Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Meet Me On The Wastelands:
An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
When a successful band goes on hiatus, they seldom return. If they do decide to give it another go, it tends to be a long while before they get back together, intact and ready to rock. So, when the band Lifehouse announced, in July of 2013, that they had left the comfort of a major label – Geffen Records – and were on temporary hiatus, many felt the band might have split for good. Looking back, you couldn’t really blame them – with six studio albums (five of them charting in the Billboard Top 20) and more than a dozen charting singles, the band had certainly achieved more success than they could have ever imagined since the release of their debut album No Name Face, in 2000. Perhaps the band’s core members – singer/songwriter Jason Wade, bassist/vocalist Bryce Soderberg and drummer Rick Woolstenhulme – felt it was time to move on. However, Lifehouse has decided to buck the ‘hiatus’ trend and now, less than two years after their announcement, the band is back and firing on all cylinders with Out Of The Wasteland, their seventh studio album and their most inspired since their debut a decade and a half ago. (For the record, lead guitarist Ben Carey, who had toured with the band since 2004 and became a full-fledged member in 2009, has officially parted ways with Lifehouse.)
The break in the band’s never-ending schedule of recording and touring has given the members a chance to breathe and focus on their love of songwriting and creating again. Tracks like “Hurricane,” “One For The Pain,” “Flight” and “Stardust” are filled with top notch hooks that will sound great on Modern Rock and Top 40 radio. The songs on Out Of The Wasteland are filled with the same wide-eyed wonder that fueled their early recordings, but the band’s maturity has added extra depth to their musical approach. This is most apparent on the cinematic sweep of album closer “Hourglass,” a song penned by Pop meister Jude Cole, film composer James Newton Howard and Jason Wade.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Jason Wade about the band’s new album and more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Out of the Wasteland is just about ready to be released. How are you feeling about it and the reaction so far?
JASON WADE: We’re very excited about it! Very optimistic and feel like we’re returning to our roots, which is an amazing feeling. A lot of the songs off of the record are reminiscent of our first record, No Name Face... so it’s nice to return to a sound and a songwriting style that’s not only familiar to us, but familiar to our fans as well.
SPAZ: Were these songs specifically written for this album? Or were they songs you had written over the last couple of years that you felt were right for this project?
JASON: Well, I feel like the backbone of the record are songs like “Hurricane” and “Flight,” but there were some stragglers. A song called “Wish” that we just released as an exclusive for the iTunes preorder was written, I want to say, in 2002-2003 and the song never really felt like it had a home. The mindset was writing 65 to 70 songs in a two year span and collectively we picked the 12 strongest, and a couple of them were from around 2007, but most everything came out of that two year hiatus we had. We needed a break. So burned out… touring for over a decade non-stop, so just to come home and have a fresh perspective…I went into the studio with such a healthy mindset of wanting to get back to an inspired place and really recharge the batteries. I think that being on a major label for over a decade, you can get lost a little on the creative end. I feel like you’re always sensing that you’re going to turn in a record and they’re going to tell you that you don’t have a single. So, to be on our own right now and make everything about making the best album that we can make was, I think, a n extremely healthy place for us to be.
SPAZ: Did leaving a major label and taking the independent route make the recording process a lot more rewarding than maybe the last couple records?
JASON: It did, and at the same time it made it more challenging too. To take two years on an album was unusal for the band. We, historically, would go in and make a record in about a four or five month period. To have no pressure when it comes to writing singles or making hits, or all of that white noise that you try not to think about when you’re in the studio, we held ourselves to a high standard. A couple of times, we thought that we were finished with the record, and we started over completely. So, we didn’t phone it in. We were trying really hard to make something that we could stand behind and be proud of after being together for 15, 16 years.
SPAZ: Has your songwriting process changed at all over the years?
JASON: It has, absolutely. I started as just anacoustic guitar player/writer. I’d write a song on acoustic guitar and then play it for the band. We would arrange it and produce ourselves more into a live, Rock mentality in the studio – just guitar, bass, drums recorded live a couple times and then some overdubs – which is the classic way of doing things. On this album in particular it felt like every time I picked up an acoustic guitar or sat down at the piano, I would just go to the same chord changes over and over again. The same melodies were coming out, and so I needed to jolt my creativity. This time I’d bring in an engineer and just use the studio as a canvas, throwing different sounds down on tape – different rhythms, keyboard sounds...anything that would allow a different vantage point. So I would make the tracks sound a little bit different and then bring the band in, then we'd record on top of the demos. But anything I could do to come up with something that was just a little different, because let’s face it, you’re never going to reinvent the wheel, but you can change your method a little bit so you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over.
SPAZ: There are some particularly great tracks on the album including “One For The Pain” and “Stardust,” which is just immediately accessible...
JASON: Yeah, that’s Bryce’s song and his vocal on it. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the record. He wrote a great song.
SPAZ: You’ve collaborated with other vocalists and writers in the past. What about on this record?
JASON: The last record, we had Natasha Bedingfield featured on a track and we had Peter Frampton featured on a song. There’s no real features on this particular album, but there was a song, “Hourglass,” co-written by myself, Jude Cole, and James Newton Howard, who is one of my favorite composers. I’m a huge fan of film music in general and of James in particular, and this song – James and Jude wrote over 20 years ago and it just laid dormant with this unfinished demo. Jude showed me the demo and I got inspired and just really wanted to collaborate with James Newton Howard and I helped them finish. We spent two days arranging the strings and watching James work his magic. So that was a highlight for me personally – to get to work with one of my film heroes.
SPAZ: You’ve achieved a great amount of success in the past, but when you went into the studio, was there pressure to live up to that? Or were you able to separate yourself from that and just make a record that you’re proud of?
JASON: I think there was. There was a time – I want to say like 5 or 6 years ago – where it was really hard not to pay attention to those things. In the very beginning, I had no idea what I was doing. Everything was written almost out of necessity – I just needed to write those songs at that time in my life. On this record, I wanted to get back to that. I wanted to find that 17-year-old kid that was in awe of the creative process and being in a studio, crafting or channeling songs from another place. That’s where my head was at this time. It was not, “Let’s write three or four singles.” The business stuff was all white noise – as soon as I closed the door in the studio, that was all outside stuff and everything else was just a pure creative cocoon.
SPAZ: As a songwriter, are you able to go into the studio and allow the other guys to offer some kind of creative input when recording?
JASON: Oh, absolutely. Rick and Bryce do their thing and they always have great ideas, and it feels like Lifehouse as soon as their instruments are on the track. It’s an open forum for everybody to have their opinions and their creative outlet.
SPAZ: As the songwriter, was there a particular song – or songs – that you wrote that really solidified the direction that the album was going to take?
JASON: Probably the two songs, “Hurricane” and “Flight.” Those were the ones that really got me thinking that it was time to get the band back together, and these two songs were the catalyst for letting all the other songs come in. Especially “Flight.” As soon as “Flight” was mixed and finished, it just felt like one that only comes around every two or three years where you just happen to be in the room while the song is taking shape in front of you. Those are the moments, as a songwriter that you live for and that keeps you coming back for more, trying to figure out what that magic is.
SPAZ: What is next for Jason Wade and Lifehouse?
JASON: Some promotion. We’re in the circuit right now. We’re doing various radio station visits with our acoustic guitars, playing three or four songs to the radio listeners, and then we’re starting the Nickelback tour June 19. That’ll go for a couple of months, then we want to go back to Europe and play for the fans over there. After that we'll come back and do a full headlining run in the states. So, we’re going to be fairly busy for the next year and a half.
Thanks to Jason Wade
Special thanks to Jeremia Miller, Ashley Lanaux, Fiona Frawley, Shari Segalini, Ivan Brailsford, Danielle Czesniewski, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky.
OUT OF THE WASTELAND
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Most rock fans in the U.S. of a certain age know Scottish rockers Nazareth by their bona-fide American hit single “Love Hurts.” Like many other Classic Rock tunes of the era, “Love Hurts” became an evergreen hit, one that people turn up their radios to listen to because it reminds them of the days when they could take risks, hang out with some questionable friends and party. Yes, “Love Hurts” was the perfect party song if you were with a fine lady who liked to make out during this song. As a matter of fact, “Love Hurts” was one of the first ‘power ballads’ in Hard Rock history. The guys could listen to it because the band still rocked, but the girls would swoon because these tough rockers were showing their sensitive side. Yeah, “Love Hurts” was – and is – a fucking ace tune. (FACTOID: “Love Hurts” was written by Boudleaux Bryant and was originally recorded by The Everly Brothers in 1960!)
However, Nazareth was much more than that one song. The track was released on the American version of the band’s 1975 album Hair Of The Dog, which was their sixth full-length overall. Their five previous releases helped to build the band a solid fan base before Hair… sent their career into overdrive. Sadly for rockers in the U.S., the spotlight of fame didn’t linger on Nazareth for long. The band’s next few albums did chart in the U.S. but the arrival of Punk and New Wave changed the musical landscape and bands like Nazareth were overlooked in favor of the ‘80s Pop generation. To their credit, Nazareth never gave up and they deserve your love and respect for that alone.
If you are familiar with any Nazareth studio album, you already know that the band never tried to knock out the same old Hard Rock anthems on every record. Sure, they had the ‘Nazareth sound’ firmly in place by 1973’s Razamanaz but they didn’t stick to that formula throughout the album. The band was confident enough to try different things in the studio. Has every Nazareth album been great? Well, that is up to the listener to decide. However, every album has songs that really stand out and honestly stand the test of time. I could easily go through each album in their catalog and point out some great songs if you ever have a few hours and want to come over and listen to some prime Nazareth. Though their catalog is lesser known, I’d say that Nazareth are in the same league as Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy and other like-minded melodic Hard Rock heroes.
In Dan McCafferty, the band had a vocalist who could scream, growl and croon his way through a tune. Personally speaking, I’m not a fan of most ‘screamers’ out there, but McCafferty was different. This was a wild man who let loose and wailed on the rockin’ tunes, then scaled it all back and got lost in the emotion of the melody. He didn’t scream because he could – he did it because that is what the song asked for. Just listen to “Love Hurts” – that is the wail of a broken man. The music is powerful and emotional and it draws out the inner anguish of a man in the throes of utter sorrow. It isn’t just a scream - it is a cry for help. The band has had many great moments like that along the way, but they didn’t receive much airplay on U.S. radio, which is our loss.
Since Hair… was released in ’75, the band has soldiered on with changes in their line-up but always with McCafferty front and center. In 2014, they released their 23rd studio album, Rock ‘n’ Roll Telephone. Sadly, McCafferty has had to retire due to health reasons (COPD) although the band is continuing with his blessing. I was honored to interview Dan last year for the release of that album and you can find the interview HERE.
Over the past year, I’ve sat down to review the band’s catalog but I’ve been so overwhelmed with other projects, work and life in general and have not been able to devote the necessary time to create such an article. But it has kept nagging at me and although sharing the occasional video on my Facebook page has helped, it hasn’t satisfied that Naz urge. So, I decided to pick 10 songs that I felt were great examples of Nazareth’s catalog and share them with you. Are they the best Nazareth songs ever? Not exactly... these are just SOME of them: they have plenty more great ones to choose from. I just decided on these at the moment because I want to share them with folks who may not be that familiar with the band apart from “Love Hurts.” If I were to post this tomorrow, it might be a whole different set of songs! I don’t claim to be an expert on Nazareth, but I am one of many devoted fans. My view of the band comes from a ‘melodic’ view point. Some love the riffs while others love the band’s Hard Rock crunch. Personally, I love their hooks and the power in McCafferty’s voice – a unique instrument that has defined the band’s sound since they released their debut album in 1971.
So, here are 10 reasons why you should love Nazareth. You’re already familiar with the first…but I thought I'd include it to ease you into things. Many FM radio fans are familiar with the second as well...
Click on the song title if you'd like to peruse the album info... and don't hesitate to purchase it!
1. "LOVE HURTS"
This has been a presentation of SPAZ on the NAZ,
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
LATIN QUARTER: BARE BONES
We all have those bands that we absolutely love yet they have not achieved the critical and commercial success that they so rightly deserve. Latin Quarter is one of those bands for me. I’ve listened to the band for nearly 30 years and, apart from a UK hit with “Radio Africa” in 1985, the band still remains largely unknown here in the U.S. Latin Quarter has existed off and on - and under the radar - for three decades, releasing seven studio albums and a handful of compilations. The band’s political leanings may be the reason that many people have been unable to grasp their greatness, but if you immerse yourself in their musical world, you’ll discover a band that knows its way around a great tune. Emotive, smart, melodic and thought-provoking, LQ’s songs are, for the most part, penned by guitarist/vocalist Steve Skaith and lyricist Mike Jones. The band were – and still are – difficult to pigeonhole yet the songs transcend all genres. Blend the folk elements of Bob Dylan, the worldly grooves of Peter Gabriel and the off-kilter ‘80s strut of Thompson Twins and The Fixx and…. Well, that doesn’t quite describe them either but it’s a start.
In between stints with Latin Quarter, Steve Skaith has released a handful of solo albums, all of them worthy of your time. This latest release, Latin Quarter: Bare Bones, is the best of the bunch and is one of the finest albums in his long career. On this album, Skaith has revisited 10 Latin Quarter tracks, stripped them down to their ‘bare bones’ (ie: just guitar and piano) and manages to breathe new life into these timeless songs. With a mix of the band’s most well-known tracks – “America For Beginners,” “Swimming Against The Stream,” and “No Rope As Long As Time” – as well as key album tracks, the acoustic approach focuses on the most important aspects of the Skaith/Jones partnership: the music and lyrics. While that may seem like a no-brainer, if you listen to the original versions, many of the recordings tended to have a studio polish that sometimes added a layer of cotton candy to the meat of the songs - Bare Bones strips all of that way and gives these songs a new lease on life. Recorded by Skaith and LQ keyboardist Steve Jeffries, this is a truly moving collection of tracks. When the piano takes over for the chorus of album opener “Swimming Against The Stream”, it feels like angels taking flight. The simple, yet moving, arrangement of “America For Beginners” makes it sound fresh all over again. It’s great to hear Steve handle lead on “No Rope As Long As Time” and “The Men Below,” both sung by the band’s female vocalists on the original albums.
Speaking of female vocalist, Bare Bones’ final track, “Wounded In Action,” is sung by Jeffries’ daughter Becky CJ, who gives an absolutely lovely folk-influenced performance that is heart-breaking. She’s an internet sensation, you know. Check her out.
Latin Quarter: Bare Bones is proof that you can still make effective, emotive and powerful protest music in this day and age. One of the best albums of the year by far.
Thursday, May 7, 2015
UNSHY ON THE SKYLINE:
THE BEST OF…
Rupert Hine is rightly hailed as one of the finest producers of the last 30 years. However, it is his work as an artist in his own right that remains sorely overlooked. For five decades, he has maintained a low-key career as a singer, songwriter and musician with varying degrees of success. He was one-half of ‘60s folk duo Rupert & David before recording two solo albums in the early ‘70s. In the mid-‘70s, he formed the Jazz/Rock outfit Quantum Jump, who lasted two albums before splitting up. Since then, he has devoted most of his career to producing, although he did release a handful of solo albums throughout the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s. With each release – under his own name and under the band pseudonym Thinkman – Rupert’s albums got progressively better until he released his finest work, The Deep End, in ’94. Unfortunately, that was also his last album. Twenty one years on, we still await his next ‘pop’ release. Until he releases something new, we must satisfy ourselves with his back catalog. Three titles have surfaced recently – two expanded reissues and a ‘best of’ - that are well worth checking out if you haven’t yet discovered his music on your own.
Quantum Jump was a band he formed with guitarist Mark Warner, bass player John G. Perry, and drummer Trevor Morais. The band’s self-titled debut album, originally released in 1976, is a fascinating dive into the more melodic side of Jazz/Rock. Steering clear of pretentiousness, the album is quirky, funky, laid back and refreshing. While the sound of the album is a tad bit dated, the band’s forward-thinking song arrangements are not stuck in the mid-‘70s. Though Hine is the vocalist and some would perceive him as the ‘leader’, each talented band member shines on the album. The hit single “The Lone Ranger” is the standout cut on the album but most everything else is on par with that slab of ingenious fun. The band’s fame didn’t spread to America although they did certainly have a small but devoted fanbase over here. This expanded edition includes four bonus tracks – remixes of four of the album’s songs, originally released on the 1979 album Mixing. One of those tracks, “The Lone Ranger”, became a hit the 2nd time around when this remix was released. Those who enjoy Hine’s off-kilter approach to Rock/Pop will find much to love here.
The band reconvened in the studio to record their second album, Barracuda, without guitarist Mark Warner. Released in 1977, the album wasn’t a huge stylistic change from their debut, although the energy of the band didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders. The songs were a little more atmospheric and the quirkiness was toned down a bit. With that being said, the album’s moodier feel added more texture to the songs. ‘Don’t Look Now” is the closest thing the album gets to ‘immediate’ but repeated listenings reveal an album that takes the first album’s sound into a calmer, less esoteric place. Working without a full-time guitarist certainly gave the songs a different feel that actually compliments this set of recordings. Barracuda is a perfect companion to the debut, especially now that it has been expanded to two CDs containing tracks from Mixing, rarities and seven live tracks.
Unshy On The Skyline: The Best Of Rupert Hine is both an excellent collection of tracks from his first three ‘80s albums and a frustratingly short introduction into his brilliant career. Anyone fan who puts together a compilation featuring songs from Immunity, Waving Not Drowning and The Wildest Wish To Fly is going to have their own opinion in regards to Rupert’s best tracks but nearly all of them would choose to fill up an 80 minute CD with as many songs as possible but that is not the case here. In my opinion, a ‘best of’ Rupert Hine should be an eight CD set featuring the three above mentioned ‘80s albums, The Deep End, the three Thinkman albums and the Better Off Dead soundtrack and nothing less. Alas, that was probably a bit much for the folks at Esoteric so they settled on this 12 track collection (four songs from each of the previously mentioned albums). Apart from that minor quibble, this is a moody and melodic collection with a great song selection and excellent remastered sound that enhances the atmosphere of Hine’s early ‘80s work.
I became aware of Rupert in ’82 when the first Fixx album, Shuttered Room, was released. I recognized his name because I had seen his 1981 album Immunity in the record bins during my weekly travels to whatever shop I was at. I was so impressed with the sound of the Fixx that I immediately went out and found a copy of Immunity. Though it didn’t sound exactly like the Fixx, the ‘sound’ of the album wasn’t that far off. While not minimalist, the Immunity album got a lot of mileage out of Hine’s creative use of electronics. It didn’t need to use a wall of synths to create a feeling. Hine wrote the music and the lyrics were handled by the late Jeannette-Therese Obstoj. The album was dark, but not gothic. It was haunting but not scary. And the melodies were beautiful without being trite. This was pop without catering to any commercial formula. It didn’t make you dance, it made you think, man. All those descriptions applied to his next two albums as well – 1982’s Waving… and 1983’s Wildest Wish…
Unshy On The Skyline, the title taken from a line in “I Hang On To My Vertigo”, is the perfect introduction to the world of Rupert Hine, post-Quantum Jump and pre-Thinkman. With guest appearances from Robert Palmer, Chris Thomson, Phil Collins, Trevor Morais, Jamie West-Oram, and others, this is one heck of a listening experience. I’ve owned every one of these tracks for more than 30 years and they still mesmerize me. “The Set Up,” “The Wildest Wish To Fly,” “…Vertigo,” “The Curios Kind,” and “No Yellow Heart” have always been personal favorites but this set reminded me of how beautifully haunting ‘Dark Windows” is. Stunning. On many tracks, Rupert’s voice can sometimes resemble Chris Rea’s voice when he sings in a gravelly whisper but Hine seems to have more expression and range. In any case, Rupert Hine the artist needs some serious reappraisal and this set is your way to get to know him and his work. A truly great artist with far more talent than most people realize. Oh, and as if you didn’t figure this out already, all tracks were produced by Rupert and engineered by the great Stephen W. Taylor.
P.S. I could swear that some of the backing vocals have been removed from "No Yellow Heart" but that might be my imagination....?
Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee
P.S. I could swear that some of the backing vocals have been removed from "No Yellow Heart" but that might be my imagination....?
Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee
An EXCLUSIVE interview
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Sometimes an album can appear to be dark on the surface, but once you peel away the layers, you’ll find a deep emotional core that reveals truth, honesty, pain and beauty in equal measures. Such is the case with Last Year’s Savage, the 2015 album from Brooklyn-based Indian-American singer/songwriter Shilpa Ray. The album is not unlike her previous work with Beat The Devil and Her Happy Hookers, yet it is a work that is also distinctly different. The dark mood that permeates the album was inspired by a depression that sent her creativity into a new realm. Her past work could often be classified as Blues, Goth or Garage; however, Last Year’s Savage touches a deeper nerve within the listener. The album isn’t Pop in the traditional sense. It is a collection of melodic and atmospheric songs that are unique and other-worldly – but it is her most accessible full length work to date. During daylight hours, this album sounds emotionally therapeutic. But on a long, dark night, it is heavy and heart-breaking. With Shilpa’s unique voice and harmonium front and center, Last Year’s Savage has a sound that mixes Blondie’s more experimental material with the dark, brooding honk of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. Ironically, Shilpa has a professional relationship with Cave, so his influence may have infiltrated her own work. Yet it is more in spirit than in sound. Shilpa’s music has its own vibe, and that is a rarity in this day and age. Like the sound of a heart breaking while floating in space, Last Year’s Savage is a beautifully haunting album that grows more powerful with each spin.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Shilpa about the album and much more…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Last Year’s Savage is about to be released. How are you feeling about this project and the reaction so far?
SHILPA RAY: It’s been a lot of fun. I enjoy the actual process of making stuff and I can’t really predict what kind of a year we’re gonna have afterwards. That’s kind of hard to say, but I’m kind of in a nice place with it.
SPAZ: The album seems to come from a place that is both haunting and beautiful at the same time. What inspired this batch of songs?
SHILPA: I went into a really bad depression. I don’t know how people perceive that word anymore. Because depression – when you still have to pay bills and go to work and stuff – is a completely different ballgame than just being depressed romantically. Like hanging out and staring at walls all day or something like that. I was just going through a really rough time in my life. I guess this was how I had to kind of get it out, and I don’t feel that way anymore.
SPAZ: Is it hard to go on stage and perform these songs if you are not in that frame of mind anymore?
SHILPA: Not at all. I think the performance part of it is like its own beast. I don’t have to be depressed in order to make music. That’s not what I’m about. Human emotions are incredibly complex and then when you’re pushed to do stuff, that’s like performing – all of it just comes out regardless of whether you’re feeling it or not. I mean, there are certain times I’m playing shows and in the back of my head all I’m thinking about is how I’m gonna get some fried chicken afterwards! (laughs). I hate to say it, but that’s the way it is.
SPAZ: Was being less “aggressive” on this record intentional?
SHILPA: No, it wasn’t. I think what happened was I had started working on this batch of songs by myself and they just ended up becoming slow. It was just how I felt at the time, and it just came out that way. I think with Happy Hookers, it was a very different sort of sentiment because I felt more detached from the material I was writing, and so it had a different spin on it. I think this was a lot more personal for me – the pacing just became different because I wasn’t feeling that great while I was doing it, so I didn’t feel that rage.
SPAZ: Do you feel that an emotional performance can often be much more powerful to the listener than an aggressive performance that is louder and faster?
SHILPA: Yeah. I think it depends on how the person is gonna listen to something. I think different music works for different settings. I really do believe in that. I notice the audience reaction when I play stuff off the new record is really different. At first, it was really unsettling because it felt like – because nobody was moshing – that nobody was listening. But it’s the opposite – they actually will stand and be real quiet and stare at you. It’s like a very different way of listening to something, or getting a different interpretation of what you’re putting out. I think there’s room for fast and slow. I think having dynamic is really important for musicians. Even The Ramones had some ballads.
SPAZ: Was there a particular song that you had written or recorded for this album that clicked with you and helped decide which direction the album was heading?
SHILPA: No. I guess “Nocturnal Emission” would probably be the one that I was like, “Oh, so this is how I feel right now.” But all of it came from a lot of bitterness. I mean, the whole record just talks about being disenfranchised, which is so different. Like when you’re disenfranchised as a teenager, you don’t really know what the word means. And then, I’m in my 30s and I still don’t feel like I fit in anywhere, and that means something more because I pay bills. I pay taxes. I’m like part of it in a way, but then not in a way. It’s just very bizarre. You get introduced to things I think as a teenager, like being depressed and feeling alienated, but I don’t think it’s the same as when you feel it as an adult. I think it’s very different.
SPAZ: I was drawn more to the emotional parts of the album as opposed to trying to classify what I was listening to. I think your music goes much deeper than any kind of classification. Do you purposely try to avoid that easy classification or is that a natural thing?
SHILPA: I can’t do it. That’s the problem (laughs). I’ll try to write a surf song and it’ll come out so dark. I can’t fit in the genre because I can’t write like that. I just can’t do it. I would probably need to work with someone to make a real pop song – I couldn’t do it on my own. It’s too hard. I’m writing this stuff and it just comes out really off-kilter like that. It’s crazy.
SPAZ: Is there a track that you feel best represents the album for those who have not heard it yet?
SHILPA: I would probably choose “Pop Song (for Euthanasia)” and “Colonel Mustard (in the Billiards Room with Sheets of Acid).” “Moksha” would be one of them, too – only because the lyrics mean a lot to me. I was in Nepal where it’s 81% Hindu, and I was born and raised Hindu, and I went to the major temple, which is like our version of Mecca, and the guy that I was with at the time was showing me the different places where people get cremated. He was telling me that when you’re poor, you get cremated further out from the temple and then the more you pay to get your cremation or your loved one’s cremation, the closer you are to God. I found that really, really despicable – I hated it so much, and it made me really angry. I guess I’d never been exposed to that before because there’s not a lot of Hindus in the states so we don’t know a lot about the corruption. You just go to temple and that’s it. So when I’m in India or Nepal, there’s constantly all this tax and all this money you have to give, and people are really poor and they’ll give their whole life savings just to get their cremation so they’re closer to God or they’ll get a better afterlife. It’s the same shit that you get in Christianity – like your burial plots and all that stuff. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why you have to pay to die. That just seems so dumb to me, you know?
(PLEASE NOTE: My interview with Shilpa was conducted a week before the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Before running this interview, I reached out to Shilpa to comment on her response as not to make her appear to be insensitive to the recent tragedy: “I was commenting on Hindu religion and the hypocrisy of organized religions and not on the actual country or its culture. The people of Nepal are actually the most hard-working and hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. I had an incredible time there and feel grief for the tragedy that has happened.”)
SPAZ: In collaborating with Nick Cave or any other artists, are you able to see and hear things from a different perspective?
SHILPA: Yes and no. I can sit down and listen to somebody’s feedback on my stuff and it still comes out some other way. I really have no control over what I sound like. I can take the feedback and go, “Yeah, you’re probably right about this and this and this,” but it’s really tough for me to like make it exactly the way somebody else wants it. I can’t write like Nick. He writes like himself. Sometimes, the subject matter that we write about overlaps. We had a conversation about that once because I had thought it was really funny that without knowing each other, we both had mentioned Oprah in two different songs. It was bizarre and he thought that was pretty hilarious.
SPAZ: How did you meet Nick Cave?
SHILPA: We met through a mutual friend named (Larry) Ratso Sloman, who wrote a book on Bob Dylan, a book on Houdini, and most recently the Mike Tyson book. Ratso had given him a copy of my first Happy Hookers record and after that he just came to visit me at the denim shop I was working at. At first, it was really bizarre because here’s that guy that you were listening to since you were a teenager and he’s in this shop that you work at. The pen I was holding in my hand – it kind of exploded in my hand – I was so nervous. And everybody in the store was like, “Oh my God….” The girls were running back and forth. It was crazy. I didn’t know what to say. We both started staring at the floor at first because he’s really shy initially, too. He’s very human – he’s just a very down to earth person. He’s not a diva or anything like that. I just love his work ethic so much. If anything was the biggest influence on me – it was how much he worked.
SPAZ: Yeah, he’s pretty darn prolific.
SHILPA: Yeah, in the most insane way. Every month I hear he’s working on something new. So, that’s something I definitely aspire to have – that kind of a regimen and that sort of endurance. But in terms of material, The Bad Seeds – nobody could touch that. That’s just its own thing.
SPAZ: Who have been your biggest influences?
SHILPA: I’ve always loved The Velvet Underground since I was a kid. I was very young when I picked that up. From that I kind of understood about the Bad Seeds, New York Dolls, and The Cramps, and all that kind of stuff. But, I’ve never really been into music strictly for a genre. I’ve never been a stalwart member of a scene. I could never do it because I can’t fit in, so I think that has a lot to do with it. I have a lot of friends who are part of the Dark Hardcore thing, and I like hardcore music, but I was never part of that scene. I wasn’t an active member in anything like that. So, I think that’s probably a big reason why I can’t seem to emulate any of it. I work on my own so it just becomes this other thing.
SPAZ: What is next for Shilpa Ray?
SHILPA: I’ve been writing a new record and the sound is very different, and the material, the narrative, is very different too. It’s gonna be a different sound for sure – more upbeat. I don’t think I can get that down at this point. Who knows? Who knows what’ll happen in the next five years, but I guess I really needed to make this record to get it out of my system, and then move on to something else. The next record will be a lot lighter.
SPAZ: What is currently spinning on your record, CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray players?
SHILPA: I just watched Gone Girl and that was crazy. I have mixed feelings about a lot of that movie, but the sum total of the entire movie kind of freaked me out about a lot of stuff. But also, it’s strange watching movies now ‘cause some of the dialog is written so poorly and you wonder why. The plot is so great but you can tell that Hollywood thing is there – like they have to cater to the masses in some way. Music-wise, I’ve just been listening to a lot of Soul music. I’ve been really into listening to old school Doo Wop from New York City or Brooklyn. People like Little Anthony and The Imperials, but not just the hits. I listen to the deeper tracks to learn about the vocal arrangements and stuff. It’s so amazing, and that came from New York! They would hang out on the street corner in Harlem and they would come up with those types of harmonies. That’s indigenous to where I’m from, so it just really interests me. I don’t think anything from New York sounds like New York anymore, and that’s okay, but it kind of bothers me a little bit.
Thanks to Shilpa Ray