John Waite: Michael Cavacini ( 2014)

By :Michael Cavacini.


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 he’s 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,” John Waite’s 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 don’t forget to pick up a copy of John Waite’s new album, "Best,” on his official website.

The Babys were formed in 1974, 40 years ago. What brought you guys together?

It can’t be that long ago, can it, really? I had no idea. I guess it was. I’d come back from America. I’d 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. We’d run out of gigs, money – 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 songs…but 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 I’d 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 don’t 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 I’d 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 Tony’s. 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.” We got signed to a record deal and the rest is history, really. 

Speaking of The Babys, where did the band’s name come from?

Well, it’s a story really. I’m 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?” and all this kind of stuff. And I would just say "Fuck off!” and we’d get into these situations (laughs) where we’d look at each other and thought it might go to the next level. It wouldn’t have because we were just cocky. Then, one time, after a meltdown, he stormed out and came back in and said, "You’re nothing but a bunch of fucking babies!” And then he walked out and walked back in and said, "That’s it!” and we went "What?!” At first we thought it was really bad, but then we thought well, Jesus, it’s going to get us a lot of attention. Why don’t we go that far out? It was a very mod thing to do, and that’s where my roots were.

And when spelling it out – I have dyslexia – I couldn’t differentiate between putting a "y” on something or "ies.” I still have to think about it when writing words, and I used to put my "ds” and "bs” backwards. It’s tough for a guy that writes. It’s ironic that I have that. But that’s where the name came from. When I wrote the set list I used a "y” 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 don’t.

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 "Babys” became "The Babys” 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 I’m playing the guitar – I’m 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 couldn’t 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 fuckin’ 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 we’d have to do something different. I didn’t 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 – really, really big. You could not turn on AM radio and not hear "Every Time I Think of You.” And you couldn’t turn on FM radio and not hear "Head First.” And they were both on the same record. I’ve 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 weren’t selling records…and it just stopped everybody in their tracks. I think that’s when we almost broke up. Truly, at that point I think we thought, fuck it, it’s impossible, we’ll never get out of debt, we’ll never be able to continue. But we did Union Jacks and that had "Back On My Feet Again,” which was also a gigantic single and, again, Chrysalis turned around and said the album didn’t sell. So, we really felt like we were done – there was no future.

Sounds frustrating.

Well, you can blame people and say it was this person’s fault or it was that person’s fault. It doesn’t matter. You can’t keep playing, you can’t stay on the road because you can’t keep playing the same towns multiple times every year. You can’t keep doing it. You can’t keep going back to Detroit because you’re 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 can’t go back twice in the same year. You can’t 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 1982’s Ignition. How did it feel to step out on your own?

Well, I moved to New York City and Chrysalis said they’d 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 – I was singing "Back On My Feet Again” from the new album, I re-sang it – and somebody said, "Man, what a great band The Babys were.” And I said, "You know what? I never looked back and missed it.” I just never looked back over my shoulder and said, "Man, I wish we were still together.” I never once did that. I never did that with Bad English either. When it was done, it was done. I’m usually the last guy to get up from the table. I really give everything I’ve got to something. I live like that. And there wasn’t 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?” We were done when we were done. I’m good at that I guess. I know when to leave.

That’s good. A lot of people don’t have that ability. 

When The Babys first came to LA, we’d 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 didn’t 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. There’s just a time to leave and you start a new life. It’s like when a marriage goes bad. You might still love that person, but you can’t put it right. You have to be man enough to say, "I love ya. It’s over.” You’ve gotta be big and tough for yourself as much as for the other person. It’s done, it’s absolutely done.

One of the singles from that album, "Change” 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 – that band – 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 don’t they film us?” instead of just recording it. So I thought, "Why don’t we make a video demo?” 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 Sunday” and it wasn’t 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 wasn’t as if it was, like I said, splitting the atom. It was an obvious thing to do. If we hadn’t 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.” What was the inspiration for this song?

It’s a lot of different things. My marriage was in trouble – I’d 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 I’d fallen in love with New York City.

We finished the record and I knew we hadn’t gotten the single, I just knew. And I never leave the studio while anyone is mixing or doing lead guitar or overdubs. I’m there all the way through. And I must have felt very strongly about it because I went away and came up with "Missing You” – my part of it. As soon as I started to sing it, it wrote itself. And when I hit the chorus, I sang, "I ain’t missing you at all, since you gone away.” And that whole first chorus came out in one unbroken stream-of-word association.

So, I don’t know what the inspiration is other than denial. It’s 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 you’ve stepped outside of that circle and you don’t ever get back in.

Did you have a feeling that "Missing You” 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 you’re miles away, and I’m wondering why you left, and there’s a storm that’s raging through my frozen heart tonight. I ain’t missing you at all” – 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 knew…it 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 it’s endured for years.

It’s blues. It’s not a moon spoon tune. It’s really cold – it’s like Robert Johnson. It’s 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. That’s why it’s lasted so long. It isn’t necessarily pop music. It’s rooted in black-American music.

Speaking of "Missing You,” this song served as the inspiration for Harlan Coben’s 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.” Then I put the phonedown and go for a walk. I’ve never believed my own image. I am what I am, to the point where I don’t really…I’m not arrogant, and I’m not vain. I don’t talk about myself too much when I’m doing interviews. I think there’s been a lot of work on this planet that’s been done in rock and roll, in literature or in painting that makes me look like I don’t exist. It’s just the way it is. It’s the truth. I’m not being noble; it’s the truth. If I’ve made a difference in people’s lives with that song, then it’s a surprise to all of us.

When I saw Harlan’s 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.” I read a couple more of his books (laughs) and he’s kind of great. I mean, I’m just happy for his success. He seems like a very nice guy and I’ve enjoyed his writing enormously since. I went out and bought one of his books yesterday. It’s good for Harlan – I’m buying his books.

It ties in beautifully with the release of the new album, Best – with the new version of "Missing You” on it. The new album goes to iTunes, I believe tomorrow or the day after in the rest of the world, except America. We’ve got a four-page ad in Classic Rock. We’re 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.

It’s synchronicity. Like I said before, things are meant to happen. You move in circles and you meet people. It’s all kind of preordained. I don’t know why. It just turned out so well. It’s a very positive thing. It’s great.

John Waite 3I 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. 

I’m surprised because I read a lot – I read classics, I like poetry, I read the newspaper. I’m surprised I didn’t 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 you’re reading it. You really get inside people’s heads. And it’s a very seamless kind of style. When you finish a chapter, it isn’t like it shifts six gears down. You’re sort of idling and then you go back into top gear again. His style is something I didn’t expect. I’m impressed; he’s a very good writer. I’m really enjoying his work.

Yes, he’s good at channeling human emotion and making believable characters. 

Exactly! Like Stephen King, when he’s in his proper element. I haven’t read Stephen King for a while but Harlan seems to have that – he can read people. He knows a lot.

Speaking of writing, I’ve always thought that in addition to being a great singer, you’re also an underrated lyricist. One of my favorite songs from your latest studio album, Rough & Tumble, is "Evil.” One of the lines from that song is "moonlight’s kickin’ in the door.” It’s a short yet impactful phrase because with just a few words you conjure up a powerful image. What’s the songwriting process like for you? 

Well, it’s an odd thing. Me and Kyle wrote that in his kids’ playroom. He had an amp set up, and a guitar and a drum machine. I rang ahead and said, "Just put a rhythm together” and he did. I already played the bass lines (sings the bass lines from "Evil”). 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, "I’ve been watching you watching me, can’t you tell what I’m going through.” We were each throwing lines in. I can’t 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 Lonely” I would sing, "Thanks for calling, it’s so good to hear your voice” and then he said, "But you keep breaking up in all the static and the noise” and I said, "But I’ll keep listening because I never had a choice when it came to you.” It was like playing ping pong. It’s why I like to work with other people because they’ll throw something at you and if they’re worth their salt, they’ll know where you’re going. And then that sets up something you would never think of.

It’s like this conversation. I’m free-forming this conversation and it keeps going. I couldn’t finish it myself. And songwriting is like that and it helps you create fresh, solid work. You don’t sit down to write pop music. It kind of uses you. The music writes itself, really.

That’s a really good point. A lot of good ideas – in life, in general – come out of collaboration and chemistry. 

Yeah, and sometimes it’s a struggle. When people insist that they want to write lyrics and they’re chewing a pencil and they’ve got a legal pad in front of them and it’s like, Jesus Christ, I make everything up on the spot. I’ll 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, you’ve got the whole thing. But I have to do it in longhand because it just comes to me. But all of the best lines – the ones that just fit – they come out of nowhere.

You can read yourself into the floorboards and borrow, and pretend to be whatever. But if you haven’t got it, you really haven’t got it. And the stuff that happens when you’re not working is the stuff worth keeping. It’s the stuff that surprises even you.

Aside from the lyrics, I’ve 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?” from When You Were Mine, which is an awesome song, and "Savage Blue” 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?

That’s singing the blues. I just make it up as I go. Building another lyric and scatting across what you’ve already done. It’s a blues thing. It’s a skill in itself but I never think about it; I’ll just riff at the end because that’s what you’re supposed to do when your’e singing the blues. Tina Turner would start doing it – it’s just something that singers do. It’s like modern art at that point. You just fly.

To me, that’s the best part of a song. 

Yeah, that’s the part I like best myself. Seeing how far I can take it out. People say to me – I just had someone say to me a couple weeks ago, "Why don’t you sing the same melody twice?” And she was trying to push my buttons, ya know? So I said, "How could you possibly ask me that question?” You come out on stage and the acoustics are different, the band is in a different mood, it’s a different time of day, and then you start playing the song and it comes out differently every single time. I couldn’t sing a song the same way twice if you put a gun to my head. I’d have to riff on it, I’d have to extend it somehow or it’s pointless. I might as well say to the audience, "If you’d like to hear the record, I guess it’s in the CD player in your car. You’d be better off listening to that.” But I’m gonna bring something into it if it kills me. That’s what I do. It’s important, that’s where the art is.

The original is only there as a template. It’s a beginning. I’m not going to turn it into jazz, but you’re gonna approach it in a different way; make it a little more edgy and you’ll bring stuff into it. And, to me, without that, it’s nothing. I wouldn’t want to hear it again or listen to it if it doesn’t do that. To do that is the mark of, I don’t know…art, if I can say that without smiling. It is art. If it doesn’t take off and go somewhere, then the performance is the same every night. It’s like bands that play to tapes. You can’t stretch out because the song is going to finish. And if you don’t stretch out, then what have you just done?

That’s a really good point. 

I’m glad I got that point in because it’s 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 don’t get it. When you’d go see Led Zeppelin, every night was different.  And look at the Stones; they’d come out and play the daylights out of their songs because they’d never play the same thing twice – Jagger’s always riffing on the melodies along with Keith and their songs can go off into the stratosphere. And without doing that, I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing up there. It’s like, you might as well just watch a video. That’s what separates the men from the boys. That’s the thing. That’s why it’s great to be in a rock and roll band. 

Agreed. And one of my favorite live acts – I just saw them inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – is Hall & Oates, and that’s because Daryl Hall and John Oates live are more of an R&B act than pop music. 

Maybe that’s 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 you’ve got the violin going and the guitars out and they like to start singing and jamming. It’s a Celtic thing as well – it’s a tribal thing. It’s very Scotch-Irish. It is R&B and it’s the melding of those two things. It’s like country music meets black music and then you’ve 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?

Didn’t really get to see them. We’d 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 we’d 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,” I think, or something. He’d come out every night and a…Neal’s 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, didn’t 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, "Let’s just leave it. Let’s put it out, and let’s take a break from each other. Let’s walk away.” 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. It’s hard to start a record in like six weeks when you’ve 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 didn’t 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. 

It’s OK. We’re grown men in a band. It’s a strange thing. After a certain age, it didn’t really…I look at the Stones, and the Stones work. I saw them in London, and man they’re still rockin’ the house, ya know? And it’s a Scorsese thing. From New York, I thought I was brilliant. The Stones really have it. I mean, some bands just don’t have it. 

It’s like talking about writers or painters or whatever. I don’t know. I don’t 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 or…I 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 that’s lyric-driven or very, very intense, but, then again, I could listen to something completely different and get knocked out. 

I don’t look at competition. I don’t compete, is where I’m going with this. If I’m on the bill with someone else, they know they’re going to get a run for their money, at least. And I just don’t even think about it. Like, we were talking about "Missing You” being that big. It never occurs to me that it’s that big. I like the idea of it being that successful and I’m flattered and deeply touched and honored that people responded to that in my lifetime. It means more than I can tell you. But I’m not really aware of it in my daily life. I don’t allow myself to walk around like that. 

Well, that’s 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 doesn’t mean it’s finished. Once you’ve finished painting something or seeing something or writing a piece of music you think is going to be great, the door’s closed and then it opens again, and there’s more to do – there’s a different way of looking at it. If you really do put those gold records on your wall and stand around thinking that you’re a genius – I mean, Jesus, that means that you really just stopped working. Your mind stopped working or you don’t have anything else to offer. That’s the thing about life; there’s always the next second, the next hour. Everything can change. You could write a masterpiece in 36 hours that you didn’t know you could write. You could write absolute crap after writing a number one single. But I think if you’re self-contented and you think you’re something, I think you stop being an artist. I really believe that. You’re never finished your work. That’s what I’m saying. The work, if it’s 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, it’s appropriately named Best. For this collection, you rerecorded three songs: "Back On My Feet Again,” "Isn’t It Time” and "Missing You.” How was it revisiting these classic songs?

Since we play them live it wasn’t such a big deal. I wasn’t nervous or thinking about it or…I think the version of "Missing You” is pretty great because it’s got a little bit more edge in it. A little bit more cowboy, for some reason I see it as being a cowboy song. It’s got more adultness in it. It’s got more emotions in it that are darker. It’s slightly angry, and hurt. It’s got a more masculine level to me when I hear the vocal. 

"Back On My Feet Again” 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 play’em and you don’t get sick of singing them. And it’s what you leave behind when you go. But "Back On My Feet Again” and "Missing You” are definitely two of those songs. 

John Waite 1Best also includes some more obscure songs, like "Suicide Life,” "Bluebird Cafe” and "I’m Ready” – 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.” Then "How Did I Get By Without You” 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 Cafe” on it and "Suicide Life” – that was the best record I made. It could possibly be the best record I’ve 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 I’ve always been fascinated by Hank Williams. And the first record was that – cowboy ballads.

"Suicide Life” has nothing to do with country but the approach is dark and it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever written. And I couldn’t imagine putting out a record called Best and not putting that on.

The same with "Bluebird Cafe.” I just hit a peak. It was the arc of a diver. I don’t know what was going on with me. But I wrote that whole album. It’s just…man, I don’t know how I did it. I just look back at it now and go, really? I wonder how you did that. It’s amazing to me that I was that physically capable and willing to go out there with that kind of work. It’s 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 2011’s 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, I’m looking at it now – here we go. It’s full of cassettes and each cassette is six ideas per side. And I’m looking at a music stand that’s got lyrics written and I know the type of the record. And if I go into the studio, I’m 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, I’d 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 it’s fantastic. But last year I put out a live album, Live All Access, because that’s the best I’ve 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 everyone’s 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 it’s in my heart. It’s really deep in me, that country, folk, blues thing. I’ve never really explored that acoustically and I’d 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 you’ve 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 couldn’t put a foot wrong. It just came out and sounded like you wouldn’t 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. We’re going to do it tonight. I don’t want to hear anybody playing a bum note or forgetting where we are. This is it.” Then we turned around and played the best gig we ever played. The band was probably like, "Fuck you, John” (laughs). It was ridiculous. Between that and the Philly sessions, we had the album.  

Lately you’ve 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 don’t 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,” who knows. But I know what I’m doing and I’m going for something and I don’t really want anybody’s input. The band is who I’m going to listen to, and we know when it’s right. It’s a pure form of making music. At this point, I can’t take somebody coming into the studio wearing a suit or worse, not wearing a suit, and saying they don’t hear a single. I just don’t have that in me to listen to it. I can’t do it. I can’t. 

One thing I noticed about you, and other singers who aren’t 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.” 

Oh, I’m better (laughs).

But you don’t get the credit for it and that’s 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 it’s Tom Jones or whether it’s you, or another singer, a lot of times the diction of singers who aren’t from America is better than the diction of those who were born here. 

Yeah, it’s funny. And you mentioned Tom; he really rips it up, he’s great. I mean, he’s really great. I don’t 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 don’t 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 they’re not really playing the game. They’re just making music. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room for them in the corporate world. Some of them are coming out of London. But I don’t 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. That’s how it’s run now. The music business – it’s just fucking ridiculous. It’s just what it is. It’s what it’s 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 isn’t working.”

There’s something primal about music, obviously. People respond to that and you can’t feed them prepackaged stuff. So, I’m very confident in young talent. I think young talent will always be going against the grain. It it’s worth anything, it always does.