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 hes 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 Waites 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 dont forget to pick up a copy of John Waites new album, "Best, on his official website.
The Babys were formed in 1974, 40 years ago. What brought you guys together?
It cant be that long ago, can it, really? I had no idea. I guess it was. Id come back from America. Id 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. Wed 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 Id 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 dont 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 Id 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 Tonys. 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 bands name come from?
Well, its a story really. Im 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 wed get into these situations (laughs) where wed look at each other and thought it might go to the next level. It wouldnt have because we were just cocky. Then, one time, after a meltdown, he stormed out and came back in and said, "Youre nothing but a bunch of fucking babies! And then he walked out and walked back in and said, "Thats it! and we went "What?! At first we thought it was really bad, but then we thought well, Jesus, its going to get us a lot of attention. Why dont we go that far out? It was a very mod thing to do, and thats where my roots were.
And when spelling it out I have dyslexia I couldnt 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. Its tough for a guy that writes. Its ironic that I have that. But thats 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 dont.
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 Im playing the guitar Im 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 couldnt 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 wed have to do something different. I didnt 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 couldnt turn on FM radio and not hear "Head First. And they were both on the same record. Ive 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 werent selling records
and it just stopped everybody in their tracks. I think thats when we almost broke up. Truly, at that point I think we thought, fuck it, its impossible, well never get out of debt, well 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 didnt sell. So, we really felt like we were done there was no future.
Well, you can blame people and say it was this persons fault or it was that persons fault. It doesnt matter. You cant keep playing, you cant stay on the road because you cant keep playing the same towns multiple times every year. You cant keep doing it. You cant keep going back to Detroit because youre 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 cant go back twice in the same year. You cant 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 1982s Ignition. How did it feel to step out on your own?
Well, I moved to New York City and Chrysalis said theyd 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. Im usually the last guy to get up from the table. I really give everything Ive got to something. I live like that. And there wasnt 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. Im good at that I guess. I know when to leave.
When The Babys first came to LA, wed 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 didnt 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. Theres just a time to leave and you start a new life. Its like when a marriage goes bad. You might still love that person, but you cant put it right. You have to be man enough to say, "I love ya. Its over. Youve gotta be big and tough for yourself as much as for the other person. Its done, its 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 dont they film us? instead of just recording it. So I thought, "Why dont 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 wasnt 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 wasnt as if it was, like I said, splitting the atom. It was an obvious thing to do. If we hadnt 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?
Its a lot of different things. My marriage was in trouble Id 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 Id fallen in love with New York City.
We finished the record and I knew we hadnt gotten the single, I just knew. And I never leave the studio while anyone is mixing or doing lead guitar or overdubs. Im 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 aint missing you at all, since you gone away. And that whole first chorus came out in one unbroken stream-of-word association.
So, I dont know what the inspiration is other than denial. Its 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 youve stepped outside of that circle and you dont 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 youre miles away, and Im wondering why you left, and theres a storm thats raging through my frozen heart tonight. I aint 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 its endured for years.
Its blues. Its not a moon spoon tune. Its really cold its like Robert Johnson. Its 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. Thats why its lasted so long. It isnt necessarily pop music. Its rooted in black-American music.
Speaking of "Missing You, this song served as the inspiration for Harlan Cobens 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. Ive never believed my own image. I am what I am, to the point where I dont really
Im not arrogant, and Im not vain. I dont talk about myself too much when Im doing interviews. I think theres been a lot of work on this planet thats been done in rock and roll, in literature or in painting that makes me look like I dont exist. Its just the way it is. Its the truth. Im not being noble; its the truth. If Ive made a difference in peoples lives with that song, then its a surprise to all of us.
When I saw Harlans 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 hes kind of great. I mean, Im just happy for his success. He seems like a very nice guy and Ive enjoyed his writing enormously since. I went out and bought one of his books yesterday. Its good for Harlan Im 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. Weve got a four-page ad in Classic Rock. Were 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.
Its synchronicity. Like I said before, things are meant to happen. You move in circles and you meet people. Its all kind of preordained. I dont know why. It just turned out so well. Its a very positive thing. Its 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.
Im surprised because I read a lot I read classics, I like poetry, I read the newspaper. Im surprised I didnt 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 youre reading it. You really get inside peoples heads. And its a very seamless kind of style. When you finish a chapter, it isnt like it shifts six gears down. Youre sort of idling and then you go back into top gear again. His style is something I didnt expect. Im impressed; hes a very good writer. Im really enjoying his work.
Yes, hes good at channeling human emotion and making believable characters.
Exactly! Like Stephen King, when hes in his proper element. I havent read Stephen King for a while but Harlan seems to have that he can read people. He knows a lot.
Speaking of writing, Ive always thought that in addition to being a great singer, youre 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 "moonlights kickin in the door. Its a short yet impactful phrase because with just a few words you conjure up a powerful image. Whats the songwriting process like for you?
Well, its 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, "Ive been watching you watching me, cant you tell what Im going through. We were each throwing lines in. I cant 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, its 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 Ill keep listening because I never had a choice when it came to you. It was like playing ping pong. Its why I like to work with other people because theyll throw something at you and if theyre worth their salt, theyll know where youre going. And then that sets up something you would never think of.
Its like this conversation. Im free-forming this conversation and it keeps going. I couldnt finish it myself. And songwriting is like that and it helps you create fresh, solid work. You dont sit down to write pop music. It kind of uses you. The music writes itself, really.
Thats a really good point. A lot of good ideas in life, in general come out of collaboration and chemistry.
Yeah, and sometimes its a struggle. When people insist that they want to write lyrics and theyre chewing a pencil and theyve got a legal pad in front of them and its like, Jesus Christ, I make everything up on the spot. Ill 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, youve 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 havent got it, you really havent got it. And the stuff that happens when youre not working is the stuff worth keeping. Its the stuff that surprises even you.
Aside from the lyrics, Ive 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?
Thats singing the blues. I just make it up as I go. Building another lyric and scatting across what youve already done. Its a blues thing. Its a skill in itself but I never think about it; Ill just riff at the end because thats what youre supposed to do when youre singing the blues. Tina Turner would start doing it its just something that singers do. Its like modern art at that point. You just fly.
To me, thats the best part of a song.
Yeah, thats 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 dont 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, its a different time of day, and then you start playing the song and it comes out differently every single time. I couldnt sing a song the same way twice if you put a gun to my head. Id have to riff on it, Id have to extend it somehow or its pointless. I might as well say to the audience, "If youd like to hear the record, I guess its in the CD player in your car. Youd be better off listening to that. But Im gonna bring something into it if it kills me. Thats what I do. Its important, thats where the art is.
The original is only there as a template. Its a beginning. Im not going to turn it into jazz, but youre gonna approach it in a different way; make it a little more edgy and youll bring stuff into it. And, to me, without that, its nothing. I wouldnt want to hear it again or listen to it if it doesnt do that. To do that is the mark of, I dont know
art, if I can say that without smiling. It is art. If it doesnt take off and go somewhere, then the performance is the same every night. Its like bands that play to tapes. You cant stretch out because the song is going to finish. And if you dont stretch out, then what have you just done?
Thats a really good point.
Im glad I got that point in because its 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 dont get it. When youd go see Led Zeppelin, every night was different. And look at the Stones; theyd come out and play the daylights out of their songs because theyd never play the same thing twice Jaggers always riffing on the melodies along with Keith and their songs can go off into the stratosphere. And without doing that, I dont know what the fuck youre doing up there. Its like, you might as well just watch a video. Thats what separates the men from the boys. Thats the thing. Thats why its 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 thats because Daryl Hall and John Oates live are more of an R&B act than pop music.
Maybe thats 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 youve got the violin going and the guitars out and they like to start singing and jamming. Its a Celtic thing as well its a tribal thing. Its very Scotch-Irish. It is R&B and its the melding of those two things. Its like country music meets black music and then youve 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?
Didnt really get to see them. Wed 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 wed 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. Hed come out every night and a
Neals 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, didnt 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, "Lets just leave it. Lets put it out, and lets take a break from each other. Lets 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. Its hard to start a record in like six weeks when youve 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 didnt 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.
Its OK. Were grown men in a band. Its a strange thing. After a certain age, it didnt really
I look at the Stones, and the Stones work. I saw them in London, and man theyre still rockin the house, ya know? And its a Scorsese thing. From New York, I thought I was brilliant. The Stones really have it. I mean, some bands just dont have it.
Its like talking about writers or painters or whatever. I dont know. I dont 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 thats lyric-driven or very, very intense, but, then again, I could listen to something completely different and get knocked out.
I dont look at competition. I dont compete, is where Im going with this. If Im on the bill with someone else, they know theyre going to get a run for their money, at least. And I just dont even think about it. Like, we were talking about "Missing You being that big. It never occurs to me that its that big. I like the idea of it being that successful and Im flattered and deeply touched and honored that people responded to that in my lifetime. It means more than I can tell you. But Im not really aware of it in my daily life. I dont allow myself to walk around like that.
Well, thats 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 doesnt mean its finished. Once youve finished painting something or seeing something or writing a piece of music you think is going to be great, the doors closed and then it opens again, and theres more to do theres a different way of looking at it. If you really do put those gold records on your wall and stand around thinking that youre a genius I mean, Jesus, that means that you really just stopped working. Your mind stopped working or you dont have anything else to offer. Thats the thing about life; theres always the next second, the next hour. Everything can change. You could write a masterpiece in 36 hours that you didnt know you could write. You could write absolute crap after writing a number one single. But I think if youre self-contented and you think youre something, I think you stop being an artist. I really believe that. Youre never finished your work. Thats what Im saying. The work, if its 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, its appropriately named Best. For this collection, you rerecorded three songs: "Back On My Feet Again, "Isnt It Time and "Missing You. How was it revisiting these classic songs?
Since we play them live it wasnt such a big deal. I wasnt nervous or thinking about it or
I think the version of "Missing You is pretty great because its got a little bit more edge in it. A little bit more cowboy, for some reason I see it as being a cowboy song. Its got more adultness in it. Its got more emotions in it that are darker. Its slightly angry, and hurt. Its 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 playem and you dont get sick of singing them. And its what you leave behind when you go. But "Back On My Feet Again and "Missing You are definitely two of those songs.
Best also includes some more obscure songs, like "Suicide Life, "Bluebird Cafe and "Im 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 Ive 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 Ive 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 its probably one of the best things Ive ever written. And I couldnt 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 dont know what was going on with me. But I wrote that whole album. Its just
man, I dont know how I did it. I just look back at it now and go, really? I wonder how you did that. Its amazing to me that I was that physically capable and willing to go out there with that kind of work. Its 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 2011s 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, Im looking at it now here we go. Its full of cassettes and each cassette is six ideas per side. And Im looking at a music stand thats got lyrics written and I know the type of the record. And if I go into the studio, Im 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, Id 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 its fantastic. But last year I put out a live album, Live All Access, because thats the best Ive 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 everyones 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 its in my heart. Its really deep in me, that country, folk, blues thing. Ive never really explored that acoustically and Id 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 youve 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 dont 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 dont 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 couldnt put a foot wrong. It just came out and sounded like you wouldnt 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. Were going to do it tonight. I dont 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 youve 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 dont 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 Im doing and Im going for something and I dont really want anybodys input. The band is who Im going to listen to, and we know when its right. Its a pure form of making music. At this point, I cant take somebody coming into the studio wearing a suit or worse, not wearing a suit, and saying they dont hear a single. I just dont have that in me to listen to it. I cant do it. I cant.
One thing I noticed about you, and other singers who arent 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, Im better (laughs).
But you dont get the credit for it and thats 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 its Tom Jones or whether its you, or another singer, a lot of times the diction of singers who arent from America is better than the diction of those who were born here.
Yeah, its funny. And you mentioned Tom; he really rips it up, hes great. I mean, hes really great. I dont 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 dont 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 theyre not really playing the game. Theyre just making music. Unfortunately, theres not enough room for them in the corporate world. Some of them are coming out of London. But I dont 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. Thats how its run now. The music business its just fucking ridiculous. Its just what it is. Its what its 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 isnt working.
Theres something primal about music, obviously. People respond to that and you cant feed them prepackaged stuff. So, Im very confident in young talent. I think young talent will always be going against the grain. It its worth anything, it always does.