Saturday, November 16, 2013

INTERVIEW: Richard X Heyman

(photo by Nacy Leigh)

Journeyman rock n' roller Richard X Heyman has played with some of the biggest and most noteworthy names in rock and soul, and continues to put out incredibly well-written and passionate solo albums.  Upon the release of his latest solo platter, "X", Heyman reached out to chat about the record, his influences and some of his more his more notable experiences as a backing musician. 

The new album, “X”, is a delightful album that almost sounds like a greatest hits collection of all new songs – how do you feel you have grown as a songwriterwith this record? 

Thank you.  If only they were hits!  It's difficult for me to assess the songs in terms of growth.  The writing process is an emotional outlet and the songs that come closest to achieving the feelings I envisioned are the most realized.  One can only hope that they improve with experience so if someone listening thinks there's growth in the songwriting, I'll accept the compliment.  One thing I have been experimenting with on this project is to take songs I've written on piano and then turn them into guitar-oriented arrangements.  Several of these tracks were written while I was working on my last album "Tiers" which was primarily piano-based.  If they had been included on "Tiers," the piano parts would have been prominent.  For the "X" album we mixed down the piano and I played the piano voicings on various guitars, mainly a Fender Stratocaster.

Despite almost always playing all the instruments on your records, this is the first one you recorded at home.  How did that change the dynamic or influence the sound of the album?  (As a side note, I think it’s hilarious that you titled your bedroom studio “The Kit Factory” yet recorded the drums elsewhere!) 

Actually I've done several albums at home.  Nancy and I live in a New York City apartment so it is impossible to record drums here properly.  Not to mention we'd probably get evicted.   The name of our home studio is a pun based on The Hit Factory (the famous NYC studio).  We are both cat lovers, hence the "kit" reference.  It's always fun to record in a large state-of-the-art studio and I did a few of my prior albums in that environment.  But with today's advanced technology, independent artists can achieve a high level of fidelity with a computer and some decent microphones.  I do try to retain as much warmth in the sound as possible via an analog pre-amp compressor and a tube guitar amp (a Fender Vibro-Champ).

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

It's very simple - the first track on all of my albums is my favorite.  On "X", besides "Denny", I like "Please Be Mindful," "Somebody Has Finally Found Me," "Mourning," and "House of Cards."  I know it's a songwriter's cliche to refer to their songs as children, but I never felt that way.  Though I guess if you're gonna go with the family relations analogy, some songs are like a favorite child and others are like a troglodytic nephew.

What are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to?  Who inspires you musically?

I grew up listening to a wide variety of music.  Big band jazz, classical, Broadway shows, Sinatra.  Then I got into rock'n'roll.  I love the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the great songwriting teams such as Leiber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Weil and Mann, Barry & Greenwich.  I also am into blues artists like Freddy King and Magic Sam, as well as soul singers Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and all the incredible Motown acts.  Then I got into Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, the Incredible String Band, Joni Mitchell and of course the British groups -- Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, Hollies, Procol Harum, Yardbirds, Animals, Zombies and the American artists - Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, Lovin' Spoonful, the Beach Boys, the Band, the Mamas & the Papas.  I'm sure I'm forgetting many others.

Your music often gets saddled with the term “power pop”, though I think it’s got as much in common with girl groups and the 60’s mod scene.  Do you feel constrained at all by being defined that way?

I'm not a fan of the term power pop.  To me, it's an oxymoron.  Most of the music that is filed under that category is neither very powerful or popular.  That's what the term "pop" originally referred to - its popularity.  When you release anything out into the public domain, others are free to write or say whatever they want about it.  So I have no control over what label or genre someone thinks I fit into.  The Who - now that's real power pop!  I would say I consider myself a rock'n'roll singer/musician.

You have worked with several very high-profile collaborators (hell, your resume is kind of a trip-tych through the last 40 years of rock and R&B!) – are there any collaborative experiences that were particularly memorable that you wish to share?

It's always an honor to get to play with musicians whom I respect.  Playing drums for Link Wray was a great experience.  He basically invented the power chord way back in 1958 with his song "Rumble."  When I played with him in the 70's he was playing a Gibson SG through an Ampeg amp and man he got the nicest tone I've ever heard.  It was such a  pleasure to pound along with that sound.  He was also a very sweet guy and let me do my thing on the drums, which I appreciated.  I recently played guitar for Mary Weiss from the Shangri-Las, and had a blast performing those classic hits like "Walking In The Sand" and "Leader of the Pack."  And just last week I played drums for Mark Lindsay, former lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders, and again was thrilled to get to play a set full of hits such as "Kicks," "Hungry," "Just Like Me" and many others.

What’s on tap for you next?

I'm just about to send out a bonus album to all the people who donated to my Kickstarter campaign, which helped finance the "X" album.  I also recorded a Christmas single that will be out for the holiday season.  I'm writing and rehearsing new material for the band I play drums in, The Doughboys, for our fourth release.  As far as my solo career, I'm trying to decide on what style or direction I should attempt for the next project.  I'm dabbling in some folk songs with just an acoustic guitar and single voice, but I also am interested in doing something toward the heavier side.  Though I don't really have the haircut for that.

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