Meredith Brooks – Interview

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Meredith Brooks

Hi, Charlie.

Hello. What are you up to?

Well, I’m going to Canada, Blurring The Edges just went double platinum up there, to except an award. And then I’m doing a lot of television for the new album.

Speaking of tv, I saw you on the Rosie O’Donnell show, last week, I think it was.

Didn’t it get cut off?

Not when I was watching it.

Did you see it here in LA?

No, in New York.

Oh, okay. There was a fire in LA and they were giving these warnings on tv during my performances. I mean, we finally get on Rosie, we waited three years for it, and they cut me out after the first verse. Can I just say I’m sick of being the underdog? (laughs) I’m ready for a change.

I know you toured a lot on the last record. Any plans for this record’s tour?

We are trying to find a tour or see if I’m going on my own. That is the big question.

I read that you spent some time home working on the album. How does your song writing process work?

Um, I usually sit with my guitar and maybe or maybe not a beat box, that is a loop that my drummer gave me. And I just start getting a groove going. Usually the melody and the groove happen at the same time, and usually the hook. Then I struggle for the rest of the song. (laughs)

The melody just comes to you?

Always the chorus comes in three seconds and then I spend three [recording] sessions writing the verses. Verses are always hard for me to write.

How long did you work on this album?

I wrote from September through November, and then started recording in December.

Do you record at home?

I record at home and I also recorded at my producer’s (David Darling) home studio. I have a home studio too.

It must really make it easier than writing it out.

It definitely makes it easier.

You know, when I first received the record I expected it to be angry since the name of it is Deconstruction, but I was glad to find it was really upbeat. Where did the name for the album come from?

Deconstruction just means to take apart something. Our society has (pauses) kind of made that word to be negative. I wanted people to ask what it means because I think deconstruction is a necessary thing. I think you have to break things down sometimes to break through to the next level. For me, it was letting go of a lot of ideas people had of me. It meant letting go of ideas I had about myself, it meant letting go of any ideas of about what I thought I would write about our record. For me to do the next album I had to come from an innocent place, or somewhat of an unknowing place. If you already have it all figured out then I think you’ve wrecked the miracles that can happen. You wreck the magical moments before they even happened.

I liked songs like “Shout”, because it speaks on things that people always give advice on, yet never do themselves. And on “Cosmic Woo Woo”, the part of the chorus, “just get real.” I was wondering if you set out to make statements or do they just happen?

I think they just came. Even though I’m very direct and blunt, I think I should be more poetic. I also think, ‘Why?’ I just like to say what I’ve got to say. [A lot of what] I write about is poking fun at myself. I’m always poking fun at myself. Like in “Shout”, I think we do spend too much time getting pissed off about things that are ridiculous. Just imagine if we took all that energy and put it into something worthwhile. And the same with “Cosmic Woo Woo”. People think that if they talk a certain way or act a certain way, that is spiritual. For me what is spiritual is when you are real. Speaking from your own experience or own voice, not quoting other people or trying to talk from a profound place. I think what is most profound is when it is simple and straight. Like with kids. Have you ever noticed kids will say things and you’ll go, ‘Wow’?

They are brutally truthful.

Yeah. They just tell the truth. They are just honest and simple.

“Shout” hit me right away, personally, because there are a lot of things I would like to do but I put off for whatever reason. Yet I’d give advice like, ‘Well, you should do this or do that,’ knowing full well that I might be too much of a wimp to do it myself.

Right. Do you think it sounds like I’m saying to do things and I wouldn’t do them? (she asks curiously)

No. Well, I don’t know. That was my frame of mind when I heard it.

Yeah. I mean, I’ve wanted to say things to people and I’m lucky because I have an art form to say things and I can hit a lot of people. But some of these songs are directly aimed at people or myself. With “Cosmic Woo Woo” I can see people sitting across the room from me as I was writing it. And the same with “Pollyanna”, was a song where I could picture all of my grunged-out Seattle rocker friends and singing the song to them. I had my groups of people and images for most of these songs too.

Did you write a lot of songs for this album?

Yeah, about forty.

What do you do with them?

B-sides, and I recorded about twenty, or maybe eighteen. I don’t know, some of these may go on the next album.

Are you the kind of person that has your guitar with you all the time?

What do you mean?

For example, I interviewed Mick Mars from Motley Crue and he said that he always has his guitar with him.

No. I wish I was. I love people like that who always have their guitars and are always playing. I think that is just so cool. I’ve never been like that. I’m more of a binge player. There are times where I play for months at a time when I’m writing, and times when I don’t play at all, like when I’m doing heavy promotions. I find being a girl exhausting. (laughs) I’m first and foremost a band guitar player. All this fashion stuff, even Chrissie Hynde said, ‘Rock ‘n’ rollers don’t use stylists,’ and I even see her around looking quite fashionable for Chrissie Hynde, that isn’t a put down, but we are all subjected to this at a certain degree. We are all subjected to the pressure of the trends. I think most people stay fairly true to themselves as an artist. But what I’m saying is for that hour or two at night I have free, I would usually play my guitar, but now I’m to busy getting my clothes ready for the next day, getting my nails and hair done thinking, ‘This is the craziest bunch of crap.’ But it is a necessity in the pop world now. It is so fashionable. Everyone looks like a frigging model.

It’s like the ’80’s coming back again.

I know and it is exhausting. When I was growing up I was learning how to play guitar not this stuff. This is all too overwhelming. I actually broke down after years of torturing myself over this stuff and hired someone to actually help me pick out and pack my clothes. Then I found out everyone was already doing this anyway. I guess I was just the last on the list. I’ve been playing clubs my whole life and we didn’t have people carrying our equipment or picking out or clothes. I mean, we did it ourselves. All this for me is luxury, but also a necessity.

I was wondering about when you first picked up the guitar. Was there a musician that influenced you or was it curiosity?

It was curiosity and it was anger at my sister. I was trying to get back at her for running away and leaving me home alone, so I stole her guitar and started playing it. Then I had a boyfriend who played guitar so I thought that I wanted to play guitar because all he did was play the guitar. So if I wanted to spend time with him, the only way to do that was to play guitar. He started teaching me and then the next thing I knew I was better than him and had my own band. I got very competitive very fast.

Who did you grow up listening to?

Oh, very diverse. Everything from The Eagles, which most people won’t admit to, I mean, let’s face it, they were a pretty cool group, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie. And then my sister, who was ten years older, listened to Eric Clapton, Led Zepplin, and Rod Stewart. So I had this really eclectic background in music. That is, I hope my album reflects that. I’ve told this story so many times, but this LA Times writer reviewed my album and said that every song sounded like a different artist and compared them and I was like, ‘Thank you for getting it.’ I get so bored so fast when I hear an album that is so cookie-cutter, kind of like Top 40 is now.

Every song sounds the same.

Every song, every vocal sounds the same. It’s like I can’t stand it. I just get too bored.

I don’t listen to much radio personally because of that.

I know. I was just talking to my record label and told them, ‘Please don’t take me to Top 40 again. My songs are too smart right now.’ I don’t mean that to be egotistical, but I’m not writing fluff. I’m not writing for eight-year-olds. I’m a woman and I’m a rock girl. I would hope that wherever Sheryl Crow, Paula Cole, and Fiona get played is where I’d be played. And right now that seems to be the modern AC (Adult Contemporary) market.

I think your album has a lot of singles that could be released.

Well, that is what my label and I are talking about. We know I have four singles, but we don’t know where to put them. (laughs) What do you think should be the next single?

I like “Shout”. But my favorite is “I Have Everything”.

Me too. That is my favorite.

“Bored With Myself” I like because I think that everyone can relate to that.

It was going to be called “Sick Of Myself” but it didn’t sing to well. (begins to sing “I’m sick of myself”)

And I really like “All For Nothing”.

Yeah! Do you think that could be a single?

I think so, but then again I don’t have the wisdom of these radio programmers (burning with sarcasm). It seems radio only wants to play rap and pop. I don’t know, I listen to a lot of records and hear songs I think are great and could be good singles and yet they never get released.

I know. I think the only song I have that could fit on the Top 40 is “Cosmic Woo Woo” because it’s got a thing, the production is very Top 40. “Shout” and “I Have Everything” is definitely modern AC. And I hate thinking about that. Then there is another side to it; if these songs don’t get played today then an artist’s record can be over, or without touring heavily.

And then if Mtv doesn’t choose to give you heavy rotation

And it is so scary. I just want my album to sell because people like the album, not because of one song. Part of the reason I don’t feel that I don’t have a fan base for touring is because I have one-song fans. My whole gig is playing. I believe in doing a rock show. I don’t believe in standing there looking pretty. I believe in sweating and using every inch of the stage while playing loud boisterous guitar leads. (laughs) You know, Sheryl [Crow] is so smart because she just tours her ass off. I need to get out there and tour because I know that is my whole thing. I always get really strong fans and sales in markets where I play.

Is that how you were discovered, playing?

Yep. Exactly. It is just so frustrating. The whole music thing is just so confusing to me. I just want to be a musician. I think I did a good record and I feel comfortable with it.

What changed with this record?

Well, there was a reviewer for the Oregonian, and he is a great guitar player and he liked my last record but he bitched about the guitars, and I don’t disagree. I don’t think there was enough guitar playing on the last one. I fought with my producer on that one ever step of the way on the last album, and I didn’t want to go through that again on this one. So there is a lot more guitars on this album and he gave me such an amazing review that I was like, ‘Aw shucks.’ It is so rewarding when somebody knows music and does that. It is so rewarding. Here is a great example, we are still recording, right?

Yep.

I have to tell you this one because I hope that anyone who is reading this will go out and get Guitar Player. When I got the cover, anyone who is a musician knows that is like the cover Rolling Stone, there is just no more honorable or prestigious cover as a guitar player or musician. So a fan writes in, ‘Ya know, I saw a couple of reviews that knocked you and I didn’t go buy the album. Then I got my Guitar Player subscription and I immediately went out and bought it and I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not having it sooner. It never leaves my cd player.’ And I thought, ‘Man. Isn’t that a trip?’ A kid reads a review that wasn’t so good and then he reads an interview and not an opinion. It just proves you can’t trust a review because it is only an opinion. If you have an interview, that is a more fair way to get to know someone.

That is true. I agree one hundred percent. What is gold to me might be crap to someone else.

I know, right?

Yeah. For me something is really good if it sticks with me, be it a song or a movie.

Oh, please. But that can backfire too. Like if I hear the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears song once, it sticks in my mind forever and I want to shoot myself. There are some songs that you want to stick, but some songs you’d give anything to forget. Some of those songs are so hooky though that I really admire those songwriters so much. I heard that about “Bitch”, so it was like cool knowing that I wrote one of those songs.

I saw Fight Club and that movie stuck with me for a week until I had to see it again.

Did you see American Beauty?

No.

Oh my God! You have go to see that! That is a brilliant movie.

I loved Fight Club and here is a perfect example of reviews: I read some reviews and they said it was trash and just an excuse to preach anarchy, but I didn’t see it that way. I thought it was just the best movie I’ve seen in longer than I can remember. I just get sick of people needing a reason to qualify everything in the world. It was a movie. It just makes you crazy. You’re like, ‘It is only a movie!’

And that is the bottom line. I mean, you remember when music effected your whole summer?

Yep.

That is the kind of music that I pray I can write. I just hope I can effect somebody’s day, because I don’t think we can last all summer on one album anymore. Can I effect somebody’s mood? Can I effect their day? Can I make them laugh? Can I make them cry? Did I make them think? Did I make them anything? That is all I wanted to do. That was it.

I remember talking to Tony from Fastball and he said something that rings so true and that he can remember everything from his childhood until now by songs that he heard. And that is the same for me. I know the songs my friends and I listened to once when we drove twenty-four hours to Florida or my first girlfriend or even my first kiss. It’s so weird, but I play those songs, and you can smell things. It’s crazy.

Exactly. That is exactly what I am saying. I feel that I accomplished that on both albums. Will they work with other people? I don’t know, but do I care if a reviewer thinks I did a good job or not? No. I don’t anymore. If someone doesn’t like the lyrics or the song I feel like they don’t like me, because I’m really showing who I am in these songs. That is pretty much how I talk and it is true to who I am. I don’t know, but I get along with everybody.

Do you think songs that chart don’t last long enough to stick with people anymore?

It is really frightening. We are really a remote control world. That is why I made the record so eclectic. Normally you don’t make a record so eclectic, but I assumed I understand the public and that they are picky, eclectic, and they get bored faster and like all types of music. I don’t know anyone that just likes one kind of music anymore. Do you know how it used to be, ‘I only listen to hip-hop’? Nobody is like that anymore.

And if you watch Mtv and really only like one form of music then you would have to change the channel ever few minutes.

Well, I invite your readers, anybody who reads this, to give me some feedback. I think what we are talking about here is generally what a lot of people think, but I’m curious to get some feedback from people on how they pick music. Is it from their gut because they like something or because they are spoon-fed it so much that they can’t get it out of their heads?*

+ charlie craine

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