Cris Cohen: One thing that jumped out at me was the opening of the title track, "Prison of Life." There's that line, "It takes reason to understand pain." You could write a whole dissertation on that line alone. Do lyrics like that just come to you or does that take effort to find a way to express so much in so few words?
Guitar Gabby of The TxLips: Things like that kind of just come to me. Growing up I didn't intentionally get into philosophy. But when I got to my undergrad, I was required to take a philosophy class. I was like, "I really don't want to take that." But I had one teacher who made the world of philosophy make so much sense to me. From that point, I continued reading different types of philosophy and trying to figure out a way to apply that to how I look at life, how I look at the world around me. Then I started integrating some of that reasoning into my music in a simple way that could connect with somebody who may not be into philosophy or be into Nietzsche. By this point, it's become natural, because I read so much philosophy and try to figure out a way to integrate it into how I look at the world around me.
Cris Cohen: How long did it take you to get comfortable on stage, to know how to work a room?
Huey Lewis: About 27 years. The first 27 years were a little shaky. Now I've got it nailed.
Cris Cohen: What was the turning point?
Huey Lewis: It was gradual.
Cris Cohen: So there's a bit of a learning curve.
Huey Lewis: No question about it. My favorite story there is… Paul Newman was interviewed as part of a big retrospective of his career. They asked him, "What do you see when you watch your old films?" He said, "I think about what a lousy actor I was. I had no idea that for my first 10 years I was just terrible."
Client Johnny Colla of Huey Lewis & The News just released a lyric video for "Slow Twistin'", the first single from his new album!
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.