Mike Ragogna: Why, it's the one and only Sheila E.
Sheila E.: Hi, how are you?
MR: I'm pretty good. How are you doing?
SE: Great, thank you.
MR: Sheila, it seems that you are up to something lately that has to do with the one and only Prince.
SE: Well, he's been performing shows every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at The Forum in Los Angeles. He has different opening acts every night, so you never know who's going to open, and the show changes every single night, I never know when I'm going to play. Lately, I've been playing just Fridays and Saturdays. It's an awesome show, and I really advise anyone who can come and get tickets to see the show to do so. It looks like most people who came already enjoy it so much that they have bought multiple tickets to come to see Prince. Every show that they've seen, if it's more than two or three, they just can't believe how much the show changes every night, or every time that they see the show, it's incredible. It's like, how could it get any better? But it does.
MR: It's really hard to imagine that level of creativity, that level of output. So, you have a concert series like this and of course you're going to want to go to all of those shows.
SE: Yes, most people that we've seen have come more than once and they thought they were only going to see it once. But they loved it so much, they've been buying multiple days.
MR: Do you do the same thing, changing up your track list when you play these concerts?
SE: Yes, I'm within his show. I opened up once and that was a couple of weeks ago with my family, the E family, we opened up the show. And then later on that evening, I performed most of his show with him as well. Then we played an afterparty, so I took the next day off. But yeah, the set changes for me even not knowing what songs I'm going to play. His playlist is so extensive. If you think about it, there's probably a good 250 songs that he could pull from, easily, which is crazy and amazing at the same time, and they are all great songs. Depending on what the songs are, I come in and out of the show based on what songs I can apply my gift to, whether it be timbales, congas, vocals, or even just dance.
MR: Do you perform all your hits "Glamorous Life," "Bell of St. Mark," and "Love Bizarre," tracks like that?
SE: I haven't done "Bell of St. Mark," but I have done "Glamorous Life" as well as "Love Bizarre" and some of the other songs that Prince and I have done together. For instance, "You've Got the Look." People remember that song that we played together and there was a video for that during "Sign O' the Times." A lot of good stuff, though.
MR: Nice. Who is in Prince's band right now?
SE: John Blackwell on drums, Ida Nielson on Bass, Renato Neto on keyboards, Cassandra O'Neil on keyboards, Morris Hayes on keyboards. And then he has three singers, Shelby J, Elisa, and Liv. That's it. Oh, and periodically he had an amazing ballet dancer from New York, but she had to go back to her show. She was in and out of the show as well as the twins who are dancers. They are called "the twins," and they are twins. They are in and out of the show most of the time now as well. He's trying to make room for everyone to be on stage since the stage is the actual symbol that you used to see. It's very strategic how he places everyone because of the stage being limited in space. That's why we interact as far as being up and down, like if the twins do a lot of dancing, then I won't come up as much because I might interfere with the dancing because of the limited space in the front.
MR: What are some of your favorite onstage extravaganzas that you're either a part of or witnessing?
SE: Well, last week, I was able to take the day off and I sat there on Friday and I actually watched the show. I haven't seen this show live ever, the one that he's doing now, and I had such a blast. I was up singing and dancing like all the other fans were, and I had a great time. He's just so amazing, you know? I'm such a fan, not just his friend, but a fan of his music and his musicianship. There's never a dull moment, he changes it up. There aren't too many artists that can do that, that can change up their entire show--the set lists, the lights, and then being very spontaneous and just go with the flow based on how he feels, how the crowd feels, and how much time we have. To be able to be free like that, I don't know very many artists that can do that.
MR: How about the crew and everybody that has to keep up with him?
SE: Oh, absolutely. If anyone was able to film what happens underneath the stage, it's like a jam on the freeway sometimes, you know, everyone racing around trying to figure out what's next because we do have a set list, which is very cool. We get excited when we see that set list, the list of songs we're going to perform for the night, and somewhere in the midst of it, it all changes, which is even more fantastic because they are songs that aren't on the list, and we'll just start playing because he wants to jam and just play and...I'm telling you, it's unbelievable, every time I hear another song, I think, "Oh, my God, that's one's my favorite...no this one's my favorite." It's a blast. I'm underneath the stage when I'm not onstage,
MR: Underneath the stage?
SE: I'm underneath the stage because it's in the round and I'm down there dancing.
MR: And like you said, how can you not dance to Prince's stuff? There's got to be this feeling of, "Isn't that cool?" and then, come the next song, "Isn't THAT cool?"
SE: It's kind of like being in a nightclub and it's one long club mix. It's one hit after another, and he does say, "I've got so many hits I don't know how long I'm gonna be here tonight." And it's the truth, he's got a ton of fantastic songs.
MR: Which do you feel are the songs that the crowd not only goes nuts over, but you also hear the most folks singing along to?
SE: You know, I have to say that probably 90% of the time, they are singing on most all of them, literally. The fans have been die-hard fans that really know his songs, all of them from different years. And then there's a segment where he's out there by himself and he does a ton of hits by himself and the crowd goes mad.
MR: How long is this concert series?
SE: There were 21 dates.
MR: Has this ever been done before by any other artist?
SE: Not that I know of. I've never known an artist to be able to just come into town and set up camp and just hang out and play a colosseum every weekend, a residency-type situation. I don't know of too many people that are able to do that. And 21 shows...he might be breaking a record, it's a possibility, I don't know. I don't know how many people have played The Forum and have done at least 21 shows.
MR: That's a really wild ride that you're on right now.
SE: Yeah, it's fantastic, we're having such a great time. The camaraderie of all the musicians in the band, me being a part of what they're doing, what Prince is doing. I love being around him, he's just a joy to be around. We just have a great time.
MR: You also have your E Family album.
SE: Yes, the E family CD is out, and you can actually buy it at the Prince concert as well as online at http://the-e-family.com. We also have Earth, Wind & Fire, Joss Stone, Raphael Saadiq, George Duke, Israel Houghton, a lot of artist on the CD.
MR: All incredible artists too.
SE: Yes. Yes they are.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
SE: The advice that I have basically is to be true to yourself. Be honest and search for what you want to be. As a new artist, sometimes, you're not really sure, and then you end up changing your direction based upon what you go through in life experiences. You start changing the music you want to sing, you want to write, you want to perform. Beyond time, be very respectful. I think the best attitude is gratitude.
SE: Seriously. There are so many new artists that I hear about that have such an attitude and thinking that this is the way it's supposed to be, to disrespect people in so many different ways. It's not even worth it. Longevity is going to be based on the experience that you've had in your career based on how you treat people, and your musicianship, and what you do. So, I think definitely treat people how you want to be treated and enjoy it. But you're going to have to work really, really hard, especially because the industry has changed so much. There are not that many record companies, but there are a lot of opportunities to get music out now, and so many people right now have their own studios in their homes or know someone that does. It's easy to sell your CDs online as well as your music, you know, singles, but you really have to work hard, you have to know how to market yourself. Get a good team. It takes a team. It's not going to be just you that's going to do it, you can't do it by yourself. You've got to have a great team.
MR: And that circles right back to how you started in this, meeting Prince, his then having protégés and artists he developed.
MR: I imagine Prince is someone who still is supportive of new artists
SE: He is very supportive of new artists. When I first met him in 1978, I hadn't changed my name yet. Sheila Escovedo is my real name. When I went to see him for the first time perform in San Francisco, I walked up to him and he saw me coming and he turned around and I put my hand out to introduce myself. I said, "Hi, my name is...," and he said, "I already know who you are." I said, "Really?" and I was kind of shocked and thrown back because I had no idea. He said, "Yeah, I've been following your career for a while, and I've been watching you perform with George Duke, watching you on television shows, and watching you play percussion and drums." So, he was already into my career, which was great. I had no idea. I'd played with so many different artists up to that point. When he hears new music that he really enjoys and new artists that are really trying to make a way and they have that passion, I think all of us are behind new artists that want to do that. We're rooting for them. It's not a competition. It's more like a celebration of music.
Prince & Co. will be at The Forum on May 27, 28 & 29.
Transcribed by David Proctor Hurlin
A Conversation with Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull
Mike Ragogna: Andy, let's get into your new album, Simple Math. This is sort of a concept album, isn't it?
Andy Hull: It definitely is, yeah.
MR: Can you go into what the thinking was behind that?
AH: I think with all the writing that Manchester was doing before, it was far more abstract when it came to personal details, and it was all about very descriptive things. But this is the first album where I put the listener right next to me for an entire story. The story is like the two years after I got married, and what kind of a toll that takes on someone.
MR: It's a very personal album.
AH: Yes, very. It's a bigger concept but phrased in more detail.
MR: Can we have an example of a couple songs that do the most revealing?
AH: To be honest with you, I think that most of them do. The first song on the record is called "Deer," and it's, basically, a song that is in two sections--the first section being the moment that I got home and realized that my wife had moved everything out of my place, then the moment that I realized that I had been acting like a not-so-nice guy for a little bit. It sort of serves as an apology to my bandmates for being in my own head. The second song is a super-descriptive telling of trying to get in a cab, and having a gnarly, existential crisis. "Pale Black Eye" is a song where I actually say my wife's name, and I'm referring to a lot of situations, growth, and a lot of forgiveness. There's a lot more apologizing than any of the other records. I don't know if that answers your question.
MR: Absolutely. Now, I hate to ask this question, but it begs to be asked. Are you at a spot right now where maybe the album was cathartic as it needed to be, or your relationship is at a spot you needed to have reached.
AH: Absolutely. I think that both of them tie into each other extremely well. The lyrics from the beginning of this album, when I started writing them, were definitely angrier, and they were thought out in a sense that I was making sure that they rhymed. I meant every word that I was saying, but they were more arguments than resolutions. The record was one of those things that I had to ask my wife--who I'm very in love with and we're fantastic--but I had to ask, "Are you cool with me letting this out there?" She'd never tell me I couldn't write a song because that's how I process, but she's been awesome about it in saying that it's just our story and neither of us are ashamed of it.
MR: Let's get into some history. How did the band form--you're from Georgia, not Manchester, of course.
AH: Yes, sir. We formed in about my junior year of high school, when I was 17, which would have been about '04. I went through several different band mates after I started it as sort of a solo project, and it ended up that most of the guys that I'd been in bands with before joined the band and are still in it today. Really, I'm in a band with four of my best friends, and we've been pretty much touring non-stop since '05, '06.
MR: So, there was that first album that never was released, and I think it was called Nobody Sings Anymore.
AH: Yes, Nobody Sings Anymore.
MR: Do you have a story as to why it wasn't released and maybe what went into making that album?
AH: Definitely. We made that record the same year as we made I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child, we just made it at the very beginning of '06. That was actually the last concept record that we made before Simple Math, and it being a concept record was a big reason why we didn't release it. It was a concept record that had nothing to do with me. It was about a couple--an alcoholic husband named Russell, and a battered wife named Marcy--and it just told this whole story of them and their daughter. I think the big reason was that we felt it wasn't really relating to what we wanted to do, and the band that had recorded that was really different--like three members different. So, there were only two guys that were a part of that record by the time we got to I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child.
MR: Now, when they release your first official album, in addition to EPs and all sorts of things that could be thrown on there, maybe you could do a deluxe edition and reveal everything for the first time.
AH: I think there's going to be a time. I know that it's out there and people have it, but I think that we'll have to release it at some point.
MR: We were talking about your official debut album, but then you had your breakthrough album, Mean Everything To Nothing.
MR: The critics went nuts over this. What was your reaction to their reaction?
AH: Pretty shocked, you know? We attempt to create records that, when you a-b the one before it, it's better, and that's what we did. We tried to make a record that was better than our first one. That record is kind of like a grown man's temper tantrum. It was really a record written on impulse and a lot of first tries. As far as the writing process and recording process, we were far more diligent. On Simple Math we did the same thing, and we think we've definitely made a better record than Mean Everything To Nothing. I think critics are critics, and I'm really happy that they've given us so much love, but really we're more concerned with what our fans think, making new fans, and then those new fans having a catalog of music to go back to that they can enjoy.
MR: Nicely said. How did you approach recording Simple Math and how did it differ from Mean Everything To Nothing?
AH: I had a lot more control this time, and the band had a lot more control to really take our time to make sure things were sounding the exact way we wanted them to. The recording process was definitely about creating something that was, sonically, really layered, but never sounded complicated. So, the process was similar in that on both records, we went up to Nashville for a couple weeks and got the basic tracking done, then came back to Atlanta and worked on it for the next few months. I don't know, this one was a lot more fun to make, and I think that we were far more secure in the overall vibe of what we were creating than on Mean Everything To Nothing.
MR: Also, you are riding a wave. You had five significant tracks on that album. You had "Everything To Nothing," which appeared on One Tree Hill, and I think there was another one that aired on One Tree Hill as well. You also had "The Only One," which was on 90210. "Shake It Out" had a video with it, and "I've Got Friends" was a single and your third video. Do you eventually see the kinds of uses of your songs?
AH: Mostly on YouTube because we're touring, but I've seen a few of them for sure.
MR: What is your reaction when you see the way the songs are used?
AH: Sometimes they're cool, sometimes they're weird--I think it's awesome. I'm going to always think that my songs should be put anywhere that any other song is, so we're basically just pretty flattered when that kind of thing happens because there are bands that get to do that, but not too many, you know? It's cool to kind of be a part of it.
MR: Now, the band is Manchester Orchestra, but the group is from Georgia. Where does the name come from?
AH: When I created the band, I was into a lot of mopey music. I was listening to a lot of Morrissey, The Smiths, and bands like that, coming from Manchester. I was always fascinated with it, and it just kind of stuck.
MR: Are they your musical influences? And who are other musical influences, maybe from when you were younger?
AH: Those aren't really my musical influences, they were just things I was listening to at the time. My musical influences are anywhere from Neil Young and Built To Spill, to Ghostface and The Clipse--I'm really wide across the board. Really, it has to do with lyrics, and then, generally, if the lyrics are good, the melody--I never think about the melody, but I tend to write pretty good melodies, and I think that has to do with how I listen to songs as well. It doesn't necessarily have to be the dude with the best voice or anything like that.
MR: What's it like touring as Manchester Orchestra? And you're touring with Cage The Elephant, right?
AH: It's gotten better and better over the last five years. We have really devoted fans who take our shows very seriously, and we appreciate that and try to put on a hell of a good show for them. Cage The Elephant are dangerously fun, they're completely out of their minds, and they are some of our best friends. It's always a joy to be on the road with them, and for this tour, they basically just called and told me that they were not going to go out until we would co-headline. If that meant sitting out while we did our own headlines, and they could co-headline after, they would wait. I just thought that seemed silly--why don't you just create the best ticket that you can go see at a show?
MR: Maybe this is a bit of a premature question, but what advice do you have for new artists?
AH: Just make sure that you really want to do it because there are going to be people who tell you, "You know what you signed up for," and those people don't realize that you don't really know what you signed up for. Make sure that you really, really want to do it for as long as it takes.
4. April Fool
5. Pale Black Eye
7. Simple Math
8. Leave It Alone
10. Leaky Breaks
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation with Jim Guthrie
Mike Ragogna: Okay, what's all this about Sword & Sworcery?
JG: The game is the brainchild of Craig D. Adams, aka Superbrothers, and at its base, it's a 21st century interpretation of the archetypical old school videogame adventure designed exclusively for Apple's touchtronic machinery.
MR: Creatively, how did you come up with the music?
JG: The idea from the beginning was to try and wrap a "point and click" adventure game around the music. We already had 2 or 3 earlier compositions of mine to start with and a handful of gameplay ideas. When matched with Craig's art, we had an amazing, moody atmosphere to start with. Then, we proceeded to fill in the blanks with new compositions of mine inspired by more of Craig's gorgeous pixel art. It was a pretty mysterious process to us all, and it was a slow conversation between me and Craig and Kris Piotrowski, the Creative Director at Capybara Games.
MR: For the music, what was the recording process like?
JG: Every song was very different, it was pretty solitary work. It was mostly done using midi instruments on a Mac and I played a little guitar, bass and drums. I also used a PSOne and MTVs Music Generator on some tunes. On "The Cloud," I had some friends play some pretty loose strings and horns with no knowledge of the final composition, just the key of the tune. I later edited together their performances along with other "fake" instruments and some bass guitar.
MR: How did you come up with the iPad and iPod game and how do they tie-in with the album?
JG: Like I had mentioned before, we had always intended for the art style and music to be front and center in this game. Back in 2005 or 2006, Craig had the idea for this game around the same time he first heard my Playstation stuff, and then at some point, Capy came on board. It was a pretty long, organic process. The game was first conceived as "an EP you could walk through," and I always wrote the music for the game with an album in mind.
MR: How does the Sword & Sworcery app function?
JG: Honestly, I find it pretty hard to answer questions like this in a few sentences. I'm going to do myself a favor and lift a paragraph right off our Facebook page:
S&S: EP presents an archetypical yarn that begins when our lone warrior monk lady strides into a remote mountain wilderness on a woeful errand. She seeks a burdensome book known as The Megatome, a sacred relic protected by a deathless spectre known as The Gogolithic Mass who lurks in the horror-haunted darkness beneath the forbidden peak of Mingi Taw. To complete her woeful errand, initiated participants are asked to help her overcome obstacles. are consciousness expansion technique known as the Song of Sworcery; we may choose to locate contend with cryptozoological phenomena such as the sylvan sprites & enact impossible miracles according to the moods of the moon. Or something like that.
MR: What about the iPad user? Do you have a theory on how it became the #2 iPad best seller?
JG: It's really a crapshoot in the app biz. There are so many games in the App Store, it's hard to say why ours popped out for the brief window that it did. We had a great first showing at GDC back in 2009, and a lot of people started to chat about it online. We made a few good trailers to further spread the word and Capybara Games made some great decisions on how to roll it all out.
MR: Who are your creative influences?
JG: This is always a tough question for me. It's pretty open, but I can say when I make music, I'm always fixated on the vibe or atmosphere of the piece. No one creates a better vibe in their work than people like David Lynch or the Coen brothers. They are masters of distilling atmosphere. I'm always motivated by trying to capture and drag out some feeling or fleeting moment in my music. In the end, I'm more influenced by the change in the air before a rainstorm than I am anything else.
MR: Do you see more artists creating synergies like this in the future?
JG: Definitely. There has never been a more ideal time to collaborate with other artists and musicians to create an app or video game.
MR: Will you be touring to support the album and app, and how will that translate to a live setting?
JG: We really only have one show booked at this point, June 30th, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. I'm actually right in the middle of trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to make this music happen in a live context. I'm not used to performing with so many laptops and gadgets, but we've had one practice so far and it was sounding like music from the game!
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
JG: Work. Just work everyday at whatever it is you do. Work, work, work.
1. Dark Flute
2. Lone Star
3. Doom Sock
4. The Prettiest Weed
5. The Cloud
6. Under A Tree
7. The Maelstrom
8. The Ballad Of The Space Babies
9. Unknowable Geometry
10. Bones McCoy
11. Ode To A Room
12. The Prettiest Remix
13. The Whirling Infinite
14. Little Furnace
Weerd Science Audio Exclusive/Premiere