sort of serendipitous that I kind of wandered into his life at the time that I did, because he was pretty down and he said to me “You know, you started calling me at a time when my phone wasn’t ringing,” so he knew that where I was coming from was a place of friendship and admiration for what he did. I believe that with everybody, you get put in people’s paths for a reason. Sometimes you never know what the reason is. I know that in my case with Matt, I now I have a brother that I never knew I had.

I know you’ve been working on a new album. What can you tell us about that?

Well, it’s the first time I’ve consciously made a new collection of songs in a long time in a real focused way. It’s probably [been] close to 10 years [since] I sat down and said “I want to put a real consistent album together.” The music is still me, because it’s my voice and my voice is the thread, but I think that musically it’s a departure. I listen to a lot of kinds of music, but in the last couple of years, I’ve been really fascinated with a lot of EDM and a lot of music by DJs like Morgan Page and Deadmaus.

So I’ve listened to a lot of that music and trance music and there’s something so hypnotic and sensual about that music and it definitely inspired a lot of the music on this record, even if it isn’t necessarily a clone of any of those kinds of songs. There are definitely a couple of tracks that are clearly influenced by EDM and then there’s just other stuff that’s sort of influenced by other music that I’ve listened to from Sade to world music -- all kinds of stuff. There’s really not a lot of straight down the middle pop stuff on this record and I’m excited about it because it sounds different to me and if I make a record where I think I’m breaking new ground for myself artistically, I’ve got to start there. I can never ever predict what my fanbase is going to react to. I’ve never written a song in my life that I thought was a hit when I wrote it.

Luckily, I’ve been happily surprised many times, but I’ve never had that experience that I hear about where people go “Man, I knew that song was a hit” -- so I write songs that appeal to me. I write songs to get things off my chest and I write songs just to express musically and creatively whatever I’m wanting to say at that time. The rest of it is a complete crapshoot. The good news is that I don’t know that I’ve been more excited about a record or pleased with a record in a long time. It doesn’t mean that more than 11 people will buy it. [Laughs] But I really love the record. I’m really excited for people to hear it.

Who have you been writing with on this record?

I wrote one with Matt Scannell. I wrote with David Hodges for the first time and that was really, really fun. He’s a really talented guy. The majority of it I wrote by myself. I’m actually recording the last song tomorrow that I wrote with Walter Afanasieff -- and again, that’s a guy that I’ve known and we have mutual friends and we’ve circled each other for years, but we just never got together to write until a couple of weeks ago. The song came out great, so we’re going to go in his studio tomorrow and cut it and it will be a real quick process. Then I’ll be mixing for the next couple of weeks and the record will be done.

The writing and the co-writing that you do with other folks, does that tie back to your own music at all when you’re writing?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, if nothing else sometimes it lights the fuse. I’ve had experiences where I haven’t written any songs for a couple of weeks and I’ll go to Nashville and sit with a couple of co-writers and write two or three songs over a couple of days and then I’ll come home and I’ll write five songs by myself. Because it just warms up the muscle and it lights the fuse and then you’re in that zone. So yeah, that happens a lot.

You spoke about this a bit earlier, but I’d like to talk a bit more about that period when you made made the transition from being a hitmaker of your own as a songwriter to focusing more on writing songs for others that became huge hits. I thought that was really interesting when you made that transition at that time and it was smart. But that’s a hell of a leap.

Yeah, it was a hell of a leap and look, if I’m going to be really honest with you, on one hand I think it was one of the smartest things I could have done. Because I essentially reinvented myself as a writer/producer for hire and potentially extended my musical career by any number of years, because I’m still doing it -- I’m still co-writing with people. I think that had I not done that at the time, I might have...I mean I could have maybe always ultimately done it, but I felt like the timing was what it needed to be.

But also, looking back on it now, I think part of it was that my kids were young and I wanted to be around. I didn’t want to be on the road touring and promoting constantly. I wanted to have the experience of taking my kids to school almost every day, picking them up and having dinner with them every night and just sort of having that kind of existence, which I had very little experience with up to that point. So again, I’m grateful for that, because I built the relationship that now exists with me and my three sons, which is incredible.

Maybe I wasn’t totally conscious of it at the time, but there was also a sense of just feeling like “f--k it.” You know, I finally put out a record that didn’t do anywhere what the other records had done -- in 1997 I put out this CD called Flesh & Bone. I felt like the writing was on the wall that it was going to be a tough climb to get back to where I was a couple of years before. So looking back now, really what I could have done, I could have done exactly what I ended up doing, plus hired a new producer, co-written with a bunch of different people and just done what people do to reignite their careers. Instead of that, I kind of went “f--k it, I don’t care.”

It was easier for me to sort of just dive into the writing and producing for other people because there was a lot less ego risk with that. So you know, I think looking back now, I think it cost me in terms of my career as an artist, because I had to completely rebuild my touring base and I had stayed behind the scenes for a dozen years or so and you have to remind people -- it’s a whole another generation. So in some cases you have to remind people and in [others], you have to completely introduce yourself to the first time to people. So I did some artistic damage by making that decision, but I just don’t really look back at stuff like that and second-guess it. It felt right at the time and I just try to put one foot in front of the other.

It seems like it ended up being a smart move for you at the time. But also it seems like doing all of that writing probably kept the fuel going that kept you writing songs and recording for yourself.

Yeah, I wouldn’t argue that. I think there were great benefits to my decision, both creatively and personally for sure. But there were detriments too and you have to accept the bad with the good. I own it all, so it’s fine with me. But I also think writing and producing all of these other artists, one of the first things that is so different about all of that is that it’s not genre-specific. It’s all over the map, so I’ve got all of these country records that I did, pop records, hard rock records, jazz records, pop classical crossover records and pretty much everything except polka is covered in my resume. I know that the diversity of that music informs what I write for myself now.

Because I’m a student of music still and the stuff that I’ve learned from the other people I’ve collaborated with -- even I’ve been really in the driver’s seat, it informs what I’m writing now. It also raises the question, “What do I want to do musically that I haven’t done?” Where are some places I can go that are interesting to me that I think I would not make a fool of myself doing. So that’s really what this new album is. It’s like doing a little bit of collaborating and really studying a lot of EDM music and listening to it in my car constantly and on planes, that’s a place that I really wanted to go and explore and still maintain the craft of songwriting that I count on and that I feel like I’m known for.

How have things changed for you with social media being a part of the equation now?

There’s no barriers anymore. If I’m sitting having a coffee, I’m fair game to have that picture of me doing that -- no matter how I look or how I feel or who I’m with or anything -- I’m fair game to have that tweeted to the world. Look, it’s not a burden for me -- that stuff is so rare for me. But I can’t imagine what it’s like for the current cultural celebrities. -- I can’t even imagine what that’s like.

There was the well-publicized thing where you went and met up with the Chicago-area critic that had called you "shameless." You invited him out to talk about things face to face -- had you ever done something like that before?

Not like that. Years ago, there were people that I would call up if I felt that they were taking a cheap shot or they were just being flat out dishonest in their writing. I definitely did that and then I tried to stop doing that. Because I just found that my life was too good to be worrying about s--t like that. I pretty much ignore….I don’t even notice a lot of it, but because this was in my hometown, there were some people. They didn’t mean to stir s--t up, but they said “Did you see what this asshole wrote?” And I was like wow, this guy went 100 miles out of his way to not just insult me about something that I had nothing to do with in his original article, but he used the word that just set me off, which was “shameless.”

I don’t know, man, when I look back on it now, I think “Well, why did I even care?” But what I explained to the guy and the reason that I was there, I said “You know, this is the town where my kids live and this is the town where my mother lives.” If you wrote in your blog that Richard Marx is the least talented person on the face of the earth and every note that he writes and sings is utter s--t, you would never hear from me, because I could give a f--k. But when you say something that’s a personal character insult, like I’m shameless, and you’ve never met me and you don’t know anybody who knows me -- I want you to say that to my face. So I said to him, “Do you have the balls to say that to my face?” He went “Yeah” and I went “Okay, great.” So we met up at a bar and he apologized and I took his apology.

I think the guy….I mean, everybody in Chicago who even knows who he is, nobody thinks much of him and he’s a pretty inconsequential guy and I actually feel sorry for him. The more I know about him as a person, I’m glad I’m walking in my shoes and not his, let’s put it that way. But I feel like in retrospect it was probably dumb, but in the moment, you know, I’m a man and I felt like I’m going to deal with this like a man and not like a celebrity. I just said “Dude, you know, if you’re going to say something like that about me in the town where I live, then I want to see if you’ll say it to my face.” And he didn’t -- he wouldn’t.

Going back to the social media topic for a moment, something that sticks out to me about it is that it’s nonstop and there’s a sense of entitlement and lots of other things. So I can’t imagine, as you said yourself, people who are current hit-makers today like Lady Gaga or whoever you want to mention, it’s just a nonstop storm that goes far beyond anything that you had to deal with back in the day. It’s all been magnified so much.

There’s no comparison. Look, even back in the heyday when I was the most well-known and visible, I lived a very quiet life. First of all, I didn’t court that. You know a lot of people, let’s face it, when people say “poor this person or poor that person, they can’t go anywhere,” well, guess what? Most of the time? The people that we’re talking about that I don’t need to name -- it’s their publicists who are telling the paparazzi where to go. It’s their machine that’s feeding that beast. You can’t really have it both ways -- you can’t be the victim of something that you did not [engineer], so you just sort of check out of it and you don’t embrace it and you don’t court it. I think for the most part, they kind of leave you alone.

I get approached sometimes if I’m coming out of a restaurant or whatever, but I don’t have anything to say and I’m never going to engage. Aside from that guy in Chicago, which is a totally different thing, I think it’s just a matter of understanding that this is toothpaste that’s not going back into the tube and just know that we live in a culture now where if you’re in the public eye, every public move you make is fair game.

You’re playing an acoustic show, right? Is it just you?

It’s just me. I started doing this a couple of years. I’ve seen other acoustic shows and I’ve heard about other acoustic shows and I’m not knocking anybody who does an acoustic show, but I will say that anybody that is concerned that it is a serious singer/songwriter show where I sit and talk about craft or motivation or what was going through my mind..there’s none of that s--t! It’s as if you came over to my house and we’re just hanging out. The only thing is I wish that I could drink with them. I wish everybody had a drink and we could just sit around and clink glasses and I would say “Okay, so you’re not going to believe the story about this song” or “You’re not going to believe what happened when I was writing this song or making this record.”

Because I’ve got crazy ass stories about making music, collaborating with people and just s--t that’s happened to me. So it’s really just a hang with me and the audience. I can’t really do that with the band, because it’s four guys standing around waiting for me to shut up so I can sing the next song. At a solo acoustic show, I can take my time and if people yell out a song, if I remember it, I’ll do it. It’s just such a fun hang and that’s really my motivation every night. Because if it’s just replicating the music, why get in your car and come and see me. But if I feel like I’m going to send you home feeling like you hung out with me for a couple of hours, then that’s my mission.

Will you play any of the new stuff?

Yeah, but only a couple, because I know what people want to hear. Honestly, if I go see Foo Fighters, sure play a couple of new songs, but I need to hear the shit that I love and the reason I came. The bulk of my show are the songs that I wrote for myself and other people that you know. But I do definitely play two or three new songs out of the setlist. Mainly because I’m really excited to get reaction and also because I’m a songwriter first and foremost, so I want to show off and say “Hey, look what I did -- look, Mom and Dad, look what I made!” I played one new song [recently] and it got arguably the biggest ovation of the night, so sometimes when that happens, when I play a song that no one’s ever heard before and they freak out, it’s almost as good as sex -- it’s amazing.

Photo via RichardMarx.com -- used with permission

25Nov/130

Bruce Springsteen Offers Up ‘High Hopes’ & A Bonus

Bruce Springsteen announced the release of High Hopes today, a new studio album which will be released in typical Bruce fashion (at least in recent years) in less than two months on January 14th. You can read up on details regarding the new release here.

Folks who pre-order the album via Amazon can get a bonus DVD featuring a full album performance of the Born In The USA album, captured on the recent Wrecking Ball tour. According to the listing, this bonus is exclusive to Amazon.

SPRINGSTEEN_HIGH_HOPES_cover-700x700

 

24Nov/130

Run Off To The Circus With Dan Baird….

It's Sunday evening and you're a little bit bummed that the weekend is drawing towards its conclusion, right?

Here's a brand new album from Dan Baird & Homemade Sin to help soften the blow a bit.

The new album is called Circus Life and you can either snag the physical disc here or grab the newly released Amazon MP3 download for instant gratification. Like everything that Baird releases, the arrival of this one has been highly anticipated in my world. From a quick scan, it sounds like Dan Baird, so that might be all that you need to know.

Dan_Baird_Circus_Life

9Sep/130

Some new music from Eric Johnson…

Eric Johnson has quietly been releasing new music in recent months via a series of single downloads. His latest offering, while not available as a download just yet, previews a new collaboration with Christopher Cross.

Johnson and Cross will perform together at the All ATX benefit concert on September 24th, benefiting the HAAM (Health Alliance For Austin Musicians) as part of a lineup that will also feature Quiet Company and Will Johnson (Monsters of Folk), Charlie and Will Sexton and others. The above track will be eventually available on a compilation album that will bring additional benefit to HAAM.

The roots between Johnson and Cross run more than 30 years deep -- the Austin guitarist can be found on the Grammy Award winning debut by Cross, a multi-platinum album that sold more than five million copies in the United States alone.

3Sep/132

Del Amitri Returns In 2014

Even as Del Amitri frontman Justin Currie continues to make music (including his brand new solo album Lower Reaches), I've never stopped wishing that a band reunion might come to pass someday.

Apparently, the waiting will not last a lifetime -- it will come to an end in January of 2014.

Over the weekend, I saw the following tweet from @delamitrinews, an account which had recently followed me, while beginning to favorite all of my Del Amitri-related tweets from over the past few years:

Guess Who Is Back? #delamitri Please RT!

Of course, I had to tweet back:

@delamitrinews I would love for this to be true!

A visit to their official Facebook page (I forgot they had one!) revealed a message which made things even more clear:

Well now. Get a load of this...
It looks like the three Glasgow boys (Justin, Andy and Iain) are going to be able to get together with Kris and Ashley to do some shows early next year. UK only at the moment, I'm afraid (but we are working it). There should be a details later this week.

Are you getting excited yet? Okay, so as I feared it appears to be "UK only at the moment," but if this train really gets rolling, surely we can hope for a small smattering of U.S. dates that would bring them to some of their old familiar stomping grounds like Chicago, right? That's what I'm hoping for.

Just having these guys back on the same stage would be enough for me....was it really 1996 when I last had the chance to see the band? Yep.

I did a short email interview with Justin around the time of his last solo album (The Great War) and spoke a bit about the Dels, including this bit:

Around the time that you were preparing What Is Love For for release, there was word that you also had an entire band album in the can recorded with Iain Harvie that you were trying to get label interest for. Whatever became of that material?

That is inaccurate. Iain and I have written an album’s worth of material in the intervening years but there is no band thing at all. We’re still working on it occasionally. It’s very good but we can’t see many fans of the Dels liking it. For that reason we’ll probably stick it out as Del Amitri just out of badness.

It's hard to say what will come out of this forthcoming reunion, but I'm excited by the possibilities...

UPDATE: We now know a few more things, thanks to what appears to be a newly launched Del Amitri website:

Here's a press release about the tour:

THE A TO Z OF US
With a cast of original members and even the original crew, Del Amitri return from a ten year sabbatical to wheel out every hit from every era of their lengthy recording career. Justin Currie and Iain Harvie will once again be joined on stage by Andy Alston, Kris Dollimore and Ashley Soan.

It's been thirty years since Del Amitri’s debut single, ‘Sense Sickness’ – their contribution to all things early 80s and jangly. “The A to Z of Us will take a retrospective sweep of our entire output, from indie art-pop through folk-tinged balladry to hairy Brit-rock chuggery”, says front man Justin Currie.

Formed in Glasgow in 1983, during their distinguished career Del Amitri had four Top 10 albums and a string of memorable hit singles. Their million selling breakthrough album ‘Waking Hours’ (1989) included the hits ‘Nothing Ever Happens’ and ‘Kiss This Thing Goodbye’. The follow-up, 1992’s ‘Change Everything’, featured the massive radio single ‘Always The Last To Know’ and reached No.2 in the albums chart, only being held off the top slot by the might of ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack. 1995’s ‘Twisted’ charted at No.3 and included their biggest ever single ‘Roll To Me’, which reached No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Del Amitri’s most recent album was 2002’s ‘Can You Do Me Good?’, and the band have been on hiatus since finishing the subsequent tour.

“Whenever anyone asked if Del Amitri would ever re-form,” says guitarist Iain Harvie, “our standard response was ‘We never broke up - the phone just stopped ringing.’”

It has started ringing now and Del Amitri are picking it up from where they left off.

The initial tour dates are here.

I'll leave you with Justin's latest video from Lower Reaches, "Half of Me."

2Sep/130

Free Split Enz (What More Can You Ask For?)

Thanks to my buddy Brian Boone for the tip on this one --- if you're a fan of Split Enz, you can nab a free Kindle download of a new book (released earlier this summer in June) by founding bass player Mike Chunn.

Stranger-Than-Fiction-small

These free downloads are usually available only for a short time, so you'll want to act fast. If you miss out, we're willing to wager (after a quick scan of the book contents) that it would still be worth grabbing for the regular purchase price of $6.99.

Head to Amazon via this link to grab your copy.

9Aug/132

Setlist: Yes at Cain Park – 8/7/13

It seems like some of the very best concerts are the ones that you almost miss. This was certainly the case with the Yes show on Wednesday night at Cain Park.

For me, it came down to time. It had been a long time since the tour was announced, with the first details trickling out in December of last year. At that point, I really wasn''t sure that I needed to see Yes again.

After all, I've seen many a Yes show, starting with the first time that I saw the "classic" Yes lineup in 1997 at Music Hall. That's a story by itself. That was another Yes show that I almost didn't go to. I grew up as a fan of the 90125-era of the band and had little interest in the '70s material. But a friend asked me if I could get free tickets for him to take his girlfriend to the show and I figured that as long as I was making the effort to get tickets, I should try to score some for myself and take a chance on the show.

I went to the show that night at Music Hall and got a huge education on all things Yes. Besides a smattering of tracks from Open Your Eyes, the band's current album at the time with a couple of '80s Yes tracks wedged in for good measure, it was all about the epic '70s stuff, with tracks like "The Revealing Science of God," "Heart of the Sunrise," their famous version of Simon & Garfunkel's "America" and "Starship Trooper" as the closer.

Holy crap.

Each year after that, I found my way to a Yes concert at least once per year as long as they were on tour, with the band's lineup shifting slightly (mainly on keyboards) in that time. 2003 would put a wrap on my "classic Yes" experience with a lineup that featured Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White.

The band would take a short hiatus in 2004, returning in 2008 sans Anderson with Canadian vocalist Benoit David at the helm. As much as I was against the idea of a Yes that didn't include Anderson, I gave it a shot and it was an enjoyable evening of music. With David, the band returned to the studio with Trevor Horn producing and in the midst of the recording sessions, Horn's former Buggles bandmate Geoff Downes rejoined the lineup on keyboards  as well. Fly From Here was the result of their efforts and against many sets of odds, it was a new album that sounded a lot like classic Yes. Who would have thought?

Sadly, David encountered vocal issues in the midst of the touring for Fly From Here and found himself jettisoned from the group, replaced by another relatively unknown vocalist, Jon Davison.

Here's where my hesitation came in about attending this summer's tour. Do I really need to see Yes performing three classic albums with a new replacement singer, taking over for the previous substitute vocalist not named Jon Anderson? Having seen Yes with a lineup of Anderson, Wakeman, Squire, Howe and White, I wasn't so sure.

But earlier this year, I had the chance to interview both Chris Squire and Steve Howe separately regarding the tour and my interest grew. The jury was still out regarding the new vocalist, but I was willing to spend an evening with Yes and find out.

I was intrigued by the album choices, something which predictably either got a thumbs up or thumbs down reaction from the Yes fanbase, who are always ready for a good debate. You can't argue with Close To The Edge and The Yes Album, but Going For The One was an interesting pick.

When I spoke with Howe, he was a bit perturbed that the band wasn't performing the albums in the order that they were released.

Seeing the concept in play on the night, I can't argue with the path that the remaining members of the Yes brain trust chose. What could be more epic than seeing Yes open the night with the lengthy title track of the Close To The Edge album? The entirety of that segment of the evening was awesome.

The Going For The One portion might have lost some folks, as it felt more like the "deep cuts" section of the show, because of the unfamiliarity of many of the tracks for casual fans.

But by the time they got to the closing portion of the evening, The Yes Album felt like the victory lap that brought it all home for the sold out audience at Cain Park. For nearly three hours, Yes held court with a performance that was vibrant in a way that is still quite unbelievable to witness, when you're talking about a group that is 45 years into their journey. A bit of reduction in overall energy levels would make a lot of sense, but with Yes, that's not the case.

Vocalist Jon Davison, the band's newest addition (he joined in early 2012) is in his early 40s, although he looks deceptively younger than that and there's no doubt that his presence and enthusiasm adds a lot to the group's combined stamina onstage (with stage clothes that were very '70s Anderson-esque). But looking 10 years back, even with Anderson on vocals, the durability of Squire, White and Howe has always been something to behold.

Davison's performance reminded me a lot of the first time that I saw Kelly Hansen on vocals with Foreigner. Like Hansen, Davison had his work cut out for him, stepping in for a legendary vocalist like Anderson. But he handled the material with ease and there wasn't a single rough patch. It sounded like Yes music and Davison sounded like Anderson, without being an emotionless clone. The songs were communicated with the same feeling that Anderson had served up for decades prior.

Geoff Downes is another key addition to the lineup and as a heritage player, he certainly knows his way around the nine keyboards that he brought with him and his performance was both natural and skillfully executed without feeling mechanical.

Once the confetti cannons blew in the closing moments of the show (sorry about that, clean-up crew....), it had been a really incredible evening of music and it's hard to imagine that anybody walked away with disappointment.

While the full album format left some of the favorite "hits" on the sidelines for this particular run, the band has certainly done enough tours in the "greatest hits" vein that it was a very welcome change and one can hope that they will continue to explore further albums in the years to come.

Hopefully they will also find a way to document this tour with a live release (audio and video) of some sort. Yes fans will be aware that the band has released more than a few live albums and videos over the years, so this seems like a relatively safe bet. Let's hope.

For now, there's word that plans for a new album, the first with Davison,  will begin to take shape once touring commitments have wrapped. With what we've heard from Fly From Here, there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic that a new album from Yes will once again be a good thing.

Setlist:

The Firebird Suite

Close to the Edge

Close to the Edge
And You and I
Siberian Khatru

Going For The One

Going for the One
Turn of the Century
Parallels
Wonderous Stories
Awaken

The Yes Album

Yours Is No Disgrace
Clap
Starship Trooper
I've Seen All Good People
A Venture
Perpetual Change

Encore:

Roundabout

23Jul/130

Contest: Win A CD Pack Of Music From The Doors!

For $4.99, you can take the Doors with you everywhere that you go. Because of course, here in 2013, it makes sense that this legendary band is still looking to break on through to invade your consciousness in a new and different way -- not just with their catalog of music, but now also via a new interactive app for the iPad.

There's an exhaustive amount of material available on the app, which you can read about below via the official press release.

To celebrate the release of the app, ATV is pleased to offer you the chance to win a three pack of CDs from the Doors, including the releases Live At The Matrix, Live in Pittsburgh 1970 and the When You're Strange soundtrack.

Paired with the new app, it's the most fun that you can possibly have digitally in the comfort of your own home.

For your chance to win these CDs, drop us a line with "Doors CD Contest" in the email subject line and we'll pick one lucky ATV reader to win.

Purchase the official Doors app via this link.

THE DOORS LAUNCH INTERACTIVE iPAD APP,
EXCLUSIVELY ON THE APP STORE

Groundbreaking Band Invites Fans On Immersive Digital Journey,
Telling Their History Through Interactive Content, Music, Photos, Videos, Memorabilia And Graphic Novel

Warner Music Group Presents A New Way To Showcase
And Experience A Band's Entire Career In A Single Download

LOS ANGELES – The Doors are once again poised to break on through with a first-of-its-kind iPad app, THE DOORS, available exclusively on the App Store. Released on May 6, 2013, by Warner Music Group’s Rhino Entertainment, the app brings the band’s story to life with an unprecedented immersive experience that delves deeply into every aspect of The Doors’ iconic career with interactive content, unpublished band images and artwork, rare videos, music, and much more.

THE DOORS APP was conceived and produced by Elektra Records founder and Warner Music legend Jac Holzman, who signed the Doors to the label in 1966, and Robin Hurley; along with the participation of drummer John Densmore, guitarist Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, and the estate of the late singer Jim Morrison. Holzman, a pioneer in the music industry and a pivotal force throughout the band’s career, comes full circle with this app. Holzman and Warner Music now bring The Doors into the digital age with a visionary project that redefines how a band’s work can be chronicled in the virtual realm.

“The genesis of this project began with a desire to digitize the boxed set, to use new technology to improve upon a much-loved fan experience. It made total sense to choose The Doors. They have always been ‘ahead of the curve’ artists and their story is one of the great sagas in rock,” says Holzman. “Together with the band, we tell a compelling tale using materials from The Doors’ own archives and the Warner Music vault plus the hundreds of other sources we chased down – a wealth of treasures including previously unseen photos, fresh interviews, and behind the scenes insights and reflections. Delivered in a single download, this is a riveting approach to showcasing a band's entire career. I believe Warner Music has set the bar higher for future music apps… and that is a very good thing to do!”

An intimate portrait of the band enjoying a drink at the Hard Rock Café — taken by legendary photographer Henry Diltz during a shoot for the Morrison Hotel album — greets visitors on the home page and guides them on a journey through the living history of one of rock’s most fascinating and incendiary groups.

THE DOORS APP is divided into several sections, with the The Story button leading to the true centerpiece, proving endlessly intriguing for both veteran fans and new initiates with hundreds of photos, videos, and interviews. All six albums recorded by the original Doors foursome, as well as the two albums recorded later by the Doors as a trio, are spotlighted here through essays from counterculture icons including Patti Smith and Hunter S. Thompson, Doors historians such as David Fricke, Greil Marcus, and archivist David Dutkowski, as well as pieces from the band and personal reminiscences shared by Holzman. The Story section also highlights extensive technical notes detailing all the equipment used to create every studio album.

Among the other centerpieces of The Story section is a graphic novelization of the notorious Miami Incident, where Morrison was falsely accused of exposing himself during a 1969 concert. The infamous episode comes to life here through drawings by award-winning comic book artist Dean Haspiel, words by Adam Holzman (son of Jac), and rare audio of Morrison recorded during the show. This section also includes the once-confidential FBI report, the arrest report, a portion of Jim’s tongue-in-cheek testimony, Morrison’s mug shot, and his posthumous pardon issued in 2010.

Also featured are a comprehensive Timeline, a Cast Of Characters listing key people in the Doors’ universe, an interactive Doors Map of LA that focuses on prime locations in the band’s history, a Gallery filled with rare and iconic images, all song lyrics, in-app links to social media and the iTunes store, and a customizable My Favorites area. All told, the app features over 500 images including band photos, album art, singles, international releases and memorabilia (posters, ticket stubs, advertisements, press releases, contracts, and related correspondence). The app also includes 44 short form videos and 60 audio segments. Holzman had referred to The Doors app as a “1500 piece jigsaw puzzle in three dimensions, which arrives on your iPad, elegantly pre-assembled.”

THE DOORS APP is available for $4.99 from the App Store on iPad or at http://www.appstore.com.

Purchase The Doors App here: http://smarturl.it/doorsapp

To coincide with the launch of THE DOORS APP, each of The Doors’ studio albums have been Mastered For iTunes by their longtime producer Bruce Botnick and are now available exclusively on iTunes. Three new digital boxed sets (The Complete Studio Albums, Behind Closed Doors – The Rarities, and Strange Nights Of Stone Vol. II – The Bright Midnight Archives Concerts) as well as two Mastered For iTunes compilation albums (The Very Best Of and The Future Starts Here: The Essential Doors Hits) are also available now on iTunes.

DESCRIPTION

THE DOORS official app. More than 700 images and 100 music and sound clips that will delight and satisfy Doors fans. More than just photos, music and video, this comprehensive compilation in presented in a way that lets you re-discover the intensity and originality of Jim Morrison and the Doors.

The foundation of this app is authentic, source material meticulously produced by their record company president Jac Holzman, and endorsed by the members of the Doors.

Since most of the content is built into the app, you can enjoy the pictures, music, sound and video offline, without WiFi or dinging your data plan. Bonus: Includes the option for group viewing on any flat screen TV.

HIGHLIGHTS

=========================
PHOTO GALLERIES
=========================
* 227 Band Photos featuring rare publicity photos and candid shots of all four.
* 112 images of album and single artwork from around the world
* 196 images of memorabilia
* 75 photos of the notes handwritten on the original recording masters tracksheet. (It's like holding Doors history in your hands.)
* 6 full length original short films for Break On Through, Strange Days, Unknown Soldier, Wild Child, Roadhouse Blues (Live), and the Changeling.

Even better, you can pinch and zoom most of the images to discover details not possible if printed in a book or posted on a website.

=======================================
MULTIMEDIA SECTION ON EACH ALBUM
=======================================
Includes the albums The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel, Absolutely Live, LA Woman, Other Voices, Full Circle and American Prayer. The story behind each record is revealed through text, photos, videos, music clips, as well as homages from influencers like Patti Smith, Hunter S. Thompson, Francis Ford Coppola and The Doors themselves. It's like getting a mini-app for each album.

=============================================
LYRIC SHEETS FOR ALL DOOR SONGS
=============================================
In one place, the complete lyrics for all the Doors' songs including Riders on the Storm, The End, and When The Music's Over

=======================================
INTERACTIVE DOORS TIMELINE
=======================================
Weaves highlights of the Doors’ history with other musical and historical events ferreting context otherwise unknown. For example you'll learn that Jimi Hendrix released "Are You Experienced" less than a month before the Doors single "People are Strange" and that the Viet Cong attacked the U.S. Embassy in Saigon just 6 weeks before the Doors released "The Unknown Soldier."

=======================================
* EXCLUSIVE GRAPHIC COMIC
=======================================
Chronicling Jim Morrison's "incident" in Miami along with the original FBI documents, testimony and arrest report.

=======================================
FOR AUDIOPHILE DOORS FANS
=======================================
Learn how the Doors' engineered their signature sound for each album with a photo inventory of the exact equipment used on each one.

=======================================
INSIDER MINI BIOS
=======================================
The 100+ people most important to the history of the band. Discover information about Jim Morrison and the Doors that you can't find in a Google search.

=======================================
ADDITIONAL FEATURES
=======================================
* PRESS & HOLD any item and it will be filed in the apps FAVORITES sections for instant re-access. Super helpful with all this content.

* An interactive map of the key places in the Doors L.A. lives.

* Share your discoveries with your friends by posting content from the app on Facebook and Twitter.