America in Annapolis
Apr 19, 2013 10:01PM
● By Anonymous
Photo by Dmitri Kasterine
How do you feel when you walk around in a public place or you’re in an elevator somewhere and you hear your songs? Is that surreal to you if it ever happens to you?
Yeah, that’s a great first question. It’s always kind of a proud thing. I always feel very… It is kind of surreal, to answer your question. It’s kind of strange to think of a song that I’ve written and the band has recorded or one of Gerry’s songs or whatever --any America song when I realize that they were written in a little bedroom somewhere or in someone’s living room and then now they’ve found their way into mainstream. Yeah, indeed. I hear it on the radio now or in the elevator or it comes up on a T.V. show or in a movie or something. It’s one of those kind of phenomenal things that this business sort of creates for you. It’s humbling and I’m very proud of our work.
Where’s the strangest place you’ve created a song or came up with an idea for a song?
I don’t think anywhere particularly strange. I get little ideas in virtually any place I am and I’ll jot down a note or something. Sometimes that will be incorporated into a song. I spend time out in nature a lot. Something will come into my head when I’m walking at an amusement park and you see something that sparks an idea or watching television. Nothing really strange. I’ve been in some pretty beautiful places around the world in our travels and they can inspire a lyric. But some pretty traditional settings, I think.
What’s the secret behind making a good song lyrically and what’s the secret behind making a good song musically?
Well, as everybody would say traditionally: simplicity first. You can reach a lot of people with simple, common themes. That’s why love songs are so popular. I tend to write to create imagery that reflects my surroundings, so Gerry and I, as the primary writers, always say, ‘I write the outdoor songs and Gerry writes the indoor songs.’ So, he tends to write more of the love songs or the more passionate things probably. Although, we write across the line and I tend to write the sort of Ventura Highway, Horse With No Name outdoorsy songs. But simplicity, I think, is really important, unless you’re a very sophisticated musician, which I don’t consider myself, and write very complex melodies and arrangements. I think most people want to be able to hum the melody and understand the lyric and I think the bulk of our music falls in that category.
How do you keep performances fresh and fun and new after all these years? You go through performances and concerts year after year and, I guess it can get to a point where you feel like you’ve seen the same thing over and over. How do you come up with new ideas for performances for the fans?
You know, that’s a real common question, too. I’ve never found myself, I can honestly say, other than when you’re super fatigued and you’ve done five shows in a row, six in a row, I’ve never found myself on stage thinking ‘I can’t wait for this to be over.’ It really every night, in some way, is its own unique night. And the songs, even though they are songs we are very, very familiar with and we do play regularly, there’s some element in any given night. The ambiance of the room, the sound system, the people who are there whether you know them or not, there’s always some element that makes that night special in its own way or unique at least. I don’t have to go to a big effort to make it interesting for me, at least. I’m only speaking for myself. I’m always really geared up and ready and get prepared for that show and I always get a little bit of stage fright and I always have to keep my focus up there because if we do 23, 24 songs, in over 90 minutes, this is a lot going on, a lot of dynamics, so there’s really no time for me at least to become complacent or bored or anything. You really want to present those songs in the best light. They are our little babies, our creations, so I’m always excited up there.
A lot of people, when they’re at a career for a while, they get burnt out. What is it about music that keeps you motivated, even today?
I love music. I still listen. I go to concerts. I was just recently, this past week, in New York for the Eric Clapton Crossroads show and it was really spectacular to see those artists up there and to be part of this greater community—this world of music—that affects all of us in one way or another. Music is a very special form of communication. It’s a gut thing – it provides sort of a route to emote, to feel different emotions and express yourself whether you’re the maker of the music or the listener of the music. You find music that applies to your own emotional life. So, being part of that community, the music itself is really just an ever-inspiring form of communication for me. And not to mention that it’s my lifeblood, my career, my bread and butter. I’ve had a lot of relationships built within that community and our band, so, it’s really been my life since I was very young and we started early, too, when we were 17, 18, 19 years old. We’re very fortunate to get into this business, write some songs and find a pathway to becoming professionals. So I really owe everything to this thing called music.
Simply put, it’s basically a case of “If you love it, it doesn’t feel like work at all.” You’re not working a day in your life.
Yeah and I am very grateful for that reality. It’s very true that we’ve been able to find that niche and that really is something that I love doing. Yeah, you put it right. If you love doing it, it ain’t work.
Explain to someone like me who’ll never feel this feeling, the adrenaline rush of stepping out on stage in front of thousands of fans chanting your name, singing your songs with you, screaming their heads off. What is that like?
You just described it pretty well. It’s a pretty exhilarating moment and especially at big shows. Although, I think I feel this same kind of anxiety. I get a little bit of stage fright that can be amplified. But I feel that for small crowds as well as big crowds. It’s very exhilarating. It’s kind of mind-blowing to think that that many people can mouth the words to the songs and lyrics you’ve written, be it in the U.S. or a foreign country. I’m always particularly amazed at the places around the world, especially places that aren’t even English-speaking that know our music and act the way you described. So, it’s just a very difficult thing to put a finger on but it’s heartwarming and it’s a prideful feeling. It’s also gratifying to know that that many people--it is the entertainment business after all--and that many people are entertained by us and essentially entertainment is distracting you from life in all of its harder forms. I think we’re providing a little escape there for that hour-and-a-half for an evening that is equally satisfying.
You just said you get stage fright and are nervous on stage. How is that possible? How were you able to combat that when you wanted to get into music? Does the good outweigh the bad?
Stage fright is the general term for it. I think everybody has a little insecurity about what they’re doing and I have mine. My abilities as a musician are basic, really. I’m not a virtuoso in any regard. I think you set yourself up against other artists and other things and all of that combined with getting out there. You have to have a lot of confidence to get out in front of a lot of people. I think it takes a very special person to be a front-man. For example, I’m always amazed at the Mick Jaggers of the world and how they can really get up there and command an audience without even a shadow of insecurity. I think I’m not in that category, so that’s what I’m describing, I think.
Do you prefer to do larger venues or smaller venues when you perform? Or is there not even a difference to you?
As long as the sound is good. It generally tends to be. We’re in our 43rd year and we’re able to compare the sound of various venues as the years have gone on and the evolution of the equipment and the technology. So as far at the sound is good and you’re hearing what you’re singing and what you’re playing, then I’m okay. That can be in a small or a big place. But if it’s funky sound and the room is an odd shape, then you know that half of the audience isn’t getting it all that’s disconcerting because we do have a lot of dynamics in our show. There are a lot of vocal parts. There are a lot of instrumentation changes. There are a lot of things that you don’t want the audience to miss because that’s part of what we’ve worked hard at creating out there. I wouldn’t say large or small is better or worse. It’s all about those parameters.
Of all your years of traveling and touring, what’s the craziest thing you guys have seen on the road? And, separate question but similar, what’s the strangest encounter you’ve ever had with a fan outside of a concert or a public appearance/autograph signing or anything like that? Or just you walking around a grocery store or something? What’s the craziest encounter you’ve had with a fan?
Oh wow. We’ve seen a lot of pretty crazy things and fans over the years. I mean, we played a lot of rock festivals in the 70’s -- big, huge shows, which were pretty, I don’t know if crazy is the right word, but they were definitely eye-opening. We’ve flown in on helicopters, the big festival sites that have going on for two days and it’s like everything you imagine, the people that have been living there and eating and breathing. There’s a real feeling of entering some different place. We don’t do that much anymore but we definitely have experienced that.
Fans? Yeah, you definitely get some obsessive fans now and then. I think we have less than a lot of artists who have a lot more wild stories out there. We’ve had people impersonate us that we found out, as far as in the negative realm. In the positive realm, we’ve had people that have shrines to us in their homes. There are collections of everything we’ve ever recorded and foreign releases. That’s always pretty amazing. I think virtually everyone has a fan and bands and artists have more of those. But we’ve been very lucky in that regard that we haven’t had wacky, obsessive, crazy, as you say, things happen. We’ve had some things that had to be dealt with but the big, giant rock show was something. We shared the stage with John Wayne and Bob Hope one year, which was a surreal moment. We did a little dance step, it was for the Bob Hope TV show. We’ve been on a lot of T.V. shows over the years. We’re talking about our heyday in the 70’s and 80’s and so on.
Now, we tend to really work very hard on the road. We have a circuit to a lot of the fairs and casinos and theaters and some really wonderful venues these days, too. That’s the best I can give you on that one.
What’s the key to co-existing with a band member on the road? I guess you and Gerry had spent a lot of time in a tour bus, going from city to city, in such a tight confine, spending a lot of time together. What’s the key to co-existing with somebody on the road?
Well, as with any relationship, especially in long-term, we’ve come to know each other’s quirks. We give each other a lot of space. We all do. We’re not really liking it to when we were in our 20’s and it was like, this band of merry men, that we were joined at the hip and going out partying and things. We’re older gentlemen, if you will, now although we feel like teenagers a bit. We have patterns that we all recognize and respect. We don’t tend to go out and eat that much anymore. The road is more about focusing on that show and getting settled in your room and soundchecks and things and making that show that night. So we don’t spend nearly as much time sort of in a social environment as we used to.
Plus, with technology, we communicate quite well with texting and emails and cell phones now. Back in the day when you didn’t have all that, you really did have to physically be together to be communicate certain things. If you had a comment about last night’s show or a certain song and maybe some instrumentation changes. Really you had to be together physically in the old days. Now you can express yourself with all those other means and communicate well that way.
We don’t really have much friction at all on the road. Gerry and I, our relationship has evolved to where we barely have to say anything and we know that Gerry wanted that changed or I would like that changed or we shouldn’t do that show or we should stay in that hotel. We can kind of read each other’s minds in that way.
What was it about Annapolis that made you want to put it on your schedule? What do you guys like about the city?
Well, we love Annapolis and we’ve played a lot there in that area. But to answer your question, we don’t put things on the schedule. All of that is pretty much out of our hands. We confirm a date that comes through our agency. The agency is the booking entity that finds shows for us. An agent, of course, takes a commission—that’s their job. And when we get an offer from a venue, like the Ram’s Head, that’s where we’re playing two nights this weekend, then we okay it or nix it based on the offer itself.
But yeah, we love that area. We’ve pretty well got friends and have a working knowledge of most of the cities in this country. We’ve played everywhere. We’ve been very fortunate that way. Our music is across the board palatable if you will. A large spectrum of the citizenry, young and old find a way to one of our shows. We’re looking forward to it tonight.
What is your favorite song that you guys have performed?
There are a lot of more obscure songs that I have a strong feeling about, but as far as familiar pop songs of ours, “Ventura Highway” I would have to single out as the one song that I always get a rush at night on stage. It seems to transcend generations. It’s got that fairly idealistic view of California and so on. I’m proud of that one. I like singing it every night. It resurrects some old feelings from those times of being young and idealistic.