SOFTLY, SOFTLY CATCHEE MONKEY Dave Rawlings Machine

In which the gifted songwriter holds
forth on a life in music, working as artistic foil to Gillian Welch, and his
new role as frontman
.

 

BY ANDY TENNILLE

 

“When I got to
Berklee, I decided to enroll in a songwriting course ‘cause I’d been so focused
to that point on my guitar playing, but I dropped out immediately when I found
out that each student had to write a song and play it for the class.”

 

Dave Rawlings
smiles widely before taking a bite of his avocado sandwich courtesy of the
legendary Greenblatt’s Deli. It’s a
quiet Monday afternoon at the renowned West Hollywood delicatessen, and
Rawlings is recalling the panic he felt when confronted with the challenge of a
blank page for the first time upon enrolling at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music.

 

“It terrified
me,” he admits. “Too much pressure for me. Come to think of it, that probably
contributed to why it took me so long to put out an album of my own.”

 

A Friend Of A Friend, Rawlings’ debut as frontman of the Dave Rawlings Machine after
serving as Gillian Welch’s guitar-playing co-conspirator for the better part of the past 15 years, is a sublime
nine-track effort that benefits from the years the Rhode Island native waited to make it. If
he’d made this album five or 10 years ago, Rawlings may have simply mimicked
the successful formula he’s developed with Welch or foolishly fallen prey to the
guitar player’s common pitfall of making an album spotlighting their guitar
prowess. Instead, Rawlings has crafted a beautifully diverse set of nine songs
that spotlight his songwriting and vocal talents and incorporate his various
musical influences: rock, country, bluegrass, soul and folk music.

 

“I’m really
pleased that it feels more like a singer-songwriter debut record than a guitar
player record,” says Welch. “I think that speaks very highly of Dave’s more
hidden talents. Like the rest of the world, I thought Dave’s record was gonna
be closer to what my records sound like. Like a duet, but with the lead vocal
reversed. As we got into it, it didn’t seem right to do our duet thing. Our
guitar duet thing kind of evolved and was tailor-made around my lead vocals,
and one of the things we discovered in the studio with Dave is that there are
better ways for him to record than that. I feel like he gets a lot of respect
for the guitar playing, but I don’t think people were really aware of what a
well-rounded artist he really is.”

 

“My real joy in
life is to play with other people, live and preferably unrehearsed, and Dave’s
always willing to go for that,” says Benmont Tench (Tom Petty
& the Heartbreakers), who plays keys on A
Friend Of A Friend
. “Like the great boogie-woogie piano player Pete
Johnson, David dances the notes. I find myself laughing sometimes at what he’s
playing, just laughing in delight at the audacity. It never strikes me as being
a showoff thing. The music always calls for it, and David brings it. He’s a
great guitar player. I’ve played practically my whole life with Mike Campbell,
so I know a good guitar player when I hear one, and David’s got it.”

 

Recorded
in Nashville’s illustrious RCA
Studio B
, A Friend Of A Friend features seven
songs Rawlings wrote or co-wrote, all recorded around a single microphone and
backed by familiar company: Welch, Tench, Old Crow Medicine
Show
, Bright Eyes’ Nate
Walcott
and drummer Karl
Himmel
(Neil Young, J.J. Cale). But it may be his cover of the traditional “Monkey and the Engineer” that reveals the most about Rawlings’ emergence as a solo artist.

 

“We’d never done
it before,” Welch confesses. “It just occurred to him to do it while everyone
was getting settled in the studio. I knew he was spontaneous- that’s one of Dave’s
strengths – but the fact that he’s capable of getting masters on a single take
of a song that we’d never played together was incredible.”

 

“That was a fun
song,” Rawlings says. “And it made sense in a way. The monkey watched the
engineer drive the train day after day until one day he took the wheel when the
engineer went to get a sandwich.”

 

Popping the last
bite of his lunch into his mouth, Rawlings allows a slight grin to creep across
his bearded face while considering the irony in the song’s obvious analogy to
his own musical career before bursting into laughter.

 

“I can kinda
relate to that.”  

 

***

 

BLURT: Many thanks for the time today.
I’ve really enjoyed listening to this record and was excited to learn that it
was coming out. I know a lot of fans were anxiously awaiting this day…

RAWLINGS Well,
I’m glad that someone was anxiously awaiting…

 

You hope so, I guess…

Well, not really
that but more that I wasn’t really anxiously awaiting it. (Laughs)

 

Wanted to start off by asking you for
your first musical memory?

That’s a good
question. (Pauses) It’s hard to put
stuff in a timeline sometimes, as you know. I played the saxophone in grade
school. Third or fourth grade…something like that. I remember playing at this
Christmas concert and changing one of the lines, like adding a different line
to the song just ‘cause I wanted to hear what it would sound like. The lady who
was our conductor was briefly confused, and I remember her looking around
trying to figure out who was playing it from the conductor stand, like “Who’s
playing this? That’s not written down anywhere.” (Laughs) She ended up liking it and let me keep playing it.

 

I spent some of
my childhood summers on a lake and swam all the time. We’d have contests to see
who could hold their breath the longest. When I got back to school in the fall,
my lungs would be in really good shape. The band teacher would have everyone
play a note and hold it for as long as you could. I still hold the record for
the longest note. (Laughs) It’s
written down on this super-faded piece of construction paper. 122 seconds or
something like that. (Laughs)

 

Were there musicians in your family?

My mother sang
in church but there weren’t any musicians in my family. There weren’t really
any musicians that we knew. I didn’t know I was going to be a musician until
much later, so my first musical memories were likely songs I heard on the
radio. I have specific memories from being young and hearing different songs on
the radio and being crazy about them, be it pop songs or some kind of country
folk crossover story song. I was always singing songs to myself in my head.

 

What were some of those songs you heard
early on?

It really was
from across the board, ‘cause that’s how radio was back then. I remember
hearing some of that urban cowboy country music that was around – “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “The Gambler” and some of
those other hits from that era. I remember hearing Charlie Rich’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in
the World”
and thinking it was the weirdest, saddest song in the world.
That steel note always made me feel so sad. I didn’t know what it was, but that
part always made me feel so sad. (Laughs)

 

I always liked
story songs. I liked songs with a lot of words. I remember my father calling me
into the house one day saying he wanted me to hear this song. I ran into the
house and heard the last minute of “Subterranean Homesick
Blues.”
I wasn’t really that young at the time – maybe 13 or 14 years old –
but I remembering noting that my Dad liked this guy named Bob Dylan. When his
next birthday came around, I got him Dylan’s Greatest Hits. I think he had that
cassette a week before I took it, and it disappeared into my world. (Laughs)

 

Right after
that, I found out my friend Glenn’s dad had a Dylan album, which was Another Side of Bob Dylan, his fourth
record. Glenn made me a mix tape of Another
Side of Bob Dylan
on one side, and a bunch of Crosby Stills Nash and Young
on the other side. The second tape he gave me was Neil Young from across his
albums.

 

When did you pick up the guitar?

Shortly after
that, Glenn told me that I was going to ask for a guitar for Christmas and he
was going to ask for a harmonica, ‘cause he wanted to play “Heart of Gold” at
the talent show. That’s how I started playing guitar – my friend told me to so
we could enter the talent show. I had no inclination to do it myself. But as
soon as I picked it up, I got it. Within a day, I knew I was good at it. It
made sense to me pretty immediately. The only thing I can credit for that
instant hand-eye coordination that came naturally to me playing the guitar was
video games. I played a lot of video games as a kid, so when I picked up the
guitar, it was like, “Ok, when I touch this, it does this. Great.” I
remembering going through the Mel
Bay guitar book that
first day and being like, “Page one, do this. Ok. Page two, try this. Ok.” It
came really easily. I wasn’t amazing by any means right off the bat, but I
understood it and loved it. I recognized pretty early on that I could be good
at it.

 

How’d the talent show end up?

Well, it was too
early for me to learn “Heart of Gold.” (Laughs)
The Mel Bay books only really show you how to
play notes, so I was left wondering how Neil Young was playing these big
chords. That’s when I found out my friend Matt’s father used to teach guitar
lessons. I had to beg him to teach me. It was a real Mr. Miyagi moment. He
made me promise that if he came out of retirement to teach me, I had to commit
to working very hard and not mess around. It was so hard-core. (Laughs) He remains the best teacher I
ever had, though, hands-down. Like a lot of good teachers, he was a good
guitarist but not great. He could play the finger-style stuff that he liked to
play very well, but teachers and players are two different things. He had this
serious approach to the instrument and was really supportive of me in the right
ways, getting me through two pretty complicated classical guitar books fairly
quickly. I took lessons from him for maybe a year, and then one day he looked
at me and said, “Well, you’re better than I am now. I can’t teach you anymore.”
Glenn, Matt and I played “Heart of Gold” that year at the talent show. We
didn’t win – got second place.

 

Where did it go from there?

After that, I
started playing around in these little alternative-rock and punk bands with
some friends, covering the Pixies and stuff like that. We weren’t bad, but we
weren’t that good. I started wondering if I could make some money playing
guitar in other bands. I checked out the wanted ads in the back of the Providence paper and
found an ad for a country band looking for a guitar player. I didn’t know a
thing about country music, but I called the guy and he told me to come down. I
went in and played some guitar for the guy, and the first thing out of his
mouth was, “You can play the guitar, but you don’t know anything about country
music.” (Laughs) He gave me a tape
with six songs on it and told me to learn the songs and come back next week.
I’ll never forget that the first song on the tape was an Emmylou Harris song
called “In My Dreams,” which ironically enough was written by a guy named Paul Kennerley who ended
up becoming one of my best friends in Nashville.
I went back the next week, played the songs and got the gig, so for the rest of
my time in high school, I played lead guitar in this country band three nights
a week and during the summer making sixty bucks a night. That was around the
time of the big boom in country music, so people would come out in their cowboy
boots and cowboy hats and line dance. We played these little bars near naval
bases, and the sailors would come out, get drunk and fight. It was crazy.

 

How’d you end up at Berklee?

Well, I didn’t
start out there. I got a scholarship offer to the University of Richmond,
so I went there first. Being an idiot, I still didn’t know at that point that I
was gonna be a musician by any stretch. I just knew I loved it, but I wasn’t
bright enough to realize that that’s what you do. I figured I had to do something
for a living that I didn’t like. (Laughs)

 

Part of the deal
with the scholarship I received at the University Richmond was that I had the
academic freedom to choose what classes I wanted to take, so I just took all
the music classes. Midway through the second semester, I was asked to select my
classes for the next semester and discovered that I had taken all the music
classes available. I didn’t know what to do.

 

It was time to take math…

Yeah, exactly. I
was always pretty good at school, but I was just burned out. So I started
checking out music schools. Some friends at Richmond told me about Berklee, so I went up
for a visit and ended up getting in. When I got to Berklee, I started playing
with a better country band out of Boston
that played a lot of the classic country and Top 40 hits. Most of the
guitarists at Berklee were better than I was. I had only been playing about
three years by the time I got there, so everyone was better than I was. But I’d
played out a lot. I’d see these people that were a lot better than me trying to
play a recital in 1W for 30 people, and they couldn’t get onstage because they
were too scared to play.

 

When did you meet Gill?

We met at the
audition for the country ensemble at Berklee. This guy, Bob Stanton, had a
weekly country band class, and we both got in. There was a group of singers,
guitar players, drummers and bass players. Most of the songs that the singers
brought in kinda sucked, but I remember thinking the first song that Gillian
brought in to play was ok. (Laughs)
We didn’t play together exclusively or anything. Everyone played with everyone,
really.

 

Around that
time, I got into bluegrass music and the music that pre-dates it. It was only
later at these picking circles with our friends in Nashville that Gill and I discovered that we
sounded so much better when we did two-part harmonies instead of three and four
and we played with only our two instruments.

 

Tell me about those early years in Nashville.

Gill hadn’t
played out much by that point. From my time at Berklee, I learned that playing
live was essential, so I encouraged her to checkout the paper every day for any
open mic she could and just play. Go out three, four nights a week. Whenever I
wasn’t playing with somebody else trying to make money in country bands in Nashville, which is
impossible, I’d go and back her up.

 

It took a while
to solidify that Gillian and I were gonna play together. Her first Bluebird
show, my friend Porter played lead guitar and sang tenor. I know people talk a
lot about our vocal blend but I remember distinctly there were two guys back at
Berklee – Ben Wilburn, who was a fiddle player that went on to play with
Freddie Fender and lives in Reno now, and my friend Porter, who plays with
Tanya Tucker – who both had better vocal blends with Gill than I did. I guess
if you work at something for years, you sort of work it out. (Laughs)

 

Do you remember the first time you sang
together?

The first thing
we sang together was “Long
Black Veil”
in my kitchen. We both looked at each other after we finished
the song and said, “Well, it wasn’t terrible.” (Laughs) But we recognized that our voices weren’t incompatible.
What we did have more than any of the other people we were hanging out with was
we had very unified tastes. Still to this day, if we finish a song, it’s never
happened that one of us is unhappy with some part of it. We may argue about
everything along the line while we’re making it, but we both know when it’s
done. I think that’s why we’ve been able to work together for so long.

 

I gradually
started working a little bit on her songs with her. A few songs got picked up
by Tim and
Molly O’Brien
and the Nashville
Bluegrass Band
, which was huge. Peter Rowan gave us a shot
opening for him at the Station Inn,
which was huge. We moved up through the Bluebird system and eventually got a Sunday evening show, which was, again, huge. Some
publishers started seeing us. I remember Janice
Ian
being one of the earliest people to see us. It was interesting how that
bloomed into what we began doing.

 

Let’s talk about the record for a bit. I
read in your bio that this album wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for some
covers you recorded that fell to the cutting room floor.

Right. Two
things happened: one, I came out to Los Angeles and started spending time with
some friends I’d made out here through Conor (Oberst): Jenny Lewis, the guys in Rilo Kiley…just a lot of
very cool people. I started writing some on my own and playing these songs with
some of these people. It wasn’t disastrous, and my voice started sounding
better to me.

 

The second thing
was that we started doing these Machine shows, which was basically me doing
covers along with a few original songs Gill wanted to work on. Through doing
those shows, we found that some of the covers sounded pretty good, so we went
into the studio and recorded a few of those over the course of a couple weeks.
We got five or six things that were good, but it just didn’t feel right to
release an album of covers ‘cause I had started writing on my own. I figured if
I was going to release an album, I should try and do it myself. And all of
those covers were just duet recordings with just Gillian and me, and I was
writing songs that had more parts and instruments. Some of it may still see the
light of day. I may try and sneak a few out or just hold on to them and do a
covers record one day. That’s always been a part of something I’ve done –
interpret other people’s music. We’ll see.

 

Did you get a good take of your cover of “Queen
Jane Approximately?”

We did get a
good take of it with just me and Gill, but I quite liked playing it with the
whole band on the Big Surprise Tour this summer. The Beacon in particular was a
good version. We had Ben(mont
Tench) out playing on it. Check that one out – it’s on YouTube. I really
like the way it sounds on that camera phone. It actually sounds great. I can
guarantee it sounds better than any recording I have of the show. You learn
that after a while – you see this stuff on YouTube, and it just sounds dope.
It’s ‘cause it’s capturing the sound of the room. That’s why I’ve always liked
bootlegs rather than board tapes.

 

I’m glad I
haven’t released a version yet, ‘cause eventually I’d like to record it with a
full ensemble. I like playing it and love singing it. It’s a great song. It
just popped into my head at one of our first Machine shows and I’ve sang it
ever since. That’s what happens. Obviously, I roll pretty deep with Dylan. (Laughs)

 

How’d you meet Benmont?

I met him when I
moved out here. We’ve played together a lot at picking parties at his house and
over at Largo. I’ve played
a lot with Ben, and I love playing with him. He’s very sensitive, just a really
good guy to play with – especially on acoustic stuff. He’s a great listener. It
was a thrill to have him play on this. I just felt so lucky to have him come
out and spend some time with us in Nashville.
He’s a great player. I think there are very few situations where you could put
him in where he’s not going to contribute a lot. I’ve also gotta mention Nate
Wilcott from Bright Eyes, who played horn and the Hammond B3 with us as well.
Nate brought a lot to this record when Benmont had to go to his day job. (Laughs)

 

Tell me about your relationship with Old
Crow Medicine Show. What do they do as a backing band for you that wouldn’t
otherwise be fulfilled?

I’ve always felt
a wonderful musical kinship with them from the first time we had them out
opening for us. Obviously, that grew when I started playing banjo with them
before Critter joined. We like a lot of the same records. If I was gonna start
singing a song like “The
Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
” or “John Wesley Harding,” they know what I’m doing. Morgan has always played great bass. He and Gill lock
up really well, and they always have. That’s why Gill played a little snare
drum on a few songs on those Crows records we did – they have a nice pocket
when they play together. Vocally, I love singing with Ketch and Willie and like
what they bring as another additional aggressive rhythmic element. It was very
natural to me. But most important, I wanted people around me who I felt
comfortable with, mainly because I wasn’t sure if this thing was ever gonna get
finished or even made. The only person on the record that I hadn’t spent a
significant amount of time around was Karl Himmel, and that really happened at
the very end. Levon Helm was supposed to come in and play with us for a couple of days. He was finishing
his tour in Oklahoma City and was gonna drop in
for a day or two on his way back up to Woodstock.
Unfortunately, Levon got sick – laryngitis, I think. Everyone was nervous
‘cause he lost his voice, so he headed home to see the doctor. We called
another old buddy, Jim
Keltner
. Jim was busy but he recommended Karl, which turned out to be
amazing. Karl was great to work with. He’s around Tennessee, so it worked logistically. He
ended up being the perfect guy.

 

In an interview I read that you did, you
said that hearing Neil
Young’s “Cortez the Killer”
for the first time changed the way you heard
music.

I think that’s
true. That’s when my friend gave me that Neil Young mix tape. I was like 14 or
15 years old. We were at his house listening to his brother’s vinyl on the
turntable. I think it was Decade; I
don’t think it was Zuma. If they had Zuma, I’m pretty sure that’s not what we
would have been listening to…yet. I remember lying on the floor and listening
to the space and the sound of that track and thinking it was the craziest thing
– how long it was before he sang and just the pace of it. I responded to it
immediately. It’s influenced the records that Gillian and I have made, and the
soundscape of them. I never sat down and learned how to play any of “Cortez the
Killer” – it just sort of soaked in. That’s why when it popped out of my mouth
one night when I was doing “Method
Acting,”
I was like, “Well, I know this song.” I’ve never checked to see if
I got the words all right ‘cause I’ve just relied on what’s in my head. But
it’s definitely a moment I can go back to in my head and remember exactly the
circumstances when I first heard that song.

 

You’ve shown an interest throughout your
career in interpreting other people’s music. What’s the balance you take in
making sure that you’re present artistically in the interpretation but that
you’re honoring the song’s original intent?

I feel like in a
live situation, sometimes you just do it. You do it sorta the way they did it.
They’re not there, and you are. People want to hear the song, and that’s all
ok. When you’re talking about releasing something, I think you want to inject
something into the emotional feeling.

 

When you think
about Joe Cocker doing
“With A Little Help From My Friends,”
it’s pretty obvious that he has
different friends than Ringo
Starr
. (Laughs)

 

That’s great (Laughs). I never thought of it that way. Makes total sense…

Yeah. It’s like
if someone told you they actually had the same set of friends, you’d be like,
“There’s no point.”

 

Let’s talk about a few of the songs. Tell
me about “Ruby.”

That song
happened sorta quickly. Gillian had started playing with a few things – some
chord progressions and whatnot. She sat down and played it for me, and we were
both really excited about the melody she came up with. It had a little soul
flavor to it. It got finished lyrically over the course of three or four days,
which for us is very quick. I didn’t really know exactly how it was gonna turn
out, but it was one of the first songs we did with the Crows (Old Crow Medicine
Show).  We did one test song to warm up
and get levels – “This Wheel’s
on Fire”
– and I think that’s where we got the idea for the four-part
harmony on “‘Ruby.” For that song, Gil sang above me, Willie sang below me and
Ketch sang almost a bass part, so when we started in on “Ruby,” that
immediately happened again, and I became very excited about the texture of the
four voices. It reminded me of The Band a lot and some other things I like.

 

Lyrically, it’s
obviously about something, but I’m not exactly sure what. (Laughs) It’s got a sense of longing to it, but in a way it’s
indecipherable exactly what’s happening.

 

I think those are my favorite sorts of
songs – where the story is left up to the imagination of the listener.

Yeah, I was
really happy with how that turned out. Vocally, we did a duet version with just
me and Gill, but it didn’t seem to fit with the whole flavor of the record.

 

“Bells of Harlem”
is maybe my favorite track on the record. It’s really a beautiful piece of
music. Tell me about it.

I started that
one in the wintertime – either really late ’07 or early in ‘08. The melody just
popped into my head one day, so I sat down and started playing some chords to
see where it might go. Over the course of an hour or so, I came up with the
chorus and as I got to the end, Gillian showed up. She heard what I was doing
and said, “Bells of Harlem. That’s what that makes me think of.” I thought that
was cool, so we had a title in mind and the music to it. That’s all there was.
I was sure when I started playing it that I wanted that kind of walking feeling
to it. It also had kind of an oddly optimistic lilt to it even though it felt
pretty lonesome. I worked on the lyric for a while, and that song got written
and re-written several times. When I finally sat down to record it, I took bits
of each of the different re-writes – lyrics from this version, chords from
another version – and pulled them all together for the final take. All of the
sudden it was there and it was right, and that was the first time I really saw
the song. The same thing happened with “Ruby.” Both became what they were as
songs when I finally started to record them.

 

The decision to
put strings on “Ruby” was so last minute that Jimmy Haskell, who did a beautiful job
with the arrangements, was up all night the night before the session getting
the parts done. And Jimmy’s 75 years old! (Laughs)
Gillian, Jimmy and I were re-arranging the string parts to “Bells of Harlem” up
until the very last minute before we handed it over to the musicians. It was a
really fever-pitched experience – we had all these people waiting, the studio
was so expensive and these musicians were going to get up and close their cases
at 6 p.m. whether we were in the middle of a take or not – so the nice payback
to all of that was that it came out just as we’d hoped.

 

Those two songs serve as really nice
bookends to the album.

That’s really
great to hear. I was very pleased with both those songs. It’s interesting – I
was never sure of “Ruby” as the album opener.

 

That seems strange to me ‘cause it makes
perfect sense to open your debut solo album with your voice…

Well, good, I’m
glad to hear that. I guess it seemed like an odd choice to start the record,
but somehow once it was there, it made sense. Especially with the coda at the
end of “Bells of Harlem,” which is the last track. The song was always gonna
fade, but when I heard the coda, I thought it had this beautiful ending that I
decided to just keep all of it. It sounds a little quick and clumsy at the end,
but that’s because what you really hear at the very end of that song is the
tape transferring to the leader. It was just another happy accident that I
guess worked out.

 

I think it works really well because it
serves as a nice intro when it loops back around to “Ruby” at the start of the
record…

I’ve always felt
that the most important piece of sequencing on any record is tail to top. All
the great records that I love just roll around in my car, playing over and over
again. I’m also really particular about the spacing between songs, and the guys
who handled mastering this record really did a great job with the spacing. I
maybe only made one or two changes to their work.

 

I’ve gotta ask about the story behind “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad,
Is To Be High).”

It’s foggy. (Laughs) I think it’s less foggy for me
than it is for Ryan. (Laughs) We’d become friendly at the Sessions at West 54th Street for a Gram Parsons tribute show. We hung out later that night, drank
some whiskey and sang some sad songs. Ryan was living in Nashville at the time, so he would come over
to the house I was staying at and play music. On one of those nights, we ended
up having a bunch of people over. It was a party, so stuff was going on. (Laughs) I remember Ryan started singing
this song, which I thought was like the Stones’ “Prodigal Son” but he was adding his own words. It sounded familiar to me, so I didn’t know it
was a song he was writing. But I thought it was really cool. The next day, I
woke up and managed to remember that song. It somehow stuck in my head. (Laughs) I talked to Ryan a few days
later and mentioned that we should take a crack at finishing that song he was
singing at the party. And he was like, “What song?” (Laughs) Granted the events of that night are pretty foggy, but
that’s how I remember it at least – I wrote part of that song but rescued all
of it. (Laughs)

 

We’ve talked some about how you approach
other people’s music, but what did you learn about your own music in the making
of this record?

I guess I
assumed there’d be more of the duet thing with Gillian on here, but at some
point in the making of this record, I realized that the music I’ve done with
Gillian wasn’t going to be that applicable. Playing these songs as duets wasn’t
going to be satisfying to me in my mind as a listener. I just didn’t think
people would be that into it. So I really approached it like, “Let’s record
these songs the way I’m hearing them in my head, and if when I listen back to
them I think people won’t hate it, then let’s use it.” So it honestly didn’t
really come out at all like I thought it would. It probably has more of a
rollicking, old-time flavor to it than I might have initially expected, but I’m
really happy with how it turned out. There are a lot of unexpected surprises
for me on this record.

 

What’s your proudest moment on this
record?

Interesting…that’s
a good question. I’m glad that people haven’t reacted badly to the singing, ‘cause
that’s what I was probably the most worried about. I would have to say…
probably something tied up in that “I Hear Them All” is a solo thing, and it
works. Mainly ‘cause that was the most unexpected. Either that or it’s some of
the work we did on the fly changing the string arrangements and working with
Jimmy. I mean, you can’t go to one of these string players and say, “Ok, second
verse, I want you to do this.” It’s gotta be, “On the 54th bar…”
Some of that stuff really worked well and was so mentally challenging on the
fly. Reworking “Bells of Harlem” right before it goes to tape and it being
right…wow. That’s happened with other songs, but not really under those
circumstances.

 

Honestly, the
craziest thing was finishing up that last song and realizing we had nine songs
done and it was like, “Well, it’s 40 minutes long. I guess we should master
this thing and talk about putting it out.” (Laughs)

 

[Photo Credit:
Andy Tennille]

 

 

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