Interview: Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Paul O'Neill

October 26, 2006 01:16 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Two years ago, a reporter caught Trans-Siberian Orchestra leader Paul O'Neill off guard. He asked O'Neill, "What's the point of Trans-Siberian Orchestra?"

"I said, 'We're trying to create the greatest art that we can,'" O'Neill recalled.

The reporter asked for a definition of "art," and O'Neill, whose 30-piece band has become a Christmas staple, said the purpose of art is to elicit an emotional response from a person who's exposed to it.

"To me, there's three types of art--there's good art, there's bad art and there's great art. Bad art is a painting on a wall that you don't even notice. You just walk past it as if it was wallpaper. It's a song that you hear on the radio that just becomes background noise. It's a movie that you go to that just becomes a good excuse to eat buttered popcorn," O'Neill explained.

"Good art will elicit an emotional response from the listener or viewer that they felt before. You see a picture of forest, and you remember the last time you went fishing with your dad. You hear a song about driving fast in your car, and you remember when you were 16 and you got your driver's license and you went over the speed limit. You hear a love song and remember the first time you fell in love. That's really, really hard to do.

"But great art--and this is the hardest thing to do--elicits an emotional response from the person who's exposed to it that they never felt before."

O'Neill hopes to accomplish this with Trans-Siberian Orchestra's art, including its albums--1996's "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," 1998's "The Christmas Attic," 2000's "Beethoven's Last Night," 2001's "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve" and 2004's "The Lost Christmas Eve." Next year, he hopes to release a follow-up, "Night Castle."

O'Neill talked to LiveDaily about the long-delayed "Night Castle," this year's Christmas tour and the art that touches him.

You produced a television special in 1999--starring Michael Crawford and Jewel--for Fox Television, increasing your fan base. Any plans for a follow up?

Paul O'Neill: TSO is going to do multiple movies in the near future. We're going to do it after we finish "Night Castle," which is the next album that is coming out. We should turn ["Night Castle"] in with a little luck in 2007. It was supposed to be turned in in 2005, but obviously we're running late. Actually, I'll tell you a funny story. I got a call yesterday from somebody at Atlantic [Records, asking], "Paul when are you going to turn 'Night Castle' in?" I said, "Soon. Really soon." They said, "Paul, Jesus is coming back soon. If you don't mind we'd like the album one week earlier." I'm like, "I'm doing the best I can." Luckily, Atlantic has been unbelievably patient with us and given us an unbelievable amount of rope with which to hang ourselves. [Laughs] But so far, it's all going great. The albums are doing amazing. Last year, in seven weeks, we did 837,000 tickets [for the Christmas tour]. This year, it looks like we may break a million. Once we finish "Night Castle," we're going to do a 12-month, around-the-world tour. "Beethoven's Last Night" will be the rock opera in its entirety in the front half of the show, songs from "Night Castle" and the album after "Night Castle" will be the second half of the show.

You already have another album written?

We basically have the next seven albums written, [and] two Broadway musicals written ready to go and financed. Big-time financing. [O'Neill could not go on the record about details regarding the musicals or financing.]

Why do you think there's been a delay with "Night Castle"?

[Laughs] Everyone would say me.

Are you a perfectionist?

Yeah, yeah. It's so funny. We want it to be perfect. We want it to be great. We just really want to grab the listener by the heart and we have a gripping tale that takes them through the whole story, and leaves them emotionally exhausted and drained at the end and exhilarated. We're trying to create the best art possible. The first time I even got a hint of [great art] was when I was really young. I grew up in New York City, and they had the World's Fair here in 1961 or something like that [editor's note: 1964]. My father took me and my brother to see the World's Fair. At the World's Fair, they had Michelangelo's Pieta. It's one of the very first sculptures he ever did. It's the only sculpture he ever signed. It's Mary holding Christ right after he's been taken down from the cross. I'm not overly religious, even though I was brought up Catholic. I was 6 years old at the time. I couldn't be.

As I'm looking at this statue, the pain in Mary's face as she's holding her dead son, had nothing to do with religion. Just looking at a mother holding her dead child ... I felt the pain and the anguish she must have felt to hold her dead child. Here I am, 6 years old. Not only have I never even thought about what it must be like to have a child, I had no clue what it would be like to lose one. The idea never even entered my head. But here is this statue carved by this man over 500 years ago, 20,000 miles away from where I was born, and yet this man with this work of art is reaching through five centuries to grip the heart of a 6-year-old kid and make him feel an emotion he had never felt before. I was unaware of it at the time, but it happened.

Then, as I got older, you go to school. I remember reading "All Quiet on the Western Front," which was required reading. At the time I was reading it, I had never been in a war, in a trench being mustard-gassed as artillery shells are falling all around me. I never felt that claustrophobia, that kind of fear. But by reading "All Quiet on the Western Front," I'm feeling this claustrophobia and fear. "Am I going to live? Am I going to die?" I can't wait to turn the page to see what happens. So, again, here is this writer [who], through the use of words, like Michelangelo through the use of stone, is able to make someone feel an emotion they've never felt before.

I think that's the purpose of art. When triggering emotional response, some are easier to trigger than others. The easiest one to trigger, and I think this is why so many people often do it, is the emotions of anger and hate. They're so easy to do that; any 4- or 5-year-old kid can do it. Like, a 5-year-old kid throws a rock and hits your head--you're angry at the little kid. Then, if he gets behind a fence where you can't get him and he hits you in the head again, for five minutes you hate the little bugger. Those are easy emotional responses to get. But the ones of joy, passion, empathy, sympathy, happiness, these are much tougher to trigger in a human being. Especially the one of laughter. The artists that I see that I admire the most, believe it or not, are comedians. A lot of times on tour, we stop by hospitals, especially children's wards or cancer wards. A couple years ago we were there talking to the kids, it was going great. But there was a comedian there at the same time. He's getting these adults and kids all to laugh. We're in the cancer ward, so both the adults and the kids have cancer. And they're also all going through chemotherapy. They've all lost their hair. I'm sure you're probably aware chemotherapy makes you feel nauseous, basically drains the life out of you. For 10 minutes, he has all these sick people laughing. Those 10, 15 minutes, they weren't sick, they weren't cancer victims. They were just laughing and they were happy. He took them from someplace they were to someplace great. He did it just with words.

How does this year's show differ from last year's?

This year, we've added another four tractor-trailers of light and special effects. We just keep trying to take it to higher and higher levels. We have all kinds of surprises. We're working them out right now with the engineers. When we go on tour now, 219 people go to work. The band's gotten so big, we have to literally rehearse in a coliseum, which we rent out for two weeks. A lot of times, these bands rehearse small or in a rehearsal studio or a sound stage, and then you book cities in the middle of nowhere and call them warm-up shows. In Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we don't believe in warm-up shows. We believe in being great out of the box. We basically just rent a coliseum because that's the only thing that can fit our production. We rehearse for two weeks, shake out all the bugs so that no one has a bad experience going to see a TSO show. We don't sell tickets behind the stage. Once the front of the show is sold out, it's sold out. TSO is the first rock band that actually does matinees. The reason we do this--I learned this from Pink Floyd--is we don't want anyone to ever go to a TSO show and say, "Oh my boyfriend took me to see TSO but we were behind the stage" or "My dad took us to see Trans-Siberian and we had bad seats." We become the first rock band to ever do two shows in one day. In a lot of the cities, if we sell out too quickly on the night shows, rather than open up the sides and behind the stage, everyone gets up a little earlier and we do a 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. show. Most rock musicians would rather have a boiler implanted in their forehead than get up in the afternoon. [Laughs] But with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we'd rather get up in the afternoon than have someone experience less than the full show.

How many members do you have in your band?

Thirty core members and 30 kind of revolving members. I think it keeps it healthy. There's literally teenagers in the band, people in their 20s, people in their 30s, people in their 40s. It's the older people have experience, and they're the keel of the organization. The younger musicians, those who are 19, 20, don't allow anyone to become jaded. I remember last year, the bass player's like "Can you believe we sold out Madison Square Garden in four hours?!" He's so excited. The young kids, they don't allow the older ones to become jaded or be taken for granted. That's one thing we never want to do--take our audience for granted. We never want to become complacent. We want every show to be new, to be fresh. We just always want to stay on top of our game. That's what's really important with Trans-Siberian. Despite the size of the band and the complexity of the music, there's no tapes, no lip syncing there's no nothing.

Last year, believe it or not, a couple actually came and tried to get their money back after they saw [a vocalist] do "Queen of the Winter Night." She's running all over the stage doing this unbelievably hard operatic song written by Mozart. She was so perfect, everyone thought she was lip-syncing--and she wasn't. [A lot of artists] say they have to lip sync because they have to dance or move. With TSO, you get the movement--forget the movement, you get the running. Nobody's lip-syncing. The string parts are all live. If we make a mistake, you're going to hear it. Watching someone walk a tightwire with a net is exciting. Watching someone walk a tightwire without a net is even more exciting.

THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS EVE - now available for the first time on VHS and DVD - is a unique fantasy trip through the magic of Christmas. Narrated by award-winning actor Ossie Davis, the production takes us on a journey of a runaway little girl's decision to return to her family after she enters a rundown theater for shelter and encounters an old caretaker who guides her on her journey. This magical story - which features appearances from Atlantic recording artists Jewel and Michael Crawford - was filmed entirely on location at the newly refurbished and historic Loews Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey, and includes performances of such tracks as "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Good King Joy," "Christmas Canon," "Music Box Blues," "Promises To Keep," and "This Christmas Day,".

Interview: Dave Murray of Iron Maiden

October 19, 2006 12:06 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

British rockers Iron Maiden are playing their new album, "A Matter of Life and Death," in its entirety during their current tour--an idea that could've gone over like a lead zeppelin with the group's longtime fans. But guitarist Dave Murray said that the new material--which the English metal legends play during the first half of their shows--is adding a new dimension that the crowds appreciate.

"Maiden have always done the songs that everyone wants to hear," Murray said in a recent telephone interview from Boston. "They're great songs. We love playing them. But it was a case where it's a challenge for us to play the new album. It pushes us a little bit further. It's just a lot of great fun playing these songs.

"We thought the songs were so strong it justifies playing them live. There's a lot of highs and kind of lows--there's a lot of moods with these songs. They're not just straight-ahead bang, bang, bang. There's quite a lot of quiet passages and where it changes tempos. The fans can stand there and listen to the music as opposed to going out there and bashing their head away for two hours. This is a very musical set. You can really get down with it, or, if you want to sit down and listen to it, you can do that too. On every level, you have a nice balance during the set."

Iron Maiden is enjoying a revival of sorts thanks to "A Matter of Life and Death," which debuted at No. 9 on The Billboard 200 album chart, marking the first Top 10 entry of the band's 14-album career.

The sales figures could partially be due to the publicity the band received during a 2005 run with Ozzfest. During Maiden's final Ozzfest performance, organizer Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy's wife, turned off the sound several times, threw eggs at the stage and chanted "Ozzy" through the PA system, according to published reports. Sharon Osbourne then took the stage and called lead singer Bruce Dickinson an obscene name.

Murray talked with LiveDaily about the Top 10 spot, the songwriting process and Iron Maiden's career-long mascot Eddie.

How's the tour going so far?

We just started a couple of days ago in Hartford and it was great. We're starting to play the whole album. We have big production and a stage set, and it went very good. A great reaction from the audience. They were singing along to all the new songs. It kick-started really well, and we're proud of that.

How did you make the decision to play all of "A Matter of Live and Death" in concert? It's pretty ambitious.

I know. [Laughs] When we were making the album, we just had a really good vibe in the studio. We just felt each track was telling a story. The way we rehearsed and recorded, it felt really natural to play. A lot of stuff on this album, there's a lot of musical, kind of, tricky bits. When we play it live, we have to be right on top of it. It's a case of, it was going to be a challenge for us playing the type of music we've created. We thought, "Well, every tour we've come out and we've been playing a lot of the old material, maybe two, three, four, five, six songs from the new album." We just felt like, "Let's do this whole album." The reaction from the other night was quite stunning, so we thought we had made the right decision. It could fall flat on its face because the music is so strong with the melodies. As well, I think the fans have had enough time--the ones who have the album--they're coming to the show, they know the tunes. It's been out for a few weeks. Hopefully, they would have played it to death. Watching them, they would sing along, they were listening, they were singing along to all the new stuff. We're doing some of the older material, but they have to wait for that until the end. In a way, we feel now this time of Iron Maiden [where] it's justified. "Let's do the new album." There will be other tours when we're going out doing all the older stuff. So, this time around, let's just do this and see what happens.

Congratulations on how high you charted in the United States.

Yes, I think it's the highest ever. The highest entry we've had ever in the US. Also throughout Europe. It was No. 1 in nine different countries. For some reason, it's gone through the roof sales-wise in the first few weeks of release. It's quite incredible that Iron Maiden fans are out there looking out for it.

What do you think it was about "A Matter of Life and Death" that struck your fans?

It's hard to say, really, because I think we've pretty much done the same sort of things that we've normally done. We make an album, and then we prepare for the tour. Maybe stuff like the Internet has made the band more accessible and, through that, they can follow what's going on. I don't know, really. For some unknown reason, this album has shot up. Maybe they've been listening to the earlier stuff, and [were] just waiting for this one to come up. It's been a few years since [2003's] "Dance of Death," anyway. That's a good question. If we knew why, we'd bottle it and sell it as a magic potion. [Laughs] The rock fans are in tune with what's going on today. Through the Internet, they can get access to this band or any band. They're more on top of it.

The success shows you're still relevant in the 2000s.

Yeah, it's nice to be relevant. [Laughs] I think everybody wants to be relevant--especially now. It's such a diverse time of music. But with the Iron Maiden fans, they kind of know what they're going to get. They hook into the whole package--Eddie, the whole thing. I think this is the 14th studio album we've done, and God knows how many tours. It's nice to feel that, yeah, OK, there's still a buzz out there. You just want to go in and make an album, have fun with it, go on tour and have fun with it and enjoy it. When the fans are coming to the shows and the ticket sales are going amazing, and the album's going amazing, it's all worthwhile--and relevant. [Laughs]

I'm assuming you bring Eddie out on stage with you again?

Yeah. Absolutely. In fact, this production on this tour is pretty incredible. It reminds me of going back to the [1984] "Powerslave" type of production we had with all the visual stuff that's going on besides the music. Eddie's certainly part of that. He's larger than life in more ways than one. So there's a lot of visual stuff going on as well, and Eddie's part of it--not to give too much away. It's a pretty huge set. I don't think the fans will be disappointed when they see visually what's going on.

What do you see for the future of Iron Maiden? Will you continue cranking out albums?

Absolutely. We're touring until the end of the year, and then we're going to take some time off and maybe do something next year. We definitely have plans to do another studio album. Obviously, the dust hasn't settled on this one. There's definitely plans to make a new studio album but fans won't see that for a couple more years.

What is the songwriting process like with the band?

Steve [Harris, bassist] and Bruce write all the lyrics, and then the rest of the guys come up with the music. Steve will kind of, like, be the nucleus, so everyone collaborates with him. With ideas, everyone individually goes to Steve and he kind of knocks them into shape. Eventually, people will go to Steve and show them what they got. Sometimes, they're as good as they are. We kind of work like that. Before we go into rehearsal, the song will basically be there in acoustic form. Once we get with the band, it really starts to come into shape. It's a little seed and everything grows out of that. It's a very natural process. Nothing is really forced. No one is bashing their head against the wall. The guys have really got some strong ideas. We want to keep it fresh.

"A Matter of Life and Death", the best Maiden release in a very long time. Maiden fans new and old should love this. Contains interviews and two in-studio performances.

Interview: Tim Nordwind of OK Go

October 11, 2006 12:11 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

When OK Go bassist Tim Nordwind walks down the street, he garners some pretty odd stares. It's not primarily from young fans who have purchased OK Go's latest album. Instead, it is from older folks who fell in love with the quirky video for "Here It Goes Again," in which the band performs choreographed dance moves on moving treadmills.

"You're not the only one to say that about their parents or even their grandparents and great-grandparents loving our video," Nordwind said with a laugh via telephone from California.

"I got stopped on 42nd Street [in New York] a couple weeks ago by this lady who was about 75, 80 years old [who said] 'Oh my God, it's the guy on the treadmill! It's the guy on the treadmill!'" said Nordwind, who is highly recognizable due to his bald head, long sideburns and thick glasses. "It's funny. It seems to have a universal appeal."

The video, recorded in lead singer Damian Kulash's home with the help of his sister Trish, a choreographer, has made OK Go one of the most unlikely alt-rock heroes of 2006. Though Kulash's voice is the one heard singing "Here It Goes Again," Nordwind is the member lip-synching the lyrics in the song's video, leading many to believe that the vocals are his.

"Here It Goes Again" appears on a year-old album, "Oh No," and the song/video has boosted sales of the record past the 400,000 mark. The video has been viewed more than 8 million times on where it ranked as one of YouTube's Top 10 videos of all time after only two weeks, according to a press release. The song remains in regular rotation on MTV Hits, FUSE, MTV and mtvU.

A previous video for the song "A Million Ways," which also appears on "Oh No," is nominated for an MTV Europe Music Award. The ceremony is set for Nov. 2 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Nordwind recently talked to LiveDaily about the making of "Here It Goes Again" and "A Million Ways," working with They Might Be Giants, and the band's stellar reproduction of the treadmill-dance sequence on the MTV Video Music Awards this summer.

LiveDaily: Congratulations on the success of "Here It Goes Again."

Tim Nordwind: It's crazy. I think whenever you start a band, you're delusional enough to think that everyone's going to love everything you do. But in the back of your brain, you know that's not true. When it actually does kind of happen to you, it comes as an extra surprise because it's like, "Whoa, my delusional thoughts are coming true for a second." Two months ago, we were basically getting ready to close up shop on this record. At this point, the record is over a year old. We were actually making plans to get down and start the next record. All of a sudden the video sort of blew up and the song started being added to radio. All of a sudden we're touring for another year. [Laughs]

How does it feel to have a record that became a hit a year after its initial release?

It obviously feels really good. [Laughs] We really like the record, and stand behind the record. It's all we've ever been inclined to do is have people listen to the record. [The video was] a weird and funny way to get people to listen to it. But I'll take it any way we can get it.

How on earth did you come up with that concept for the video?

I guess the predecessor to that video is another sort of choreographed video for a song off the record called "A Million Ways." It's a video that we shot in our singer's backyard. It was kind of a mistake, because it was a dance we choreographed for the end of our live shows to confuse and awe the audience. We choreographed the whole thing at our singer Damian's house, and he doesn't have a dance mirror or anything like that. We recorded it to show our friends, and then they started passing it around. Then their friends started passing it around. Then it became one of the most downloaded videos six months later. When we saw the success of "A Million Ways," we decided to make another one. It was really fun to do. We called up Damian's sister Trish, who choreographed our first dance. She's a ballroom dancer and full-time maniac. We said to her, "We want to make another video, but we want to consciously make one this time. We want to take it to the next level." We asked her if she had any ideas and she said, "Of course. Treadmills." Honestly and truly, we just wanted a fun idea. Sort of a fun, simple idea. It's nice because for both the "A Million Ways" and "Here It Goes Again" videos, we didn't have to call up the label, we didn't have to spend a lot of money. It was just a fun, simple idea that we had. We took the opportunity to make something that we thought was cool. We really didn't know what would happen with it. We didn't know if we would show it to anyone, to be honest.

Then look what happened. Was it tough to reproduce that live on the VMAs?

[Sighs] Yes. It was extremely difficult to reproduce live. Basically, when we finally decided to show the video to the label, we said, like, "Here's the video for the song. We like it. We want to put it out. Don't ever expect us to do it live unless a big awards show comes along." Then the VMAs came along [laughs], and we all had a big laugh out of that. At that point, it had been a good year since we shot the video. So we had to rent a rehearsal space. We rented a space at the Alvin Ailey Dance Studio, which is like the dance studio of dance studios. We rented a space in their basement. It was really great, because all the real dancers kept coming downstairs and sticking their heads in to see what we were doing, saying "Why are there eight treadmills in our dance studio?" Basically, we rehearsed for a week. After the first day of rehearsal, we remembered what it was like, and had the moves down. After we had the moves down, it was really a question of doing it under pressure. So we'd get up on the treadmills and Trish was there with us, and she would throw bottles at us, scream in our faces, turn the lights on and off, turn the music on and off--really any kind of distraction. Just so we wouldn't get really nervous when we saw really famous people, we cut out pictures of famous people and put them on the wall, kind of like a wall of fame. When we looked out, we saw posters of the Olsen twins, J. Lo, Justin Timberlake, Daryl Hall and John Oates--all the celebrities big and small. [Laughs] We were pretty well prepared. But nothing really prepares you for playing Radio City Music Hall with however many thousand people were there and how ever many people were watching it on TV. I don't think you can simulate that kind of pressure. But it was a thrill. We were total tourists. Afterward, like, Snoop Dogg came up to us, "Yo, how'd you get up on those treadmills?" P. Diddy came up to us and interviewed us with his little camera crew he had with him. Justin Timberlake gave us some accolades.

That's awesome. I read that you've been a house band for mtvU and the radio show "This American Life."

"This American Life" was probably one of the first tours that we did. It was for their anniversary. They went out and broadcasted live from, like, New York, Washington, DC, and Boston, and they broadcast from Chicago, where we're from. They were a big supporter of the band, so they asked us if we wanted to come out to be the house band. That was great to get out of Chicago and play to different people. It's such a good show. It's one of the coolest things we've ever done. I'd like to do it again at some point.

From what I've read, They Might Be Giants proved to be mentors to OK Go..

We share a booking agent, so we did a couple shows with them. We ended up being picked up by the same management as They Might Be Giants. They showed us around the rock 'n' roll side of things. They were very good to us. We'll forever be grateful for all the help in the beginning. You couldn't ask for a better situation for a baby band.

Did they give you any advice?

The best advice I ever got from them was right after we got signed to Capitol. John Flansburgh called everyone individually and congratulated us. He told me, "In the world of rock 'n' roll, so much s--- gets thrown at you and there's so many things that can divide a band." He said,"You just have to laugh at it all. Otherwise you're going to end up really hating life."

Your album "Oh No" was recorded in Sweden. Why Sweden?

We're really big fans of Tore Johansson who produced the album and he's Swedish. I think I started really loving his production in the mid- to late-'90s, with all The Cardigans' records. He did "Life" and "First Band on the Moon." Then, later on, I was in love with the Franz Ferdinand record. When I looked to see who produced it, it was Tore Johansson. So right around that time we were trying to figure out who we wanted to produce the record. So we sent him some demos. He was one of the first people we sent demos to, and one of the last to respond. It took him a few months to get back to us. We had kind of written him off. Finally, he wrote back and he had a lot of positive criticism about the demos and the way he thought about how it should sound--which was the way we wanted it to sound, but we couldn't get it to sound that way with the demos. We really wanted to capture what we do live. He seemed to be thinking the same thing, basically. He wanted to help us make a more dangerous and groovier-sounding record. That's what we wanted to do. He has a 4-year-old daughter and didn't want to come to the states. Frankly, we wanted to get away from the states and get away from the label a little bit, and away from meddling hands, and make the kind of record that we really wanted to make. It was the best 2 and a half, 3 months we've ever had.

What was the most important thing you learned from him?

Really just not to over-think the songs. Just feel them more than think about them. He wouldn't let us record to click tracks. He just really wanted to capture the live feeling and raw feeling. We all sort of wanted to feel the push and pull of the rhythm section, and not fill up every single space with sound. We wanted to let the record breathe a little bit. When we started getting mired in details, he would help us see the big picture a little bit more. He was very good in making it light and fun.

On its self-titled 2002 debut, OK Go nailed the two things every decent power-pop band needs--deadly looks and deadly hooks--to deliver the knock-out hit "Get Over It." Its follow up, produced by Tore Johansson (Franz Ferdinand, the Cardigans) and recorded in Malmöö, Sweden, offers more of the same. Much more. The Chicago quartet can't seem to move through its record collection fast enough, piling on the Beach Boys harmonies, Cars synthesizer squelches and Queen-inspired fanfare on breakneck songs like "Here It Goes Again" and "Crash The Party." Without any pauses for breath or quiet contemplation, it's frankly almost too much to take in one sitting. Then again, it can't be easy trying to cram the entire history of pop in just under an hour.

Interview: Joan Jett

October 04, 2006 11:51 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Punk-rock godmother Joan Jett is not one to keep her thoughts to herself--but when it came to writing about sociopolitical issues, the timing had to be right. The result is the charged album "Sinner," her first release in 10 years.

"I've wanted to write about these subjects--politics, spirituality--for years," Jett said. "But how do you do that? How do you approach the subjects without coming off as preachy or telling people what to do? It's a delicate thing to try to write.

"I really wanted it to be organic and coming from my heart. So, I think maybe the initial thought of wanting to go in that direction, I had to wait until things happened in our world and in our country that fired me up enough where the words came out organically. Something like [the song] 'Riddles,' when you look at what's gone on in this country in the last five years, I don't even recognize it. Sometimes I think the thoughts that we're having at the time: 'Has anybody seen this? Days go by and people don't seem to get upset? Am I crazy? Are people seeing what I'm seeing in this world?'"

To address the issues, she and co-songwriter/keyboardist/best friend Kenny Laguna wrote a skeleton version of "Riddles." Once they were in the studio, the words were flowing.

"I'm singing the lyrics that Kenny and I came up with. As I was singing, words were coming to myself and Kenny. We'd stop the tape, I'd run in the control room and write down these lyrics and I'd go back out and sing them. They started to take shape," she said.

"When I got to the solo and I say, 'Clear skies baby,' the whole thing kind of fell into place. This is what we would write about. All these issues. Anyone can take 'Riddles' and apply it to various issues that are going on in the country--whether you're talking about tax cuts, the environment, the Katrina response, the war in Iraq, lack of jobs. Every sentence has something to do with what's going on. It comes from a real place, and I'm very proud."

Jett talked to LiveDaily about "Sinner," meeting and greeting fans at stops along the Warped Tour, and working with 4 Non Blondes' singer/songwriter Linda Perry.

LiveDaily: Are you happy to be home from the Warped Tour?

Joan Jett: I had a blast doing the Warped Tour, but it's good to be home, for sure.

With the Warped Tour, did you sense an increase in your fanbase?

Well, I'm hoping that we did. I sure saw a lot of kids that I'm sure didn't know a lot about us, or we were definitely new to them. The kids who came up to me afterward, we'd talk about music, sign a lot of autographs. So I'm sure we made a lot of new fans.

That must have been fun to hear the kids' take on music. That's nice of you to meet and greet the fans afterward.

I think it's really important, because that connection with your audience and just seeing everybody up close, talk, say hello, how are you doing, did you have a good time, everyone has different questions for you. It's not anything that's consistently the same all the time. They talk about families. They talk about areas of the country. Somebody grew up someplace. There are millions of different subjects that you end up talking about. I love to engage with people who come to see us.

Why did you decide that now was the time to release an album?

We've been trying to get this CD out for awhile. This is the time when we were actually able to make it happen. We've been working on this for a couple of years. Finally we got it all together. We were able to make it work, and it came out just before the Warped Tour. That was definitely helpful.

What held up the album?

Business issues. We used to be through Warner Bros. Records. They're very artist oriented. They wanted to be involved with the album-making process, which is fine with me. But they kept changing administrations. So we'd have one administration there, the president would be involved, and then they'd change. The next administration wanted to get involved. So we kept getting stopped. This happened five or six times. It made it very difficult to get a record out. A couple of years passed. So I finally just went on the road for about a year and a half. When I came back to it, we amicably separated from Warner Bros. I just picked up where I left off, trying to write the rest of this record. It took awhile to get out.

Why did you decide to re-record "A 100 Feet Away"?

The guitar riff. My guitar player and I both wanted to play that. It's something as simple as that. We liked the song. But we wanted to play it live and wanted to re-record it.

What was it like to work with Linda Perry and Kathleen Hanna?

You're talking about two very different artists. I met Kathleen ... actually, probably out in Seattle, when I was doing a lot of work out there. I did some production for her band at the time named Bikini Kill. They were punk rock, three girls and a guy. I produced [them]. It was only natural that I sort of tried to write songs with her. Kathleen is very sort of outside the box, and forced me to write in a different way. I just thought it was a lot of fun to give that a try. There's probably, I think, three or four songs I wrote with her on "Sinner." Then, Linda Perry I've known for years, [dating back to] when she was in 4 Non Blondes. She's always been a great songwriter. Then I guess she became just that. She stopped performing live and just focused on writing songs, and we just had an opportunity a couple years ago to sit down and try to write songs. We had a shell of a song--we had the melody and the music and some lyrics that weren't really resonating with me at all. Over the last couple years, Kenny Laguna and myself have been reworking the lyrics and came up with this song "Riddles" that came out of the sky, you know?

Blackheart Records is celebrating its 25th anniversary. I know you've been through a lot, seen a lot, done a lot. What sticks out in your mind as landmark events?

Oh God. [Laughs] I've done too much to pick out a couple that stick out. Blackheart Records being 25 years old represents staying power and the fact that we weren't able to get a record out through conventional means, so we had to create this record company to put out our records if we wanted to be a band that had records to give out to their fans. So it was out of necessity that Blackheart was born. I think it's great that now, 25 years later, we're not only putting out our own music, but are able to put out music by other bands. That's really exciting for us. We look forward to doing more of that.

Ms. Jett has aged with grace. At 47, she seems eerily youthful and unjaded.