Blessid Union of Souls – Interview

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Blessid Union of Souls

So how long did it take to write and record the new album, Walking Off The Buzz?

We started recording the album last summer. We all have little studios at home and we all started tracking stuff individually, and then bringing it to the band. Things then kind of come together. Come around August we just said that we’ve got to start recording this record. We asked for release from Capitol and we started recording this record for Push Records, and I guess we planned on being done around November but it’s funny with recording a record because when you get the ball rolling it’s usually about in the middle and it really starts rolling. So, like I said, we started in August and maybe around November we were about half done because we had these tracks that just kept coming. The new single, “Hey Leonardo”, was one of those. We actually finished the record three or four times and, in like January, Elliot brought this track in and it was “Hey Leonardo”, and we heard it and we were like, “We’ve gotta track that one too.” It took a good seven months to really get this thing done. We took our time and really had the freedom to do the things the way we wanted to.

Was the reason you left Capitol because you wanted the freedom to take the time and do it your way?

Well, there were a lot of reasons. Basically, what happened is that we were on EMI and they shut down their U.S. right after we released our second record, which was bad timing for everybody. Our first single was out and they just closed down. We kind of got shifted over to Capitol and their plate was so full with all the other acts that they really didn’t have a lot of time for us, but they were promoting our record anyway. And then “Light In Your Eyes” came out and they just didn’t have the time that we needed to have spent with us. So we asked for release and they were really great about it. Both parties were like, “This is great. This is what we want to do.” And we went to Push and they were a small, independent label and they wanted to go in and record what we do well, and that is to record live. And they said we aren’t going to send an A & R man to look over your shoulder all of the time. The real reason that we left Capitol was that we needed the attention and they didn’t have the time.

So “Hey Leonardo” is getting some good airplay.

Yeah. It’s funny, it started getting spun on radio and the requests just came in from everywhere and we were like, “Wow, this is catching on fast.” So we chose that to be our first single and I think it might have been the right choice.

It’s a really interesting song.

We were shooting the video and it’s going to be interesting to see the public’s reaction to it. It’s got such a story line and it’s so quirky, and when you put a video together you are looking at one person’s perspective about what they think the story line is about. Because everybody gets their own story when they listen to a song, and with a song like this that tells such a story, and is so quirky that I don’t know how people are going to react to it.

You guys wrote “Standing At The Edge Of The Earth” for the movie Armageddon?

Yeah. We were commissioned to do it and we wrote this song and it might not have ever been written if it were not for the fact that it was done for that movie. It wound up being one of the best tracks on the record. We were all really disappointed when it didn’t make it, but it made sense. I mean, Liv Tyler was in it and you don’t have to be a genius to figure that one out. But Aerosmith did a great job. But I’m really proud of that song we wrote and I hope it ends up in a movie somewhere. To me it has that quality to it.

So did you watch the Oscars and get a little mad thinking that it could be you playing there?

Yeah. But this is a brutal business. As far as the business goes, everyone gets their knocks and we’ve certainly had ours. I mean, if you look at all of the bands out there right now that are label-less because of all that has happened recently, we are lucky to be signed. But yeah, it would have been wonderful to be there.

Especially the whole Universal thing with them buying up all those labels.

Yeah. And know there are a lot of bands without labels, and the timing couldn’t be better for us to put out our new record. (laughs) Boy, that sounds greedy, doesn’t it?

So, how does your songwriting process work?

It’s funny. It comes from different perspectives. This band has always been a song band and a live band. We write about things. First, we don’t stand on a soap box and preach to anybody and I think people always misinterpret it because of our name, and “I Believe” was such a big song and makes such a distinct point. But we are not about that. When we write music, we write about our lives or what we understand. I know a lot of writers have a lot of luck by writing a song like you would a script like a screenwriter would. We just write about what we know.

Sometimes when we write, it might be Jeff, our guitar player, coming up with a cool guitar riff during sound check and before you know it we’ll have a hook. Then Elliot may come up with lyrics two months later. Sometimes that starts at home. I might be at home recording something and I may think, “Hey, I need a drum for this,” and I’ll go to Eddie’s (Hedge, percussion) and we’ll track it. Then we’ll take it downtown to the studio and play it for everybody and it’ll be like, “Do we want to record this?” Then we’ll figure out some lyrics and put it together. No song ever comes together the same way as another one for some reason. It just kind of happens. For lyrics, we use Elliot most of the time. He’s a really good lyricist. Just like our producer, Emosia, who is another one of those phenomenal talents. I don’t know, I just don’t understand lyricists. I’m a chord guy myself, but those are the two who do most of the lyrical content.

Does it make it more exciting every day thinking that you never know when a great song may come together?

Yeah. Well, we all have those mini-cassette recorders that we carry around and sometimes I’ll just be sitting here with my guitar messing around. Then, the next thing I know, I have something cool and I’ll record it and play it back for myself before sound check and I’ll start playing it and then Eddie will kick in and before you know it we are writing something. Sometimes it never gets finished and sometimes it does.

I caught the cover of The Beatles “Revolution”. Did that come out of a jam session?

That is a funny story. I can’t remember what song we were doing, we might have been doing “Real Good Friends”, but, anyhow, we were in there one day just to record a specific song that we set out to do and we weren’t having it that day. I mean, there are days when you are on and days when you aren’t. So we took a little break and Jeff started messing around with the intro to “Revolution” and before you knew it we were jamming to it. And we thought, “This has a good vibe, let’s record it.” And we listened to the playback and we thought we’ll throw a vocal on top of this and our manager came in the next day and said, “Man, that is pretty cool.” And the record label thought it was pretty cool. So we thought we could make it a hidden track. It’s one of those things that were an accident. We were just screwing off and it just happened.

I was just sitting there waiting for the cd to end and then I was like, “Wow.”

I was never honestly a huge Beatles fan, but both of our producers are and so are the rest of the band. I’ve always been a huge Pink Floyd fan. So when we started to record that, they were just like nuts. You know what is the real amazing thing to me is that we added that to our live show and when we first started playing it out on this tour, I first thought, here is this crowd of younger kids and I thought how are they going to react to this? I wondered if they ever heard this. Most of these people don’t even know what vinyl albums are and as soon as we started playing this they started to sing along. I was amazed. I was like, “Wow.” I mean, how many generations are The Beatles going to span? I don’t know if it is mom and dad’s influence, who knows.

I hope it wasn’t because they heard it in a commercial.

I wondered that. Wasn’t it like Nike or someone who used that?

I think. I don’t know, but Michael Jackson sold all the rights to all The Beatles songs he owns.

Yeah. Well, there you go. He needed to pay his attorneys. (laughs)

Speaking of The Beatles and Pink Floyd, who are some of your influences?

It’s funny, this band as a whole, everyone comes from a different walk of life, and a different background musically. I mean, we have some guys who are Zappa freaks and some guys are more along the lines of Lynard Skynard. Elliot grew up on Queen, and Eddie, our drummer, grew up listening to old Motown. For me it was always Pink Floyd. I like Fusion. I also like Sting and The Police. I like Pink Floyd because of Gilmour. He had that guitar emotion. I grew up on Vivaldi, too. I came from a really strange household. My mom always listened to Broadway and Sammy Davis. So when I discovered rock, I was like, “Oh, that is what I’m supposed to be doing.” For me it was Floyd, The Doors, and Fusion and Jazz.

So, when you were growing up, did you just know that you wanted to be an artist?

It just hit me. I always wanted to be in the entertainment business since the time when my mother brought me to a see a show when I was three. I remember this like it was yesterday. It was George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. And basically the story line was that the guy’s a vaudeville actor, his whole family is, and his dad dies and the theme is ‘the show must go on’, and the actor is on stage crying, “The show must go on, the show must go on.” And I stood up in the middle of the crowd and shouted, “No, it doesn’t,” and everybody starts laughing. And, you know, I got attention doing that. And after that I was into being an actor. And we also had a piano in the house and my mom always tried to influence me with music, so I ended up taking trumpet and piano in the band. And I got a little older and, in seventh grade, when I realized that the guys who got the girls were the guys in the rock bands, I went to a concert. It was Men At Work, and the moment I heard the bass guitar, I was like, “That is what I want to do.”

It seems like the reason lots of guys start or join bands is to get girls.

Yeah. But now it’s because I like to play. When you start to hit your thirties, you start to think that there are other things to like, either that or your testosterone level drops. (laughs)

So maybe testosterone is pretty useful. Seems that if we didn’t have it, a lot of guys wouldn’t have joined bands.

Yeah, but then it leaves you, just like every girl I’ve ever met in my entire life. (laughs) But really, sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can’t believe that I’m still making a living at this. The day you can pay your bills and still be a musician is a good day.

Especially getting paid to do something you love.

Yeah. But everyone thinks that it gets easier the closer you get to the top. Really it gets harder. But you really have got to love what you do because the people that are successful enough that really don’t love what they do usually get weeded out pretty fast.

One thing that I’ve been wondering is how much do you think the band has changed since “I Believe”?

Well, it’s evolved. Originally, when the first record with “I Believe” on it was recorded, it started out being demo tapes with our producer, Emosia, Jeff (Pence, guitar) and Elliot (Sloan, vocals). And they brought C.P. (Roth, keyboards) in and he played keyboards and drums, but that record was kind of recorded in the studio and that band wasn’t really a band; it was more of a studio project. And then they got onto EMI and then they needed a band. Then they called Eddie, who they knew for years from LA, he was playing with Sheila E. or Bell Biv Devoe, and they brought him from LA and they needed a bass player and they called me. Then, the next thing you know, we are a band. That is when that started. Then the evolution process started. And you play and you start to get a feel for the band. Then when we recorded the second album there was a big difference between the second and the first album because we started to evolve into a rock band. People used to come up to me and go, “You guys are a Christian rock band, right?” And you know what is funny? Our keyboard player used to play with Ozzy Osbourne. Not that I have anything against Christian rock, but I don’t think so. He’s a Jewish keyboard player that played with Ozzy. (laughs) Hold on a second.

[Then a call comes in to Tony from their drummer Eddie.]

Sorry, that was Eddie. Everyone is trying to figure out how we are getting to this Rick Dees thing tonight. Trying to get this band to be organized is like pulling teeth. We are all a bunch of babies. (laughs) We really are.

But we started out being a studio band and we evolved over the last four or five years into what we are, and that is a rock band.

I read some old clippings that you guys were the a capella band that went rock.

Yeah. EMI had this brilliant idea that they were going to market us as this rural soul band, but it never really fit because we are not a soul band. Although what I think would be cool is if we got a tour together that was like a soul tour, with us and Collective Soul and James Brown, the king of soul.

That is if James Brown can stay out of trouble.

Well, we’ll bring handcuffs. (laughs)

That would rule, hanging out with James Brown.

Definitely. Anyone that goes after someone with a shotgun because they used his private bathroom has got to be fun. Did you hear about that?

Yeah. He shot at them, didn’t he?

Yeah.

He still has that attitude that he had in the ’60’s.

That’s his vibe. He probably can still do the splits. I wonder how old he is.

He looks pretty good.

He’s gotta be sixty-five.

James Brown has always been about living life to its fullest. Do you have some motto for the band?

Man. What is the motto for this band?

Man, you stumped me. I’m not used to this. (laughs) Well, you know, my motto for this band has always been, “Never a dull moment.”

+ charlie craine