Author Archives: Jennifer Carney

Pete Townshend,
The TVD Interview

The way I see it, there was rock music before Pete Townshend got hold of it, and rock music after he got hold of it, smashed it to pieces, rebuilt it, and smashed it again. 

Townshend spent his musical life wresting respectability from critics, pushing the boundaries of convention, and simultaneously giving too many fucks and not giving any fucks at all. I think that’s where his greatness resides, in that duality of trying not to care too much while at the same time caring more than anyone else. Newly 70, he still moves the bar and lives to contradict. He remains both brutally honest and colorfully vague. So hard to pin down. (Our interview was no exception.) 

How else could the man write such perfect two-minute-fifty pop songs and nine-minute-plus suites? Pen the most memorable, gritty proto-punk and masterful latter-day operas? Be lauded as an electronic music pioneer and perform with his four-piece rock band, entirely without irony, in front of audiences at the Met? 

And now, he and partner Rachel Fuller have reimagined The Who’s finest work (no arguments, please; you are wrong) into a classical piece worthy of being immortalized alongside the original album. This isn’t a let’s-add-some-strings-to-a-rock-arrangement thing; it’s wholly respectful of its source material, and it’s damned impressive.

While Quadrophenia is entirely Townshend’s (it’s the only Who album written by him alone), what Keith Moon and John Entwistle brought to The Who’s masterpiece is irreplaceable. They, along with Townshend and Roger Daltrey, were the heart, soul, brains and brawn of that album, and there’s no escaping that. 

That’s not what Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia is trying to do. This “symphonized” Quadrophenia brings forth the immortal soul of a rock album that continues to matter. While fans will appreciate the involvement of Quadrophenia touchstones like Phil Daniels and Billy Idol, Classic Quadrophenia is as classical as it gets: Deutsche Grammophon, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, a real live opera singer (the wonderful tenor Alfie Boe), and the London Oriana Choir. 

What made Townshend’s work matter to me at nineteen and why he continues to matter to me in my thirties is why, I suspect, even those less familiar with The Who will find beauty and solace in this presentation of one of the last masterworks of rock music. It’s on a different artistic level, and it’s what his fans should expect. Or maybe it isn’t.   

I still work myself to death just to fit in. Fortunately for us all, Townshend doesn’t.

Quadrophenia has always been an immensely ambitious, unwieldy thing. What has been the most satisfying result of committing it to a classical arrangement? 

That I had to do absolutely nothing!

In 2001, you held workshops for a potential stage production of Quadrophenia. What stalled that process at that time? 

That was a good workshop. I put up some of the music on my website at the time. The band was entirely acoustic. Joe Penhall—who wrote a number of good plays and has lately done the book for The Kinks’ musical—was working on the book. Everything was going well until Joe realised there is no proper ending. He was the one who stalled. At that workshop I met John O’Hara who went on to be the arranger and music supervisor on the 2009 UK theatre tour of Quadrophenia conceived with the Theatre Royal in Plymouth. That was a planned six-week run that lasted for six months. It had a great young cast, many of whom have gone on to great things.

You’ve been tinkering with Quadrophenia since its original release. When The Who toured behind it after the album was first released, you spent a lot of time explaining it to audiences, and it took twenty-five years to perform it in concert to your (reasonable) satisfaction. Do you still feel the need to explain what Quadrophenia is all about? 

It isn’t really about very much…. its loose story and its non-ending are what need to be explained. The function of rock music is not to tell tidy little stories that work like soap opera episodes but to provide music for the internal story of the listener. Of course there is also the function of live congregation: gathering to join together to listen to music that a group of people feel reflects all of their unspoken feelings and emotions. Rock is different in this respect to conventional opera and theatre musical.

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Paul Williams,
The TVD Interview

I was brushing my teeth the other night when I had a “GREAT IDEA” about how to intro this interview. Writers: you already know how this went down. 

I had been spending a lot of time with these hazy childhood memories of Paul Williams on The Muppet Show, his most famous songs running through my head. Something clicked. YES! I finished brushing my teeth, washed my face, got a drink of water, sat down at my desk and it was… gone! It was like someone had wiped that area of my pre-frontal lobe clean.

I racked my brain. Was it something about his unlikely stardom? No… What about how he champions aspiring songwriters as President and Chairman of the Board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)? No, that wasn’t it either. Was it something about that guy who made that documentary about how he thought Paul Williams was dead? Nah, but that’s a great story. Okay, it had to be something about him winning the 2014 Album of the Year Grammy with Daft Punk. No, I couldn’t find a thread. I was furious with myself. The “GREAT IDEA” was gone.

Then I remembered something from talking with Paul. I put my head back and I drifted down into that region of near-sleep where dream thoughts percolate and vanish when you hear a noise and you come to. My dog barked, and I opened my eyes. 

Paul Williams would say that this is the most important part of the creative process: letting go and being optimistic that the right thing will come, even if it’s not the thing you thought you wanted. Even if what you end up with is nothing like what you pictured (and then spaced out on) while brushing your teeth, sometimes it works out all right.  

My germ of a “GREAT IDEA” wasn’t meant to be. And that’s okay, because Paul Williams says so. Williams had so much more to say, of course; we talked about his fascinating life, his love of helping people (he’s a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor as well), and his passion for showing a digital generation the true value of music. 

You’ve said that you started writing music as a way to “journal” your experiences from very early on. Do you remember what first inspired you to express yourself in that way?

You know, I’ve always said that songwriting is a gift. I started out wanting to be an actor. But I was [also] one of these tiny little kids who sang “Danny Boy” for his dad. Well, when I was thirteen, my dad was killed in a car wreck. At that point, it’s like music disappeared out of my life. I quit singing, and all I wanted to do was be an actor. At the time, my mother shipped me off to live with an aunt and an uncle that I didn’t know in Long Beach. My mother was told she couldn’t afford both of us, so she kept my little brother and so I was shipped off. At that point, I wanted to be an actor. Obviously, I wanted to be somebody other than myself at that time.

But when the acting career fizzled when I was around twenty-seven… I’d done a couple of movies I did—I did one called The Loved One with John Gielgud. It’s a very interesting picture about the funeral business. Then I did a movie called The Chase, and I thought that was going to be a big break for me; I had a few lines in it. But when it was released, I saw that my part in the movie was cut out! So, there I was with no money, depressed, and no career; the phone stopped ringing, then they came and took the phone out…

All of a sudden, this little guitar I had became the cheapest therapy in the world. As soon as I picked it up, I started writing. I guess there was some piece of me that felt like I’d done it before. I didn’t think that at the time, but looking back I do. And then, of course, the first time you play a song for somebody—especially a young lady that maybe said that didn’t want to go out with you—and suddenly her head tilts to the side and she says, “Oh, that’s really nice!” And you think, “Okay, something major just changed!”

Beyond the joking, the fact is that when I started writing songs, I finally felt like I was home. It was absolutely home.

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TVD Premiere: Nineteen Thirteen, “Summertime”

When Janet Schiff pressed play on a CD of an old Wollensak reel-to-reel tape recording, Victor DeLorenzo didn’t know what to expect. They were listening to records when Janet asked if he wanted to hear her grandmother play the organ. He said yes. No, he wasn’t just being polite. 

Marguerite Schiff, Janet’s grandmother, was an eccentric and beloved Wisconsin character. She was a gifted musician who sang and played piano, accordion, and organ and toured America doing just that. Marguerite and her piano were never separated; it went with her wherever she traveled—even to the Bahamas where she “wintered.” When the entire state of Wisconsin got to vote on the very first thing they’d ever see on television, they chose Marguerite.

“There were a few different songs that she played,” the Violent Femmes co-founder recalled. “When it got to this version of ‘Summertime’ well, to be quite frank about it… ‘Summertime’ is a wonderful song, but it’s been so overdone. But there was something about her version with just that organ; it was so ghostly and so hauntingly elegant the way she played it.”

The moment DeLorenzo heard the fifty-year-old recording, he knew it was a perfect project for his band, Nineteen Thirteen. Named for the year in which Janet Schiff’s cello was crafted, the “heavy chamber rock” trio make a habit of subtly blending both old and new sounds to create unique musical traditions of their own. Without a doubt, Marguerite would feel right at home with the band.

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Tom Paxton,
The TVD Interview

Sixty years, thousands of concerts, five hundred and fifty-two Kickstarter backers later, and Tom Paxton released his sixty-second album in time for his final “big time” concert tour.

“Whatever my point was, anyhow,” says Paxton, “I think I’ve made it!” But the prospect of Tom Paxton running out of points to make seems just as impossible to his fans as it does to him. The iconoclastic folk hero may be leaving the weary road behind, but he’s far from stopping altogether.

His new album, Redemption Road, couldn’t be more aptly titled. It’s not so much that he’s written a thinly-veiled confessional as he is revisiting a musical life well lived through his signature stripped down, witty, reflective, political songwriting. With Redemption Road, the seventy-seven-year-old reflects on his travels, on his friends, and on why life remains so fun for him, despite its absurdities and pitfalls. Tom Paxton had a lot he wanted to say with Redemption Road, but it’s far from a collection of swan songs. Musician friends as varied as John Prine and Janis Ian lent their talents and their voices to Paxton’s musical snapshots, making the collection of songs on Redemption Road even more poignant. 

When we talked with Tom, he was jovial and exuded a kind of happiness that comes naturally when one feels unyoked from obligations. Tom is living life on his own terms and loves every minute of it. Among many other things, Tom shared his thoughts with us about touring with old friend Janis Ian, continuing to create and perform in his golden years, and his delight and bewilderment about the resurgence of 33-1/3 records.

You’re regarded as one of the first folk artists to break away from performing traditional folk songs in favor of your own music. What does that legacy mean to you now?

It just seemed to me like a natural thing to do, to try to add to the [folk] legacy. Before me Woody Guthrie, of course, was the greatest writer of folk music in America and I really think I was picking his example and doing it in my own time. It just seemed a logical thing to do. I loved the music that I had learned—the traditional music—and I just wanted to make my own contribution.

I always admire artists that go their own way, especially when fellow artists are bewildered or outright hostile towards them. That you had the confidence in your own songs to break away from the tight-knit folk scene of the early ‘60s is hugely admirable.

You know, I’ve been asked many times—back when so many people in the ‘60s were going electric and going rock—why I didn’t do it. I think the real reason is that I didn’t think I’d be any good at it! [Laughs]


Yeah, I think I would have made a lousy rock singer. It never spoke to me. I loved The Beatles, and I still think The Beatles were one of the best things to happen in the twentieth century. But I didn’t have those kinds of chops. What I had was a love for simple songs, and I loved the sound of an acoustic guitar. I still would rather hear Doc Watson than just about anybody you could name. I think I was just following my instinct.

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Mike Rutherford,
The TVD Interview

What do musical milestones mean to someone like Mike Rutherford? When you have invested nearly fifty years in one of the most iconic rock bands in the world, charted dozens of singles and sold 150 million+ albums, helped revolutionize the music video format, toured the world’s stadiums dozens of times over, and finally landed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… where else is there to go? What else could you possibly do?

You just keep going. Mike Rutherford doesn’t like to live in the past. And while he is about to embark on a thirtieth anniversary tour with his band Mike + The Mechanics, he feels reflective rather than nostalgic. As Genesis was hitting their peak of worldwide pop stardom, Rutherford’s solo project became one of the most successful bands of the ‘80s. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Living Years album, and the thirtieth anniversary of The Mechanics, Rutherford re-recorded his biggest hit, the Ivor Award-winning single of the same name. The remastered The Living Years (released on February 10) also includes rare recordings from a 1989 tour, the inclusion of which inspired Rutherford to embark not only on a 2015 Mechanics tour, but to give some brand new songs of his a live stage.

On top of all of these musical milestones, Rutherford published The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir. Far from being a Keith Richards-style tell-all, the book does delve deeply into the inside story of his musical life, as one might expect. But it diverges from there into a personal fascination of his: the parallels he discovered between his father’s memoirs and his own, and the stark generational divide that colored the relationship between the distinguished naval officer from his rock star son. It’s a unique take on the usual rock star tell-all that keeps things interesting. 

As Mike + The Mechanics get ready to embark on their massive U.S. and European tour that kicks off at The Birchmere and ends in Belgium, Rutherford touched on a lot of different topics in our interview: from the transformation of Genesis from progressive rockers to pop superstars, to how he prefers to record his albums, to what it’s like to make old songs feel new again for audiences all over the world.

When I was in England some years ago, I went on a coach tour through the countryside. We saw all sorts of beautiful ruins and other ancient architecture. Then the driver stopped our bus by your old school and announced, very seriously, “This is the school where Mike Rutherford and Peter Gabriel and Tony Banks and Anthony Phillips formed the band Genesis.”

Oh! Charterhouse, yeah! We live a few minutes away, so it’s still part of our world, yeah.

Growing up in the ‘80s, the Mechanics and Genesis were all over Top 40 radio. Did you ever feel any conflict about going from prog rock to a more pop-oriented sound? It seemed like a surprisingly natural progression.

Funnily enough, it didn’t quite feel like that to us, because when Peter left, the first two albums after—Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering—were more progressive, so it happened over two or three albums, really. And then I still sort of questioned… well, what happened was a change in public perception. In the ‘80s, MTV came in and the hit single was so everywhere. The singles then had such a huge profile that they overshadowed the rest of the album. Of course, the singles tend to stick in people’s minds, so I think what happened was quite natural to me.

Some would argue that the mid-‘60s to early-‘80s was a unique period of time in popular music where the album was what was most popular; everything before and since has been about the singles.

Yeah, that’s true.

Speaking of singles, I listened to the new recording of “The Living Years” and wondered, how does that song resonate with you now, so many years from the emotions that inspired it?

I think the new track is paying respect to the anniversary. You can’t beat the original one, ever. It’s still very special to me. In a sense, the reason The Mechanics are touring is because about four years ago during some live shows I couldn’t believe how well some of the Mechanics’ songs went down on stage because The Mechanics… we hardly ever toured! We never did much touring ever so, in a sense, it was a new thing for me to hear all these Mechanics songs played on stage… and the audience really connected with them.

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Jeff Bridges,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

That Jeff Bridges has mastered multiple artistic disciplines shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. That he’s so good at everything is what’s a little bit… mind-boggling.

The Academy Award-winning actor is also an inordinately gifted photographer, a highly acclaimed painter and a skilled and sensitive musician. His parents, Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges, ensured Jeff was surrounded by Hollywood magic-makers from the very beginning (his first film appearance was as an infant in one of his parents’ movies). Given that film is, arguably, the most holistic art form—involving most of the senses and, when done well, the appropriate emotions—Bridges’ tagalong Hollywood childhood gave him an eye and an ear for what resonates most with the heart. That sensitivity and exuberance informs all his artistic pursuits, not least of which is his music. 

While music has always been part of his life, it wasn’t until 2000 that he committed anything to wax with his acclaimed debut, Be Here Soon. His latest album, the country-tinged Live, is an in-the-moment recording of shows that Bridges and his band, The Abiders, gave this past summer. It includes songs from Be Here Soon and his eponymous follow-up record, along with select covers that have held meaning for him throughout his life. Like the man behind the music, the song choices are both heartfelt and whimsical, and the performances are solid, honest, and even playful. Throughout our conversation, Bridges waxes reverently about his musical collaborators, who are an assortment of long-time friends and music legends, and reflects on the enduring legacy of “The Dude.” And he’s hopeful that Live will make it onto vinyl, too.

I love your website, with your drawings and “hand-written” navigation. It makes it feel somehow more personal, and not like it was created by a publicist. Was that your intent?

Well, when I first started that five or six years ago now, I guess, I was pretty excited about this notion of having another outlet. It’s like another canvas; I like to paint and draw, and [the website] is like a combination of canvas and radio station and movies, all wrapped up in one. It was a lot of fun to do the drawings and stuff. I haven’t been keeping it up with it as much as I might. Websites seem to be more of a thing of the past; now it seems to be more of a Facebook thing. I’ll keep doing the website, though, I think.

It really does help tie together all of your creative endeavors.

Thank you! It’s also a chance for me to talk about No Kid Hungry and the situation we’ve got in America here with our kids not being fed. It’s a chance for me to get that message out, too.

Obviously, you have a lot of different interests and passions—that seems to be a theme throughout your entire life. Do you remember when you felt drawn to create music?

Gee, it might have been going back to my teenage years. My brother Beau, he’s about eight years older than I am… so when I was growing up, the kind of music I heard coming out of Beau’s bedroom was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, James Brown, the Everly Brothers—all those guys. I fell in love with that music. My brother had a Danelectro electric guitar, and I just started playing and writing songs and stuff.

You had over a decade between your first album (Be Here Soon, 2000) and your second (Jeff Bridges, 2011) album. Now you and your band, The Abiders, have a new album, Live. Did a live album feel like the next logical step for you musically, or is Live more of an anthology project for you?

Describe the anthology project; that sounds kind of interesting. What is that? [Laughs]

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The Joy Formidable’s
Ritzy Bryan, The Best of the 2014 TVD Interviews

One of the worst things you can do to a band on the rise is call them the “second coming” of anything, or to compare them to what’s come before. The offense is especially egregious when it’s an ambitious band that does everything in their power to exceed expectations—a band like The Joy Formidable

We have been big fans of TJF for a while now. One of the things we love best about the Welsh band is not their guitar-driven, genre-defying big pop sound, but their big hearts and their complete willingness to share in their success. It’s that sentiment is what makes the band’s latest singles project so compelling.

When I asked if there was anything else she would like to talk about, singer Ritzy Bryan immediately said, “It would be great if you could talk about the bands on our B-sides.” After countless months on the road, and prodigious songwriting for a brand new album, her primary concern was that we talk about the other great Welsh bands who took part in their new project, the Welsh Singles Club

The Welsh Singles Club features a new mash-up of The Joy Formidable’s grungy pop-rock sound with traditional instrumentations and all-Welsh lyrics on limited-edition 7″ vinyl. In the spirit of collaboration, these unique singles are split with a different Welsh band on the B-sides. The Singles Club kicked off in June with Aruthrol (which means “Formidable” in Welsh) backed with a B-side from psychedelic rockers Colorama. The series continues today with the release of Aruthrol B, featuring a hypnotic new TJF song, “Tynnu Sylw,” backed with B-side from drone-rockers, White Noise Sound.

The Welsh Singles Club is only the beginning of the end of the beginning for The Joy Formidable. Ritzy clued us in on a new album they’re finishing at their rural North Wales studio/retreat, the challenges of and passion for writing in her native tongue, and how The Joy Formidable is bringing it all back home in more ways than one. 

You’ve been described as having taken up the cause that Britpop and grunge abandoned over a decade ago. At the risk of over-simplifying for those who are just learning about you, do you feel like that’s true at all?

I don’t know. I always find it quite difficult when people feel that way about what we do. I think that there’s certainly the conviction of those sorts of eras running through the music…

But you don’t like being pigeon-holed, of course.

Well, yeah, we’re certainly unapologetic about being a guitar band. But in the same breath, I suppose we’re lots of things. We don’t like to feel the restrictions of being purely a guitar band, too. And definitely, I think there’s so much scope for guitar-driven music. There’s so much originality you can find in that genre. I think we still feel like we’re bringing something fresh. There’s a lot of “retrofication” these days, you know what I mean? [Laughs]

The one reason [guitar bands] have kind of been struggling has been is because of the sense of what people expect of us as a guitar band and what a guitar band can do. There’s obviously been so many great decades of great guitar music, and yeah we love those two genres you mentioned. But I think it’s really important that you push it to something new—something you find yourself—you make something original in your own voice as a band.

That’s why we dip in to lots of genres—lots of different sounds and inspirations. We like to push what it means to be in a guitar band, but keeping the aesthetic of that conviction and the unapologetic-ness of those eras as well.

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David Gray,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nobody expected White Ladder to be as big as it was. Its most iconic track, “Babylon,” became bigger even than David Gray himself. Overcoming that kind of success is nearly impossible, but Gray hasn’t relented. It’s been four years since his last album, Foundling, and nearly fifteen years since White Ladder spent over two years on the UK charts (and a year on the US charts), sold over seven million copies, and took the English singer-songwriter from obscurity to staggering fame. His tenth studio album, Mutineers, looks to bridge the gap for Gray between his popular successes and that which compelled him to write songs in the first place.

Mutineers contains Gray’s strongest songwriting of recent years, taken to another level by producer Andy Barlow (most recently of indie group Lamb), who wrenched Gray out of his comfort zone. At Gray’s explicit direction, Barlow deconstructed his songs, dismantling anything that sounded overwrought, and condensed Gray’s thoughts into powerful, driving, and spacious tracks. The result is that Mutineers is fresh-sounding, fascinating in its scope, and big in its sound. If you’ve been pining for substance in popular music, Mutineers is exactly that.

We spoke with David on the eve of his North American tour, hours before he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman debuting the aptly titled, “Back in the World.” He was candid and eloquent in our interview, talking about the process of making the new record and what it’s like to be an independent artist again. “I feel like I’m entering a rich period of making music,” he said, “as fresh as any I’ve ever made.”

The title track really leapt out at me. There’s something very powerful about your chorus, and it made me think of it as a sort of “grown-up” adventure song. What is the significance of the lyrics in “Mutineers?”

I have no idea if that’s what it means. [Laughs] It was born in a strange way. My producer tore up an existing song I had called “Sugar Rush.” What I was left with was a small chord sequence, which is what you hear now. He looped that—he said, “Stick with this, Dave,” and I was looking rather vexed. There was no verse, no chords no melody—all I was left with were these fucking lyrics and a small chord sequence. [Laughs] I thought, “there’s something good about it… let’s see what we can do.”

So, what I did is I found the chorus/melody first. [Sings] “Babe… sure feels good…” That bit. And once I realized that, I thought… this really works! I found the guitar part that goes with it—that really high guitar part; that brought that to life. And that’s a very heartfelt little bit of singing there.

But then, the verses are more ambiguous. It’s enigmatic; the meaning of the song is unclear. The tendency to explain there—there’s no narrative structure because it has an irresistible energy. It’s sort of mantric with its constant repetition. It has a sort of… inevitability and an unstoppable feeling. I love that track, and playing it live… it’s obviously infectious, because the whole band get really into it and the audience [does], too. I don’t know if I’d describe it as an “adventure” song, but I’m glad you found it to be an adventure. I do get what you’re saying, but I’m sorry I can’t explain the song on those terms. It’s a mystery to me. I respond to its energy and I respond to its imagery. As far as a definitive explanation of it… I’m so sorry I can’t help explain it better.

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Paul Rodgers,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

We are besieged by rock stars who can’t move beyond their hits. Thank goodness that Paul Rodgers is no such rock star. Sure, if you listen to classic rock radio you’ll hear his iconic vocals whenever Clear Channel decides to play the same handful of (utterly classic) Bad Company or Free hits. But this is a rocker whose recent career has been occupied by “passion projects” focused on those who inspired him. That coupled with a selective touring schedule has not only kept his voice in its arena rock form, but has also kept him from falling into the creative morass of the “oldies” circuit. 

His latest “passion project” is his first studio LP since 2000: The Royal Sessions. Recorded at Memphis’ iconic Royal Studios, The Royal Sessions is more than an homage to Stax Records artists like Otis Redding, Albert King, and Sam & Dave; for Rodgers, it is an honest and analog account of following inspiration despite all other plans.

Rodgers was in the midst of recording a long-awaited album of original songs when the opportunity to record at Royal Studios presented itself. The Royal Sessions’ authentic, reverent feel that is due in no small part to the roster of Memphis studio musician veterans, some of whom played on the very recordings that Rodgers honors on The Royal Sessions. (Did we mention it’s available on 200 gram vinyl, too?)

His love of the Memphis sound and the serendipitous way the album came about further inspired him to give back to the city that made the music that inspired his own music. To that end, all proceeds raised by sales of The Royal Sessions will be donated to the Stax Music Academy, which provides music education programs to children in inner-city Memphis. It’s a feel-good record all around. Rodgers certainly thinks so, and was thrilled to talk about its analog recording, his surprise at having a number one album in 2014, and the excitement that an artist feels when they’re onto something truly authentic. 

When did you know you had this VOICE?

Well, I felt I could be a singer at a very early age; I think I must have been about thirteen or fourteen. I started life playing the bass, and I used to just sing harmonies and things with my good friend Colin Bradley back in those days.

And then one day, for some reason they asked me to sing a Little Richard song—“Long Tall Sally” I think it was, or “Good Golly, Miss Molly” perhaps. And I felt then that I could sing this…that I could do this thing called “singing.” The other time, actually, which made me think about singing…we used to do a Solomon Burke song called “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” [Starts singing the song.] I used to take the bass off and sing that one, and I used to get a real kick out of that. I think it was during those times that I sort of graduated from playing the bass and focusing just on singing. So, it goes back a long way.

You’re from northeast England. How did where you grew up shape your musical influences?

Well, I was born in Middlesbrough, which at that time was a very heavily industrialized area. There was shipbuilding, steelworks, and chemicals. It’s very much changed now, as a lot of the shipbuilding and steelworks have moved to other parts of the world; the chemical works are still there. But, when I was growing up, it was quite a gritty place. There were a lot of toxins floating about in the air, and the chemical works—we called them “the works”—was the place that you were expected to go once you left school. My school was about three or four stories high, and I used to look out from my classroom on the top floor and I could see all “the works” and the smoke belching out of it. I used to think, “Oh my God, is that where I’m going? Is that the only way?” [Laughs]

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John Waters:
The TVD Interview

“A John Waters Christmas” just might be the most genuine event of the holiday season. Coming up on its tenth year, John Waters’ one-man stage show has become a twisted annual holiday tradition. Inspired both by his avowed love of the holiday and his legendary drive to push the boundaries of good taste through humor, “A John Waters Christmas” is—like its eponymous star—warped, provocative, and deeply funny. (If you don’t have tickets already, don’t hesitate for long; many East Coast dates are already sold out.)

For those not in the know, John Waters made a name for making transgressive films before anyone coined the term, and is happily dubbed the “Pope of Trash” to this day. Not surprisingly, then, “A John Waters Christmas” is a showcase of the legendary (perhaps more accurately, infamous) filmmaker/artist/provocateur’s sardonic commentary on Christmas detritus, from hokey TV specials to holiday kitsch. But “A John Waters Christmas” also doubles as a method of catharsis for his audience—to those in the path of “the steamroller known as Christmas” which is, let’s face it, all of us.

John was happy to share his thoughts with us on the ironic and un-ironic joys of the holiday, his fascination with vinyl, and what it takes to get on his Christmas card list. We’ve also included his oddball holiday playlist to make your days merry and bright, if not a little bit tawdry. 

As I was preparing for this interview, I recalled that my aunt let me watch Hairspray when I was probably about eight years old…

There’s nothing the matter with Hairspray. That’s okay to watch.

My parents were a little perplexed by that decision, but I think it started me on my appreciation for the bizarre and trashy. So, would you recommend that film to other kids?

Sure! I do! I get people now, all the time—and it’s really amazing on these tours—who’ll say to me, “God, my parents showed me Pink Flamingos!” When I was young, your parents had you arrested if you had Pink Flamingos. So, it has radically changed; it was probably their grandparents who saw [Pink Flamingos] the first time.

So, that’s changed and parents come now to my shows with their incorrigible children in a last-ditch effort to try to bond with them. [Laughs] I really respect that, but I always don’t know if it works or not because I never see them again! But I’m sort of touched by that they think, somehow, I might bring them together. It’s me or Columbine.

You’re one of those people whose desire to make fun of something is directly proportional to how much you love that thing—

But I’m never mean! I think that’s why I’ve lasted this long because I love everything I make fun of! I make fun of myself first! I mean, I started my career by calling my films “trash”—the local critics used to complain that I beat the critic to the typewriter.

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