Michael McDermott – Interview

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Michael McDermott

cooling out with michael mcdermott

Whats happening in Chicago?

Not much.

Heard they put the single out.

Yeah, “Junkie Girl”.

How did they choose that?

I dont know. Its kind of a quirky song, but after ten years I gave up trying to figure out radio.

I think that goes along with what I read you said about the lack of story-writing in music. Radio is now trying to cater to a fast food nation.

Yeah. Its the Mtv generation, that quick, very Pavlovian response thing, myself included. I mean, who is reading books anymore when you can see the movie? And video games are the same with the childlike attention span. I mean, when I do on occasion listen to radio, Im just flipping around and around trying to find something. I think its seeped into the American consciousness of trying to find that fix of stimulation thats getting harder and harder to find.

When I read that quote, I left right afterwards and heard “American Pie” on the oldies channel. I wondered if that song had been released today would it do anything.

Not a chance. What do you think?

No. Its a shame, but I think hed have to cut out like eight verses. (we both laugh)

Or songs by Dylan?

Right. They wouldnt wait for the meaning.

Even with “Junkie Girl”, I heard it played here in Chicago and they fade it out early at the end. Its almost five minutes and I noticed they fade it so its shorter. Anything longer than four minutes is asking a lot of radio to put it on.

Then you have a song like Blurs “Song 2” which is like almost a joke because its two minutes long and just shows how popular such a short high stimulation song can be.

I think radio programs were psyched to see that.

What made you decide to get away from the indie thing and join Koch Records?

It was just easier. I guess Im just lazy. When it came time to do it myself, I was like, What? I have to stuff these envelopes? That sucks. I just didnt have the wherewithal. The deal was puny compared to what I had in the past, but it was just something I needed to do. I probably should romanticize it, but really they just came knocking.

Did you have these songs done and that is what they heard? Or did they come calling after the last album?

After the last album. They bought the last record and I recorded eight new ones.

I know some on the new album are off the previous indie release. Are they remixed or what is the deal?

Well, yeah, “Junkie Girl” was only remastered, which doesnt do much. Some were remixed and some were exactly the same. The funny thing is that they searched for a single and it was the one track we didnt do a thing to. They could have saved a lot of money and just released that last record again. I think its a strong record. We really just filled in the holes in the last record and made the strongest record we could.

Is writing easy for you?

Well, I write a lot. Writing songs isnt hard, but writing good ones is. I have a lot of material, but not stuff that I feel totally comfortable putting on a record.

How do you write?

Usually its a stream of consciousness. Sometimes I do have an idea. Im not like Stephen King, who is a friend of mine, who writes six hours a day. I cant do that. I mean, that is just total dedication. Its amazing. That is one way to work. Ive tried that by writing like a tune a day. After a week I had one sort of good song. That is good, but the ratio is pretty small. I think one out of ten songs is a keeper. So I have to write like a hundred songs to get an album done.

With your story-writing process, do you have these ideas in your mind?

Well, they say characters pick their authors. Usually Im writing and the stories write themselves. If it becomes like homework and you have to really think about it then its usually a bullshit song and never comes off as honest or passionate. Usually the characters write themselves. Most of the stories from the album are true stories. I believe truth is stranger than fiction.

Had you written most of your life?

Well, I started as a lead guitar player and started writing when I was like sixteen or seventeen. I got signed when I was twenty and then everything was great. After the first record, I was on Mtv and it was cool, but the record just didnt really take off. So then by the second record I was yesterdays news. Mtv was like, We took a chance on McDermott, so by twenty-two I was already washed up. I was like What the fuck. It seems to me that if you do stick around long enough they let you come back in. I think what keeps people around is the keep-your-eyes-on-the-prize thing. I have always wanted to be a huge rock star and play like the Meadowlands and I still havent given up on that dream.

Was it a mixed blessing being compared to Bob Dylan?

Yeah, because then people are really skeptical. It was flattering, I was more annoyed when people said I sounded like Bon Jovi. It doesnt help anyone. They say its the kiss of death, but I dont think its really that big of a deal. It just gives people something to talk about.

There is something Ive always been curious about. With a solo artist, do you think occasionally its tougher to sell records when you just use your name rather than pretending you are a band or just forming a band?

Yeah. And you know what is funny? I tried to do that. Singer/songwriters are dinosaurs now. I mean, but if you call yourself the Goo Goo Dolls, then you can be huge, but if you call yourself Johnny Reznik, then it probably wouldnt be the same. I had a band called Pawn Shop. I just felt like an idiot. I mean, I did everything, so we werent really a band.

Its like you are trying to hide out.

The band knew it was a marketing ploy. I just had to ask myself, Who are you trying to kid?

But then again, Mtv and radio are all about marketing.

Totally.

I mean, doing a lot of interviews, you really get the feeling of who the leader is, especially if a member doesnt want to comment on a song because he knows nothing about it or the leader talks about how he writes everything by himself.

I know. People were wondering if I was hiding behind a band, and clearly I was. It was just like I needed to take the punches.

Just imagine if Jakob Dylan tried coming out as himself and not the Wallflowers.

Yeah, me and him would be out on tour in a Chevelle somewhere.

+ charlie craine

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