Interview: Robert Randolph

Interview: Robert Randolph
December 28, 2006 02:55 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

With active airplay on MTV2, Robert Randolph and the Family Band are happy for the mainstream success they've had with the album "Colorblind."

"People are really tired of the hype and being let down by something that's not good and not different," frontman/pedal-steel guitarist Randolph said of that success during a recent interview. "People are really grasping on us because we bring a touch of a certain energy and joyful vibe to the music scene. A lot of people just kind of forgot how to be true to themselves."

That "energy and joyful vibe" was founded in New Jersey's House of God Church, where Randolph honed his skills as a steel-guitar player. Woven throughout "Colorblind" is a positive vibe that he feels is a vital part of his music.

"It's always important for me because I grew up in church. Growing up in church and having this outlook on life, we're taught how to be positive, stay positive. When you get down about something, you have to be faithful and prayerful. It helps you gain a certain mental thing. For me to be able to share that message and be positive with people and give the kind of things they didn't have growing up in their lives is a great thing for me to share with them."

A native of Orange, NJ, Randolph--who is joined in the band by bassist/vocalist Danyel Morgan, drummer Marcus Randolph and Hammond organ/pianist Jason Crosby--talked to LiveDaily about the making of "Colorblind," working with Eric Clapton and Dave Matthews, and staying humble.

LiveDaily: The album has a real live feel to it. Did you record it live?

Robert Randolph: Yeah we did it all in the studio live. We wrote a bunch of songs with a bunch of different people. We did the album in a lot of different pieces because we worked with so many different people--Clapton, Daniel Lanois, so many people. What we wanted to do was just get in and take a lot of the influences that we got from a lot of these people and write the songs first, and go in and create the most energy and the most sounds we could get out of it. It was a great time.

What was it like to work with such a range of artists?

We had been on tour, especially with Matthews, for the last couple years doing a bunch of shows with him and the band. Being with Clapton on tour and Santana on tour, we had learned a lot. For us, it was getting in and seeing the mindset these guys get into when they are making records and how to learn a lot from them. It was a great time. Working with Dave Matthews, he's so crafty I mainly wanted to get in his head and figure him out and see how his process was. That was a great thing. Doing a song like "Love is the Only Way" on the record, that was a song he had had for his band when they were making their last record. He was just like, "Man, I got this song and I think you could really turn it into something else. I think you guys could really do a different thing." We got in there and I listened to it and I was like, "Wow, this is cool. Let's see what we can do." Being with him helped us out a lot.

It must have been a really educational experience.

That's what this whole process was. We started out just coming from church and having the whole gospel background, and really just kind of going into clubs and playing and doing a lot of jamming. The last couple records we made were cool. But this one really taught us a lot in terms of having a song and how to really expand on a song, instrumentally, vocally and the whole mind frame of it. That was the key about doing this thing here.

What was the most important thing you learned?

Being with a guy like Eric Clapton and hearing about how he first was a regular guitar player and he had never really thought about having this long career. He saw himself as a guitar player and just really wanted to build on that. That's basically how I was at the beginning--just a guitar player. Really, now, I've learned how the guitar meshes together with the song and the vocal idea that you have. It's opened so many [musical] doors. Just having a conversation with him led to "Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That." You got the guitar first coming out, but then you surround the guitar with these vocals and make it big and joyful for everybody. That's one of the things I loved about it: not just playing guitar through the whole thing; having the guitar help you create melodies and a mood. That was the main thing that I learned from working on this album.

What was it like to work with producer Tom Whalley?

He doesn't really care about hit songs or anything like that. He just wants to see musicians and artists have really long careers and be true to what you're doing. He gave us the opportunity to do that--to be original. Every time we were worried about something, he was like, "Just be true to yourself and remember what you're doing. Twenty years later, you want to look back and say, 'Man, that was cool what I did.'" You don't want to do something to just be trendy. The label was really supportive of us the whole time.

As a child, what inspired you to pick up the guitar?

For me, it was mainly growing up in church. I grew up and saw a lot of older guys playing lap steels and pedal-steel guitars in my church, which was kind of like this original church. For me, growing up and watching them, that was the outlet I had to try to be original. My family is a big musical family. My sisters and brothers are all singers.

You've been called the "master of pedal steel guitar." How does that feel?

Well, I don't really claim myself to be a master or trying to be a master. That's cool when people say that. That means I kind of took something in a traditional way and kind of changed it around and tried to do something different. Hopefully, that could influence a lot of other kids and a lot of other people these days to do something just a little different. It kind of puts pressure on me to keep being creative.

Do you hear from a lot of kids that you've inspired them?

Oh yeah, there's a lot of kids from all over who have been inspired--a lot of kids, even a lot of inner-city kids who see me on TV. It gave them a sense of change and direction in their life--something they can do different. That is a cool thing when I get that.

What do you have planned for 2007?

Touring, making a couple more videos, really collaborating with a bunch of others like Daniel Lanois, Dave Matthews Band, working on their new record. Really, just working with a lot of people and keep it moving, keep the train rolling, and for me to continue to stay humble and open up a bunch of different doors.

Colorblind isn't an adequate title for this album. Randolph's follow-up to 2003's Grammy-nominated Unclassified is bright and energetic as a tie-dye-patterned pinwheel. Mostly its 11 tunes are about grooves plucked from the era of Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder, dappled with brilliant classic rock musicianship (think Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck) and driven by frenetic verve. When things slow down, it's usually to let the young pedal steel virtuoso revisit his roots in the Holiness Church, although the team of pop-world songwriters he collaborates with make the lyrics of Randolph's R&B hymns ambiguous between devotion to a woman or to God. Guests Dave Matthews (singing backup on "Love Is the Only Way") and Eric Clapton (lending second guitar to a hot-but-rote cover of the Doobie Brothers' hit "Jesus Is Just Alright") are oddly subdued, but neo-soul diva Leela James puts sex and smolder into her duet with Randolph on "Stronger." Ultimately, though, this album's all about Randolph himself, who has loosened his grip on the blues and gospel bedrock of his earlier playing to become a master of flashy funk and rock riffs and the owner of a tone so gargantuan it's earned him a place in rock-guitar Olympus--if not Heaven. --Ted Drozdowski

Interview: Taylor Hicks

Interview: Taylor Hicks
December 21, 2006 11:46 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Soulful pop singer Taylor Hicks was crowned the fifth "American Idol" in front of 36.4 million television viewers May 24, including his legions of fans nicknamed the "Soul Patrol." So what was the 30-year-old thinking as confetti rained on him?

"Don't fall over and don't let your knees buckle," Hicks said with a slight giggle during a recent phone interview from New York City. "I'm very grateful for all those people who watched 'American Idol' and all the people who voted."

Those 63 million-plus votes have since been parlayed into Hicks' self-titled debut, which hit stores last week. It was produced by Matt Serletic of Matchbox Twenty fame; guest songwriters include Bryan Adams, Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, Diane Warren and Kara DioGuardi (of Platinum Weird). The closing number, "The Right Place," was originally written by Adams and Jim Vallance for Ray Charles to record before his death.

"It's got some groovy stuff on there," said Hicks, of Birmingham, AL.

Just after a recent "Good Morning America" appearance, Hicks talked to LiveDaily about his album, his "American Idol" peers and his soulful side.

LiveDaily: What was it like to work with two-time Grammy winner Matt Serletic?

Taylor Hicks: Matt knew who I was as an artist, which was like a double whammy. He just kind of understood me. He took some time getting to know me as an artist. He came out and saw some live shows. He was really great at understanding who I was and the direction that I wanted to go musically for this album.

How would you describe that direction?

A soulful slant on modern music--modern soul music. Maybe a modern slant on modern soul music.

That's the vibe I picked up in listening to it. I expected it to be a little more old school, but was pleasantly surprised. It's something you don't really hear on the radio.

Well, let's get out and put it on the radio. I'm ready to do that. That's kind of what we wanted to do. The easy part is making an old-school record. The hardest part is making an old-school and a new-school record.

Are you prepared for the promotional machine--all the TV appearances and the tour that begins at the end of February?

Oh, yes. I'm very excited for both. I'm excited to get on TV again because I enjoyed performing visually. The tour, I'm stoked about as well. I'm learning how to be a recording artist, and I'm really trying to hone my skills as a live performer. I'm just trying to make it happen.

You said on "Good Morning America" that your tour begins Feb. 24. How long will that last?

Hopefully 10 years. [Laughs]

How was it to work with Rob Thomas?

Rob sent me a wonderful song, "Dream Myself Awake," and it was really cool. We kind of come from the same playground--that soulful, blue-eyed-soul singer. And some of his music fits me.

Did you instantly take to that song?

Yeah, I thought it was really good. It grew legs and it came to life. I was really pleased that it worked out the way it did on the record.

You really worked with some heavy hitters on this album. What was it like to have all these great people in your corner?

It was wonderful. It really helped the album out. It made the album go better, and it was one of those things where you have really talented people in your corner and it helps the whole project.

Tell me about the tour. Are you going to hit arenas, clubs, theaters?

I'm going back to my intimate music setting. I'm going back to theaters and really cool music venues that I think would be great for some really great live music. I've been playing music venues for a long time. I feel like the theater is the place for this album. The theater and the clubs.

How does the music on "Taylor Hicks" compare to the albums you released prior to "American Idol"?

I just think it's an extension of that, with more of a production value involved. I think I was able to expand on the production side of the music. I'm just very thankful for Matt Serletic and all the people who were involved in the album to help me get this modern sound out.

So, basically, your older fans would see this as a logical progression?

Yeah, there's a little more productive quality on this album but the journey's just beginning. This is one album that's going to be taking that route. I'm happy with it. You can definitely still hear Taylor Hicks on the album.

The album has a very live vibe to it. Is that how it was recorded?

Interestingly enough, we did. We took the old-school way of recording, which was recording all the instruments live and adding all the stuff later.

For this album, you had the opportunity to re-record new versions of the self-penned "Soul Thing" and "The Deal," two songs that previously appeared on your second indie album, "Under the Radar."

I've been having ideas to re-do those songs for awhile. Now that I've gotten the opportunity, I got to dig in with them.

For those who haven't heard "Under the Radar," how are the songs different?

Maybe we had a little bit of an extra verse, a bridge. Production-wise, some of the verses and the bridges are different and stuff.

Do you still keep in touch with fellow "American Idol" contestants?

I talked to Elliott [Yamin] not too long ago. I left a message for Bucky [Covington]. I saw Chris [Daughtry] and Katharine [McPhee] not too long ago. I run into them and talk to them.

The least you can say about Taylor Hicks is that he's not like prior American Idol champs: he already had almost a decade of gigging in bars when he won the fifth season in 2006, complete with songwriting experience, an ability to play harmonica and guitar, and a pair of self-released albums. On his major-label debut, the Silver Fox settles in a plush, comfortable sound framed by vintage-sounding soul and R&B, as well as classic rock--it's comfort food for the ears. The one thing that's not here is Hicks's first single, "Do I Make You Proud." Other than that, the songs are a well-balanced mix of oldies (Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat"), newbies that sound like oldies (Rob Thomas's "Dream Myself Awake," Bryan Adams's "The Right Place"), the obligatory Diane Warren ballad ("Places I've Been"), and some party-fun anthems ("The Runaround," "Heaven Knows"). This last track actually is one of two paying tribute to Hicks's patron saint, Ray Charles--it references the piano riff from "What'd I Say," while "The Right Place" was originally written for Charles. Clearly, there are worse people to look up to. --Elisabeth Vincentelli

Interview: Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz

Interview: Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz
December 14, 2006 04:10 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Multiplatinum rock band Fall Out Boy could play large venues in support of its forthcoming album "Infinity on High," but bassist/lyricist Pete Wentz hopes to teach fellow bands a lesson by gigging in clubs for diehard fans right out of the gate.

"I think it's arrogant for us to go out there and to assume that everybody loves our band and we're God's gift and that we don't have to go back out and earn it to some extent all over again," Wentz said during a recent phone interview. "To me, that's us sending a message to other bands--both bands we're friends with and bands that look up to us. You can't just sit there and let someone else do the work. You're going to have to go out and do that."

Thus, Wentz and his bandmates--singer Patrick Stump, guitarist Joe Trohman and drummer Andy Hurley--will take to the club circuit in January with New Found Glory, Early November, Permanent Me and Lifetime.

"We've got these fans who are really loyal and really dedicated to us, and it's important for us to keep them that way," Wentz said. "We like seeing them there. We like feeling the heat off the crowd. We like seeing the sweated-out eyes in the front row. It's something that is indescribable, that we thought would be cool and fun to do and to do it with the bands that we're doing it with, like New Found Glory, who we looked up to and we wanted to play with for a long time. Early November are old friends, and Permanent Me and Lifetime are just cool bands."

Fall Out Boy's new album, "Infinity on High," is due in stores Feb. 6.. The group debuted the first single, "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," at the American Music Awards, and it is streaming on the group's official website.

Meanwhile, in perhaps the most blatant example of just how big Fall Out Boy has become, California toy manufacturer SOTA recently released a series of action figures depicting the group's members.

While in Minneapolis recently, Wentz talked to LiveDaily about the making of "Infinity on High," having an action figure of himself and being the "weird kid."

LiveDaily: How's the tour going so far?

Pete Wentz: Ummm, Interesting.

Why do you say "interesting" so hesitantly?

It's a little weird. It's a lot of radio shows that we have to get up at 6 a.m. to fly places, and that does not bode well for us, because we go to bed at like 4 a.m. Then we're always the oddball at every show. We're a bit too melodic for a lot of the heavier shows, and a bit too rock for some of the more pop shows. But it's fun being the weird kid.

How's the reception been to the new songs?

It's been very good. We've only been playing one ["This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race."].

It sounded really good on the American Music Awards.

Did it? My in-ears [monitor] broke so I couldn't tell. To me, it sounded so bad it was unbelievable. It's hard to tell. When you're cooking your own food, you always think it's bad, I think. It's a very human quality. Please don't let any of the readers know I have any human qualities.

Oh, I won't. I'll make them think you're some kind of god.

No, no, no. We're going for some kind of machine. I don't want to piss God off and not make it into heaven. Some kind of machine.

You may not be a machine, but you are an action figure. How do you feel about that? You're the hardest one to find, by the way.

I kind of consider them dolls. I'm like, "Watch out Ken. Barbie's got a new boyfriend." [Laughs] Since I was 8, I wanted to be an action figure or to be a doll. It's every boy's dream. I put them up next to all my other toys. I don't even really care what anybody else thinks. It was just so cool for us to be able to do that.

So what was it like to work with Babyface on the new album?

It must have been great for him. Um, no, it was cool. It's like when you date a girl for four years and then like all of a sudden you're single and you're, like, trying to kiss the other girl and you bump foreheads because you haven't kissed somebody new in so long. It took a little bit to kind of get used to. But he's probably one of the funniest and most talented people I've ever met in my life. It was a really good experience.

What was the most important thing that you learned from him?

Uh, you want to know the actual truth?


No matter how big your band gets or who you think you are, don't get a private jet because you'll lose all your money. [Laughs] That sounds about right. Not that any of us have had a chance to do that, but we were like, "Dude, private jets would be so cool." He's like, "Never get a private jet. That would be a waste of all your money."

Who else did you collaborate with on this album? I understand that a member of New Found Glory is on the album.

Yes. And our friend Ryan [Ross] from Panic! At the Disco plays a guitar solo on it. And then our boss, the president, Jay-Z is on the record as well, on "Thriller." It's an eclectic mix.

Did you write most of the songs on the album again? And did you write them before you went in the studio, or while you were in the studio?

Yes. It was about half and half this time.

Is it more difficult to do one than the other?

I think, for me, it's hard to ever say something's finished. I have a hard time doing that. I tend to focus on single words, you know, and they will just kind of drive me crazy. At some point, Patrick had to tell me "Enough is enough. You can't sit here and weed through every single little word. You're never going to be happy with it."

In the "Fall Out Boyz" video you have on your website, you say that the punk-pop thing is over. Do you really think that's true?

I don't know. I kind of don't. Green Day started doing it 15 years ago and was the biggest band again last year. I don't think it's really possible to say it's over. Do I think that the guys at labels sort of took notice of some of the rock bands that were bigger this year and it became a little more saturated? Probably. Whatever genre you put them in, there's a lot of bands that outstand and outlast their genre--everything from Linkin Park to The Beatles to The Rolling Stones. Everyone pegged them, put them in this category and they ended up rising above that. If anything, that's what I hope Fall Out Boy accomplishes.

Is that why you went for an R&B/classic rock sound on this album? That's what I've picked up from the songs I've heard.

I don't know. To me, it's like a misnomer; if you take any selection of songs and put them next to each other you can make an argument in any direction. I could tell you four songs to listen to and you could say, "Oh this could be on 'From Under the Cork Tree,'" our last record. Or I'll give you four and you'll say, "Oh, this is indie rock." I just think it's a natural progression. It's our growth as songwriters and our experiences in the world. All of a sudden, our eyes have adjusted to the dark and we can see different things. You realize there's other things in the room rather than when you first walked in the room and you just thought it was black.

Interview: Ziggy Marley

Interview: Ziggy Marley
December 07, 2006 11:47 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Reggae progeny Ziggy Marley feels fortunate that he is on the road touring in support of his spiritual and emotional album "Love is My Religion."

"I'm lucky that I can spread the message of love," Marley said in a telephone interview this week.

"Love is My Religion" is Marley's second solo album, without his brothers and sisters who comprise The Melody Makers. For the 12-song collection, Marley wrote all the material, played most of the instruments and produced a fair share of the tracks with help from co-producer Ross Hogarth, a Grammy winner.
Marley penned most of the songs as he traveled the world, and filled out the album with a few leftover tracks from his youth. The album is filled with the Marleys' trademark reggae sounds, bolstered by danceable grooves and African percussion.

LiveDaily: The message of love and friendship seems to be a running theme on "Love is My Religion."

Ziggy Marley: It was some stuff I was writing about that came together. I wasn't meaning to write about those themes.

So it wasn't a conscious decision to write about friendship and love?

No, no. I wanted to write an album that was kind of more spiritual, more emotional.

Does that reflect where you were at the time you were writing the album?

We're trying to be. We're trying to get feeling of the alignment of the planets.

How long did it take you to record "Love is My Religion? And was it shorter or longer than your previous efforts?

It took one year to record the album. That's about [the same].

Tell me about the recording process. Did you record it any differently than you did your previous albums?

This one, it was a different process. I did it in a home-studio vibe, and it was me alone spending a lot of time with the music, trying to figure out the parts and arrangements and stuff like that. I wasn't working with a producer for most of this record. It was just me working late at night in the studio. It was different.

Was it more difficult?

No, it's more spiritual. That's what it's all about. There was more opportunity to realize that we're not alone in our existence. It's a coincidence how things happen. There's a lot more happening when you're alone in an environment. You can actually perceive the things you wouldn't perceive if you were around a bunch of people.

So you prefer to work alone? So do I.

Some people don't work like that. Some people don't like to be alone.

I understand you played most, if not every, instrument on the album.

Not every. I played a lot. I had engineer working with me, Ross, who played some instruments, too.

That must have been a lot of work.

It's not work. It's great fun. It's great enjoyment. It's experimentation and mystique that worked.

When you recorded your first solo album, "Dragonfly," why did you decide it was time to split from The Melody Makers?

The group was doing other things. It was just a time when everyone was searching for other avenues to express themselves.

Do you see any collaborations with The Melody Makers in the future?

Maybe not in that form. There will be family collaborations some time down the road.

Have any of your family members come out on tour with you?

Yeah, this year we did the "Roots, Rock, Reggae Festival" with me, my brother Stephen and Bunny Wailer. It was good.

2006 release and second solo album by Bob Marley's son, the follow-up to the successful Dragonfly album from 2003. Features 12 tracks total including 10 new songs plus an Acoustic Version of the title track and 'Be Free'