How has life been treating you?
Life is good. I have a record coming out that I’m really proud of. Things are rolling. It’s a good thing.
So all the hard work is finally paying off?
Yeah. It’s been a long road, but it’s good. I’m real happy today how things are going.
How long have some of the songs been around?
Some of the songs have been around a few years now because I’ve been signed to the label for a few years. A few of these songs were around before the record deal. It’s not like I’ve been hammering it out on the road. And now that we are, it’s still new and fresh. If I had to rerecord them I might have an issue because I’ve spent a lot of time listening to them.
When did you sign?
I signed October of ’98. It’s been two and a half years.
Was it working on material that kept it from…
…You know, I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask. Maybe you and me ought to get together and question a few people. You know what? Record companies have schedules and stuff. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of anything I was doing. That is for damn sure.
I’m always surprised someone has been signed for so long or a record has been done for so long, but it’s left sitting.
They just want to wait for the right time. Rock ‘n’ roll is like that. It’s hurry up and wait. It’s twenty years sitting around, five years playing music. That’s the way it is. You know this. (laughs)
It just goes to show how much has changed in the industry. The Beatles had releases out every six months. It’s a whole new ballgame now.
It sure is. It used to be run by musicians, now it’s run by accountants who own companies.
When you were working on the songs, there is a good mix from funk to rock, what were you listening to?
The odd part is that I wasn’t really listening to anything. I’m kind of an interesting music person. I don’t collect records or draw from influences. It’s just in me and it comes out. The influences that I have aren’t intended. I have lots of people that compare me to Sly Stone. I’ve never owned a Sly Stone record in my life. Then I bought Fresh and I almost freaked out because some of the formula was there. I freaked. I mean, I was being compared to Sly Stone, I’ll take that all day long. But you know when he does weird things with his s’s and talks through his teeth? I was like, ‘Wow, I do that too.’ It tripped me out. But I would have to say honestly that my influences come from more soulful music. Recently I’ve been getting into beat- driven music. There is some cool music and it has good beats to it. When I heard Macy Gray, I was like ‘This is good shit.’ I’ve always loved anything with some soul.
I felt that way with Outkast’s Stankonia. It blew my head off.
Oh God. I’m with you there. Andree 3000 is like my ultimate hero now. I want to be him at any cost.
I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’
It’s a greasy bucket of fried chicken. That is just straight up funk. They are copping that Prince thing and Andre 3000 has the Hendrix thing going on. And if you’ve ever seen Sly Stone, he’s bugging with that too. It’s weird flower prints and stuff you’d never think you could make clothes out of and they make a really dope suit out of it. I love Outkast. That is permanently in my cd player.
That album was the surprise album of the year.
I’m very excited and happy that there are artists, especially in hip-hop, that are that fucking cool. They are singing and shit on there. All those falsettos. See, I’m a freak for that.
And the huge hooks.
The hooks and the beats from hell.
I thought honestly that they took a huge chance with that album because of the face of hip-hop where it’s all about guns and materialism.
They are the anti-bling band. They have their own way of blinging. The thing that I love about Outkast, and they say it in their songs, that even Bill Gates doesn’t wear huge diamond rings and flaunt it in the faces of the poor people who work for him or buy his stuff. Bill Gates is much richer than any rapper, and they are telling them ‘Listen rapper boy, even Bill Gates doesn’t pull off that shit and he is far richer than you.’ And I fucking love that so much because there is nothing wrong with blinging, but if that is all you got and that chain around your neck is worth more than anything you got, then you are flossing. You’re a chump.
The thing about all this materialism isn’t just these guys look like idiots, but that they are sending the entirely wrong message to everyone.
Right. And materialism to me can be cool too. I mean, look at the guys in Outkast. It works, but it’s realistic. It’s not a five-thousand-dollar necklace. They aren’t trying to say, ‘If you don’t have this, then you better go steal, rob, or sell some drugs to get what I got or you ain’t cool.’ It sends out the worst message to the kids. Kids today are so easily influenced. I love the bling concept, but you have to be clever. You don’t want to play too fast on the guitar unless it’s right. You don’t want to sing too high unless it’s right. You don’t want to have too much. I don’t know everything, but I love these anti-bling groups. They have skills and that is why they are great.
And that is what bothers me about music today. I listen to a lot of music from the ’60’s and it was just about the music.
They didn’t have Mtv, they didn’t have videos. The only way to sell a record was to play a show and write good fucking songs.
To do it the real way by creating a real fan base, not some overly marketed thing. I think people love music because it’s like this inherent caveman thing and it has to do with playing great songs, not all the other crap brought into it. Rock ‘n’ roll is notorious for being good one day and fucking everything up the next day.
I’m still waiting for real rock to come back.
You have a sound that is unique, but a product of old style rock and funk. What do you think of the environment of music today?
It’s very interesting right now. If you are holding something good, right now it’s a good time for you. When I started the process of trying to get my material listened to by the record labels and how I produced my music, I think I presented my music in a way that people’s heads just turned. I have all the ingredients that all good music has, but I also think that I present something that in my style of music you just don’t hear. I would borrow things from R&B and hip-hop and put it in a white boy rock thing.
But you aren’t rapping either. You are still singing.
Exactly. The way I rap is a weird cadence thing. I can put a beat under it. It’s like my own shit. I’m a singer and a guitarist. I’m a knob tweeker. I’m good with synths and keyboards and shit.
Did you play all the instruments on the album?
My record was produced by me, but then Rob Cavallo, who runs the company here, got really involved with it. I told him that I thought he could help me take this record to the level it deserves. He checked it out and evaluated it. What he does he does really fucking good. He pushed the envelope. He wanted to try another guitar player and stuff. So what we did after I finished producing my stuff, we went back into the studio and weaved a few musicians into my record. The end result was really good. It added some live elements to my record. My original record was more electronica. It didn’t sound like Prodigy, but it had hip-hop style beats. That was cool, but when we put in some live drums it was off the fucking hook. It made it sound good. Rob’s instincts were to beef it up with live musicians. We dug into some other people’s talents. It maintained my original concept, but we bumped it to another level.
The songwriting process, are you a melody person?
I do everything on the fly. I never write down things that I do. I write songs like taking a shit. Not to sound gross, but that is what I do. I’m a musician and songwriter. I’ve already got the next two records done and demoed. That really isn’t the truth, because once I go on tour and live some life…
…You’ll want to write new ones.
Right. It’ll be old hat to me. But my process for this record was very new to me because I’ve always written with my voice and my guitar. But for this album I decided not to go that route. So being this producer that I am, I saved up my pennies and bought a synthesizer and was able to dig deep. If I wanted it to sound a certain way, I could break it out. I wanted to do something new. I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing. I don’t think I’m reinventing anything, but when I do my live thing it has a different feel to it. It’s a return to rock. It’s exciting.
Some people can play guitar, some can sing, some can write. You have to feel pretty lucky to be able to do all of those things.
I’m pretty happy with myself. (we both laugh) Honestly, I’m in a really good place. Me as a person, I’m in a good place. I can represent what I do with ease. There is nothing forced here. I have a lot of fun doing this and it shows. What I sing comes from my heart and my voice reacts to it. I’ll tell you something, the thing you just said, the only reason I can tap into it is out of necessity. In this business, if you want to survive and succeed you have to take control of your shit. If you think your manager is going to make you a star then you’ll never make it. If you think that some producer is going to work with you and you are going to be a star then forget it. You have to have a vision. My vision is pure. I fought for it and kept it and it’s working. People are responding to the music. I just want to deliver something that moves people. Because at the end of the day I want people to get into the music because they can see themselves in it.
+ charlie craine