- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Laurence Harvey)
She rocks arenas worldwide through her phenomenal ability on guitar and with her beautiful voice. 2015 has been a very special year for Chantel McGregor. The new album, Lose Control, is a record that McGregor likes to define "Southern Gothic Rock" and marks a new high in the career of the young and very talented singer/songwriter.
Bluebird Reviews has managed to catch up with Chantel McGregor, now that she has just returned from her European Tour and discuss the new album, her career and life in general.
BBR - Lose Control is a very beautiful album that reflects many aspects of your personality, both as a woman and as a musician. Does the whole theme of the album reflect a particular moment of your life or is it just your personal take on the concept of Southern Gothic?
CMG - I think it's a bit of both, because it's something I have been always interested in. So, I would say it reflects rather a long period of time in my life. As a child, I was always interested in scary stories or ghost stories and as I grew up, I just found myself liking television programs like True Blood, or scary movies, voodoo stuff and things like that. So, it is rather a life long period, I'd say! It is something that has always been into me, therefore I thought I wanted to write an album about things I was really interested in. It would be very easy to write, say, ten random songs that have no relations to each other but I just wanted to push and challenge myself and writing about who I am and what I like. A concept album about Chantel McGregor with a little hint of progressive rock, which I really like very much too.
BBR - The first three tracks opening the album dig deep into the rock of the 90's, with that typical heavy and distinctive grungey sound. How much of an impact has that genre made in your musical development?
CMG - Massive, I think. I have always been defined, in the music circle, as "the girl that plays the blues/rock" but as a teenager, I grew up listening to people like Nirvana at school, with my headphones on during class time. They made a big impact on me, as a kid. There were other great bands I loved too, like Soundgarden, Silverchair. I guess that the biggest influence I got, from a musical point of view, was that those bands were playing stuff that were emotionally raw, wild, straight to your face. As much as I admire perfection and technical ability in a rock act, I also believe that you have got to be loud, wild, be yourself and let it go, otherwise your act will sound a bit too cold and soulless.
BBR - Home is one of my favourite moments of the album, in which you showcase even further your great singing skills. Using that song as a mirror, how do you see yourself, musically speaking and as a person, in comparison to your first album back in 2011?
CMG - That is a really personal song. And because it is so personal, it's the perfect mirror of how much I moved on since that time on many levels. My first album was a collection of songs that were written over a long period of time, while with Lose Control, the writing process has been much faster. And talking about Home again, I feel that song shows also how my writing style has developed too, for which I am very proud of.
BBR - The word "Loss" often recurs, when you describe all the different aspects of your new album to the media. How has loss effected your life, Chantel?
CMG - I suppose not that much, really, in comparison to many people out there. I met many people that shared with me, their experiences. They told me about losing family, friends, relationships and I have got to say, I feel really lucky and privileged to have still my mum and dad, half of my grandparents and special people that really matter to me. I guess that it will come the time for me too, hopefully not for many years to come, to lose somebody special in my life and I am sure it will break my heart, as it happened to all the people that told me about their personal losses. I guess that, by writing about loss, I just wanted to write about something everybody can relate to and identify with. An inevitable passage of everyone's life.
BBR - In Lose Control, you have been personally involved in the arrangements, production side and even the album artwork. Do you feel sometimes that this album represents you and what you want to express as an artist, more than Like No Other?
CMG - Absolutely. We were discussing before about my debut album back in 2011 but to me, this feels almost like my "proper" debut album, due to my complete involvement into it. It feels like my little baby. It is so amazing for me to think that I wrote and recorded the whole album in 10 weeks and the whole record was ready and wrapped up few months later. Even things like, designing the artwork in the shed in my garden, makes me feel so proud of what I achieved on Lose Control and how much I managed to express who I really am in many ways.
BBR - Was Anaesthetize a difficult song for you to write, given the hard subject (substance abuse)?
CMG - Yeah, I think it was hard, because it is not something I have experienced, you know. I have never tried drugs, not even cigarettes! I have tried booze, that is for sure. But drugs, never. To write about something you never experienced can be a bit difficult, because you don't want to look like somebody really miserable, pretending to write something about you really never went through in your life. The song was more about my personal observation on the subject. I read a lot of books and seen movies about how drugs can effect or has effected people's lives. I just wanted to express my point of view on this matter. I hope I have not offended anybody, by going through these type of issues in my song, from the prospective of an observer.
BBR - We heard you are a fine connoisseur of beer. Give us please your top tip for the best three beers you have ever tried.
CMG - Well, what can I say? Bearing in mind this is just my personal opinion, I would say that good beer it's not about high percentages or where the beer comes from. I like a lot weird beer, stuff like fruit beers. Where we live, there is a place that does some raspberry blonde beer, which is to die for. The Plum Porter from the Titanic Brewery is an amazing one too. Also, there is a beer from Manchester called Boggart Rum Porter, that is one you should try too!
BBR - You have been often saying that music allows you to give voice to your inner feelings and the fact you find writing music liberating. Is there any other art forms able to give you the same emotional response that music does?
CMG - Not really. I think people are different and they all find a different outlet to express their emotions. For me, it is just music. You should see me drawing things, I am terrible at that!
BBR - There are a lot of different layers, on your new album. Sometimes it gets darker, sometimes spiritual, sometimes melancholic. You do come across instead as a very outgoing person, full of life and very bubbly. Which of the two is the real Chantel, the one we see in live shows or the one you sing about in your songs?
CMG - I think both! (giggles). It may sound like I am crazy but it's just the way I am. I think we all have two different aspects hidden inside of us. I guess you are just different, say when you are with different people, for instance. You may be a completely different person, going out with your mates in the evening than the person that the next day is watching Eastenders (long running British TV drama) on television! It's just depends on the situation. For me, when I am writing, I tend to be a bit melancholic, even a bit miserable sometimes, solitary confinement type, that sort of stuff, sitting in the dark, surrounded only by candles. I don't think that the crowds though, at my shows, would love to see me like that. As a consequence, the other Chantel needs to come out and be entertaining, lively and sparkle a little. As I said, it's all depending by the moment or the situation. It's like two sides of the same dice. It just depends on which side the dice is going to roll in that moment.
BBR - Are you planning to tour America as well you did recently in Europe anytime soon for Lose Control?
CMG - Myself and the band have been touring the UK in October and then in November we embarked on our European Tour. The fans were brilliant everywhere, no matter where we were playing or which part of the world we were playing. We will be doing few shows in UK too in December. For what concerns America, I would love to Tour that beautiful part of the world. One day is going to happen for sure.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo courtesy by Robert Cray's Archive)
There is nothing more refreshing than talking to somebody that has seen and lived the last 4 decades of music on his own skin. It is almost like an art lesson, in many ways. Robert Cray has recorded many great songs in his career, played with the elite of the music establishment and still going.
His new live album, 4 Nights of 40 Years offers an accurate retrospective on the past and present of the Robert Cray Band and finds this incredible artist from Columbus, Georgia in a real great shape. Bluebird Reviews is thrilled to meet Cray and talk about the new album and music in its globality.
BBR - Robert, welcome to Bluebird Reviews. The Live Album 4 Nights of 40 Years is the best way to celebrate an important landmark of your career. How easy was it for you to choose the many key songs to put on the album, given your extensive catalogue?
RC - Well, I had help, you know. We had Richard Cousins, our bass player to help out as well, together with our producer Steve Jordan and all our Management Team. We gathered together and we played a lot of tunes, we watched some video footage of some of our concerts and work out which of those were more suitable for the CD/DVD project. It was a great find as well, checking out this old video footage. It gave us a lot of pleasure and fun.
BBR - On the record there is a mini live show recorded in the Netherlands in 1987, featuring Smoking Gun and Still Around, among other tracks. Did you choose that particular show to be featured due to the quality of the live performance?
RC - There were three reasons why that show was chosen. First, the performance, then the line-up and the songs we played. We do not play some of those songs anymore, these days. I thought, choosing that show, was a great way to get these songs included on the record with that particular band which we recorded those tunes with.
BBR - On the DVD there is a touching tribute from you to Richard Cousins, your lifetime friend and band member of the Robert Cray Band. Can you choose three words to describe your friendship?
(Photo courtesy by Phil Weedon)
RC - Ha (giggles)! Three words, that is hard! I don't know. He is my best buddy, you know. It's just how it is. We have been friends since we were 15-16 years old. We went to rival High Schools, in the same High School District and we played in bands together long before we started the Robert Cray Band in '74. We grew up picking our cores and decided what it was we wanted to play before starting the band. I guess there is a lot more too. I mean, here I am, the frontman of the band, so to speak, but in the background, I know that there is Richard, which has always been the mouthpiece. Back in the early days, it was Richard that would go out and book the gigs for us, due to the fact that back then, we didn't have any Management or Booking Agency. That is the kind of personality Richard is. He is the outgoing one and I am the introverted one. Richard, back then, would also introduce the tunes when we were playing live, because I could sing the tunes to the audience but I couldn't say a word while on stage! So, it has been a Team thing, a joint effort all along.
BBR - You always have been depicted as one of the best music storytellers in the whole music world. How much has the angry Robert Cray of Nice As A Fool Can Be from the Who's Been Talkin' era, changed and developed his writing style?
RC - Well, I had a lot of help. Great lessons were learned by being able to work with Bruce Bromberg and Dennis Walker in particular. Dennis Walker wrote some of the great songs we did early on and his lyrics were very visual. I am talking about tunes like Who's Been Talkin', Right Next Door, Because Of Me, all those are Dennis Walker's tunes. Myself and Richard were able to help for what concerns the musical aspect of such tunes. It was really very special the way Dennis wrote those songs, it was a great lesson for us, to be able to visualize the stories within the songs.
BBR - Many fellow artists have celebrated your special music birthday on the 4 Nights album, people like Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt, amongst others. Have you ever had any artist in particular, as a music role model, back when you started in the late 70's?
RC - There was a lot but Albert Collins holds a special place. We had the opportunity to work with Albert Collins, I believe the first time was back in 1976, which was just a couple of years after we started the band. We had the great privilege to be his back-up band while he was touring the West Coast, for about a period of over a year and a half. Standing behind Albert Collins, gave me the opportunity to be a backing musician. As a band, we were already playing some of Albert's tunes, therefore that experience gave me the chance to learn even more about him and his style. Albert was a real father figure to us. Through his experience, we learned how to cut our teeth with the first of our heroes. He was really important for us, on many levels.
(Photo courtesy by Paul Natkin)
BBR - The Robert Cray Band has changed different band members, since the beginning. I feel the current line-up of the band is one of the best you have ever had. What is the secret about being able to maintain the incredible quality of your sound?
RC - Thank you. You just have to be yourself. I think that is what is all about. The band members have changed, over the years for many different reasons but, fundamentally, I still do what I do. I am upfront and everybody within the band knows what their role is. It is pretty simple. I don't have any strict guideline, you know. I just want everybody to be themselves and let them all play out of their souls.
BBR - You have met and worked with authentic giants of the music business, people like the fellow artists previously mentioned or late great music legends like John Lee Hooker, BB King or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Have you ever thought about writing a book on your life, as a musician? You must have a lot of stories to tell..
(Photo courtesy by Robert Knight)
RC - There is a lot of stories but probably I need Richard to sit down with me and we can reminisce and put them out into a form that make those stories sound right. Yeah, there has been talk, to be honest and we'll see what happens. You don't know how interested people would be after all, we will see.
BBR - We all know, through your talent and artistry, who Robert Cray was 40 years ago and who you are now, as a musician. When you publish your next live anniversary album, what version of yourself do you wish to be?
RC - Hmm..I honestly don't know, because I am not gonna stop, that's the thing. It is so much fun, you know. When you hit the stage, it's such a challenge. You go out there and it feels like you are walking out there without your clothes on. You have to make people to listen to your music and forget that you are naked out there. Because people are not afraid to say what they feel about a show. And that is the reason why, night after night, we go on stage feeling like it is the first time we play in front of an audience, because that is the way it should be always done.
BBR - Your voice, together with your incredible skills in playing guitar, has always been one of the most recognisable trademarks in your career. Did you always want to become a singer or was that just something that you discovered all of a sudden?
RC - It was something that, you know, I guess goes hand-in-hand actually. I think anybody that plays wants to sing and then you discovered if you can or not. I knew I could hold a melody but, in the first band I was in, we had lead singers. And in a couple of those situations, it just happened that the lead singer quit, so I took over. To be honest with you, the second time that happened, we went to an audition and the lead singer didn't show up for the audition so I took over again. We didn't get the gig but from that moment, I took over the role of lead singer. Being an introverted person, it was a big step for me. When we started the Cray Band, anyway, I was the lead singer but Richard was still making the announcements! (chuckles). It has been a real work in progress, starting talking to the audience on stage between tunes. At first, I started talking to the crowd real fast, because I wanted to be as short as possible and then I gradually slowed down the pace of my announcements in-between songs. As you may know, I am perfectly comfortable, right now.
BBR - Robert, music legacies among artists is what keeps the music chain going, through time. As I am sure many fellow artists have transferred part of their legacies to you, by the same account, what part of yourself, as an artist, would you like to pass to future generations?
RC - I think that people should have an open mind towards music, you know. I think that people should have the opportunity to listen to different music genres. That's how I grew up and the guys in the band grew up and that was long before, especially in the States, people tend to categorise the music a lot. Now you have satellite radios and there are so many different stations playing every single music genre on the planet. So anyone could pick their favourite station and stick to it, they would never change the dial on the radio. In this way, they would be never able to find out about people like Duke Ellington or Hank Williams or Albert Collins. My advice would be to keep an open mind about music. You can try and listen to a tune belonging to a different genre and, if you don't like it, that doesn't necessarily mean you should dislike immediately that genre. Because in the whole world, there is a lot of good country, rock, jazz, blues or classical music. Speaking of my music, whoever comes to our shows, is able to hear many different elements belonging to different music styles and that is the reflection of how we, in the band, grew up. People needs to listen healthily, a little like trying a wide variety of food. When I think about the way I write a tune, it's all natural and spontaneous. It's not like, I sit down thinking of writing a song on a specifing genre. When the tune is finished I would look at it as a unique creation, a genuine result coming from the soul. It's all about thinking freely and be open.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
As human beings, somewhere, our destiny is already written. We grow with our grand dreams when we are young, then our lives take unexpected twists and turns and take us to directions we never expected. Some of those directions test us intensely, sometimes not in a very nice way, to the point that we need to find refuge or salvation somewhere in our souls by gripping onto something that keeps us alive.
Dana Fuchs knows this, for certain, very well. And through music, this fabulous New Jersey born singer/songwriter has found solace in her life, gifting at the same time millions of music lovers through her wonderful voice and through her songs.
When Bluebird Reviews meets Dana Fuchs, she looks, as always, stunningly beautiful and very chilled, despite being constantly on tour with her band. Songs From The Road is her latest live album, which has reinstated once again the stature, charisma and talent of the American Artist. "You know, the thing about the live album, it's kind of funny because it came about at the very last minute. We had already done two studio CDs with our label and, when it was time to do the third, as part of our deal, we were asked to do a live album. So I said to them: "Great, I have got a show coming up in New York City, let's film it there!".
Putting together the tracklist of a live album is always a difficult task and one would imagine that, sometimes, tough choices need to be made in cutting off some of the fans' old favourites. "That was really the hard part. What made it easier was the fact I already had some songs out there, part of my early albums, already on the first live CD I did some time ago. I have been touring Bliss Avenue (her latest studio album) for the last year and a half and I thought these songs were still sounding very fresh to me. So I said to myself: "Ok, this live album it's going to be mostly concentrated on Bliss Avenue's songs plus some other stuff I never managed to film on camera in a live concert before". So that's what I did".
Music is one of those life's paths in which an artist may make really great friends for life, in terms of fellow musicians. For Fuchs and Jon Diamond, co-writer of most of Dana's songs and band guitarist, though, things have been a little more personal, having been not just partners in crime, musically speaking but also partners in life. Despite not being an item any longer, both Dana and Jon keep working together and it must have been pretty tough, given their past together, to reach that stage in which writing songs together becomes just "part of the business". "You know, it happened pretty early on for us, when we were doing other people's music on the blues circuit, as they call it here in New York. After one year of doing that, I realised that it was time for me to write my own stories. I didn't grow up in Tobacco Road and all those great blues songs weren't exactly my story. I just wanted to write my story in my own way, with that kind of rock and roll influence, because I was raised on classic rock from my older siblings. Jon and I first wondered, "How do we do this?". So we sat down and our first song was called Hiding From Your Love, which is on my first studio and live CD. So after that, we thought: "Ok, this is fun!". You know, sometimes you struggle, sometimes you don't, sometimes you throw it away and revisit it. There is always that process but it did feel natural for us, working together. We just really come from such similar places, musically and stylistically, so there was never any big fights between us about music directions to be taken or that sort of discussion. It has always been cool, with Jon".
Dana Fuchs is one of the most recognisable voices of the music business. Her voice fully frames the personality of this highly talented artist. "I joke because I was the youngest of 6 kids but the loudest! I remember in school I was constantly hearing people saying: "Oh, you've got such a deep, powerful voice, with such resonance". I was always hearing that, but, until I started singing, I didn't realise how strong it was. I remember one of my first shows in New York, the sound man said: "Oh, my God you are blowing up my desk, with your voice!". It just sort of happened and then, of course, I started working with a vocal coach because, naturally, I would sing that hard and I was so inexperienced that, after 4-5 songs, my voice would be tired and swollen. In that way, I learned how to use that "instrument" to my advantage over the years".
Bluebird Review has been listening lately to a lot of the Bliss Avenue studio album, to which Dana Fuchs was referring previously. The themes of the album recall darkness and a touch of spirituality as well. An album in which it is hard, sometimes, to imagine what was Fuchs' state of mind. "Certainly darkness. I love your view of that record. You know, "Bliss" has been for me a long affair. After having been in the studio for several times and recorded an album that probably will never see the light of the day, because I didn't feel that album was really me but someone else's, I finally just felt I could really open up and being who I am. I felt I had the chance to share some great experiences I had and people I deeply loved and just throw it all out there, when "Bliss" was made. You can't do that, on an album, until you are in a good enough place of your soul to do it. You can't sing about the pain, when you are still in it. I think it's always easier to do so in retrospective, to look at it and say: "Wow, what a powerful time that was, what a lesson or experience I learned" and then you can be a little more reflective about it. It is more redemptive too, because a lot of the songs' lyrics are very dark but at the same time, the music is still upbeat and I love that kind of contrast in a record".
Many know that this New York-based artist has had the leading role in the Broadway musical inspired by Janis Joplin called Love, Janis. Also, a very successful stint as an actress in Hollywood, by playing the role of Sadie in the 2007 movie called Across The Universe, nominated in that year for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.
It must be a bit tricky to juggle so many careers. "I've gotta to say, it's not that tricky. I had to make a choice after I did the film Across The Universe. The agents in Hollywood wanted me to take a year and come out and audition every day and live that kind of life. At the time, I was so ready to get on the road because, all in all, music is my real passion. Acting is fun, you know, I always say, if something cool comes along I would think about it, if it doesn't clash with my music career. You know, acting is such a big commitment too. I didn't really have a lot of juggling to do. It would have been different if I had within myself a burning desire to act, but music is all that matters to me. If I was not going to make music, I would have probably been teaching children (chuckles)".
Life has been hitting Dana Fuchs very hard, in recent years, through some personal family losses. Having been so close to her family all her life, one may wonder how Fuchs managed to overcome such hard times and how much music might have helped this phenomenal performer to mend such deep, emotional scars. "I feel so lucky that music can be so cathartic for me. Recently, it was the first year anniversary of my father's death and the eighth month anniversary of my brother's death at the same time, literally the same day. It was a very loaded time for me because a week after my father's and brother's anniversary it's my sister's anniversary too and few months ago was the anniversary of my older brother's death. Your question, in that respect, is really timely. Since the first loss, which was my only sister's and was so shocking because she took her life, that was the moment when I realised I HAD to do music. Making music together was our dream when we were little girls, although there was a considerable age gap but we shared the same bedroom and she was singing to sleep at night, I shall never forget that. We were both gonna make it as singers.... When she took that dark path and didn't survive, that was my big wake up call, like saying to myself "Let's do or die". Since then, after that, there was my oldest brother, who coincidentally was my sister's bandmate and he'd given up music for all kind of strange religious ideologies and it depressed him and he had a very tortured life since then. Being with him as he died, due to a terrible and unexpected brain cancer, was another terrible moment for me and I had just to thank music that took me through the whole of it. The music and the audience. To be able to go on stage and say "F**k, I just had this experience, how many of you had that too?". And the people would yell out the names of lost loved ones and I would say "Let's celebrate their lives tonight"... It's such a blessing".
Our website has had the opportunity to see the American Singer/Songwriter performing at the Lead Belly Tribute night in London, at the Royal Albert Hall, where she beautifully belted out a potent rendition of Gallows Pole, first recorded by Lead Belly back in 1939, then re-vamped by Led Zeppelin in later years. Given the importance of the event and the amount of extraordinary musicians present that night, Dana Fuchs must have great memories of that magical night of music. "You know, it was amazing to discover that all the stuff I used to listen to when I was a kid, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, were so immensly influenced by Lead Belly. Even when I was unaware of all this, Lead Belly has been indirectly a big influence on me. It was a spectacular night. I have gotta to say, that place, the Royal Albert hall, is indeed "Royal". I don't think I have ever been on a special stage like that ever. Just being with all those musicians, on so many different levels, different styles and sharing that night on stage together, was one of the highlights of my career. I had such a great time and to sing a Led Zeppelin song! My word, that was the icing on the cake! I was so terrified and excited at the same time to sing that song. It wasn't an easy one to sing but I threw myself into it deeply and I just felt the story of that song so much".
With such formidable career, surely Fuchs must have no regrets at all in her life.... Or maybe not? "Oh, plenty. You know, wishing I had stuck with piano, done more lessons and practicing some more, little things like that, for example. Certainly, over the years, you look back and you go: "Aarghh, what if I had done what this person said to do, back then?". You know, I was a little stubborn when I started out, I was a little anti-pop. I remember I was approached at the time by somebody that wrote some really terrible pop lyrics and I was horrified at the idea of working with this person.... I certainly made my path in music harder for me already since those early days (chuckles)".
To be constantly on tour does not give many windows of opportunity to record a new album. Dana Fuchs is currently promoting an acoustic album of her most famous hits called Broken Down, available exclusively at the venues where she is performing before its release date in November 2015. When it comes to the recording plan of a new studio album, though, Fuchs is not entirely sure when that is going to take place. "It just depends when we can get into the studio. We have a pretty full tour schedule up until November this year. We usually record over the holiday period, that's when everybody is off the road and we can get musicians here in New York. It depends also about what the label wants and what we would like to do and, as you can imagine, there are always a lots of discussions happening on this subject. But we are writing and it will be interesting, as it always happens with my records. I never know the directions they are gonna take until you get into the studio and you feel it. It's like being on a stage, I never like to make a setlist, I like to feel what the audience is up to and what they feel like and then I can kind of call it from there".
Before parting company, there is one of Fuchs' songs buzzing in BBR's head, called Long Long Game, in which she is singing: "Whiskey bound on a whistling train, another town but it's all the same. Take a bow when they call your name, oh baby, that's the price you gonna pay for fame". I cannot stop myself by asking Dana whether that "Whistling Train" has taken her where she wanted to be, in her life and career. "Great question. That is one of my favourite songs on that record and I never knew why and I thank you for that. That Whistling Train may have not taken me where I thought I wanted to be, but for sure, much further from where I was. I feel it's just taking me to where I'm supposed to be and that's when you learn, that is the one thing you really realise. You realise that the notions and the dreams you have, will set you on a path on which you have to be open about whatever the outcome is. If you merely focus otherwise on things like "It's gotta be in this way" then you end up missing out on so many beautiful opportunities around you. So, I guess my Whistling Train is still going".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Rick Phipps)
There are not many better jobs in the world then being a musician. The great thing about being a committed musician is the freedom of expression. That freedom that allows a true artist to express their talent, their instincts and no employer in the world can take that away because it is very personal and pure, therefore uncompromisable.
Tal Bergman belongs, without any shadow of a doubt, to this very special and selected group of artists. Both as a drummer and as a producer, Bergman likes every time to put 110 per cent of himself into his music projects. He is totally devoted and committed to the music cause and its values. His understanding and knowledge of music reaches many different genres, which Bergman manages to combine beautifully with the help of fellow musicians like Joe Bonamassa, Ron DeJesus, Mike Merritt, Renato Neto and Daniel Sadownick. This stellar cast, together with Bergman, forms the Rock Candy Funk Party, an instrumental supergroup now on their second album, called Groove Is King, recently reviewed on our website.
Bergman has kindly accepted to talk to Bluebird Reviews about Groove Is King and his philosophy about music and life in general.
BBR - Tal, welcome to Bluebird Reviews and many congratulations to you and the whole Rock Candy Funk Party for such a stunning record. Considering that you have been intensively live touring in the last 36 months or so, how long did it take to pre-plan the tracks that ended up on Groove Is King?
TB - It took a lot of manoeuvring and we had really short time to make it. The way we approached this record was that we were not going to the studio to record until I had a concept for the whole album in my mind. Once I had the concept clear in my head, then I discussed it with the band, to be sure they were all on board with that and fortunately they all were. Even when I was on the road, I had a little portable studio built in my PC, so every time I was coming up with new ideas, bass lines and interesting grooves, I could keep them with me and work on them. Ron (DeJesus) and Mike (Merritt) did the same, Joe (Bonamassa) had some ideas too and so did Renato (Neto). We had to plan when we had time available, so each of us could get together and cut all the live rhytm sections. I wanted to maintain the same freshness of sound and music essence that we had on our first album (We Want O' Groove). On top of that, whilst each of us brought their own ideas in for the album, we still managed to write new stuff for the record collectively, as we did on our first record, but this time with the understanding I was going to overdub some of the material. All the parts recorded were very well executed and sounding solid and it was a joy to work with my imagination on those perfectly executed parts. Once I finished all the main tracking of the stuff we recorded, I went through the overdubs part, then I sent to Randy Brecker and his wife Ada (Rovatti) the rhythm section tracks and Randy and Ada did the horns arrangements. The process in recording the album took its time, but we made it. I treated the record almost like it was a pop record, with a lot of details on the production side, ensuring that every note was the right one, though still maintaining the feeling and vibes of a live band within the whole production. A lot of work to be done but a lot of fun at the same time.
BBR - The album works so well on many different levels, due to the fact that every single musician, play a vital part in the structure of every track. At which point did you decide to amp up the album's sound by having a horn session recording with you?
TB - That was pre-planned long before we went to the studio. It was something I wanted to do all along, before starting the recording process.
BBR - The modernised cover version of Rock Candy by Brother Jack McDuff is one of the many stand-out tracks on the record and almost an inevitable choice for you, given the band's name. Considering how well the album has been received worldwide in many different charts, including the jazz ones, are you pondering whether, on future albums, we may find more jazz contaminated tunes?
TB - I am sure about it. The reason is that, in my mind, everything that we play, as a band, is always a bit jazzy, because all in all, that is where we came from. Jazz, for me, is such a big word that, every time we get to improvise on a track, we all know we are creating jazz in that moment. I don't take too much notice of how some people may call what we play, when we improvise on a live tune, because myself and the boys know that is fundamentally jazz. Raw sound, no trickeries, it is just us playing and feeling the vibes. We know that, what we are doing in that moment, is the essence of our music belief, as a band and it will always be. That is why we let our musical flow go. And if such flow is good enough for everyone in the band to be recorded on an album, so be it. We all hope that the album is going to sell well. If it does, we are all utterly pleased and not just for economic reasons but also because it demonstrates that people respect what we are, as musicians. Fundamentally, for us, to make an album like this, is a labour of love. The most fascinating part of our band is that we all come from different parts of the world. We all bring in our experiences, background and music knowledge. You cannot have a better definition of being a world music band than what we are and what we try to achieve, in musical terms.
BBR - Now, please, tell us a secret; who had the idea of including Billy Gibbons as a royal MC on Groove Is King?
TB - One day I was sitting with Joe (Bonamassa) and he came up with the idea of having somebody doing some sort of MC intros and segues on the album. I was very keen on the idea and I said: "Let's do it". I then asked Joe who would be his favourite artist playing that role and Joe said: "Well, why we don't call Billy Gibbons?". So I gave him a ring and ask if he could make it and to be in the studio on the following day and he immediately said: "Sure!". I knew some people connected to him and it was a fortunate coincidence he was able to make it to the studio, that day. He was totally supportive of our music and he enjoyed doing the MC part. At first, we thought not to mention Billy on the album notes, because we wanted to surprise our fans. Then we thought: "What the heck, let's reveal it, it might be a further boost to the album". Which I am sure, it proved to be as such. Just between you and I, I didn't ask Billy to do any guitar part because we had already enough guitarists in the band (Bonamassa and DeJesus) and I didn't want to offend anyone! (chuckles)
BBR - Tal, in your splendid career you have been and still are sometimes a producer for other artists and mostly an incredibly talented drummer. When the time comes to combine together those two aspects, as for the case of the Rock Candy Funk Party project, how tricky it becomes to mix the flair and power of improvisation of a musician with the methodical approach of a producer?
TB - It is not easy but I have gotta tell you, for a drummer, it becomes very natural to be a producer too. I am able to have the whole concept of an album in my head, due to the nature of my work as a drummer and, even if I am in the same room with other musicians playing, I am immediately able to tell whether, what we are playing in that moment, is going to the wrong or the right direction. I certainly don't find the two roles conflictual in any way with one another and, as I was saying before, doing what I do as a drummer allows me to be able to spot whether the construction of a tune is going where it should or it is not. I guess that, developing such skills, is part of what I am as a musician and my total commitment to music.
BBR - Has If Six Was Eight been created as an impromptu in the studio, simply by trading licks with Daniel Sadownick or was that something you deliberately wanted to add to the album, as an extra spice to this wonderful music dish that is Groove Is King?
TB - This track is totally live and it was entirely improvised by myself and Daniel, sitting in a room, from beginning to end. There are no overdubs whatsoever on the tune. We had no idea what we were going to do. We just started playing and it just happened. Danny was even playing with his feet, at some point, while we were dueting on the track, which was amazing. I wanted very strongly to have that track on the album because of its rawness and the fact there was no pre-planning at all. I then took my part and Danny's part, separate them and then mix them together into two stereo tracks in my hotel room one night that I was on tour. If you listen very carefully to the tune with an earphone, you will note the stereo effect of myself playing on one side of your earphone and Danny on the other. All the effects you can hear on If Six Was Eight are solely coming from the drumming and the percussions, nothing else. There are all different effects coming in and out that I combined, a bit like a DJ. I wanted to do something that sounds very primitive, from a sonic side but applying such sounds, at the same time, in the modern era by using sound design. Which comes, by the way, by the rhytm itself of what we play. I like the idea of using tecnology to amplify the natural beauty of sounds created by musicians, rather than letting tecnology using me, from a musical prospect.
BBR - Of all the possible covers one would expect on a Rock Candy Funk Party album, Peter Gabriel's Digging In The Dirt took me and surely many listeners pleasantly by surprise. Was there any particular reason behind choosing to cover this song?
TB - Joe (Bonamassa) mentioned this song to me some time ago and I remembered that song having a fabulous groove. And it has some nice funky elements too. The problem we had was, how we were going to take a Peter Gabriel's song, with such amazing production and do justice to it in our way? You can imagine that, for an instrumental band, it was quite a task, especially by trying not to be too cheesy. We started from a strong foundation of drums and bass to make it nicely funky. When it came to the point of creating the structure of the melody, with Joe we decided to use an electric guitar and then doubling it with an acoustic one. Ron was great as always in working with Joe on the guitar parts, Renato (Neto) made an excellent job on the keys and Fred (Kron) took great care of the orchestration. To do the vocals, I called my friend Zia in Norway and, in order to create that incredible effect while she is singing, we did with Zia 30 tracks of vocals to create that magic sound on the tune. I gave Zia total freedom on how to arrange it in the way she thought was best. So, those incredible vocals you can hear on the tune, are all due to her phenomenal ability and musical skills. Randy Brecker once again did a magnificent job on horns too. To top this great team effort, Yossi, our producer, made the whole ensemble sound as funky as ever, which was the best result we could hope for.
BBR - The album is a true kaleidoscope that changes faces and colors so many times and constitutes, in my opinion the fun part of the whole album. How much does this album and the band musical concept in general, reflect your personality and your experiences, as a musician?
TB - It reflects a lot of who I am, although I feel that my music range is even wider of what there is already on this album. I can play some hard rock stuff on drums, then next thing I would do is to listen to some Nat King Cole tracks! This record is a collection of music genres that we all like, as a band. None of the stuff we played on Groove Is King would ever be something we didn't want to play in the first place, because this is what we are and what we like playing. In my opinion, the core thing that ties up the whole album, despite having so many different music layers on it, is the groove. We wanted to create strong vibes, strong grooves on this album, something that would make people move. It doesn't matter if we play rock parts or more quiet one, as long as we are able to create that groove that will make people move. Even on The Fabulous Tales track, the groove is the key part. I also arrived to the conclusion that, nowadays, the average amount of attention span that a music listener is putting on a new record is fairly short, if the record does not engage enough the listener. So why not proposing alternatives on just one record, musically speaking, to music fans? In America, I noticed that many radio stations seem to play just one music genre per time. Maybe there is a bit more purism, in the US, when it comes to music in its globality. In Europe and other part of the world, instead, people seem to be more opened to different types of music. Radio stations would play an hour of jazz, next one they would play funk, rock and so on. So, hopefully, we may sound like a very good music station on a sole record!
BBR - The Fabulous Tales Of Two Bands brought a smile on my face; loud, powerful, a totally unexpected fusion of EDM with 70's rock to close the album. Is this a kind of message for the fans, something like "Expect The Unexpected when you buy our records"?
TB - For sure. We love many kinds of music and we are not snubbing any type of music, as long as such genres provide great grooves. We just loved doing this track, moving the tempo from a Prodigy-like kind of style and bringing it to a Zeppelinesque, orchestral sound. We just loved the idea and we said to each other: "Why not?". It was fun doing it and there is that "nasty" element, in the sound, that we loved a lot. Perfect combination for us. It sums up what our record is and our musical philosophy, it is like "You either love it or hate it", no mid-ways. The record is what we are, is a statement of our love for what we do and what we like the most.
BBR - Your fans love you immensely because you give them love back by being always very amicable, loquacious, spontaneous and smiling in every circumstance. Is this the real secret that makes you one of the most loved music artists?
TB - Thank you, I never thought about it. I am what I am. I like to treat everyone with the maximum respect and I love what I do for a living. And I never forget that, if I manage to do what I do, is because of the love people give back to me. I guess it is a two way street kind of concept. I just love to play my music and try to give good vibes to people. If such people love what I do, it is a great feeling for me. In my personal view, by liking what I do, they become already friends of mine, because we empathise on music and surely, based on that root, there is certainly ground to connect on a human level too with each of them. It is too much work for me to wear a mask and pretending to be who I am not. So, as I feel about my music, I guess my personality is a bit like that, I am what I am, take it or leave it.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Groove Is King is available on Mascot Label Group
Rock Candy Funk Party Official Website
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Jayne Tansey-Patron)
Rewind the clock. It's June 15th and the Royal Albert Hall in London hosts a Tribute Evening to the late great Lead Belly. Among the many guest artists performing throughout the evening, Walter Trout's name is certainly among the most expected to be seen on stage, in this stunning English venue. I have been waiting to talk to Trout for a long time now and no better chance to interview him than tonight's special music event.
Trout is due to come on stage in about 30 minutes and Marie, Walter Trout's wife, kindly reaches me to tell me to do the interview right now. When I enter the Dressing Room, Trout looks visibly tense and almost absent, mind solely concentrated about what is gonna happen in few minutes on stage. When we start the interview, I sense Walter is not really with me and the American Guitarist realises that too, asking me kindly to postpone the interview because he couldn't focus at all on my questions. I struggle to recognise that very same artist I just saw half an hour later. When Marie Trout announces him on stage and after the crowd homages Trout with an almost 5 minutes Standing Ovation, the moment Walter plays the first note, it just feels like he has returned to live again. The 20 minutes set he offered that night had been the first time in 2 years that Trout had been playing on a stage, given his long running battle with liver disease that almost took his life away.
Back few weeks later and talking to Walter Trout is a completely different affair. The American Blues/Rock artist is in great shape and one can easily understand that the night in London had been an emotional roller coaster for him. "It's really good to be back. I never thought I would have been able to and I am overjoyed to be able to be here and talking to you right now. That night in London, was for me a huge milestone of my life. It was one of those moments I shall always remember as one of the biggest emotional experiences of my entire life. And the moment I vividly remember of that night, was, standing in the wings with my guitar on, looking out at that beautiful, incredible venue , hearing my wife introducing me. Hearing her beautiful voice and then walking on stage, having people stand up and just direct all that love at me, Man, that was really intense. I embraced my wife and we both started crying, literally weeping like babies. I remember that part of that night more than the playing part, strangely enough. I hadn't been on stage for almost two years and that moment, has been for me one of the most profound experiences I had ever".
The last album Trout managed to put together, before undergoing the liver transplant that saved his life was a very emotional one, called The Blues Came Calling. A record that sounded almost like a music testament, which must be carrying for Walter Trout certainly painful memories. "That album was very difficult for me. I was very sick when I made that album. I was on a walker and every couple of weeks, I would swell up with liquid in my abdomen. Then I would have gone in and they would put a drain into my abdomen and they would drain out something like twelve litres of liquid out of me. So here I was, being incredibly sick and I would drive to Los Angeles (I live south of L.A.), to the studio, very ill and I would be able, maybe, to play and sing for about an hour and a half and then I would have to tell Eric (Corne), my producer, "Sorry Man, I can't do anymore, I don't have the strength". My hand was cramping too, due to my liver disease and as a result, some days I couldn't play at all. When I felt a tight more stronger, I would have gone in, play a solo guitar part or two but it was, overall, extremely difficult. I was, though, very determined to finish that record because I thought it was going to be my last record ever. You can tell the frame of mind I was by listening in the Blues Came Calling, when I sang "You'll never be the man you used to be". I figured, my life as I know it, it's over and even if I survive, I would be an invalid and won't be able to perform, play or being a good father ever again. I shall be just a vegetable. With that dark frame of mind and being so ill, there were even moments in which I couldn't even sing two lines in a row. I had the strength just to sing one, then stop, get my breath back and then do the next one. And when you have to record each and every song like that, with that pace, because I had no choice, trust me, it was incredibly time consuming. Right now, the Blues Came Calling album is for me a very difficult album to listen to, because just brings back to me the darkness of that time I was living."
That difficult moment of Trout's life and career seems now long gone and Trout has now started touring again in America, although on a slow pace. Among the many messages that Bluebird Reviews received about the return on stage of this fabulous artist, many came from Italy, which unfortunately has not been included on Trout's forthcoming tranche of the European Tour. "I would love to get back to Italy. I love playing there, people are always so gracious with us and so kind and they are a great audience. It just hasn't worked out this year. There are a lot of places I would love to get back to but we are going a little bit slow here. At the moment, given what I have been through I don't feel, at least for a little while, to be able to go at the same pace that I used to. But Italy will be on my tour map, if all plan out well, maybe next year."
Walter Trout is clearly on full steam, remarkably, especially considering what he has been through in the last 24 months. His writing mojo certainly seems to benefit by this new found energy from the American artist and sounds like an album is now ready to be released. "That's a good question and I have a great answer for that. I went through a creative Renaissance and you, being Italian, you know damn well what I am talking about (smiles). When I started writing again, I found out I had so much I wanted to say that the songs just kept pouring out of me at a rate I have never known before. I could just grab my acoustic guitar, sit down and just, boom!, I could write a song in about 5 minutes. One day, I managed to write six songs and I had so much material that we had a hard time figuring out what songs to put on the new album. The album is done now and Eric Corne, my producer, has just finished to mix it. To me, it's a sort of Musical about my life in the past two years and what I have been through. It's a concept album about what happen to me every step of the way and it is called Battle Scars. It starts off with a song called I Am Almost Gone and it's about me, looking into my wife's eyes, with her, trying to be strong and positive but deep inside, we both know underneath that I may probably gonna die. There are also songs, in the album, about me being in the hospital and feeling, at night, that there were people surrounding me that were dying and I was able to hear the pain their families were going to with their departed beloved. Other songs in the album are about my inability to walk at the time and so on. In brief, a sort of journal of those painful days. The final song of the album is called I'm Going To Live Again and it is about me having a conversation with God, asking him about the reason why he decided to keep me here on earth and allowing me to survive. I keep saying to God that I don't deserve to survive because I feel I have been a bad person in my life. When I finally manage to find the reason about me, surviving to all this, I just keep saying to myself that I need to be a better man, now I have been given the chance to do that."
I am wondering if Trout is going to play the songs from the forthcoming album on the current leg of the American Tour but it doesn't sound possible, according to Walter. "Well, we can't play them live right now because of something, which everyone knows about, that is called YouTube. The thing is, if I go out and play them now, by the time the new album comes out, via a vehicle like YouTube, for example, everyone would have already heard the songs and very few would buy the record. The album comes out in October and I guess that, due to the fact I am touring Europe in November, you guys in Europe will be able to hear the new songs."
Trout has been and still is a true blues pioneer, as a solo artist or by being part of great music projects, one for all, the Bluesbreakers. Still, I wonder what really "Blues" means for Trout, should he be able to put into words. "Well, what a question! What it means to me is truth, it means a pure, simple, uncomplicated expression of human feeling. It means a beautiful community, because the blues community got behind me when I got sick and it is an extraordinary community, made of great fans and great musicians. It's that thing that, all my life, by the time I discovered it, as a young boy, gave me the opportunity to realise I had the ability to play the guitar and sing. Once I discovered that, I just realised that blues was all that I wanted to play, it gave me self-respect, it gave me purpose. I feel that, to play music from the depths of my heart and to play as honestly as I can, it's a noble endeavour for me. I feel it is my attempt, in a tiny small way, to make the world a little bit of a better place and do something that is honest and true and cut through all the bulls**t of this world.
Going back to that magic night at the Royal Albert hall in June of this year, Bluebird Reviews had been asked to pass to Trout many messages from fans and fellow artists, welcoming him back on stage, which our website duly did. After so many years in the music business, it must be a fantastic feeling for Walter Trout to get still such amazing love and respect by music veterans or young fellow blues musicians. "It is simply amazing. I mean, like I said, one of the thing that kept me alive while I was sick, was my wife Marie reading me messages, both from artists and from fans. People saying that my music meant something to them, what I do meant something to them. They just don't consider it light-hearted pop fluff, that you hear on the radio but rather something that has got some sort of depth and meaning to it. To get those messages from people, especially when I came back and to hear them saying "Hey man, we are happy for you", it meant the world to me. And what I think as well is, in this modern age which is so full of bad news, I think in a certain way, my survival makes a good news story. After all, I was not suppose to survive, the doctors didn't think I was going to survive, realistically, nobody on the planet thought I was going to survive! But I made it through and that means that there is still hope out there, in the world. We can take bad, horrible situations and we can turn them around and make them into something good."
During the years, old and young generations of music lovers have had the chance to admire and love the many layers of Trout's immens talent as a musician. He infused his music, his songwriting, his guitar style with what life was throwing at him on each of Trout's records. One can just guess what version of the Chameleon Walter Trout we shall see on the next album. "If people is under the impression that I am coming back with low energy, in a very understated, mellow way, they are going to be greatly surprised, because this album is rocking all the way! And I mean, it is fu**ing rocking! I played the opening track for my son Michael and he said to me: "Man, all you need is Robert Plant and you are Led Zeppelin!". There are some little acoustic moments and ballads as well but it is, fundamentally, a high-energy fuelled rocking record through and through. I remember the time I was playing some of the songs at home and my kids were saying: "Jeez, who do you think you are, AC/DC?". It is important, for me, to feel the vibes coming from my family about the album. For instance, Marie, my wife, tells me that the new album reminds her of my early records back in the 90's, when I started, but with more power than back to that time."
To talk to Walter Trout is such a gift. To see him with such an amazing spirit and energy is one of life little great miracles. I wonder what life would have been, for Walter Trout, without music. "I don't know if you have read the book about my life, in particular about some of the things that happened to me back in the days, during my childhood. I really feel that the music saved me, rescued me, as the book title suggests. I think if I hadn't discovered music, there is a good chance I would have ended in a mental hospital or something of that ink. The music gave me an outlet, it's therapy for me. I always had a lot of inner demons in my life, that's why I went through all that drug addiction period. I tried to run away from pain and ghosts and I think that, without the music, I would have become a wreck of a human being."
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Battle Scars will be released on October 25th by Mascot Label Group