Talking with Ozomatli's Raul Pacheco
Mike Ragogna: Raul, your new album, Place In The Sun, was recorded by your buddy Robert Carranza. How do you think the sound of the group's recordings has evolved over the years?
Raul Pacheco: We have evolved with technology and experience. More electronic elements and better overall songwriting. People's roles have also evolved, everyone is getting a little more face time and I think that's cool.
MR: Was Place In The Sun approached differently creatively than the group's previous works?
RP: Yes, most of us are better songwriters and most of us have at least small recording capabilities at home or in our own studios. This provides us the opportunity to create anytime we want, alone, in groups or in a room. So everyone is bringing a lot more ideas. From those ideas we wade out what works for us as a group and then we dig in. Sometimes we keep original elements from demos because they just have the vibe. Our co-producer/engineer Robert Carranza has the skills to meld all these elements together. And sometimes we just play live in a room.
MR: Which songs on the album affected you the most after the final playback of the mastered version?
RP: I personally like the sound of the electronic and live elements mixed together. Songs like "Prendida" and "Tus Ojos" have a real fresh mix of today's technology and live instruments which create a full sound. That was a pleasant surprise once they were done.
MR: You collaborated with Boston and New York Pop Orchestras. How did each entity influence the other for both those performances and for the long term?
RP: They both provided us with new experiences, and the understanding that each orchestra is clearly an instrument of their own. We've been around a while and having new musical experiences together keeps us interested and motivated. And who could complain when such high level musicians are playing music you created? I feel like I'm flying when an orchestra is backing me up.
MR: Ozomatli were the Cultural Ambassadors for the US State Department. How did that come together and how did you serve?
RP: We got a call from a really great woman on the cultural side of the state department and we took our first trip to India and Nepal. We saw right away the good and the bad being associated with the state department and we navigated that as best we could. The best part about it was that we could see these places for ourselves, create some relationships on our own and connect with some people directly. Any chance we got we were on our own, creating our own impressions of what these places were like. I know we also tripped some people out, a multi-cultural multi lingual American band? Well yes, that really is the kind of country we are.
MR: What's all this about Ozomatli Day in LA?
RP: Everybody knows we rep LA hard, almost like walking around with it on our foreheads. Anyway, we were being recognized for our contributions to the city because we do a lot of philanthropic work, especially with kids. They wanted to make an Ozomatli day, we said thanks and turned it into a day that we remind people of the need for music and art education for the youth. We are all products of pubic school music programs, there would not be an Ozomatli without it. So we use it as a day to promote music and art in schools.
MR: What do you think is resonating about that the group that has accumulated so many fans and this much appreciation?
RP: We're pretty humble guys and we like people. We connect with our fans, we're approachable and appreciative that people still want to see us play. I think it comes across in our shows and in our recorded music.
MR: Are there any issues such as immigration, health care, etc., that are on the group's radar, and what are your opinions or suggestions regarding them?
RP: We've been involved in the immigration debate and we believe that reform is necessary. We believe that the deportation process is inhumane and that immigrants continue to make this country better, not worse. We also believe that free and affordable healthcare is a right for every living being. I truly believe that health is an option that is non-negotiable for people. We are on the side of humans being better, acting better and helping one another.
MR: Do you feel your music has influenced others' creativity and that you have been positive role models for younger generations?
RP: Overall yes, we are pioneers in doing what we do. Mixing styles, race, language and bringing it with tons of energy. People of all ages come to us with their own stories of how our music has made positive influences in their lives and how we have introduced them to certain styles of music. We are not the first to do this by any means but overall we are good guys. We all have issues, I myself have plenty that I continually need to work on to be a better human and being in this band helps me see where I am deficient and how I can do that.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
RP: Do it because you love it, then the struggle will not be as heavy. It's not an easy thing to commit yourself to art but if it's what you love you should do it. And practice, play, work with others, get better at all aspects of your craft. Ultimately it's up to you to present your work to the world, no one else.
MR: What does the future hold for Ozomotli?
RP: We make music for TV and movies, write and produce songs for others, are on TV shows and always looking to grow. But really, I never know. What is really certain in this world? We could get bigger than ever or fall apart. But as long as we are a band I know we'll bring it as best we can. And our twenty-year anniversary is coming up, we should definitely have a party for that!
Special Thanks to Lucy Sabini
A Conversation with Eric Carmen
Mike Ragogna: Eric, and even though I've been a fan of your music for a long time, there are stories in this resource packet I received that I had no idea about.
Eric Carmen: And those are the abbreviated stories!
MR: [Laughs] One of the ones that interests me the most was your experience with recording "Get The Message."
EC: I think every kid goes through that sort of stuff starting out. I've talked to a lot of artists in my life about it. It's like how everyone who ever backed up Chuck Berry has the same Chuck Berry story, whether it's me or Springsteen or Keith Richards, it's always the exact same story. There are certain things about being an eighteen year-old and idealistic, the whole business was born -- going back to Mozart, probably -- on the basis that artists just want to make records, they just want to make music and when we start out, we're not really business-oriented, or else we would've been business people. People figure out ways to take advantage of those who didn't really care about business, at least when they were eighteen.
MR: Well, now you've got this double-disc anthology, which kicks in with that track.
EC: Tim Smith first approached me about this and said, "Every compilation always starts out with 'Go All The Way,'" but he went down to the Sony vaults and he found "Get The Message" from the original recording session with the two track masters. I hadn't heard or thought about "Get The Message" in thirty years or more, but I remember it not sounding fabulous, it sounded kind of thin, so I was a little bit horrified by that thought. You don't want to turn everybody off after the first song! But Tim said, "Nah, nah, nah, I guarantee, this is like naked baby pictures to you, but your fans are going to love this." So they flew me up to New York for the first remastering session, which was a wonderful thing. I met with the Legacy group on the first day I was there and the next day, we went over to Battery studios, which was kind of a serious déjà-vu because as the cab pulled up, I looked at the building and said, "I know this place." It's essentially in the same space where Record Planet used to be, where Raspberries recorded all of our four albums in the exact same building and the exact same space and here is this genius--he's a genius, Mark Wilder. I can't even tell you, I asked Tim after the first session, "Can I adopt him?" Before we could really get into anything, all of these songs were recorded analog on tape, so mark had to very carefully transfer them in very high quality from the original analog two-track flat masters to the digital format so that he could get into them and do his magic.
MR: He did such a great job that the Raspberries material segueing into your solo stuff sounds sonically compatible.
EC: There was only so much you could do with the Raspberry stuff because it was so compressed and so squashed to begin with, pretty much all we could do is expand the high end and the bottom end a bit. But "Get The Message" was the first track that we remastered and I sat quietly in the studio behind Mark and watched what he was doing while he was surrounded with all this great vintage gear from Trident and Neve and all of these fabulous old tube-powered amps and he's got a computer screen in front of him with an oscilloscope in the middle of it and I'm kind of watching what he's doing and about twenty minutes later he turns to us and he says, "Well what do you think?" "Get The Message" certainly already sounded a whole lot better than it ever sounded, the guitar was hot and sounded great, but I'd been kind of watching what Mark could do and I said, "You know, do you think we'd mess anything up if we added a couple of decibels, about a hundred cycles where that kick drum should be hitting you in the chest?" He looked at me and he said, "Yeah, I think we could do that." He adds a couple of decibels, a hundred cycles and lo and behold, boom, the kick drum is now kicking. That seemed successful, so I said, "You know, the bass sounds a little thin, do you think we could do the same thing, forty or fifty cycles to warm up that bottom end a little bit?" He said, "Yeah, I think we could do that," and he adds a little something to the bass and boom, now the bass sounds better. Then I said, "Is there some pleasant frequency you might be able to add to my lead vocal to make me sound a little less prepubescent?" He said, "Yeah, we could do that," and he adds a little something in. By the time we were done forty five minutes later not only was I not embarrassed by it, but I actually think it's really cool. It sounds the way it actually really sounded when we played it. With today's technology and Mark's fabulous knowledge and ears, it's a totally different thing.
MR: What are some of your favorite memories associated with being with The Raspberries?
EC: Gosh, I don't know where to begin. The first thing was just the process of getting signed. That was really pretty crazy. We had sent a demo tape that I produced, four songs, that Wally Bryson and I had written to everyone in New York, I think, and somebody played it for Jimmy Ienner as he was walking through Grand Central Station. He became interested and the next thing we knew he got on a plane, he flew into Cleveland and we picked him up and took him that evening to a little club in Kent State called J.B.'s, which was probably our equivalent of the Cavern Club. Four hundred crazy college kids drinking Boone's Farm apple wine and beer packed into a space that probably should've held two hundred. But we tore the place every time we played. It was hot and sticky and exactly what you would expect, but the crowd would go wild. After we were done Jimmy went back to New York and a few weeks later he showed up with people from four record labels who began a little bidding war. We ended up signing at Capitol, which was the home of The Beatles. "Gosh, we like this!" Shortly thereafter, we were up in New York walking into the record plant and it was, "Here we are!"
MR: One of my favorite stories about The Raspberries is how your writing was inspired by watching The Rolling Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show singing "Let's Spend Some Time Together."
EC: That was the inspiration for "Go All The Way." That's really where it started. Actually, the very first concert that I ever went to was The Rolling Stones. They were my favorite from the very beginning. But I will never forget watching Mick wearing this psychedelic flower shirt rolling his eyes every time he went, "Let's spend some time together." The Stones were so threatening, really, to America, to youth, and Ed was a pretty conservative guy so he was not going to let them sing, "Let's spend the night together," that's just too suggestive, too racey for American television back then. At the same time that this was going on I was listening to Pet Sounds thinking, "You know, Brian Wilson's getting away with murder, here, compared to The Rolling Stones." Just the lyrics of "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" "We could say goodnight and stay together," between the lines the Beach Boys were getting much more suggestive stuff on the radio, but no one batted an eye because they sounded like choir boys and they looked pretty harmless. When I sat down to write I remember thinking to myself, "I've got to write a song that's suggestive, but I've got to present it in a way that we don't end up like the Stones." I saw the title "Go All The Way" and I thought about how I would write it and I thought, "What does the girl say to the guy instead of the other way around? That's much less threatening. That's got a really nice twist on the story." So that was kind of how we did it. One of two things would happen, just based on the title: It was either going to be banned, in which case that would create some controversy and we would sell some albums, or it would be a big smash hit, just based on the title. It turns out it was banned in England, they wouldn't play it at all, and in America it went top five.
MR: Let's get into your solo career. What is the story of your solo career starting and you moving over to Clive Davis' Arista?
EC: Well, by the time Raspberries had gone through the Side 3 album--which I affectionately call our White Album--it was a point where none of us were writing with each other anymore. The second album had not been as successful as the first one. You form a band and sometimes it goes like this... The Raspberries formed, Jim Bonfanti the drummer and I started the band and I had a certain concept of what I thought we should do, and that was to try to combine the power of The Who with the melodies of The Beatles or Brian Wilson and other great songwriters, with nice harmonies but played with loud rock guitars. That's where we all started. I think at the point where the band started if you had asked each of the guys in the band, "Who are your favorite bands?" Somewhere in the top five of all four guys would've been The Beatles. On that basis, we said, "Okay, we've got this thing in common and we also like The Who, let's start there." Then as the individual egos and personalities began to emerge, you find out that the bass player, The Beatles were number five on his list, really, and his favorite band is The Eagles. Then you go to Wally, the lead guitar player and you find out that The Beatles were number three or four on his list, but Free is his favorite band or Bad Company. So now you've got three rather disparate ideas about musically where the band should be going. A friend of mine who works for Irving Azoff, a guy I went to school with and have known since fourth grade, he's in the management business and has been for his whole life... One day we were talking and he said, "You know, in every band things start out democratic, but rarely, if ever, is there an equal distribution of talent and drive and charisma. Eventually, in almost every band, one or two guys emerge from the pack, and at that point, the other guys in the band have a choice to make--either they say to themselves, 'Hmm, well, it's cool here that Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have become the focus of our band and we're going to be happy to support them," like for Joey Kramer. "It's enough for me to be the rhythm player of this band and I'm happy we've got a guy like Steven as the front man and I'm happy that Joe Perry is his perfect foil," and the band forms its wagons in a circle and they support those guys. Those bands go on to be successful. The other choice is for the other guys, who aren't the ones in the spotlight to begin to challenge the guy who is over the direction of the band, and "Why can't I have more songs on the album?" or "I don't like your songs," and essentially, that's what happened to The Raspberries. Instead of there being a band supporting each other, everybody hit the point when "Let's Pretend" only went into the twenties and they decided, "Eric's concept doesn't work, it's now time for me to say we should be more country rock," or "We should be more blues rock," or whatever. At that point, things began falling apart, and by the time we finished the Side 3 record I had pretty much had it and I thought, "Why do I have to shove my ideas down people's throats if they don't want them? I should just go solo and not have these problems anymore." It kind of was a fight from the beginning, although I think when "Go All The Way" happened everybody said, "That's all right." But eventually, individual personalities come in and egos clash.
I was ready to go after the Side 3 album and Jimmy said, "It's not time yet." His exact words. He said, "Nope, not yet," so David and Jim left the band and we got Scott and Mike into the band. I thought Scott was a terrific addition in that he and I were on the same page in terms of the direction of the band musically. He was a melodic songwriter, he had a John Lennon-y quality to his voice that was good, he was a good songwriter, so I thought that helped, and Mike I played with him and he was a fine drummer. We did the Starting Over album, ironically titled, and Rolling Stone picked it in their annual writers' poll as one of the seven best albums of the year, best in its genre. They picked "Overnight Sensation" as the best single or record of the year, and subsequently, we sold the fewest number of albums of any album we had put out. "Overnight Sensation" got into the top twenty but I think it was more of a turntable hit than a "for real" hit, and that band kind of disintegrated. It was really kind of sad, watching what happened, but our guitarist Wally was on a one-man crusade to rebel. We brought a side man keyboardist named Jeff Hutton in, not really a part of the group, just some help playing keyboards, but we would go on stage and my joke was there was me, Scott and Michael on one side of the stage as Raspberries and the other side of the stage was The Bryson-Hutton Blues Experience. [laughs] They would play solos through everything and just purposely not do the right thing. Eventually, it just totally fell apart and Jimmy said, "Okay, it's time." Starting Over was a step forward, really. Musically it was more sophisticated, more consistent, song-wise than most of our other things, and yet there was something about the band that had already been established and it wasn't going to work no matter what we did. I was sad to see it end, but it was time to move on.
The band split up and I had already started writing at least the beginning of "All By Myself" while The Raspberries were still going, because I remember playing it for Scott. I started working on all these other new songs and somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that I was not going to be writing for this band, my mind was opened up to the idea that I was writing not for these four guys but for whatever musicians I wanted. I could write much bigger harmony parts, I could write more sophisticated chord things that might not be appropriate for The Raspberries. It opened up my head to writing all the songs on that first album. I knew that I wasn't going to have to bash the songs down anybody's throat and that alone was pretty inspiring. We found a band here that pretty much already existed in my home town and added Mike McBride to that and we rehearsed and went up to New York--I had told my manager I didn't want to make demos. There were two reasons for that: One is that most often in my life I made a demo and the demo is better than the record. I don't know why that happens, but it just does. I call it demo-itis. It's something about the song being completely fresh and new. I walk over to the studio and sit down at the piano and play it and more often than not that vocal and that performance is going to be better than anything I'm going to do six months later in another studio trying to recapture that. So there's something to be said for not doing demos in the first place.
The other part of it was that I wanted to see if there would be some record executives that would have the interest to get on a plane and come see me play in my living room, or put me on a plane and have me sit down at a piano and play for them live. I wanted them to understand that this was not just a recording act where you could doctor the vocals; that I was the real deal. The manager approached all the big labels and everybody kept saying, "Send us a demo, send us a demo, send us a demo," Clive got on the plane and flew to Cleveland. I went and picked him up at the airport and drove him back to my apartment and he sat in the living room and I played him probably three quarters of that first solo album, just me and the piano and by the time we hit "All By Myself" he was singing along with the chorus. I played "Sunrise" and "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again" and "My Girl" and a few other things and the next day, he went back to New York and the day after that they offered me a deal. I was impressed at that point that Clive actually was willing to get on a plane while all of these other guys in their ivory towers were like, "Meh, just send us a tape."
MR: Well, you know he was dedicated to breaking you as an artist because look at the series of singles that happened after that: "All By Myself," "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again," "Sunrise," that same album had "That's Rock And Roll.
EC: Which Shaun Cassidy released before I had a chance to. When something is recorded once, the writer gets to control the first usage, so I got to sing all of my songs first before anyone could sing them. I wrote them for me. But once it was on my album it became fair game for anybody, so Shaun heard "That's Rock And Roll" and he went into the studio with Michael Lloyd and recorded it. Hey, it's hard for me to complain, he definitely had a top ten record, maybe top five, he sold a bunch of copies and I said, "Well that's cool," so now tracks one, two, three, and four on my first album have all been hits. The interesting side note about this new release is that going into the studio to record that first album if someone had asked me, "What do you think is the first single?" I would've said, unequivocally, it's "My Girl." Unfortunately, Jimmy Ienner and I heard that song totally differently. I heard it big and round and full with crystal clear voices, and Jimmy just heard a much smaller-sounding thing. The same applied to "Last Night." Well those songs just didn't really happen the way I had hoped in the studio, so they were pretty much passed over.
MR: But on the other hand it seems like in the condition they ended up being, those were just as strong as anybody else's singles were at the time.
EC: If you listened to the original recording from 1975 of "My Girl" and you compare it against this one, there's really no comparison. This one, when I got the reference discs, thanks to Mark Wilder, this one sounds like the record I heard in my head in 1975 that didn't make it onto tape. It was a matter of the round bottom end and the kick drum punching you in the chest and the vocals being crystal clear and popping out at you. When I heard "My Girl," when I got the reference discs and I went out to my car and plugged it into my little Bose surround sound stereo, lo and behold, out of the speakers leapt the song that I wanted in 1975. "My Girl" sounded just like it was supposed to. It made me smile and it made the hair on my arms stand up. I thought, "Wow, that's really fabulous. It doesn't sound like a disappointment now." And when I got to "Last Night," the same thing happened. It was like, "Wow, that's what it was supposed to be!"
MR: Eric, congratulations on getting a little vindication in how you thought these recordings should have sounded. Let's look at more of these recordings from the Essential package, such as "Boats Against The Current," the title track to your next album. I remember when that album came out, people were talking about it as if it was the Song of the Year. I know you had other singles from the project, but there's something about "Boats Against The Current" that really resonated.
EC: It was my autobiography. It was ten years of my life as a sequence that was supposed to run exactly the reverse of the way that it ran on the record. "Boats" was supposed to be the last track and "Runaway" was the first track. It actually makes much more sense lyrically if you listen to the album in chronological order starting with "Runaway" and ending with "Boats." But Clive unfortunately wanted to start with what he thought was going to be the single, so I basically said, "I'll tell you what, here's my compromise: You can start with 'Boats' and end with 'Runaway' or you could start with 'Runaway,' which I would prefer, and end with 'Boats,' but it has to run in sequence either way." So he chose to start with "Boats," which made the whole story actually run backwards, but it was lyrically, I think, the most inspired lyrics that I've ever written, it was very, very autobiographical, I remember that during the course of writing that album I had been on the road an awful lot and when I got done with the tour I was sitting in my house one day talking to my younger brother and I said, "I don't know what I'm going to write about for this album, I've been on the road for ten months. Not much has happened other than hotel rooms and airports and whatever."
He handed me a copy of F. Scott Fitgerald's greatest short stories and he circled a couple of them for me, "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz," "Winter Dreams" and a couple more, and I started to read. As I was reading, I remember thinking, "How could this guy know so much about me?" It was like my life story, every one of those short stories. This mid-western writer who aspired to be more but was always on the outside looking in, he didn't quite fit with all of the rich people in New York. A lot of the stories were that way and that's a lot of the way I felt when I was growing up, I just didn't quite fit in anyplace. It was a very personal album and unfortunately there were a lot of stumbling blocks in the course of creating it.
Finally, Clive and I had a disagreement about which version of "Boats" would be the one. I recorded it without background vocals. We tried putting some background vocals on during the recording and I realized very quickly that they didn't do anything good for it. They took the intimacy out of the song. I remember I got a call from Clive one day and he said, "I've been sitting and talking to Rupert Holmes and the two of us think you have a really beautiful aesthetic reading of this, but you've missed it as a hit single. This song is crying out for background vocals." I said, "Well, funny that you say that, because I actually did try them and I found that if anything they detracted your attention away from the lead vocal and the lyric." We went back and forth and back and forth and finally I said, "I'll tell you what, I'll go back in the studio and I'll put some background vocals on it and I'll send you another mix," and I was sure that after I did that he was going to listen to it and say, "Ew, forget about it, you were right." Wrong. [laughs] He, of course, liked the more schmaltzy version with the background vocals which I just detested. It was as a result of that disagreement that it became the first single.
MR: You also have "Hey Deanie," which was a follow-up for Shaun Cassidy and also the Natalie Wood character from Splendor In The Grass, she was the inspiration, right?
EC: The first time I used a girl's name in a song. I've got to admit I had a serious crush on Natalie Wood in that movie, so at some point I thought, "Deanie is the name I'm going to use," and I wrote the song on that basis. Actually, I wrote it during the "Boats..." incident, but it wasn't going to fit on that album so at a certain point I was living up in California and I called Shaun up on the phone one night and I said, "Come on over, I've got another song for you." He came over to my house and I just handed him the tape of "Hey, Deanie," and said, "Here you go, buddy!" He walked out and said, "Thanks!" and recorded it and had another top ten record.
MR: Good for you both!
EC: Yeah, but "Someday" was one of the songs that wasn't part of Tim's thirty choices and I kind of lobbied for that one. I don't remember what it replaced. It was one of those songs-- one of the coolest parts about this record to me is that there might be seven songs out of this thirty that are among the very best songs that I've ever written and that no one has ever heard. "The Way We Used To Be," "Desperate Fools," "Boats Against The Current," "Nowhere to Hide," a very limited number of people have probably heard those. Within the context of this record, those people who actually buy it because of "All By Myself" or "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again," or "Hungry Eyes" will get to be exposed to some of the best stuff I've ever written and then I'll also include "Brand New Year" in there. So that's what's most exciting to me about this project: it may introduce people to a whole bunch of songs that speak more to who I am than even those hits do.
MR: With Jimmy Ienner in the mix, that's how you get "Hungry Eyes" happening, right?
EC: Right. I just got a call from Jimmy one day and he said, "I'm working on this film and RCA and I have this one song we think you ought to sing." I had him send me a demo and I listened to it and thought, "Hmm, not bad. Can I produce it?" and he said, "Yeah," so I said, "Okay."
MR: And of course "Make Me Lose Control," was another of your big radio records.
EC: I'd written a song with Dean Pitchford, he had written a lyric, "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll," and it was sort of a nostalgic thing. Jimmy thought, "Nah, that's not where we should go with that," and I kind of tended to agree with him upon thinking about it. I think I came up with up "Make Me Lose Control" and Dean and I reworked the chorus a bit and I went into the studio and knocked that one out with Jimmy and the rest is history as they say.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
EC: Well. In today's world, that's a really interesting question. This is my first release in the digital age and that's basically saying the age where people don't buy CDs anymore, for the most part. Taylor Swift still sells some records; Metallica sells some records; once in a while you get a fluke like Adele, but for the most part, people are giving CDs away and groups have to tour constantly and sell a lot of merchandise to make ends meet because there's just not the same kind of profit in selling records because they're just not selling the same kind of quantities anymore. I guess in my idealistic world, I would love to see another Burt Bacharach or another Beatles or another Brian Wilson or something happen that lifted the bar. The part of this business that I find so disappointing now is that I work out in the gym four days a week that plays Sirius 20 On 20 and for the most part, not always, this stuff is garbage. I just can't believe that this is what masquerades as music to a whole generation including my own children. For the most part, these kids are never going to really understand The Beatles or The Rolling Stones or The Who or Beach Boys or Bob Dylan or Burt Bacharach or any of these great songs. Once in a while, one sneaks through, but for the most part, this stuff is just, as they say, "beats." So for a guy who grew up idolizing all of the classic songwriters of the day, I would encourage any kid out there who wanted to be in the business to really study songs. Go back and listen to the great songs of the fifties and sixties and seventies. I still think that if somebody could actually do that they'd come up with great songs again. There'd be a place for them. They might even turn the whole industry around.
MR: Do you think that not enough effort is being made to educate young people about the classics?
EC: I think it would be great if there was. I know when I went to Japan the first time back in the late seventies, I'd get into a cab and the cab driver was playing Mozart. I was like, "Wow, this is cool." I realized at some point, this is a whole country full of people that learned classical music and listened to it regularly. It was very, very different from America where there's nowhere near the emphasis on that. That certainly couldn't hurt, but my theory on how the music business got to where it is, is that when I think back to my own childhood growing up in the late fifties and early sixties--Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and I are all the same age, within months of each other's birthdays--I am sure that Billy and Bruce and I sat in our parents' houses and listened to whatever music came on the radio and we were influenced by that. Maybe we were in different areas, but we heard great music coming out of the radio. Then The Beatles happened and we heard great music again from this new generation of writers who had been influenced by The Everly Brothers and all the classics. Paul heard classic showtunes growing up in his house. I think what's happened is the last generation that grew up hearing that music from the fifties and sixties are the guys who are now my age and made music in the seventies for the most part and maybe the early eighties. But each generation since then has moved further away from having heard those great songs.
When The Raspberries did their reunion tour, we hired three people, we called them "The Overdubs," as side people to help flesh out some of the harmonies and guitars and keyboard parts that the four of us couldn't possibly do by ourselves. There's a very talented and very sweet guy called Paul Sidoti who is now one of Taylor Swift's two guitar players and Paul is just about exactly twenty years younger than I am. We used to go out to dinners after rehearsals and he would talk about KISS. KISS was his Beatles. As much as I have great respect for Paul and Gene and what they accomplished and what they did, listening to KISS is just not like listening to The Beatles. With all due respect, they were really cool and did what they did, but from a songwriting point of view, I can see how my friend Paul--who was way too young to have experienced The Beatles or The Hollies or The Byrds or The Who or whatever--he loved the band that was really popular when he grew up and that was KISS, so his sense of songwriting was influenced by that. I think probably the next stage after that would have been the hair metal bands who grew up thinking that KISS was the be-all-end-all of their generation and then it continues to move on out after that. I think each generation that is further away from having heard great songs is more and more handicapped and has less of an idea of what a great song even is. Now we've reached a point where sampling takes the place of writing. I just don't know. Thank goodness every once in a while someone like Adele has a breakthrough. P!nk has recorded some great songs, but generally, I just don't think we're going to get the kind of music that we'd like to hear on a regular basis again until we get some people who go back and really go to school on Gershwin, Cole Porter, Lennon, McCartney, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, that's kind of the definition of great songwriting. We've moved so far away from that now that this is where we've ended up.
MR: Last question--you've been very generous with your time and I appreciate it. What's the future for Eric Carmen?
EC: Honestly, I wish I could tell you, but I think a lot of it has to do with what happens with this recording and the result of it, not so much record sales, but what the reaction is to it in general. If people somehow get it and word of mouth takes off and there's further demand it would be fun to approach the idea of recording again. I was really happy with the way "Brand New Year" turned out and I think that my life and my writing have now kind of turned a corner in terms of what I'm able to do without having to sound like "All By Myself" or "Go All The Way." Taking a bunch of time off was a good thing and we'll have to see. It would be fun to tour with the guys from Brian Wilson's band, who I recorded "Brand New Year" with--I don't know if we're going to go out and do two hundred days a year--but I'm in the "wait and see" mode. We're going to have to see what happens in this new digital age, with social networking being your promotion team. It's all brand new to me. We'll see how it all plays out.
MR: Sweet. Perhaps it's back to Rachmaninoff.
EC: Maybe. [laughs] Maybe so.
For more info: http://www.ericcarmen.com
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne