Thursday, October 30, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A with VERUCA SALT's Nina Gordon!


Get Back:

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A
with 
VERUCA SALT’s 
Nina Gordon

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

    Even if you keep on top of every musical trend that comes down the pike – from hippies to hipsters – nostalgia will always bring you back to the music that had a tremendous impact on you when you were younger. Whether it’s a song by the Everly Brothers, a remix of a Depeche Mode song or the soft and gentle easy-listening vibes of the singer/songwriter brigade, those records from our youth meant something then and they are forever etched in our brains. But nostalgia doesn’t ensure that a song or an album will have an impact on the next few generations of music fans. The music in question must be timeless and relevant then and now. Such is the case with Veruca Salt’s debut album American Thighs, an album that was considered a product of its time but has proven to have more legs than a centipede.
    Veruca Salt, named after the spoiled rich girl in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (AKA Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, depending on whether you watched the Gene Wilder film or read the Roald Dahl book) formed in Chicago in the early ‘90s and were embraced by the Rock and Grunge-loving crowds who were worn out by the excessive ‘80s, and bored by the make-up and hair-spray-loving Hair Metal bands. Led by Nina Gordon and Louise Post, who both handled guitars and singing/songwriting duties, plus Jim Shapiro on drums and Steve Lack on bass, Veruca Salt may have arrived during the Grunge era, but the music they made was not tied to any specific genre. Deep, thoughtful and melodic, Veruca Salt created music that was anchored by emotion. They rocked, but in a totally unique way. Signed by Minty Fresh Records, the quartet released the single “Seether” and became one of the most talked about bands on the Indie scene. Then came American Thighs. The album and the single made waves outside the U.S., and the band set out on numerous tours, becoming one of the most critically successful bands of the early ‘90s. However, after a signing with Geffen Records and releasing an EP and a second album, Shapiro left in ’97, followed a year later by Gordon and Lack. Post brought in a new line-up and continued to tour and record under the Veruca Salt name. By the beginning of 2012, Post put the band on indefinite hiatus and began work on other projects.
    Exactly one year later, to everyone’s surprise, Veruca Salt announced that the original quartet (Post/Gordon/Shapiro/Lack) had reunited and that they were moving forward with live performances and new material. The first fruit of their reunion was a Record Store Day 2014 10” single release, which will be followed by a full length new album in 2015. Until that new album arrives, Veruca Salt and vinyl fans can rejoice knowing that the classic debut album American Thighs is being released on vinyl to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. Discussions Magazine’s Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to fire off some questions to Nina Gordon, who was gracious enough to fill us in on all the salty details…


STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE:  The original line-up reunited in 2013, you’ve been out touring, and your debut album American Thighs is just about to be reissued on vinyl. How are you feeling about everything that has gone on in the last year?

NINA GORDON:  This past year has been miraculous, really. I don't think any of us thought this was ever going to happen again, but now that it has, it feels like a gift. Playing music together was always such a thrill, and our time together got cut short. It's a do-over for us, and we couldn't be happier. 

SPAZ:  American Thighs is a landmark album. Rolling Stone recently included it on their list of why 1994 was mainstream alternative music’s greatest year. How do you feel about the album looking back at it now?
NINA:  Looking back at American Thighs, I do feel very proud of its combination of innocence, boldness, weirdness and beauty. We had no idea anyone would ever hear that album, so it was completely un-self-conscious, and maybe that's why it still sounds pretty good. 
SPAZ:  Though it was released during the Grunge era, the album is worlds away from the music that a lot of your contemporaries were releasing. What influenced the direction of the band at this point?
NINA:  Well it was grunge in that we did play ratty, heavy distorted guitars. But since it was our first album, our songwriting was influenced by everything we had listened to from the day we were born! That means The Beatles, Linda Ronstadt, Prince, The Cocteau Twins, The Bangles, My Bloody Valentine, The Pixies, T-Rex, Big Star, The Breeders, Game Theory, The Mamas and the Papas, and the list goes on and on…

SPAZ:  The songs on the album seem to come from deep within the soul, and every note seems to have a purpose. Was it difficult to record this album when everyone else seemed content to just turn their amps up to 11?
NINA:  It didn't seem difficult at the time. It was completely natural to us. Louise and I were in our early 20s when we started writing songs, and we were really comfortable spilling our guts to anyone that would listen! It only felt right to us when we're bearing our souls in that way.  
SPAZ:  While everyone hopes for success, were you surprised that “Seether” and the album did so well at the time?
NINA:  Yes, it was a huge shock. As I said we didn't think anyone would hear the album – we were happy to be making it so that our friends and family could hear it, but beyond that we had no expectations. It was thrilling to be in the studio, hearing our songs realized, stacking harmonies on, etc. We definitely thought our songs were pretty catchy though, particularly “Seether,” so when it did happen it made some sense. Still, we never imagined it would happen so fast and on such a grand scale.

SPAZ:  Bands like Veruca Salt, The Muffs and loads of British Shoegaze bands are becoming more popular now than they have been in 20 years. Do you feel that Veruca Salt’s music belongs to that generation and people are just being nostalgic…or do you sense that the band has become timeless over the last two decades?
NINA:  I really don't think its nostalgia. I think there is a feeling that we went away too soon, and some of our biggest fans never got a chance to see us live. Our audiences aren't there to re-live their pasts (nor are we, for that matter), but rather I think they are there because they have been listening to our recorded music for a long time, wishing that they could see us live again someday. Good music is timeless… in fact even bad music is timeless, to the people who really love it. It's all so subjective, and the music we love is a part of our identity for our entire lives. We feel truly lucky that the music we made (and the new music we are currently making) has become a part of people's identity, so much so that they will always be there for us when we are out on the road or releasing new music.
SPAZ:  What prompted the reissue of the album on vinyl?
NINA:  It's been 20 years, and there are a lot of vinyl fans out there that either don't have a copy, or are interested in collecting all Veruca Salt vinyl that's out there. Anthony from Minty Fresh suggested we do a reissue, and we loved the idea. We're out there playing those songs, loving them, and it seemed to make sense to make the vinyl available again. 

SPAZ:  You’ve just finished touring the US and Australia. How has the response been to the live shows? Are you planning more shows in the foreseeable future?
NINA:  The response has been incredible. Sold out shows all over the place, and devoted fans singing every word to every song. It leaves us inspired, speechless, teary, and deeply moved every time. We will definitely play more live shows, though not until the new year. We are finishing up a brand new album with producer Brad Wood who did American Thighs! That is our main priority at the moment, but we'll hit the road when we're ready to release the new album. 

SPAZ:  What is currently spinning on your CD, DVD and record players?
NINA:  For me it's The New Pornographers’ Brill Bruisers all the time. On the DVD player in my house, it's Miyazaki movies all the time (I have a 7 year old and a 5 year old).


Thanks to Nina Gordon

Special thanks to Steve Dixon and Bob Bell


VERUCA SALT
AMERICAN THIGHS
(20th Anniversary Vinyl LP pressing)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with SUZI QUATRO!



The Wild One From Detroit City:

An EXCLUSIVE interview with 

SUZI QUATRO

By Stephen SPAZ Schnee


Fifty years ago, The Beatles conquered America and the entire country was mesmerized by the four mop-tops from Liverpool, England. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. opened its loving arms and embraced the British Invasion. In Detroit, Michigan, a teenaged girl by the name of Patti Quatro was inspired to form The Pleasure Seekers, an all-girl band featuring her sisters Arlene and Suzi, who was then just fourteen years old. Two years later, in 1966, the band cut their debut single followed two years later by their second. By 1969, Arlene had been replaced by another Quatro sister, Nancy, and they changed their name to Cradle. Though each member of the Quatro family was extremely talented, Suzi’s no-bullshit Rock ‘n’ Roll stance caught the attention of British producer Mickie Most, who had been persuaded to see Cradle by the girls’ brother, Michael. Mickie was in search of a bona-fide female rocker for his label and Suzi fit the bill. In 1971, Suzi moved from Detroit to England and began working with Most on her first solo recordings. The first single released by Suzi, “Rolling Stone,” didn’t make an impression on the charts, although the second, “Can The Can,” hit the #1 spot in 1973. For the next few years, there was no stopping Suzi, who went on to conquer Europe, Japan, Australia and many other countries. In the U.S., Suzi achieved a fair amount of success and notoriety, although nothing like she was experiencing in her adopted homeland of England.

     Dressed in leather, Suzi was double dynamite both as a killer vocalist and a great bass player. However, her Rock ‘n’ Roll attitude and short, ‘50s-influenced hits (some penned by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn) had critics and fans lumping her in with the then-fashionable Glam Rock scene. Though she may have shared some of the same musical influences, Suzi’s musical output was a precursor to the Punk movement that would infiltrate the charts in the latter part of the ‘70s. Even after the Glam movement began fading away, Suzi was still releasing hits and became one of the first and most well-known female rockers in the world. Switching gears, Suzi moved into acting when she appeared as Leather Tuscadero on Happy Days, one of the most popular TV shows of the decade. Her appearances on the show between 1977 and 1979 were some of the highest rated and best remembered episodes of the series. Her singles and albums began selling in bigger numbers and she achieved her biggest U.S. hit in ’78 with the infectious “Stumblin’ In,” a duet with Chris Norman, vocalist with Pop/Rock band Smokie.

     Though her profile in the U.S. hasn’t remained as high as it was during the late ‘70s, she has continued to be a successful recording artist and huge concert draw in other parts of the world. Not only has she become a Rock icon, she is responsible for kicking the doors open for a new breed of female rockers and has been extremely influential to artists like The Runaways – especially Joan Jett. Now celebrating her 50th year as a performer, Suzi is busier than ever. She has her own one-woman show that has received rave reviews across the board and has just released an extensive four CD box set entitled The Girl From Detroit City that spans her entire career from The Pleasure Seekers to her brand new single, “The Girl From Detroit City,” penned and produced by her longtime friend and musical co-hort Mike Chapman. In celebration of this release, Stephen SPAZ Schnee chatted with Suzi about the box set, her celebrated ‘Ego Room’ of memorabilia and her five decades in the music business…



STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: The Girl From Detroit City box set is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the release and the journey you’ve taken to get here?
SUZI QUATRO: Quite amazed (laughs). I mean, fifty years is a real milestone. You know, I say 50 years of greasy food, long white lines, changing in kitchens… you can go on and on… but wonderful, wonderful gigs.

SPAZ: I think the new single, “Girl From Detroit City” is probably one of your best. It’s got an amazing atmosphere to it, and obviously a great story behind it. Was that a song that was written specifically for the box?
SUZI: It was. I’m glad you said that. I feel the same way too! And I was actually in tears when I recorded it because he (Mike Chapman) nailed my life story, didn’t he? He knew it was for the box set and he said, “I just wanted to write your life” and he did. And it was so good that I insisted that they call the box set the same thing. Now, Mike would want me to say this – I put in the “dooo dooo dooo wah.” When I put that little Motown backing vocal in, Mike said, “Okay, you know your stuff.” (laughs) I kept saying, “Mike, Mike, I got this idea…” He said, “Go on.” It really lifted that track.
SPAZ: It has such a great vibe to it. It’s melodic, has a great groove, but it’s almost got a spiritual feel to it.
SUZI: It does. It’s got something. I was in the studio, we were doing a couple other tracks, and he said, “Okay, I’ve nearly got this song done for you” and he just sat there at the console and he sang me the chorus. He said, “It’s got a killer chorus” and he sang it. I went, “Oh my God, I’m hooked,” and he said, “Now I just gotta go home and write the verse.” (laughs) And it is a killer chorus.

SPAZ: Well, it shows that both of you remain in tune with who you were and where you’re going because there’s still a road ahead.
SUZI: Oh God, yes. And we’re on the same page, Mike and I. We always have been. We work well together.

SPAZ: The set begins with like tracks from The Pleasure Seekers. I think “Light Of Love” should have been an AM radio hit.
SUZI: It’s cute stuff and I love “Light Of Love.” I think it’s a better vocal for me. I love “What A Way To Die” because I think, when I hear it, I go “Oh my God, there’s no question where I was going, even at fourteen.” Can’t you just hear the attitude in that? I mean, I was a rocker from day one.

SPAZ: When you look over this track list, do you have specific memories of everything that you’ve recorded? Or does that only happen with like certain tracks?
SUZI: You know, when I went to write my autobiography, Noddy Holder, lead singer of Slade, who’s a good friend of mine, said, “Don’t ever write it… because you remember everything.” I’m not a sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll girl so I have a good memory. And I can pretty much remember every single track. I can remember recording. I can remember what it felt like. I can remember when I wrote it. And if you go by the liner notes – I’m very much hands on with everything.


SPAZ: So you picked everything on the box?
SUZI: Yes I did. I worked together with the company, of course. They suggested certain things and if I didn’t like it, I said no. I had the absolute say-so on everything so we spent a lot of time up in my “Ego Room,” here at the house. It didn’t just fall into place. Some of the hits – that’s the obvious stuff, you know? And then when it got to Disc 4, I wanted to have all that stuff that people haven’t heard from me - some surprising things in there. I have a huge body of work. I’m a real prolific songwriter and I wanted to show that on here. Then of course you’ve got the wonderful “Desperado” with Jeff Beck. I called him up and I said, “I want you to play on this.” He’s a big fan of my radio show. I said, “I want you to play on this track, Jeff. All it is is piano and my vocal.” He said, “Are you kidding?” I said, “No. What?” He said, “You mean I can play on a track and nothing gets in my way?”  I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Give it to me.” So he did it. He’s a nice man, and he’s a great player, of course.

SPAZ: I think that there are a lot of your records that have really been overlooked, especially here in the U.S. I think there are songs that could have been huge singles like “Heart Of Stone,” “Main Attraction,” and “I’ll Walk Through The Fire With You.”
SUZI: We did sell a lot of albums in America. We did a lot of successful tours, but Mickie Most chopped and changed record companies with every single. And we didn’t get that building up from one label, you know? But I had a huge hit with “Stumblin’ In.” Of course, Happy Days made me a household name there.

SPAZ: FM radio over here used to play your live version of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.”
SUZI: Well, it’s not on this box set. I didn’t think that was a necessary one to put on, but I love that. Tom actually came to see me… it might’ve been at The Bottom Line in New York. He came to see me and the next day 12 red roses arrived, and he just said “Thank you for the plug every night. You’re fantastic, love Tom.” I thought it was really sweet.

SPAZ: That’s actually the first time that I had heard that song so when I hear the Tom Petty version, I go, “Oh, that Suzi Quatro song!”
SUZI: You know which one I like? “Breaking Dishes.” I like my version better than Rhianna’s. She’s excellent. I mean I’m not saying she’s not great, but I like what I did with it.
SPAZ: Just like your version of Abba’s “Does Your Mother Know?” with Sweet’s Andy Scott… you make it a Suzi Quatro song.
SUZI: It’s unbelievable. I mean, when they asked me to do this, I said sure, and then I had my doubts. I love Abba. How am I going to sing an Abba track? And then Andy showed me the feel in the studio and we started playing. I put the bass down. All of a sudden I went to sing it and it was my song. It’s just attitude, I guess.

SPAZ: Elvis was obviously the most significant musical inspiration when you were five, but have you found inspiration in other artists through your fifty year career?
SUZI: Absolutely. The next guy that really, really took over for quite a long time, was Otis Redding. In the early days, I called myself Suzi Soul and I used to do his songs in the set. They became my big show numbers. In fact, in my one woman show, which I’d like to take to America, I just did it at the BBC and it was such a huge success, I can’t tell you! I do “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and it’s my favorite moment in the show because people don’t know I can sing like that.


SPAZ: You know, I think people are going to learn a lot through this box set. The Annie Get Your Gun stuff is fantastic. I didn’t doubt that Suzi Quatro was going to sound good, but I didn’t know how well you were going to fit into that, and it just seemed flawless.
SUZI: Well, I have to tell you – Andrew Lloyd Weber was the one that got me that gig. He’s a good, good friend of mine, and he came opening night, and he came backstage and he said, “You made me cry.” And I said, “Why? Was I that bad?” He said, “No, when something is that good, I cry.” And I went, “Oh.” And he came to my one woman show just last week and he was in the second row and he was up and rocking and dancing in the aisles, I have to say, Mr. Lloyd Weber was. I was so proud. So proud that a writer of that caliber came along and enjoyed my show so much. And that’s worth my fifty years. You know, I’ll hang on that. That’s nice, isn’t it?

SPAZ: You had your first taste of success during the Glam era and you were lumped into that whole scene. However, don’t you feel that you had something more in common with the Punk bands that came a little later?
SUZI: Oh, my God. That could be me talking. You read my mind. Yes. I never thought I was anywhere even close to Glam. That’s not who I am. Not the way I look, not the way I sound, not the way I play, not my attitude. I see myself more as a forerunner of Punk.

SPAZ: What drew you to the bass guitar?
SUZI: Well, I’m a trained classical pianist and I’m a trained percussionist. I can read and write both instruments. And then in ’64 when we started the band, everybody was screaming which instrument they wanted and my sister Patti said you’re going to play bass. So I said, “Okay.” I didn’t care. And then my dad – I’m looking at it now as we’re speaking – gave me the 1957 Fender Precision as my first bass. Now, I think that says a lot. I think that shows you that it’s written in the stars that you’re going to be a serious contender. I got the Rolls Royce of bass guitars given to me… everybody had these shitty little instruments….
SPAZ: Like the Sears Silvertone, right?
SUZI: Yeah, exactly. And I had the Fender Precision with the Fender Bassman amp. I mean, I was the queen. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. And it was a hard bass to master and I’ve got little hands, you know? And it taught me. It was like climbing a mountain learning that guitar.


SPAZ: Have you ever thought of putting the Ego Room up on You Tube?
SUZI: I should do that! It’s gotten so much attention now. In fact, I’m going to the funeral tomorrow of a good friend of mine named Lynsey de Paul. She’s a singer/songwriter from here (England). And we were talking and she had seen my other Ego Room, right? It was in a different place in the house. And I said, “Oh it’s not there. I had to move it to a bigger place.” She said, “Oh, so now it’s the Inflated Ego Room?” I said, “Yes!” Great line. It’s up on the third floor of the house all crooked up there, the ceiling comes down. You can bang your head. It’s very precarious. You get to the door – a big heavy wooden door – and on it I had a little brass plate built, and it says “Ego Room, Mind Your Head.” (laughs) And you go in there and there’s everything. I mean everything. I have lost people up there.

SPAZ: You’ve been referred to as one of the true pioneers of female rockers - and that is very significant compliment - but do you prefer to be just considered a rocker, gender be damned?
SUZI: That is a double-edged sword. I have to be honest and say that even right at the very beginning when I was 14, I didn’t really care about it being a girl band. I just wanted it to be a good band. And my sister Patti and I often talk about this. She had a thing about it being girls and I didn’t care. And so, I am proud when I look back on it. I have very specific ideas about this. I was always determined to go down the path without anybody telling which road to take. That’s me. Don’t tell me what to do… you can suggest and then I’ll decide. But I had my path marked out. I was ballsy. I put one leg here, one leg there. I played my bass. I rocked and rolled. I was always the same. And when it got to the point where somebody was going to kick the door down, there were a few of us around, you know, but nobody quite like me, it has to be said. And somebody was going to do it sooner or later, let’s put it that way. There would be a female breaking through… that’s in the cards – it’s going to happen. And I think it fell on my shoulders because I don’t do gender. I think it took somebody like me who didn’t give a shit about being a girl. Just, “Hey – I’m doing this.” This was the attitude that enabled the door to be kicked down.  
I have had this discussion with a lot of famous guy musicians, and we have debated this. And I’ve said, “Is this all you see? Did I look like a girl trying to prove that I could be like the guys?” And they said, “No, you did not. You just were out there being natural.”  I said, “And did I look like I was trying to be sexy?” And they said, “No, you did not.” Not trying to be sexy. There’s a difference, you know? And I didn’t even know… how stupid I am… I had no idea that the jumpsuit was going to be sexy. I said to Mickie Most – I’m wearing leather. That’s it. And he said, “Okay.” He gave in. He didn’t want me to wear leather, but he gave in. Then he suggested the jumpsuit, and I remember saying to him, “Oh what a good idea, Mickie,” and I had no idea. I just felt that I could jump around and everything would stay in one place, you know? And then when I got the pictures back I went “Oh…”
SPAZ: No wonder he said yes.
SUZI: Yeah, no wonder he said yes. Oh my God. I was so embarrassed in a way. You know, I’m not that way.



SPAZ: Your biggest hit here in America is “Stumblin’ In…”
SUZI: Yeah, that was a million seller. It was in the charts for a long time. That’s absolutely correct. The American audiences do know the other stuff, but that was the biggest hit.
SPAZ: Was that pretty much a musical turning point for you in terms of kicking the doors down in America? This was actually post Happy Days, right?
SUZI: Yes. It was post Happy Days. Once I did Happy Days, my name was there anyway. I received the second most fan letters after the Fonz, which I nearly died when I found that out. Yeah, that was a big thing for me to be in that. I still get recognized all over America from that show. “Stumblin’ In” just happened to come out at that time. But, if you look at the chart positions in Billboard, the (earlier) songs did chart. They just didn’t go real high.

SPAZ: Which of your albums are your personal favorites?
SUZI: The first album (Suzi Quatro) I loved. It was mainly my own songs. I loved Suzi…and Other Four Letter Words. I thought that was a really good album. I liked If You Knew Suzi very much, and I think my favorite album is Back to the Drive because it’s personal. It’s autobiographical and the critics just went nuts over it. I never had such rave reviews… until In the Spotlight.

.
SPAZ: Do you think that people are going to be really surprised when they hear this because there’s just so much more than just the singles?
SUZI: Yes, well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I mean, I wanted to show everything in this. I am a prolific writer. There are some damn good songs on there. I particularly like “If There Ever Was a Reason.” I think it’s the best song I ever wrote. I always wanted to do that as a duet with somebody.
SPAZ: Even though I have the Suzi Quatro albums, I was still amazed at the variety. When you bring it all together like this, you just think – “Man, there’s a reason why she’s around fifty years later.”
SUZI: Let’s put it this way: Rock and Roll is my home… and my bass and my leather – that’s where I sit. That’s where I zip up my suit and I’m away, but within that there is an artist and I am a real artist. And I do spread my wings here, and I do spread my wings there, and I do write all kinds of songs, and I do act in movies, and I do act in stage musicals, and I have a poetry book coming out in January, and I’m what I like to call … I think I’m an all around entertainer, but based in Rock and Roll. I’m an artist in the truest sense of the word. In fact, I’m working on a song as we speak. I always need to be creating.

SPAZ: Now, what’s next for Suzi Quatro?
SUZI: Well, we have a super group that I can’t talk about yet, but it’ll be soon that we can talk about it. Maybe in about three months. We’ve got five tracks down, three of us. It’s pretty exciting. I don’t want to say what the name of it is or who the people are yet, but it’s an exciting project – something we’ve all wanted to do for a long time and now it felt like that right time.

Thanks to Suzi Quatro

Special thanks to Matthew Ingham, Dana House and Nick Kominitsky




SUZI QUATRO

THE GIRL FROM DETROIT CITY 
(4CD)


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An EXCLUSIVE interview with JACKSON BROWNE!



The Long Way Around:


An EXCLUSIVE interview 

with 

JACKSON BROWNE


By Stephen SPAZ Schnee

     Jackson Browne is not one to rest on his laurels. He’s been a successful musician and songwriter since he moved to Greenwich Village, New York, and hooked up with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1966. His songwriting skills earned him the attention of many popular artists of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s including Nico, The NGDB, Joan Baez, The Byrds, Tom Rush and many others. Though these artists achieved different levels of success with Jackson’s songs, his first year of massive success came in ’72 when he scored his own hit with “Doctor My Eyes” and The Eagles had their first major single with “Take It Easy,” which Jackson had co-written with Eagles member Glenn Frey. From that point forward, Jackson has achieved both commercial and critical success that has taken him from clubs to arenas and everything in between. His name is synonymous with quality songcraft and integrity. He has continued to go from strength to strength over the years, including even bigger success with the Running On Empty album and single in 1977. All of his career highlights and accolades are too numerous to mention here, but his well-deserved 2004 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame says a lot more about his importance than written words ever will.

     Aside from his own recordings, Jackson has been an avid supporter of many of his lesser known contemporaries throughout the years ranging from up-and-coming songwriters/performers like the late Warren Zevon to immensely talented, but underrated bands such as Venice. As successful as he has been over the last 40+ years, he has avoided the trappings of fame. However, he has used his ‘celebrity’ status sparingly and wisely, bringing much needed attention to political and humanitarian causes close to his heart. Through it all, Jackson has remained a respected and beloved name in the music industry, his name often spoken in the same breath as iconic performers like Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young. In other words, Jackson Browne himself is a Rock icon.

     Even with the success he has enjoyed for over four decades, Jackson has a restless musical spirit that is still on a never-ending journey to connect with listeners through words and music. His 2014 album Standing In The Breach is one of his finest, most cohesive, albums to date. The album’s warm production and relaxed vibe allows the songs to breathe and grow, sinking deeper into the listener’s soul with each spin. Eschewing the standard three minute pop song formula, most of the tracks on the album are 5+ minutes in length yet most of them don’t seem long enough. These songs are not here to be listened to – they are meant to be absorbed. Immediate standouts include “Yeah Yeah,” “If I Could Be Anywhere,” and “Here” but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Standing In The Breach is an entirely different beast to albums like Running On Empty, Late For The Sky and The Pretender, yet it also contains some of Jackson Browne’s finest songs. “The Birds Of St. Marks” was written nearly 50 years ago but still sounds as fresh as anything else on the album. It is an inviting and rewarding collection of songs that will stand the test of time – just like those Jackson Browne classics you know and love.

     Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Jackson Browne about the album, his career and much more…

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Standing In The Breach has just been released. How are you feeling about the album and the reaction to it so far?
JACKSON BROWNE:  The reaction has been really good. And I like it. It’s different than a lot of records I’ve made that I’ve been unable to hear at the end – I just heard them as a project that still has stuff that I’d like to change. In this case, at the end I’m like, “Oh, this sounds pretty good!” (Laughs). I worked with the engineer that I have been working with for a long time, Paul Dieter, and we decided to mix it ourselves. We spent a lot of time tweaking sounds and the arrangement based on what instruments really sound like. We kind of took the rocket science out of the mixing of the record. Whereas, in the past, we’d hand it to some master mixer who would do his mojo. You don’t know what he did, but it sounded great and different than you ever thought it would sound. That’s not always a good thing. I want it to sound like it’s been sounding the whole time we’ve been working on it. When I used to work with Greg Ladanyi, that’s the way I worked.

SPAZ:  I think the album works brilliantly as a whole piece. When you record, do you find yourself thinking about certain tracks in terms of radio play?
JACKSON:  Well, I don’t really. There hasn’t been a lot of that kind of radio play with recent releases. I always tried to make something that’s short enough for radio – something that can be edited or something that’s short enough. But I really don’t think like that so much (now). I knew that a song like “The Birds Of St. Marks,” if it sounded like The Byrds, I would want to hear it on the radio. It was a straight-up homage to the Byrds and the kind of music that I loved at the time I wrote the song. That song was written a long time ago. I wrote that song when I was 18. It’s just the idea of even doing that song along with my newer songs was more a product of having the kind of shows I’ve had in recent years where people want to hear deep cuts – they want to hear something that goes way back. And I thought, “Well, let’s give them this one.” This really never got recorded the way I imagined it should be recorded when I wrote it, because I didn’t know how to do that then. I wouldn’t have known how to call the players. 
The closest I could come would have been to give it to The Byrds, but by the time I knew them and was actually playing them songs, which was right after my first album, I’d forgotten about this song (laughs). I swear to God! I played them J.D. Souther songs, I played them Jack Tempchin songs. But I had forgotten about this song! I also thought that it wasn’t finished. You know, within a couple of years of writing the song, I thought, “Eh, this song is a little young. It needs to be re-worked,” which is exactly what I felt about some of the other songs like “These Days.” I wound up re-editing it really and taking one verse out and changing words at the ending. I suspected that’s what I needed to do to this song and in the end, when I finally started, when I rediscovered this song, I realized that I liked it because it was young - because it was an artifact of my growing up. This would make it even more reason to make it sound like the songs that I was listening to at the time.


SPAZ:  Well, I feel that the whole album itself has this wonderful atmosphere and mood to it. It’s very warm and deep.
JACKSON:  You know, I think that’s Val McCallum’s influence that you’re hearing – his guitar playing is so responsive to what I’m singing. I’ve done shows where it’s just he and I. The same thing happens. His solos on this record are so elegant. They’re almost all live solos from the take. Like “Leaving Winslow” – he just played that. That was take eight – that was it. “Standing In The Breach” was an early take, but he played that whole guitar solo all in one take and I said, “I’ve got to have that.” And whatever else needed to be done to make that track work, I was willing to do it because it had to be that track. The thing that I was preserving was the feeling in his playing. So, that’s where it (the warmth) comes from – it comes from the players.

SPAZ:  Was most of the album cut live in the studio?
JACKSON:  Yeah, almost all of it, but not “The Long Way Around.” “The Long Way Around” was made like a loop. I had this idea of putting sort of a hip hop beat underneath this Chinese finger-picking. How I got that idea was my son used to tell me that people used to sample Nico’s “These Days” and make beats out of it. What I did was I made a loop and then I began playing stuff over it. I was also partly inspired by that great song by Coolio – “I’ll See You When I Get There.” How a song comes together for me is partly the writing of the song, but in this case it was also the way I knew I wanted to hear it played. The next thing I did with the loop was to see if I could sing four verses that I liked to that loop and later I added different drums, and then I went back to having the original drum loop…a lot of revising based on the technology that allows you to do that.

SPAZ: There are so many different things going on in this record, but it’s still very cohesive. My favorites so far have been “Yeah Yeah,” “Here,” “If I Could Be Anywhere” and the title track.
JACKSON:  I’m really proud of the fact that three of those that you mentioned were different drummers. Like on “If I Could Be Anywhere,” Jim Keltner played on that one. Every time I mentioned to anybody that has worked with him that Keltner did something really strange – everyone smiles and says, “Oh, Jim Keltner did something strange?” That’s exactly why you call him, you know? It’s like, he is so surprising in his choices and you can’t get him to do the same thing over and over again. He doesn’t really work that way. He doesn’t respond that way. He’s constantly exploring. I wound up having to change the entire drum mix because of the way he was playing the kit and we were literally months behind him. We changed everything – like the way we were monitoring things so that we could hear what he was really doing and then the rest of the song sort of fell in around the drums.

SPAZ:  Is there anything that you’re particularly close to on the album so far?
JACKSON:  Well, I like them all. I’m really, really happy to hear you say “Here” because that’s my original band playing on that. And the basic track was done before anything else on this record, but then I got Greg Leisz to play on it so that it would really be part of the instrumentation of this record. It’s got a couple players that aren’t anywhere else on the record – Mark Goldenberg and Kevin McCormick. I did think in terms of making the album cohesive, but only because I’d already committed to having it be really varied. I have to say I lucked into having both Val McCallum and Greg Leisz play on these songs. It was my good fortune that they were both available.

SPAZ:  You got drummer Pete Thomas (The Attractions) on there too, right? 
JACKSON:  Right, that’s Pete Thomas. He’s also in a band with Val McCallum. A band called Jackshit. They have Davey Faragher playing bass.

SPAZ:  It’s been six years since the last record. Do you normally stockpile songs over time or do you get this sudden rush of creativity and then say, “Okay, it’s time to record now?”
JACKSON:  No, they accumulate very gradually. Nothing happens very suddenly (laughs). On my last record, I wrote a bunch of songs all at once because I could only get my band for the recording time that I needed for about two weeks on one stretch and then about another week on another stretch. I thought, “I’m going to have to track this whole record in this really short window and the songs aren’t exactly finished.” I had to kind of like do things together so we did a lot of tracking of songs that weren’t finished on the album before. And this time I wanted to make sure that I took the time to work on each song as it came up so that I could really just work on one for a period of time and then go work on another. I really wanted to explore the way they played.

SPAZ:  I noticed on this record, the song lengths exceed the average 3 to 5 minute standard pop song format. I also noticed that they’re also very powerful in the sense that they pull you in and by the end of the song, you’re going, “Okay, I gotta hit start again on that one.” 
JACKSON:  That’s quite a compliment. I really like hearing that. That’s really what you want. You want the song to draw you in at the end. Three of them are not short, only by virtue of the fact that they have like a kind of long ride-out – it was just that the song wanted to be played that way. We let it happen instead of cutting it down and fading out – I really don’t like fades very much – to see how long everybody wanted to play it and then find a way to make that work. In a way, it’s like being in a band – almost like the band I’ve been trying to be in all this time. I’m always doing that. I’m always trying to make it like a band as much as possible. Some of my records are like that and some of them aren’t. Like Late For The Sky is all played by five people, unlike The Pretender, which was played by a bunch of different people.


SPAZ:  Is there a track from the album that you’re going to take to radio?
JACKSON:  They’ve been taking “The Birds Of St. Marks” to radio. That was the one that was ready first and was the right length. But, I actually think both “Yeah Yeah” and “The Long Way Around” would be good on radio, too.

SPAZ:  This record has some amazing tracks. You’ve written a huge catalog of memorable and amazing songs. Do you ever find yourself perhaps subconsciously trying to compete with your 27-year-old self?  Or do you not even worry about it?
JACKSON:  I learned a long time ago that I won’t be writing another “In The Shape of A Heart.”  I don’t need to because I already got that one, but it’s kind of a mistake to hold yourself to any level of artistic success at any particular point in time because when you did that thing that is now considered your standard, you weren’t looking in the rear-view mirror at all – you were looking straight forward, you were doing something that you’d never done before.

SPAZ:  Contemporaries like The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt have had their ‘70s output repackaged into these original album series box sets. Do you think that they’re going to do that with your back catalog? 
JACKSON:  I don’t think that that’s necessarily an important thing to do at this point. But I actually never thought it was. I fought with my record company to not put out my greatest hits because I always wanted to put out the next album of new songs. I never wanted to succumb to that kind of marketing – that was in the past.

SPAZ:  There’s one burning question that has stuck with me for years: is there a studio version of the song “Running on Empty?” The version on the album is a tremendous live version, but I’ve always wondered…
JACKSON:  (Pause) No. Come to think of it, there isn’t. What happened was the guys that played on that song were the guys that I was using in the studio. I finally got them out on tour based on the idea that we’d make this recording and they got to play as their band as well as play as my band. That’s why it sounds like a (studio) record because those guys make records every day. Danny Kortchmar and I spent the night before that particular concert going through the song and rearranging it in the sound check before the show. And then David Lindley came vaulting over the top with that solo. He’d play something great every night but he’d never played it that way before.

Thanks to Jackson Browne

Special thanks to Joe Bucklew, Meghan Helsel, Jimmy Brunetti, Dana House, Bob Bell, Craig Swedin, and Nick Kominitsky



JACKSON BROWNE

STANDING IN THE BREACH

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