Conversations with Matt Nathanson and Sly & The Family Stone's Cynthia Robinson, Plus Threefifty's Exclusive

"I'm a fanatic for music and all the records I love, the engine for them is the laying of yourself out in a way that could potentially be embarrassing."
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A Conversation with Matt Nathanson

Mike Ragogna: Hey Matt, your new release, Last Of The Great Pretenders. Did you sneak a concept album by us?

Matt Nathanson: Oh boy, I wish. It comes from me so I guess it's conceptual in that respect, that it's extracted from my life, but I didn't mean to if it happened.

MR: But look at how these songs string along.

MN: Yeah.... It was funny, we started just structuring the record, picking the songs that were going to go on it and this was the first time I ever had more songs than just the ten that went on the record. We started structuring it and I was like, "F**k! I think I say 'San Francisco' in the first four songs here." And then when you lay the running order together, you always want there to be a sort of thread that feels like, "Oh, it's kind of a story," because all of my favorite records do that, whether it's a real concept record like Lou Reed's New York or Uptown Baby. When you listen to Uptown Baby, it's a journey from the start to the finish of this person. It's always in the back of my mind to have a continuity, and it reads like a storybook, but I don't think I have the bandwidth to pull off a concept album well. I wish. My double live concept album. That'll be the next one.

MR: Perhaps it could be a double live concept album about San Francisco.

MN: It's funny, we started putting the thing together and I said to my manager, "Dude I'm super self-conscious because we put all the songs that say, 'San Francisco' at the beginning of the record." But I went with the idea of if I wasn't self-conscious about that, if I was just fearlessly putting these songs on based on how they felt, all right, let's just do it and I was like, "I'll f**king take it." But then there have been one or two comments--and whenever you're hypersensitive about something when somebody points it out, you're like, "Oh my god, I'm a fraud and everybody knows! All this 'San Francisco,' this must feel so disingenuous!" But I swear to God, it was completely just like, "I've got to get my head out of my ass and just put the songs in the order that they are." It would have been nice if we could have spread out these songs. It wasn't like I was trying to put San Francisco is any of these songs. That's what was so cool about this record in terms of lyrics. I tried really hard. I call it "The Assassin," right? In my head, I have an assassin that is like razor sharp. He sits there and he just picks off anything that maybe puts me at risk of being judged or makes me feel uncomfortable in some way. He's been there all my life. This has been my first record where I actively handcuffed him and stuffed him in the trunk. I tried real f**king hard, and every time he'd rear his head, I'd bat him back down and be like, "You're not welcome here. You don't show up. I don't need you to protect me." I'm a fanatic for music and all the records I love, the engine for them is the laying of yourself out in a way that could potentially be embarrassing.

MR: Like in "Earthquake Weather" when you're calling yourself an a**hole?

MN: [laughs] Yeah! That was how it felt! It's time to stop rounding the corners of these things and trying to put my best face forward. The best part of music is the antithesis of that.

MR: Was this album the result of a maturing process?

MN: I don't know. I feel like the records always directly reflect the person who's writing them. Even if you're trying to hide it, it just sort of does. And as people we're always trying to evolve and always trying to get better and become more of ourselves. I feel like the goal is to be confidently yourself as far along as you can get. So at seventy, I'm going to be a pillar of confidence; it reflects for sure in the record, I think.

MR: Okay, let's take that further. What is the most revealing song about the current Matt Nathanson? I think it might be "Farewell December." Maybe "Sunday New York Times." No, I'll go with "Heart Starts."

MN: Well, that's awesome. That made me feel good. It's funny, what makes you feel that way about that song? Does it just feel that way?

MR: I thought you were assertive with a simple, direct message.

MN: For me, it's "Earthquake Weather" just because of the first line, "I'd kill anyone who'd treat you as bad as I do."

MR: Yeah, I love that. Nice way to start an album.

MN: That one felt like it, but "Heart Starts"... That's the thing. Before, in my catalog of songs, the one that felt I was being most honest was a song called "Wedding Dress."

MR: Yeah, really strong.

MN: I have to tell you, it's about coming dangerously close to divorce and the wreck of a marriage and people are like, "I love that song, I'm going to play it at my wedding." At first, I started saying, "Well people just don't pay attention." It sort of took me a while, but with this record, I said, "I'm not being f**king straight up about stuff. People are misinterpreting things." Here I am pouring my heart out and showing everybody my f**king terribleness, and they're like, "It's so beautiful, I want to put it on my list!" So that was the catalyst. That was two records ago, but it really took until this record to be like, "Okay, no more f**king mystery here." The things that saved my life as a kid and the records that save my life now are records that you hear and you're like, "I can't believe that person just said that." I love music so much that I felt like music deserves more than my trying to save face and be clever. If I get to do this for a living, I feel like I have to be straight, as straight as I can be, you know?

MR: Well that's where The Assassin got boxed for this one, huh?

MN: Yeah!

MR: So you approached this album differently than your others. In your opinion, are you a different Matt Nathanson on all of them?

MN: It's funny, it's really hard to give feedback about myself. I can tell you that there was always a feeling that I was being me and being honest and then with this record, after the "Wedding Dress" thing and putting out the last record, I felt like I had to take a much scarier step lyrically with this record than I've ever done before. There's always progress, but I feel like in life and art, there's a nice moment where you face what scares you or what you perceive as the scariest thing, and then you move into it instead of away from it and you realize it actually wasn't that bad and it actually wasn't that large a leap. That happened with this record. I was challenged by the producers more and I kind of got out of my comfort zone on a lot of levels. I wrote with a lot of different people that I would have never written with before because my assassin would have taken them out. So this time, I really just kind of said, "Yes." I got a new manager who's incredibly creative and he helped me, and he's a nerd for music like I am. We would talk about it and scheme and we would shoot the s**t and talk about, "Oh, did you see The Replacements movie?" "Oh yeah, did you see this? It's great!" So when it came time to write the songs, he said, "Look..." I wouldn't get frustrated with any of his ideas because I wanted to grow and I felt like he was going to put me in a situation that was going to challenge me and not let me be the alpha person who gets his way. I got to get knocked around in the process, and it wasn't fun, but at the same time, I feel like the results pushed me way further than if I had done it by myself.

MR: Might one of the scariest elements about working on this project and going through the process you went through with this batch of songs be discovering that you're not actually the a**hole from "Earthquake Weather" but you're really a good guy?

MN: [laughs] It's funny, I don't think I've ever thought of that. I think, truthfully, my biggest fear is that-- here's how it works, this is as honest as I can get with this-- my biggest fear is that I want so badly to be accepted that instead of being myself I'll subjugate who I am in order to go over well. So as a human being people will meet me and say, "Oh, he's so nice, he's so great," because I can work a room. I've spent my life working on that as a human because I didn't want to be cast aside, right? I wanted to be accepted. I was realizing that not only was I doing it in my life, but I was doing it in my art and I was doing it in the place where you're not supposed to do that at all. Iggy Pop doesn't fucking do that. The records that blow your mind never do that. Bob Dylan didn't fucking do that. All the people that I admire. I realized my biggest fear was not being accepted and not being welcomed in and so this was the first time where I ignored that and I said, "This is what I wrote and this is how I felt and I should be able to express this, and if people don't want to take it they don't have to. If they do, they can." Again it feels scarier than it is becuase some people listen to this record and they listen to me say this and they say, "It's not like you said anything fucking revolutionary in this fucking record, what are you talking about?" But I did, to me. For me to be able to say these things felt like, "holy shit." If I'm going to get anywhere on terms of being a creative person I have to stay honest with myself and this feels like the real first baby step towards this process of being as honest as I can be.

MR: Nice. So the single is "Mission Bells," and it's got a variation of the title, that line being "The last of the worst pretenders." It's a pretty different approach for you, single-wise, and it looks like it's a Triple-A hit. You think this could be the beginning of a rally?

MN: I don't know. I gave up on that part of it, too. I don't know what anybody likes. I'm a scholar of musical history, so I always think I know, but I really have no idea. For me, it was like, "All right, does it feel good? This feels good. Does it feel sort of like a special moment? Yeah. If it feels like a special moment, let's keep it. If it doesn't feel like a special moment, then let's get rid of it." "Mission Bells" was totally one of those that felt like it stood out on the record. All of a sudden, it was like, "Oh that's neat. That kind of rears its head a little bit." So that's where we went with it.

MR: And you took another angle with the video, literally, working off the Hitchcock reference in the song.

MN: Totally, and that was fun as s**t! I felt like I was playing this guy with this, "There's a woman, there's me, isn't this romantic?" thing. What I loved about that Hitchcock video was that it felt very... Remember a show called 120 Minutes?

MR: Yeah, classic.

MN: 120 Minutes schooled me on music when MTV used to play it. It used to school me. I'd be like, "Oh my God, Love & Rockets?" or "Oh my god, The Cure?" It felt like I was going to another planet. What was so great about this video in the treatment--and it ended up in the video, which, thank God because I would've been bummed--the treatment was like, "This feels really strange and B-movie and kind of awesome, and I like that stuff so that'll be fun to be a part of that." That's kind of how I'm going. This is the revolution I'm talking about in my brain--from complete lockdown of myself all of a sudden to this thing that was like, "But I love the idea of B-movie!" Those movies changed my life when I was a kid, so we went with it. It was fun.

MR: And let's not forget that in "Annie's Always Waiting (For The Next One To Leave)," you have the line, " whole life's a movie, if movies made you wanna jump off a bridge." Hey, after this video, how soon will it be before you start going on casting calls?

MN: Oh my God, never. NEVER. Oh my God. I can't... Oh my God. The only reason I would do anything related to that kind of stuff is if it would allow me to play music for more people. Honestly, I'm not just saying that, I promise you I'm not, it's just that I've always wanted to only be a musician. I wanted to be f**king Gene Simmons so bad when I was five and ever since, it's like those are the people that have been my heroes. Most of my heroes have been musicians. It's like anything; if you're not really into music and you get into the music business, it'll kind of s**t you out the other side. It's the same thing with acting. If you're not really into that kind of stuff, I would think that it would kill me. Can you imagine? Being on set all day and I'd have to deliver these lines someone else wrote? It's crazy. You have to really love that. Just like YOUR job, you have to really love talking to people and processing and asking questions and people who don't really love it get s**t out the other side of it for sure.

MR: [laughs] Well, the jury is still out on me. So there's "Last Days Of Summer In San Francisco," yet another ode to that magical land of which you love to sing. It's a mini-movie in waiting if you ask me. Or maybe you should just do one on San Francisco already. Even though you don't have the acting bug, do you at least get tempted to do any kind of longer format other than quick videos for your music?

MN: No. It's funny, I always like when people take the songs and put them in television shows and things. For me, it's always fun to see the song against someone else's cinematic vision. I'd be wide open and psyched if somebody wanted to do it, but I've never thought about it that way. For me, the trip is in the song. The movie experience feels like it's happening when I listen to it and that's kind of enough for me from my end. But it's the kind of thing where if somebody wanted to make a little mini-movie from one of my songs, that'd be a blast.

MR: Matt, what's your advice for new artists?

MN: For me, whenever somebody says, "What should I do?" the two things are like you have to really not let others beat down who you are because you have to be aware of the source giving you the opinion. Consider the source because for most people, who you are doesn't make them comfortable. Who they want you to be makes them comfortable. The only currency we have as human beings is our unique, weird, f**ked-up and cool selves. The more you can foster that in the music you make, the more unique you're going to be, and that uniqueness is going to be the thing that carries you longevity-wise through a career. That's just really it.

MR: Nicely said. I'm looking at your album cover and though I see a storm cloud-headed protagonist depicted, my eyes go to that bag. That's a cool bag.

MN: It's a real cool bag, and the way it's shot, it's the coolest looking bag I've ever seen. The lighting on it really makes me like, "I need a bag like that." And the shoes, too. Those are two things that pop for me. The shoes and the bag. Nice.

MR: We need to hear something about Matt Nathanson that no one knows yet.

MN: Oh boy. Let's see, that nobody knows. I'm like a tween girl. I love all those terrible Disney Channel shows that are geared towards twelve year-old girls, like when Hannah Montanna was big, and all those shows, I just loved them. Selena Gomez, Wizards Of Waverly Place... All those shows. And now, the new generation of stuff, I just love watching that. It kind of mellows me out and I dig it. So a thing about me that people don't know is that I'm like an eleven year-old girl trapped in the body of me.

MR: [laughs] Next thing we know, you're going to say you read Entertainment Weekly.

MN: [laughs] No, no, that part of me is out. The furthest I go is the Disney Channel.

MR: Man, this has been great, as usual. You're too frikkin' smart, Big guy. Before we go away, I do have to ask you what was your favorite summer movie is so far?

MN: Oh man. I'll tell you that I haven't seen a lot of them, but I'm really looking forward to Fruitvale Station. I know that's not a summer movie in the true sense of a summer movie like losing yourself in the popcorn, but it's the one over the summer. I saw Star Trek, that was okay. I saw a couple others. But to me, it's the first movie in a long time where I've been like, "I have to see this." That and the new Woody Allen. Those are the two I'm looking forward to.

MR: Yeah, the Woody Allen movies seem to be consistent again. I really love that he's back on his streak again.

MN: I love when he's in a groove. We watched Sweet And Lowdown again the other night and if that's not one of his most perfect movies. I don't know what is. He's just so amazing because he always talks about how once he finishes a movie, he moves onto the next movie and he never dwells on what the movie does and he's constantly just moving from inspiration to inspiration. That's such an incredible way to look at things and I try really hard, like now that this record's out, I try really hard to not worry about what it's doing, I try very hard to adhere to the Woody Allen idea of, "How do we make the next one? I want to start working on the next one," because the creative life is the fulfilling life, not the goal-oriented life.

MR: This question never really works with most artists, but now it seems perfect for you. Got any thoughts about your next project yet?

MN: For me, it's neat for people to get it, but once an album's out, even once it's done, I start amassing all the next round of lyrics and I start getting excited about the next round of songs and I start listening to music differently. Goal-oriented living does not work for me. I don't know who it works for, but it's not me. It just leaves me feeling hollowed out and sort of unsatisfied. To live like this--we'll call it the Woody Allen model--I feel like it's a much healthier way to go.

MR: And if Woody Allen were to direct a video for this album, what song would it be?

MN: Oh my God, I would have to say "Sunday New York Times" just because of Manhattan. I watched Manhattan when we wrote that song. I had just watched Manhattan again. The black and white... And there's a line in that song that says, "You're framed in black and white." I feel like there's no better love letter to New York City than Manhattan, so I sort of felt like when I wrote that song, I was freshly inspired by it.

MR: I felt the same way as you about the movie, but then I felt like a traitor to Annie Hall.

MN: Aw, dude, Annie Hall is f**king perfect. Annie Hall is so perfect and Diane Keaton is forever... In Manhattan, she's a character that you don't want her to be and in Annie Hall, she is on point. You feel like you're watching her be her. It's incredible. Ugh, it's so good.

MR: Well, I guess it's time for us to say goodbye to this interview and to Woody Allen now.

MN: [laughs] Goodbye, Woody. That's awesome, thank you so much. I love talking to you, this is great.

MR: Me too, let's do it again next week.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

photo courtesy Stephen Taylor

According to Threefifty's Brett Parnell & Geremy Schulick...

"Shooting this video was a real treat for us. We have performed this song live just the two of us many times, utilizing loops in order to get all of the layers we needed. This video represents the first time that we've ever performed it live in the same way that we recorded it for our upcoming album Collapses. We were definitely extra motivated to make the video look and sound great because we were lucky enough to get some amazing musicians from a diverse array of bands to play with us. The fact that they are all our friends was just icing on the cake. Thanks also to Lainie and Jascha at Exapno for providing an awesome space to shoot the video, and to Stephen Taylor and Carmen Osterlye for making us look way cooler in the video than we actually do.


A Conversation with Cynthia Robinson

Mike Ragogna: Cynthia, what are you up to these days?

Cynthia Robinson: What am I up to? The Family Stone is traveling, playing the music that Sly wrote, and I just did a gig in Atlantic City and in Chicago. As far as any new music, we haven't written anything.

MR: Okay, but what about Cynthia? Are you working on anything creatively for just yourself?

CR: Creatively? I'm just living while I'm living.

MR: [laughs] Nice. We're looking at a lot of dance records out right now, and they're getting the biggest spotlight. Do you have any thoughts about music these days?

CR: Well, not really, no. I like all kinds of music, but a lot of what I like is really stuff that's not heard too much today. I like Nancy Wilson and Natalie Cole. I play the things that I bought intentionally again and again and again. I have this three CD set of Nancy Wilson and just every song on there is just fantastic. I just love her. She's so expressive when she sings anything. I'm just enthralled with this woman when she records with a full orchestra behind her at the same time. The fact that she can layer her phrasing in between these horn lines and these vamps and stuff, she's just fantastic. I had heard some of the songs that she's done because I listen to late night jazz and I've heard those songs by other people and it just does not compare. They're just singing lyrics. When I hear them singing, there's no projection of the emotion of the lyric. It's just words and a note. When I hear them, I go, "Golly." I know I'm on the right track and everybody else is wrong!

MR: [laughs] How about when you're playing? Do you feel like you're on the right track as far as what you're playing?

CR: Absolutely, because of the reception that we get from the audience. These are young people that probably weren't even conceived, and they're bringing their children and they're telling us that their parents played this music when they were coming up around the house, so they're very familiar with the lyrics and the group and everything. They're not all grey-hairs on walkers, you know? There was a little girl in Chicago, she was dancing like crazy. We had an hour and a half set, but it started raining forty-five minutes in and people started splitting because the rain was coming down. Some people had umbrellas and this one adult put an umbrella over a little girl. She couldn't have been more than four, and she was dancing and smiling and she was loving it, and she was up front. I wish I could've gotten a shot of her! So some people stayed so we just kept playing. We played until the rain started blowing up equipment. They were covering up the monitors with tarps and the guitar players' foot pedals started spitting and sparking and stuff and we had to quit cause the stage was getting flooded. They had something covering it, but rain was coming from the side. It was shooting horizontally across the stage. I don't know how it did that, but that's the way it was hitting me as I was playing. Finally they said, "That's enough, you guys get out of here." There were some people that stayed, but it drove most of the crowd away. I don't know how many were there, but just an innumerable amount of people. I couldn't see all the way to the end. It was fantastic.

MR: Cynthia, that also talks to the phenomenon that The Family Stone is. After all these years, the band means so much to the people that they would risk their lives with one force of nature to watch another force of nature!

CR: I know the songs that Sly wrote still have the meaning for those that are living today that weren't even around when we started playing before, in the beginning. His lyrics, to me, if you listen to them, they can form a lifestyle that will leave you a happier person, a better person on this planet. It's just lyrics to live by.

MR: Well, even titles to live by, such as "I Want To Take You Higher," "Everyday People," "Dance To The Music," and especially "Everybody Is A Star"...

CR: Absolutely! When he wrote that, that was when I began to really feel special. It was not about me, but everybody probably felt the way I felt, like an ordinary person, and I began to see things in my life that I thought I was a star about. It had nothing to do with me. It had things to do with how I felt about my grandmother and the things I used to do for her just out of love for her. If she asked me to do something I didn't know how to do, I would attempt it. The fact that I was able to get this done for her... I was actually starring in her life amongst dozens of things, other people, people I hadn't been raised with. You can see that I had a job once--more than once--but some of the people that I assisted... That's when I realized, "Hey, I am a star," not necessarily in the limelight, but in my life, period, somebody was waiting for me to come along again because they liked whatever occurred when I was there with them. Mainly, it was with the elderly. I have this passion for the elderly and music, and I'm just blessed to be able to do both of those.

MR: Beautiful, that's very special to hear. After hearing you tell this story, it's clear these songs are inspired by and talking to everyday people.

CR: Everyday people! Just that word, "everyday." Everyday people, that's just all of us. It even includes the CEOs in their environment, you know what I mean? But it also included those that you would probably never hear a story about or who may never be under the headlights onstage, but they go through their lives doing great things for other people, too, like in their families. This, you never hear about. You're not going to read about it in the paper, it's just an ordinary life.

MR: The music was funk and also a philosophy. Were you aware at the time when you were having hits that it was bigger than its parts?

CR: No, it was just music that was so exciting and so fulfilling within me as a person. I'm sure other members of the band felt the same things because I could see the looks on their faces, that something inside of them was waking up and joyful about them, so I knew. Being an introvert, maybe it was just me, but I thought they were feeling what I was feeling inside. The way that they conducted their lives, they were all ready and eager to be there for the next gig and excited to be together to play together. That was a big thing. We spent more time together than they spent with their wives and girlfriends. Sly always had us rehearsing and he always had something planned out that he wanted us to do. So it wasn't ever like, "Well what should we work on?" It was never that. He always had the plan, "This is what we're going to do today, shoop shoop shoop shoop," and everybody's minds were in the same direction.

MR: So that's the bottom line, you truly were family.

CR: Absolutely.

MR: Looking back at the years with the band, how do you feel about the mark that it continues to leave on music?

CR: That's astonishing. Not that I didn't think it would, but just that it is and that I know I'm right in what I feel about it because of what others are showing me. I talked to people that were in my peer group, and many, many people in many different places, and they've all said certain songs have really helped them through a difficult period in life. At first, it didn't feel like a way of life, but then later on, I began to realize that it is, because it shaped a lot of my actions when I was probably doing something that I wasn't proud of and straightened it out just because it felt better.

MR: Talking about "feel," when you're feeling in certain moods, do you pick up your trumpet and express yourself?

CR: [laughs] No. Honestly I don't. I would, but when I'm not out there or preparing to go out there to do some gigs someplace, I feel you have to have a balance between your work and your home life, no matter what your occupation is. So I am in my home life mode and that's what I'm dealing with until I start to prepare, which means put my clothes in the cleaners, go to the laundromat, update my wardrobe, and then fool around on my horn. But music is not my whole life, and I've heard so many people--Prince being one of them--saying music is his whole life. "If it's not about music, I don't know anything about it." That's what he said to me. I've always wanted to be able to say that, I've always said, "Ooh, that would be so great to be able to say that," but when I get back in my home life, nothing goes away. Whatever you didn't do before you left has to be taken care of still. So I'd rather do that. I'd rather participate in my home life. I'm glad to be able to address the problems of my grands and my great-grands, because we have a very close relationship--my children, my two daughters, and my grandchildren. So the everyday things that need to be taken care of--like I'm looking at one of these vents that keeps dropping out from the ceiling and exposing the attic--those things have to be taken care of and it's not about music.

MR: No, it's about everyday people.

CR: Everyday people. So I like to take care of those things. Of course, I don't always do it expeditiously, but I do get it done.

MR: Speaking of family, your daughters are Laura and Sylvette.

CR: If you call her "Sylvette," she'll tell you, "Just call me Phunne." That's her middle name.

MR: Well, you've got to be so proud of them, too.

CR: I'm very proud of them both. They are very honorable people, they can be trusted, not just by me when I'm looking over their shoulders. That was the one thing I wanted to pass down to them, that was important in life, because they only got half the lessons. I'm a single parent both times, so it was very important to me that they were able to be trusted and cared about and to be honest with their feelings and be accepting of those that are lacking the things that you wish they had, but you accept them for who they are or you let them go, one of the two. So I'm very proud of them that they decided to take the time to raise their children. They're both single parents. They chose to do that. I didn't actually push it, I think they just saw what I did and I guess I passed it along. Their children are doing fantastic. Laura, my firstborn has two girls. Her oldest daughter got a bachelor's from the University of the Pacific. She just spent two years in Paris and came back with her two kids. Her baby daughter is in college and she is taking these courses where she can teach all these different courses when she gets out. Her middle one just went to college. We tried to get her to go but she just kept saying, "I can't do it" after high school, too tough. But this time, she took some things that she really enjoyed taking, and she drove by my house just to tell me she got her grades. She said, "Grandma this is the first time I've ever gotten an A in anything!" She's so excited and I just said, "I knew you could do it, you just had to find out what your niche is." You don't always get that in school, you just get what they throw at you. She just finished a course and she's going for her associate's degree. My daughter Laura got her AA at the same time that her baby daughter graduated from high school, at the same time that her oldest daughter got her bachelor's from UOP, so we had three graduations that year. It was very exciting to see the start of a trend. My daughter Sylvyette's oldest daughter just went back for her third year at Virginia State and her youngest daughter, she only has the two, is going to be a senior in high school. So we're still getting things done. Things are getting worked out and we're all finding out where we fit in with the scheme of things and I'm sticking with it because there's nobody to help with that. We have to encourage each other. My mom's gone, my grandmother's gone, my dad's gone, my grandparents on my father's side are gone, there's no one really to go and ask anything to, so we're just starting our family from here.

MR: In the end, it's all about family.

CR: Yeah, when it gets down to it, that's it. I told my kids, it doesn't matter if this person or that person in the family isn't perfect, this is what you've got. We have to work with that and if you can't work with that, then you're just jumping into someone else's family and there's always going to be something missing if you don't work that out. Always going to be something missing, and when you get into somebody else's family, there's always going to be a certain spot where you're going to realize that you're really not part of that.

MR: But do you feel like you'll always be part of this entity called Sly & The Family Stone?

CR: Absolutely, and I want to be. The thing about them was their parents opened their arms to their children's friends and some of their children's friends weren't necessarily upright people, but they treated them well and they acted better. They didn't condemn or disrespect anybody. They opened their arms to everybody, and as a result, we all began to act better. I felt like that was a learning tree for me as far as what family is really about.

MR: There's a new box set out on the group, underlining its importance in music history. What kind of mark do you feel Sly & The Family Stone and you as an artist are leaving?

CR: What kind of mark? Well, aside from the negative side of things, I believe that the positive outweighs all that, simply because a lot of the negative did not transfer onto the people. I do notice one thing. When people emulate you, when they choose to do the things that you do, usually, they choose your worst habits to copy, and I've seen that happen before. But luckily, that's not a huge problem in the scheme of things. I think a lot of times, if you really want to know what's in a person's heart and what they really truly feel, if you want to know that person and you never get a chance to meet them you have to listen to the things they write or read the things they write. You'll get to know Hemmingway if you read his books that he's written. You'll get to know what's really in the man's heart. What he really believes. That's who he is. That's who he really is no matter what it looks like he's doing on the outside.

MR: Do you have any advice for new artists?

CR: Well, you have to love it, first of all. If you love, it then you can withstand all of the opposition that you're going to face. There are some people who are going to have not-so-kind things to say about the industry, maybe due to their observations or things that have happened or showed up in the papers and stuff. Seriously though, I've applied for jobs and I've only punched a clock twice in my life, so when they want to know what I've done in the last five or ten years and I put all these gigs and stuff, they look at it and they say, "This isn't a job!" Well, for sure, it is, because we're in a lot of long rehearsals to make this turn out right. You have to love what you're doing in order to get past all of the things that people are going to tell you that aren't very positive. But if you really like it then keep on doing it and try to be the best you can at it. That means sometimes you may not be able to go out and play with everybody when they're out playing and having fun and partying because you might need to practice for something or other. Go ahead and practice because you're not going to miss anything that's for you.

MR: What do you want to do in the next couple of years, beyond the music?

CR: I don't know. I've got to tell you, my grandson just asked me what I'm doing Saturday because he has someplace he has to be and he can't get there on the local transportation. It doesn't run on the weekends in that area, and he wants me to take him there for this job he's got to do. That's the future. That's just Saturday. I told him to remind me a couple of times before Saturday gets here so I don't plan something in between there because I'll forget. The future has never been something that I've been able to plan. Every time I try, I don't care if it's three or four days ahead or a week ahead, it just doesn't pan out. I planned to go do Graham Central Station; Larry Graham was playing here in Sacramento so close I could've walked. But it so happens that my granddaughter came from Paris, and we hadn't seen her in two years. She brought her two boys--one we knew, one we didn't--and Phunne's oldest daughter came from Virginia state to visit us for a month before she went back for her junior year and my daughter Phunne was cooking dinner. So this big family thing all of a sudden fell on the eighth when Larry Graham was supposed to be here. I didn't have the funds to take the whole family, and with them coming, I just didn't want to not be there for them, because I'm always there for them. When they're gone, when they're here, I'm going to be here for them, so I didn't make that concert. I don't know what Larry thought about it, because Jerry [Martini] and I have done some gigs with him when he was playing with Prince. But I just couldn't make it, and I didn't have a phone number to say anything. The future I can't plan, because things happen, so I just have to say, "Okay, I'll try to do that." Me, myself, I don't live in the future, I live in the now. I will resort to reflecting in the past and make sure that some of my mistakes don't occur again. But as far as planning something in the future, everything that is needed now is needed now, for the nourishing of the mind and body and the lifestyle.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

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