Conversations With Echo & The Bunnymen's Ian McCullouch, LP and Harry Dean Stanton, Plus a Nida/Schumann Download

Ian McCulloch: It's great when you like the actual stuff you've influenced. With Arcade Fire I find myself thinking, "God, I wish we sounded like that." People will say they sound like us.
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According to Matt...

"This track was mostly made using Piggy Tracker, which is a little sampler/tracker that runs on handheld games consoles like the Sony PSP. It took quite a few goes to get right; Depeche Mode are very good at disguising quite complicated arrangements with deceptively simple songs and melodies. 'Violator' was the first Depeche Mode album I bought, and is still my favourite today! 'Policy Of Truth' is the first track Lisa and I did together, and there's more on the way, plus Lisa Schumann's solo debut BE BOLD EP will be released the second week in June, as will 8-Bit Operators' Depeche Mode Tribute."


A Conversation with Echo & The Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch

Mike Ragogna: Ian, you have a new album with Echo & The Bunnymen, Meteorites. How do you straddle the solo career and the band?

Ian McCulloch: Hopefully, quite well. I get asked this question a lot, it's hard to give a definitive answer. Sometimes I feel I need... not so much a break from the Bunnymen, but I need to get certain songs out. The easiest way to explain it is sometimes I feel I write "I" songs and sometimes it feels like I'm writing "we" songs. They cross over slightly, for instance on this album there's a lot of personal stuff. There's something in it, maybe it's the melody lines. There's another way of describing that or explaining it which isn't too flattering in one way, but with Bunnymen songs there's less "woe is me," or in fact, hopefully on this album no "woe is me," which is kind of implies that I write my solo stuff "woe is me," but I'm trying to eradicate that as well. I think that with solo stuff it's more confessional and I'm kind of taking on blame for the way I am. But I think with the Bunnymen, whatever I say, even if it's exposing my frailties, I do it in a more angst-ridding way.

MR: How does the process work with you guys creatively these days?

IM: I wrote most of this batch on a bass guitar that kind of didn't need an app. I've started playing basslines on solo stuff and on some of The Fountain. I found I was fairly good at it in a hamfisted way. Basically, after finishing Pro Patria Mori in my flat--it's a massive flat--in my superflat, which doesn't mean I'm a mansion-owning Scouser, it's just bigger than normal, but I've managed to turn it into a very... it's not a hovel, but it's lived in, if you know what I mean--but the only instrument in the building was a child's piano with preset drumbeats, which I am going to master for the next album. It's got about twelve white keys and seven of the black ones. I might write a symphony on it, or whatever Beethoven wrote, I'll write a few of them. So the only other instrument was a bass guitar, a fairly crap one, a Stagg, it's called, which is hardly Gibson. But it was the only instrument there, so I started playing that. It was the day after I finished Pro Patria Mori, which had taken so much out of me that I hadn't even played. So I just started playing basslines, I didn't know what they were for particularly but they just sounded different. I'd gotten used to [white bottle? 7:16] in that total way that can be brilliant but can also limit where you go. For every C there's an A minor, for every A minor there's an F and then a G. I suppose I wanted to break free of that a little bit, but also it was just because I picked up this thing and thought, "Bloody hell, these sound good. They're cyclical basslines that kind of reminded me of early Bunnymen. I found I was playing in a different key, I got into writing songs in C, which seemed to suit the song but I want to sing the high stuff, and I found that writing things in C make it difficult to go up the octave in the way I can and historically get to do. But by playing these riffs with the open D-string, or playing the twiddly stuff on the G-string. I found that it gave me the octave thing I can do. A lot of people think it's a hard excuse if it's up in C, but all of the songs like "The Cutter," "The Back Of Love," a lot of those songs were written in D, so it enabled me to use the low voice and the open octave and even the very high falsetto stuff for backing vocals. So I was like, "Wow, this stuff sounds great," and thne I did early demos of it, added some guitars, spiky, choppy stuff that I used to do early Bunnymen. I was like, "Wow, this sounds like the Bunnymen but now." Then Youth got involved producing, and we added them to the demos and worked with a few things. They just brought this sound to it, using strings like spiky "Eh-eh-eh-eh," which again was like the early stuff, it was related to it, but it was the in-laws rather than direct family, if you know what I mean. I went through maybe eighteen months or two years of melancholy depression depression, which I've gone to in the past, but it always came in waves, even as a kid, I knew it would come but the wave wouldn't last that long. I actually enjoyed the waves of melancholy.

MR: What are some things that have happened that have been very significant to you as a professional musician over the years?

IM: One thing is that these waves kind of became tsunamis and I didn't know when they were going to stop raging, I can't even snap out of them sometimes. They're very good for writing songs and stuff, especially the lyrical side, they're really good for that. My wife used to say, "You do this on purpose, you get into this kind of down thing so you can write songs," which I used to kind of half admit that was true. But I always seemed to be able to, if not console them, at least ride them. Then over the last few years I had some personal things I won't go into, but I suppose trying to change your life by facing the waves and trying to prevent them going so long, I'm doing something about them, which could involve loads of things. Accepting that maybe it was more of a problem than something I could just say was part of my personality, no one wants to feel shite for more than a year non-stop. But I think without that I don't think I would've come up with songs like "Meteorites" and "Is This A Breakdown?" So I knew I had to use the way I was feeling, that's one aspect, and also feeling that a statement had to be made almost with this album, no jokes, no fluffy songs that didn't really stack up, songs that I wanted people to hear. There were no "half-baked" things going on, I wanted to make sure every breath, every word, every letter counted.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

IM: Every now and then, I bump into people who I like. Glasvegas was one, I said to James [Allan], "Whatever you do, don't wear white and don't look like a geisha girl with your next record," and guess what? He wore white with a little geisha parasol. I also said, "don't ever go up your own ass and certainly not anyone else's." Unfortunately they have a Support Tour with U2 and there's no margin when you do that. And Jake Bugg is someone I know, we met somewhere in London recently. I think Jake Bugg is fantastic, especially when he does the ballad-y kind of stuff, the slower, less skiffle-y Dylan stuff, which I like as well, but when he writes one of them beautiful ballads they're kind of beyond his years in a way. I just think he's great. I told him, "You seem as cool as you get, don't listen to anyone's advice apart of mine and don't go up your own ass or anyone else's." That's the advice I give. If you stick to that, hopefully you'll still write the great melodies, but even if you don't you can say to yourself, "I didn't go up anyone's ass." That's a great rule to live by I think, otherwise you've let yourself down. You've got to be strong enough to know when you're good and when you're brilliant. Jake Bugg is kind of knowing that. It's going to be tough because he's a solo act, leading a band. It's hard when it's your name and you can't share that weight of your own sense of who you are. You can share that in a band because it then becomes... The Bunnymen, we know, there was always an underlined, shared knowledge of what we were and it can be defined by what you don't do. There would be times you can't possibly do that because it wouldn't feel right, you know sometimes you can get manipulated, but we were always the vocal bastards of that kind of scene and music. "We don't do cowboy hats, we don't do religion, and we don't do arse licking, never mind arse fucking buttholing."

MR: Well, I think that answered all of my questions. It's been an honor talking to you.

IM: Wait, Mike, one question from me. What did you think of the album?

MR: Well, I think it might be my favorite from you guys in a long time. Hope that doesn't hurt your feelings.

IM: It's the best insult, you know?

MR: I think so. I'm just hesitant to commit because I need it to be part of my life a little longer.

IM: I agree. At the time, Ocean Rain was a classic but it certainly drones, and this is only fresh off the mixing desk and it already feels like a weighty album.

MR: Also, I think the depth of it reaches further than the others.

IM: Yeah, I agree.

MR: How do you feel about the influence you've had? Echo & The Bunnymen has affected so many bands.

IM: It's funny because a lot of it I wish I hadn't influenced because there's so much shite out there. Hopefully, I've influenced people to pout more when they've got a pair of lips. I do like the early stuff of Coldplay, the fact that Chris was open about how much we'd influenced him and his band. I think if we helped influence songs like "In My Place" or "Fix You," then brilliant. I think we had more influence on American bands to be honest, or at least there were more American bands saying how much they loved us, like Pavement, or even the Pixies, at least when I've spoken to them they've said we were a massive influence. The Flaming Lips, a band I really like, Arcade Fire said we influenced them. I think they're a great band, to be honest. So yeah, it's great when you like the actual stuff you've influenced. With Arcade Fire I find myself thinking, "God, I wish we sounded like that." People will say they sound like us. But yeah, I think this album will make people sit up. People like Chris Martin will envy being able to write a song like me. No one can get near that kind of stuff. The race is back on.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne


A Conversation with LP

Mike Ragogna: LP, you just released your first full length album, Forever For Now. This is technically your debut album, isn't it?

LP: Yeah, it's my major label debut for sure. While it's great to have an EP and all the stuff that goes with it, as well as the [Citibank] commercial with the song got that me touring a bunch, it definitely set me back making that record. And it's hard to explain to people; people see no record as non-movement, you know? But there was a lot of movement. You feel like you're making excuses sometimes, and you're not, it's just a process you have to get through. We really spent a lot of time on this record.

MR: Did you spend a lot of time on it also because you were in that mind of it being an introduction of LP, on an LP?

LP: [laughs] Somewhat, yes. You always feel like you want to make it perfect, but I think we also felt like there were different directions we could go, and we just started building it, like putting orchestras on it. It got pretty large. I guess we wanted to make it perfect, to pick the right songs and to complement my voice enough. We put a couple of them on there that were on the EP, as we always intended to. I was touring for a year for "Into the Wild," and that set us back about a year from recording, and I started writing more songs.

MR: Did you have a goal for this album when you started out? What kind of journey did you take with it, in your opinion?

LP: I wanted the record to certainly have peaks and valleys; a landscape. I didn't want it to be all the same song. We start really high with "Heavenly Light." That's an interesting choice for the opener, and I feel like that song kind of sets you up for the rest of the record, it pumps you up on a high note, then you can receive the rest. So when "Forever For Now" hits you, it's almost like a lullaby. We go from sunrise to sunset, basically. The thing about "Into The Wild," is that, while it was a commercial in the US, but I would say that ninety percent of the world has not heard that song. There are so many people that haven't heard it, like in Europe, for example; that wasn't a commercial in Europe, so people don't know it. So I feel like if no one had heard "Into The Wild," that that would have been the first single. And in a way it was; it was a bit of a setup for the record. That song has a lot of life left in it. I feel like "Into The Wild" and "Tokyo Sunrise" both deserve to be on an actual studio record. The EP was kind of like a teaser, and I really wanted a couple of those songs to be the studio record. Especially "Tokyo Sunrise."

MR: You did two hundred and fifty shows a year, basically living out of a tiny van. I guess you could call those "Salad days." What are the major differences for you now versus then?

LP: My days are slightly more structured now, which I think every artist really begs for and wants in their early years. That's what getting more attention or being more popular gives you. It gives you more of a structure, and there are more things to do that you need to do like, for instance, this interview. Touring and shows are the life's blood for most musicians I know. It's the ultimate connection. You go from writing a song in a small room, to playing a song in a bigger venue to people, and that's the journey and that's the best part of getting yourself out there.

MR: How is your partnership with [Rob] Cavallo doing these days?

LP: It's great. We became great friends during the making of this record. He's a brilliant producer. He knows so much about music and about sound. He's one of the very few producers that can do the old-school stuff and also understand Pro Tools and all that. It's interesting to work with a master of sorts. I feel like there's not that many of them out there, and he's sonically brilliant.

MR: Were you tempted to re-record your hits with Rihanna and Christina Aguilera, "Cheers (Drink to That)" and "Beautiful People" for this project?

LP: No, not at all. Not even a little. They're great, but one of the biggest things I discovered during the making of this record the last couple of years has been the difference between songs for me, and songs for other people. I can notice it in a heartbeat now. In fact, upon writing "Into The Wild," "Someday" and "Wasted Love," I really feel that no one but I can sing those songs. Like "Tokyo Sunrise" is one of those songs that I know is mine.

MR: When you did the first playback of that album, were there any surprises about yourself or any of the songs?

LP: I was kind of surprised where a couple of the songs took me. We went a little pop on some songs, which is probably my songwriting for other people creeping in a little bit, but that's just part of who I am. I have a couple of different things in me insofar as how I write and what I like to hear. But when you have a record, it's a lot of listening to the same songs, so it's difficult to keep perspective. But if I remember correctly, when I hadn't quite lost my perspective with this record after hearing it over and over, it packed a good wallop.

MR: Are there any songs in particular where you felt like, "Wow, I really discovered something about myself"?

LP: Yeah, "Tokyo" for sure is the apex for me in this record. I loved writing it and I loved singing it. It's got a bit of a Fleetwood Mac vibe, which was a surprise, and was something I didn't intend to do.

MR: Are there any songs on there which might be the closest or most personal to you?

LP: "Tokyo" and "Forever For Now" are very deep for me. I'm close with all of them, and "Into The Wild" for sure; I feel like I've got almost every part of my voice that I would want people to hear first. If I was trying to get people to know what I sounded like, I would play them that or "Tokyo."

MR: Having just put out a project of twelve songs and bonus tracks, is there some kind of almost post-partum-like letdown that you feel?

LP: Absolutely. My friends can sense a kind of malaise, and I think it's just what you go through right before a record comes out, because there's no more talking about it. You get signed, there's all this promise; you write songs, there's all this promise; you record, there's all this promise, promise, promise. And then you have this thing and it's getting printed thousands of times on vinyl and CDs and now there's no going back. You're going to present this thing, and that's it. It's kind of like your kid going off to college, you know, you've done everything you can.

MR: In the same sense, parents sometime think, "Oh, maybe if I'd done this or that..." Chances are, every artist probably approaches their work and thinks, "Okay, it's sort of finished..."

LP: Oh yeah, I feel like that. There are some things that I might change, but they're there now, and I'm proud of this record. Records are good for showing where you were at a certain time, and I think this definitely shows that.

MR: Does it feel at all like the record is the skeleton and you're going to "flesh it out" more with the live shows, etc.?

LP: Definitely. What's interesting is that I haven't really played a whole bunch of shows, especially the actual touring in clubs, which is when you really flesh out and kind of take on a new life, so to speak. That part's exciting to think about; playing songs for people and seeing their responses makes you fall in love with the record again.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

LP: Write songs, and keep writing. Even if you think you wrote the best song you've ever written, keep writing. My record's not even out yet, and I've started writing for myself again. You can't go too long patting yourself on the back even if you wrote the greatest record ever. Radiohead didn't just stand there and applaud themselves forever after they wrote The Bends. They kept writing and changing and I think that's what you have to do regardless of what stage you're at. So for new artists it's really important to keep going and producing songs and trying them out on people. And play live, and get better at connecting with and playing for people, because people really notice it when you can perform well, and it helps a lot.

MR: Nice. You could easily slip into the role of mentor.

LP: Well, I do it naturally with my friends who are starting or trying to do stuff, so I'm sure when the opportunity arises, I do take it and will take it.

MR: So you're not doing two hundred and fifty days a year anymore, but I imagine with the new album out, you'll be supporting it with a tour?

LP: Definitely, that's a major thing, and I'm very much looking forward to it. One of the things I do best as far as this whole thing goes is performing the songs. That's the ultimate payoff for me. I feel my best when I can take it all the way there. It's a really good feeling to write a song and then perform it, and I think a lot of performers would agree.

MR: Beautiful. What advice do you have for yourself at this point?

LP: I'd say don't get too ahead of myself, and try to keep my expectations low and my work ethic high. That's easy to say, but you start to get expectations, especially when good things happen and you think, "Oh, well maybe it could go this way." I just want to enjoy what's happening and be present and not get too ahead of myself. I hate anytime I get offstage and feel like I didn't really "absorb" that experience. That's my main goal, to absorb what's happening around me as it's happening.

MR: You're absorbing a lot right now, aren't you.

LP: Yeah, it's good though. I just try to keep calm and get a little Buddhist about it, not too high or too low.

MR: You must be so stoked about this album, though.

LP: I am, and I look forward to people hearing it. It's definitely a whole piece, which was the goal. Something you could play start to finish that all sounds good together.

MR: You're awesome and I really appreciate your time. Hopefully the next time we talk, you're a household name.

LP: Thanks, Mike. I really appreciate it, you're so sweet. Talk soon!

Transcribed by Emily Fotis


A Conversation with Harry Dean Stanton

Mike Ragogna: How fictional is Partly Fiction?

Harry Dean Stanton: It's all fiction. It's all a dream. Life is all a dream.

MR: How did the project begin?

HDS: It started with Sophie [Huber], we used to go out a long time ago. She was the whole thing.

MR: She directed the documentary.

HDS: Yeah.

MR: The documentary has been screened at over fifty festivals in the US and internationally. How do you think it went over?

HDS: I've been getting a good response from all over.

MR: You have a lot of well-known songs on here, many of them are almost classics. David Lynch is quoted as saying he loves your version of "Everybody's Talkin'."

HDS: Yeah, that's a heroin song. It was written on heroin. Fred Neil and Lou [Casteou?] was an actor, they were friends, I think they were both on heroin when they got the idea. Harry Nilsson made a hit out of it, but he made a rock 'n' roll song, which is not a heroin song.

MR: The essence of it is in how you did it, right?

HDS: Yeah.

MR: You recorded "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain," which, when it's sung by you, takes on a different kind of feel.

HDS: Yeah, that's a good song. All the songs are well-written. That was a quote about the album, the writing of the songs let the songs sell themselves.

MR: They're like self-reflections?

HDS: They're all well-written.

MR: What did you relate to in each of the songs? That they were well-written or that they related to your life in some way?

HDS: "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain" was related to Rebecca De Mornay, I used to go out with her, she loved the song.

MR: So a lot of these are very personal, with your memories relating to the music.

HDS: They're songs I've heard over the years that resonated with me.

MR: You also recorded "Canci贸n Mixteca" with Ry Cooder.

HDS: Yeah, that was on a soundtrack album, it was the theme song in Paris, Texas.

MR: Did it feel good recording it again for that project? Did it take you back?

HDS: Oh yeah, I love it, it's a beautiful song.

MR: You do a couple of traditionals as well, for instance, "Danny Boy."

HDS: That was actually written by an Englishman I think, but it has close Irish ties. It's kind of the Irish national anthem. For years, I thought it was a mother singing to her son, "Danny Boy," but it was a father who had lost two sons in two wars and this was his youngest son going into World War One. That's what the song's about.

MR: You have an interesting convergence of being an actor and being a musician. Do those two arts compliment each other? Like when you're singing a song, do you think your acting abilities let you pull out the more emotionally significant lines, etc.?

HDS: Oh yeah, there's no difference really. If you're a good singer, you can be an actor. As a matter of fact, anybody can be a film actor. A man off the street can be a film actor if he's got a good director.

MR: But certainly that's not how you feel about your own career, right? You feel like you're a good actor, no?

HDS: Oh yeah.

MR: But there are degrees of being able to interpret a script, I'm sure your musical interpretation gives you little more skill at acting.

HDS: Anybody can relate to any part that's written, a murderer, a lover, an authority figure, it doesn't matter, they're all universal.

MR: The documentary has some of your friends as guests, Sam Shepard, Wim Wenders, Deborah Harry, and Kris Kristofferson. When you hear them talk about their interaction with you and what you mean to them, what do you think at this point? How does it affect you?

HDS: It's a nice feeling. I like all of those people. What else can I say?

MR: Does it touch you on a deeper level because of the personal friendships and relationships you have with them?

HDS: Oh yeah, we're all close friends.

MR: You're accompanied by Jamie James and Don Was, what do you think of how the album turned out as far as musicianship?

HDS: I think it's all good. I haven't heard the album yet but I think I saw one cut of the film. They're all great people, talented musicians, I'm very fortunate.

MR: Were there any roles that were particularly special to you?

HDS: Oh yeah, Paris, Texas is my favorite movie. All of them had something going on, all of them appealed to me.

MR: Sophie is very up front about her friendship with you, how you met in the nineties and have been friends ever since. She's the one who came up with the idea to make this, but when you were recording the songs for this, did she have the idea of how this was going to turn out ultimately?

HDS: It all just developed and unfolded naturally.

MR: Were there any surprises for you in the documentary?

HDS: I can't remember anything at the moment.

MR: That's okay. Are there any songs on Partly Fiction that really, really resonate with you?

HDS: They all do. "Danny Boy," "Canci贸n Mixteca," all of them do.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

HDS: Don't try. Let it happen.

MR: And that's how it happened with you?

HDS: Yeah, just let it happen. Everything unfolds, I had nothing to do with it.

MR: How did you get into music initially?

HDS: I don't know, I was just born with a good ear. I was singing when I was six years old. When nobody was home, I would get up on a stool and sing. I was in love with an eighteen year-old house sitter. Her name was Thelma. I'd get up and sing. Who wrote that song? Early country western writers, "The Singing Brakeman" they called him. It was the first song I ever remember, "T For Texas."

MR: Jimmie Rodgers, and he was an inspiration for you as a kid?

HDS: Yes, that was the first song I remember.

MR: Were you encouraged by your family to do more music?

HDS: My mother sang, she taught me some Irish songs. My mother was Irish. I sang with my brothers, we had a barbershop quartet. The three of us, and I forget who the fourth one was. In high school and college I always sang in glee clubs and barbershop quartets.

MR: Do you remember any of the songs?

HDS: Let's see, there was a famous organization called The Barbershop Singers of America, "Those good old songs for me, I love to hear those minor chords and four-part harmony."

MR: What advice do you have for actors?

HDS: Play yourself. That's what I do.

MR: Similar advice to the musicians.

HDS: Yeah.

MR: You've taken roles you've wanted to play and related to the parts, right?

HDS: I've made some good choices.

MR: What are some choices coming up after Partly Fiction is a hit?

HDS: I haven't a clue.

MR: What do you want to do?

HDS: I can't answer that, I have to wait and see what I do. The best approach was Jack Nicholson, I did Ride In The Whirlwind with him, you know that film? He called me and said, "I've got a part for you, but I don't want you to do anything. Let the wardrobe do the character." I'd been thinking along those lines anyway, so that solidified my whole approach to acting. I played myself and let the wardrobe do the character.

MR: And that's exactly what you said toward the beginning of this interview, you just let things unfold.

HDS: Yeah, it's a whole eastern approach. Taoism, Buddhism, and the real Jewish Kabbalah, not the organized one. Most Jews don't get it and most Christians don't get it either. The real Kabbalah is the same as Buddhism and Taoism.

MR: Are you pretty spiritual?

HDS: Spiritual, yeah, but I don't believe in any religions. Not even the eastern ones. Once they're organized, it's all over.

MR: Do you think spirituality is at the bottom of your art? Do you think it's what your creative juices come from?

HDS: Again, there's no real answer to that. Everything unfolds naturally. Ultimately there's no answer to the whole existence on the planet, really, there's no answer to it. Nobody's in charge. It all just happens.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne

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