Cris Cohen: Joan Jett said at your audition for her band, “Everything you play sounds like a hit record.” 1) Is that the best compliment you have ever received? 2) How does one achieve that?
Sandy Gennaro: That is one of the best compliments I have ever been given by an artist that I have worked for. And Cyndi (Lauper) also said to me – paraphrasing -- “When you are behind me playing drums, I never have to worry about you.” In other words, “I totally trust you in terms of performance.” I think Cyndi said something like, “When you are playing behind me and I am singing, you are totally with me. I never feel any tug tempo-wise in one way or another.”
And the fact that the word “trust” was used by both of those artists… I think that is really what I strive for when I play behind an artist: For them to trust what I am doing and playing. What Joan said about the hit record and your question, “How do you achieve that?”, it is a feel thing. It is something unspoken. You cannot describe it in words.
Client Johnny Colla just released the CD version of his new album "I Hear Other Voices!! (Hardly Strictly A Cappella)". This thing sounds freakin' amazing. It is an incredible blend of full harmonies and just the barest instrumentation. But the effect that small amount of instrumentation has on how you hear the song is profound. Somehow it pulls your attention in different direction, but without distracting you from the vocals. It is a kind of auditory magic trick. Get your copy at https://johnnycolla.com/listen-own-it
Cris Cohen: Is that something that you would recommend other songwriters do: Try and adapt that attitude of, “Let's go in thinking no one's ever going to hear this.”
Dwight Baker of The Wind and The Wave: I would say that's a tough question. Actually, I would say that if you're writing for other people -- because in this game, if you're a professional songwriter, you also feel like you write for other people -- when you're writing for them, I'm just trying to grab a piece of their soul and at the same time make something that I think is great. I am not the type of person who can go, “I have to write a radio song.” Literally the second I do that, it's a big pile of sh-- every single time. But I can think to myself, “Oh, that chorus should be hooked here.” But that's for me. I want it to be hooked here. I want to belong to it. I want to enjoy it. So, I'm always the type of guy, especially with the bigger bands I've done, like Missio, I just want people to do what's in their heart, their art, you know? And if that is commercial, then great. That works on the radio even better. Because the worst thing to have happen to you -- and I know plenty of people that's happened to -- is to have a song blow up that you hate.
Cris Cohen: I wanted to talk about the song “Finally Be Me,” which seems very much along the lines of “I want to be heard. I want to be seen for who I am.” How much of that song was autobiographical and how much of it was pieced together from other people or life experiences?
Michelle Ariane: I think that song was 100% autobiographical. It was one of those songs that I think wrote itself in one hour. I sat at the piano and I'm like, “I think this is what the song needs to say.” And it was there.
Cris Cohen: And -- how do I put this? -- have you been able to stay in that place where you're finally yourself? You haven't lost it?
Michelle Ariane: No, I think there are always moments where life challenges you and your authenticity will be questioned. You will be put into positions where you wonder, do you want to go there? Is that aligned with what you believe in? I think in the big picture, I I am. And in the little picture, I am almost all of the time. And when I'm not, I try to find my way back there as quickly as possible. I think life has its ups and downs, so you're going to get lost. When I wrote that song, that was one of the most absolutely heart-breaking times of my life. Those times when you think, “I don't know how I'm going to keep living and I don't know how I got myself into this in the first place.” And I don't think you wake up one day and say, “This is me. I'm going to stay this way.” I think it's a constant process. I think it's finding your way there and then working every day to stay there as much as you can.
Cris Cohen: I'm always fascinated by singers who were initially drummers. And besides our friend, Fred LeBlanc, I've interviewed John Easdale from Dramarama. He's a drummer who became a singer.
What advantage do you think that gave you as a singer, as a songwriter, to come from a drumming background?
Kevin Martin of Candlebox: Probably the understanding of the song, and the structure of the song, and the ins and outs. The beauty of drummers -- John Bonham, Peter Criss, Neil Peart -- those kinds of guys are all musicians that I kind of aspire to play like, just because they had such interesting ways to get in and out of parts. And of course, Neil Peart being a lyricist as well was... When I learned that as I got older, it was just mind bending. “This guy’s not only behind the kit doing all of the shit he's doing, but he's also writing all the fucking lyrics?!” I guess that's what I learned from these guys, that I could continue to take with me to this day. When we write songs, I'm always writing around the beat. With the perfect example of this track “Let Me Down Easy.”
I knew that I wanted the song to feel like a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song. That's what I wanted it to feel like, because I love that band. And I think that right now, save for the Black Keys, nobody is really doing that kind of music. So I love, love, love Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. I pulled from that when I spoke to the guys about it. I said, "This is the drum beat I'm looking for. It has to feel like you've just sold your soul and now you're running down the train tracks away from the devil, trying to get away."
And that's I guess what I've learned as a musician: That I can utilize that energy as a singer and pull it from that energy of the drummer. And that in turn allows me to sing around the rhythms and move in and out of patterns and kind of play both parts, if you will.
"You write different songs with different instruments." Talking with Peter Holsapple of The dB's.
Every so often I come across a photo that captures the magic of what I hear when listening to music. This is one of those photos. Credit: Timothy Hiehle. Specifically it is a shot of Ben Sesar, drummer for Brad Paisley. To get a taste of this particular magic, I recommend listening to the song "Welcome To The Future". You should listen to it on CD or vinyl, otherwise you will miss a lot of the great nuances that Ben adds to the song. The subtle coloring he adds with toms and cymbals is freakin' brilliant. Also, if you are lucky enough to see Brad Paisley live, hope that they play "Time Warp" or the solo section from Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher". Ben and Brad crush it on those those pieces live.
Cris Cohen: Now earlier you brought up the tune “Round Midnight.” Why did you have Sting do the vocals on that track?
Andy Summers: There's the obvious reason that everyone likes to see him and I connected on something. But also, he does sing this with that husky, non-vibrato quality he's got to his singing that I thought was perfect for this. So it's just a nice thing that everybody would like. But the truth is, he can sing this stuff really well. So, it wasn't difficult to put together. I called and asked if he was interested in doing it. He was very responsive. It was on me then to construct the backing track that he could put the vocal on. I did (that) and then flew to Italy, where he was living, to get him on it. It was a good experience.
Cris Cohen: What direction did you get from Phil Collen of Def Leppard?
Troy Luccketta of Tesla: Phil came in to produce the "Shock" record. We were excited about that. And we were going to really be a hands-off band. Let him make the record he wanted to make. The first thing he told me was, "I want to be able to air drum the record." So in other words, nothing fancy. Don't give me these freakin' paradiddles and all this cool jazz stuff you play. We sat down and listened to the tracks and we discussed. And three and a half days later we had the drum stuff. And I hadn't played (to) any of the tracks until I actually recorded them. Because I didn't want those preconceived ideas about what I was going to do or thought I should do. I wanted to work with him.
Cris Cohen: I think it's also interesting, releasing "The Things You Wanted To Do" just as a downloadable / streaming single. It’s like, “Okay, how can we adapt to this new, bizarre music world?”
Fred LeBlanc of Cowboy Mouth: How can we make it work for us? Instead of making an album with anywhere from 11 to 14 songs, and you put it out there, it disappears from the public consciousness within a month, and you're still out there trying to sell it.
At this point, it's kind of like going back to the early 50s and 60s, where people used to put out singles. This is where we are at this moment. And they could do that every three months or six months or a year, depending on when they had good material, or when it was good for the marketplace, or when it was good for the band.
I like that, because everything will be very recent. Back in the days of albums, you could write a quality song. It could mean something to you or it could be your state of mind, and it still might not see the light of day for years.
And even if you're digging up old songs, there's always the chance of finding new meaning, like with “The Things You Wanted To Do.” When we did the first test of it, I was going through a pretty gnarly divorce, and all of those old songs all of a sudden had brand new relevance for me. And so, when I was singing and performing them, it was like I had just written them. It's good to be in touch emotionally with what you're doing and what you're putting out there so you can back it up with that certain force of belief and energy and emotion behind it.
Cris Cohen: Yeah, definitely. If you're not connecting with it then…
Fred LeBlanc: How can I expect 100,000 people to connect with it.
Cris Cohen: Right.