Are there many joint writing collaborations
with Chris on this?
Some songs Chris wrote and some songs I wrote most of, but somehow the other partner sort of completes it. Hell come in with something and Ill find something about it in the groove. My Way Down is a good example. He came in and he had the lyrics and the guitar part with the Stevie Wonderish-in heat-on acid-kind of groove. My contribution was that 16th note bassline which led to the drum part, the part where it breaks down after the solo, that big Earth, Wind & Fire stomp-thing. And .32 Blues is my lyric and basic melody - but can you imagine it without Chris?! I cant. Im more than happy to give him credit on stuff.
What songs did you write, at least
as a starting point?
.32 Blues, Crash and Crimino.
Has your approach to songwriting
changed any after this album?
Im always looking for the groove! Thats what tends to come to me first. Or experiences. A good example is .32 Blues. One of my best friends Id known since high school called me up. We hadnt talked in years! He calls me up one night and tells me about this experience which came to be .32 Blues. It really happened to him. It was a long story with all these great details. I started out where the first page was almost a short story. I was just trying to get in all the details, these great images, like feeling the cold breeze from the back door opening. He was at this junkies house, collecting money from her, as a favor he owed a friend, like in the first verse, It aint for me honey. The only piece of furniture, everything else had been hocked, was this glass table with brass balls at the corners. In one of them he saw this blurry, distorted image of someone coming up behind him! He turned around as this guy swings a baseball bat at his head and just misses! So my friend puts this guy down, smashing the glass table as he falls. He turns around and she has a .32 pointed at his face! She pulls the trigger and it misfires! He takes it away from her and just walks away. Thats the song. So I had all of these images that I wanted to get into the song and the groove Im hearing is a Howlin Wolf kind of thing, a primitive blues. So I kept reworking the images, stripping things out, sort of like Haiku, trying to get to this groove I was hearing in my head. You cant be too flowery when youve got this chuggin groove! I was trying to match the lyrics with the mood of the groove, too. Its the first thing that defines the song.
On .32 Blues, the eerie
drumsticks ticking like a clock, was that Greg Morrows idea?
No, David Z came up with that. It was real clever. We learned a lot from Dave.
Chris had said he learned some vocal
techniques from him.
You listen on the tape and you can hear him suckin air a lot and stuff. David kept saying, Breathe! Breathe!, like a football coach! Youre not breathing! Run it back again! I want to hear you! I want you to be hyperventilating and passing out when youre through singing!
What did you pick up from David?
The biggest thing I got from him was the idea of vowels. In classical music and opera its the vowels that define the vocal style, but in pop music its how you approach the consonants, the hard sounds. I had heard about it before, on a radio interview, but it was amazing what a difference it makes! When we got in the studio, Chris was singing Hungry and Dave said to shorten the vowels and make the consonants hard. It was amazing how that focused it. It was seeing that principle illustrated, and understanding it, that was the biggest thing I learned from him. Chris, being the singer, has transferred that over to the live shows as well. Myself, being a writer and recording music, it was really a big thing! Davids approach is in terms of Black American dance music. He comes from an R&B place, his work with Prince and stuff. He wanted the solos to be poppin with the groove. Go back, do it again, its not poppin with the groove! So thats how he thought. But thats not the only way to go about it. For example, when we went to Toronto we were doing Cleopatra. Chris played this real wacky part in the solo, it was kind of outta the groove, and I said so (after working with David Z for a month), but actually everyone loved it and I love it, too. Its cool! He had influenced my thinking into how everything was related to the groove. If you took away everything but the vocal you could still imagine what the groove would be. So that also was a big influence on me. And watching him work vocally. I just learned tons from him cuz I was there for the whole process. Sometimes its a fairly agonizing process, sometimes word by word, because he was so meticulous about it.
Did you have a pretty tight song
list going into this album?
Pretty much. On Texas Sugar they had tape rolling all the time. They would turn on and we would play. We had a pretty strong list going into this record. I think itll be called Tailspin. Walls is what Chris and I would like, but I think its gonna be Tailspin. We dont care really. How about Music or Wow!, whatever, you know? But on this record we had a real set idea of what we wanted to do. David kept saying we need a slow song, something that really changes the mood. We showed him People Get Ready and some different things, but none of it was what he was looking for. Finally I said weve got this great song Chris wrote, which I just adore, called Walls. So Chris pulled out one of his Epiphones and played it and they said to try it. We went in and recorded it in 2 or 3 takes - boom, boom, boom - and it was done. Wow! This thing, its just, that whole guitar solo was what happened, no overdubs or anything!
Was that true with most songs, just
a few takes?
I dont remember any one song taking a whole lot of work. We did Cleo twice in Nashville. We had one that was quick and peppy and one that was slower. We ended up taking the slower one up to Toronto and redid the whole thing. Thats the one thatll be on the album.
On one of the other Toronto cuts,
The Thrill Is Gone,
I heard keyboards. Was that Reese Wynans, too?
No, that was Gordie Johnson and me. They had a tape loop comprised of a Donovan tune, of all things, and B.B. King testing his reverb and slapping his muted strings!
Thats actually them sampled!?
Yeah, its an actual sample. So its Chris playing with Donovan and B.B. and whatever else. Gordie had put this guitar thing on top and Chris said he wasnt hearing enough tonality to feel the song. Se we decided to put some keyboards on it. Its a funny key cuz were tuned down a half-step. It was an A-Flat minor when you transfer it to the keyboard. So I went in and showed Gordie the piano voicings and then he played it. He also played this cheesy organ on the hook, to fatten it up. This old-style, weird thing. He would double up my bass parts to get this real fat thing. It added a tonal fatness to it.
Did you record The Thrill Is
Gone in Nashville, too?
No, we didnt even talk about recording it. Mike Tedesco has always liked the way we did the song. Before we got up there (Toronto) they had kind of come up with this whole thing really.
What about Catch The Next Line?
The Toronto version is so different than the Nashville track.
Thats Gordie playing the rhythm part at the beginning of it. That arrangement was pretty much his idea. He said, Look guys, I cant tell you how to improve on a Texas Shuffle. Im a Canadian! But Ive got this idea Id like you to try. So we did and it really felt good. It reminds me of NRBQ, it has that rockabilly kind of thang.
Where you involved much with the
production of the album?
Oh yeah, I was way in there. Me and Chris both. I felt real comfortable expressing myself. Some of my ideas were taken and embraced and others were hooted out of the room! But thats the nature of it all.
Did you learn production techniques
from David, too?
Its kind of arcane to describe, but in terms of using common machines in the studio in unusual ways.
Yeah, like using a gate. It limits peaks and raises the dynamic range of quiet parts. He would use that at a certain setting and the effect was to make it sound like a clavinet. On People Say, that funky, clavinet-sounding thing is Chris playing his guitar through this studio rack effect. Just little cool things like that. And his use of sampling, not just recorded samples, but he had this little sampling machine and he would get one perfect phrase of the chorus and then, instead of having Chris try to get it perfect 20 times, he would use the sample instead. Just throw it in there, it was great. But, believe me, if it had sounded artificial or digital or something it wouldve gone straight out the nearest window!! It was a wonderful timesaver.
Did having rehearsal time before
recording make a difference?
No, not really. I think David would agree. Greg, too. It was fun to hang out and get to know each other but, musically, it was essentially meaningless. Wed already rehearsed more this year, writing songs, spending a lot of time at the ARC (Austin Rehearsal Complex) with Frosty and Erick. It became more normal for us to rehearse than it used to be. Everyone was a real good musician and the ideas were flowing real good, but we couldve spent that time in the recording studio just as well, or come a week later. It probably gave David a couple of ideas, but it wouldnt have taken him long to come to those ideas anyway. Like the drumsticks clicking on .32 Blues, he came up with that in the rehearsal studio. Hed seen us at a show at Steamboat in Austin and had listened to a tape of it and one from another producer at a gig in San Marcos. So hed heard a lot of these songs beforehand and formulated some ideas then.
How did you link up with Reese Wynans?
Was he recording there in Nashville?
David Z brought him in. Reese is a Nashville musician now. Hes lived there a couple years as a studio musician and David called him in.
I really like his organ work on the
I do, too. The thing about Reese is hes one of the few people who really knows how to play the damn thing! You cant just be a piano player and sit down and translate that to the organ. Its a completely different instrument that just happens to have black & white keys! Youve got sustain and all these different settings and Reese actually knows how to play the thing. Reese is just a great musician. His contribution to .32 Blues was just lovely. He had a great time and had fun being there and we had a lot of fun having him there.