Interview: Johnny Fay of The Tragically Hip

March 29, 2007 11:48 AM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor
The Tragically Hip has recorded a handful of records in New Orleans, but nothing prepared the members of the Canadian rock band for what they witnessed on the way to the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, TX, earlier this month.

"You would have thought the hurricane hit yesterday," drummer Johnny Fay said. "There were sections that they just haven't done anything with. If you didn't know and you arrived in the French Quarter, you would never know except lots of places are for sale because the crime rate has gone up.

"Knowing what you know, it's kind of sad for the city. There's been some real improvements in the quarter, but overall the city is struggling. It needs people to go and spend their money. That's what we did. We went and took our crew out for dinner. Stayed in hotels. There's so much music and so much history in that town, it can't die. It would just be a shame. But it seemed like the outer-lying areas--like the Ninth Ward that was really hit bad--is just sort of sitting there. It's not right."

Currently promoting 2006's "World Container," The Tragically Hip recently toured with The Who as an opening act. Fay--who is joined in the band by singer/acoustic guitarist Gordon Downie, lead guitarist Rob Baker, rhythm guitarist Paul Langlois and bassist Gord Sinclair--said playing with The Who was like completing the holy trinity.

"We played with Page and Plant. We played with the Stones. When the opportunity came up to play with The Who, we jumped at it. Those are the big three," he said.

Fay talked to LiveDaily about "World Container," the song "New Orleans is Sinking" and the importance of notoriety.

LiveDaily: Your experience in New Orleans really gives new meaning to your song "New Orleans is Sinking."

Johnny Fay: We had people in Canada and they said, "We're not gonna play that song." But if you did the history on that city, they've always been expecting a big one. They have a drink called the hurricane. You go down Bourbon Street and they say, "Bring it on. Bring it on; we're ready for it." Gord [Downie] wrote that in 1984. That's a long time ago. He was just even then getting the vibe of the city and the people. They were talking about it back then. Waiting for the big one. It was done with no disrespect, obviously, if you listen to the lyrics. It's nine feet below sea level, so it was bound to happen. And it's very sad that it did. Gord introduces the song now as "New Orleans is Sinking and We Don't Want to Help." It just seems like people don't want to help.

You've pretty much consistently released albums every two years. Is that a schedule that's tough to stick with?

It's interesting, because Bono said you don't want to let too much time pass before you get together and at least write some songs and keep that going. When you do take time off, that's when it gets harder. If you're a true band and you hook up with each other at least every couple weeks, then you've got that thing going and you're able to stick to it. Then you got a couple songs, then you go into the studio and you're ignited again. That's the most important thing.

Do you write mostly in the studio or outside of the studio?

I think it's a little of both. We used to write in jams. With "New Orleans is Sinking," the music was written out of a jam for a song we were playing. I forget what it was, it was so long ago. That gives you an initial spark for a song. You might hone in when you're in the studio.

What was it like to work with producer Bob Rock on "World Container"?

It was really cool. We spend so much time going in the southern states working with Americans, it was really cool to record in Canada with a Canadian after all these years. We kind of pick the producer based on his prior work. Don Smith, on our first couple records, he worked with Tom Petty and he worked with Keith Richards. We liked his approach. Maybe we didn't know too much about him as an arranger. We were very happy with the way those records turned out. Working with Bob, he's awesome. He gets involved in everything. He sort of hones in on the parts. The songs come together pretty fast with him. They're either a song or they're not.

In your bio, it mentions you had a newfound freedom on this album. What were you able to do on this record that you couldn't do before?

[Rock] would tell me to play out, do crazy Keith Moon rolls, and only Keith Moon can do that. He gave me direction and [told me] to have some fun with it. It wasn't all business, and he never once came out and said, "We're not getting a track here." He said, "Just explore that." It's kind of sounding a little like the SNL, "Just explore with the cowbell." But it was a little like that. He gave us all kinds of room to just have fun. He was really open to stuff. I think when you're that mega, nothing really phases you. You just take it in stride. We've worked with, obviously, guys who have not been as mega and they've been really protective: "This is my sound and I have to do this." He just let stuff happen--the happy little accidents. And also, for all the stuff that he's been through, he was very about sounds. He'd say, "See you guys later. Be back tomorrow," and a half an hour later, you'd still see him in the studio playing a guitar or playing the piano. He just loves music so much. It was really refreshing to see a guy who's been through all of that with Metallica and back, if you watch the video, those records couldn't have been easy to make. It hasn't jaded him in any way. So it's very refreshing.

It sounds like it was a very organic experience.

Very much so, yeah. He didn't want us to know the songs too much. He wanted sort of rough ideas, and then none of the bad habits crept in, which is cool. We wouldn't spend much more than six or seven takes getting a track.

On your new album, there's a song called "Lonely End of the Rink." Tell me about the meaning of that song. I'm a huge hockey fan.

"Lonely End of the Rink," well, Gord [Downie]'s a goalie. Many times, he says it's not a hockey song. But I think our songs are cool in that way that it's left up to whoever wants to interpret it. I think there are some hockey references in it. It can be a very lonely job if your team's good. But goalies have the hardest gig out there in hockey.

You've opened for a myriad of legends. What did you learn from playing with those bands?

It's really interesting. I think the band we maybe learned the most from was Midnight Oil. We toured with them. We did a thing called Roadside Attraction. We toured across Canada years and years ago. The way they attack their songs live--they play them a little faster, a little more aggressive. They were already a heavy band. You take something away from every song like that. How they re-intrepret those old songs it's cool.

You're nominated for four Junos. Congratulations. Is it important to win a Juno?

No, it's not so much important to win. When it's fan-voted on, that's when it's most important. We've won a couple of those awards. I did watch the Grammys, and it was really crazy for the Dixie Chicks. I never bought their record. I still don't think I would. The politicking that goes in those sort of things ... we don't invest too much in that. When it's fan voted on, that's what's best.

How about being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame?

No, no, no that was cool. It was kind of weird, but it was kind of cool. We were just about to put our greatest-hits package out. We walked down the red carpet and there's all these young bands there. But we still got gas in the tank. It was a little crazy. The induction is kind of crazy because you think they're putting you out of your misery; then you look and Neil Young got it, Rush have it, all those people are still playing. It's nice. Awards in the early days were cool and now they're for your families. I gave all mine to my mother, for instance. It's nice to be recognized.

Interview: Indigo Girls

March 22, 2007 10:35 AM
by John Voket
LiveDaily Contributor

As Amy Ray of Indigo Girls tells it, back in the mid-'80s, when she was jamming around Athens, GA, with her musical cohort Emily Saliers, the pair had a few luxurious gigs where they could settle into a club for a few days.

Ray said in a recent interview that those back-to-back shows, sometimes for five or six days at a stretch, gave the Indigo Girls a chance to really explore songs they hadn't played in a long time, just to keep the set list from getting stagnant over the course of the run.

Some 22 years later, Amy and Emily got another chance to dig deep into their repertoire when they kicked off their spring tour in Connecticut last week with a five-show run at the Mohegan Sun Casino's intimate Cabaret.

Saliers and Ray are hitting more intimate rooms playing in duo format, possibly sprinkling in a new song or two among their hits and a good dose of material from Indigo Girls' latest release, "Despite Our Differences." Dates are currently confirmed well into the summer; details are in the itinerary below.

Before playing the Mohegan Sun shows, Ray and Saliers chatted with LiveDaily about music, politics and the whole band-versus-duo dynamic.

LiveDaily: It's been almost two years since you started working out material that became "Despite Our Differences," and since its release, you've been touring on and off with a full band. Do you find yourself performing the material differently than when it's just you two?

Amy Ray: With the new record, we had to sit down on a couple of songs to make sure we [were] approaching them the right way without the band. It's pretty easy for us to go back and adjust. I have all the songs on my iPod for practicing. There's a new song, "Money Made You Mean," that we decided to do more of an extended version--and on the song "Dairy Queen," from the previous record, where I played electric guitar but I wanted to also have an acoustic version of it for when it's just the two of us.

Emily Saliers: My approach to the songs doesn't really change. You know, when we went back out as a duo after playing with a band, I really missed the drums, or when the bass used to kick in. There's a certain amount of energy and focus you have to put out when it's just the duo. We haven't been doing "Rock and Roll Heaven's Gate" and "All the Way," because those songs just seem to click better with a band than with a duo. You sort of get used to having the band carry you along. It has a certain spontaneity--it has an energy of its own. But I don't sing the songs very differently without the band. Sonically, it's stripped down. There's a huge safety net with the band, and there's something really focused and intense when we're playing as a duo that's very different from with the band.

Since the beginning, Amy, you've been characterized as the more edgy, hard rocker, while Emily has been cast more as the lyrical lighter touch between the two of you. But your songs on the latest record and some of the solo material you've generated recently is pretty deep--some might even say intense. I mean, it almost hurts to hear you sing "Dirt and Dead Ends."

AR: I'm changing my songwriting approach all the time because I'm just trying to get better at it. About eight years ago, I consciously started practicing more, and I had a few conversations with a few songwriters and asked them about their writing style. Then I read a Stephen King book, "On Writing," and started being really deliberate about it. I labor over songs a lot, and it worked for me to sit down for three hours and work on stuff. I started trying to tell specific stories about people, and trying to be more specific with my images, which opens you up more as a writer. Basically, it got to the point where I just felt I was lagging so far behind Emily, and I didn't feel it was right to do that.

ES: I don't totally agree. I mean, her earlier stuff--there are some great songs there, too. I know there was a period of time when she made the switch to focus on the craft of her songs, but Amy's always been a great songwriter. I think, for both of us, we inspire and motivate each other in ways that can't be articulated all the time. I know Amy is always pushing me--not overtly, but just because she is so great and inspiring to work with. It makes me want to be better too, and that's just something that happens between us. We're fortunate for that; instead of us being threatened by each other's gifts, we're inspired by them.

So the tour will bring you around the north and east coast before you're off to Long Beach for the Pride Festival. But this opening run of five days at Mohegan Sun is something of a historical event for Indigo Girls, isn't it?

ES: The last time we played Mohegan Sun, we did two dates there. And the room was so nice and small and intimate with such nice crowds, and it was such a nice experience. The tours are less orthodox than they used to be--it's more challenging now to string dates together. So, when an offer like this comes in, knowing the venue, it was appealing, so we just went for it. We talked about how fun it will be to just dig out some obscure things and just try and do something different with the set list, since we'll be there so many nights.

AR: I think this is the longest run of shows since we used to play bars. When we were younger, we had a couple of standing gigs where we played every night of the week for awhile. When [the Mohegan Sun] asked us, we said, "Why not?" It's a really fun room and we really liked the casino. Some don't have a great vibe and some do, so, basically, if we play one where the vibe is good and it feels good to be there, we'll come back and play again. Every time we play a Native-run casino, we're sort of happier, I guess. It's probably the connection we have from working on all the Native American community stuff we've done. It just feels good.

Interview: Sam Endicott of The Bravery

March 08, 2007 04:15 PM
by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
LiveDaily Contributor

Sam Endicott, lead singer for The Bravery, laughs when he thinks about rivalries his band had with several other acts, most notably with labelmates The Killers.

"I think we were really naïve, and when people would talk s--- about us, we would talk s--- back," Endicott said via telephone from his label's offices. "So, instead of clamming up, we would talk s--- back, and the press really liked that, especially the British press. But I would say that we never talk smack about anyone who didn't start with us first."

Endicott is in an especially jovial mood because he is working on the artwork for his band's forthcoming album, "The Sun and the Moon," which he describes as a stark departure from The Bravery's self-titled debut.

"We're working with some [art] designers at the label right now," he said. "We're super excited about the album. We just finished it last week and we're very happy with it. I wish it could come out tomorrow, but it can't, of course."

The tentative release date for "The Sun and the Moon" is May 22, but Endicott expects music to be released to radio within the next few weeks.

In preparation for the album's release, Endicott and his bandmates-- guitarist Michael Zakarin, bassist Mike "Dirt" Hindert, keyboardist John Conway and drummer Anthony "Ant" Burulcich--will play a series of one-off dates, including a stint at Austin, TX's South by Southwest music festival.

Endicott talked to LiveDaily about South by Southwest, "The Sun and the Moon" and touring with Depeche Mode.

LiveDaily: This year, you're returning to South by Southwest. How was it the last time you played?

Sam Endicott: It was pretty awesome when we did it last time. It was the most grueling experience of my life. We did, like, 25 shows in two days. We were out all night every night and barbecuing all day. OK, it wasn't 25 shows, but that's what it felt like. I think it was, like, five shows in two days.

What do you get out of SXSW?

The barbecue. Honestly, there so many other cool bands you can see if you have time, which we don't, usually. You can catch some really great bands. It's just a really good time. Everybody there has a really good time.

Your new album is slated for release in May. What can you tell me about it? How does it compare to "The Bravery"?

It is very different, but it still sounds like The Bravery. It just sounds more like The Bravery. It's a lot more diverse than the first record. We tried to make every song a dance song and have the whole album be a dance record [on the first album]. This one is more diverse. There's slow songs. There's fast songs. There's two acoustic songs on it. What we try to do is, we write rock songs and we try to put in different unusual sounds and rhythms. That's, in a nutshell, what we try to do. On the first record, we got a lot of those sounds from electronic dance music--disco beats and analog keyboard sounds. On this one, we tried to look other places for unusual sounds. We listened to a lot of classic rock. There's a lot more acoustic sounds. For example, on the first record, where we might take a synthesizer and play that, now we'll do it with a string section, or our voice with some crazy-ass effect, or, like, a Russian glockenspiel, some kind of weird acoustic instrument. So there's lot more experimentation on this record.

It must have been a lot of fun to be able to mess around like that..

Yeah, it was. I think we're a lot better musicians now than when we did the first one. So we had to get our s--- together to play the new songs on the new record. They're a lot more challenging to play.

Did you feel like you had a lot more freedom on this album? Is that why you explored these avenues?

Yeah, we intentionally limited ourselves on the first one. Like I said, we tried to make everything a dance song. You just put the record on, and it doesn't stop until the end--whereas, this one is more about whatever song I wrote, we would just do whatever it took to make that song sound right. If it had nothing to do with dance music, then we just went with that. Or, if it was a total dance song, we went with that. There's a waltz on the album too. So, we just experimented in whatever direction we happened to go in.

Describe your songwriting process.

I usually write the basis of the song, just, really simply, the vocals and the lyrics on acoustic guitar or keyboard or something. Then, we start jamming on it, and we record everything, and then, once that's recorded, we kind of remix it. It's a lot like how DJs make music, or how electronic music is made. Instead of using samples, we create all the samples ourselves and remix it. That's what you hear. At the beginning, it's just like writing any acoustic music. It's just about the melody and the words.

So you write mainly on the acoustic guitar?

I'm not a great piano player. ... People usually write on guitar or piano. Not a lot of guys start on the accordion or the clarinet. It doesn't start that way. I usually do acoustic guitar, because that's what I'm better at.

How long have you been playing music?

Since I was a little kid. I started out with electric guitar and then bass was my main instrument. I was a bass player all through school growing up. I was really into bass.

Who were some of your inspirations?

I grew up on classic rock: The Beatles, The Stones, The Who. In high school, I discovered punk rock, and that changed my life. Being a white suburban kid, punk rock really spoke to me. I was from the DC area, so I was into the Dischord Records sound and Fugazi was my favorite band, and Jawbox, and I listened to the older ones like Righteous Spring and Nation of Ulysses. And then I moved to New York and I started hearing all the underground electronic stuff like electroclash, and it sounded to me like people were making electronic music in the way you make garage rock: just set up in your basement. Instead of drums and guitar, it's just a computer. I really like that. So, the idea was to make rock music in a way that people make lo-fi dance records. That's how we started.

What was it like to tour with Depeche Mode?

It was great. It's really inspiring to be around them. I don't know if people realize but they have 11 or 12 records. They've been around, like, 25 years. They're really consistent. They've gone through three or four periods where people would say that was their prime. They keep coming back, and keep being good and changing their sound and being current. It's inspiring to be around them.

When do you anticipate touring on "The Sun and the Moon"?

We're going to start doing a few one-off dates, like SXSW, and then, in May, we'll start full-on touring madness.

Are you excited about being back on the road?

Yeah, it's funny--touring is like eating a chocolate cake. It's the most fun thing in the world. But then, if all you do all day every day is eat chocolate cake, you get really sick of it. That's what it's like by the end of a year and a half on the road. You'd think I'd never want to tour again. But then, when you're away from it for a month, you're like, "I don't know what to do with myself. I can't wait to get back on stage." That's where we're all at now.

Interview: Kele Okereke of Bloc Party

March 01, 2007 01:30 PM
by Christina Fuoco
LiveDaily Contributor

Bloc Party singer/guitarist Kele Okereke was surprised that anyone bought his band's latest album, "A Weekend in the City." After all, it was leaked on the Internet in November--far ahead of its Feb. 6 release date.

So Okereke was shocked when the album debuted within the Top 20 on The Billboard 200 album chart, and at No. 2 on the UK, Japan, Australian and Irish charts.

"It's nice to know that people still like music," Okereke said via telephone from Dublin. "It did do well in the States. ... But it's nice to know the leak hasn't affected people buying the record so far. We were all a bit panicky about it."

Okereke--who is joined in the band by guitarist Russell Lissack, bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong--said he is unsure why Bloc Party was able to break the States when so many other English bands have struggled.

"Maybe it's because we're so excellent," he said with a laugh. "No, I have no idea. All over the world, we seem to be getting a really amazing reaction from people. People don't see us as an English band in a way they see, say, Oasis or something, as being quintessentially English, always having a chip on their shoulder. We don't really have that. There's none of that arrogance that people associate with English music and they really respect it, I think."

After soundcheck before a recent gig in Dublin, Okereke talked to LiveDaily about the forthcoming US tour, playing the South by Southwest music festival and the sometimes bleak lyrics on "A Weekend in the City."

Are you looking forward to the US tour?

Yes, I am looking forward to the US tour. We always have a very good time when we play in the States. I'm sure this time won't be any different. We've been asked to play some new songs to the fans in the states and gauge their reaction. I think the last tour of the States was probably my favorite tour ever, actually.

Why is that?

Because we were playing very large venues, with 5,000- to 8,000-capacity venues. It was just great. A year and a half after the record came out, we could see that people had taken our music very much still into their hearts. It wasn't just a flash-in-the-pan novelty. People were certainly excited about what we were doing.

You're playing South by Southwest this year. Are you excited about that?

Yeah, I guess so. The first year we played it, though, we literally played too many shows. We played about six shows in three days, and that was right at the start of our American tour. I've got some bad memories of South by Southwest the first time we played it. But it will be nice to do one show this time. It'll be nice to play one show and be done with it.

What do you get out of playing South by Southwest?

I guess it's a press event, really, so it's important in terms of all the magazines that are there. I don't know why it's important. It's not important to me.

This album has a few songs with really bleak lyrics. Is that something you were kind of feeling at the time? Or did that come about because of the storyline of the album.

I wouldn't say bleak. It is quite pessimistic about human nature--that's very much a result of where I was at the end of 2005, really. I was going out so much and having traveled the world and such, going out and partying a little more often than I should have been. I was hungover a lot of the time. I think that really fed in to how I viewed what I wanted to talk about. That was two years ago. I'm a different person to the person I was then.

So you started writing this album two years ago?

Yeah, we started writing it at the end of 2005, whilst we were kind of touring. This was the end of our touring schedule. We didn't start recording it until 2006. We finished it six months before it came out. That's why it leaked so early.

That's so frustrating.

Yeah, but it's part and parcel to what happens when people release albums in this day and age. There are no records that don't leak. Or there are very few albums that don't leak.

This album seems to be very influenced by electronica, despite the fact that "real" instruments are used.

Yeah, it is. We're all big fans of electronic music. Just because we're in a rock band it doesn't mean that's not a discipline we can adhere to. It takes a lot of focus, but that's part of the challenge and that's part of the enjoyment: Trying to think like a computer or trying to kind of minimalize your expressiveness so there's a certain rigid aspect to the sound.

We were all fans of electronic music. We [dabbled] in that a little on [our previous album] "Silent Alarm" in songs like "She's Hearing Voices"; perhaps we became a lot more confident about what we do as a band so we were able to explore it a little more. We've always been fans of electronic music.

Have you started writing new material?

Yes, I started writing. I've starting writing works and putting some ideas together, but nothing concrete yet. I think we're going to be recording in the middle of the year, and then do little bits of recording instead of full months of recordings. I think we'll do it bit by bit. I hope it'll be more fun.