A Conversation with Meital
Mike Ragogna: Meital, what do you think it is about your track "Give Us Back Love" that is resonating with millions of people?
Meital: "Give Us Back Love" is a prayer for the return of love. As of today, we live in a modern world that is ruled by some wrong values such as greed, money and fame. "Give Us Back Love" is a prayer for the return of love and that message might resonate with how people feel. I also had phenomenal DJs make phenomenal remixes for "Give Us Back Love."
MR: Do you see an intersection between your musical and acting careers and what do you think that is?
Meital: I've always been a performer, so to me both music and acting are both just manifestations of self-expression as an artist. Since I've always been an actor, I'm approaching the music from the theatrical world and that's what gives it the "Meital-ic" vibe.
MR: [laughs] Your recurring role on Weeds plus your ProSieben appearance certainly has helped with your visibility. Are you surprised by the world's reaction to your talents?
Meital: It's beyond gratifying to create something and have the audience embrace it. It's really what motivates me as an artist, because ultimately I want my music and my art to be in a dialogue with the world, and in order to do so, I need the world to know that I exist. So yeah, it's pretty damn cool.
MR: You must be very proud or at least satisfied with how far you've gotten independently, without a major label's involvement.
Meital: The nice surprise was the source of the magic that came to my life through the music. It's beyond gratifying to create something for an audience and then see that audience continue to grow. I've only released three songs in my career as a singer and I'm very blessed to have received so much love, attention and worldwide chart positions with only these three songs. I'm looking forward to sharing more of the magic through my music, and you'll be able to enjoy it on Spotify.
MR: What songs and artists inspired you over the years? How and when did you decide you wanted to apply the creative arts to your career?
Meital: Artists who inspire me are ones that use their art to provoke and incite larger debates and conversations. I think artists like Godard, Andy Warhol, Madonna, Sasha Baron Cohen, The Beatles, Yoko Ono, Kanye West, among others, are all using art to raise awareness to bigger social and political issues. As an artist, you're given the gift of a platform, and it's really important to use that platform to spread messages that are important to you.
I started acting when I was a kid, so I've been doing the whole creative arts thing ever since then. It's not really a conscious choice, in some ways, it chooses you and then it just happens to become your path in life.
MR: What are your recording sessions like?
Meital: Naked. Very naked. I mean, not like my "Yummy" video naked... I mean, I'm wearing clothes, but I try to let myself feel as vulnerable as possible and that's when I'm able to create the most interesting music. I usually come to the studio with some scribbles of ideas - some lyrics, and a core of a song. Then I develop it, play it out and change it--and then maybe it becomes something real.
MR: What was the best advice you ever received and did you take it?
Meital: The best advice I've ever received was "who gives a 'F'?" That sounds crude, but it came from a friend and it was just to teach me that you can't always listen to other people, or take other people's negativity to your heart. When you're an artist you're exposing yourself in so many ways, I'm trying to say "who gives a 'F''?" whenever I come across someone who doesn't get what I'm doing. I can't let negativity keep me back or down, so it's kind of like a personal mantra to just keep on going, keep on being me.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
Meital: My advice for new artists is to take time to experiment and to be brave with your art. If you have something to say, and you know it will piss some people off, you better say it. Being politically correct and polite are not what being an artist is all about.
MR: How do you see your musical career progressing from here? How about your acting career?
Meital: It's hard to plan too far ahead, but right now I'm working on new music, and I also have another TV show in progress. It'd be cool to play a concert with the Mars rover, have kids with the rover and then become the new evolutionary family. Maybe we could start a family band like the Jacksons...me, the Mars Rover and our kids.
A Conversation with Donny Osmond
Mike Ragogna: Hey, Donny. Heads up, I'm recording with my phone app.
Donny Osmond: [laughs] How did we ever live without cell phones and apps? I came up with my own app when I was making this album. I thought, "How am I going to market this thing?" because social media is such an important aspect of our lives, so I came up with my own app.
MR: What's it called?
DO: It's simply called "Donny Osmond" and you download it to your iPhone or your Android and you get snippets of all your songs on this album with the backstories of why I recorded the song. It ties into Twitter and Facebook, which I'm on all the time. I'm a Facebook fanatic, I love it.
MR: [laughs] So you've become addicted like the rest of us.
DO: Oh yeah, absolutely.
MR: Donny, let's get into The Soundtrack Of My Life. I think we're the same age, so a lot of your song choices resonated with me, for instance, "My Cherie Amour." There's a certain story about Stevie Wonder's involvement, right?
DO: It was my very first forty-five I ever bought. After I finished the track, I put my vocal on it, the whole bit, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be amazing if I could get Stevie?" It was a long shot, but I called him up. He wasn't about to commit to just anything, he said, "Well send the song, let me hear it." The next thing I know my cell phone rings and it's his assistant saying, "Stevie's on the other line, he wants to talk to you." I said, "Okay, my heart just stopped, my musical hero is calling me." I thought, "This could either be very good news or very bad news." He said, "Send me the masters immediately, I love what you've done to the track, I've got to be a part of this project." To put his stamp of approval on this project meant the world to me. I just absolutely think he's one of the best artists of our time.
MR: What about your take on the Peter Gabriel classic "Don't Give Up"? The press release says this represents the highs and lows of your career. Not to be a wiseguy, but what the heck are the lows of your career?
DO: [laughs] Well, just think about that transition going from teen idol to adult entertainer. Not very many people have made that transition and come out unscathed. During the 1980s was my transition time. The Donny And Marie Show had ended, the "Puppy Love" era had ended and I was told that I'm pretty much a has-been, I was a former teen idol and that was pretty much all I'd be. But I believed in my talent and my wife kept telling me, "Don't give up, you've got a lot of fans, you've got friends, a lot of supporters; don't give up." So when I met up with Peter Gabriel, this would've been '87, '86, something like that, I started listening to So, and I heard that track, "Don't Give Up." That was the song that got me through the eighties. That was exactly what my wife would tell me, "Don't give up. We believe in you, just keep going." Peter had an interesting way of looking at a career which kind of rubbed off on me. He said, "You know, you could become popular and just do outrageous things," which a lot of celebrities do these days just to get their name in the headlines, "anyone can be popular, but it takes an artist to be popular," and the way they do that is through music. So I picked the hard way to come out of that teen idol popularity, and that was to just do it with my music and not do some kind of clever campaign just to get my name back in the news.
MR: Right, and you reinvigorated your career with hits like "Soldier Of Love."
DO: Case in point. It was done because of the music and not some campaign, although it just happened to be an interesting campaign where people didn't say it was me because they didn't want to admit that they were playing Donny Osmond music. In actually the campaign created itself and the music was allowed to speak for itself. Peter Gabriel was right, that's the way you've got to do it, let the music speak for itself.
MR: There are a couple more songs I identify with such as "The Long And Winding Road," which was one of my first Beatles favorites. "Peg" by Steely Dan... How did you ultimately commit to this album's material? What about the song needed to resonate with you?
DO: Really good question Mike. That was one of the toughest things about making this album. I was like a kind in a candy store, like, "Which one do you want?" The first criteria was it's got to have a compelling story. There's got to be a reason to do it that was significant in my life, not just because I liked it or it was a popular song, but it was a changing moment in my life, an apex moment. So that narrowed it down to several hundred. Then it was just a matter of going to the chopping block and saying, "Okay, how do we put a cool album together that makes it sound good and that's commercially viable yet means something to me?" I won't pull any punches, it was a really difficult process to come up with these songs.
MR: And "Your Song" is special to you because it was at an Elton John concert that you decided to propose to your wife, right?
DO: Yeah, I was dating a girl named Tammy and my brother Jay was dating this girl named Debbie. I remember when he sat down at the piano to sing "Your Song" and I said, "I think I'm going to marry my brother's date someday." Debbie and I have been married thirty-seven years.
MR: Another interesting choice is "Ben." I had no idea that Ben was written for you but you weren't able to record it.
DO: That's right, true story. Mike and I laughed about that a lot.
MR: You and Michael Jackson...what is that story? Can you remember being told about it and your reaction?
DO: I didn't know about this until the late nineties. I had no idea, but one fo the writers came to me and said, "Donny, that was your song." I said, "You've got to be kidding me." So I called Michael immediately and said, "Did you know this?" We had a laugh over it because that song is about a rat. He said, "Donny, you know what this means, you had a hit about a puppy and I had a hit about a rat."
MR: [laughs] Donny, I have no idea if this is a sore point but let me say that early Jackson 5 and Osmond Brothers singles had a lot in common.
DO: Yeah, and again Michael and I would talk about it all the time. The comparisons are pretty uncanny. There were nine children in both families, Mike and I were both the seventh child of nine, our mother's birthdays are on the same day, we both have brothers named Tito...
MR: [laughs] Tito! Donny, how about "Moon River?" I'm sure you did that because of the Andy Williams connection with your family, right?
MR: When your brothers were regulars, they brought you on the show when you were really little.
DO: I was five when I made my debut. That song represents my childhood. When I started touring with my brothers we were Andy's backup group, we'd travel with him and we would always close the show with "Moon River." A lot of the time I would stand back there and watch him sing it. "Moon River" became a song of my childhood. An interesting little note that not many people know... Before Andy passed away, he turned to his wife Debbie and he gave her a scarf and said, "This is my favorite scarf, I wear it all the time. When I'm gone, I want you to give it to Donny Osmond." If you look at the cover of this CD, you'll see a little bit of that scarf underneath my jacket.
MR: Yeah, there it is, very sweet. Donny, this really is a very personal album to you.
DO: Very personal.
MR: Hey, why "The Long And Winding Road" instead of other Beatles songs?
DO: It's pretty significant. It was the last Beatles single and probably one of my favorite songs that The Beatles ever did. I came into The Beatles scene pretty much in the latter part of the sixties. It reminded me so much of my youth when I heard that song because I was on the road all the time as a kid. I very rarely came home. It resonated to me in many, many ways that it normally wouldn't resonate with other kids listening to that song because I was living that life on the road.
MR:Maybe it also serves as a metaphor for your career?
DO: That's exactly right. But the reason I put a Beatles song on there is not just because of the metaphor or because I like the song. Back in 1973 I think it was, there was a knock on my hotel room door and I open it up and it's Paul standing there with his daughter Mary. I guess Mary was a huge Donny Osmond fan at the time and said, "Dad, I want Donny's autograph." He said, "Can I get your autograph for your daughter?" I said, "Yeah!" and he hands me a picture of myself. I put, "To Mary, love, Donny Osmond." I gave it to Paul and he gave it to Mary and she squealed a little bit and said, "Thank you very much." The door closed and I thought, "Did that just really happen? That was Paul McCartney!" So years later I'm in London at a video editing studio and Paul was in the adjacent studio editing one of his videos. I thought, "I've got to seize this opportunity and find out if it really happened or if I dreamt it." I went in and said, "Paul, did this really happen?" He said, "Donny, not only did it happen, but your autograph is one for the very few autographs I've ever asked for in my life." It was a pretty cool moment for me.
MR: Great story. Donny, what advice do you have for new artists?
DO: Pay attention to quality. Really focus on your music, especially nowadays when it's so easy to become popular. You can just do wild things and crazy things and just be popular, but focus on your talent. You look at a lady like Taylor Swift, she's really talented and she's popular because of her talent. Not because of social media or the crazy things she does. No, she's talented. Or Bruno. "Uptown Funk" is one of the greatest songs of all time. He's a talented guy and he's popular because of his talent. Look at Nick Jonas, what he's done to recreate himself. I love that single "Jealous." I think he did a fantastic job of recreating himself. None of this grows on trees. You've got to get out there and work. Some of these up-and-coming artists, with some of these reality shows they're handed all this success on a silver platter and they're giant stars overnight, but then what? Then the work starts, and they don't realize that. It takes a lot of effort, takes a lot of work, takes a lot of talent and surrounding yourself with great people, but you've got to focus on your music.
MR: Beautiful. I worked with Alan years ago, nice guy. How's your whole family doing?
DO: Well there's so many of us it's hard to keep track of them all. My crew keeps me pretty busy focusing on what I'm trying to do, but everybody's doing good. Alan's hanging in there.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Melissa Manchester
Mike Ragogna: Melissa, is your new album You Gotta Love The Life the result of your students persuading you to record a new album?
Melissa Manchester: They actually told me that I should do a crowd funding project, because I couldn't figure out in that moment how to pursue signing another contract with another record company even though there are very few left. My students kept coming in with their own projects, their own CDs with four or five songs on them and they looked really good, they were shrink-wrapped and had photographs and stuff. I asked them, "How have you been doing this?" and they said, "We've been doing it through crowd funding and you should do that." I said, "What is that?" They explained to me what it was and the concepts behind it and the independence and freedom that is connected to it. I ended up making one of my students my project manager and we did it with Indiegogo, we ran it for several months and I was able to record it down at Citrus College where I'm honorary artist in residence. Because the studio--which is spectacular--is a teaching facility, and my engineer Tim Jaquette is the professor of recording arts, we had students just watching the collaboration of live musicians having musical discussions. It was resonating backwards and forwards on so many levels, it was just beautiful. It was so unexpectedly alive, it was beautiful.
MR: How did it feel to take this route? Did it inspire you more, being in this completely different creative environment?
MM: Well, you certainly are much more independent. You are literally independent and you are free to work on what shows up, what occurs to you. My experience when I was signed to a record label was that they're a huge bank, they bankroll your project and that's fine, but even after you make their money back, they own your work. That seemed tiresome to sign on to again. The other thing was that I have a very varied interest in all sorts of music and I think that this album reflects that. It's been a big sticking point in the past, it was very hard for me to get the kinds of music that I wanted on some of the albums. The record company would want you to follow a current trend or something that was such a manipulation of your tastes... Sometimes you're successful at it and sometimes you fail at it, but it was just not servicing my musical vision. This album really does that. There's a wide variety of songs, from the first American songbooks up to new compositions, there's beautiful musicians, fantastic guest artists, it was just lovely.
MR: There's a Stevie Wonder story behind "Your Love Is Where I Live," right?
MM: Apparently he's been invited to do many projects all the time and he said yes to this one and played harmonica. He showed up with this box of harmonicas, it was incredible. He's so generous, he played enough to put on a thousand songs. When we were recording this down at Citrus it was spring break, so there was nobody on campus except the guards and they all knew who was coming, but there was one group of students that had band practice, since they had a show coming up. I have a very long history with Stevie, Carole Sager and I wrote a song in tribute to him called Stevie's Wonder and he never forgot that. After he was done with my session, he heard those young students' band practicing far down the hall, and if you can picture an entire group of people running after Stevie Wonder who's running down a hall towards these musicians... He went into their studio and they stopped their practice and one of the girl singers said, "Would you like to sing with us?" and he said, "Whatcha got?" She said, "Well, we've been rehearsing 'Superstition.'" He said, "Oh yeah?" He went up to the mic and all the students surrounded him with their instruments. They started playing and he started singing and the roof just blew off the place. It was fantastic and the students had their first gigantic, golden moment in their young career, it was beautiful.
MR: So awesome. Melissa, you co-wrote "Other End Of The Phone" with Hal David. What was it like to write with him? You co-write often, right?
MM: Yes, I love to co-write, it's how I get songs done in a jiffy. When I write them myself, it usually takes a while. I met Hal and asked him if he'd like to write and he said, "Yes." He was quite elderly at the time, he was ninety two. He brought up this lyric and I took it home and tried to imagine Dionne Warwick who is a beautiful colleague and heroine of mine. She would sing it where the spaces were in the lyric. Once I got that I took it back to Hal and he loved it. Then I reached out to Dionne, and we got Joe Sample to play on it--I've been trying to work with Joe for thirty years, but he's a busy composer. It turned out to be one of his last performances. Dionne said yes because she had built her career on the lyrics of Hal David and the music of Burt Bacharach. So it was a tribute. None of these songs were constructed as duets, but it was so beautiful to imagine two women singing this song. The convention would be a man and a woman I guess, but to have two women singing this song about weary friendship and standing together through the hard times no matter what was beautiful. She was beautiful, and Joe Sample shined. You hear it right away, nobody plays piano like him. It was thrilling, I could hear it right away.
MR: Considering both of these music icons passed away, was it a little bittersweet, having them on your project?
MM: Well, yes, and yet I see it as a great achievement. We're all going one day. I see it as, "I worked with these two great artists." That's what it's all about. I didn't miss that chance.
MR: Congratulations. "You Are My Heart" has to do with the Supreme Court decision on DOMA, right?
MM: Yes, absolutely. I wrote that for my dear friends Bill and Steve. They had been together for many, many years and they were not able to get married. The morning that DOMA was struck down I texted Steve and I said, "Do I hear wedding bells?" and he said, "In August," and he signed it, "You are my heart." I looked at it and thought, "That's the song." I wrote that song for their wedding.
MR: That's so beautiful. You perform a song with Keb' Mo', how did that come together?
MM: Well Keb' and I have worked together, I've written some songs with him that he's been kind enough to record on his wonderful album, he's just fantastic. I brought the song to him because I just thought it was a good fit. I went down to Nashville and recorded it in his studio and he said, "It's a very simple song." I said, "Yes it is. I know it's very simple, but there's a story behind it, would you like to hear the story?" and he said, "Sure." I told him that years before I'd been doing research in the Mississippi delta and there was a drunk in a juke joint who came up to me and asked me if I was married. And I said, "Yes, very," and he said, "That's too bad, because I've got a feeling for you," and I thought to myself, "I can write that song!" That's how it comes to me. It just shows up and socks me in my trap and opens something in my heart and my mind and then it shows up as a song. Keb' so captured the inner world of that song, his playing was so spectacular, as was everybody else's.
MR: By this point, Keb' Mo' should be a household name.
MM: He comes from a very good place. It's not about the big fame, it's about the big life, and he certainly lives that.
MR: Great quote. So you and THE Paul Reiser co-wrote "No There There."
MM: Paul and I had toured briefly, he's a lovely man. I got to a concert and the artist said, "I wrote all these songs with Paul Reiser," and I said, "Wow, really? I didn't know about that part." I always had the title of the song and beginning of the idea; it's about the presumption that we fell in love, too, that there is a finite point that you achieve by being in love and we don't realize the illusory part of it. And then you learn, and then you breathe, and then you let go, and then you find yourself again.
MR: Paul Reiser's been associated with lots of interesting musical projects though I think people still just associate him with his acting career.
MM: Oh, sure.
MR: You also do a couple covers on here, "Be My Baby" is very cool, especially from the perspective of a mature woman who's had life and had all these experiences. "Be My Baby" has such an innocence to it, in a way this like saying, "I still get those feelings I had as a teenager."
MM: Yeah, that's the thing. Many songs recorded in those years, in the fifties and early sixties were all recorded in a very bright tempo, that was the aesthetic of the time, but--and I've done this before with other songs that I've recorded--I slow them down and I let the inner drama show up. It's usually so interesting because the songs are so well-written that you have nothing to worry about when you slow them down, they come alive on a deeper level. I started to work on "Be My Baby" on stage just to see how the audience would feel about it. They knew the song right away, they started singing the background parts right away. This is how the whole thing started, people would come up to me and say, "You should record this now." It took me several years, but that's how it all started.
MR: "Let's Face The Music" and "From This Moment On" were really clever to meld. How did that come together, so to speak?
MM: They're two shining examples of the gold standard of the first volume of the American songbook, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. I loved the story that they told together, and beyond that I loved the fact that in those days, which were sort of economically similar to these, the songwriters allowed the listener to hold onto their dignity even though the times were dark. They didn't keep reflecting how dark the times were, they kept shining light, or framing it in a way where you could still find romance or connection or a leg up in spite of your surroundings. Musically, to put it in the context of that rhythm, it just spoke to me and really soared. Everybody sang their brains out, I sang my brains out, it's just a love fest.
MR: You touched on the state of the modern world, so let me be mischievous and ask you, how do you feel about the world these days?
MM: The world is in an official stagnation. I feel that the value of music, the value of classical and jazz music is even more important. Anything that helps to get us to breathe, get us to find some voice that articulates our longing is very important.
MR: Right. And speaking of having your eye on social causes, a portion of your Indiegogo funds went to the Barry Manilow Music Project, which is a school music program. How did that come about?
MM: He's an old friend of mine and he created this incredible foundation. The problem with music programs is their backwards thinking. They keep thinking that music education is something that's disposable and an afterthought to education, but what I know to be true is that arts education is the central foundation or certainly a substantial part of a well-rounded education that leads to critical thinking. If I read another article about how Mozart helps babies learn how to think and develop synapses in their brain I'm going to scream, because it's the truth and people don't pay attention in positions where they should. Anyway, what Manilow does is have his fans bring broken musical instruments to his concerts and he gives them a free ticket I think, and he has his people repair the instruments and donate them to public school orchestras. It's fantastic.
MR: Do you feel like as our culture moves more toward visual forms of entertainment, music has begun to be considered superfluous?
MM: Yeah, and it's backward thinking. Look at Gustavo Dudamel, the great conductor. He came out of El Sistema, the orchestra for poor kids, and it gave him a life. That's what music does. It gives kids a life in many ways and it gives them structure in every way, and something to focus on that's not just ego-driven. It's very important.
MR: Melissa, what advice do you have for new artists?
MM: There are so many new ways to get your music out, but that's really only your ticket to the ride. Because this is such an arduous journey, you have to really want it. You have to have no Plan B in your life. This is a long run, this is not a sprint. The thing is, you have to stay spiritually healthy and have good people around you and understand that you learn from mistakes and that it's a fascinating way to walk your life. The way you walk your life can very easily become reflected in your art. It works for me, but it's not for everybody, that's for sure.
MR: Nice. Looking back from its beginnings to now, what do you think of your career?
MM: I am very grateful that it has gone on as long as I'd hoped it would have gone on. I really want to become the George Burns of singers. [laughs] It's been a remarkable opportunity for deep learning in my life, and deep learning shows up in the song, which is amazing. I've had the opportunity to work with beautiful young adults, and the journey unfolds. To be in this moment where my industry is in a revolution, it's so interesting. I'm thinking differently, my learning curve keeps showing up and I love that.
MR: Speaking of love, you know who loves you? Rupert Holmes.
MM: Yes, I love him too! We've written a musical together and it's getting a stage reading at TUTS, which is a wonderful theater in Houston.
MR: Congratulations, all the best with that. You're going on tour in support of this album and you have songs like "You Gotta Love The Life," which has this dynamic horn section on the recording. What is this live experience going to be like?
MM: Well, it's a reflection of my commitment to the music and the music of my past. In some places I'll be able to use my band, in other places I'll be working with Stephan Oberhoff on keyboards and guitar.
MR: Nice, this is almost like your residency, just on a bigger platform.
MM: Yeah, that's just how I teach stuff.
MR: You're playing at The Dave Koz Lounge, any chance he'll jump and play on a song or two?
MM: Oh yes! He will definitely play with me on stage, which is really exciting. I'll also have The Citrus Singers who sang on this cut of "I Know Who I Am" singing with me on stage as well.
MR: Hey, "Sweet Melissa," as Barry Manilow dubbed you in his hit "Could It Be Magic," you have had a strong, positive influence for many through the years. Are you aware of such things?
MM: Not so much, thank you! [laughs]
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Louise Goffin
Mike Ragogna: Let's talk about your Appleonfire EP. As they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, you being the daughter of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It seems like a logical approach to do a project of your parents' recordings, but this goes beyond that. The EP also features a song you co-wrote with your father, a long lost Goffin/King composition and a couple of your own songs. How did the idea behind this project start?
Louise Goffin: It started with "It's Not The Spotlight." When my father passed away I was doing a house concert the next day. I always loved that song of his. He's written so many great songs but that one really had his essence because he sang it. He didn't really think of himself much as a singer but in 1973 he went to Mussel Shoals and made a double record and sung all of the vocals on it. Most of it was a political record, but there were some songs that later got covered and became hits and charted with other artists, and "It's Not The Spotlight" was one of them. At his memorial gathering I saw his co-writer Barry Goldberg and I said, "Oh, I just played your song." He said it would really be a great thing to go and record it, so that was the start of the whole EP.
MR: And then the thought got bigger, you recorded that song, and it snowballed.
LG: Yeah, that is what happened. There were all these fantastic musicians who I wanted to play with, and when he said, "Let's record that song" I thought, "If I'm going to call all these amazing musicians who have expressed interest in working with me, it doesn't make sense to record just one song." So I played Barry a couple of brand new songs of mine, a few of them are on the record, "Everything You Need" and "Higher Than Low," and he loved them.
MR: And then Jakob Dylan came in?
LG: Jakob Dylan guests on a Goffin/King song because at MusiCares a year ago he and I sang a Goffin and King song together and I mentioned to Barry, "Why don't we ask Jakob do sing on a song my mom and dad wrote?" So that actually happened, he came down and sang on "Take A Giant Step." I love that song so much. He actually recorded a Goffin & King song on his duets record which we performed last year. So that was the Jakob Dylan connection, and that was four songs we did in one day. Then Barry's part of it was done and I said, "You know, for it to really be a substantial EP I need two more songs." Then I was really asking the universe, "What should the other two songs be?" I went through a lot of obscure songs my father wrote. I didn't want to do the heavily-covered songs that everyone had known, I wanted to find something more under the radar. That song, "If I'm late," was on YouTube and I had never heard it. I also remembered that my dad and I had written the song, "I'm Not Rich But I'm Not Poor." I'd always wanted to do something with it, he and I talked about making a demo of it last year or a couple of years ago, but I got really busy and we couldn't do it. I thought those were really good choices for the other two songs.
MR: Yeah. So the expression behind the title "I'm Not Rich But I'm Not Poor" came from your grandfather, right? Gerry's dad?
LG: Yes, it was something that he told me, that his father used to say to him.
MR: I love the concept of finding one of your parents rare songs on YouTube. It's almost like the song reached out to you.
LG: That was the weird thing! I would be very aware of songs that my father sang lead vocal on because it was such a rare thing, but to find a demo of a song they wrote and he sings lead and my mother harmonizes throughout the entire song like an old Everly Brothers-style duet but with these really romantic lyrics... And I love the message, "If I'm late, baby gotta wait for me." I often say that to people. [laughs]
MR: Louise, is it possible it was written for the Everlys?
LG: No, there's really no connection, I just brought it up because of the style. That song was apparently written in 1969. '69 was a very transitional, bumpy year because we had all moved to LA in '68, so I'm sure there were separations and a lot of starting over again in a new place with two little girls. I'm sure they could've written that song and gone and demoed it and it could've ended up on some demo reel at a publishing company and then my mother went on to make The City or something. I think a lot of songwriters churn out so much stuff that sometimes things just fall through the cracks. It just ends up on a publishing tape somewhere. So that was amazing. Doing Joseph Arthur was also very synchronistic because I knew it needed someone who had a bit of my father's style. In fact, I switched it so I was singing the lead on it and had to change a couple of gender-specific words here and there.
I was at Village Recording Studio asking everyone, "What do I get to sing on this one?" Jeff Greenberg who owns Village said, "Oh, there's this guy, John Alagia knows him," John's a friend of mine, a wonderful musician and producer. I'm calling down the hallway, "John! Who's this guys you were working with?" and he was racking his brain, like, "Who could it be? Who could it be?" It turned out it was someone he had worked with like several years earlier. Anyway I finally got it out of Jeff that Joe's his name and John's like, "Oh! Let me call him! Let me see if he's up for it." This all happened on a text, John's in one city, Joe's in another and I'm in LA and John's making introductions via text. It turned out that Joseph was on tour and was only going to be in New York for the one week that I was going to be in New York in October but he said he'd love to do it. I went over to his place in Brooklyn and we finished up that song. I'd already cut the track but we did all the vocals and some overdubs and made a video all in the space of four hours one afternoon.
MR: Have you stayed in touch with Joseph Arthur?
LG: We have communicated, but he's in New York and I'm in LA. We're both incredibly busy, but we've exchanged messages here and there and I'll be back out there.
MR: Perhaps there's a coffee or a lunch when you get back.
LG: Oh, for sure. He makes a lot of records and I'm constantly doing stuff with my records, so it's one of those things where if you're in sync it works, and we were in sync with that tune.
MR: This is your seventh album?
LG: I think that's right. That doesn't include A Holiday Carole which I produced and wrote some songs for.
MR: What was the studio experience like for Appleonfire?
LG: It was just one of the heightened experiences of life. I really was saying, "I can't believe I'm here with these incredible musicians and awesome people." Bob Glaub has been very supportive, when I did the Carole King record he was playing bass on that, I forgot what a monster Bob is as a bass player. He's amazing. We live around each other and he's been so amazingly supportive, he's played on all of the recordings that I've been doing since then and he's been playing on shows if they're in town, he's just the greatest guy ever. I hadn't played with Jim Keltner since I was probably a teen. I called Jim I think within the last year asking him to play and he was booked that day. We had a great conversation and caught up and he said, "Call me again." So this was the session I called him again. Val McCallum I saw play with his band Jackshit, have you seen them? He's just an insanely talented guitar slinger. The whole history of soul and country and twang and all of it is in his fingertips. It's so accessible to him, he's so talented. And then Barry Goldberg himself, who was co-producing on that session of four songs, he's one of the best B3 players out there.
MR: And you were given the studio gratis by Jackson Browne.
LG: Yes, and that's another amazing story. My father passed away and I really wanted to do this thing, to cover his songs and make it celebratory in his honor. A lot of people felt that love and affection for him. I had seen Jackson's girlfriend and assistant at a show in Laguna Beach, a David Lindley and Wally Ingram show. I gave her my new record which was Songs From The Mine and I said, "Would you give this to Jackson?" she said, "Only if I can listen to it in my car on the way home first." I said, "Yeah, yeah! I don't really know how to reach him anymore." She looked at all the numbers I had and said, "That won't work, that won't work, that won't work," and then his assistant said, "I'll give you my number under one condition; that you never call me." [laughs] I said, "Okay, I'll just have it there for emergencies."
I wanted to honor my commitment to never call her, so I called his recording studio thinking, "I'll just leave a message there, that I want to ask about the studio." So I called the studio thinking I'm going to get Ed Wong who runs the studio or get a machine and his assistant answers the phone. I said, "Wait a minute, I'm trying not to call you!" She said, "You can come on over, stop by." I called Chris Aaron who I wrote "Higher Than Low" with, and I said, "Chris, you're not going to believe it, I'm going to record our song, I'm just waiting to hear back from Jackson about my studio time. He said, "Jackson's sitting right next to me. We just played a show together in Madison, Wisconsin." He said, "There's one day. The studio is completely booked," it's always completely booked, "but there's this one Monday that Jackson's going to not be there and the studio's free." I swear to you, every single musician that I wanted was free on that day.
MR: [laughs] It was meant to be.
LG: The tragic thing is that Chris Aaron passed away a month later, which makes this record even more emotional for me.
MR: Sorry about his passing, Louise. So Nathaniel Kunkel mixed the project, Niko Bolas engineered, and you recorded it in Jackson Browne's studio. Nice. By the way, did recording in that studio help your creativity?
LG: It's an amazing studio, the piano sounded good. I also need need to mention Nico Bolas. A lot of the cats who were in the studio that day are people who I've known since I was eighteen. They knew me when I was young and just having fun making records. I didn't have adult responsibilities, I was just a kid having fun in the studio, Danny Kortchmar was producing and all that. Now I'm taking the reigns and producing and being the record company and self-distributing and making the calls. Just to be in a room with all of those people who I love so much, I just feel so blessed, beyond blessed, to be able to have that continuity in spite of life having no continuity whatsoever. It's really the people who you know and the people in your life who bring the continuity through all those different changes. To be here, so far down the path and be in the room with all of these same incredible musicians, and also realizing that they're there for me, not because of a record company, it was just great.
Niko is such a talented producer and engineer, but he's also just been such a great friend. He doesn't need to assert an ego in the room. He's paid me a lot of really sweet compliments about my quietness in the studio, I'm really listening to everyone. He says when I say something, he pays attention to what I say because he knows I'm really listening to what everybody's doing. I didn't know what I was doing. What is producing? He'd say, "You're doing it!" "What am I doing?" He'd say, "You're being real quiet and you're listening and you're noticing stuff."
MR: These days, the role of producer is almost like a godfather or an advisor or a mentor compared to before when producers were totally hands-on.
LG: Yeah. The closest thing that I can think of is parenting. Yes, you're in a room with musicians and musicians are like a bunch of kids, but I'm one of the kids too. Jim Keltner explained it perfectly. You can hire people like that, but they don't guarantee that they're going to make a great record or that things are going to sound great at all. What Jim said was "All artists command a song." That's where he looks for his view. That's the horse leading. Fortunately I have played those songs. When I was at the guitar or the piano, I knew where the dynamics were. If you're searching, if you're not sure where it's going to go, you can really lose yourself in a recording session, even with the best of intentions and the best musicians.
MR: True, but on the other hand, you as Louise Goffin had the exposure to the creation of music at a very early age.
LG: I don't know how I know what I think I know, and it's not to say I'm right in where I want to go, but where I want to go is old school. A lot of things don't sound like that these days, so I'm just doing what makes my bells ring.
MR: It's a culmination of what you've admired and seen in yourself and others over the years, and I think in some ways, it's a nod to what Gerry represents, good songs.
LG: Yeah, I sure wish he could hear it, because he would really get a kick out of it.
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
LG: It's very important to find what's different about you, what's uniquely you, and then amplify that by twenty. People tend to want to mask and cover what they think makes them stand out. They try to sound more like what they year on the charts, but I think that's the kiss of death, because really what's interesting is the most unusual aspects of an artist. Whatever those things are, make them rhyme and repeat them. [laughs] Take your weirdness, make it rhyme, repeat it and put a beat on it. That's my advice.
MR: Is that how you did it over the years?
LG: I think I'm going to get more relaxed in my writing and recording the less I feel this need to "catch up" with myself. I've had so many unrecorded songs for so long that in the last year I've just been recording songs that were on my hard drive and I thought, "This is really good, I should just do this." There's still plenty more of that, but I think at this point I have a lot of effortless creativity at my disposal that I don't really run with as much as I could. The record I make when I'm not trying very hard might be interesting. I'm kind of a walking self-expression. I'm either writing or talking or singing or doing something.
MR: Everybody loves recording, but I've heard a lot of artists lately tell me they love playing live more because they can express a lot more of their creativity that would be too difficult to record.
LG: I love playing live! It's new for me because I never did a lot of it. I think I was too insecure and just too shy about my ability to do things, especially solo. I wanted someone backing me up all the time. I've gotten so much more confident and stronger in the last year and a half or so, just because I threw myself into water and made myself swim. I enjoy playing live a lot.
MR: So where's the apple rolling from this point on?
LG: I'm waiting for a sign right now, honestly. I have been financing things, I did two pledge campaigns, one for Appleonfire and before that for Songs From The Mine. I really want to work on a team. It's a lot of work to toot your own horn, and in this day and age you have to be ready to do that. You have to be ready to believe in yourself whether other people are green-lighting things or not. Too much time goes by waiting for other people to notice. This was a commitment to me of, "I'm going to notice myself and I'm going to facilitate myself. At some point, that gets exhausting. I love the camaraderie, my favorite part of music is the camaraderie, the community, the travel, the interweaving of other ideas. To me that's the point of excitement. I like working with other artists, I would like to tour with other artists and write songs with them, maybe get back into producing with other artists and be involved in all sides of it.
MR: In some respects, you couldn't be making music at a better time because of advances in digital technology and marketing through social networking. You have the potential of not waiting for anyone to green-light anything, you can take everything into your own hands. You're releasing this yourself, right?
LG: Yeah, we released it and distributed it digitally and then on this record I decided to make hard copies on CD just because I like being able to hold something that you can look at. And when you do a live show people really, really love after they've heard the live songs to hold something and take it home. When I played the Bluebird in Nashville, because of the show Nashville there were people from all over the world who wanted to go to the famous Bluebird that they'd seen on TV. There were people from Italy, Australia, it was not just a Nashville audience. Everyone else had said, "You remember this famous song that this guy covered?" but I was going, "Here's a famous song you never heard." They were all songs no one had ever heard before that I was playing. It was really nice at the end because a lot of people wanted CDs to take back to wherever they were going. That's meaningful.
MR: Yeah, I miss the physical aspect of music production, but we're here now.
LG: Well, we live in a disposable culture. You'll never get this far into the interview, for sure. I don't even know if people read stuff on Facebook, they just "like" it. I wonder if eighty out of a hundred people have read the thing, or even opened it, when they click the "like" button. Do you know?
MR: I don't know what the percentage is, but I know that a lot of people who are winging it.
LG: It's digital and disposable. You put a song out, another song out, a video out... I read this great quote, "In this age, you don't want to be a genius, you want to be a 'seenius.'" It's all about being seen. If there's one thing you do that's amazing, it'll be yesterday's news yesterday. People just go to the next, the next, the next, the next and they consume and absorb and move on from things so fast that it almost makes sense to practically put out singles. I don't know if people take time anymore. A lot of it is about how the younger generation is quicker with technology, but I'm old school. You have to find out about something that you're going to love. That's the key. There's lots of things out there that you're going to love, but how do we find out about it? That artist has to work really, really, really hard. I'm working my little butt off. I've been hitting it hard in this last year. I've never hit it so hard before. I'm not raised that way. I was raised that if you do good work and raise the flag then people will come. That is not true anymore. It's not a fact. If a tree falls and no one hears it...
MR: Sadly, there are a lot of trees falling that nobody's hearing.
LG: It's not who you know, it's who knows you.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Rumer
Mike Ragogna: Rumer,Into Colour follows your very successful Seasons Of My Soul. Did you approach this album differently than your previous recordings?
Rumer: On this record, my process inevitably changed. Seasons developed naturally and anonymously over a much longer period of time. We recorded it one day a week around my full time job. It took seven years to write and it took three years to record. In that sense the sound had time to mature and develop organically. I was also in my twenties and so I was musing on a whole set of different sentiments. This time, as much as I would have liked longer, I just didn't have ten years this time. So your process has to change. You work and collaborate with other people more, you explore different song forms, and you just don't have the time to muse on an idea and go back and keep refining a lyric, a few years after you write it. You have to be brave and say, I worked really hard, I put my heart and soul into it, we stayed up nights to meet our deadlines, and this is the best I could do. I am proud of Into Colour. I think its great, and I think it's sincere.
MR: How did working with some of Daryl Hall's TV band affect your arrangements? What did they add most to the music?
Rumer: They have all played together before which is great. I wanted to make a soul record, and American record, and everyone keeps telling me how much they loved Live from Daryl's House, and so we got the players who are or have at one time or another played on that show.
Paul Pesco is a terrific guitar player and I love him on "You Just Don't Know People." Shawn Pelton, he is a real artist. You get drummers and then you get artist drummers. He is playing the beat and killing it but he's also feeling the sentiment of the song, feeling that emotion. He left his heart on I am blessed. And Zev, of course, is a phenomenal bass player. I got the some of the best musicians in America. They added a lot of heart and soul to the music.
MR: You co-wrote some of the material on Into Colour with Steven Bishop. How did the collaboration come about and what was the songwriting experience like?
Rumer: Stephen Bishop is not only one of the most uniquely talented great American songwriters, but he is such a funny and entertaining person to be around. Most of the ideas we came up with were at four o'clock in the morning sitting on his bean bag in his famous "man cave"! Ultimately, I am a big fan. I love all songs. I think he is underappreciated. He is such a sophisticated and unique songwriter, and a great singer and guitar player too. He is such a cool person.
MR: How has your personal creative process evolved over the years?
Rumer: The creative process is so mysterious. Each song has it own unique path. There is no formula. You know, I don't think my creative process has evolved as much as it should have. My songwriting skills have evolved, and that is my understanding of song structure, but the magic, the soul of a song, that is just so unpredictable, and beyond my understanding. I think that in order to be truly and divinely inspired you have to be connected to your heart, and have a daily spiritual practice, which isn't always easy. Some of the challenges of working within a major label system strain my heart.
MR: What do you think it is about your voice that attracts compliments and associations with the likes of Burt Bacharach and Richard Carpenter?
Rumer: I think that's probably because that's the music I listened to when I was learning to sing. Dusty singing Look of Love, Dionne singing, "Walk On By," Aretha singing "I Say a Little Prayer." When I was a young girl, I didn't know it who Bacharach and David were, I just loved all that music. I love the Carpenters. It's simply the best music, and the music that I adore.
I think composers like Burt Bacharach perhaps like singers to sing melodies straight, because the magic is in the composition.
MR: What's the most important thing about a song to you?
Rumer: I think, the sentiment, and how beautifully that it is expressed.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
Rumer: I wouldn't look to sign a traditional major label deal, because they can be very long and personnel changes so often that you can't guarantee a collaborative relationship. I would suggest that you do as much as you can yourself, find your own investors, creative partners, and build your own team. While I would recommend the independent route, I would also say don't be possessive, be open to sharing and giving at the beginning, to incentivize those people who will give their valuable energy to your project. You must be open to opportunities, and willing to work hard, willing to sacrifice a lot to make things happen for yourself.
MR: Where do you take things from here?
Rumer: I have started my own production company and record label, Night Owl, which aims to make a small but significant contribution to culture through creative project development. Night Owl develops music projects, film scripts and in future, we would like to publish books. I have set this up primarily to help facilitate other people's work, and also for my own growth and evolution as an artist. For the first time in a long time, I feel empowered, because I am back to being part of a creative community.