Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Photo by Andreas Werner

Wilson Pickett.  Alex Chilton. B.B. King.  Frank Black. What do these musical giants have in common?   The guiding production hand and songwriting skills of Jon Tiven!  Coming up through the trenches of writing reviews for the likes of Rolling Stone, Tiven got the itch to write and record and has worked for forty years behind the scenes on many of your favorite records. Tiven was kind enough to respond by email to discuss his latest album with Steve Kalinich, what inspires him and the song that bought him a house...

I understand that you and Steve Kalinich wrote roughly 700 songs for your new album, “Every Soul Has A Voice”.  It’s such a beautiful, soulful record – there are moments of profound, almost ecstatic joy while also maintaining a very humanist streak throughout.  What was your songwriting process like?  How did you possibly whittle down which tracks made the record???  

Stevie sends me a lyric fairly regularly – when we’re anticipating a project it’s rarely less than one a day, sometimes more – and as long as I’m not actively engaged in producing a record, I am spending my time writing and recording musical pieces.  I marry what he does to what I do with as little compromise on either of our parts so each of us is allowed maximum creativity.  When it came time to pick out the songs, we had a few from the distant past that we’d earmarked for the album, but tried to take our final choices from the most current creations.

Your partnership with Steve has been very fruitful.  How did you and he get together and when did you realize that this particular partnership was so fertile?  What does each of you bring to the mix?

Thanks, I was thinking it was at least low-carb vegetarian.  P.F. Sloan introduced him to me.  I don’t know which of us he was trying to get taken off his hands, but that part didn’t work – he still talks to both of us regularly. I bring the musical pot-smoking free-being with a family, he brings the carefree 9and drug free) bachelor point of view.

You are incredibly prolific and have had an almost “Zelig”-like presence in the career of many seminal rock, soul and blues bands (the Rolling Stones, Big Star, Steve Cropper, Wilson Pickett)?  What attracts you to particular artists as collaborators?

Their talent.  I would hope what attracts them to me is the same…few have accused me of getting by on my charm and good looks.  Not to say that I am charmless and ugly, but I usually save my best self for my friends and my recordings, so those who don’t know me and meet me casually may find me irritating and unlikable.  There’s only so many hours in the day, and I get tired of smiling and don’t want those ugly lines on my face.

Alternately, what are some of your musical touchstones, those things that you heard and loved and go back to? 
I have a wide variety of musics that I like.  What they have in common is their greatness, intelligence and soul.  I love stuff that some people might find incompatible: Otis Redding and Jim Carroll; the Move and B.B. King.  I am less drawn to straight pop, but I try to keep an open mind.

You came to writing, performing and production from the world of music writing and criticism. How did your background in rock writing inform your creative spirit? 

I got to see just about every performer I wanted to and got to meet many of them.  That gave me tremendous insight as to what kind of lives they led, so when I was forming my idea of what I wanted my life to be, I had a very educated way of approaching this.

What continues to inspire you?

Artists of all ages who continue to dig deep within themselves to create greatness.  I find most contemporary music dismiss-able, but there are exceptions – Dylan LeBlanc is one of my current favorites.  When I was forming my own musical persona I had a much bigger palate to choose from.

You’re probably as renowned for your production work as you are your songwriting and have been behind the boards with some incredibly notable musicians – what are some of your most memorable production experiences?    

Producing B.B. King and Wilson Pickett was like a dream. Totally off the scale.  Steve Cropper is always a joy and I’m very fortunate to have been able to work with him as much as I have.  Chrissie Hynde was a treat, as is my neighbor Bekka Bramlett.  Frank Black and I have a created a body of work together that is extraordinary and the making of those records were always full of beautiful challenges.  I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to work with such greats, and for forty years I have had the privilege.  Pretty great. 

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?

Outside of my work with Stevie, if I had to pick one I think it would be “River Of No Return”, which I wrote with my wife and lyricist Keith Reid and was recorded by the Jeff Healy Band on their first record.   And not just because it is my biggest seller!  I love Keith’s words, and my Semitic blues sensibility was fully formed when I came up with the music – not to toot my own horn or be too self-analytical, but that musical style I have had great success with, the harmonic sense of it is pretty definitive and unique and this is a great example.   And it bought me a house.  

What’s on tap for you next? 

I’ve produced a solo record for Stevie Kalinich that’s outstanding – duets with Black Francis, Bekka Bramlett, Dylan LeBlanc and a few others. And I’ve got to find me a label for that.   So, if you know any, send them my way.

INTERVIEW - Mary Lou Lord

Mary Lou Lord has been around the block...after a decade spent dealing with things that would make most humans crumble, she is back with the delightful new album "Backstreet Angels", a collection of covers and originals that shines a light on what it means to persevere.  Knee-deep in preparation for her first visit to Japan, Mary Lou was kind enough to reflect on her collaborators, working with her daughter Annabelle, the Boston-area busking scene and the wish that Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith (two friends of hers) could have found their way into collaboration...

Your new album, “Backstreet Angels”, is a really beautiful collection of songs and your first new album in over a decade. Parts of it were recorded oceans-apart with Australian musician/producer Maryanne Window while others were produced more locally at Sonelab and Bang A Song studios. What made you decide to get back into the studio and how did the record come together?  

I originally decided to do a Kickstarter. I had just gotten GarageBand and had a few songs in the can, and thought it was going to be an easy (and mainly) acoustic project. My friend Billy Ruane had just died, and he was perhaps my best friend. I was also coming out of loss of a three year relationship with someone, as well as going through a foreclosure. So, my thought with the Kickstarter, and the album, was to keep "moving forward". I needed to put myself up for the challenge, otherwise, I might have never gotten out of the black fog I was in. Putting myself up to the challenge of doing that album gave me "hope". And it also was a way for me to see if anyone was still interested in my music. It was a great way to litmus that.

One of the things I was most struck with is that your daughter Annabelle sings lead on album stand-out, “I Feel Better”.  You must be so proud of her, and there is something very profound about the passing of the torch to a very literal “next generation” of singer-songwriter.  What was that experience like for you, as a mom and a musician?

Yes, daughter Annabelle was 13 when I initially began this project.  I was in Denver at a performance and I checked my computer and there was an mp3 sent to me by someone. I listened and it was a young girl doing the Beatles' version of "Till There Was You" on a ukulele.  At first it took me a couple minutes to get my head around the fact that it was my daughter! She hadn't let on to me how much she had been practicing, nor, that she had begun to sing. I was knocked out by this. She's 16 now and she's become a great young writer. Her guitar playing is wonderful and her singing style is sensible, non-dramatic, and most importantly honest. I'm beyond happy that she took part in the making of this album, and I think it was good for her to learn a lesson in perseverance, persistence, and patience. Through me showing her or telling her about music that I like, it really gives me back the spirit of hearing something awesome-for the first time again.

You have always covered a lot of others’ material on your albums, but balance that with very focused and well-crafted originals.  Some of these collaborations have been career-long (Nick Saloman from the Bevis Frond, for example), but you seem to keep finding new artists who inspire you. Where do you find inspiration these days and how do you choose which songs to cover?  

I've never been an artist who has to write as a means to express myself, or some kind of cathartic experience. I think I find that kind of joy in the "sharing" of a song I might find or discover. Where some people only want to write a song, my passion is finding songs that fit exactly what I too might feel, and then, either share them, cover them, or simply pay the songs themselves the honor of being the best listener I can be. There is a very silent art and half of what makes a great song "do" what it should "do", is when the listener connects with that feeling. Listening might be the most "silent" thing, and no one gets a trophy or a medal for "listening" because it is invisible, but it's important. And some of the songs that Nick from the Bevis Frond has written are some of those songs that affected me profoundly. Just amazed me in their craft, structure, in either the lyrics, melodies, guitar playing, and even his singing. It comes from a place of honesty. And it was naturally a good fit when we would team up somehow-I was already a big listener of his songs. I still love his music.

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

Yes, it's funny that you say that songs are like children. I suppose that when making a record, it's like their wedding day. There's a lot of preparation that goes into it. Then you take the picture, and they go out into the world. They will have their own experiences, and you won't be there. So, you try your best to make sure they are the best they can be. I guess if I could pick only one, it would most likely be "Western Union Desperate". I like that one. And now, “My Buddy Valentine” - it's just a great song, and I loved having the experience of writing with both Nick and Maryanne on that one. I love that we'll always be connected through a song. You know?

There has always been connection between you and Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith, two artists who impacted your artistic development and life in very meaningful ways.  Both were the subjects of documentaries this year (“Montage of Heck” and “Heaven Adores You”, respectively).   I was wondering if you had seen either and what you thought of them?  More generally, is it difficult as an artist to separate yourself as a fan when you have a relationship with someone whose work has such an impact on you?

Yes, it really still amazes me that I did know Elliott and Kurt as people, as friends-and thankfully, before they got famous. I did see the montage of heck movie, and I thought it was great to see all those lovely home movies and photos of Kurt when he was a child. I was sort of shocked at how much old footage there was actually. That was late 60's early 70's. Before the video boom of the mid-late 80's. It was all on Super 8. It was clear to see he was beloved as a child. It must have been very tough on him to lose that type of Camelot - yet have all that happy child footage constantly reminding him of how it "was" during that happy time of innocence. Maybe he always wanted it to remain that way and went back to childlike expressionism and never fully developed as a grounded person because of that stunt in a mature growth. Possibly he saw a happy return when he had his daughter. It perhaps connected him back to his own childhood, but alas, in order to protect her, he knew he finally had to grow up. Maybe it was all too much for him. I haven't seen the Elliott Smith movie yet, but I'm sure it's lovely. Elliott and Kurt were a lot alike in many ways. In my heart, one of my biggest wishes is that Kurt had lived long enough to have met Elliott. Elliott was either in Portland at the time, or just about to be back in Portland. I know that had Kurt met Elliott, he would have adored his music. And in my biggest fantasy, if they had met they could have made a side-band together. Elliott could have shown Kurt so many things - where Elliott's whisper was from the same place as Kurt's screams, if the two had connected, it would have been one hell of a band. I also think that they could have been two people on the planet that understood each other as friends, more than most.

You’ve been very vocal and active in the Boston area speaking up in defense of “busker’s rights”, a tradition that has long been a vibrant part of that city’s street culture but which has had wavering political support over the years.  You yourself came up in the scene…is the fight to preserve performing on the streets triumphing? 

Performing on the streets was great. When any new artist begins, they need some kind of support while they practice, being, learn the instrument-this stuff takes hours and hours. I started late in life, and it was a time when I had to somehow make money. So, with busking, I was learning my craft, while getting supported for doing it-at the same time. In other words, if I wasn't busking, or anyone else for that matter, they will have to become a waitress or something in order to live. Busking allows for freedom, and allows the ability to work on your art at the same time-as well as gives a person one of the main ingredients in persisting, which is "hope". I will always fight for this right. It was very good to me, and has been for thousands and thousands of people.

You’re heading off soon for a tour of Japan, which I have to imagine must be really exciting! Is there a plan to tour your record stateside?  What’s on tap for you next?

Yes, I'm going to Japan for the first time. I'll be there in early October. I'm very excited. Somehow “Lights are Changing” found its way onto a popular soundtrack to a popular young people's show called "Terrace House". My song is wedged in between the likes of Taylor Swift, Black Eyed Peas, and Weezer. Again, it's the Bevis Frond song, "Lights are Changing". It just goes to show the timelessness of that song, and the fact that, well, it's a great song. It's one of those songs that could have been a hit. But, somehow, I'm kind of glad it wasn't. The song will remain timeless and have plenty of spins left in it. Music, great songs, should be like that. And in your earlier statement about songs being like children, well, with that foster child (haha), it will be a nice reunion, and the tour will be a reunion of sorts as well-whether in Japan or stateside. I go where the music brings me.

REVIEW: Swervedriver @ Waiting Room, Buffalo, NY

Noise can be a funny thing.  Frightening. Painful. Exhilarating. Sometimes a mixture of all three.   When Swervedriver descended upon a sparsely-populated Waiting Room for its explosive Tuesday night show, it was decidedly this last property that was in effect.  Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge, abetted by new-ish drummer Mikey Jones and a stand-in bassist (longtime 4-stringer Steve George apparently sidelined by the demands of new-fatherhood!), brought the noise in a righteous fashion.  The hits were in abundance – “Rave Down”, “Duel”, “For Seeking Heat”, classics all – and rarities dotted the set (like “the Birds” from 1995’s unreleased-stateside “Ejector Seat Reservation””). The new material from this year’s stellar “I Wasn’t Born to Lose You” nestled nicely in between these chestnuts.  Played with passion and volume, new cuts like “Autodidact” and “Setting Sun” stretched out and roared with an immediacy that was sometimes absent on the album.  Franklin’s Jazzmaster should be a registered weapon – the massive chords and silvery sweeps he coaxed out of it were palpable (perhaps only topped by Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis in terms of being physically blown back by the sound), and the array of pedals in front of him and Hartridge were struck frequently and with aplomb.  

The fans in attendance (all seemingly part of the close-knit Buffalo-scene) lapped it up, but hearing (and feeling) the throb of “Never Lose That Feeling” and an astonishingly-great version of “Last Train to Satanville” as an encore made you feel like this wasn’t simply another show, but rather a “moment”.  The euphoria of heads bobbing in unison as the band worked through the protracted breakdown in “Satansville” was what I imagine an effective church sermon is like – communal, enveloping and a direct link to something primal and bigger than the self.  The crowd may have been on the smaller side, but the love for the band was big and the sea of smiling, blissed-out faces indicated that something transformative had been witnessed that night.