Sunday, June 19, 2005

graham parker interview - part two

Q: Where did you record Songs of No Consequence?

A: It was recorded up in Pennsylvania, in a place called Bryn Mawr. It’s near King of Prussia, not far from Philly. The bass player, Pete Donnelly, runs a studio there and it just seemed to be a good idea to use him as the main producer. I mean, I’m usually the producer of my records these days, but this time I said, Okay, you call yourself the producer and just sit there and deal with that and I’ll be the co-producer. He just knows the studio inside out, and it’s a good room and it’s got a lot of analog gear there that everything was fed through to give you a good, fairly warm sound on the old ProTools, you know. So I stayed a hotel there and got up every day and went down to the studio and we cut four or five tracks and do a few overdubs and then we’d have the keyboard player in and it was a good situation. The last album I made in LA so I’m kind of branching out, doing things in different places.

Q: You mentioned mapping out the demos of the songs. Is there anything on the new record that didn’t come out pretty damn close to the sound you had in your head before you went into the studio?

A: Ah, that’s a good question. Let me think. Um, well, no, not really. It all came out pretty much as I thought. I mean, I’ve got it that together these days so I can do that. The variety of the album, as a whole, surprised me. For some reason, I thought doing it with The Figgs, and doing a very opposing album to that last one which had a very country bend to it, I thought it would be much more zany in a way somehow. And I don’t know why I thought that because looking back at the songs, they’re all very varied. They’re eclectic, really, so that kind of surprised me.
It was also very pleasing to see how The Figgs managed to tackle different styles, one after the other, you know. The funk of “Chloroform” to the kind of elegiac - is that word - “She Swallows It,” the big fat ballad sound. You know, we got that on there. “Ambivalent,” as well. And then the Stonesy groove of “Bad Chardonnay” and “Suck ‘n’ Blow.” They came out pretty much as I’d hoped. I’d just sort of forgotten exactly how varied the songs were and that may be due to the fact that five or six of them I’d had for a while. I had them before or during the period I wrote Your Country. I just left them there and thought, These have got to wait for a more pop/rock album, you know. I wasn’t going to confuse the stew by throwing them into the country thing, you know. So I just wrote seven more songs, fairly quickly, to go with it. I guess “Bad Chardonnay,” “Dislocated Life,” “Vanity Press,” they’re new ones, and I kind of thought that I was fitting them all together so it would be one cohesive thing, and it is cohesive but sonically cohesive. But the songs are quite varied, I think, and hopefully it’s entertaining.

Q: Can you take me through the process of one particular song?

A: Uh, let’s see. One particular song.

Q: Whatever’s foremost in your memory. Or if everything’s fresh, maybe “Dislocated Life.” Tell me how that song goes from your head to a finished product, if you don’t mind.

A: Right. Well, from writing it, it’s one of those mystery songs that’s suddenly there in front of you. It really is.
Songs of No Consequence kind of fit with the idea of a song like “Bad Chardonnay,” which is about, you know, bad wine and cigarettes. There’s more in there that that, of course, if you know my writing, but it’s not much more than that and “Local Boys” is kind of a flippant kind of idea, you know, like the flip side of “Local Girls,” one of the songs from way back, so you’ve got that. So I’ve got songs like this and suddenly “Dislocated Life” is in front of me and all I know is that I started playing the D and G riff, which reminded me a bit of one of my older songs, “Don’t Let It Break You Down” which is on the Mona Lisa's Sister album. It’s the same thing, but there is an added note to the G chord, and I’m not technical enough to know what that G chord would be called, that added note, but it makes a whole lot of difference.
But I did a similar kind of trick, or device, on the chorus part, the refrain. It could’ve been very dull if I’d just stayed with the major chords, so I found myself descending from A major to A minor, and to G minor. Not G major to G minor, but straight to G minor, which is very unusual. And this all came very naturally and organically, but I think it’s because I wrote that song, “Don’t Let It Break You Down,” all those years ago, a song that I struggled with for years and years before, before I realized, before I suddenly hit on it that I could put the chorus in D minor. So the song was in D major and then suddenly the chorus is in D minor. That’s what you have to find sometimes to make a song really great. And so that happened with “Dislocated Life,” and suddenly it was in front of me. There it was and all these lyrics, I have no idea where they came from.

Q: They just shot out.

A: They just shot out. I have no idea who that relates to or what, but there it is, you know. I guess it’s a sign of the times. “Dislocated Life,” you know.

Q: Was repeating the word “dislocated” in the chorus a conscious decision? Obviously we’ve got a rhythm that we’re filling out here. We’ve got a line that we’ve got to fill, and repeating that one word in the chorus is an odd choice but it works. Did that just come to you or was it a conscious decision?

A: It just came out. You know, there are rock and roll words, and you’d never think that “dislocated” would be one of them, but it is. It really sounds great and it’s cool to sing it. You know, I’m always pleased with my songwriting when I come up with something that is patently rock and roll but it has a word like “dislocated” in it. So that’s a buzz, you know. And it comes and you just sort of say, Thank you God. Where the hell did that come from?

Q: Yeah. That’s a word that shouldn’t work. Like if you’re writing poetry you want to avoid words like “rock” and “frog” and “bark” because they’re not going to sound right. But this works, and the repetition in the chorus actually fits the theme of the song, too.

A: It fits the theme of the song, and it’s good you picked that one because you were talking about the recording process from when I wrote it. When I wrote it I knew it was a sit up and beg winner. The guitar sat there as fat as a hog. And when we got into the studio, it was the same thing really. I just said, Give a big kind of U2 kind of thing. Springsteenesque. It could have that kind of feel. Born in the USA kind of power to it, you know. So they just started playing like that, with that big, fat loping bass line and the big open drum kit and, you know, we probably got it in the first take or the second take. We probably did half of it and stopped. I think that was the usual way. You’d say, There’s something wrong here, and then you start talking. You know, Try this on the drums when you get to the bridge leading into the chorus. And try this and that, and blah blah blah. And then, boom, we did it and there it was. And that’s how we recorded most of the songs, really. Halfway through, stop, a quick chat, and then we’re back into it and recording it.
And I had the rough mix of it which I would take to my hotel every night, take some mixes and listen at night and then listen the next day and listen driving in and it sounded really great, and then we went to mix it and Pete started doing different things, and I took that mix back with me and listened and it was no good. One of the guitars was just slightly too loud, which actually took away the fatness of it. So I said to Pete, I said, The original rough mix is the mix. We don’t even have to tinker with it. I’m sure of it. Put it up. So we played it and I said, Yeah, that’s it. Everything was great. Everything. So that’s Pete doing a good job of getting good sounds on the tape as it were, on the virtual tape, in the first place, so that you could get what’s called a rough mix and it turns out to be the mix.

graham parker interview - part one
graham parker interview - part three

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