Interview taken form the: Lancasteronline
date: Februari 10th 2012
John Waite says he spends most of his time staring through the windshield to see what’s up ahead, rarely taking a glance at the rearview mirror.
Waite has covered plenty of ground during a career that started in 1975 and includes huge hits as a solo artist and with the bands Bad English and the Babys.
When he does allow himself the luxury of looking back, he generally likes what he sees.
"Even though I’ve been beaten up a couple of times in this business,” Waite says during a telephone interview from his California home, "my main income has always been from radio play. I get gigantic amounts of airplay, which is kind of weird. It’s weird to be in that position.
"It’s just recently I’ve looked back over my shoulder at what I’ve done and gone, ‘Not bad.’ I’ve survived so much and I’ve done so much.”
Waite, however, is much more interested in talking about his most recent album, "Rough and Tumble,” which was released last year.
Surprisingly, the title cut went all the way to No. 1 on the U.S. Mediabase Classic Rock chart.
Though it doesn’t begin to rival the popularity of hits like "Everytime I Think of You” (with the Babys), "Missing You,” (as a solo artist) and "When I See You Smile” (with Bad English), the 59-year-old Waite is pleased to have new work recognized.
"Radio always gives me a shot,” says Waite, who will perform Saturday night on a bill with Air Supply at the American Music Theatre. "They always play my stuff. ‘Rough and Tumble’ was No. 1 on rock radio. It shocked me.”
Waite says it’s likely he’ll perform an unplugged set at AMT instead of an electric set with his full band.
He says his unplugged set, however, still includes a bassist and guitarist.
Though he will play the hits, Waite says he’ll also devote time to his new songs.
"I would rather stay home than just come out and wear out the hits and just be that,” he says. "I really would like to always keep it fresh. We certainly have a lot of hits we can throw into the middle of everything.”
Oddly, the album "Rough and Tumble” originally was planned as a five-song EP that didn’t even include the title cut.
Waite recorded five songs with Matchbox Twenty guitarist Kyle Cook in Nashville, Tenn., where he lived before moving to Santa Monica, Calif.
Waite thought he was done recording and went off to Europe for a tour.
"When I came back,” Waite says, "everyone loved the EP so much, and I heard things like, ‘We’ve got to make a record now, John.’ And I was all hissed off and I had no idea what to do because I had made an EP. It was perfect to me.”
There were practical concerns as well, Waite says. He did not have a record deal at the time and his manager thought it would be easier to sell an album than an EP.
Waite didn’t do anything for about four months. When he did return to the studio, it was in California and he went in with a band and knocked out seven songs in about four days. He produced the sessions himself.
The songs included "Rough and Tumble,” "Mr. Wonderful,” a song he co-wrote with Ivan Kral, Patti Smith’s original keyboardist, that was included on "Ignition,” Waite’s 1982 solo album, and a cover of Tina Turner’s "Sweet Rhode Island Red.”
"It’s kind of a fluke that I went in the studio and it worked,” he says. "It still surprises me.”
Though "Rough and Tumble,” because of the way it was pieced together, is something of a Frankenstein record. it works surprising well as a whole.
And it showcases Waite’s voice, which has lost none of its emotive power.
"I’ve always been a rock singer and, left to my own devices, that’s what I do,” he says. "I have blues influences and country influences and folk influences in my musical makeup, but I’m fundamentally just a rock singer. That’s what I do.”
John Waite's time with The Baby's is legendary. His time with Bad English was equally memorable. His solo career, the same. Number One hits across the board. John is not only gracious and accommodating, he's a man with a great sense of humor. He loves playing live and cares about what he presents to his audience. He likes it stripped down. He was backed by Kyle Cook (guitar), Time Hogan (bass), and Rodger Carter (drums). Three-piece rock & roll like it was meant to be played -- heavy on the guitar, but also the song. The set included new and old John Waite songs that were performed perfectly. But it's his voice, his phrasing. That's what sets him apart.
BAM: John, you've always seemed to work with aggressive guitar players...
John: My approach originates from the force of the guitar player. You don't really write rock songs on the keyboard. I mean, a lot of black music, the blues and stuff, is kind of generated on the piano. But I think melodic rock and all that, it gets very kind of cheesy [on the piano], so unless it comes out in the guitar, it's weird, it sounds like something your grandmother would play. So I've always liked to work with very good guitar players, and I have.
BAM: Vocally, it seems like you feed off it.
John: Yeah, I mean, it's like Mick Ronson and David Bowie, or Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. There's always this thing, there's always this unsaid tension between the guitar player and the singer, and they're always looking at each other like, for the missing piece, and it's always happening around the front of the stage. It's like a duel, it's like a bullfight, and it's pretty much what rock & roll is.
BAM: There's the unmistakable sound of your voice, but also your cadence. The way you deliver your lyrics into the song, it's the cadence of your lyrics. Do you approach the lyrics a certain way?
John: Well, the sound of a word is as important as the meaning of the word. Charles Baudelaire, the French poet, wrote his poems to be read in French so you hear the sound of the word and the pause, and then this beautiful-sounding French word for something or other. And you translate that, and all you've got is the meaning. [For me] the meaning of the word has to have a certain angular feel to it, or smoothness to it, or it will sound trite. It's all choices, you know, but I can do it off the top of my head sometimes, where it all rhymes and it makes sense.
John: It's happening at the same time that I'm thinking of the lyric, and I'm making the melody up at the same time that I'm singing. "Missing You" was made up on the spot. "Missing You" came out in two takes. The whole first verse, the whole first chorus, and a lot of the second verse came out in one take, all made up over some chord changes. That only happens once in a blue moon, but you always shoot for that. The Babys wrote a lot of stuff "key of G 1, 2, 3, 4," and you all jump in, and you get the beginnings of a song. And you go back, and you look at where the vowels were and whatever you were singing about, and it would seem to be irreplaceable. You couldn't go back and write another lyric over it. So if that's what you mean by cadence and as a sound, it's very, very important.
John: Wow! Are you sure it wasn't my old Mercedes?
BAM: Don't know (room laughter)
BAM: But there were different versions of songs from Broken Heart on it from the first Babys tour on this tape so you guys broke things down later on in the studio you had obviously already written. Do you still do that?
John: There's no one way to go about it. I mean, there are people that try and record at sound checks. Bad English would do that. It's like, any morsel of a song, you'd run away with it and try to make it a song. But I'm much more about things being fully formed. I mean, if I get inspired by the drum pattern count or something, you can just find yourself vaulting into a song. And they're the good ones, you know. I think if you really labor over things, it sounds kind of labored. You should have a more cruel sense of editing, so you just throw things out and get on to the next idea. 'Cause I mean, I've only got like five songs maybe, or 10 songs, that didn't work. That's pretty much, yeah, when things don't work and you chase after it, it's just rubble.
BAM: It's hard to have an idea and you've been working on it for a couple of hours, and the next thing you know, you're like, "This isn't workin', we gotta shuffle this off."
John: Yeah, but I think you can just turn around with another guitar lick, and somebody can play or say something, and you are just suddenly in a different world again. Whatever that is, that moment, when someone switches on the light. The whole thing can be done like that, very quickly, it's inspirational.
BAM: Ok, I'm gonna go off the beaten path here.
John: By all means.
BAM: Do you have any favorite vices still?
John: (pause) Um, I smoke the odd cigar. I like these Excalibur things, I like those. But that's it, that's the only thing I really do.
BAM: The only one left huh?
John: Yeah, I don't really drink any more, I can't remember what cocaine looks like, I mean it looks like sugar or something.
John: Women. . . well I like to look. . .
BAM: Are you married?
John: No, I'm divorced, but I almost got married a couple of years ago. Again. I was engaged to be married and it kind of blew up. But man, I don't know, I was just thinking last night if anything came along I'd probably love to get married again and have a kid you know.
BAM: Do you have any children?
John: No, I don't...I've always been on the road or leaving, and my life was kind of like -- I hate to say it -- rock & roll, it was very rock & roll. I was always going to America or coming home from America, and when I was married, it was very tough on the marriage. And I think I've missed out on a great deal in life not having a kid, so if it ever came around, I think I would jump on it.
BAM: Do you cook?
John: Me, no. I can make a fairly decent chicken curry. It's kind of out of jar, all the curry stuff is from Britain. Some fresh onions and throw it together. I like Indian food.
BAM: Any musicians you haven't worked with you'd like to work with?
John: Well, I just admire people from a distance. I think working with Alison Krauss was a big deal. I like her. [John re-recorded "Missing You" as a duet with country/bluegrass artist Krauss; in 2007, it peaked at #34 on the Hot Country Songs chart.] I got to spend a lot of time with [bluegrass guitarist] Larry Sparks, and I liked him. I liked Larry's guitar playing, I think he's very gifted. [Bluegrass guitarist/vocalist] Del McCoury. Steve Earle did a record with Del McCoury. There would be country people.
BAM: Do you ever think of giving them a call?
John: Well no, because, I'm on a different path at the moment. You know, you listen to Dylan songs, and you think how masterful that is, and you think, "I'd love to sing that song." And then you think, there's no reason to sing it. You know Dylan's done it, he's done it once and he's done it incredible. And that's the thing about art, you don't have to try and align yourself with something right along side it to get its reflective glory. The point is the song and the status, and what's revealed in the writing. I'm still in awe of music.
BAM: How long are you guys out [on tour] for?
John: Well, we've been out most the year for the European tour, we keep going out. A couple of weeks ago, we did three weeks on the East Coast, did the Carolinas. Went to Akron, Ohio, had a fantastic time there. Then went back to New York City, did B.B. King's. Went to Connecticut, then Massachusetts, then back to Connecticut -- three weeks non-stop. It was great. Then we had two days off and came back to California, did an in-store, and then kicked this off. This, and another week before Christmas. Then we've got a private event a week into the new year. So the gigs are comin' in. Today as we were drivin' up, Tim [Hogan, bass player] says to me, "Did I say I love this life?" And he says it every day. [Laughter.]
Tim: (in the background) no I didn't.
John: Yeah, actually ya did! You did. Even at a sound check, we'll be laughin' at a joke, or we'll be at a truck stop or somewhere in the middle of nowhere at midnight, or in the back of a club talkin' to somebody, we'll be laughin' at something.
BAM: That's one of the things I wanted to ask you. What's the latest joke you've heard?
John: Yeah? This eight-year-old kid told me this joke. It was hysterical. "This duck walks into a bar. He visits the bartender, and he says, 'You got any popcorn?' And the bartender says, 'No, we only serve whiskey.' So the duck turns around and walks out. The next night, the duck comes back in the bar. He looks at the bartender and he says, 'You got any popcorn?' The bartender says, 'No. I told you before, we only serve whiskey.' So the duck turns around and goes out. Next night, the duck comes back in the bar and says to the bartender, 'You got any popcorn?' The bartender says, 'Look, I've told ya for the last time, we only serve whiskey in this bar. If you come back in again, I'm gonna nail your feet to the floor. OK?' The duck turns around and goes out. The next night, the duck goes back into the bar and looks the bartender and says, 'Do you have any nails?' The bartender says, 'No.' And the duck says, 'You got any popcorn?'" [Laughter.] An eight-year-old told me that one. Had me in stitches.
BAM: Love it - I'll remember that one! Well, I guess that pretty much sums it up.
BAM: Yeah. Thanks so much John. Love the new record and can't wait to see you perform tonight.
John: Thanks very much Scott. God bless.
A few years back, John Waite revisited a former No. 1 single of his, "Missing You," re-recording it as a duet with bluegrass star Alison Krauss for his 2007 record "Downtown: Journey of a Heart."
Not surprisingly, Waite had another smash with the duet as "Missing You" cracked the Top 40 on the country charts. (It was No. 1 on the Hot 100 Singles chart in 1984.) What is a surprise is that Waite, a rock star with the Babys, Bad English and on his own, said that country music was his first love growing up in England.
"I had been fascinated with country music all my life," he said during a recent phone interview as he was headed to do a show in Reading, Pa. "I started off with cowboy songs, like Marty Robbins, and then moved on to blues and then it went back to country with Hank Williams and then rock 'n' roll with the Beatles. As a kid, I was fascinated with Brenda Lee and Hank Williams; it was country for me before rock 'n' roll.
"Even now, I'm not that interested in rock 'n' roll, per se. I think it's kind of worn out and it's just some sort of label now for music that's played through amps. A lot of what they call country music nowadays is just rock 'n' roll with a cowboy hat."
Waite and Krauss also recorded a version of Don Williams' "Lay Down Beside Me" for her album, "A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection."
"Alison is the highest note in her field, I believe," Waite said. "I think she's really genuine and a tremendous talent. I was very pleased to be able to work with her on something."
But longtime fans needn't worry, as Waite hasn't "gone country." He is still making fresh, accessible rock music, as evidenced by his latest record, "Rough and Tumble," which has received solid reviews and placed the title track at No. 1 at classic rock radio.
"We had the No. 1 single on classic rock, which we didn't expect at all," Waite, 59, said. "It came out of left field, as they say in America. We're very taken with that."
He'd like for his new work to get some attention from adult contemporary stations, but he knows that can be a difficult thing to pull off.
"Adult contemporary is a lot more eclectic and harder to bury your flag in, because everybody's pulling out all the stops to get on that chart," he said. "But we're just doing what we do best, which is playing live, and we do regional TV and, hopefully somewhere down the line in the next month, we'll do some national TV and that will help. In the meantime, we're just hitting the road."
Waite and his band will be at StageOne at the Fairfield Theatre Company Saturday night, Nov. 19, and fans can expect to hear songs from "Rough and Tumble," as well as tunes from a career that has been successul every step of the way.
Waite has been having fun touring, which he said has "really been heating up since the release of the new record.
"The band's pretty strong live and my voice is everything it ever was and then some. I think it's better than it's ever been, really. It's strong and clear.
"And touring is still fun. We're really enjoying it. It's a nice time of year to be driving around; it's the fall and everybody's happy to be out there working."
And he's happy to be promoting "Rough and Tumble," which features several songwriting collaborations with Kyle Cook, lead guitarist for Matchbox Twenty.
"I was in Nashville and he was in Nashville and we both had some downtime and we met up and it was great," Waite said. "It just happened very naturally and organically. There's some great stuff on the record that we wrote together."
Waite knows it's difficult for the elder statesmen of rock to get exposure for their new music, but he chooses to be accepting of the fact, rather than railing against any seeming unfairness.
"It's the same for everyone," he said. "It's a level playing field, especially with the Internet, where I have quite a following. It's just a matter of getting the word out, so anybody can get in the game and give it their best shot."
Rocking with Ringo
Like many musicians, John Waite was a inspired by the Beatles as he weas growing up. So he was happy to take part in the eighth version of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band in 2003, which also featured Paul Carrack, Colin Hayof Men at Work, and Sheila E.
"That was interesting because it's a bunch of strangers playing together," Waite said. "You show up at rehearsals, that lasted nearly two weeks, and suddenly you're playing every form of music under the sun.
"It was a challenge, it really was. To learn all of those songs and be on stage for two hours -- not just backing up Ringo, but everybody else -- and taking the mic and singing a couple of my hits, it was something I didn't take lightly."
The former lead singer of The Babys and Bad English returns to the area on Saturday, July 30, as the main event for the 17th annual Meijer St. Clair Riverfest in St. Clair County, along with a bunch of other great acts.
"I just mentioned to my bass player that we were going back to Michigan again, and he said: ‘We were just there and now we’re going back?’ And it’s OK with me,” Waite said in a recent telephone interview.
"I know we played the Stars & Stripes Festival last year and when I was with The Babys we played a lot at the Royal Oak Music Theatre. It’s one of the markets that we broke out in early. It’s a great state, a truly beautiful state and the people are always so nice to us.”
Waite, who turned 59 on July 4, is still a road warrior after three decades in show business, first with The Babys back in the late 1970s, when he gained recognition for such hits as "Isn’t It Time” and "Every Time I Think of You,” then as a solo act and winning again with "Missing You.”
After a stint with Bad English in the late 1980s, he returned to solo work.
"Yes, I’ve been on tour for 30 years now,” he said by phone while shopping in Santa Monica. "But I love this lifestyle. I’m never coming off the road — not if I can help it. If people want to hear my music, I’m going to play it.”
Waite’s most recent project is "Rough & Tumble,” an 11-song set released last February that quickly climbed the classic rock charts. Five of the songs were co-written by Matchbox Twenty’s Kyle Cook.
The rocking tunes have a riveting feel with raw guitar licks, but there are some ballads as well, including the single "If You Ever Get Lonely,” which was crafted in Europe.
"I try to write the kind of songs that will stand the test of time. I’m not trying to sound commercial, I just write my style of songs. I am influenced by country and blues but I’m always trying to progress and move forward,” he said.
When he surveys the current musical landscape, Waite admits there’s not much that grabs his attention these days. And don’t even ask about Justin Bieber.
"I have no idea who you’re talking about,” he said. "There will always be something new coming along. There will always be a kid somewhere with a chip on his shoulder, playing guitar in New York or Detroit who will come along and change our lives with new music.
"And it will have nothing to do with a suit behind the desk at a record company, it will be something organic. In the music industry, the A&R guys are supposed to be about artists and repertoire and discover new acts. But to me, A&R stands for ‘always wrong.’”
(Updated: Friday, August 5, 2011 12:52 PM PDT)
As a solo artist, and with the groups The Babys and Bad English, John Waite has hit the Billboard charts numerous times including his No. 1 single "Missing You” in 1984.
Waite will be performing many of his hits when he takes the stage at Brixton on the Redondo Beach Pier Friday, Aug. 5. But he is also promoting his latest solo album, "Rough & Tumble,” which was released earlier this year. The title track has already reached No. 1 on rock radio, and the newest single, "If You Ever Get Lonely,” which Waite calls a "hell of a song,” is ready to hit the radio airwaves.
Born in Lancaster, England, Waite, 59, joined The Babys in 1976. The band released five albums in the U.S. on Chrysalis from 1977 to 1980. The band had its greatest success with the 1977 single, "Isn’t It Time,” off the band’s first self-titled album, which reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. "Everytime I think of You,” which was off its third album, "Head First,” also reached No. 13 on the charts in 1979. The group broke up the following year.
Waite released his first solo album, "Ignition,” in 1982, which had the hit "Change” that was later reissued for the "Vision Quest” soundtrack. But it was his follow-up album, "No Brakes,” in 1984, that featured "Missing You.” The song, co-written by Waite, went to No. 1 on the Billboard 100. "No Brakes” reached No. 10 on the album charts, went gold and also had the hits "Restless Heart” and "Tears.”
After two more albums and hits like "Every Step of the Way,” "If Anybody Had a Heart” from the "About Last Night …” soundtrack and "These Times are Hard for Lovers,” Waite joined the supergroup Bad English, which was formed in 1988, and included members of The Babys and Journey. The band released two albums, "Bad English” in 1989 and "Backlash” in 1991. "Bad English” had a big hit with the power ballad "When I See You Smile” in 1989, which went No. 1, and "Price of Love,” which reached the top five on the Billboard charts.
Waite took a break following the band’s breakup, but since then he has released six albums including this year’s "Rough & Tumble,” his 10th solo album.
Waite recently spoke to The Beach Reporter about his long career in the music industry while taking a break before taping a live show in Chicago. He’s currently on the road with local musician Shaun Hague.
Tell me about your new album, "Rough and Tumble.”
I started recording it in January and did five songs in Nashville with Kyle Cook from Matchbox 20. I went from there to a European tour. It was going to be an EP. David Thorne was a co-producer on some of it, on the five songs actually. I got back from Europe and management wanted to make it into a full record. I was keen on putting out five songs because I thought no one had done that recently. I was a bit stymied on what to do next. I hadn’t a clue. I thought about doing some The Louvin Brothers songs, but that wouldn’t balance the record. I thought about putting some Wax (1960s British band) stuff in there, but I thought that would demean what was already there. I put it off as long as I could. In August last year I finally had to make a move. I gathered up some songs I hadn’t used and went into the studio. I wrote "Rough and Tumble” with the guitar player. I did a remake of "Mr. Wonderful,” an old track from my first solo album. I covered Tina Turner’s "Sweet Rhode Island Red.” With the songs I had written it was a handful of pretty hardcore songs. It was great. It was a whole different element, but they seemed to work really well ... I think we got the album by sure luck. I think it was a fluke. I think it was running into the wind. We managed to pull off almost the impossible. It’s a great little record.
How is it different than your previous solo albums?
I haven’t made a solo album with new songs on it for about five years. Five years ago I cut "Downtown,” and that was a remake of all the different songs I’d done. I did a duet of "Missing You” with Alison Krause. I wrote a song called "St. Patrick’s Day.” I did a Bob Dylan cover ("Highway 61 Revisited”). But the songs were recuts ... so it’s hard to say what’s different about this record other than it brings me back to the driver’s seat, writing new stuff and producing. If I were given a deadline now, like two months to write a new record, I would throw myself into it with the same sort of enthusiasm. It’s just great to work. When you’re working you kind of know what you’re doing. You know who you are and where you’re going. Once the silence kicks in, you get a little bit lost.
Do you still enjoy the road?
Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes you travel all day to get where you’re going and you check into some hotel. It’s late at night, and you think, "What am I doing?” But sometimes you check into a great hotel ... the performances never change. I mean that’s always great. That’s why you come. It’s amazing how fired up you can get quickly. It’s like a switch. You walk out in front of a crowd and you go for it. As long as I feel that I’ll be doing this.
You have had an unusual career in a sense that you had success in three different aspects of your career with The Babys, your solo career and with Bad English. Most of the time musicians don’t have that kind of success at all.
I did an interview yesterday and a guy asked me what I most proud of. I said, "The whole thing.” Because as you get older and you look back over the decades you think, "How the hell did I survive that?” or "How the hell did I make that kind of record against that kind of opposition?” So I think it has been a brave life. I didn’t punk out and go corporate. I think I’ve always done it with a certain amount of panache, but I think I’ve always led with my chin. I think I’ve always stepped forward. Looking back at it, it’s quite reckless in some aspects, but it’s good because of that. I don’t think I’ve ever really (screwed) up and a lot of people do.
I watched an interview you did and you talked about The Babys and how you fell into that group in a way …
It’s not that I necessarily fell into it. The opportunity was there. They didn’t have a singer. They didn’t have a bass player and they couldn’t write songs. I could write songs, sing and play bass, all in a primitive way, but in a very committed way. I look back at some of the very early stuff I wrote for The Babys and it seems so adult. It seemed so mature for the age I was when I wrote it. If it hadn’t have been for that situation, I never would have made it any other way. I could play ... but it was so hard to get a record deal. It was so hard to survive. There were so few opportunities to get to the next level, to actually play gigs. It was the Holy Grail to get a record deal. That manager and the guitar player being "Let’s put a band together,” that was my way of entering into the next level. I had just come back from America. I was broke and I had nowhere to go.
After The Babys you went solo and had a huge hit with "Missing You”...
Well, I moved to New York. I went back to England and got married. Then I came back to New York. I spent two years in New York and make the "Ignition” record and it had "Change” on it. That came out and the record company kind of dropped the ball completely and it killed me. I went back to England and quit. I lived a very quiet life in the country with my wife. That was the end of it for me. I had enough. A couple of lawyers got me out of the record contract at great expense. I came back and then I cut "Missing You.” But that was about two or three years after leaving The Babys.
With "Missing You” you were on MTV a lot. It seemed every other minute you were on.
It was great. I used to live on 72nd Street in Columbus and I knew all of the old ladies who would walk their dogs. I knew all the old guys in the park and the girls who worked behind the counters and in the shops. I hadn’t any money. Some would buy me a drink or slip me a sandwich or whatever because I was really struggling. After I went home from New York I came back to live there after I was No. 1 and I would walk down Columbus Avenue and all the people who knew me when I had nothing, it was like being the neighborhood success story. I think that meant more to me than being No. 1. I love New York so much and it was such the right way to go about it. It wasn’t cheap. It was really hard paid for and they were proud of me.
"Missing You” has had incredible longevity between your solo hit to Tina Turner’s cover version to your duet with Alison Krause, what is it about that song that has lasted nearly 30 years now?
It’s a very simple song. It was written over somebody else’s chord changes in the studio in two takes. I sang through the guitar solo. I made up the melody on the spot and I made up the words on the spot. It took about 10 minutes to write the whole thing, but it’s all blues. It’s all that phrasing that you hear in the blues singers and the Detroit soul singers. It’s got those pauses. The music speaks through the vocal. I think that might have a lot to do with it, it’s from that place. It’s about denial and for a guy to sing about denial is, I think an unusual aspect of masculinity. I think it’s a strange thing to admit to.
Were the blues important to you?
Incredibly. I was raised on cowboy music. I always liked Marty Robbins. That was my first inkling of what America was musically. Then my cousin Michael started playing me Hank Williams when I was about six and Big Bill Broonzy when I was about seven. So I got Big Bill Broonzy and Hank Williams together played for me in a room by someone that loved me, that cared for me. From there it kind of hit me through all sorts of different things that were American. It all goes back to the blues.
What the main influence for Bad English? How did that band come about?
Did you have a good time with that group?
It was odd. It was very hard work to bring it to something that ... I think some of the songs are great. I think the albums stand up ... but it was such a struggle to make it that good that it was uneasy.
Did you hit the road solo after Bad English broke up?
I went back to New York and took a year or two off and didn’t do anything. I thought at that point I really had enough, I was just sick of the whole thing. The music business is such an intense business. I wanted to do things that meant something to me. There was a guy down the street, Terry Ellis, who used to run Chrysalis Records. He bought a house about half a mile away. He signed The Babys really and he offered me a record deal with his new label. I made the "Temple Bar” record. That was really the beginning of a whole new life. I became interested in song writing again.
Do you live in California now?
I live in Santa Monica.
How did you end up in Santa Monica?
I made an album called "When You Were Mine” (1997). It was one of the stronger records I’ve made. I made it in New York City. I was burning the candle at both ends big time because it’s New York. I thought, "I can’t sit around here waiting for the record to come out. There’s no future in it so I think I’ll go to California for a year.” My manager was out there at the time. I thought, "It would be good to have a change.” I went on a serious tour with Journey and Peter Frampton and at the time I had quite a bit of money in the bank. I was going on the road for three months and I was renting a place. So I thought I’d buy somewhere so at least I would have my money tied up and it would give me a place to live. So I bought a beautiful huge place in Santa Monica and splashed out.
With one of the most unmistakable voices in pop music, John Waite enters his fifth decade in the record business with an excellent new 11-song album ROUGH & TUMBLE (which hits stores today).
The former Babys and Bad English frontman, Waite is perhaps best known for his 1980s solo hit song "Missing You” and the NO BRAKES album from which is came from.
Yet, despite the fame that came with that track, Waite continued to follow his own muse – ignoring trends and fads, and creating a rich body of work including the superb 1990s solo records TEMPLE BAR and FIGURES IN THE LANDSCAPE.
ASSIGNMENT X recently spoke with Waite in an extensive and exclusive interview where he discusses the evolution of his new album, as well as his stellar career.
Part 1 starts now …
ASSIGNMENT X: On ROUGH & TUMBLE, your voice still sounds so perfect. Some singers from the ‘70s and ‘80s, their voices are not as sharp, but your voice still sounds amazing – how do you keep it your vocal chords in such great shape?
JOHN WAITE: I still smoke about three cigarettes a day and I don’t warm up before a show – I really have no idea where it comes from. It’s adrenaline. It’s being in the moment, it’s not warming up that makes it believable I suppose. I don’t know how it works, so I don’t really go there. When I start writing songs, I don’t really understand how I do it either. I think once you know, it become hack and predictable, so I’ve always waited to the very last minute to throw myself in and it seems to work. I’m lucky I suppose.
AX: I’m curious how much last year’s live album IN REAL TIME informed ROUGH & TUMBLE? I feel some of that tightness from the live album has bled over into the new album.
WAITE: IN REAL TIME was made during a very dark period for me. My personal life was just dark and I was just finding my feet again. The live album came, and all the energy and angst and musical ambition all crystallized at the same time. The band was really ready to do it. Everybody was ready. I got the production credit, but it was really the band playing live. There’s no overdubs on that record. I was very aware of the arena rock bands making records with synthesizers and edits while coming on stage and playing along to tapes. I was really pissed about it. I could see people being duped, and everybody seemed to be going along with it. That was part of it. I wanted to do something that was raw and true and real like the old ‘60s bands do. I used to go to my local university in Lancaster [England] on Friday nights to watch The Who, Free, Fairport Convention. You name it. Paul McCartney came through there once. They were unbelievable bands and they all played live. Nobody’s doing it anymore. That was why the live album came out the way it did.
When I got into the studio [for ROUGH & TUMBLE], I was insistent on it being simple. I didn’t want it to be dressed up. I thought the songs should have more humanity. That’s what people look at at the end of the day – they look for something that’s speaking to them, not a wall of effects and double tracking.
AX: Why was it such a dark period for you?
WAITE: I lost my dad. Once you deal with grief, you really start to reassess what’s going on – and loss like that. It reminded me that life is short. My own time here is limited and to get on and live while you got it. That really informed the music.
AX: Can you talk about selecting songs, writing songs and deciding what the shape of the album was going to be?
WAITE: I wrote four with [Matchbox 20 guitarist/songwriter] Kyle Cook in Nashville the previous year and I had one in my back pocket called "Peace of Mind.” We cut those five in Nashville. That was it. It was going to be E.P. I split for Europe to start a three-week tour while it was being mixed and when I got back, there was this murmuring in the background of "maybe we need more tracks.” I was trying to ignore that as much as possible, because I was finished with the record. I gave it my best shot. I wandered around for three months thinking, "what am I going to do now?” I couldn’t think of anything to put with those tracks, it was finished for me. I closed the door on that project. I guess I got up one day in August, and thought "if ever I’m going to do it, it’s now,” so I put the Tina Turner’s song "Sweet Rhode Island Red” on a piece of paper and "Hanging Tree” underneath that. I knew those two songs. I thought I would re-record "Mr. Wonderful” [from IGNITION] as a bonus track for Germany and "Shadows of Love” was sitting around that the record company liked a lot.
Me and my guitar player Luis [Maldonado], wrote "Rough and Tumble” before we went into the studio and when I was staring out the window, this guy named Jamie Huston rang up and said, "you remember that song we wrote, somebody wants to do it.” I couldn’t even remember the song, he MP3’d the song, and I put that in there too. That was "Skyward.” Alison Krauss suggested "Further the Sky” which was this incredibly sad, lovely song by Gabe Dixon. There was one more song I couldn’t finish, but everything that was in front of me, I used. I hadn’t a choice.
AX: It was that quick?
WAITE: We re-arranged and cut and recut, and just went berserk for three days. It was like a dogfight. It was a funny dogfight. There was a lot of laughing and good times and doing something that was serious. At the end of it, I didn’t know what we got because we worked so quickly. I went back to England to visit my mother, and when I came back I oversaw the mixes and the edits. It all worked out when I put the songs together and the management and I sequenced it. I thought, "Not bad.” I stood back from it and thought it was pretty great. It took awhile for it to sink in, but it is perhaps the most full tilt record I’ve made, but I did it like sleep walking. I just made choices very quickly. I had no idea how it happened. I probably couldn’t do it again.
AX: I’m curious about you wanting to redo "Mr. Wonderful” over something else.
WAITE: I had been checking out iTunes, and you can go on iTunes in Germany and see what’s selling and what people like. I would see that "Mr. Wonderful” was number two. Whenever I went to Germany, it brought the house down. It was a big song in Germany. I was looking for song on any level. I thought, "we play that live, we could cut that between other songs and get one more song for a bonus track, even if it’s for Europe.” That’s how it came into being. We played it as the guitar version, rather than the piano version. It’s even more punk than the original. I just kept it.
AX: "Shadows of Love” was left off the U.S. release. It’s a great song, but why was it put on the European release only and not the U.S.?
WAITE: We thought it was too straight-ahead. Going into the record, the Europeans thought it was the best thing since sliced bread and I couldn’t make my mind up. We thought while we were mastering the record, we have enough songs for a great American record, leave it off and if we change our mind, we’ll stick it back on. Like I said, we worked so quickly, I might have made a mistake of it. I don’t know. Maybe it’s going to on the next pressing of the record. [Editor’s Note: It’s available as a single download through iTunes and other e-tailers]. I’m not making a lot of decisions here. The album seems to have a life of its own.
AX: "Sweet Rhode Island Red” sounds as close to the Babys as you can get – and it’s a cover!
WAITE: Thank you. Well, the guy in the Babys who understood black music or listened to black music was me. The other guys didn’t really follow black music and it took me awhile to understand that. When I look back on it thirty years later, I get it. At the time, I didn’t. Blues and country were really instilled in me as a kid. The other guys didn’t have that. They were more into the rock thing or progressive rock or whatever is they liked – [Led] Zeppelin. I was kind of off listening to Hank Williams, Tina Turner, Booker White and Etta James and all those great singer-songwriter people for America. I also had a dash of folk in me as well. I came form a very eclectic place and the others knew maybe one thing which was rock. So whatever I turn my attention to, it’s going to have that touch really.
WAITE: Those are new songs I wrote with Kyle. That was that Nashville, Americana rock stuff. The album is a balance. For all its simplicity, it’s still done with craft. It’s two people thinking it throughout instinctively. Kyle is one musical guy. I fly by the seat of pants, making up everything on the spot and he’s more careful. I think the two things acting together was something neither of us expected.
ASSIGNMENT X: With the music industry so fragmented, how do you feel you fit in with the industry now?
JOHN WAITE: There’s been such attention given to this record. It’s been [in the top ten] of the Classic Rock charts. For me to come out and start doing that is interesting. There is a huge amount of respect for the Babys and for me. I’ve been sort of on the outs a little bit, I didn’t want to play the game, I don’t know how to, but this album is so important, it’s hard to look past it. Knock on wood.
But, quite honestly though, I don’t want to fit in. If I wanted to fit in, I wouldn’t have made the last albums I had made. I’m not chasing after a dollar. I’m not fitting in to get a Grammy so much. I would love to have a Grammy, but I’m not thinking about it. I don’t look at music like that. I don’t write for the public. I write for myself and then the craftsmen in me puts it into a record.
AX: Do you think the music industry has shot itself in the foot over the last ten years?
WAITE: I look at the mainstream and I can tell you in the first four bars where they stole the song from and who the A&R guy is and why they’re doing it. It’s just crap. I look at it now as the last days of Rome. First the record companies went, because they were redundant with the internet and what’s left is fighting tooth and nail to be as mainstream as possible and dumb it down to the point where it can move loads of units. Someone once said, A&R stands for "Always Wrong.” I thought that was the greatest thing anyone ever said.
AX: It really seems the long term relationships between artists and record labels has gone away, for the most part.
WAITE: These are the days of AMERICAN IDOL and DANCING WITH THE STARS. This is like 1984, I mean in the George Orwell sense. It’s commercialism and capitalism and the economy of it is a complete dead end. When the record labels first started out, there were these eccentric guys that made a lot of money really quickly who would get behind certain artists and stick with them, because it was like a hobby. As the companies got bigger, they had shareholders and all these big corporate people got involved and when the shareholders were meeting at the end of the year it became "where’s the money.” It’s not about "where’s the art” it’s about "where’s the money.” So all the artists slink off and make their own records and all the idiots can’t wait to make records for the company. It’s like the end of ANIMAL FARM. It’s George Orwell again. All the animals turn into the pigs and it’s kind of like one big banquet of greed. It is what it is. I have no expectations of it. There are still some great artists out there who really have an edge. P!nk has it – she’s a great singer. You have to look for these people. They’re out there. A lot of them exist.
AX: And with the record labels falling part, anyone can record an album now with the way technology is. So in some ways, the music has been taken back by individuals to some extent. You don’t need a label, you have yourself and the internet.
WAITE: In the old days, you get like maybe 13 or 14 points of profit. That means the record companies would take something like 60 to 70 points, after you paid them back for everything. None of this has been lost to me. Right now, there’s someone in the East Village trying to write a song, and in four years time, it will be number one, and those people will always be somewhere in a small room trying to write the next philosophical toe tapper and it’s going to change your life and the record companies can’t do anything with that. If you want to get behind it, it will happen. There are bands that are going to keep coming and people are so ready for something that’s true, it will always do well.
AX: Why has it taken so long for the Babys to get their due in the states – there hasn’t even be a remastering of the original albums yet.
WAITE: Everything to do with the Babys and the record label [Chrysalis] is dark. There’s no denying it. The people who could f*ck us up did and the trueness of it lived through the rest of what happened. It’s a classic case of a band coming out nowhere and going straight back there. The businessman and the managers and the whole thing f*cked it all up. I think after HEAD FIRST, it was a countdown to the end. We enjoyed playing live, we made a couple of records. After the first three records, it had been one hell of a ride and all we wanted to do at that point was want to play which we did for another three years and that’s how it was meant to go.
AX: Which is your favorite Babys album?
WAITE: It’s either BROKEN HEART or HEAD FIRST, and it’s probably HEAD FIRST, because we had two cracks at making it. We handed the album in and it was like a solo album. The band had stopped writing, really, and I was sequestered away in my apartment with an acoustic guitar and I wrote songs like "California,” but the band was tapped. They weren’t really songwriters in that sense. I was doing as much as I could, after putting all these things together for the first two records. We handed it in, there was a lot more acoustic guitar kind of thing in it on it – "California” was almost country. I was listening to a lot of period Bob Dylan. I loved there was so much to learn and I was trying to step forward and the record company was incensed. They didn’t know what to do with it.
There was a lot of trouble in the band and the band broke up. There was three of us left. We were given six thousand dollars and told to make the album right. If we wanted to stick with it, it was six grand. We went back in. We cut four songs, "Head First,” "Love Don’t Prove I’m Right,” "I Was One” and "Every Time I Think Of You” and we went back in, rethought it and wrote it all in about two or three weeks, then recorded it in another week. It cost nothing to do it. They were the best songs. We had two cracks to make the record. When we stripped it down, it was really good. It was either make it right or go home and we all felt we could give it one last try.
Coming out of that, I was exhausted with it. It was like having a day job and a night job and going to college. At the end of that, I was just through being so plugged into the band. I just wanted to sing. We did two more records, but there was a generic thing to those last two records. The band felt independent and stronger, with me just being a singer and not being so hands on. It felt only fair to try new ideas. The songs were not as good, but a helluva thing to play live.
AX: I discovered the Babys with ON THE EDGE, so I’m partial to that one.
WAITE: Three or four things on that were stupendous – "Turn and Walk Away,” "Darker Side of Town,” "Post Card,” and "Gonna Be Somebody.” They sound like HEAD FIRST to me. I think at that point, I was turning to writing with the band, picking up the bass, and saying "no this.” At the same time, Jonathan Cain left, and was helping Journey write songs and he would came back every couple of weeks and look at us like he didn’t care and then disappear again. It was a tough period, but we managed to turn out half a great record.
AX: When you started your first solo album, was it liberating after the breakup of the Babys?
WAITE: I moved to New York City and got a little one-room apartment with a mattress on the floor on 77nd street opposite where John Lennon got shot. I got there about five months later. was completely by myself. I arrived with a Telecaster and a bag of clothes and the record company gave me $200 a week to live and it paid the rent. I spent a year writing [IGNITION] and I got hooked up with Ivan Krall from Iggy Pop’s band and Patty Smyth [who sang backup]. We wrote a majority of the record and made it at the Power Station. It had much more of an urban feel. I was done with California really, I was just all about New York City – I still am really.
AX: But you live here Los Angeles now …
WAITE: Yeah, about ten years ago, I moved out here to do a record called WHEN YOU WERE MINE. My manager was out here. I came out to keep an eye on it – then I went on the road and I was living out of suitcase. Eventually I just bought a really nice place in Santa Monica to come home to. I don’t know how long I’m going to stay here. It’s great to be here, but I want to work and get back on the road. I miss the East Coast.
AX: Can you talk about "Change” – another great song.
WAITE: It came in the mail one day. I didn’t write that song. I rewrote some of the versus. I just heard it, and said "I’ll do that song. It’s pretty much a hit and it sounds like me.” I was writing with Ivan, and it fit in with the stuff I was writing with Ivan. Being a producer as well, a music person who could see that, I thought it spoke and it had a pretty good message.
AX: NO BRAKES was a huge album and it was your bestselling record to date.
WAITE: That was like 2 million. I had gone back to England after IGNITION, and quit and got married. I lived in a tiny cottage and I was going to disappear. I had enough of the music business to last me a lifetime. Two lawyers from New York got me out of my contract with Chrysalis, and they came back to EMI. And Jim Mazza was the head of EMI at the time, who is now my manager. Jim and Gary Gersh, the A&R guy, took real good care of it. They were extremely respectful and intelligent people, and what you got was a tremendous record. It was the first time I had been treated like an artist. The Chrysalis people just looked at you like you were an idiot.
AX: It’s a perfect album too – one great song after another and it flows so well.
WAITE: It’s a rock album. It was made very quickly as well. It’s like when you have a lot to say, somebody starts counting something off and before you know it, you’re singing something over the top of it. It’s this Rose Bowl of words, poetry, literature, headlines, scribbles – all floating around behind my eyeballs. As soon as I hear a melody or somebody shout "G” – it’s all there. I don’t know where it comes from. It kind of amuses me.
AX: Wasn’t "Missing You” a late addition to that album?
WAITE: We finished the record completely, they were just mixing it and I knew we hadn’t got a single. I knew there was something missing and I went and wrote this song with two guys I knew [Mark Leonard, Chas Sandford]. They had a tape of something they were working on – I said "put it on the speakers and I’ll sing along the top of it” and out came "Every time I think of you, I always catch me breath.” And I used "every time I think of you,” to get me started, because it was the name of a Babys song and presto, I got right through to the second verse, without changing a word – "I ain’t missing you at all.” That’s the magic of songwriting – the un-self-conscious thing. If you can stay un-self conscious, you’ll do great things. If you’re always looking at the media and seeing what they think of you, you’ll just make product and I have no interest in that stuff.
AX: The irony of songs like "Missing You” and The Police’s "Every Breath You Take are they sound like great love songs, but you listen closer to the lyrics and they’re actually kind of bitter.
WAITE: There’s angst all over it. I think U2’s "With or Without You” has the same thing. It’s a coin being flipped – one minute you see it as heads, and then you see it as tails. It’s negative and positive and that’s life – and that’s what great songs have – they have both angles at the same time.