Conversations With World Party's Karl Wallinger and California Breed's Glenn Hughes, Plus The Native Sibling Exclusive

photo courtesy of Karl Wallinger

A Conversation with World Party's Karl Wallinger

Mike Ragogna: Rumor has it you're going to be touring the States. Is there any truth to that?

Karl Wallinger: Yeah, yeah, I'll come quietly. We're starting off on the 24th in Freehold, New Jersey and then we're hopping around the place, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Nashville, down the West Coast, too.

MR: You have about 26 dates, right?

KW: Yeah, until July 24th and then I'm going into the desert for a few days and then I'm going to New York for a few days and then I'm coming home.

MR: Some of these places must be like second homes to you by now since because you've spent so much time here over the years.

KW: It's like that...New York, LA, certainly those two. Chicago to a certain degree as well. I dig it.

MR: But you're also an internationalist, because, after all, this is a World Party!

KW: Yeah. It's kind of ironic, isn't it? Western atomic powers, basically, it's like Britain and America--maybe you can include France in there. But it's basically the Britain & America Party. Britain, America & Sometimes Australia Party.

MR: You'll be releasing a live double CD soon, will that give us the update on Karl Wallinger creatively?

KW: I don't think creatively in a way, but certainly performance-wise. I think it's kind of funny, I think the songs work well stripped down. We're doing a two-piece tour, I'm on stage with an acoustic guitar most of the time, I play on the keyboard and David Duffy is playing fiddle and mandolin occasionally and drums and electric guitar. It's just so easy to get around, it's like a few pieces and that's it. Mixing it live doesn't seem to be any different from a band. It's strange, but it's great fun, and we enjoy it. It's a strange sort of potpourri of things, really.

MR: It will be interesting to see the reinterpretation. You play most of the instruments on your albums, don't you?

KW: Yeah, it's like I'm the band and I do the band thing on the acoustic and these two guys who play amazingly well are with me and they both sing backups and they both play. The fiddle's often going through a distortion pedal, so it's not just straight ahead acoustic stuff, it's a kind of rendition of the songs in a compact way that you've never heard of really. We just really enjoy it. I'm heading toward another album and hopefully we're producing that with a band and that will be a nice juxtaposition to this. I think it's good to keep it interesting, just for yourself.

MR: Do you think we'll get to hear a Waterboys tune or two?

KW: I don't think a Waterboys tune will be played, no. I don't tend to help the enemy.

MR: The years sometimes soften history, no?

KW: No.

MR & KW: [both laugh]

MR: Karl, you have so many classic songs that resonated on a poppy level, but at the same time you're very known for your politics. Are you still working it all in together?

KW: I think it's more complicated today. I think the things I'm singing about are still things we've yet to deal with, like the crazy attitude of humans towards their lives and towards the planet and towards existence. I don't know, really what the hell I was singing about, but in another way that's what I was singing about. I think it's very complicated at the moment, what's going on. Because we've got such access time has sort of stopped still and what we've got here in England is a party called UKIP who have come along proposing that we live in the fifties mentally and people are buying it. It's a strange thing, they're like pro-smoking, pro-freedom--it's a bit like your Tea Party except it's a very British version of that, so it involves smoking.

MR: It's almost like when humans can find solutions yet they just can't take "yes" for an answer.

KW: It's very strange, isn't it? The whole attitude towards wind farms over here is amazing, I wonder where these people were when they put up all the pylons, or radio aerials, didn't anyone say, "Aren't they a bit ugly" to those at the time? Wind farms, to me, aren't ugly, they're rather beautiful because it means that we're not fucking everything up, and yet really hate them. But one of the best things I saw on wind farms is a Texan farmer was standing in his field and he said, "I get sixty or seventy dollars an acre for my crop and for the wind farm I get a hundred dollars for an acre of land." I think that's how we've got to make this work as a revolution of environmentalism, make it part of people's lives who reject it now. Sell it to today's people as a way of being that they can trust. All the time there are vested interests who are into the big oil and big fuel and motor industries raging against us and distracting everybody and not making them realize that this is probably the most important thing we've got to do right now. It's a strange thing, people seem to be working against the sense of it all, yet there's a vested interested that people need to do their every day job. We've got a world described in another age and that age is gone and we've got to describe a new age that hasn't arrived yet. We're in a strange intermission period.

MR: Exactly. And you would think that these billion dollar industries that are against wind power would see the buck and go there, yet they won't.

KW: I think there is an element in the industrial world of people who are on top of the pile who just think, "It's going anyway, so why not just cream it while it's there?" I think there's quite a few of them, from the vibes I get. The people are just like, "It's what you can get now, buddy. No point in waiting."

MR: Yeah, and that goes in hand with people over here who feel like these are the "end times," and since these are the end times, what's the difference? We're all going to heaven or hell anyway.

KW: And that's insane, that one! The mind boggles at some of the cul-de-sacs some of these people go down and inhabit, and they don't want to come out! They don't want to not believe. I hate it when people tell me I'm not Christian. Actually, the other day said that "we are a Christian country" and I differ from that. We're a post-christian country. In most people's minds, I don't think they do believe in God, but they decide to think that someone won't come and murder them. They do think that the ten commandments are pretty good, but they don't have to necessarily say they were brought down a mountain by a guy who found them carved in stone by the lord. Surely we must be beyond this by now.

MR: And you also have those people who say, "Well, we're the custodians of the planet, we can do anything we want." You can apply that illogic as far out as you want to serve your own greed, ignorance or fear.

KW: I used to think that the progress of mankind toward a good and honest and livable, survivable world where people were decent to each other was a progress bar that was going forty-five degrees up the graph permanently when I was a young guy, and I realize now that that wasn't quite right. It's a little bit more a zig-zag, really, it goes up and it goes down, we shaft each other for a while and then we kind of go, "Oh, what were we doing? Sorry, even though you're German I can embrace you, I don't have to kill you," and then we quickly mix it all up. We were just singing it the other day, "What we need is a great big melting pot big enough to take the world and what it's got." That's kind of the essence of World Party, it's trying to write songs that are catchy about things that move us all, that's the idea.

MR: Personally, I think your "Ship Of Fools" carried a terrific message and was pretty spot on, Karl. Hey, what advice do you have for new artists?

KW: I think more and more it's to do with the times that you're in. We've got to make it better times for the artist to make their art in rather than to expect the artist in these times to come up with something that's satisfying or connects with humanity. I think it's very difficult. I think this is the time of Damien Hirst and a lot of spurious, well-marketed stuff that comes at us from every angle. I think it's so intense and so much all the time that it's very difficult for a good idea to get any legs. People say, "Well if it's good it gets trajectory," I don't think so. If it's good someone's got to give it a chance. The Beatles had to be given a chance, and the chance had to be obtained by Brian Epstein. Just recently I realized how important it is to have a management situation that can translate the musician's ideas into reality. Musicians are terribly impractical and haven't really got a clue how to do anything other than play music, which is invisible. I don't think they're very good at saying, "We should start in New York and make our way across and hit the radio stations and do the whole thing," you know what I mean? I think that today the people that are making those plans are making all kinds of spurious stuff that doesn't have any resonance with me. It's very rare that I'll hear something and think "Oh, that's very cool," I do hear some things sometimes, but it's been a very long time.

MR: As a result of all this, young or new artists have had to come up with their own machine, so to speak, where they're reinventing the whole shebang.

KW: I think that's just the way it's got to go, it's got to through periods, and that's why there's such a big gap between peaks in artistic endeavors. It's only being fifty-seven that's given me the idea of having a time line that I look back at and I think, "That was a good period, this is a good period, that was strange, nothing was happening there," there's normally something somewhere in each place that's a good clue, something you can point at and say, "That was good," but I think it's very difficult for certain types of art to exist at certain times because the pressure's too great in another direction. This isn't the time for everybody, seemingly in Europe for instance, to be getting on. I think there are a lot of people in political parties who want to split the European experiment up, and it's like that in music as well, there's a lot of times when certain elements of music, certain types of music or sound or chords or the way people sing is in such a way that doesn't connect with a lot of people. I think the reason we don't have Top Of The Pops anymore is because there is no overriding sense that one particular band can be number one in the way it used to be number one. It used to be that love it or hate it, it was number one and sold bucketloads, but now nothing's really selling bucketloads. Everyone's in their own little world in computerland going wherever it is they go. There's not really the consensus they had years ago with one media, radio and TV.

MR: Very smartly said. What's going to be happening for Karl's World Party in the near future?

KW: The album...that's the main thing. I'm moving out of the studio that I've been in for twenty-five years and it's so full of stuff that it's a Herculean task just getting everything out of there. I just want to go somewhere else and do something different, recording-wise. I'd like to live in a house where the living room door was a studio door and behind the television was a load of mic inputs, have a studio within my house. I don't see why there's any reason to not do that now, I've been in a house and done a record and then I was in a studio that I made into a house-like place, and now I want to go back to a house and do records in a house again, live and work in the same place. That's what I want to do. I want to make an album by the end of the year.

MR: Beautiful, but I imagine you'll approach it the same way as the others, basically.

KW: Yeah, whatever thought process you had before, you've just got to go into it the way you do things. I just tend to get out of the way and let myself get on with it. I don't think thinking about things is a great thing to do. I'll make it in the same way as the last stuff, but I don't think it will sound the same. I always think that.

MR: Karl, this has been awesome. Is there anything else we need to cover?

KW: Well, I think there should be world peace, everybody should get on with each other, and we should all wear our underpants on the outside so we can check if we changed them. That's it, really.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne


photo courtesy of Sofia Draco

According to The Native Sibling's Ryan & Kaylee Williams...

"'Here With Me' was inspired by the comfort of friends and family. The journey through gain and loss of those individuals that make you who you are. We've been through a lot the past few years, this song represents every time we take a step back and look at where we've come from. We worked with a friend of ours in California to shoot the video in a few rural locations. Having only three of us involved in the process, we were able to take a simple and intimate approach. Putting that alongside a dreamlike state of black and white, we feel the video well represents the lyrical tone."


A Conversation with California Breed's Glenn Hughes

Mike Ragogna: Glenn, you're part of the group California Breed. How did the configuration congeal?

Glenn Hughes: Well, when my previous band Black Country broke up in the fall of '12, Jason Bonham and I decided that we would continue collaboration, but not with Black Country Part Two or "B."; we thought we would continue in a brand new project. The way we wanted to consider it was, "How can we make it different but spectacular?" we thought, "Well, if we take away the keyboards and bring it down to a trio and hey, just for the hell of it, let's not go the route of finding someone who sounds like Joe Bonamassa or my other friends Ritchie Blackmore or Tony Iommi." We didn't know who we were going to get, whether they were going to be famous or not, but just a few months later, the day before the Grammys of '13, it would be February eleventh, Saturday night, my friend Julian Lennon was having a party in Hollywood celebrating his lovely photography, as we know he's a wonderful photographer, and he introduced me to Andrew Watt, this young 22-year-old kid from New York. I was taken aback by Andrew's intellect with his versatility about the songwriting abilities he had. I meet a lot of people, Michael. I meet a lot of people who want to tell me how great they are, but Andrew was speaking to me in terms I understood. He seemed really intelligent, so I asked him if he'd got anything I could listen to. After the Grammys I went to Minneapolis and when I got off the plane I received three songs that Andrew had written. I played them and I was blown away by his writing, by his guitar playing, and by his voice. So I said, "Can you come to my house next weekend when I'm home in LA?" and he did and we wrote that first day two songs called "Chemical Rain" and "Solo." The next day it just so happened that Jason Bonham was in Hollywood, so I booked a studio and we went in. So the premise is, Michael, Julian introduced me to Andrew, I brought Jason in, we recorded these two songs, and let's just say from last March we knew we were on to something.

MR: What was the chemistry during "Chemical Rain?"

GH: Andrew played with this riff, this gargantuan riff, and what he asked me to write with him obviously became the chorus, the melodic part. That's the beauty of it, here I am, sixty-two, forty years older than him and he was speaking to me like he was a 1967, '68 type of player. Obviously he's not, I think he was born in 1990, but his dad turned him on to Zeppelin when he was four or five, and since he was born in the 90's he started listening to Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. I've never worked with anybody from that genre of grunge-meets-psychedelia before, which I also thought was interesting. Yeah, probably on paper some fans would have thought, "Surely Jason and Glenn would have gone with door number one, two, or three, but they opened door number four with," yes, let's be clear, "an unknown guy." But when you listen to what we've done, can you hear three different generations of musicians?

MR: No, it's an amalgam, it's really smooth.

GH: I think it sounds fresh, spontaneous, and raw. It's recorded live, vocals as well, in Nashville, a place I've really wanted to go to for ten years, with Dave Cobb, to me the best rock producer on the planet. We recorded it over the course of six months last year. I wrote a lot, Andrew wrote a lot, we finished each other's work, then Jason finished some of our work. The one thing I wanted, Michael, in this particular project, before it was called a band, I wanted everyone to collaborate. Everybody's a good writer. Andrew was the young gun, he has a lot of cool ideas. We could talk about the whole album, who wrote what, but you need to know it was collaborative. I think bands from my generation, let's call it the seventies, were very collaborative. Zeppelin was collaborative. Deep Purple was very collaborative, I was in that in the seventies. That's what I wanted to get back to with this band.

MR: Was it rejuvenating, having that come back into your creativity?

GH: I'll tell you what was rejuvenating for me. Before I joined Deep Purple in the seventies I was in a band called Trapeze. I was a teenager, coming to America in 1970 and playing specifically maybe twelve tours of America in three years as a trio. We started out playing for twenty people and of course at the end before Deep Purple Trapeze was selling five thousand tickets a night. As a trio! I learned the ropes, Michael. I learned the genres of groove, soul, funk, and rock with Trapeze in a trio. I was really, really good friends with John Bonham, Jason's father. Really close. I've always said--not spookily--that Bon's old karma is here with us.

MR: And that's like what you said before, about it being three generations.

GH: Of course I've known Jason since he was in diapers. I remember staying at John's house one night, we'd been out drinking and carrying on and I was awoken about nine in the morning by this drum groove and I thought, "Fuck me, he's starting early," I walked downstairs and it's Jason! I've spoken about this before, Jason and I have a real secure relationship because of his father, we get to share privately some things he's asked about his dad and I think that's a great service for me to do that for him. When I listen to this album I think that Jason can now hang his hat next to his father's on this album. It's the best drumming that he's ever done.

MR: So you think you've really found something special with California Breed.

GH: You know what it is, Mike? I'm going to speak some musical stuff here, I don't know if you know anything about music, but if you listen to my work as a teenager on Trapeze, the chords I used were minor ninths and major sevenths. Of course you know they're jazz chords and they sound great stripped down on a piano or an acoustic guitar. The only other band that plays them in a rock way was Stone Temple Pilots, but you really can't hear them. But when you really pinpoint them or you ghost the track, you'll notice, "My god, the DeLeos are writing a lot of major sevenths and minor ninths." In this band, the producer Dave Cobb understood those chords that we were writing. Let's just say without naming names there have been some situations in the last twenty years where we've been working with producers who thought those chords were too inappropriate for rock music. Well I call their bluff on this album, because this album is loaded with those chords, but they're played in a very driven way. I got to do what I really wanted to do in this band, which is not just play a major, but a major seventh, because they sound really fantastic here.

MR: And straight ahead minor and major chords are such a rock tradition.

GH: Yeah, and I get that, but my God, my influences... when I look back at things I wrote in '70, '71, '72, they were rock records but there were a lot of major sevenths and minor ninths. I don't want this interview to be about chords, but you're asking me how I felt about the chemistry in the band, and I think that we were allowed to do in the genre of rock music stuff that Jason and I weren't allowed to do or wasn't appropriate before. So I was really, really happy, "Will the real Glenn Hughes stand up?" and I'm standing up on this album! I think a lot of my die-hard fans and a lot of Jason Bonham fans are going, "This is great, and it's just three guys!" Listen, Michael, I don't know how old you are, but I'm from the seventies, let's talk about The Who, no keyboards, really, Zeppelin, not really a keyboard band, Free, Humble Pie, can you imagine The Who with a Hammond organ player like Jon Lord? It just wouldn't work. When Andrew and I wrote this album I really only wanted to hear guitar, acoustic and a Les Paul or an SG. I wanted to go back to that organic sound--hey, and it's on two-inch tape!

MR: You recorded this album analog without a lot of overdubbing, right?

GH: No, here's the deal: The morning of the first song we went into the studio and I saw the digi stuff and I saw this two-inch tape and Dave says to us, "What do you fancy?" and we all sort of looked at each other and went [scoffs]. I hadn't done analog in thirty years, and I had missed it. I can hear when things are recorded onto tape. I've missed it. I've been working with Chad Smith for the last ten years on my own records and he was dying for me to go back to tape. For me it something I was dying to get back to. Cobb suggested, "Jason, Andrew, why don't you go out there and record, and Glenn do you have the melodies and lyrics?" I said, "I do," and he said, "Well how do you fancy just going in the vocal booth and singing and overdubbing the bass later?" I said, "Sure, why not?" So what we're hearing on this album is me singing live from start to finish. I've got to be honest with you, I did try to drop in and do a better line than I thought I'd sung, but the first take of singing this album is what you hear. There are some inaudible words where I may have missed a line or missed a word or missed a syllable, but I just couldn't get that feeling back. I really never in forty-five years of recording have made an attempt to sing live.

MR: Forty-five years of recording, what does that feel like? You have a reputation for being one of the great voices of rock, what do you think of all you've achieved?

GH: I've been sober a long time, I normally make a record every eighteen months, I have been doing it for so long now that every time I go in number one I really feel grateful to still be here to do this. I don't call it a job, Michael, this is a gift. Musicians, dancers, architects, journalists, whoever, we're given this gift. And I realize that all the abuse I've given myself in the seventies and eighties, all the things you've heard about, yeah I did that, but this is a gift that I've been given. People have asked me today, "How can you, at sixty-two, sound better than you did at twenty-five?" Well I'm not on drugs, am I? I'm not drinking, I'm not carrying on. I'm sleeping at night. I love singing, man. This is a singer's album. This is me in the moment. This is not me dropping in after every line, I've never really been that guy.

MR: How come you called this project California Breed?

GH: Okay, from April to September we were coming up with names and then Googling them and going, "Aw, somebody's got that name." Jason or Andrew said to me September-ish, "Look man, why don't you look at the lyrics you wrote? Go in your books." And I did, I went through all the songs and in the song "Solo," which is on the Deluxe edition, there's a line in the song, "A California breed acceleration," which means a fast-moving someone. I thought, "California. Wow. California Breed," "breed" to me, of course means "fellowship." I've always been a team player. I thought, "Just maybe California Breed," let's get a really good logo going here, let's get some visuals. Black Country was all dark brown and dark purple, this is all orange and yellow and magenta, and the eyeball... I just think that the name of the band and the graphics and the art and the logo is really important.

MR: What do you think about today's music scene?

GH: Here's the thing, Michael, I don't collect a lot of records. I'm going to be honest with you: I don't listen to a lot of new music. When I was a young lad it was obviously Sgt. Pepper, wasn't it? Then it got into Crosby, Stills and Nash, and then it got into Neil Young, and then I got into California music. You know my history, I love Stevie Wonder, he became my friend and mentor, so for me I've always been a groove-oriented rock artist. A soulful singer in a rock genre, so for me there's a lot of other kinds of rock going on that I have no clue what it is, I look on Billboard and I'm like, "Oh my god, that's number two and I haven't even heard it!" Because radio's not like it used to be, is it? When I'm in the car with the radio I can't really find anything because I don't know what it is, so it's not like it used to be. I'm just so bloody lucky to have grown up and been in a band like Deep Purple and been around my peer group, the Stones and the Who and Zeppelin and come from that early seventies where everything is larger than everything else. Roadies had roadies. It was that time. I don't think that's ever going to be repeated. I'd love one or two or three bands to come up and have that joy, but I don't really hear a lot of originality. What do you think?

MR: I come from the singer-songwriter position and while I've explored almost every genre and I like dance music, I feel now is the most cookie cutter things have been. I hear good songs here and there but personally this is the first era where I'm not identifying with the music.

GH: I follow suit, then. I have to be told by my friends or people I admire to listen to a new thing or a new girl or a new band or a new shape. I can't turn on the radio and hear something that blows me away, I've got to sort of be nudged to it and then I might get into it and go all the way. But like I said before, I would love to blown away like I was blown away when I first heard The Who when I was only a lad. People ask me all the time about the current state of music, not just hip hop, rock, pop, or soul, and I go, "What do you want to talk about?" because I really don't know too much of what's going on.

MR: This is a perfect spot for me to ask you my traditional question. What advice do you have for new artists?

GH: It's a gift, Michael! You know this, you're a musician, it's a gift freely given to us. When I first held a plectrum pick in my hand when I was eleven, let's just say that I've still got that pick in my hand at sixty-two. You give a kid a guitar when they're nine years old and when they're nine and a half they've moved on to hockey or something. For musicians and artists who are indebted to their career and art form that's what I'd suggest: You know you're a musician if you live and breathe it. Nothing comes before your art. Nothing. I used to put drinking and drugging before my art, and looked what happened to that. Music runs through the center of who I am. I have no say so on a daily basis to write songs because I just do it. Even if nobody hears that song, I become a better person by doing something that I love. I'm chuckling because people would give anything to have the career that a lot of us have had, but I don't take this for granted, man, I'm a guy that really works at being honest with my art form.

MR: And that's how others should be to experience a more fulfilling aspect of the music?

GH: Michael, Generation Y meets Generation X. I'm a Generation X-er, and I'm going to assume you're a Generation X-er. Well, Generation X people have worked a long, long, long time to get what they get. Some people have lost their lives and what have you. Andrew is Generation Y but he's a seriously ambitious young man. You've got to work for what you get. It's all about putting the work in. It just doesn't fall off a tree anymore, you've got to put the work in. This is a life-long ambition for me to continue. People say to me, "You ever think about retiring?" I say, "Retire? If you're a real musician you can't retire!" You can't ever stop playing, whether it's in front of ten people or ten thousand.

MR: I totally agree, beautiful.

GH: We hear about people, "Oh, he's hanging that guitar up for the last time." Then there's something wrong, they must be ill. Look at Tony Bennett. Eighty-seven years old; try telling him to stop. That's ambition. He lives this life. Long may that continue for me. On this album I don't think I've ever sounded so enthusiastic, exuberant and extremely excited. Look, man, I'm always going to grow and learn. I'm never going to say, "I know my style, I'm there now." No, no, no, no, I'm forever changing, man. If you listen to my work, I change. I never let it stand still. I'm not frightened to throw a weird chord in or leave a mistake in. Not me.

MR: Glenn, what does it look for the future? Do you have some goals that you still want to get to?

GH: I just sang with an orchestra in London. Jon Lord, our friend from Deep Purple died and we did a concert for him and I sang with an eighty-seven piece orchestra. Everybody left the stage and all that was left was me and an orchestra. I have to tell you, Michael, I played the Albert Hall nine times in my career and to have an orchestra behind the major sevenths and minor ninths is pretty awesome. I love orchestra work, I do also love to do acoustic shows alone, California Breed is everything I live and breathe right now, but I will continue to grow. I'll go and do whatever I feel is appropriate for my soul. I really try to skip away from material, the spiritual condition is more important to me because I believe if everything goes ell for me spiritually and I'm doing the best I can then everything falls into suit, you know? But I have a lot of famous friends that have made a left on Sepulveda when they should've made a right and they're still doing okay. Sometimes it's good to change and sometimes it's good to walk through the fear. As humans we're driven by f**king fear, there's a lot of fear in this world and I've just got to walk through it.

MR: And you've pretty much been fearless.

GH: I'm fearful. I'm a bit of a klutz. I'm liable to fall on the floor, but when I'm up on stage, that holy ground, when I've got that microphone near me and I've got the bass on I'm fucking fearless. It's like David Beckham when he takes a penalty. He's full of fear he's going to miss. When I'm up at that microphone I've got a four or five octave range, I've got to be on my f**king game and I've got to take this sh*t deadly serious. I really do.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne