“In a sense it’s country. Some of it’s blues,” says Brandy Zdan, one half of the independent Winnipeg Roots outfit Twilight Hotel. Hailing from the frigid city eight hours north of Minneapolis, Zdan and her boyfriend/bandmate Dave Quanbury have crafted an organic and earthy sound that lands somewhere between folk, country, blues, and rock. Good luck pinpointing exactly where those genres converge, however; each song on the duo’s upcoming album Highway Prayer seemingly highlights a different one of their many musical influences–while still clinging, of course, to a distinctly Twilight thread. “It’s our own thing, which I’m really proud,” Zdan says.
To what does the duo owe their creative prowess?
“We have a winter that’s insane. I mean it’s so cold. You just stay in and work on your craft, because there’s nothing else to do,” Zdan explains. “And there’s so much space between big cities [in Canada] that you end up feeling a little isolated. I think that’s why Winnipeg has such a vibrant [music] scene–there’s no external factors going into the music people are making, they’re just doing it. They’re creating something here and then just taking it elsewhere.”
And take it elsewhere Twilight Hotel has. Since recording their first, self-titled LP in 2003, Zdan and Quanbury have become one of the Roots Music scene’s most buzzworthy new artists, playing over 200 North American dates in 2007, and picking up an Independent Music Awards nomination in “Best Americana Album” for 2006′s Bethune.
And the duo, according to Zdan, is only beginning to hit its stride. Despite the widespread critical success of Bethune, “Dave and I both feel like Highway Prayer really is the first Twilight Hotel record,” she says. “We feel like this is actually who we are, and it took a while to evolve into what it was going to be.”
That evolution began back in 2002, when Dave and Brandy met at the Trout River Music Festival. If it wasn’t love at first sight, it was close. Both were there supporting other artists, and although they chatted during the festival, it wasn’t until a post-festival jam session, situated around a campfire under the stars, that they began really getting to know each other. “It was definitely a romantic meeting,” Zdan says.
They played cover songs for each other, and soon some of their own songs, and before long a new romantic and musical partnership was born.
Twilight Hotel’s union of romance and music has garnered comparisons to some of music’s most well-known couples, including Johnny and June Carter Cash and Ian and Sylvia Tyson. But Zdan is quick to point out that, “the reason why we’re being compared to them is because of the chemistry on stage. Our relationship helps our music, our music helps our relationship.”
And on days when things aren’t going quite so smoothly on the home front? “That’s a challenge we’ve had to work on,” she says. “Say we’ve had a fight, and then I have to do an interview and [the interviewer] will ask a question about our relationship, and I’ll think ‘oh, geez, I don’t want to talk about him.’”
“It’s constantly something we work on. But it is definitely a blessing to be able to tour with the person you love and have a great time with them. There’s nothing better than that.”
If Brandy and Dave’s romantic beginning seems a little nostalgic, maybe that’s fitting; both are old souls caught up in an iPod generation–a fact that shines through in their music, and especially on Highway Prayer, a record which they recorded in Nashville with Canadian blues artist and producer Colin Linden. He helped the duo build around their sound rather than reshaping it with the modern, paint-by-number production techniques.
While the duo didn’t necessarily set out to record a retro sounding record, Zdan says, they knew they wanted to capture a certain magic. “We wanted something that was based around what Dave and I do. We had worked really hard on setting up specific arrangements for songs, and we road tested them for a very long time, so we felt like we were in the middle and Colin put instruments around us to emphasize what we were doing. Not the kind of approach where you strip everything away and start again, which means that by the time you end up getting to your parts and your singing, you might have to end up changing what you’ve done to fit what everybody else has done [before you]. That’s what we did with our first album. This time, we wanted to focus on capturing those true, real sounds.”
And real sounds abound on Highway Prayer. From the classic country bend of “Impatient Love” to the heartbreaking “Sand in Your Eyes,” it is a record that sounds as genuine as it is distinct, and as distinctly genuine as few records can claim to be. And then there’s that certain intangible quality unique to two people in love singing together.
“I really do believe that when Dave and I sing together and play together there is something being created that you cannot really see,” Zdan says. “If a band has magic being created when they’re playing their songs, that will come through on the recording. We’re big fans of lots of old recordings. We love old jazz, old country. And all those guys were playing in a room together. Almost none of it was multi-tracked. People were just playing the song and creating that energy, and I think that can be captured on a recording. And you can hear when someone has a smile on their face when they’re singing or playing.”
Someone like the late Richard Bell; the famed Canadian musician who (among other career highlights) played piano for Janis Joplin. Bell’s last performances are captured on Highway Prayer.
“There’s a bonus track at the end of the album that Colin and Richard play on together. And that is something that’s very special. When we got the final mixes, Colin added that on and it was a total surprise. We were like, ‘oh, what’s track 13? Let’s listen to it.’ And we were just sitting there in awe, thinking, ‘wow.’ You can hear the communication between those two friends. It’s an amazing performance,” Zdan says.
As much ground as Highway Prayer covers sonically, it covers lyrically. While Twlight Hotel’s songs are inspired by the duo’s rural setting and, Zdan notes, Winnipeg’s extreme isolation, the duo isn’t afraid to tackle some distinctly American topics. The new album includes a song about I-35 (commonly called the “Road to Salvation” or the “Holy Highway”), which inspired the disc’s title, as well as an unexpected but startlingly poignant song about the plight of Mexican immigrants in the United States.
“I think a lot of people probably wouldn’t agree with that song,” Zdan says of the latter, titled “The Ballad of Salvador and Isabella,” which Dave wrote. “I think it’s a story that needs to be told. And I think that’s what songwriters do, really–even if you don’t have any direct connection to it…what we do is observe situations and express those observations and issues, and then the listener can interpret them how they want.”
But is there a place in the music world for a smart, politically savvy, and sometimes risky folk/country/etc duo?
“There’s always going to be music lovers. And even though some people might not say that our music is mainstream, I think it’s highly accessible to a lot of people. The mainstream music industry doesn’t give listeners enough credit these days. When we’re playing shows and we see what the audience has to say afterwards…it’s the person that I would have never expected to react to our music that just falls in love with it.”
And as for those “insane” Manitoba winters?
“I don’t know if we’re ever going to move from this town. We love it so much, it’s such a great place to come back to. Ten minutes from the city and I’m on my parent’s farm in the middle of nowhere and it feels fabulous.”
This content originally appeared in the country music blog The 9513, which ceased publication in 2011. It was added to American Noise in 2017.
Album Review: Shawn Mullins – Light You Up
Invoking the name of Johnny Cash can easily come off as an attempt to cash in on the legacy of one of music’s greatest icons (see: Jason Aldean’s “Johnny Cash”), but the spirit of The Man in Black is corporeal on Shawn Mullins’ thirteenth studio album, Light You Up.
Haunting album highlight “The Ghost of Johnny Cash” paints the late country star as a patron saint of the downtrodden, through stunning lyrics that amount to breathtaking poetry: “Some sinners need their saints to be survivors of the fall/’Cause when you’re down here on your knees most angels look too tall,” sings Mullins, in a quiet growl. “So I’ll just live this life out, dust to dust and ash to ash/With my guide from the other side, the ghost of Johnny Cash.”
Mullins doesn’t sing of this allegiance to the House of Cash only on “Ghost.” All of his songwriting—fearless, gritty and plump with stories about sin and redemption—owes a debt to Cash, Kristofferson and their ilk.
“I turned 17 in the spring of 1861/I killed 20 men ‘fore I turned 21,” he sings on “Catoosa County,” a breathtaking tale of a young civil war soldier who would, “Place a hundred million dollar bounty/On the hate that makes the wars and digs the graves of Catoosa County.”
Mullins’ veracity and eye for detail bring his songs to life in brilliant color, whether affecting chunks of Americana or more light-hearted fare; the album’s up-tempos, such as the sex-powered rocker “Light You Up,” are just as fully-formed as its more thematically adventurous numbers.
Ultimately, however, it’s Mullins’ ability to call forth a spirit, to capture the hopelessness of an economically battered community (as he does on “Can’t Remember Summer”), or to make you smell the black powder and flesh emanating from a Georgia battlefield that are his greatest strengths.
He’s a capable pop star, but an engrossing storyteller.
Wrapped up in sparse, organic arrangements that remind of Cash’s late-life American recordings, the songs on Light You Up are fresh, incisive and wonderfully crafted.
Light You Up isn’t just captivating—it’s essential.
Album Review: Charlie Robison – Beautiful Day
There was a time not long ago when it would have been pretty easy to assert that that Bruce was the best songwriter in the Robison clan. Brother Charlie’s latest effort makes a strong case for reconsideration of that position.
Birthed in the aftermath of a divorce from his wife of nine years, Dixie Chick Emily, Beautiful Day is both Charlie’s most inspired disc and his most listenable, an album that beautifully balances hooky rhythms and crisp production with his typically razor-sharp lyrics (all of this underscored by guitarist Charlie Sexton’s engaging and tasteful contributions).
It is also Robison’s most personal work to date, if not his most adventurous. Although its content is neither as epic nor as literarily weighty as much of the material on seminal disc Life of The Party, Beautiful Day is considerably more emotionally revealing.
From the album’s opening lyrics, which finds him unapologetically waxing on his ex and her new life in Venice (CA), Robison leaves no doubt that the next 37 minutes will be about a man’s journey through hell.
It is a journey made all the more rewarding, however, for the fact that Robison embarks on it somewhat begrudgingly. There is a veil of bitterness and a palpable stubbornness that emanates from his singing and songwriting, and it is when those things finally ebb into disappointment that we are offered a rare glimpse of Robison with his guard down; so distraught is he on this abum that he can no longer rely only on the humor and sarcasm through which he has often discharged his feelings into lyric.
On Beautiful Day we see a Robison who is heartbroken and harboring a pain that his background and machismo won’t fully allow him to bear. “Reconsider,” written by Keith Gattis and Charles Brocco, is a devastatingly honest plea for reconciliation, while the self-penned following track “Feelin’ Good” admits resignation to the fact that you can’t change what you can’t change, even when you had–and would give anything to get back–an angel who “promised she’d deliver.”
“She’d save my soul,” Robison sings. “But she left a hole.”
By the time the disc rolls into its final few tracks the lyrics have devolved slightly (becoming somewhat less focused that those that make up the first half-dozen stellar songs), but Robison dives head first into the music, offering up a final string of performances that read like absolute emotional immersion. Although “If The Rain Don’t Stop,” “Middle of the Night” and “She’s So Fine” are middling by the standards of the rest of the album, it is on these three tracks that Robison sounds immeasurably connected, a man with a guitar clinging to the only thing he has left, as if he’s using his art to shield him from a inconsolably painful world.
His closing take on Springsteen’s “Racing In The Streets” (from 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town) is both eerie and gripping, a fitting end to an album that is not entirely hopeful. It’s inclusion here is telling, and makes you wonder just how beautiful Charlie Robison’s days are these days.
Raul Malo Feels Like a Lucky One – An Exclusive Interview
“Modern country music, to me, has become like McDonald’s. It’s like, yeah, over a billion served…but is it the best cheeseburger? I don’t really think so. But they sure have sold a lot of ‘em.”
There aren’t many Miami-born-and-raised Cuban country music singers. In fact, if Raul Malo isn’t the only one, he surely is the most renowned. As lead singer of The Mavericks, Malo was a regular presence on country radio in the 90s, charting six singles in the Top 40. The Mavericks also placed three albums in the Top 10, including 1994′s Platinum-selling What A Crying Shame.
The success of the Mavericks was something of a mystery even as it was happening–with a sound that borrowed from various musical traditions, songs like “O What A Thrill” and “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” (which features a trademark accordion track performed by Flaco Jiménez) remains some of the most progressive country music ever embraced by the mainstream.
Laced with Americana undertones, the music of the Mavericks provided a perfect segue into Malo’s work as a solo artist, an eclectic exploration of musical styles that completely defies classification.
Malo spoke with The 9513 prior to his recent European tour.
JIM MALEC: You’re headed out to Europe tomorrow. What does your agenda look like?
RAUL MALO: I’m headed out to Belfast for a couple of days—there’s a songwriter’s festival—and then I head on over to London to do a bunch of press, radio, TV, that kind of stuff.
JM: You had some success in Europe with Trampoline, one of your later albums with the Mavericks.
RM: Yeah, absolutely. It started with Music For All Occassions and then it really went crazy when Trampoline came out. “Dance The Night Away” was a huge hit over there.
JM: So when you go play a show in Belfast or London, are they going to see you as the guy from the Mavericks, or as the world-class singer/solo artist you are now?
RM: Even though you don’t have all the mainstream success you were getting when your song was on the radio, you still get legions of fans that come out to your shows. So you can go and perform and not really have to play your hits. And that probably holds true for me just about everywhere. People don’t come out to my shows expecting me to play Mavericks songs.
JM: Your music is generally—and I use the term loosely—classified as Americana. In terms of the European connection, how does that translate? And in a broader sense, how do you feel about that term? Because your music is hard to classify. You’re a tough guy to pin down.
RM: Yes. On that note I agree. You know, I’m a fan of the Americana format in that it allows artists like me to have a home. I certainly proudly stretch the limits of the definition of Americana, but that’s OK. We gotta put me somewhere, so it might as well be Americana. That’s about as fair an assessment as you can get. I do realize that it’s difficult to categorize what I do. And that’s fine, I don’t mind being the odd man out. I’ve kinda made a living at it, really. I’ve survived by carving out my own little place. And it’s ok. There’s nothing I can do about it. I come by it honestly. I do what I do because I want to do it this way, and I make the music I make because I don’t know what else to do.
JM: Ultimately, we can’t say that your music is definitively this or that. But when you look at its evolutionary stem—where it springs from—would you say that it comes from a country tradition? Does it come from a pop tradition? Your new CD, Lucky One has some Spanish influence and some big band influence. Where does your music begin, and how does it get from that point to where it is now?
RM: I honestly don’t think about this much, although I have lately because I get asked this quite often. I think part of it is because of how we are as a people. Whenever anybody goes to see a movie, they go, “Well, what was it like?” And someone will say, “It was kinda like Spider-Man meets this,” or whatever. We have to use something else as a reference point, because that’s how we describe things.
But I’ve been forced to think a lot about this lately. And it is a good question. And really, the most honest answer I can come up with is that I think you need to look at where I grew up and at how I grew up. I grew up listening to all kinds of music. I really did. I know that people say that all the time, but I grew up in a place—Miami, Florida—which was not exactly a haven for country music, or a haven for this or that. Yet the music was so varied down there. I remember driving around with my Granddad listening to AM radio, and on that station we would hear Englebert Humperdink, we would hear the Beatles, and then every once in a while we’d hear a country song. I remember hearing “Rose Garden.” I remember Buck Owens.
And I also remember Hee Haw on Saturday night. That’s really how I got into country music. ‘Cause every Saturday night I would watch Hee Haw—and this is no lie—followed by the Lawrence Welk show. And not because I thought they were the grooviest shows on the planet or anything like that. I knew, even back then, how corny they were. But the musicianship was great. And the music was great. Hee Haw would have great artists. I would get to see Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty and Buck himself. And every once in a while a rock star would be on there.
And I remember the Johnny Cash show. I saw Bob Dylan for the first time on that show. And growing up in Miami, with basically no music business around, and really nobody to tell me what genre this was or that was—I just grew up loving all of it. And then you mix in the whole Cuban culture, because there was plenty of Cuban music around. My Granddad was always singing. There was always a party where there was music. And then you had all the Latin jazz that was just naturally evolving in the Miami scene. Then there was all the reggae and calypso stuff from the islands. You had this huge mix of music, and I loved it all. I really did. I enjoyed all of it. Including opera. My mom was a big opera fan.
So, in answer to your question, I think part of it is because I grew up listening without prejudice. I loved it all. I took bits and pieces of all the music that I loved, and somehow they manifest themselves in the music I write and in what I do. And I don’t really worry about it or think about it.
And now that I don’t have the restrictions of a country music band or any of the expectations that come with it, I really feel like I can do whatever the heck I want. And so it’s been great fun the last couple of years.
JM: Let’s talk about the restrictions of being in a country music band. I think the Mavericks hold an interesting place in country music history. They are sort of an aberration in the pattern, partially because many of those influences you just cited manifested themselves, at least in some small way, even in your music back then. But I’m curious—how do you get from that very eclectic musical environment of Miami to a major label deal on MCA Records with a band that is making a play at mainstream country radio? How do you get from A to B?
RM: You know, that’s probably better asked of someone else. We were just a band down there. We were this sort of pseudo-country rock band, and we didn’t really know what we were doing. But we knew we were doing something right because the places were packed. People were coming to see us left and right. Everywhere we went the places were sold out. Eventually Nashville came calling, I think, because they genuinely liked us but also because they saw a good business opportunity. Let’s be honest about that, because there are plenty of artists that Nashville likes but doesn’t support.
Back then, the economy and the situation of the record labels was so good, and they were so healthy financially, that they could take a chance on a band like the Mavericks. That was, in and of itself, a very risky move. I mean, here’s this strange band out of Miami that’s really blurring the lines between rock and country and God knows what else, with a Cuban lead singer. It was the economics of the time, for sure, but also I’m convinced that they genuinely liked us. And we did really well with MCA for those years.
JM: And of course later you would come out with “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,” which featured that great accordion track. It’s bizarre to think about that song in the context of today’s county radio. Given your perspective, what has changed in the music industry since you started with MCA? It seems like artistry has become very narrow and that there aren’t many artists who are finding commercial success while still pushing boundaries and being inventive. I can’t imagine an act coming out with “O What a Thrill” today and expecting, with any reasonable level of confidence, to get spins on radio. Why do you think that is?
RM: Now more than ever, record labels are more corporate and more tied and beholden to corporate strings. Budgets are tighter. And whenever that happens the music suffers. Right now everybody’s looking for the next Carrie Underwood. And that’s why radio all sounds the same—it’s all corporate. That’s really it.
I mean, that’s not to say that all of the music is corporate. There’s some good stuff out there right now. There are some good artists fighting the good fight. But they’re few and far between, and they certainly aren’t getting the recognition that they deserve.
Modern country music, to me, has become like McDonald’s. It’s like, yeah, over a billion served…but is it the best cheeseburger? I don’t really think so. But they sure have sold a lot of ‘em. And there’s a lot of it out there. It’s kinda like that—very mainstream and kinda bland, really. It’s vanilla flavored.
And it’s funny, because they talk about their numbers being down and about how they’re not selling any records, yet they keep putting out the same stuff over and over again. I don’t hear anything fresh or anything new. These corporate labels, I don’t think they know how to do anything anymore. I don’t think they know how to sell records anymore. There’s no records to be sold. They’ve just about ruined that.
If I were a new artist now, I don’t know that I’d go sign with a major label. I’m not gonna let them take my t-shirt money or my ticket sales. Uh-uh. No 360 deals. Don’t bring me into your pile of crap just ‘cause you can’t figure out how to sell records.
JM: You touched on this very briefly earlier, but I want you to talk about this in more detail. Creativley, did you feel held back as a member of the Mavericks?
RM: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, listen—we pushed it as far as we could take it. But even as far as we took it…here’s the thing. People forget this. When Trampoline came out the record label here had no idea what to do with it. They really didn’t. We weren’t getting any radio play. They were talking about how the Mavericks were done. But we thought we had a really cool record. We thought it was an interesting record. Well, luckily, we still had Europe. And, lo and behold, Europe latched on to Trampoline, and once it started getting radio play we started going over there quite a bit and really working that angle. Then, all of the sudden, we had the number one song in Europe. All of the sudden we were back in it. Except not here. Not with Nashville and not in the States. So we realized that if they didn’t want to do anything with it here, we could still get out and make a living.
And so that a was a big eye opener. It was a time when I realized what was going on here in the business.
JM: Your new record, Lucky One is fantastic. I got an early copy of it back in November and have been playing the crap out of it ever since. This is your first album of original material in quite a while, so I’m curious as to what kinds of things you were looking at when you started putting this project together. How did you pick songs? When you go so long without doing something like this, what is the process like?
RM: Well, you know, it’s funny. People forget that in between Today and Lucky Onethere was a Mavericks record. And the Mavericks record was all my songs, too. It just wasn’t called Raul Malo. So it’s not like I went eight years without an original music album. There was one in there, it was just by another name. And not to take away from what the band did, but those were all my songs.
Basically what I wanted on this record, like I want on any record, is to just put the best songs forward no matter what style. Unless it’s something that’s too extravagant or just too out there. But here’s the thing—I don’t think there’s anything too out there. We’ve sorta become so monophonic, where we expect one thing out of one artist and that’s what he needs to do for the rest of his life. I remember when I’d play a Beatles record or a Police record or a Prince record or whatever, there was varying degrees of difference between styles on each record and within each record. To me, you listen to Sgt. Pepper’s and you hear quite a variety of styles. Yet it was still within the realm of rock and roll. And nobody even though twice about it.
But I think as time has gone on we’ve become so used to putting things in a nice, neat little box that whenever somebody strays from it people get kinda freaked out a little bit. People meaning labels. And I think labels underestimate the sophistication of the real music fan. We have dumbed down music and culture to such a degree that we just really expect people to be idiots. And people are not idiots. That people are not buying records right now is no surprise.
I mean, for years producers have put songs that they owned publishing for on records. The label then charges $18.99 for the record. The producers are also paid by the labels. They also produce the record, which comes out of the artist’s pay. And they put songs on there that they own publishing on—and then they wonder why kids are downloading one song off the record. And then they go after them! The whole industry just has it wrong.
You wonder why you’re not selling reords? It’s because you people have just corporatized this thing to such an extent that you’ve ruined it.
I mean, I was just out at the Grammys, and none of the labels had parties after. That’s because they can’t even hold a party without going into debt. They don’t even know how to do that. I mean, come on. Give me a bucket of Coronas, an iPod and a hotel room. I’ll show you a damn party.
JM: I hope to be there for that one.
RM: You know what I mean? I don’t need any chocolate fountains or any ice sculptures or any of that crap.
JM: Since you mentioned the sensibilities of the contemporary music fan, I want to get your opinion about something. Now, you’re a guy who has been highlypraised for your singing. You’ve been called one of the best baritones in the world. You’re widely considered one of the truly great singers of our time. And that makes you an interesting case in today’s society, because we have been so heavily influenced by the American Idol/Guitar Hero revolution, which has produced a core of entertainers who don’t seem extraordinarily talented. Now, in the past we could look at so-called “bubblegum pop” acts and say that, while their music may have lacked substance, they at least met a certain threshold for technical proficiency. At least they were better singers than Joey and Jill down at the local karaoke bar. Do we expect less from our entertainers than we used to?
RM: No, I think all that is a cultural phenomenon. Not even a phenomenon, it’s just the trend.
What’s happening is you’ve got a whole slew of the population that is really disgusted by popular culture in general. Those are the people who are gonna come out and hear me sing. Those are the people who are gonna go out to a Lucinda Williams show. Those are the people who are gonna go out and hear Shelby Lynne perform. Those are the people who are gonna buy those records.
And yeah, you know, they’re not hit records by the standards that record labels have put forth. But the smart artists, the ones that can actually go out and perform, the ones that can actually stand in front of an audience and sing and play, those are the ones that are gonna make it through all of this in the end. People want to be entertained. People want real entertainment. I mean, I thought it was fitting that on the Grammys, I watched the show and I didn’t get half of it, if not more. And I’m not the only one. It was just so funny that they had the best reactions of the night for the over-60 performers. Al Green, Paul McCartney and then finally Neil Diamond. I mean, when Neil Diamond sang “Sweet Caroline,” everybody was on their feet singing along. And it’s like, here you go, here are the Grammys, a show that’s supposed to be showcasing new talent and new stuff and new records, and who do they get to liven the place up? The 66 year-old Jewish boy from Brooklyn singin’ his 40-somethin’ year-old hit.
JM: But doesn’t that contradict what you were saying before about how major labels and “hits” are passé? I mean, everyone is singing along to “Sweet Caroline” because at some point along the way the label was able to transform it into this pervasive hit that everyone is familiar with. It’s a song that kids know and that their parents know. That’s a hit by every definition. If we decentralize our music and everyone starts listening to only music that falls within a specific niche, do we any longer have those kind of socially unifying songs?
RM: Well, go back to the song. “Sweet Caroline,” I mean, that’s a pop hit. That is an undeniable pop hit.
Here’s an experiment for you if you wanna try this out just for fun one day. If you have satellite radio, put on the 40s station and see how long you can go listening to that. You need a road trip for this. Then, after a while, click on over to the 50s, and see how long you can go on that. Then click on over to the 60s—same thing, you could pretty much go all night listening to the 60s without ever having to change the channel. Click on over to the 70s, and you could pretty much go all night listening to that with an exception here and there. And then you start getting to the 80s. And then with the exception of a Prince or a U2 or a Police thing that was just exceptional, there really isn’t much. And then the 90s? Forget it. You wanna drive your car off the road. And as far as modern country music? Forget it. I can’t even listen to that. I can’t even listen to modern country radio. And it’s like “Where did we go wrong?” I don’t listen to the 40s station because it’s a nostalgia trip for me. I wasn’t around. It’s not like I grew up missing the big band era. I’m not that old. I don’t remember the days of going to see Duke Ellington in a club. I wish! I’d kill to go see Duke Ellington at a club. Now we’re lucky to get a shitty karaoke bar.
You can just tie it in to the corporate takeover of the music business. And it’s right around that time, in the late 70s and early 80s. When Columbia became Sony. When Warner Bros. became Time Warner. All of that changed the music business forever. It made it invariably worse. The music suffered. Everything suffered. And now here we are. They’ve been milking this thing for a while.
They’ve been spending so much. I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of thousands of dollars—millions of dollars—to run a song up the flagpole just so that it gets up to #1, but they’re not selling any records because nobody cares. The fans don’t care. Fans don’t care about a #1. A #1 is for people on Music Row to put up a banner outside their building and go “oh, well, we had a #1 this year.” That way they can go back to their board and say, “we did this, this and this.” But it’s all bullshit. It’s all Enron accounting. It’s all a house of cards. And now it’s about to come crumbling down.
But I’m optimistic. The artists that are gonna make it are the ones that can still go out and sing and play. And if you’re worried about the green M&Ms backstage you’re screwed. You know what I mean? If you’re not worried about that you’re gonna be fine. We all have to readjust our piece of the pie and we’ll be alright. The same goes with the music business. I mean, there is plenty of good music out there. Plenty of good artists. One of my favorites right now is Jamey Johnson. He’s as real as it gets. And I love his record. I just bought his record and it’s fantastic. So, there are moments of promise. And it’s gonna be people like that who will survive this whole mess that we’re in.
And believe me, I think it’s gonna get worse.
JM: It’s very heartening to see the success Jamey is having at Mercury. Going back to your new disc, since we got a bit sidetracked again, tell me about how Lucky One compares to your previous work.
RM: God forbid I give a clichéd answer, but this record feels like a continuation for me. There are a few surprises in there, I think, musically. But, overall, I think if people have liked some of the Mavericks stuff, if they’ve liked some of my solo stuff, I think they’re gonna like this record. I worked hard on this record, and wrote a lot of songs for it. I feel really good about it. Of course, I better feel good about it since it’s my record.
It just comes from having a lot of freedom. I realized a long time ago that I did not need a record label anymore. That happened when I booked a tour for my You’re Only Lonelyrecord. The company kept pushing back the release of the record, and we had this tour set up in support of it, and I thought, “Well, we’ll have to cancel the tour.” Well, we went to cancel the tour and, lo and behold, the tour was sold out. And that was just me and my guitar. So I thought, OK, worst case scenario, I can still go out and work with me and my guitar and really have nothing to do with what happens at the record label.
So the fact that now I have a label [Fantasy Records] that’s actually working for me, one that is, you know, actually putting my record out and promoting my stuff and is gonna help with the launch of this record and actually be in really good financial standing to help this record out…I’m happy as heck.
This content originally appeared in the country music blog The 9513, which ceased publication in 2011. It was added to American Noise in 2017.
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