Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hey, Ho, Let’s Go….check out the way-belated Top 10 of 2015!

So.....I got a bit caught up in the ol' writer's block, and sat on this for the past seven damn months.  But you know what, everyone loves lists! (It's just science.)  Here are some thoughts on some of the best rock that 2015 had to offer - as ever it's overly white and male, but this time has the distinction of hewing overly OLD as well!  Without further ado, check out my favorite releases of 2015...AND GET OFF MY LAWN!!!

1.       The Sun Lions – Whatever’s On Your Mind
There is something so incredibly thrilling about a band whose music comes out of nowhere and smacks you upside the head.  This Boston-area trio’s debut full-length splits the difference between fuzzy Dino Jr-esque riffs (lovingly recorded by godhead producer Justin Pizzoferrato) and catch-in-your-throat melodies…a rush of blood to the head that echoes the greats of the Boston alt-rock scene of the late 80s while sounding remarkably vital.  If you find a catchier, more anthemic song released this year than ace album-centerpiece, “Right Now”, I’ll buy ya a Coke!

2.       Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
This is how you reunite!  Recorded in secret and ready to go before even a whisper of their reunion went public, Corin, Carrie and Janet came back with a bruiser of a record.  Opener “Price Tag” bridges the sound that two-thirds of the band explored with the short-lived Wild Flag project a couple years back with the frantic, apoplectic punk of their first iteration.  It’s a beautifully realized record, alternatively reflective and punishing, and we are all better for them having pulled it off.

3.        Faith No More – Sol Invictus
Speaking of reunions that stuck the landing, the creative rebirth of Faith No More was one of the bright spots of 2015. It was improbable at best that a band as fanatically beloved would be able to equal the records of their 1989-1997 heyday, but “Sol Invictus” goes a step further and is arguably BETTER than some of those classics.  A band of 50-somethings should not be capable of the raw-throated fury of a track like “Superhero” or “Separation Anxiety”, but Patton and co. deliver in spades.

4.       Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People
After 2013’s middling “Tape Deck Heart” (whose title, frankly, was the best thing about it by far), Turner finds his way back to making rousing, anthemic joints that tickle the head and the heart.  The quiet feint of “The Angel Islington” leads directly into “Get Better”, the most scorching thing Turner has written since his Million Dead days.  By focusing on the good that we are capable of (and raging against the type of malaise and negative self-talk that derails living up to our potential), “Positive Songs” lives up to its title and is song-for-song Turner’s finest album.

5.        Swervedriver – I Wasn’t Born to Lose You
Let’s get this out of the way – there was no NEED for a new Swervedriver album.  The lads had put a fine cap on their career with 1997’s “99th Dream” and leader Adam Franklin’s most recent records have been consistently decent.  But, like several others on this list, the Swervies defied expectation and sound more like the band that created 1993’s high-water mark, “Mezcal Head” than many of the bands who have formed in their wake.  The guitars crunch and sigh like breathing organisms battling to keep Franklin’s voice at bay, and the rhythm section is just devastating.  All in all, a stunner.

6.       Built to Spill – Untethered Moon
Sometimes you have to shake the tree a little.  Shedding a rhythm section and gaining the production prowess of Quasi’s Sam Coomes, Doug Martsch has made the liveliest BTS album in 15 years.  The shambolic speed-up of first single, “Living Zoo”….the doomy plod of “Some Other Song”…the spiraling noodling of “So”…it all feels so incredibly vital in a way that the past few albums haven’t!  Even Martsch’s voice, which on 2009’s “There Is No Enemy” sounded weak and hollow, has a new heft to it. Great, great stuff…

7.       Bully – Feels Like
Lots of bands fetishize the early 90s alt rock scene, but few do it as thrillingly or with as much conviction as Bully do on their debut.  The brainchild of Alicia Bognanno, a demon behind the boards as well as in front of the mike, these 10 tracks bristle with energy and sound a bit like Courtney Love fronting Speedy Ortiz (which is kinda genius, innit?)  In and out in under 28 minutes, “Feels Like” is a very solid introduction to a promising talent.

8.       Rhett Miller and Black Prairie – The Traveler
The Old 97s put out a solid rawk record in 2014, but I honestly haven’t connected with a Rhett Miller solo effort since his first, 2002’s stellar power-popish “The Instigator”.  Co-written and recorded with Black Prairie (basically the Decemberists minus Colin Meloy), “The Traveler” is a great set of tunes that utilize the acoustic strengths of his nimble backing ensemble to create his most effective record in years. 

9.       Public Image Ltd – What the World Needs Now…

In which our favorite old crank shakes off the doldrums of 2012’s boring reunion LP “This is PIL”, and wobbles (see what I did there?) back into greatness.  This is the album John Lydon fans have been waiting for – groovy, thoughtful, and full of his patented vitriol.  Ably abetted again by longtime comrades Lu Edmonds and Bruce Smith, the real treasure here is Scott Firth’s bass playing.  His deep, supple lines carry many of these songs and give them the hips that act as perfect complement to Lydon’s spitting delivery. 

10.      Hop Along – Painted Shut

This one is all about Frances Quinlan’s burnt-out howl.  Her voice goes from a coo into paint-peeling shriek in less time than it takes your jaw to hit the floor.  She is a force of fucking nature.  Produced by the always-awesome John Agnello, “Painted Shut” fulfills the promise of their debut, and “Waitress” should have made them enormous. 

FIRST IMPRESSION: Black Sugar Transmission - In the City's Arms

To call Black Sugar Transmission’s new album sprawling doesn’t quite cut it – this thing is massive, in the best way possible.  An impeccably sequenced double-album, “In the City’s Arms” is the soundtrack to a NYC summer– shiny, sweaty, glistening, and propulsive – a brisk, headphoned walk through lower Manhattan at dusk, heart thrumming, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun dips behind you.  

Andee Blacksugar’s ambition on this, the follow-up to 2015’s great “Violent Muses”, is pronounced – each of the twenty-four songs has its own personality while also feeling like a part of the greater whole.  Opener, “Machinegun Sun’s” skittering beats break into melodramatic synth washes and processed, menacing whispers, giving way to Blacksugar’s pleading vocals and piano.  “Spilling From the Wet Mouth of Hell” (seriously, what a fucking title!) sounds a bit like 23rd Century Beatles and “Flashbulb Disease” would do his late Purple Majesty proud.  There are ghosts throughout the record; the album is dedicated to “Lemmy Bowie Prince”, and the closer to this monster, “Stuck It To You”, is pure “Hunky Dory” gorgeousness. 

The record is split into two discs, and it makes sense. In spite of its technology-abetted tunesmithing, Blacksugar has defiantly made a “Record with a capital R” – sequencing matters, and even the slighter tunes work in service of the greater arc.  It takes balls to buck trends and release something like this at a time when tunes are purchased (or stolen) piecemeal, and the fact that the damn thing WORKS is a testament to the talent of its creator.  So, pull up your fishnets, strap on your New Rocks, and lose yourself in the sweltering summer heat. 

INTERVIEW: Brian Cullman

Photo by Bill Flicker

I was previously unfamiliar with your work and story, but “The Opposite of Time” is a really nice little record – sly, mature and contemplative, it sounds very much like a cross between some of the classic 70s-era British pop and folk scene touchstones (John Martyn, early Dire Straits) and some of the stuff that was going on in and around NYC and New Jersey in the 80s and 90s.  At the same time, it’s intimately sparse. Can you tell me about its creation and influences?

I wrote & recorded THE OPPOSITE OF TIME pretty quickly. I wanted to make a record that felt like it was recorded with all the players in the same room with each other, which, most of the time was the case. I can hear all sorts of influences there, some conscious, some way below the surface: JJ Cale, The Kinks, Nick Drake, Bobby Womack, Big Star and Nick Holmes along with troubadours like George Moustaki, Paul Siebel and Caetano Veloso.

You had quite an auspicious start to your career as a songwriter – having your stuff vetted by famed 70s music scenester, Danny Fields – and were a bit of a “Zelig”-like presence in several music scenes, hanging out with everyone from Nick Drake and Sandy Denny to Vernon Reid and Robert Quine.  How did you find yourself in such an enviable position?  What are some of your most memorable experiences?

I spent all the time I could hanging out in the Village. The doorman at The Cafe Au GoGo figured I must be one of Tim Hardin’s kids, as I was always there when he played, and I looked about 10 or 11. It meant that for the most part, I was invisible and could slip into clubs or rehearsals unnoticed.

One time, I’d gone across the street to The Tin Angel to wait for The Au GoGo to open. I’d heard that there was going to be a jam later that night, sort of private, but f you knew enough to be there, they’d let you stay. The Tin Angel was packed, unusual for a weeknight, but I was on my own and, as I mentioned before, I looked like someone’s kid who’d wandered off. Instead of turning me away, the waitress asked if I’d mind joining some other people. When I shrugged, she ushered me into the back area and sat me at a long table filled with ….Holy Shit! The Royal Family!!! Eric Clapton & Mike Bloomfield & Danny Kalb & Zal Yanovsky & Eric Andersen & Paul Butterfield & Charlie Chin (from Cat Mother & The All Night Newsboys) and a few pretty girls who probably weren’t much older than I was. I was made welcome, someone ordered me a Coke, and they all seemed flattered & amused that I knew who most everyone was, that I not only had that first CREAM album but had tracked down their first single (UK only - “Wrapping Paper”), that I’d seen The Blues Project play, knew Eric Andersen’s electric remake of his 2nd album, knew that Charlie Chin played banjo on Buffalo Springfield’s BLUEBIRD, and loved Bloomfield’s solo on MARY MARY, especially that one note that tore my heart out, pretty much the same blue note that Clapton plays on I FEEL FREE…the note that opened more or less all the doors I subsequently walked through. They talked about The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and told each other where to get English style polka dot shirts and bell bottoms and fringe jackets (The Different Drummer, uptown on Lexington, was the shop of choice). I was in heaven.

We all walked over to the Au GoGo. Someone ran around the corner to see if Harvey Brooks could sit in on bass, and I wondered who was going to play drums. And then…Disaster! There’d been a power outage, they had no electricity downstairs at the club. And everyone just stood in the middle of the street wondering where to go now. Someone suggested Road Runner cartoons at The Bleecker Street Cinema. The pretty girls had disappeared, Bloomfield had ducked into a phone booth to make a call, and Danny Kalb bought a paper and was studying the racing section. “Horses", he said to me without looking up. "Ponies and Telecasters. That’s all you need."

A scruffy guy that I’d seen before noticed us and made a beeline for Clapton. He had a guitar on his back, and there was something rough about him, he definitely wasn’t a hippie. Oh, right, he was a blues guitarist, Paul Geremiah. I’d heard a record of his. I hadn’t liked it.

He edged over to Clapton.

"I heard that Blues Breakers album you did", he told Clapton. Clapton nodded. "Where you did that Robert Johnson song? Ramblin’ On My Mind?” He made everything sound like a question. but there was more than a bit of defiance in it, as if he wanted Clapton to prove that he, Paul Geremiah, had never ever heard that record, couldn’t possibly know it. Clapton just nodded politely. He had hair out to here. it covered most of his face, but i could see enough to sense that he was both naturally polite and naturally awkward. The sort of person who’d stand up on the bus to give his seat to an old lady but might step on her feet along the way.

“That version of Ramblin’ On My Mind", he told Clapton. "You got the chords all wrong", he barked. 

Clapton looked startled. i thought there might be a fight or a showdown. But the roughness in Geremiah was just that, a roughness, not an anger, and the politeness in Clapton was real. Maybe I got it wrong. Show me. That wasn’t spoken. But it was shrugged.

“Here", Geremiah said. And he sat down on the curb there on Bleecker Street, just across from MILLS MUSICAL HOUSE OF MUSIC. Clapton sat down next to him. Geremiah played a couple of different approaches to the tune, I couldn’t see his fingers well enough to know what he was doing, but Clapton could see and nodded. 
"See, on that record, you start off in the first position", he said, "but what Johnson does is turn it around, start in the fifth position and work backwards from the verses. Johnson’s always looking over his shoulder, you know what I mean?” 

The guitar changed hands a couple of times, cigarettes were offered and by now the street lights were on and taxis drove by, and soon it started to rain. And I had to get home. I had school the next day.

A week later I was back in the Village with my best friend, Laurel. She was - and is - a year older than me, but always deferred to me in anything musical. I had dragged her down to the Fillmore East to hear The Byrds and Tim Buckley a few months before. All she could talk about was how scrawny Tim Buckley’s legs were. She shared my devotion to The Butterfield Band and Tim Hardin, but she went out with college boys and knew things about life and sex and the abyss of depression that I had no knowledge of. I told her about my night at the Tin Angel, and I think she believed me. 

Anyway, we were walking along Bleecker Street, past The Figaro, past Pizza Box and The Village Gate, heading to Bleecker Bob’s record store. The waitress from The Tin Angel saw me and waved. See, I nodded to Laurel. These are my people! She just gave me a look. And there was Eric Andersen stepping out of a doorway. I waved to him, but he must not have seen me. I waved again. “Hey Eric,” I called. He turned my way and gave me his version of the look I’d seen on Laurel’s face. 

“Who the fuck are you?” he snarled before turning onto Thompson Street.

I am always fascinated by musicians who are also professional critics and rock writers, and you have written pretty extensively for Creem, Rolling Stone, the Paris Review and several others.  How do you separate that part of you that creates (and consequently, is also a fan) from the critical side?  Does doing one inform the other at all?

I never planned to be a critic. While I was still in school, I was part of a boy’s club at CREEM, where we all were trying to impress Lester Bangs one way or another. But I changed pretty dramatically once I started performing songs myself and trying to make my own records. I realized just how hard it was to get anything done that sounded remotely like what was in my head, and it made me a little more humble…a lot more humble! And made me want to get inside the intention behind the sound. It made me more generous as a listener. And that, in a weird way, made me more open to my own mistakes, allowed me to try things I didn’t know how to do just for the fun of it. Without the possibility of fucking up, it’s hard to make music that’s really alive. And I think that’s what brings out the fan in all of us, the possibility of something that just carries us away, whether there are mistakes or not. At heart, I think we’re all just fans who can’t wait to share our record collections, even if they’re now mp3’s. 

It’s obvious that you put a lot of craft into your work.   What is your songwriting process like?

Every time I finish a song, I figure it’s the last one I’ll ever write. If I’ve done it right, I have nothing left. But somehow, after a while, other songs show up at my door. I don’t quite know how. And I’m not sure I want to know.

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?

I think I’d have a different answer for you tomorrow, but today I’d have to say AND SHE SAID from the new album. Not because it’s the best song I’ve written or even the best song on the album, but just because of the way it came about. I was just a day or two away from finishing my record and went home to listen, and it just seemed too moody, too sullen. I’m all for sad songs, but I just sat there thinking it needed a lift, a song where the sun would suddenly break through the clouds and radiate. And I didn’t have that song. I had all the clouds in the world, but no sun. And somehow overnight I conjured up something that felt like The Byrds and The Beatles and Moby Grape and The Beau Brummells, something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to play for Doug Sahm if he stumbled into the bar I was in. And much of that is courtesy of Jimi Zhivago’s beautiful guitars, Dave Berger’s full on drumming and Byron Isaacs joyful bass; and some of that is just good luck, the planets all lining up in the shape of a big transistor radio. Whatever it is, I’ll take it!

What’s on tap for you next?

A few years ago, I started producing an album for my friend Byron Isaacs. Byron plays bass with me and sings on my album, but he was also a founding member of Ollabelle and spent a long time playing with Levon Helm. His record was just about ready last fall, but then he got an offer to join The Lumineers, and he’s been traveling the world with them full time for the last 6 or 7 months. We got together in the studio last week just to listen to what we have, and if all goes well, I think we can finish it this fall during a break he has. Emotionally, musically, financially, we have to get it out in 2016. 

And I can’t wait to start another album of my own. I don’t want to let that slide.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

INTERVIEW: Josh Haden (Spain)

The new album, “Carolina”, is fantastic – it finds you exploring many of the same themes you’ve previously dealt with in Spain\ through historical and first-person narrative frameworks.  I’m sure that there is still a lot of “you” in the songs, but it feels like a bold choice.  Was it a conscious decision to craft this series of songs that way or did the material simply lend itself to that?

So happy you like the new album. Thematically Spain has a certain vibe and I can’t mess with that. Spain is not a party band. I don’t write songs about dancing without abandon until dawn (unless it’s ironic or it’s about walking home past a church at 9am). I want the songs to be entertaining and provide the listener with some relief from the real world but in a way a good blues or gospel song does. I want to write songs about hardship and love, discord and betrayal, loss and redemption, but in a way that raises the listener through and above the human experience to a higher spiritual as opposed to material plane. I guess all good songs attain to that. I’m not always successful but with the new record I very much wanted to approach my songs in a more studied way insofar as the lyrics were concerned. I wanted to tell short stories in a way, and that is a departure from previous Spain records. Not entirely but generally speaking. I wanted the songs to have literary beginnings, middles, and endings, I wanted them to have characters, protagonists, and I wanted the action of the songs to occur in specific places and specific times. I also wanted the contents of the songs to reflect real things that happened to me. For example, the song “Apologies” which takes place at what I found out during a party was actually a wake for Timothy Leary. “Apologies” is an apology to a girl I was supposed to have a blind date with but flaked on, only to see her at this party/wake where we would have met anyway.  Most of the songs on the album adhere to these limitations, or in my case opportunities. I never allowed myself to inject personal experiences in my songs to this level. So it was a conscious decision and I think the material did lend itself to it as well.

Kenny Lyon joined you on tour last year and produced the record at his home studio in the famed Gaylord Apartments in Los Angeles (in addition to playing a ton of accent instrumentation).  His production is very organic and dusky and fits the songs on “Carolina” very well.  You also had the legendary Danny Frankel play drums on the record.  What did they bring to the project? 

Well, stepping back a bit. I couldn’t have made Carolina without Kenny. A couple of years ago, directly after recording the previous Spain album, 2014’s Sargent Place, I went through a bad break-up not with a girl but with the musicians I’d been touring and recording with more or less since I decided to put Spain back together in 2007. I love those guys, but just like with a significant other you love but can’t reconcile differences with this relationship couldn’t continue any longer. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just a clash of personalities and sometimes we have to accept that and move on. So I had a completed album but no band to tour with. I called one of my best and closest friends. He always has good advice and comes through with recommendations for players when I’m at a loss for what to do next. Merlo Podlewski, who was one of the original Spain guitarists and played on the first three Spain records and has been Jack Johnson’s bassist and right hand man for twenty years. I called Merlo and told him what was going on, and he said, “You should give Kenny Lyon a call, I think you’d work well together.” So Kenny and I toured in the U.S. and Europe together for the Sargent Place record and it was very successful. Not just monetarily but most of all musically.
Sometime around then there was this Justice of the Peace who refused to marry same-sex couples. Now there is a lot of wrong in this world and I don't have much power to change things in the middle-east but this was close to home and a subject I feel strongly about. People should be able to love and marry whomever they want, and have that devotion officially recognized if they want. It seemed ludicrous to me, and offensive, so I wrote a song about it to benefit organizations that fought for same-sex marriage. I called this song “I Do” and it can be purchased from the Spain Bandcamp page ( I knew that Kenny was an accomplished and experienced producer in his own right and decided to record the song with him. It wasn’t a conscious kind of try out for the record but it ended up that way. I was happy with the final result of “I Do” and asked Kenny if he wanted to produce the new Spain record. The recording process took about a month and we recorded in Kenny’s apartment studio in Koreatown and in Joshua Tree where we recorded Danny’s drums. We’re at a time in music history where you can make a great sounding album with just a few strategic pieces of gear and a computer. You don’t need tens of thousands of dollars anymore. We used this amazing and affordable Russian microphone called Soyuz for my vocals that sounded so good.

Kenny’s longtime apartment is in a historic building called the Gaylord. When you walk in the lobby you see display cases with photos and memorabilia of all the 1940s movie stars who stayed there. It’s also across the street from the jazz club where my dad first saw Ornette Coleman play in 1957. The club is long gone but the street just has that feeling. It was inspiring to me.

Kenny has a very musical ear and understands what I’m trying to do. Throughout the recording process he kept pushing me to express myself better in the lyrics and to do little tweaks to the songs to make them better. They don’t call him “Chief” for nothing.

I’ve known Danny for years and am always so happy when I’m able to work on a project with him. I don’t remember the first time we met, but it was probably through my sister Petra who is good friends with Danny’s wife Mimi. When I was putting the Sargent Place band together I called Danny and he did the L.A. shows with us. I was so happy the timing allowed Danny to record the new album because someone should get that on tape. Like Kenny, Danny has an incredibly deep musical ear and understands what I’m trying to do. His playing is straight but has that jazz feel that lends to improvisation that’s so important to the songs.

You’ve been at this for more than twenty years and your voice has really become quite an elastic and expressive instrument – you bring soul-singer like cadences to a song like “Apologies” and really let it rip on “For You”.  What have you learned about yourself over time as a performer?

Well singing and performing can be two different things. On stage there’s a level of adrenaline that just isn’t there in the studio. Also I’ve learned over the years there’s a obligation to be entertaining that isn’t so immediate in the studio. Recording in the studio can be a long process, and unless there’s a deadline to be met it can get drawn out. Work on a song, take a break, work some more, talk about stuff, go out to eat, come back and work some more and then go home. It’s not like that on stage. On stage there has to be a sense of urgency, or at least an appearance of urgency. Compare live footage of Spain over the years. 1995-2014 was great technically and had its moments but not very exciting to watch, at least to me pretending to be an audience member. In 2014 out of necessity I whittled the band down to a trio and all of a sudden the playing opened up. I wasn’t expecting that. I was able to play bass more busy and improvise more. I had all these new ideas and Kenny really encouraged me. Now our show is truly entertaining and unpredictable. We rarely play a song the same way on consecutive nights. There’s lots of improvisation and at times it’s almost like a free jazz show, in a good, tasteful and organized way. I get to channel my dad in a sense, and that feels great. A few weeks ago we played a show in Nantes, France that was so amazing. It was the best show of the tour. Just this little club packed with people who didn’t know what to expect from us and loved what we were doing on stage. The poster for the show described our sound as “Indie Pop Slowcore Americana Free Jazz” and I’ve adopted that as our official description. In the 90s Spain heyday I saw all kinds of stuff in the audience while we were playing, I saw people having sex against the barrier in front of the stage, I saw people crying, a couple of fights. After the break and I started the band again I wanted to keep seeing that stuff. People come up to me and said they cried during “Spiritual”. Drunk people want to get on stage and sing or fight. I haven’t seen anyone having sex in front of me yet, but I hope that happens again. I want to inspire an emotional reaction from the listener in the audience that’s more intense than when they’re listening to the record. I want to give the fan a reason to leave their house, get into the car or train and get out to our show. During this last tour people were following us around show to show. People would tell me they drove 500 kilometers to see us. That’s what I love from my fans and I’m working on making the show more and more exciting and attractive to them.

As far as my singing is concerned, you're right, I’m challenging myself on this record. I’m singing for more extended periods at higher registers. I have a wide range and I want to utilize that. It started with Sargent Place but really kicks in on Carolina. Another conscious decision I made with Carolina is not to use any 1990s-written songs on the album. With 2012’s Soul Of Spain and Sargent Place I included songs I wrote in the 1990s for Spain that for whatever reasons didn’t get a proper recording. So you have a lot of the whispery, subtle vocals I was into in the 90s. Not that I’m not into that anymore but at some point as a singer you need to branch out. I learned that touring with Dan the Automator and Handsome Boy Modeling School in the mid 2000’s. The tour manager kept telling me I needed to project my voice more. That wasn’t something I was worried about with Spain. But he was right. I think I need to evolve as a singer, and as a songwriter and bass player, for that matter, and as a guitarist even, and part of that is challenging myself, singing in higher keys and projecting my voice which sounds funny but wasn’t something I used to believe in before. And you don’t want to over sing on stage, it doesn’t sound good. So I try to record as many shows as I can and listen back to them. I learn a lot about my voice that way.

Even though you frequently play jazz-based music and Spain’s work gets somewhat lazily tagged as “slowcore” (a term that, let’s be honest, should probably have been retired with the ending of bands like Codeine or Idaho in the late ‘90s), you’re an avid fan of many different musical genres.  “Carolina” is far more indebted to early country music and “Americana” than anything else, and you grew up amidst the 1980s California hardcore scene.  Are there genres which you haven’t been able to explore in Spain or solo that you would like to delve into?

You are absolutely right. I’m not sure what Slowcore means. I think we got stuck with it because of the slowness of the first album, The Blue Moods Of Spain, but I never intended “slow” to be Spain’s genre and on the subsequent albums the pace can really pick up. Look at the song “Because Your Love” on the 2012 album which was inspired by Deep Purple’s “Perfect Strangers” and kind of sounds like Foo Fighters. People hear that song and still call it “Slowcore” so go figure. Early country and Americana is the predominant mood on the Carolina for a few reasons. First of all to pay tribute to my dad, and to deal with feelings of loss and grief I’m going through after his death. Second of all Spain has always had a strong country influence because of my dad’s side of the family and I wanted to focus on that more with the new album. I like Soul and Sargent Place but I think they might be too much all over the place in terms of musical styles. Carolina is much more focused and I like that. As far as styles go I think I’ve hit them all. I even did a Keith Sweat-style album with Dan the Automator, John Medeski and Kid Koala. I’ve sung crazy empty pvc pipe music with Blue Man Group. So I just like playing music.

I recently spoke with your sister, Petra, in conjunction with the reissues of her early solo work and we touched upon what it was like growing up in a family steeped in music.  What was your experience like?  Was there ever a time when you felt like you wouldn’t follow a path into music?  Additionally, I have to imagine that being surrounded by musicians (particularly of the caliber of your father and sisters) fostered both healthy competition and a web of support.

When I was a little kid and going into Junior High School my peers thought I was crazy. I was always writing songs and singing to myself. I thought that was normal. I thought having a family life constantly revolving around music was a normal way of life. But again most kids thought I was crazy. It wasn’t until high school and meeting kids whose lives also revolved around music I started feeling normal.

There were always musicians moving through our apartment in New York, and later when we moved to Los Angeles. I got to see my dad play live and meet a lot of the jazz greats, and got to be friends with my dad’s bandmates’ kids, a few of whom I’m still close with. I even toured with my dad. I have lots of great memories. One time when I was playing in the street in front of our house in L.A. I saw this ice cream truck in the distance. It didn’t look like a normal ice cream truck, it was kind of beat up and falling apart. I was like, “What’s this?” The truck pulled up in front of me and the door opened. It was Don Cherry! One of my dad’s best friends and pivotal free jazz and world music trumpet player and multi-instrumentalist. “Excuse me, does Charlie Haden live here?” “Yes,” I responded. Cherry turned around and yelled “OK kids, you can get out now!” The back door opened and about fifteen kids piled out, all ready to play and have fun. There was a web of support, but not a lot of need for competition or rivalry. All the Haden kids grew up to be musicians. That’s what it was like growing up with my dad.

I also have to say it wasn’t all roses. It’s also important to say my dad was a horrible drug addict. I saw a lot of the dark side of humanity through my dad as a kid. As a father he did the best he could with the parenting tools he had. It wasn’t all fun all the time. But most of the time it was.

Your song, “Spiritual” (from 1995’s debut “The Blue Moods of Spain”), has almost become a standard of sorts – it’s been covered by everybody from your father, to Johnny Cash and Soulsavers.  That has got to be quite humbling yet satisfying.  

“Almost become” is the key phrase here. Just kidding. “Spiritual” is arguably our most popular song. Half of my publishing income comes from that one song, and I have over 100 published titles. When we play it live there’s always applause and people singing along. To be able to write a song that has gotten an reaction the way “Spiritual” has over the years, and even to this day, is very, very humbling. I wrote it as a song writing exercise when I was in my early twenties and just starting to write songs for what would become Spain. I was coming out of a background steeped in punk rock and I wanted to slow down and simplify things. I wanted to approach songwriting as an artist and not just as an angry teenager, and “Spiritual” was one of the first songs to come out of this self-awareness and songsmith evolution. I wanted to write a slow country-gospel song about a person who had burned all his bridges and was reaching out to the last hope of redemption and that to him was Jesus. People ask me all the time if I’m Christian because of this song. I tell them I believe in God but not in the way organized religion promotes the idea of God. I’m a spiritual artist.

When Spain’s first album The Blue Moods Of Spain was released in 1995 the song that initially got the most recognition and radio airplay was “Untitled #1”. That’s probably our second most popular song. It wasn’t until Johnny Cash covered “Spiritual” that “Spiritual” became the standard and I have Mr. Cash to thank for that. Rick Rubin was Cash’s producer and he LOVED the Blue Moods album. I had a friend who worked at a record store in L.A. who told me Rick came in the store and bought thirty copies of the album to give to his friends. Rick introduced “Spiritual” to Cash which is how Cash recorded it. Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers played bass on it. We’re friends to this day. Flea told me that when Cash was in the vocal booth he sang “Spiritual” with his hands clasped in prayer.

My dad and his close friend jazz guitarist Pat Metheny recorded “Spiritual” for their duet album Beyond The Missouri Sky. This is probably the most influential version of the song. It has inspired so many artists and writers. Annie Proulx said she listened to this version of the song over and over while she was writing Brokeback Mountain.

Soulsavers recorded “Spiritual” for their 2007 album It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land. It might be a little sacrilegious but this is my favorite version. I love Mark Lanegan so much, and it is such an honor that he sang one of my songs. When I’m standing next to Lanegan I try to speak but just end up sounding like an idiot. Rich from the Soulsavers told me that when Lanegan was in the vocal booth the sound engineer accidentally turned up the headphones too loud and zapped Lanegan with loud, piercing feedback which as any musician knows can be deadly to your ears. Lanegan was so mad he couldn’t sing the second verse and you can hear that tension in the song. It’s real.

What’s on tap for you next? 

Right now there are two simultaneous fires raging on the outskirts of Los Angeles and the air is filled with smoke. The view out my window is like pea soup. Global warming is turning the Southern California landscape into a tinderbox. When I was a kid it used to rain for three or four days straight where we lived. Now it rarely rains. We have nationalism, fear and Donald Trump. My dad used to say every time a Republican was nominated for president it was time for another Liberation Music Orchestra album. You have Brexit in the U.K. and it’s the same thing. It’s time for another Soulsavers album.

I feel so lucky to be able to record my songs and tour. I feel so lucky to be able to work with such amazing musicians and play my music for my amazing fans. World problems make some people depressed but to me I get inspired to write better songs and to better myself as a person. I don’t know if musicians and songs can bring stability to the world but I’d like to try. Spain just released a new album and toured on it for a month in Europe. It’s harder for me to tour in the States. Right now my plan is to have a Spain residency once a week in L.A. and build the audience here which will help setting up a West Coast tour and hopefully a national tour later on. My European booking agent is soliciting for another European tour in the Fall and the audience just keeps getting bigger there. And starting on the next Spain record, I already have two songs written for that. So that’s what’s on tap.