Interview: Big & Rich

Interview: Big & Rich
April 26, 2007 01:37 PM
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
LiveDaily Contributor

John Rich of country duo Big & Rich has big plans for his band's forthcoming album, "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace." R&B singer John Legend and rapper Wyclef Jean make guest appearances, and a song called "Lost in This Moment" is quickly claiming airwaves.

"It's the fastest-moving single in the history of our career so far in Big & Rich," said Rich, a former member of Lonestar. "It's potentially one of the biggest songs we've ever had. We're excited about that. ... We think it's probably the best record we've ever done to date."

That says a lot for Big & Rich, who rose out of a weekly jam session with Gretchen Wilson and Cowboy Troy, dubbed Muzik Mafia. During its short career (the duo released its first album in 2004), Big & Rich has accumulated a slew of award nominations.

Rich and his partner, Big Kenny Alphin, have also become some of country music's most sought-after songwriters. Besides penning their own tunes, they have written "Redneck Woman" and "Here For the Party" for Gretchen Wilson, "Like We Never Loved at All" for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, and "Mississippi Girl" for Faith Hill.

Rich talked to LiveDaily about "Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace," working with Jean and Legend, and the future of Muzik Mafia.

LiveDaily: When does the new album come out, and what can you tell me about it?

John Rich: June 5. There's some pretty cool collaborations. A rapper named Wyclef Jean is on it. A pop singer named John Legend is singing with us on a song. And, of course, members of the Muzik Mafia are on there.

It seems like you've had a strong R&B sound on your albums, and it continues with Wyclef Jean and John Legend. Are you big R&B fans?

Kenny and I are just fans of just everything. We have music in every genre, pretty much. I listen to everything from Frank Sinatra to Kid Rock. It's all good. Wyclef, I went to one of his concerts. He saw me in the audience pulled me up on stage, because he's a country music fan, and we jammed on stage together. That led to him rapping on our album. John Legend, we met him at a charity function in New York and ended up hanging out with him a little bit. We struck up a friendship, and about a year later, [when] we were making an album, I called him and said, "Hey, would you want to sing something on the album?" He said, "Absolutely." Just artist-to-artist [is] the way things are moving nowadays.

Tell me about the song "8th of November." That's such a touching song.

It's a story about a real guy named Niles Harris, who was mine and Kenny's bartender in 2001--I guess it would have been 2002--up in Deadwood, SD. It's a little town up there where we like to go hang out and write and gamble and get crazy. He was our bartender. We got to be friends with him, and he started to tell us a story about this battle he was in [during the Vietnam War] when he was 19 years old, Nov. 8, 1965. The song basically spells out the battle, what happened that day, what he's doing now, how he's still dealing with it. It's really become a flagship song for Vietnam veterans, I think. We have massive amounts of Vietnam vets coming to our shows to hear that song now. It seems to be a real important thing to them. Probably musically, that's the most important thing Kenny and I have ever put out.

What did the bartender think of the song? Was he pretty touched by it?

Well, it's his life story, you know. We spent two years writing it to make sure we had all the facts and figures right. He was hesitant to give us a lot of info about it right off the bat because it was such a personal thing. As we got to be better friends with him, he told us more and more about it, and that's how the song came into being.

You and Big Kenny have scored a string of hits with Big & Rich and other artists since you formed a partnership in Big & Rich. How was your success beforehand?

Kenny had never written a hit song for anybody. I had had a couple that I had written when I was in the band Lonestar, but it had been several years since I had had any hits. I think in '96 I had a No. 1 song. But Kenny and I met in '99--I hadn't had anything going on. We were writing tons of songs, but we were not by any stretch big songwriters at that point.

What do you think it was about your music that caused people to pay attention after the formation of Big & Rich?

Well, Muzik Mafia caught on. That was Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy, Gretchen Wilson and a ton of others. I think once "Redneck Woman" and "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" both came out and they sold so many records, I think the business started to pay attention. They started going through our catalogs. I have over 1,000 songs in my song catalog right now. Kenny has close to that. They started going through our catalogs and cutting hundreds of songs. That's what happened. It got hot.

What's the status of the Muzik Mafia right now?

Oh, man, it's on fire right now. Let's see, Big & Rich, we have a new album. Gretchen Wilson has a new album May 15 coming out, her third album. Cowboy Troy has a new album coming out June 5, the same day ours comes out. He's on tour with us again this year. An artist named John Anderson, who everybody knows--if you've listened to country music at all, you know who John Anderson is. His first studio album release in over seven years comes out May 15. He's an honorary member of the Muzik Mafia now. ...There's a new guy named James Otto who has a first single coming out this summer, new album fourth quarter this year. There's, like, five albums coming out from Mafia artists this year. You should tell your readers to visit MuzikMafia.com. It's gone from 2,500 members--we call them soldiers--of the Muzik Mafiato over 100,000 in a year. It's really turning into a pretty cool thing.

I read that you're working with Jewel.

Yeah, I've been recording a country record with her. It's unbelievable, honestly. That's what I'm working on today, actually. It's just incredible. What an absolutely incredible songwriter and singer she is. It's really frightening, her level of talent. She asked me if I would produce a couple of things for her. I said, "Absolutely." We went in and it went so well she said, "Do you want to do some more?" I said, "Sure." Next thing you know, we had a whole album.

When is that set for release?

There's no release date set on it. Like I said, we're still finishing up the recording process. But I would say they'll probably release something on her this summer, and I bet she would have an album in stores by Christmas. She's as good or better than she ever was right now. Her songwriting is just unbelievable.

When you wrote "Save a Horse," did you know you had a hit on your hands?

Uh, yeah, absolutely. We played it at Muzik Mafia on Tuesday Night Jams like a year before it was ever recorded. At the Mafias, people just became unwound when we played that thing. We knew we had snagged one when we wrote that.

On your first album your mission was to introduce yourself. What is your mission for your third?

This third album, the first single is probably another curveball for people. It's called "Lost in This Moment." It's a wedding song. It's going to be an absolute anthem. It already is, as young as it is. When we go out and play it now, it's already a huge response from our audience. I think this album is just a collection of great songs. There's no angles or slants to anything. It's just great songs, coming right at ya. It's just the best of the best of what we've written. There's not an "8th of November" for you or anything like that, especially with this album. It's just great songs, one after the next after the next after the next. I think this record could be the most successful thing we've ever done.

Interview: Nick Hodgson of Kaiser Chiefs

April 19, 2007 12:10 PM
by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
LiveDaily Contributor

Earlier this year, the Kaiser Chiefs were accused of making "provocative hand gestures" at fellow Brit popsters the Arctic Monkeys during the NME awards. The problem? It never happened. The Kaiser Chiefs were victims of their own song, "Angry Mob."

"It's kind of a reference to British newspapers and how they kind of build up a story that's not entirely true and try to encourage the public to get overexcited and jump on the bandwagon," said Kaiser Chiefs drummer and principal songwriter Nick Hodgson. "It lasts about two weeks in the paper--the story--and then everyone forgets about it. Then the next one comes along.

"With us, there was a thing at the NME awards this year, where we were playing, and the next day in the papers, it said that we had stuck our fingers up at the Arctic Monkeys and they had thrown everything they could get their hands on at us while we were performing on stage. None of that happened."

"Angry Mob" appears on the Kaiser Chiefs' new set, "Yours Truly Angry Mob," which debuted at No. 45 on The Billboard 200 album chart. It's the follow-up to 2005's "Employment," which spawned the hit "I Predict a Riot."

Hodgson--who is joined in the band by singer Ricky Wilson, guitarist Andrew White, bassist Simon Rix and keyboardist Nick "Peanut" Baines--talked to LiveDaily about the album, the relentlessly addictive new single "Ruby," and how to cool off on stage during daylong festivals.

LiveDaily: Congratulations on how well "Ruby" is doing.

Nick Hodgson: Thanks. It's hard for us to know what's really happening. You hear about--like, certain radio stations have added it--but it's hard to keep up with it all. There's so many radio stations out here. We're not familiar with all these radio stations. In England, there's one station; it's Radio 1.


Was Ruby written for somebody specific?

No, no. It's one of those songs that just came out of nowhere really. You just start singing. There were quite a few songs like that where I play the piano and just come up with things. I had this verse, and suddenly it went into the chorus. I like it when that happens.

Is that the way most of your songwriting happens?

Yeah, sort of. You have to feel it. You get in a good mood because you're writing something good. It's hard to explain, really.

Did you know when you wrote "Ruby" that you had a hit?

Yeah.

What was it about the song?

It's just unusual. I was playing on the piano--on my mom and dad's piano, quite a lot of our previous hits were written on that piano. I kind of got a good feeling about it. I knew it was a good one. I played it for the band. I brought it to rehearsal the next day. It took us about a half hour to finish. Those are the best ones.

Is that your favorite song on the album?

That's one of them. I like them all.

Was there a lot of pressure to follow up your successful debut, "Employment"?

Yeah, of course. You don't want it to do worse. You're really striving to make the best new album, the best album, because it means you haven't lost it. You need that to be creative. We didn't want people to be at the gig and kind of hanging around while we played the new album, or they all kind of want us to play the first album's songs, like "I Predict a Riot," which is what can happen. It hasn't happened like that. Some of the new ones that we play live are getting the same reaction as the old ones.

How has the response been to the new material?

"I Predict a Riot" always gets the biggest reaction. But then "Ruby" and "Angry Mob" from the new album get, you know, as big as some of our first. It's always nice.

I read a review that said Americans can't really relate to your music because it's too British-centric. Do you think it's true?

I don't know. I'm guessing [the writer means] it's in the lyrical content. I mean, when I listen to songs, I just listen to the songs. I listen to the sound it makes and the feel of it. And if I like it, I like it. That's it, really.

I think that people could relate to especially "Angry Mob" and "Ruby." We have sensationalistic newspapers here, and "Ruby" is just a fun song.

I think people overanalyze those things. Music's just music isn't it?

Did touring in the US inspire any of the songs on the album?

There was one song, "Learnt My Lesson." The beginning of it, the verse of it, was written in the back of an American tour bus. I don't know whether it was inspired by America, but it must have been, in a way.

How long did it take to write the album?

Took about eight months.

Was that part of what was documented with the DVD that comes with the CD?

That was the recording for seven weeks, and that's what you got on the DVD--some of that footage. But there's none in our rehearsal room. We have this rehearsal room in which we pay by the hour. We've been using it for 10 years. We went back there and just got right back into the normal way of life again and started writing.

I see you're doing kind of a short US tour. Are you going to come back?

For us, it's a long US tour. We're trying to spread our touring across all parts of the world. We're doing four weeks here.

Are you excited about playing Coachella?

We never played it before. I've never been or seen it. I don't really know much about it, but a lot of people are asking, "Are you excited about it?" It must be a big deal.

You did Lollapalooza last year. Was that fun? What kind of advice can you give to new acts who are playing daylong festivals?

It's going to be pretty hot, temperature-wise. We did Austin City Limits in 2005. It was ridiculously hot--110 degrees I think. We were on in the outdoors. I'll tell you what, here's my advice: have some ice-cold towels in a bucket next to the stage for when you come off. I'm going to try to situate a fan on stage and have a bucket of ice behind the fan and that draws the cold air toward me.

Interview: Robyn Hitchcock

April 05, 2007 04:18 PM
by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
LiveDaily Contributor
British pop singer Robyn Hitchcock has never had an album break into the US album chart, but the lack of commercial success hasn't stopped him from enjoying a 30-year career.

"You've got to make a living, so you can't ignore it all together," Hitchcock told LiveDaily. "For me, it's more a question of commercial sustain than commercial success."

Hitchcock's latest creation is The Venus 3 (tickets | music), a band whose members have achieved varying levels of commercial success. Guitarist Peter Buck of R.E.M. has obviously seen accomplishment, as has drummer Bill Rieflin of Ministry. Bassist/vocalist Scott McCaughey rounds out the band, which is touring in support of its album "Ole! Tarantula" and the documentary "Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death and Insects."

"[Peter is] very proud of his success, but he also enjoys traveling around in a little van playing clubs. Bill and Scott, likewise. You got to make a living. You don't have to make five livings. You just do as much as you can. We do whatever gigs. If we were 30 years younger, we might all be sleeping on top of each other in a van driving 200 miles after gigs. We like a certain element of comfort. So we don't necessarily do all the s---ty things we would have done when we were very young. We just play, really. It doesn't sound very exciting, but it is."

LiveDaily: How's the tour going so far?

It's lovely. It's great. We're just driving around in a van, getting out and playing, and getting back in again, really. We just got to New York City, and we are about to go and play the Knitting Factory for the first of a couple of nights. It all seems to be under control. I'm at the Thor Hotel on Rivington in the lower east side of New York, staring at a great wall of fire escapes by the afternoon sunlight, looking around at all the places where people used to have ashtrays and don't anymore. That's the story.

Your current band has a storied past. Peter is part of R.E.M. Bill was in Ministry. Peter, Scott and Bill are in the Minus 5, Scott's group. What does each member of the band bring to The Venus 3?

Peter and I have been playing together off and on since 1985. He's a really old playmate. Scott and I have been playing since the early 1990s. Bill appeared on my horizon around 2000 AD or so. He used to be in a band called Ministry, who my daughter was a fan of ages ago. When I took her to Lollapalooza, she got me to go and look at Ministry.

I used to be a big fan of Ministry, too.

Were you? Did you like Al Jourgensen?

He's an interesting character. I've interviewed him a couple times.

I think he's still alive. But it was all very kind of tattoo rock. I'm from an age before tattoos, really. Rock kind of went tattooed pretty much after my time. I don't think any of this band has tattoos. Bill, despite being in Ministry, was tattoo free. We're really from before the kind of tattooed hard rock and heroin thing came in in the late '80s and early '90s. Everything got very kind of noisy. It seems like that's gone again now. Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie and our friends The Decemberists, who are from Portland, that's a lot of the music I hear that seems to make sense. That fits in with the thing we sort of play. I've been playing this forever, and it goes in and out of vogue. It's in vogue at the moment. I'm sure it'll go out of fashion at some point.

How did South by Southwest go?

It was lovely. Each year, the crowds get thicker. It gets harder to move along Sixth Street. It's hard to figure out which way you're going when you come out of somewhere. I like it just because I recognize so many people now from my hundreds of years in show business. There's a lot of Brits. It's a good place to meet British people. I like it. Peter and I played; we had Sean Nelson with us. He's in Harvey Danger. Sean is opening for us on the West Coast. He sings harmony on our most recent record, "Ole Tarantula." I hope he's going to sing on whatever we do next. He's another Seattle boy.

You're celebrating 30 years in the music business. Have anything special planned?

I'm having a cake. I just finished one, in fact. A lot of my stuff from the 1980s is coming out again starting this fall and, starting next year, maybe even some of the Soft Boys stuff from the late 1970s. Apparently, some of the stuff from Warner Bros. in the late '90s is coming out, too. The thing is, the formats keep changing. If you paint a picture, you just paint it once--and it's there until it's destroyed or the weevils eat it. If you do a print, you can keep printing up copies of that etching or engraving or whatever. If you wrote a book, if your book gets published, that's it. It could be hardback or paperback. That's it. If it's paperback, the pages will fall out occasionally. But with music, when I started, it was vinyl and cassette, and then it sort moved up to CD, vinyl and cassette. Then cassette disappeared, vinyl almost disappeared, now CDs disappeared and then vinyl's coming back. I'm thinking the next record will be vinyl and downloads only. It's a thing of having to constantly re-release stuff in new formats. Find extra tracks. I'm going back and finding demos that I've done 20 years ago that were on four-track. It took me ages to find a four-track cassette machine that I could play my old demos on. I'd love to get it all out once and forever, you know? Anyway, I'm glad people are still interested 30 years on. People want to hear yet again what we do.

Was it difficult to chose songs for those extra tracks?

You just pick the ones that aren't too bad. You listen to it [and say], "Would you really want to hear this? No I'll leave that until they re-release it in 10 years time and it serves them right if they want it." I just put the stuff that was reasonable. There's more of it than I thought. Some of it, I quite like. They were either demos or songs I lost patience with for some reason. I tidied a few of them up. It's quite fun, really. Anyway, the first lot is coming out on Yep Roc, the first package of Robyn Hitchcock solo stuff from the 1980s to 1990s. That's coming out in the fall. Next spring, I hope the Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians stuff from the '80s will come out, also on Yep Roc.

How did The Venus 3 come together? You mentioned you're longtime friends?

We came together like people who might have known each other for 20 years and then finally decided to go out on a date. Peter and I have been playing on and off for 20 years. I knew Bill and Scott and they all play together. Whenever they were in London, we'd play, or, if Peter, Scott and I were Seattle, Peter, Scott, Bill and I would play at the Crocodile, a local club there. I already recorded with Peter and Scott, actually, in the '90s. I think what happened was, I was coming up to Seattle and R.E.M. had decided to have a good, long break because they had been working for 18 months solid. They really needed to unshackle themselves from each other and have a good, long vacation. Peter doesn't like to be inactive; he likes to play. That's what he does. Peter said, or Scott said, "If you're coming up to Seattle, why don't we record? And Bill's here." We did a couple of sessions with the latest songs I'd written, and that went well. I had a gig in Portland. I can tell you exactly when it was: Sept. 8, 2005. And they said, "We'll come down to Portland with you and play." I said, "Yeah, why not." So, all three just came down, and they weren't billed or anything. It was just going to be me playing acoustic. We had such a good time that I said, "Would you want to come over to England when it's cold and damp in January and do some gigs?" I thought nobody would want to do that. My agent always sends me out in January in Britain because there's not much competition. They said, "Yeah. We'll come over to England."

So they all came over and, I don't know, we've just been doing it ever since. It's been great. They came over last summer and we recorded at home for a week. My wife said--she gets on very well with the boys--"Hey, get the boys over. Why don't you make a record in the house?" We got some equipment, miked it up in the living room and made a record. They stayed in the house. Well, one stayed up the road. We were just sort of living and eating together and playing music. It was like the early '70. People getting it together in the country. We just instinctively do it. To answer your question, there was no plan. There was no thinking, "We must form a band as soon as we get the opportunity." We've just sort of always been there, really. We just sort of formalized it. It doesn't mean the end of R.E.M., or anything.

Do you do Venus 3 songs live, or do you do some Robyn Hitchcock hits as well?

They're all my songs. We go back 30 years, so we do stuff from the second Soft Boys album and they go up to new ones that haven't been recorded yet. It's a 28-year span. And it should be. We're going to do some recording in Tucson when we finish the tour, just very quickly.

Tell me about the documentary "Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death and Insects" that's on SundanceChannel.com.

That was [filmed during a week that we were] making the record ... in London last summer--during a heat wave. You can sort of feel it. It was very hot. The doors were open. We had to keep shutting them. That was fun. You get some guests. John Paul Jones comes along and plays mandolin. Nick Lowe comes and does some vocals and stuff. My niece Ruby is playing. There's a lovely shot of that--her and John Paul Jones overdubbing. And Morris Windsor, the old Soft Boys drummer, came and did some harmonies. Chris Ballew from the Presidents of the United States of America, he flew over and did guitar/harmony/piano for three days. It's a good assembly of talent. It's for music lovers, really. You see us on tour a bit. You see me running through the songs in the back garden and talking about them a bit. Then we're recording them in the house, playing them on stage in Seattle. In between, we're wandering around. It's just a document of what we did last year. It was good fun. We're still having fun as a group, partly because we're not tethered to each other and we're doing it for its own sake. No one's really hoping to get anywhere with it.