Legendary Rock April 29th 2014
Legendary vocalist/songwriter John Waite has a lot going on with a new album "Best” (featuring original, live and re-recorded classics) and a new single for "Missing You 2014″ on iTunes as well as another summer run of tour dates. Some of those dates include this weekend’s Frontiers Records Rock Fest in Italy May 3rd and a special "Evening With John Waite” May 27th at the Grammy Museum Clive Davis Theater in L.A. I spoke with John about his classic music with The Babys, Bad English and as a solo artist; read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking with us John. Congratulations on the release of your new "Best” album which comes on the heels of your live album "All Access”. How are things going these days?
John Waite: Busy, touring heavily. We really like to play a lot of gigs. After the "Rough and Tumble” album there was really nowhere for us to go but on the road, it’s just what we do and it’s the fun part of what we do.
LRI: I’m glad you mentioned "Rough and Tumble” the album you put out on Frontiers in 2011. To me, that album was one of the better ones released that year and it felt like you were back doing that style you really excel at. Do you think the overall feel of that album led you down the path of more tour dates and then documenting it with the live album?
John Waite: Absolutely, that was reason for making the "Rough and Tumble” album to begin with. We had done lots and lots of shows leading up to that and I’m standing on stage singing (Babys hit) ”Isn’t It Time” and the band sounds great but I’m thinking "Why am I singing ‘Isn’t It Time’?…I mean it’s a great song and all but thanks a lot and good night”. I thought I needed to write new songs that I could perfom live in front of these big audiences. I had probably gone off after "Bad English” to more of a singer/songwriter, more lyric driven material, which is something that’s stayed with me actually. I thought there was a sort of "crassness” to that big sound that Bad English had, so much so that I just went in another direction completely after I left the band. I made a couple of records that I am really proud of like "Temple Bar” and "When You Were Mine” but I wasn’t trying to appeal to any audience. I was just writing the records I felt I needed to write.
LRI: Not writing to a certain demographic….
John Waite: No, no, just the opposite. If you "got it” great, if you didn’t, "Thanks for coming”. There were songs that I had to write and it was like a spiritual thing for me. I had gotten so sick of big, glossy production and the same old, same old sound. Everybody had the exact same sound and at a certain point I had to make those records.
LRI: I liked your take on "I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”….
John Waite: (laughs)….you see? I was living in New York City and writing a very autobiographical record and I was leaning towards country ever so slightly. I was falling in love again with all the country greats. The songs had real depth, they were songs that were almost biblical in how some of them were arrived at and some of them had dual meanings and lessons. They were songs about crime and family and love and to some extent that all had meaning to me and my life. I was living in the middle of a pretty fast life in New York City, trying to write songs that were reflective songs and it took me away from that classic rock, bigger than everything sound. I mean, everybody was just bigger guitars and bigger drums and everybody singing in the same style as everybody else. At some point it was like, "Ok, Jesus Christ, this is supposed to be art isn’t it?”. I was going in the opposite direction of all that. I wanted to make music that was more about the performance and the song rather than the production and the style.
LRI: When your new band plays a classic like "Missing You” or "Change” it somehow infuses more energyinto the tracks than the original recordings I hear in my head. Do you guys rehearse constantly in addition to playing a lot of gigs?
John Waite: No, in fact we never rehearse (laughs). This band is never rehearsed. We have long soundchecks and then we just play. This band is never rehearsed and I can’t remember the last time I have. We did a festival about 7 years ago in Britain and we headlined it. We had a rehearsal in the guitar player’s hotel room to run over the songs, that’s the last time I remember officially rehearsing. I like that about us and I think that it plays to our strengths as a band and reminds me of some of my favorite bands like Free and bands like that that are blues based. I’m a blues singer with power not an arena rock singer and quite honestly it’s not arena rock music. Some of the songs themselves like "Back On My Feet Again” from the Babys years sounds like it could be arena rock but in its more innocent days not in the later years where it just got bigger and bigger and more and more showbiz. The band we have right now is a great band, we are very happy, we’re good friends and we play great together and we’re having a ball.
LRI: I interviewed the Babys guys recently and they put out some new music with a new singer and played out live as well. Is your happiness with your current band part of the reason you weren’t interested in a Baby’s reunion?
John Waite: I’m not interested in ANY reunion, the Babys or otherwise for that matter. I wouldn’t want a reunion of the band I had ten years ago, it’s nothing personal, there’s just no reason to. It’s like any divorce. I mean, I haven’t seen those guys in 30 plus years and there was a lot of acrimony when we split up. It wasn’t like "Ok, Thanks for the memories guys”. We were in a bad way. We owed the record company a million dollars and we had worked our hearts out and we got nothing. It was a tough time and it was tough to accept that, I quit and went back to England and got married. I wish them the very, very best though. I think Tony and Wally play great together and they deserve to play those songs because they were as much a part of that band as I was, god bless them.
LRI: You definitely got to see some stupid shit in the industry for all the success you had. Most famously, your label Chrysalis messed up and didn’t submit your megahit album "No Breaks” for it’s platinum selling status even though it sold well over platinum. That’s messed up.
John Waite: Yeah, yeah. There’s been some bad stuff. It sold two million records and was only certified gold. I don’t even know if I got paid for it you know and now Chrysalis is now part of EMI. It was and is a very weird business. I’ve got my own record label now and have been putting records out on my own label myself lately. I don’t think you can really make art anymore and be on a label because I think everything is about money so much that it’s not even possible. I think everything is controlled right down to the last note played on the last track.
LRI: Do you think it was always about money, even back in the Babys days but you just didn’t know it or were blind to the ways of the industry?
John Waite: Umm yeah… Though honestly, money never meant that much to me. I haven’t been hungry since I was about 30 when I moved to New York City and had nothing, nothing at all. There were times where I didn’t have enough to eat. I put a band together and put a record out and it went nowhere and I went back and did it again. Since then, I’ve made money just by my songs, "Missing You” alone, if I lay in bed all year and watch TV all my bills are paid, the Babys still get an enormous amount of airplay so there’s that but I took the long way around for sure.
LRI: You mentioned the Bad English years being a bit too processed for your taste, did you ever feel like the record company forced some of the heavy metal trappings on you or push the big torch ballads like "When I See You Smile”?
John Waite: No, no, not at all. They actually left us alone, we were an ease for them to deal with because we had all come from very successful things. None of the material was forced on us including "When I See You Smile”. I knew Dianne Warren and I thought it was a great song so why not. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea but it went to number one. The problem with the label was something that came after that. We had a very, very, very successful year that year and we came home and the record company wanted another album immediately. We came home exhausted after pretty much being on the road without pause for the complete year and they gave us two months to come up with the next record.
LRI: Now that you’re in control of your destiny and can put your music out there via iTunes or your website or whatever you can maintain a bit more of a hand in things. Do you think artists should be happy about having that ability these days?
John Waite: Oh yeah. I think it’s fabulous. I think any band can make an album like they want to make, like they did in the late 60s, early 70s back when they were left alone to make great albums. Now bands can make records like that themselves and put them out and it’s become an artistic thing again rather than just a corporate money thing. It’s great man really. I was never very good with record companies anyway and I never really knew just what to do. If I go into somebody’s office I feel awkward. I don’t really belong in an office in any way so I just don’t know what to do with myself. The opportunities to get your music out to people and still maintain creative control are fabulous these days.