Sunday, June 19, 2005

graham parker interview - part three

Q: When’s a song finished for you? Do you have to record it? Do you have to play a song live a certain number of times for it to be finished in your head? Or can a song be done when you hit that last chord in the living room the first time through?

A: It can be, yeah. I mean, I sometimes write three different sets of lyrics, but you know those are the difficult songs. With the ones that just fly out while you’re in the flow, the whole thing can come and it’s pretty much there. I just tinker with the words here and there. I’m not a perfectionist in some ways, but when it comes to lyrics I’m pretty much a perfectionist. Every word has to just flow for me. You know, there are a few things I’m disappointed with occasionally because I couldn’t get them to flow properly, but very rarely. Usually everything is right. And so it’s finished and I go into the studio and I’m often singing almost exactly the same way as I’m singing when I did the demo. Only when you take it on the road do you start singing differently, usually to preserve your voice.
Also, the song stretches over time and you find different ways of singing songs. The solo act has helped me do that a lot, you know. Because when I started that solo thing in ’89 - Live! Alone in America was the album – I was singing and playing things almost like they were the original versions. And it wasn’t very good, I don’t think. I know a lot of people liked that record but I’ve done better live solo albums since then because I’ve learned to sing the songs differently - slow them down, you know, open them up. There’s quite a lot you can do.

Q: But that’s just experience, right?

A: Yeah, that’s experience really, because you have to remember, when I started I got a record deal. I was 24, it was 1975, and I wasn’t one of these guys who was playing endlessly in different bands in clubs. That wasn’t me. You know, this mythology about me being some pub rocker is entirely wrong. I was at home. I mean, I’d traveled around in Morocco and done the whole hippie thing and all that, but that’s what I was, a hippie, laying around doing very little. And I came back to my parents in my early 20s and said, Okay, the next time I travel I’m going to get paid for it. And I started writing and writing hundreds of songs until I came up with good ones. And though I had a little band when I was 13 and one when I was 15, we weren’t serious. I mean, I couldn’t even play properly. I mean, I’m a very slow study. It took me a while, so I didn’t have this experience at playing live. I just had no idea. I had never seen a monitor system until I walked on the stage with this incredible band The Rumour behind me. So I’m still learning, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Q: Otherwise it gets boring.

A: Yeah, I could’ve learned my craft and been finished after five albums. It’d be like, Okay, that’s it. Where am I going now? But I’m still going places with it, you know.

Q: Since you mentioned The Rumour, let me ask a larger, broader question. I’m looking at these press notes and it says you and The Rumour have two albums in the Rolling Stone Top 100, but I’m not finding that. I’m finding Squeezing Out Sparks at 335.

A: That’s right. What happened was back in the 80s – and I found a copy of it the other day in my attic – Rolling Stone had the 100 best records of the last 20 years. And that was out in the 80s, and they had Squeezing Out Sparks and Howlin' Wind.

Q: Because Howlin' Wind is what’s missing here.

A: Yeah, that’s right. So now that it’s gone to the 500, Howlin' Wind’s disappeared somewhere in the shuffle.

Q: It obviously doesn’t hurt sales any to be on such a critical favorite list. I’m not saying it makes you a millionaire, but any attention’s got to help sales.

A: It means it just goes on and on and on. You don’t really get forgotten. It may be peripheral, but that always keeps the profile there, doesn’t it.

Q: Does it mean anything other than the keeping your profile up? Is it special to you to have one of your albums selected as one of the top 500 albums in history of rock?

A: It’s better than nothing. I think it meant more when it was the top 100 of the last 20 years because there were two albums in there. And Sparks was fairly high up there, like 40-something or other. And Howlin' Wind was in the 50s. I mean, that really meant something.

Q: Is Sparks even your best album?

A: Uh, it’d be hard to top it, let’s put it that way. It’s very special. If people want to think that, that’s great. You know, I’m not going to argue with it. It is a pretty special record.

Q: Let me ask you one last big question – who’s the greatest songwriter alive?

A: (much laughter) Well, you know, I don’t think anyone is completely and utterly that great that I would put them in that bag. A few years ago I’d say one of my favorites, and definitely one of the best was and still is Lucinda Williams. A friend of mine who played on the Your Country album, Tom Freund, who’s pretty much ignored everywhere, I’ve often said he’s the best songwriter operating now. You know, I think he’s absolutely great but that doesn’t always mean anything these days. You know, I mean, people always say, Your career’s been dulled by record companies, but I always tell them, I’m pretty lucky because I had three major album deals in a row. That’s four albums and four albums and four albums, and you don’t get that now unless you sell pretty big straight off the bat, you know what I’m saying?

Q: Rock and roll isn’t known for its longevity.

A: Yeah, I know. You could be the greatest writer operating now and remain on an indie label or be selling them on the Web on your own site, you know. It’s a different world in that respect.


graham parker interview - part one
graham parker interview - part two

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