Monte Montgomery and Daryl Hall on Live From Daryl’s House – That’s The Way I Feel About Cha
Soul. What more needs to be said?
Soul. What more needs to be said?
“Traditionally the Japanese print haiku in magazines and books in one vertical column of writing…This equates to one horizontal line of type in Western languages…”
The Haiku Handbook by William Higginson and Penny Harter
Some people are able to separate the art they enjoy from its creator. They don’t care if a singer has mob ties or if they are at home popping pills and shooting their television in their spare time. I am not one of those people. When there is a singer, poet or artist that I like, I find myself worrying about them, hoping that they are able to keep their muse hanging around.
In order to keep the muse close at hand an artist has to chase their passions. This gives them a sense of purpose. Then they have to create enough space in their life that they can fan the flames of their curiosity. Eventually, they learn how to tie these components together into a process that works for them.
This is how any of us can remain engaged in our lives and feel young at heart. And this is exactly where I found Carlile during the following interview. On her fourth studio album, “Bare Creek,” she sounds comfortable with the skills she’s honed. Simultaneously, she is breaking new ground.
Fans may be used to Carlile’s versatility. Her musical palette has always included country, rock, folk, pop and gospel — often heard within the space of just one song — but the handclaps and bright background vocals on “Bear Creek” are another story. Her latest endeavor is decidedly upbeat.
Carlile and Tim and Phil Hanseroth, “the twins,” as she calls them, make up her band. The brothers are Carlile’s co-writers as well.
Q: A lot of [lyrics] on the new album seem like they are from a kid’s point of view. Is there a child that you were thinking of when you were writing the songs?
A: In general, I think me and the twins sort of have a childlike essence about us. We don’t have regular lives or regular jobs and when we get days off we do childish things—jump in the lake and go fishing and try to find frogs and we go to Disneyland. We like to ride roller coasters. There’s a part of us that’s really in touch with that because in some ways we haven’t exactly had to grow up and act like we’re adults. You ever read the book “The Little Prince?” I love that book. But, it sort of speaks to that mentality. I turned 30 when we were writing the album and I think all of us do generalize, where we’re kind of finding ways to bring that sort of childlike essence into our adult lives. Those kinds of things are coming out in our songwriting, for sure.
Q: Between the last studio album and this album, was there something you were thinking you wanted to try or do differently on the new album?
A: Not consciously, but in retrospect I could see how that happens. Our first three albums on a major label were all sort of in this pressure cooker of an industry, like when you’re in school or you’re starting a new job for the first time, you’re just learning a lot of hard lessons and you’re trying things that are difficult. There’s this labored feeling — our records definitely aren’t labored in a negative way. But I do feel like this record was free of any of that, just because of the absence of a producer and the fact that we recorded it in a town where there is no industry. It just felt very free and raucous and fun and despite the somber connotations that are attached to the songs in the lyrics, there is an element of fun. Maybe that was where some of this childlike essence is coming from.
Q: I hear R&B background vocals and country background vocals. Not many singers pay such close attention to details like these.
A: The twins can sing so well. That’s what first drew me to play with them. When you make records in a certain way with producers — in L.A. and New York and Nashville — there’s kind of a formula, you know? This chorus needs background vocals or this chorus doesn’t need background vocals or these types of moments need ooo’s or these types of moments need aaah’s. There’s this kind of formulaic sensibility to this 9 to 5 way of making records. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that it leaves very little space for something like what would happen to Crosby, Stills and Nash, where a song is three-part harmony the whole way through. I don’t think we’ve heard that kind of thing happening for a long time. So with the absence of a producer and the absence of the industry on this record, we just found ourselves singing a lot more in that way than we would have.
Q: My son is 5. My wife was talking to him about singers and she told him there are stars and legends. He wanted me to ask, when are you going to be a legend?
A: I want to know the same thing. I think I would have to be at least 60 years old to be a legend. You have to earn that title.
Q: As you go from album to album, is there pressure to sound a certain way?
A: I apply an internal pressure to sound different than the one before. But there’s definitely industry pressure to have an up tempo song or a mid tempo song with a big chorus and they have a formula. They have a way that they think songs become “hits” and they definitely want to hear songs like that as would any industry that thrives on that for success. But, songs are something that happen to artists. I could never write within the confines.
Q: Is there pressure to have a song that sounds like “a Brandi Carlile song”?
A: How so?
Q: I’m thinking about “Just Kids” on the latest record. That keyboard-based, atmospheric song sounds very different from the other songs on the album. I can picture that song on an experimental electronic album.
A: Yeah, yeah. I love that song.
Q: But when you turn something like that in, do they look at you like, “Hmmm, where’s the acoustic guitar?”
A: If you give ’em three to work with they let you kinda go crazy on the rest of the record.
Q: Since you are three writers in the band, how do you have the consistent sound you have?
A: Man, your guess is as good as mine. I would have to say that probably the main reason that me and the twins have such consistently, symmetrical, synonymous lives, that we have the same day. We live in the same town. We share the same family. Phil is married to my sister; they have a baby. We see each other every day and so our songs tend to be about the same scope, the same view. It’s difficult for even me to remember who’s written what, you know?
Q: Do you have the same passions?
A: I think we do, yeah, we definitely believe the same things. That’s how we’ve been what we are.
Q: What is your favorite thing about your voice?
A: My favorite thing about it…um, it’s sort of my Achilles’ heel. If it’s OK, it’s feeling good, it’s feeling strong, I kind of feel really strong as well. It is pretty reflective of who I am. But if it’s wobbly, if I’m feeling hoarse, chances are I’m feeling wobbly and hoarse as a person. I’m not sure which comes first, you know? Whether my voice causes me to feel that way or whether I feel that and it comes out in my voice.
Q: Is there an aspect of your voice that you don’t like?
A: The same thing, how well I function throughout the day is contingent upon how my voice feels.
Q: What do you spend most of your time practicing?
A: Piano and I’m not getting a lot better. I practice all the time. I even have a cheap Casio keyboard on the bus.
Q: I just saw you on Jay Leno playing piano.
A: Yeah, and I was having a heart attack.
Q: It’s kind of gutsy for you to play the thing you need the most practice on national TV.
A: I know—first time it’s ever happened.
Are you hungry for some “Cosmic Slop”? If you’re “Up For the Downstroke” you must be a George Clinton fan.
Only to the freaky few would Clinton’s lyrics make sense. But that’s OK with him. He’d rather you keep your eye on the funk. “Free your mind,” he’d sing while Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins followed.
He has over 40 R&B hit singles—including number ones “Flash Light” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep”—to his credit In some incarnation or another, whether it was with his bands Funkadelic, Parliament or P.Funk All-Stars, Clinton has been searching for soul for most of his 70 years on this planet so far.
Speaking with Gene, Clinton starts off in outer space discussing his love of sci-fi. But it doesn’t take him long to get to the ham hock.
GENE: I read that you were a fan of Star Trek as a kid?
George: Oh, I loved it.
GENE: Was that part of what inspired your intergalactic funk?
George: Oh, yes, probably, and science fiction. I got to New Jersey around the same time as “War of the Worlds” came out. That was like in 1952 or 1953 or whatever that era was. I fell in love with that stuff then, and then that Captain Video. And all that just ran into Star Wars.
GENE: Have you seen the latest Star Trek?
George: No, I haven’t seen the latest one. I’m going to see it.
GENE: You were also a doo-wop fan. Do you think you’ll ever start a doo-wop group?
George: Parliament was a doo-wop group.
GENE: A doo-wop version of “Testify” was one of your first hit songs, right?
George: Yeah, we was doing the Ritchie Valens “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and “Sunday Kind of Love” and all those—right when the Monotones did “Who Wrote the Book of Love?” We did it with the same [record] company that the Monotones did “Who Wrote the Book of Love?” with. It was Revilot Records in New York.
GENE: It seems to me that doo-wop is the polar opposite of what you’re known for. Do funk and doo-wop have anything in common to you?
George: Well, I mean, doo-wop is probably the funkiest of all of the R&B music ’cause it is really basic. The only thing that got close to doo-wop is hip-hop, with the spitting the beat. The doo-wop, you sung the music parts as opposed to having all instruments. You have a few instruments, but you actually vocalize the instrument parts and the harmonies. So it was real basic, which is funky as you can get. Then you have a cappella—really funky instrument parts with the vocals. Then you start getting slick and get all the way up into Motown, Phil Spector and all that. It’s still R&B music, but it gets sophisticated in pop. When you get less and less instrumentation in there, it becomes funky.
GENE: In your group now, there’s how many, 20-something members?
George: Yep, almost 30. But we’re never on stage all at the same time.
GENE: If somebody wants to go take a shower they can?
George: They can, and it’s a tag-team thing. It doesn’t matter who it is in fact. I’ll take off, or anybody can take off and we just keep going. The funk thing of it is that we can do it no matter what’s up there, and that actually helps the music and that keeps us on our toes.
GENE: My mind is still trying to get around the similarities between doo-wop and hip-hop. I would’ve never thought of them as being similar before.
George: Yeah, funk is the DNA for hip-hop. Hip-hop means that you basically just spit the beat or rap, talk; and with doo–wop you’re just a lot of, “Darling, I love you…” lots of forms or half-forms or semi-forms and you sing the beats, the doo, doo, doo. Basically, it’s pretty much the same.
GENE: People can easily hear the influence of Sly Stone, James Brown and Frank Zappa in your stuff…
George: Easily. All of it fits in there.
GENE: Are there things in there that people don’t usually pick up on?
George: We have a lot of jazz, a lot of classical music. A lot of our Funkadelic songs you’ll hear piano parts going through there that this guy [Bernie Worrell] had to go to school to learn. He did. He graduated from Julliard and Berkeley. Funkadelic had the ability to put any of that stuff together with each other. There is no set laws about nothing. We were real. Motown, that was my favorite stuff. And I love the Beatles. You take all those concepts and you just put them together and you get stuff like the psychedelic Jimmy Hendrix and the spacey poetic-ness of his lyrics, or Bob Dylan or any of the nonsensical 60s stuff. Rap, Yes or Queen, all of that, you can mix them all together. It doesn’t matter.
GENE: In your song, “What is Soul,” you sang soul is “a ham hock in your Cornflakes…”
George: What is soul? A giant roll of toilet paper, the ring around your bathtub, all of that, what is funk? That’s all the same thing.
GENE: And what is it these days? Is there another definition for it these days?
George: Soul and funk encompasses all of that. It has to be the soul that you really appreciate in the abstract art of funk. You have to be soulful to appreciate feedback. You got to have that opening of your soul for it not to be noise. There’s a certain threshold where noise becomes appreciatable.
GENE: So soul makes the artsy-stuff make sense?
George: It makes sense, right. Things were ugly and all of a sudden there was peace and love, and you’d be surprised at how wide that could be stretched. First is artsy-fartsy, then a lot of people don’t believe in it. But as they get comfortable with it, you actually are able to appreciate Sun Ra or say, Miles Davis, when they just start sounding like their horn is broke. It takes soul to appreciate that, and that space in your head where you allow yourself to grow.
GENE: Do you remember what your first memory of music is?
George: My first memory is my mother listening to Louis Jordan, stuff like that. But me being interested in being the one to do it? That would’ve been my cousin taking me to see The Shirelles rehearse and then going and seeing them and The Spaniels all at the Apollo when I was about 13 or 14, and saying, “Damn, I wanna do that.” Then Frankie Valens came out, and I said, “I know I’m gonna do that!”
GENE: When you’re doing music now, do you get a similar feeling to the feeling you got from it back then?
George: Oh, yeah. Every time I hear somebody do something that’s really fresh to me, and I wish I had done it, I’m ready to start all over again.
Sometimes you need to lose things — a security camera hangs in the corner