Joey Molland,
The TVD Interview

Joey Molland has seen it all. During his time in Badfinger, he witnessed the ups and downs of rock and roll stardom, rubbing elbows with The Beatles no less, and being taken under their collective wings to be the big, blockbuster breakout of Apple Records. Badfinger’s power pop legacy is undisputed.

Of course, the highs of every rock and roll story descend to lows and Badfinger’s story is a notoriously bleak and complicated one. But Joey manages to stay positive and spread some feel-good vibes on his latest release, Be True to Yourself which encapsulates much of the Badfinger power pop sound in a modern setting. Produced by Mark Hudson (Ringo Starr, Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne) Be True to Yourself also features a cadre of musical friends: Julian Lennon, Micky Dolenz, Jason Scheff, and Steve Holley.

Join us as we discuss the the creation of his new album with Mr. Molland and the long and winding road he traveled to get from there to here.

The new album is called Be True To Yourself and why don’t you tell us a little bit about the title and that particular song?

Yeah, the title, what can I say? The song came from a conversation I had with my brother, Frank. My eldest brother. He was considerably older than me, and I don’t know if you come from a large family, but it was one of the first times in my life that I’d actually had a conversation with my brother. He was already in his 20s when I was born, you know? So I was a little kid, so we didn’t really hang around together. You know what I mean? So I just had a talk with him and yesterday we talked about the future, we talked about faith, and we talked about government stuff. You know, all the things that you talk about with your friends. And that’s where this song was born—from that conversation.

I’d had the melody for a couple of years and I’d never really gotten a hold of a lyric that I wanted to put with that melody, so it was great to finally get some lyrics and it was fortunately for me, when we started discussing doing a record, Mark Hudson and myself, and that was one of the songs that he really liked and really enjoyed. We’ve got at least five songs’ worth of Mark Hudson’s songwriting talent in there, too. I enjoyed it. The idea Be True to Yourself seemed like a reasonable thing to call an album, and that’s what we were trying to do. That’s what I was trying to do, anyway. Write songs that I liked. I don’t know much about writing hit songs. I just have to play what I’ve got, you know? Just like in the old days. I always had the exact same approach. We’d play our songs and the ones we liked, we’d work on them and they’d be the ones we’d record, you know?

I’m happy the people seem to like the stuff that’s on this particular record. It seems to be a good thing, and I think it’s a good title. I think it’s a good way to think about things.

I think it is, too. Tell me about working with Mark Hudson. He’s worked with Aerosmith and Ringo Starr and now Joey Molland. How did you hook up with him, and how did you arrive at working with Mark Hudson on this new record?

Over the years, I’ve done lots of kind of Beatle related events and I started to meet Mark at them. You know, people get him because of his big affiliation with Ringo and his friendship with the other Beatles, and we just started to be friends backstage, really. We think alike. Mark is a hilarious person. I don’t know if you’ve met him, but he’s a hilarious guy. He’s a great guy to hang around with, and of course he’s a brilliant producer. Grammy winning. He’s just a brilliant, super talented guy. Sings like a bird. He’s all about the show and as long as it’s got a song to back it up, and I got really lucky for him to produce. He’s the reason the album sounds so good. The people that he works with like Mario McNulty who he’s another Grammy winner and well known for working with the likes of David Bowie and several other majors.

So, that’s what Mark attracts. People know his talent and they know his way of producing. He’s so focused, you know? And he’s entertaining while he’s doing it. He drives the bus, he really does. He doesn’t really apologize. He’ll pull himself way out, he’ll pull himself in the record with you. I really enjoyed it. It all came together, our friendship. Did I have songs? Would I like to make a record? So I said yes to all those questions. I’m really knocked out, you know?

There’s a lot going on in all of the songs, musically. You go in for that Beatle, Badfinger, Electric Light Orchestra sound. It’s a very rich, big sound. How did you do it in the studio with him?

We did it kind of in the old-fashioned way. It’s all live musicians, they’re all real instruments. I think there’s maybe two synthesizer lines. They’re real strings, they’re real horns, they’re real guitars, real basses, real players came to play. Benny Harrison came and played keyboards for us, and he’s playing with the Rascals right now and he’s played with so many people. A young guy came in and played guitar, Jay Shepard. Great young rock and roll player. Paul Santo, who’s in the Aerosmith world, came down and played with us. It was great that people did it and learned the songs.

The comments we got while we were doing it was that it’d been a long time since they’d actually worked on songs like this. And we did them all as tracks. We didn’t do cutting and pasting in the digital mode. We did it really just like an old record and as the ideas appeared. Again, I better thank Mark Hudson, the focus was incredible. All of us did background vocals. All of us did harmonies. All of us did guitar overdubs and all the rest of it. It was a very enjoyable, creative endeavor, really. And it was just a great experience. It was like it always has been for me, making records. Making one song at a time. Again, Hudson and the sound. So there’s a lot of things that come out when you put those headphones on. The stereo mixes, the way the backing vocals weave their way around the songs. Just a great experience, the sound.

When you joined Badfinger, you were faced with the million seller of “Come and Get It.” What was it like joining the band at that time in their career, with that kind of momentum?

I still really don’t know how that happened. I mean, I know who said get this guy in the band, but I don’t know why the bass player happened to leave and Tommy Evans decided he was going to play bass and they started looking for a guitar player. I’d already been making some records of me own and started writing songs, so I came and auditioned and they seemed to think that I fitted in, and we just went to work with them. It was great opportunity, of course, any recording I would get it. You know, I think they’d done about a month before I joined, maybe two months. And I joined them, the record came out and was a huge hit all over the world. It was really weird. Our lives didn’t change much, other than we did a lot of interviews and stuff. It was great.

I love that story about Paul McCartney making the demo for it and saying to the guys, “If you want the hit, this is how it’s got to go.”

Yeah, this is how it goes. Yeah. He did, he told them. That’s what they told me. He told them, “Do it exactly like this. Don’t do any fiddling with it. Just do it like this and I’ll come and produce it.” And he actually told him, “This’ll be your first hit record.” You know? And he wasn’t kidding about that. We were all enthralled by The Beatles. Just an amazing band and wow, you know.

Did you ever feel like you had a little extra connection with The Beatles because you’re also a Liverpool guy? Did you have that hometown connection going on?

I got to feel that. We grew up, like you say, in the same town. Tommy and I, anyway. And listening to the same radio. We went to the same guitar stores, the same cafes and all of it, really. We played the same clubs. In music, we’d learned the same styles of music. You know, the rock and roll and then all the way back in the, even Cole Porter, the old songs, old songwriters. We learned on styles and I think when we were working with Apple and all a sudden George wanted some guitars on this record. I think he realized that about us. We had the same sympathies towards music. We can understand where he was coming from with the melody and the sequences. We could learn them very quickly and I think a lot of those things came from being from Liverpool.

It’s just a great music city, the bands in Liverpool were very varied. There were rhythm and blues bands, there were blues bands, there were pop bands, there were real showbiz bands. And you know, like Ringo played with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and they were a real show band, so those kind of things were all around all of us. We all related to music the same. We all wanted to be in rock bands. We all wanted to be in beat groups like they used to call them. You know, so it was a great experience. Great experience.

Badfinger has one of the sadder stories in rock and roll history. How do you think about the band and its history these years later? In fact, your new song “This Time” seems to tie into it a little bit.

It all does, doesn’t it? We’re like these sponges. We soak things up and yeah, Badfinger had some tragedy going on and some bad luck, really. Mostly caused by the manager, but on the other side of that, we really enjoyed playing together. We really enjoyed going in the studio together. It’s a question of the management why the band ended up breaking up. We really enjoyed ourselves. We’d stay in the studio and work on songs all day. The Beatles gave us access to the studios, even Abbey Road, and we could go in there and actually get songs together. You know what I mean?

Unbelievable.

Yeah, we worked our butts off and we had fantastic opportunities. And we always did our very best. It wasn’t a question of going in there and getting loaded up or anything and playing some rock and roll. We really wanted to be good songwriters. We really wanted to make good records and I’m happy to say that the records have lasted. And really, the attitude was, “Well we’ve got to do our best. We’ve got to give everything by each other and the band,” you know what I mean? Like it was Mike’s song, or Pete’s song, or Tommy’s song, or Joe’s song. It didn’t matter—it was just a new song and we work it out, work the parts out, put ourselves in the best bits we could come up with, and play this with each other. It was a great experience, a super experience.

And then all the add ons of doing George Harrison records and doing vocals on Ringo’s stuff and playing on John Lennon’s Imagine album—those kind of experiences were incredible and life changing experiences, you know? You know, I’m here at John Lennon’s, I was playing guitar. You know what I mean? It’s a miracle, you know?

Absolutely. Tell me more about “This Time.” It’s really one of my favorites on the new album.

Time passes by. All these years have gone by and there were things about the government that was bothering me, you know? I wanted to say that. Maybe this time we can get it right. I’m a big believer in government and I believe the government should be solving our problems. We shouldn’t be having tax problems, we shouldn’t be having these health insurance problems. That should all be worked out by now. We’ve had 250 years for crying out loud, you know? If you want to get into that kind of talk, you know, that’s what “This Time” is about.

I met Mike Gibbins at a Beatlefest many years ago. He was very nice and I remember him chatting with me for a few minutes and I know he wasn’t involved in the late Badfinger albums. Could you talk a little bit about how those roads diverged and how you managed to hold onto that Badfinger name and produce those couple albums there and what the feeling was?

Yeah, the last couple of Badfinger albums that we did in the studio, Tommy and I did those records. Airwaves, are you talking about those records?

Right, exactly. Really great records, by the way.

Thank you very much and you know, I thought Airwaves was a really smooth record. I think it fell through the cracks a little bit. Music was changing and I remember The Cars, that sound and driving. The cha-cha-cha-cha sound came out and Roy Thomas Baker producing records and stuff. We tried to get Baker, actually, to produce Airwaves for us, but he was booked for two years and we didn’t want to wait.

Anyway, it all came together by accident. I met some guys in LA. I was living in Los Angeles, Joe Tansin, Kenny Harck and I thought Joe was a really fine songwriter and Kenny was a great drummer. So, they came to see me and I went to their rehearsal and I was jamming with them and playing, and we didn’t really have a bass player. So I said, “We need a bass player. Let me call Tommy and see what he’s doing.” and Tommy had been doing, as you’re aware of, he played in a couple of bands in London after Badfinger, but he wasn’t with a band at that point.

He said he would come over, and he did. He flew over and we started knocking a few songs around. “Sail Away” and “Lost Inside Your Love” and we had some great tunes. Anyway, it was all working out and everything, but then there was a bit of a problem with the drummer. So we called up Mike Gibbins and actually brought him over to play with us, but Mike hadn’t been playing very much so he was out of shape and stuff. We’re not saying anything bad about the guy, because he was a great drummer, but it just wasn’t working. It just wasn’t working.

So, he ended up going back to Wales and we got Andy Newmark to come in and play. You know, he was doing sessions at the time. He came in and played and we managed to finish the record. That’s just what went on then. That’s how the Airwaves came and the lineup was what it was. Nicky Hopkins came and played with us. He was great, wasn’t he? What a pianist.

Oh, my goodness. I know. Made that whole sound for so many bands, not just for one band. His sound stretched across the whole genre for 10, 15 years, right?

That’s right, yeah. I met him when I was a boy, when I was 17, 18. He was already a top flight piano player in London and I wrote a couple of songs. Kit Lambert took us in the studio. You know him? The manager, The Who’s manager?

Whose manager?

He managed The Who. Kit Lambert managed them and he was producing a couple of demos for us, and for a band I was in at the time, and he hired Nicky Hopkins to play piano with us. And man, he was unbelievable. It was just great. Just a little story from way back then. That’s how I met him. He was absolutely stunning. We remained friends for the rest of his life. God bless him, we all miss him. Just a superb player.

I’m sure you get the opportunity to speak with young people about a career in show business and music, and given your long and storied history, what advice, what guidance, what kind of things do you say to younger adults?

I advise them to pay attention and if they’re going to sign a contract, to read it. Then try and understand it, so if they don’t understand it, to find somebody who can help them understand it. Do the best. Just normal stuff. I tell them there aren’t any shortcuts, you know? There aren’t. You have to do the work. The audience is there for you; they’ve got to like you. You want to do what they want to do. You want to make them feel good, you want to rock them, you want to give them your heart. All those normal things. Practice everything, practice the vocals.

I like how your advice starts out with, “Make sure you read the contract.”

Well, you know, we didn’t. Even when we started to read them, we didn’t fully understand them. We thought the contracts meant what they said. We thought the sentences, when they say a thing, that that’s what they mean. But besides each word has its own meaning. So it’s like a whole competency thing. The law is a competency thing. It’s not simple, cut and dry, and we don’t know about it. We’re kids from Liverpool, in our case. We were raised to go and weigh 100 ducks, you know?

We were raised as workers and we didn’t know about those things. They know about those things, the guys in the suits and ties and all that. They knew it. So it was easy to get conned and it seemed to be perfectly legal. We felt like it was legal for the managers to steal the money. It was legal for the record labels to take all of the money and have you pay all the expenses. That was legal. We know that the rest of the companies investing in bands and we’d record two or three albums before they’d give up, you know? They’d really try to break a band.

So all those things were, they all gave us a bit of a closeness as far as the band goes, because we all came from the same place and we took care of each other. We knew we had the band and we knew that nobody else knew what it was like in the band. We knew that. We knew what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go. Nobody else knew that. It’s all showbiz and that’s what you want, according to showbiz, but it’s really not like that.

The new album has such an enthusiastic optimism throughout. You really keep going back to positivity like we talked about in “This Time.” Also particularly on “Shine.” Can you talk about that song and just this infusion of positive vibes that you bring to this record.

I’m a pretty positive person. I’ve been really lucky during the course of my life and I’ve always found that if I work, I’m okay. I’ll be okay, so that’s me basic feeling. I wrote “Shine” originally in 1972, 1974, somewhere in there. We were recording with Badfinger actually, we recorded a demo of it anyway, and it was Pete Ham who actually came up with the word “Shine.” He didn’t suggest anything else to do with the song and we were going to credit him as a writer actually, but the estate said that they didn’t want to. There was no need to.

The melody came from, I’m a big Leon Russell fan, you know? And that B Minor to that G7 was a real Russell change. So that’s where I was going with it, just enjoying it and the lyrics, of course, but it was just kind of what life was like. Sitting on a carpet, you know we were always up all night, Pete and me. And it is a positive song, you know. It is a positive thing. All the time had happened, but what happened to the song, you know? You’re talking about the brightness of life and the good things in life. So that’s really what it’s about and if it’s really positive for you, that’s what it’s supposed to do, you know?

I enjoyed your little nod to “No Matter What” in “All I Want To Do.” There’s a lot of fun little moments on the album like that. It’s cool that you keep that Badfinger vibe happening.

You know, like I say, you can only do what you do. We just do songs that way and I’ve done songs that way all my life. I’ve learned guitar a bit, I’ve learned to play the piano a little bit, I’ve learned to think in those ways. Logically I’ve changed things. But the basic song idea, when I get it, I’ll proceed along the same pathways. Whether I’m looking at lyrics or I’m looking at melody. It’s just the way I write songs.

This bunch, and thank God we had Mark Hudson as a producer. He’s absolutely brilliant. This guy’s a Grammy winner, award winning songwriter. He’s a great singer. A great leader. He knows how to pull stuff out of musicians. He can describe music to you so accurately through gestures and singing that everybody gets the idea, you know? It’s a collaborative experience. Getting those ideas, getting them on the tape and making them focus and talking about the idea. Focusing that idea so it does bring out, like you say, optimism or fun or hope or faith. You know, belief. All the songs, they do that kind of thing to you. So it’s a great thing, really.

You’ve got this new album out and we’re releasing it during a pandemic and all kinds of crazy things are going on. What’s the plan with the music and the album and how are you getting it out there? What’s the idea?

All I can do is try and penetrate the digital world, which seems to be where the music world is now. It’s in the atmosphere, you know what I mean? Flying around on the internet. I’m going to try and capitalize on that and I’ve been fortunate enough to be introduced to people who’ve been doing that for a long time now. They’re in that digital world and they know all about your Facebook and Twitter and all the rest of it, and how to use those marketing devices, I suppose, to try and sell the record.

Everybody we’ve played the record to is into it. For whatever reason, that’s what’s happened. And hopefully, the people who buy records nowadays, and that may be people my age; it might be people younger. I don’t know. I don’t know quite where it’s going to fit in, and I’ve had people say to me, even New York City managers say to me, “This is a great record, Joe. But who’s going to play it for you?” You know? “What radio station is going to be playing it? Where’s it going to be?”

I’m really thinking about that and I’m hoping that I can maybe open a little door into that world and sell a few records. I don’t have a manager so I’m just trying to do the best I can. We’re making a couple of videos. We already did one for “Rainy Day Man” which is the first single, and we’re doing one now. We’re planning the next one and when I say “we”, there’s a group in Minneapolis called The Jorgensens. They do a New Orleans-y thing. Really lovely songs and they’re man and wife; Kurt and Brianna Jorgensen. They also shoot videos on the side, so I’m working with them and we’re discussing the second video now, which will be for “I Don’t Want to Be Done With You” they’re going to put out. I’m envisioning a bit of a graphic kind of video is what I’m hoping happens. So we’ve got some ideas. Thank God people like yourself are interested enough to want to want to do an interview. It sounds like the old days, doesn’t it?

It does a little bit!

You know, as far as putting a record out. The only thing is, in the old days, you’d make a record. You’d get the record knowing it was going to be released, and you’d start booking shows around that release. You’d get on the road and you’d go and promote the record on the road, wouldn’t you?

Nowadays, you promote the record through the internet and you use the records to get the shows, you know? It’s kind of the opposite way around, it seems. So I’m trying to learn that, and trying to develop, and trying to work. That’s just it, so we’ll see.

Be True To Yourself, Joey Molland’s first album of new material in nearly 10 years arrives in stores today, October 16, 2020 via Omnivore Recordings.

Joey Molland Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
PHOTO: JIM VASQUEZ

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