John Waite: Michael Cavacini ( 2014)
The following is the first of a three-part interview with rock legend John Waite. This year marks his 40th in the music industry and during that time heís had quite the career. Whether it was being the lead singer of The Babys or Bad English or topping the charts with his #1 smash hit "Missing You,Ē John Waiteís voice has remained unmistakable and his music endures. I hope you enjoy the first part of this interview. Stay tuned for parts two and three in the coming weeks, and donít forget to pick up a copy of John Waiteís new album, "Best,Ē on his official website.
The Babys were formed in 1974, 40 years ago. What brought you guys together?
It canít be that long ago, can it, really? I had no idea. I guess it was. Iíd come back from America. Iíd gone over there to join a band in Cleveland called The Boys after spending a year with a band in London called England. Everything ran out. I just went home from London to Lancaster. Weíd run out of gigs, money Ė it was finished. And I came home with my tail between my legs. I had no place to go and it was a case of trying to get a job or emigrate. I had no idea what to do. And I went and spent five months in Cleveland, which was unbelievably fantastic because it was the home of rock and roll, radio-wise. I came home to London when that fell through and was basically introduced to a guy called Mike Corby, who was trying to put a band together, and they needed a bass player, a singer, a songwriter, anything they could come up with, really. And I met him and his manager, Adrian Miller, who was in Hampstead. Me and my girlfriend lived down the road, so they came to North London to say hello, and we sat, drank and had dinner and talked about dreams, really. We talked about what it would take to put a great band together, and what I thought about it. And I said that I wrote songs, which was cheating really. I wrote songsÖbut in a very provisional way. I was just getting my feet wet, really. I knew I could write, I just never had an opportunity to write for anything. And I knew I could sing, although Iíd never been a lead singer, and I was a bass player. With me they had a band. Without me they had a guitar player. I went home to my girlfriend and said it was interesting, but I donít expect anything to happen. And the next week, the manager, Adrian, called me again and over the next year we rehearsed bits of music that Iíd written. We tried drummers out, and then Tony Brock finally showed up. I stopped playing bass and became the lead guitar player. Mike left for a while. We had a bass player in, a Scottish guy who was a friend of Tonyís. He left, I went back to playing bass. Wally showed up, Mike rejoined and we had a band.
Adrian went around London trying to sell us to any record company that would listen. It took a long time. We got turned down by absolutely everybody, and then Chrysalis said, "yeah, we like you.Ē We got signed to a record deal and the rest is history, really.
Speaking of The Babys, where did the bandís name come from?
Well, itís a story really. Iím known for being outspoken, and Adrian was always trying to pull his tough-guy shit on me. Ya know? "Who do you think you are?Ē and all this kind of stuff. And I would just say "Fuck off!Ē and weíd get into these situations (laughs) where weíd look at each other and thought it might go to the next level. It wouldnít have because we were just cocky. Then, one time, after a meltdown, he stormed out and came back in and said, "Youíre nothing but a bunch of fucking babies!Ē And then he walked out and walked back in and said, "Thatís it!Ē and we went "What?!Ē At first we thought it was really bad, but then we thought well, Jesus, itís going to get us a lot of attention. Why donít we go that far out? It was a very mod thing to do, and thatís where my roots were.
And when spelling it out Ė I have dyslexia Ė I couldnít differentiate between putting a "yĒ on something or "ies.Ē I still have to think about it when writing words, and I used to put my "dsĒ and "bsĒ backwards. Itís tough for a guy that writes. Itís ironic that I have that. But thatís where the name came from. When I wrote the set list I used a "yĒ and kept doing it. And that made the name more unusual and ambiguous. What was Babys? I had no idea what it meant, I still donít.
Then we had stickers made up, and I still have one. With blue cartoon writing and a yellow and red check pattern. I still have an original, somewhere in a suitcase. We looked at that and "BabysĒ became "The BabysĒ and before ya know it, it was up on a billboard on Sunset Strip. It was wild.
When Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips joined The Babys in 1979, how did they change the dynamic of the band?
Well, I stopped playing bass. And the style of the singing and the songwriting was always based around that. I was like Sting or Paul McCartney or Jack Bruce. You sing an F, and you sing a note that kind of finishes the cord and it had a great influence on the songwriting. Even now when Iím playing the guitar Ė Iím still playing the guitar - and once I stopped playing bass, it changed and I liked that because I wanted to be in a group and enjoy it and not have all the pressure. And I had written Head First twice because it got turned down by the record companies, so I rewrote it to come up with another half an album. And I was just sick of being in the middle of it. I needed to either leave, like Michael, who had gotten the sack at that point, and go back to England. Or, if we were going to continue, I had to let somebody else take some of the weight. I just couldnít keep going at that rate. But I think it stopped us from having that original feel, and Wally picked up the slack a lot. Without me playing bass alongside Wally, we were never quite as good songwriters after that. It missed me playing bass, but it was a lot more fun on stage.
I became a much better singer; it was a trade-off. I found a natural ability with a big audience, and I was fuckiní scared to death. I mean, I was shy to begin with but to go out in front of 20,000 people takes some balls. And I went from playing behind the bass to 2,000-seat theaters to opening for Alice Cooper. But I found out that I was tougher than I thought I was. I think I always underestimated what I was capable of and made it charming, and made it go where it was meant to go naturally. But giving up the bass was difficult because I loved the instrument so much. But I knew that if were going to continue weíd have to do something different. I didnít want it to be like Babys 2 or getting a guy that looked like Mike Corby. I wanted us to do something radically different and still be The Babys.
Following the release of the album On The Edge in 1980, The Babys disbanded. What led to the breakup?
We were at the end of it. We had huge success at first Ė really, really big. You could not turn on AM radio and not hear "Every Time I Think of You.Ē And you couldnít turn on FM radio and not hear "Head First.Ē And they were both on the same record. Iíve never seen a record that successful till maybe The Police, but it was absolutely gigantic. We were touring with big bands, we were all over the TV, all over the radio but then Chrysalis told us we werenít selling recordsÖand it just stopped everybody in their tracks. I think thatís when we almost broke up. Truly, at that point I think we thought, fuck it, itís impossible, weíll never get out of debt, weíll never be able to continue. But we did Union Jacks and that had "Back On My Feet Again,Ē which was also a gigantic single and, again, Chrysalis turned around and said the album didnít sell. So, we really felt like we were done Ė there was no future.
Well, you can blame people and say it was this personís fault or it was that personís fault. It doesnít matter. You canít keep playing, you canít stay on the road because you canít keep playing the same towns multiple times every year. You canít keep doing it. You canít keep going back to Detroit because youíre big in Detroit. You can go maybe once a year and sell it out because everybody loves you and looks forward to seeing you again. You canít go back twice in the same year. You canít go to Cleveland twice. And we were doing things like that. We were on the road all the time, and we ran out of places to play. Chrysalis just dropped the ball completely. But it was a relief when it was over and I went home.
Your first album as a solo artist was 1982ís Ignition. How did it feel to step out on your own?
Well, I moved to New York City and Chrysalis said theyíd make it up to me, pay my rent and give me $200 a week. And they found me a crash pad on 72nd street. And I wrote and wrote, and I slept all day and went out at night. It was incredible to be in New York. It took me about two months to get used to it. It was really hard to be away from my girlfriend, my wife at the time; it was very, very difficult. But I fell in love with the city and I still love the city. I feel like a New Yorker no matter where I go in the world.
It was great to be on my own. Somebody said to me the other day Ė I was singing "Back On My Feet AgainĒ from the new album, I re-sang it Ė and somebody said, "Man, what a great band The Babys were.Ē And I said, "You know what? I never looked back and missed it.Ē I just never looked back over my shoulder and said, "Man, I wish we were still together.Ē I never once did that. I never did that with Bad English either. When it was done, it was done. Iím usually the last guy to get up from the table. I really give everything Iíve got to something. I live like that. And there wasnít one thing I think I could have done differently to make it last longer. I never looked back on The Babys and said, "Dammit, what could have been?Ē We were done when we were done. Iím good at that I guess. I know when to leave.
When The Babys first came to LA, weíd see people that were playing with very big bands walking around in flip-flops with dirty t-shirts and driving beat-up old cars. They looked like they just didnít care. I looked at that and I thought, if that ever happens to me I hope someone leans forward and hands me a loaded pistol. Thereís just a time to leave and you start a new life. Itís like when a marriage goes bad. You might still love that person, but you canít put it right. You have to be man enough to say, "I love ya. Itís over.Ē Youíve gotta be big and tough for yourself as much as for the other person. Itís done, itís absolutely done.
One of the singles from that album, "ChangeĒ was one of the first music videos to get a heavy rotation on MTV. What did you think of this music revolution taking place at the start of your solo career?
The Babys had got signed on a video. We did a video with a guy named Mike Mansfield who had a show called Supersonic. He filmed it. He filmed us in a little studio singing along to our demos. I once, when I was in a band in London, England Ė that band Ė we played an arts center and they filmed us. It was the very early stages of video, but they filmed us. And I think I can take credit for saying, "Why donít they film us?Ē instead of just recording it. So I thought, "Why donít we make a video demo?Ē Because if image is that important to Adrian and we look that sharp, fuck it, film it, why not? It was risky, but there were videos out there. The Small Faces had done a video for "Lazy SundayĒ and it wasnít like splitting the atom; it was an obvious choice. A lot of people lay claim to it, but The Babys were the first to actually do it. And it wasnít as if it was, like I said, splitting the atom. It was an obvious thing to do. If we hadnít had done it, somebody else would have a month later.
Your sophomore effort as a solo artist, No Brakes, spawned the #1 smash hit song "Missing You.Ē What was the inspiration for this song?
Itís a lot of different things. My marriage was in trouble Ė Iíd spent so much time away, chasing my career all over the place, being in New York and then going back home. My marriage was kind of falling apart. And I lived in New York City, and Iíd fallen in love with New York City.
We finished the record and I knew we hadnít gotten the single, I just knew. And I never leave the studio while anyone is mixing or doing lead guitar or overdubs. Iím there all the way through. And I must have felt very strongly about it because I went away and came up with "Missing YouĒ Ė my part of it. As soon as I started to sing it, it wrote itself. And when I hit the chorus, I sang, "I ainít missing you at all, since you gone away.Ē And that whole first chorus came out in one unbroken stream-of-word association.
So, I donít know what the inspiration is other than denial. Itís about being in loveand being at a crossroads, and being in denial, and being in the sort of half-world of something being over. That terrible calmness, where youíve stepped outside of that circle and you donít ever get back in.
Did you have a feeling that "Missing YouĒ was a special song that would endure as long as it has?
As soon as I sang, "Every time I think of you, I always catch my breath and youíre miles away, and Iím wondering why you left, and thereís a storm thatís raging through my frozen heart tonight. I ainít missing you at allĒ Ė I wrote that in one piece. And it knocked the wind out of me. On the demo, I actually choke after the first two lines of the second verse and then I keep going.
But I knewÖit was as if it was channeling through me. It was what I had been looking for. I had probably been looking for that song since The Babys. It was just the right song for the right time.
And one of the reasons that song is so special is because itís endured for years.
Itís blues. Itís not a moon spoon tune. Itís really cold Ė itís like Robert Johnson. Itís blues. I tried to describe that once on a morning talk show in New York that it was simply a blues song with more than three chord changes. It really is simply based in blues. When you listen to it, it could be John Lee Hooker. Thatís why itís lasted so long. It isnít necessarily pop music. Itís rooted in black-American music.
Speaking of "Missing You,Ē this song served as the inspiration for Harlan Cobenís new #1 bestselling thriller of the same name. How does it feel to know that your signature song is still a prominent part of pop culture?
Well, you know, you say it to me and I say, "Thank you.Ē Then I put the phonedown and go for a walk. Iíve never believed my own image. I am what I am, to the point where I donít reallyÖIím not arrogant, and Iím not vain. I donít talk about myself too much when Iím doing interviews. I think thereís been a lot of work on this planet thatís been done in rock and roll, in literature or in painting that makes me look like I donít exist. Itís just the way it is. Itís the truth. Iím not being noble; itís the truth. If Iíve made a difference in peopleís lives with that song, then itís a surprise to all of us.
When I saw Harlanís book, I had to smile. I had to laugh. And then I read my name in the book, and the quotes from the song and saw that the plot was very loosely aligned with it. Then Harlan was in touch with me to say, "Hello.Ē I read a couple more of his books (laughs) and heís kind of great. I mean, Iím just happy for his success. He seems like a very nice guy and Iíve enjoyed his writing enormously since. I went out and bought one of his books yesterday. Itís good for Harlan Ė Iím buying his books.
It ties in beautifully with the release of the new album, Best Ė with the new version of "Missing YouĒ on it. The new album goes to iTunes, I believe tomorrow or the day after in the rest of the world, except America. Weíve got a four-page ad in Classic Rock. Weíre playing the Frontiers Rock Festival in Milan on the third of May. I come back to America, into New York and it gets released in America and we really hit the press in America at that point.
Itís synchronicity. Like I said before, things are meant to happen. You move in circles and you meet people. Itís all kind of preordained. I donít know why. It just turned out so well. Itís a very positive thing. Itís great.
I thought it was great because I admire your work and I think Harlan is a terrific author. So to see your paths cross was really cool.
Iím surprised because I read a lot Ė I read classics, I like poetry, I read the newspaper. Iím surprised I didnít know about Harlan. And once I started to read his books, I realized he has a tremendous descriptive style and a real empathy with people. He understands women very well, which creates a really interesting dynamic when youíre reading it. You really get inside peopleís heads. And itís a very seamless kind of style. When you finish a chapter, it isnít like it shifts six gears down. Youíre sort of idling and then you go back into top gear again. His style is something I didnít expect. Iím impressed; heís a very good writer. Iím really enjoying his work.
Yes, heís good at channeling human emotion and making believable characters.
Exactly! Like Stephen King, when heís in his proper element. I havenít read Stephen King for a while but Harlan seems to have that Ė he can read people. He knows a lot.
Speaking of writing, Iíve always thought that in addition to being a great singer, youíre also an underrated lyricist. One of my favorite songs from your latest studio album, Rough & Tumble, is "Evil.Ē One of the lines from that song is "moonlightís kickiní in the door.Ē Itís a short yet impactful phrase because with just a few words you conjure up a powerful image. Whatís the songwriting process like for you?
Well, itís an odd thing. Me and Kyle wrote that in his kidsí playroom. He had an amp set up, and a guitar and a drum machine. I rang ahead and said, "Just put a rhythm togetherĒ and he did. I already played the bass lines (sings the bass lines from "EvilĒ). It was like the Stones but over the top. And then I left it and came back the next day and he played like 16 bars of that and I immediately sang, "Iíve been watching you watching me, canít you tell what Iím going through.Ē We were each throwing lines in. I canít take credit for all of it. He is capable of writing a good line himself and we wrote like that a lot.
Like with "If You Every Get LonelyĒ I would sing, "Thanks for calling, itís so good to hear your voiceĒ and then he said, "But you keep breaking up in all the static and the noiseĒ and I said, "But Iíll keep listening because I never had a choice when it came to you.Ē It was like playing ping pong. Itís why I like to work with other people because theyíll throw something at you and if theyíre worth their salt, theyíll know where youíre going. And then that sets up something you would never think of.
Itís like this conversation. Iím free-forming this conversation and it keeps going. I couldnít finish it myself. And songwriting is like that and it helps you create fresh, solid work. You donít sit down to write pop music. It kind of uses you. The music writes itself, really.
Thatís a really good point. A lot of good ideas Ė in life, in general Ė come out of collaboration and chemistry.
Yeah, and sometimes itís a struggle. When people insist that they want to write lyrics and theyíre chewing a pencil and theyíve got a legal pad in front of them and itís like, Jesus Christ, I make everything up on the spot. Iíll write it all down on a piece of paper in a sketchbook and then correct it. Write down a second page and then correct that and add to it. By the third or fourth or fifth page, youíve got the whole thing. But I have to do it in longhand because it just comes to me. But all of the best lines Ė the ones that just fit Ė they come out of nowhere.
You can read yourself into the floorboards and borrow, and pretend to be whatever. But if you havenít got it, you really havenít got it. And the stuff that happens when youíre not working is the stuff worth keeping. Itís the stuff that surprises even you.
Aside from the lyrics, Iíve noticed that many of your songs become more melodically complex as they progress. For example, I was listening to "Have You Seen Her My Friend?Ē from When You Were Mine, which is an awesome song, and "Savage BlueĒ from the Bad English album Backlash, another underappreciated classic. I noticed that the endings to these songs have you singing over top beautiful harmonies and guitar. Do you plan this out ahead of time or do you just start doing it and if it sounds good you keep it?
Thatís singing the blues. I just make it up as I go. Building another lyric and scatting across what youíve already done. Itís a blues thing. Itís a skill in itself but I never think about it; Iíll just riff at the end because thatís what youíre supposed to do when youríe singing the blues. Tina Turner would start doing it Ė itís just something that singers do. Itís like modern art at that point. You just fly.
To me, thatís the best part of a song.
Yeah, thatís the part I like best myself. Seeing how far I can take it out. People say to me Ė I just had someone say to me a couple weeks ago, "Why donít you sing the same melody twice?Ē And she was trying to push my buttons, ya know? So I said, "How could you possibly ask me that question?Ē You come out on stage and the acoustics are different, the band is in a different mood, itís a different time of day, and then you start playing the song and it comes out differently every single time. I couldnít sing a song the same way twice if you put a gun to my head. Iíd have to riff on it, Iíd have to extend it somehow or itís pointless. I might as well say to the audience, "If youíd like to hear the record, I guess itís in the CD player in your car. Youíd be better off listening to that.Ē But Iím gonna bring something into it if it kills me. Thatís what I do. Itís important, thatís where the art is.
The original is only there as a template. Itís a beginning. Iím not going to turn it into jazz, but youíre gonna approach it in a different way; make it a little more edgy and youíll bring stuff into it. And, to me, without that, itís nothing. I wouldnít want to hear it again or listen to it if it doesnít do that. To do that is the mark of, I donít knowÖart, if I can say that without smiling. It is art. If it doesnít take off and go somewhere, then the performance is the same every night. Itís like bands that play to tapes. You canít stretch out because the song is going to finish. And if you donít stretch out, then what have you just done?
Thatís a really good point.
Iím glad I got that point in because itís really important to me.
I agree, and certain live acts, such as the Eagles, prides themselves on giving live musical performances that are identical to the original recordings.
(laughs) I know. I just donít get it. When youíd go see Led Zeppelin, every night was different. And look at the Stones; theyíd come out and play the daylights out of their songs because theyíd never play the same thing twice Ė Jaggerís always riffing on the melodies along with Keith and their songs can go off into the stratosphere. And without doing that, I donít know what the fuck youíre doing up there. Itís like, you might as well just watch a video. Thatís what separates the men from the boys. Thatís the thing. Thatís why itís great to be in a rock and roll band.
Agreed. And one of my favorite live acts Ė I just saw them inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ė is Hall & Oates, and thatís because Daryl Hall and John Oates live are more of an R&B act than pop music.
Maybe thatís where it comes from. You might get it in Irish music. You might get it in Celtic music where everyone is jamming away in a pub, and youíve got the violin going and the guitars out and they like to start singing and jamming. Itís a Celtic thing as well Ė itís a tribal thing. Itís very Scotch-Irish. It is R&B and itís the melding of those two things. Itís like country music meets black music and then youíve got rock and roll.
Speaking of live performances, in 2005 you toured with Journey. How was it being on the road again with your old bandmates, Jon, Neal and Deen?
Didnít really get to see them. Weíd come out and do our set, and then Neal would come out and jam with us, that was great. And then Peter Frampton would come out and weíd be back on the bus driving to the next gig. It was good to play with Neal. He would come out and play with us on "Head First,Ē I think, or something. Heíd come out every night and aÖNealís Neal, ultimately, ya know? (laughs) Ya gotta love the guy, ya just gotta.
You recorded two great albums with Bad English, and while the first one was immensely successful, the second one, Backlash, despite featuring great music, didnít achieve the same level of success. Why do you think this was the case?
I think that the band split up. We all just left it. We finished the album, I had done the vocals, and I said, "Letís just leave it. Letís put it out, and letís take a break from each other. Letís walk away.Ē And Neal went in the paper about two weeks later and said he left the band. It just blew the album out of the water. That was the end of it.
There was a slight possibility that we could have continued. Just cool off. Itís hard to start a record in like six weeks when youíve got no songs going in. And it was a very tough situation. It was rough. And I think we could have gotten together a month or two later for a series of gigs; it was possible. But, you know, Neal being Neal he just wanted to move on, I guess. He didnít want to wait two months to see what would happen. He just left the band and went on with his life. God bless him. Good luck.
Itís OK. Weíre grown men in a band. Itís a strange thing. After a certain age, it didnít reallyÖI look at the Stones, and the Stones work. I saw them in London, and man theyíre still rockiní the house, ya know? And itís a Scorsese thing. From New York, I thought I was brilliant. The Stones really have it. I mean, some bands just donít have it.
Itís like talking about writers or painters or whatever. I donít know. I donít talk about myself really. I never really look outside of what I do. I play a lot of blues records or classical music or bluegrass orÖI have very obscure taste, really. If I really like something, I play it a lot. I listen to Dylan at least once a week. I get into stuff thatís lyric-driven or very, very intense, but, then again, I could listen to something completely different and get knocked out.
I donít look at competition. I donít compete, is where Iím going with this. If Iím on the bill with someone else, they know theyíre going to get a run for their money, at least. And I just donít even think about it. Like, we were talking about "Missing YouĒ being that big. It never occurs to me that itís that big. I like the idea of it being that successful and Iím flattered and deeply touched and honored that people responded to that in my lifetime. It means more than I can tell you. But Iím not really aware of it in my daily life. I donít allow myself to walk around like that.
Well, thatís a good attitude to have.
Well, I was born that way. Maybe I would enjoy the success of my life more if I was like that. But once you finish something, it doesnít mean itís finished. Once youíve finished painting something or seeing something or writing a piece of music you think is going to be great, the doorís closed and then it opens again, and thereís more to do Ė thereís a different way of looking at it. If you really do put those gold records on your wall and stand around thinking that youíre a genius Ė I mean, Jesus, that means that you really just stopped working. Your mind stopped working or you donít have anything else to offer. Thatís the thing about life; thereís always the next second, the next hour. Everything can change. You could write a masterpiece in 36 hours that you didnít know you could write. You could write absolute crap after writing a number one single. But I think if youíre self-contented and you think youíre something, I think you stop being an artist. I really believe that. Youíre never finished your work. Thatís what Iím saying. The work, if itís genuine work, is never finished. The pen never dries, man. The pen never dries.
Your new album is a collection of your best music. Therefore, itís appropriately named Best. For this collection, you rerecorded three songs: "Back On My Feet Again,Ē "Isnít It TimeĒ and "Missing You.Ē How was it revisiting these classic songs?
Since we play them live it wasnít such a big deal. I wasnít nervous or thinking about it orÖI think the version of "Missing YouĒ is pretty great because itís got a little bit more edge in it. A little bit more cowboy, for some reason I see it as being a cowboy song. Itís got more adultness in it. Itís got more emotions in it that are darker. Itís slightly angry, and hurt. Itís got a more masculine level to me when I hear the vocal.
"Back On My Feet AgainĒ is a romp. It goes in one end and comes out the other. I wanted to strip it down and play it like we play it live. And I was so taken with it that it opens the album. Some songs are just that good. You playíem and you donít get sick of singing them. And itís what you leave behind when you go. But "Back On My Feet AgainĒ and "Missing YouĒ are definitely two of those songs.
Best also includes some more obscure songs, like "Suicide Life,Ē "Bluebird CafeĒ and "Iím ReadyĒ Ė all of which are great. What made you want to include them on this album?
After Bad English, I decided to strip down the production on everything I would ever do again. And I always believed in wanting to do it live in the studio. Those sort of albums, like the Temple Bar record, the company went bust when it came out. We had a number two single, I think, with "In Dreams.Ē Then "How Did I Get By Without YouĒ came out and that had a video and went to 18 and was about to go up the charts and the record company went bust. I was like, wow!
Then the next time around I came out with When You Were Mine. It had "Bluebird CafeĒ on it and "Suicide LifeĒ Ė that was the best record I made. It could possibly be the best record Iíve ever made. I love it. The guy who headed the company left the week it came out, and the company went sort of sideways and I lost that one too. And they were my favorite records in a lot of ways.
It led to a tour with Alison Krauss. After Bad English, I was spending an awful lot of time in Nashville. I was writing with some serious people and Iíve always been fascinated by Hank Williams. And the first record was that Ė cowboy ballads.
"Suicide LifeĒ has nothing to do with country but the approach is dark and itís probably one of the best things Iíve ever written. And I couldnít imagine putting out a record called Best and not putting that on.
The same with "Bluebird Cafe.Ē I just hit a peak. It was the arc of a diver. I donít know what was going on with me. But I wrote that whole album. Itís justÖman, I donít know how I did it. I just look back at it now and go, really? I wonder how you did that. Itís amazing to me that I was that physically capable and willing to go out there with that kind of work. Itís my best work. So, I tried to include a piece of the period on the album. It makes sense really.
Your last studio album of original material was 2011ís Rough & Tumble. Have you started working on the follow-up?
Yeah, I was playing a few tracks before I called you. I have all the songs, in a sense that I have a box. A tennis shoe box, Converse, Iím looking at it now Ė here we go. Itís full of cassettes and each cassette is six ideas per side. And Iím looking at a music stand thatís got lyrics written and I know the type of the record. And if I go into the studio, Iím thinking the way to go is once a day for two weeks. Take a cassette, run through it and find the best idea, play it, play the song acoustically, sing it; and the next day come in and try something else. Then, after two weeks, Iíd have more than enough for a record.
I leaning toward it being an acoustic record. I love that the most, ya know, since I was a kid. The trend is singing with a Marshall stack and a band because itís fantastic. But last year I put out a live album, Live All Access, because thatís the best Iíve ever sounded live. And I thought that was a milestone; I had to get that out while I could still sing like that. But the other milestone that I want to do is an unplugged record. And now that everyoneís not making them every five minutes, it would be a good time to do it. There was a time when everyone was going unplugged.
And itís in my heart. Itís really deep in me, that country, folk, blues thing. Iíve never really explored that acoustically and Iíd like to put my voice through that and see what happens.
I saw you live in New Hope a couple years ago and attended the live album recording session at Philly Sound Studios shortly thereafter. What made you decide to record some of the tracks for your 2013 live album, Live All Access, in Philly?
Well, half of my band is from Philly. Tim Hogan is from Philly and I have really strong connections with Philly. I was playing a gig nearby in Jersey the year before and because I was thinking about a live album at the time, I visited Philly Sound Studios and the rest is history.
Talk about building on what youíve got and taking it further and further out, we were doing that on a nightly basis. Taking it further and further out and just winging it. It was impossible to describe to people how good it was getting. And I thought, well, record it. And where do you want to record it? I donít know. So, we chose Philly Sound.
We got three or four songs from those sessions over two nights. The band was getting too loose; I donít know what was wrong. We tried recording two other shows on the East Coast and then we were up in New Hampshire. The sound guy had recording gear, German, really first-rate gear so we decided to record it. And we were all in the room and recorded the whole night, and it was one of those nights were you couldnít put a foot wrong. It just came out and sounded like you wouldnít believe and it was just great.
But we had two gigs that week that were not so tight and people were making mistakes. So, I told the band, "This is it. Weíre going to do it tonight. I donít want to hear anybody playing a bum note or forgetting where we are. This is it.Ē Then we turned around and played the best gig we ever played. The band was probably like, "Fuck you, JohnĒ (laughs). It was ridiculous. Between that and the Philly sessions, we had the album.
Lately youíve been releasing music independently. How does this compare to working with a traditional label?
(laughs) A band is a band and making a record is making a record. I donít know what I would learn or what I would need from a label. If a really great producer came to me and said, "We really have to make a record,Ē who knows. But I know what Iím doing and Iím going for something and I donít really want anybodyís input. The band is who Iím going to listen to, and we know when itís right. Itís a pure form of making music. At this point, I canít take somebody coming into the studio wearing a suit or worse, not wearing a suit, and saying they donít hear a single. I just donít have that in me to listen to it. I canít do it. I canít.
One thing I noticed about you, and other singers who arenít born in America, is you have a great tone when you sing. I was recently comparing you to Don Henley the other day. I said to my friend, "John Waite is just as good as Don Henley.Ē
Oh, Iím better (laughs).
But you donít get the credit for it and thatís a big part of the reason why I wanted to do this interview. I think your tone is perfect. And the thing that I find interesting is whether itís Tom Jones or whether itís you, or another singer, a lot of times the diction of singers who arenít from America is better than the diction of those who were born here.
Yeah, itís funny. And you mentioned Tom; he really rips it up, heís great. I mean, heís really great. I donít know. You look at Steve Marriott and Paul Rodgers, I mean, maybe you need to come from outside to bring something to it to make it bigger than what it is. I donít know.
I was very conscious when I first came to America that there was a white-band thing where they were playing music that was kind of white. But in England we were all listening to blues, blues rock. I was just thinking, before I called, about the jukeboxat my local coffee hangout when I was a kid. I was 14 and they had music by Otis Redding, the Temptations, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, you name it. But it was 99.9% American. Although my heritage is British, my heart is really American.
What are your thoughts on the current music scene?
There are lots of great young bands, but theyíre not really playing the game. Theyíre just making music. Unfortunately, thereís not enough room for them in the corporate world. Some of them are coming out of London. But I donít know how long they can last in this environment. Everything is so corporate now, and people are only bankrolling sure things, and yes-men who tell bands that they need to create a song for a certain demographic. Every time I hear the word demographic, I want to throw up. Thatís how itís run now. The music business Ė itís just fucking ridiculous. Itís just what it is. Itís what itís come to. But because of these times, bands that really mean it can cause a shift and get the right people back in the spotlight. It never worries me because people can only take so much crap before they say, "This isnít working.Ē
Thereís something primal about music, obviously. People respond to that and you canít feed them prepackaged stuff. So, Iím very confident in young talent. I think young talent will always be going against the grain. It itís worth anything, it always does.