Dec 182008

I understand why they fired me, but did they have to get so fucking cold and ruthless about it?
—Doug Hopkins (Rolling Stone, 1993)

There is beyond an excellent chance that I was in this crowd.

DISCLAIMER: The Gin Blossoms were the bar band in Phoenix during my post college years. So many weekends were spent drinkin’, smokin’ and dancin’ up a sweat with The Gin Blossoms. Point is, I may be biased.

But hear me out.
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Sep 182008

In their respective solo careers, Stiff Records original Wreckless Eric and singer-songwriter Amy Rigby have mined similar, down-to-earth, ’60s-influenced pop material that’s both open hearted and appropriately self deprecating. A few years ago they met, jammed together, and fell in love. Today they’re married, living in France, on tour together (click here for tour dates), and set for the September 15 release of a joint album, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby.

A few of us had the fortune of meeting Amy in 2002, as she not only contributed an awesome cover of Jane Aire & the Belvederes‘ “Yankee Wheels” to a Stiff Records tribute album we curated (The Stiff Generation), but introduced us to some other contributors and flew to Hoboken, NJ to play a few Stiff-related songs at the record’s release party. She was as cool and approachable as her music, and she had the foresight and good sense to wear a dress that matched the polyester shirt of our bassist, Townsman Chickenfrank. It’s only fitting that we, once more, turn back to Amy for yet another Stiff-related introduction. The following chat with Amy and Eric was conducted separately, with one of them in an isolation booth, wearing huge headphones and seen only on a video monitor. This is the first time their responses will appear in one place. Enjoy!

NOT Two Virgins…

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, “Here Comes My Ship”

RTH: This Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby album and tour is some way to celebrate a marriage! You were married earlier this year, right? How long have you been together? Did the two of you actually meet, as I’ve read, during one of Amy’s concerts, as she covered “Whole Wide World”?

ERIC: We met in Hull, in a pub I used to play in when I was an art student back in the early ’70s. It was actually the first place that I ever played “Whole Wide World” in public. Amy sang it and the promoter shoved me on stage to help out. The song went round the world and did the work for me! I don’t think the album is a celebration of our marriage – it’s not Two Virgins or something…

AMY: I’d been playing “Whole Wide World” in my set when I felt I needed a little boost and a promoter in Hull that we’d both worked with had the idea to have Eric DJ for one of my shows. He came in covered in snow with a box of records under his arm and then he got up on stage with me during “Whole Wide World” and said I was playing it in the wrong key.

If you look at the photo collage inside my “anthology,” 18 Again, there’s a picture of it happening.

RTH: Your new album is on a revived Stiff Records! Are any of the founders of the label involved in its revival? Eric, did you have mixed feelings about going back to Stiff? Amy, you were a fan of the label and its artists in its heyday, right? Were you struck by any teenage fangirl feelings at this opportunity, any need to keep your emotions in check? (For instance, I’d have had to keep my self in check to make sure I didn’t agree to sign with Stiff for free.)

ERIC: I had no qualms about going back to Stiff – on the contrary it was my idea. None of the founders or the subsequent employees are involved, which is just as well.

Amy Rigby, “Yankee Wheels”

AMY: To be on the same label that gave us “Yankee Wheels”, Lene Lovich, Nick Lowe & Wreckless Eric? It beats being labelmates with Pokemon, which was the big priority album when I was on Koch.

RTH: On the new album, did you collaborate on the writing of the songs, or did you write separately? Were most of the songs written before or after you’d met?

AMY: All of the above.

ERIC: We wrote most of them separately I think. I started “Here Comes My Ship” and Amy finished it off. We wrote “Round” together – I came up with a guitar chord sequence and we got the lyrics together between us, so that was a true co-write. “Trotters” is a group composition that came out of a jam session – we were playing “God Only Knows” and we changed one of the chords. Apart from that I think we wrote separately, Amy upstairs, me downstairs. But we’d definitely met before we started.

RTH: Did you learn anything about each other during the writing process that you may not have learned had you not mixed business with pleasure? Were there ever times when you’d have to stop working on a lyric and ask your partner, “Why didn’t you tell me you were feeling that way?”

Feb 192008

No dogder, this Roger!

May I begin by sharing with our Townspeople what a thrill it was for me to chat with producer/engineer Roger Bechirian! As a teenager, while intently studying the liner notes of the records that first made me feel as if I’d finally hit on “my” music, music made for me and my bandmate friends, his name kept cropping up. My friends and I never saw a picture of him, and we still don’t know exactly how his surname is pronounced, but this Roger Bechirian fellow was held in very high regard among our band of nobodies.

If I may, I’ll continue in the first person plural, because that’s how strong my love is over this guy’s work – and beside, my old friends and fellow Townsmen, Andyr and Chickenfrank, contributed to this interview. Our introduction to Bechirian was as the engineer on all those great Nick Lowe productions for Elvis Costello and The Attractions. Shortly thereafter, we saw he had his own thing going as producer of The Undertones, the band in our wildest, humble dreams we thought we could emulate.

With Costello, Bechirian produced the one Squeeze album we all agreed sounded great and steered clear of the stiff, awkward moments on their earlier albums. Then we noted his name on the credits for what we thought was The dBs‘ last great single, “Judy”. This guy not only engineered my all-time favorite album, Costello’s Get Happy!!, but he produced one of my favorite overlooked gems for listening to in my bedroom with the shades drawn, The Undertones’ Positive Touch. As Elvis would eventually have an album produced by George Martin engineer Geoff Emerick, we fantasized having an album produced by Nick’s right-hand man. Considering the likely disappointment (for him!) resulting from this fantasized collaboration, his taking the time to answer the tough questions from Rock Town Hall is more than enough wish fulfillment for anyone to bear… But enough of this ass-kissing, no matter how sincere it is! Let’s get on with the questions.

RTH: I’ve read that you were born in India and moved to England when you were a boy. When did you get into music and how did you get into recording?

RB: There was always music on in the house. My father was a big Jazz fan, and my sister would get all the latest hits from the UK and the States. I also played piano, and would spend hours making up my own tunes. We had a tape recorder at home, and I soon started making up my own sound montages by editing various recordings… I did the same thing as you, scouring album credits, looking for the engineering and studio credits. I got my first job training as a mastering engineer, cutting vinyl!

I was so opinionated, and couldn’t stop myself from telling people what I thought they should be doing!

Jun 282007

As all but the most tolerant, patient, and dedicated fans of Nick Lowe probably agree, shortly after Nick’s first two albums, the lone Rockpile album, and the breakup of the entire Rockpile working arrangement, the guy’s career hit a long stretch of mostly unsatisfying releases. Surely one of us is a greater fan of Nick the Knife or Party of One than the rest of us, and there’s probably even a Nick Lowe fan who regrets his breaking up His Cowboy Outfit, but let’s be honest, the guy lost his spark when he lost that Rockpile crew and from all accounts began changing as a person.

Lowe’s reemergence as an unabashedly adult artist following the release of 1994’s The Impossible Bird or 1998’s Dig My Mood, depending on when you began paying him any attention again, was a welcome and inspiring reemergence. I loved hearing this guy who’d always had a facility for classic pop traditions bear down and confront them head on. How many more mediocre to bad releases would it have taken to convince me that the guy could no longer turn pop conventions on their ear? The guy could have released 100 more albums in a “rocking” vein and never come up with another “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” or the exquisite “Cruel to Be Kind”. That’s cool, and what’s cooler is that he had the great sense to get out of the Jesus of Cool business and embrace the pop conventions that have always been at the core of his work.

Jesus Has Left the Building

In an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air around the time of one of these mature albums, Terry asked Nick if there was a song that he loved that might suprise his fans. (This is a great question that Gross has asked musical guests over the years, and it could be a good thread for us here at Rock Town Hall someday, so keep it in mind.) Lowe’s song was Tommy Edwards’ ballad “It’s All in the Game”. He picked up his acoustic guitar and played a few measures of the song. It made so much sense, especially with his new direction. Dig My Mood and the follow up, The Convincer, each contained a few songs in that style (along with strong hints of Nat King Cole and The Platters). When he wasn’t crooning on those fine albums he was doing the sort of country-soul identified with the songwriting and production of Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn. His whole “changed man”/”man who’s finally found love” lyrical stance comes through loud and clear on these recordings, and I find them moving despite the “coffee table rock” aspects of The Convincer, in particular.

That brings us to his new release, At My Age. The whole adult rock/changed man thing continues to be at the foundation of his work and his publicity campaign, and that’s all cool. The songs on this album are highly reminiscent of songs from his previous “mature” works, and as far as dedication to craft goes, this is somewhat cool. The arrangements and recordings are still display tremendous taste and understatement, which is very cool, but I’m not sure that I’m cool with the same batch of songs, the same lyrics, the same stance. If Lowe has dedicated golden years of his career to recrafting classic pre-Beatles pop, is he hitting the wall that halted the great works of Lieber and Stoller and associated artists, like The Drifters? Is there a reason that great stuff went by the wayside that has nothing to do with racial ceilings and moptops?

I know some of you would like me to shut up with the backstory and talk about some of the album’s finest tracks, like “Long Limbed Girl”, “Hope for Us All”, and “I Trained Her to Love Me”. That’s cool. You’re excited to hear a report on his breezy collaboration with former student and flame, Chrissie Hynde, on the breezy, insignificant “People Change”. That’s cool too. I’ll tell you what, how about listening to the songs sampled here and digging them for yourself, discussing them as you see fit? Just click on the song titles with the mp3 links.

If there’s any problem with this album it’s that Nick and I are aging at different rates. As much as I appreciate him setting a dignified pace for rockers in their 50s – and believe me, this is a solid, enjoyable album and heads and shoulders above cynical “golden years” crap like that series of Rod Stewart Trashes the American Masters releases – I’m not ready to slow down that much yet. I want to hear Nick lash out at just one classic pop convention now and then. I know he’s a changed man. I know he’s finally found love, but he finally found that love 10 years ago. It’s time I hear about something slightly new, pitched somewhere slightly new. We can work through this together, I’m sure, Nick. If all works out, I’ll be your age one day too, and I’d rather feel what you’re feeling than whatever it is crotchety old Bob Dylan‘s feeling on his recent releases. Maybe Bob is still putting up a fight, but I wish he’d include a tune along the way, just as I’d like to hear Nick kick back the slightest bit. That’s cool, isn’t it?

Apr 042007

When the desultory video performance of “Girls Talk” was running on this site last week, some people mentioned that they were unfamiliar with Dave Edmunds’ work and would appreciate a selection of Edmunds tracks. I offered my services, since I have all of the Rockpile-era Edmunds albums in versions transferred from my old LPs and Mr. Mod was busy with moderating.

Right before this era, Edmunds was focusing on letter-perfect recreations of earlier styles — Phil Spector, Sun Sessions, Chuck Berry, etc. – on the album Subtle As A Flying Mallet. But Edmunds had produced the last Brinsley Schwarz album, and he started working with Nick Lowe again on his next album Get It. The first 8 tracks on this selection are from that album.

The opening tack is the Bob Seger nugget “Get Out Of Denver”, and the album is a mix of old and new songs. Nick Lowe fans will recognize “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n Roll”, but the record also features two fine Lowe-Edmunds originals – “Here Comes the Weekend” and the lovely “Little Darlin’”. Edmunds was always more of a traditionalist than Lowe (Graham Parker’s “Back To Schooldays” gets a nice rockabilly treatment here), but “Little Darlin’” shows the “pure pop” side of the Edmunds-Lowe collaboration.

Also from Get It:
“Worn out Suits, Brand New Pockets”
“Ju Ju Man”
“Git It”
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