Hooks ‘N’ You: Kyle Vincent, “Wow & Flutter”
When Kyle Vincent released his eponymous album on Hollywood Records in 1997, it looked for all the world that, after spending over a decade on a quest to earn himself a Billboard Top 100 hit, he was about to bring a dream to fruition. Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case, but he made enough of an impact with the album’s single, “Wake Me Up (When The World’s Worth Waking Up For),” to show up on the radar of quite a few pop fans…including me. (Like you didn’t see that revelation coming up Main Street.)
Although Vincent’s stint on Hollywood Records only lasted for that one record, he didn’t let any moss grow under his feet. Indeed, he’d returned to the studio even before Hollywood went through the corporate restructuring that would cost both he and virtually every other artist on the label their deals. In the end, he released the follow-up to Kyle Vincent on his own label, SongTree Records, but it featured just as much gloss and sparkle as anything released on the majors that year.
Sadly, the sound of Wow & Flutter was a far cry from what the cool kids of the world were listening to in 1999. Their mothers, however, would’ve loved it…if only they’d had ample opportunity to hear it.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often found myself listening to a song and thought, “My mom would like this,” and when I do so, I’m not thinking it in a sneering, disparaging way. On a Mother’s Day many moons ago, I made my mother a mix tape called A Little Bit of Mom Music, If You Please, and I filled it with songs by They Might Be Giants, The Beautiful South, the Cure, the Smiths, Captain Sensible, 10,000 Maniacs, the Blue Nile, and probably a dozen other artists…and she loved it. I think she played in the car until they finally upgraded from a cassette player to a CD player, in fact. Just because your parents might listen to music that you can’t readily defend in a court of cool – my mother’s love of Anne Murray is one which I’ve never personally been able to embrace – doesn’t mean that they can’t appreciate some of the tunes you’re grooving to, and Wow & Flutter is definitely a record that multiple generations can appreciate.
Wow & Flutter is, either intentionally or incidentally, a tribute to the radio fare of the ’70s and ’80s, when jingly-jangly pop songs ruled the airwaves and falling in and out of love to a soundtrack of sweeping, string-laden ballads was standard operating practice. There are songs which, in a perfect world, would’ve found their way into regular rotation on top-40 radio…and I’m not just talking about the Parthenon Huxley co-write that’s actually entitled “She’s Top 40.” The hook on the opening number, “The First Thing On My Mind,” will draw you into the proceedings immediately; it’s a co-write between Vincent and longtime Rubinoos member Tommy Dunbar, and the good news is that the two collaborate on six more of the album’s songs, almost all of which live up to the same level of memorability. (I’m probably most partial to the unexpectedly R&B-flavored “Everyday Thing,” but there’s not really a duff number in the bunch.) The record goes down smooth and easy, but make no mistake: it is mellow, and if you’re the kind of person who absolutely positively has to rock out at all times, then you’ll probably want to take a pass. If, however, you’re someone who can appreciate the merits of a nice album, a gentle album, and a sweet album, then you’ll wonder how you ever lived without Wow & Flutter.
Kyle was kind enough to agree to do a phone interview with me in conjunction with my giving Wow & Flutter the “Hooks ‘N’ You” spotlight, but we ran into one slight problem in connecting: although we were both on the east coast, he thought I was on the west coast, so when noon rolled around, I didn’t get the call from him that I’d been expecting. I didn’t know about his confusion, however, so I sent him an E-mail at a little bit after 1 PM, telling him that I completely understood if he was still in the studio but that, since it was Election Day, I was going to have to run out at some point and do my civic duty. When I returned from doing so, I found myself the recipient of a very apologetic answering machine message Mr. Vincent, explaining what had happened and pleading with me to call him back at my convenience. I did so immediately.
Kyle Vincent: Hey! Are we both on the same time zone now? (Laughs)
Popdose: (Laughs) Yes, I believe we are.
KV: I’m so sorry about that. Unbelievable.
PD: It’s cool. In retrospect, I realized that when I’d asked you which time zone you were in, I never actually clarified which time zone *I* was in.
KV: Right! And so I over-thought the question, and I’d never heard of your area code before, so I thought, “Oh, must be some new area code in Southern California or something.” But you’re in Virginia?
PD: I am.
KV: So…what’s up?
PD: Well, I figured that, in addition to the focus on Wow & Flutter, I’d do a general overview of your career as a whole, if that’s cool.
KV: Sure! When the heck did Wow & Flutter come out, anyway? Is it eight or nine years ago now?
PD: Yeah, I think it was…what, 1999? In fact, yeah, it was, because I saw you at the International Pop Overthrow in ’99, and you were playing songs from it.
KV: Yep. So it’ll be ten years old next year. Wow…
PD: So I figured I’d go chronologically…that ought to be the easiest way, so I’m not jumping all over the place…and I’ll start by checking on the accuracy of your Wikipedia entry. (Laughs) Is it true that you appeared on stage with trumpeter Donald Byrd when you were only 11 years old?
KV: Absolutely true. I was in a really innovative jazz program in the really innovative town of Berkeley, and they started an experimental program…by the way, that’s probably about the only thing true in my Wikipedia entry. (Laughs) But, anyway, they started an experimental jazz program with kids in the fourth grade, and rather than just picking up an instrument and teaching you how to play, they gave you the basics, a lot of music theory, but it was always from a fun jazz improvisational perspective. So for kids, it really made it fun. I have three siblings, and they all were musicians, and they all dropped it because they had such bad experiences with music teachers, as so many kids do have. And I was one who kept it because it was so fun, because I picked a fun instrument: the saxophone. We were literally on tour when I was in the fifth and sixth grade. We would tour California in our jazz band, all over the place, signing autographs and the whole thing. It was amazing. Just amazing. Groupies at the age of nine. It was something. (Laughs)
PD: How do you live up to a lifestyle like that?
KV: I know, right? I peaked at nine! (Laughs)
PD: And it also says that, a few years later, you took bass lessons from Joe Satriani.
KV: That’s also true. That’s absolutely true. I didn’t even know that was in there, but that’s absolutely accurate. He was…a funny story about that is that, obviously, he was a local musician in the Bay Area, and he was in a power-pop band called the Squares. They were phenomenal, and, of course, we thought he was just our hometown secret virtuoso that no-one was ever going to know about. So he worked at this place called Guitar Restoration, and I took bass lessons there because I was in kind of a punk / new wave / power-pop combo that nobody ever heard of. So I took lessons from him, and then he also took voice lessons from the same teacher that I took them from, who was a big famous opera singer and teacher in the Bay Area. We took them from the same teacher, and he took his right after me, so he came up to me one day after my lesson and told me that he was starting a band – which was the Squares – and asked, “Would you be interested in being the singer?” And I’m an extremely shy teenage kid who has just kinda started to learn how to sing. Yeah, I mean, the voice was in there, but I hadn’t brought it out yet, and the voice teacher was saying, “It’s there, but you have to forget all of the stuff that’s keeping it from coming out.” And, so, I turned him down. One of the many smart moves I’ve made in my career. (Laughs) So I turned Joe Satriani down for singing. And, eventually, he was discovered because of Steve Vai…and I was really good friends with Steve Vai’s wife, so it was one big circle of friends.
PD: Soon, though, you became the singer and rhythm guitarist for Candy. Were you psyched when the title track from your Whatever Happened to Fun? album ended up on one of Rhino’s Poptopia! compilations a few years ago?
KV: Yeah! That was really cool. I’m always psyched and shocked and bewildered at how many people A) know about Candy, and B) liked Candy. (Laughs) I just felt we were a messy band that didn’t really have much discipline and, y’know, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the album. I thought it lost a lot of the umph that the band really had live. It was a little flat, I thought, overall. But it’s still nice. When you visit it now and then, it’s a pretty darned good pop album. It wears well.
PD: What was weird for me was that I was familiar with your solo stuff before I was familiar with Candy, and once I became familiar with Candy, I was, like, “I cannot believe this guy used to be in a band with Gilby Clarke.”
KV: Well, you’re right! And what’s really funny is that, in ’93, simultaneously I’m on tour opening for (Barry) Manilow and Gilby’s on tour as the guitarist for Guns ‘N’ Roses. (Laughs) I think the parts of Candy were much stronger than the sum. But I always thought that was really interesting.
PD: Were your musical styles always that disparate, even back then, or did you just each find yourselves after the fact?
KV: Oh, no. We had always pretty much been set in our ways, and we still all agree on, like, the Beatles, the Raspberries, and power-pop, that kind of thing. We always liked that. But, yeah, Gilby was always a Stones guy, and I always was more of a Beatles guy.
PD: And never the twain shall meet.
KV: Right, right. And then I had my really, really soft, sugary side…which, of course, I still have and still love. I crave melody. And he always had his rock side, kind of the messy Stones thing. So, yeah, I mean, it really worked within a band. It couldn’t have been any more perfect, in a way. In Candy, mixing those elements together really worked. But I think that we were and are stronger separately, actually.
PD: Actually, on a Candy-related note, I’m definitely going to be spotlighting The Loveless’ A Tale of Gin and Salvation (featuring bassist Jonathan Daniel and drummer John Schubert) in a future column.
KV: (Emphatically) One of the best unknown albums, ever.
PD: I agree. After hearing “The Return of the Ex-Girlfriend” for the first time, I went out and spent $25 to get an import copy of the album on CD.
KV: Insane. But I agree completely. (Singing) “If I only knew what I know now…” God, I love that album! And it really wears well. Boy, that was a strong album, and that should’ve been gobbled up and signed and everything else.
PD: When you recorded Trust for MCA, what kind of reaction did you get from the label when you signed up to open for Manilow?
KV: You’re pretty much nailing all the stories in my book right now, but I guess I can give you an exclusive on all this. (Laughs) I can tell you exactly, because I remember exactly where I was when I got the call from my manager. I was managed by Manilow’s manager, and he called up, and he had a brainstorm. He said, “Look, let’s launch your album like this: why don’t you open for Barry? He’s playing a shed tour, the outdoor amphitheater places, and, frankly, he doesn’t want to go on when there’s still sunlight outside. So why don’t you go out there and do fifteen or two minutes, use the core of his backing band, three or four guys, and play some songs, just stripping them down a bit? We’ll introduce you to his fans, and…that’s that. You’ll do the whole tour.” So I’m going insane. My first concert was Earth Wind & Fire, but the first concert where I actually slept out for tickets and had front-row seats…and all my friends picked on me…was Manilow at the Concord Pavilion in San Francisco. So I’m just busting. I’m absolutely freaking out. So, of course, I call the record label, and…they lose their minds. They say, “You are not going on tour with Manilow. It’s the worst thing you can do for your career. You are a rocker, we are trying to promote you as a rock ‘n’ roll artist, this’ll kill it…” And I said, “Well, sorry, but this is just one of those things that I can’t say ‘no’ to, so I’m going.” And I went. And the album was never released. Go figure.
PD: And that was as a direct result of that decision, you think?
KV: It certainly was probably the beginning of the end. I’ve learned after being on five major labels… (Laughs) …that you really can never, ever disagree with anything whatsoever. And I’ve ever tried agreeing with them. I just made a vow: “This record deal, I’m not going to say a word. I’m just going to say anything.” And even that didn’t really work. (Laughs) I’m not really sure what works. But, certainly, going against the label president and saying, “I’m going on tour with Manilow even if you don’t want me to,” didn’t work. But I wouldn’t have traded that decision for the world! No way would I have traded that! Half of my fan base is still from that tour!
PD: I was actually going to ask you about that, if your fan base was an even blend of power-pop folks and adult-contemporary listeners, because of the Manilow connection.
KV: It is. And so I get my power pop people who tolerate the ballads but really want me to make sure I’m throwing enough jingle-jangle rocky stuff in there. Which, by the way, those people are going to love the new album. Really, really love it. (Laughs) And, then, I probably get more of my fan base…my hardcore, mostly female, mostly over 45 fan base…who like pretty much everything but certainly have a soft spot for the ballads.
PD: The swoon-worthy stuff, in other words.
KV: Yeah. But even in those songs, you know, I try to…when I’m recording and mixing the songs, I have all of those people in mind. I pick out about five people that I personally know, and I think about them in my head when I’m producing and arranging things. And I think, “Well, for Robbie Rist, let me throw in…” (Laughs) “…let me throw this in, and for my fan, Gia, who’s been following me for 20+ years, let me make sure I throw in this major seven right here.” I do. I really do think of that stuff. The ultimate person I’m trying to please is me, but I’m definitely thinking of all of those people.
PD: Speaking of Trust, I know it’s available digitally now. So did you own the rights, or did MCA finally give up the ghost and agree to release it that way?
KV: Well, it’s kind of a gray area with that. (Laughs) There’s a lot of gray area with that. But the physical CD itself is available, actually.
PD: The first place I ever heard your stuff, actually, was on Yellow Pills, Volume 2.
KV: Oh, so it was “Just A Matter of Time.”
PD: Exactly. Was that from the Trust sessions?
KV: It was not. That was written and recorded…I left Candy in early ’86, because they were getting, y’know, a little rockier, and I wanted to get a little sweeter. Or stay sweet. (Laughs) So I hooked up with Tommy Dunbar, and for the next few years, we were just writing and recording almost every single day. He didn’t drive, and he lived in L.A., kind of far away from me, so I would drive out, pick him up, drive him back to my house, because I had the recording gear, every day. And we would write and record, and that’s where “A Matter of Time” came from. It was our second song that we wrote and recorded, I think, on a really bad…lemme think, did we even actually get to eight tracks? It was certainly four. Maybe it was eight, but it was a bad eight track. (Laughs) We were just learning how to record. But I loved that. There’s something really special about that recording.
PD: So after all of the false starts, how psyched were you when “Wake Me Up (When the World’s Worth Waking Up For)” finally became a hit?
KV: I was pretty psyched. And I’ve told the story about it so many times that it’d bore readers, but it was always my dream to have a song on the Billboard Hot 100, and that song peaked at #101 on the “Bubbling Under” chart. And this is the P.S. to the really long story that I’m not going to bore you with, either… (Laughs) …is that somebody came up to me in Chicago a few years back and showed me this book that was an encyclopedia of Billboard’s “Bubbling Under” charts, and I’m the record-holder for the most consecutive weeks of bubbling under without ever actually entering the Billboard Hot 100, which is 11 straight weeks.
KV: (Laughs) There you go! And that’s the exact reason I wasn’t going to bore you with it. I’ve told that story to everyone! But, no, I was really excited. This has never been about money to me, and it’s never been about gold records, but it has been about having a Billboard Top 100 hit, just because it’s a really cool thing for me, personally. But just to drive around the country and…you’re on your way to the gig or to a radio interview, and you turn on the radio and hear them pre-selling the interview or the show and playing your song. “The guy who sings that song is on his way right now!” It just makes you so giddy and nervous and excited…it was really something. And to play a summer festival and see the first ten rows of girls singing to “Wake Me Up” and even “Arianne.” Its, like, “Wow, now they even know the album cuts!” The only shame is that I never really had a chance to feel, like, “Oh, God, it’s about to happen! I’m really going to cross over the threshold that I’ve been so close to before! It’s actually going to happen!” And maybe it’s because I wasn’t, y’know, 20 years old. So it didn’t really jade me or make me…I never really got all in a tizzy about it. It was just, “Well, this is really fun!” (Laughs) Because you become kind of sensible, and you’re kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop, in a way, because it’s always dropped! So there was a little of that. And, also, I was just having such a good time that I wasn’t really worrying about being a rock star.
PD: Okay, now we’re officially up to the Wow & Flutter questions. You know, when I listen to this album, I view it as being adult-contemporary music that it’s okay to like. In other words, you take the sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and it’s so sparkly and radio-friendly that it plays like this great tribute to the sound.
KV: Oh, thank you! Yeah, I agree completely. I think that was kind of me coming out of my shell, that album, because on the Kyle Vincent album, the Hollywood Records album, I really had a lot of other people putting their input in. Which was totally great, but I really just kind of wanted to do this one on my own and not worry about that stuff. Having said that, we definitely tried to have two or three radio singles, because I was kind of on the bubble with Hollywood Records. Like, “Hmmm, are we going to keep this guy?” And, unfortunately, they changed administration over there, so they got rid of everybody. And it had nothing to do with anything. But producing that album was really fun, because it was really open and fresh. That’s how I think of that album: open and fresh and sparkly. Which, actually, is how I think of the new one is well. The new one is definitely very Wow & Flutter-ish.
PD: So I have to presume that “She’s Top 40” was always intended to be the album’s big hit single. Am I right?
KV: Not really.
KV: It was actually “Somewhere Between Hello and Goodbye” that was shipped to radio and which almost got me on yet another record label. That’s the one we thought was the big hit, and most industry people did. I thought “She’s Top 40” was totally pandering to radio. It was totally my story of listening to AM radio growing up and constantly listening to Casey Kasem. And, yet, honestly, I thought we didn’t hit a home run with the recording on that. I thought it was good, but…I think it fell just a hair short. I don’t know why I say that. I just feel like, sonically speaking, that one just…I don’t know what it is, but there’ something about it where I thought it should’ve come out better. Certain songs you just feel that way about, and that’s one of them.
PD: That’s funny, though, because it’s one I particularly like the sound on, especially with the way it drops to an AM speaker sound toward the end.
KV: No, I love that…and thank you for saying that. I totally thought that worked. But…yeah, I don’t know. We just all have different ears, I guess. It could be a mastering thing. And, you know, I mastered that album, because I obviously paid for it myself, since there was no record deal. I had a little bit of money left over from the last record deal, though, so I called around town to try and get it mastered, but…well, you know what mastering is. It’s putting the last finishing touches on it, to make sure everything equal and everything. But I found this guy…I actually mastered it in the Capitol Tower, and it was just so frigging cool. I did it at 3:00 AM for $500 with, like, an assistant engineer who’s now a bigwig mastering engineer. But he just did a fabulous job.
PD: You co-wrote “She’s Top 40” with Parthenon Huxley. You and see seem to write really well together on the occasions that you’ve done so.
KV: Yeah, we work so well together, it’s crazy. And we always want to beat ourselves up because it’s, like, “How stupid are we? If we just lived in the same town and wrote three days a week, the output would be so amazing!” I swear to God, the percentage of songs I write with him to songs I write with him that I love is close to 100%. I mean, we have virtually no duds, mostly because we’re pretty picky, and we don’t let each other get away with…he doesn’t let me get too wimpy, and I make sure he goes into the mellow part of himself. Which he’s got. He loves melody. And I’m just, like, oversaturated in wanting to hear sweet melody. Actually, in the last year or two, we wrote three or four songs, and at least one of those will be on the new album. It’s really pretty.
PD: You and Tommy Dunbar are also a pretty perfect collaborative team, particularly on Wow & Flutter.
KV: Same thing. Same exact collaborative mindset. It’s really fun. There’s just no ego. We all know how silly we are, we all have come close and not really hit, so we’ve all kind of been down the same road. There’s no intimidation or ego or anything whatsoever. We’re just pals who happen to be pretty good at writing three-minutes pop songs, I think.
PD: After Wow & Flutter, though, you all but divested yourself of doing co-writes and really got into writing your own solo stuff.
KV: Yeah, some of that was…what album did I start doing that on? Solitary Road, I guess! Some of that was because Tommy moved away…he moved to Northern California…and Parthenon, I think, was busy with ELO II at that point. So I was just kind of stuck to write on my own. And it also corresponds to starting to perform on my own, which I’d never done. I’d never performed entirely solo. I was terrified at that thought! And somebody convinced me that…it sounds so silly, it really does, but I had never performed completely solo until, like, 1999! Somewhere in there. And, so, I just felt, “Well, maybe I can really do this.” I mean, I’d always written songs on my own, but I think I just wanted to see what it was like to kind of do it all. You know, people can say, “Well, you’re better when you collaborate because you have an editor sitting there,” but…I believe that, except that I think I’m a pretty good self-editor. I’m pretty darned self-critical. So I don’t know how much that applies. But that’s not for me to judge.
PD: I wanted to run through a couple of the guest stars on Wow & Flutter, the first being Nick D’Virgilio of Spock’s Beard. Did that score you some prog-rock cred?
KV: (Laughs) I think I’m the last guy on the planet who will ever get prog-rock cred, and I’m probably the first guy on the planet to say that he’s totally happy not getting that cred. It’s about the last kind of music I would ever listen to. It’s just too involved. I get a headache immediately. It’s like a migraine trigger to me. (Laughs) It really is! I can’t handle it. And I give Nick crap about this all the time, but it’s just…I guess I’m just not brilliant enough to understand it. I’m not a good enough musician or something. I don’t know. But he’s just ridiculous. I mean, I don’t know what to say about that guy. He’s just such a phenomenal drummer. He has the best natural feel, and he’s just the nicest guy. And that’s all you want from people. So, yeah, he was great…but, no, I really doubt if any prog-rockers bought my album. And if they did, I’m sure they returned it immediately. (Laughs) It’s like old metal heads buying my records, thinking, “Hey, he played with Gilby,” only to go, “‘You Will Dance Again’? Oh, my God, give me a break!”
KV: Yeah, that was just amazing, and the craziest part about that…and I think I wrote or said this somewhere, but I can’t remember where…but listening to Gerry and Robert in the studio singing was…well, first off all, it was crazy seeing them pull up in their Porsches outside of this broken-down studio in Pasadena, worried that their cars were going to get stolen, I’m sure. But they’re starting to sing back-up on one of the songs, and…it’s not working. And I’m behind the console with Parthenon, and I’m sitting there, going, “How do I tell Gerry Beckley and Robert Lamm…me, some guy who peaked at #101…” (Laughs) “…how do I tell these multi-platinum idols of mine that, ‘Uh, yeah, it’s just not working’”? I mean, I just didn’t know! So Parthenon, of course, is much, much stronger than I am in that capacity, so he just said, “Well, guys, why don’t we try this?” And they were, of course, completely open to it and had no egos at all. I loved everything we got from them. It was just great. And then Robert came up with this just psycho backing vocal where I was telling Parthenon, “No way this will ever work, it’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.” And it worked. And it made it to the album.
PD: Which song was that?
KV: It was…oh, actually, that was on the Kyle Vincent album, but it was on “I Used to Love the Girl.” But it was just this… (Imitates the vocal) It was this odd, syncopated background vocal, and it was just beautiful!
PD: Jon Rubin (from the Rubinoos) is also on the album. I’m guessing you just figure he’s pretty much part of the package when you bring in Tommy Dunbar, huh? (Laughs)
KV: You know, you try not to get Jon with Tommy. You really do. You say, “Is there any way I can just get Tommy?” But it’s kind of like when avocados are two for a buck, and you try to buy one, and they really give you a hassle. So you have to get Jon Rubin. Unfortunately. (Laughs) Hey, man, when I was a kid, I’d go into my opera teacher lady, and when she’d ask who I wanted to sound like, I’d say, “I wanna sound like Jon Rubin!” So that’s how high in regard I hold Jon Rubin. And, in fact, I literally just finished – yesterday – a five-song advance special limited Japanese-only CD that’s gonna have three tracks from the new album and then two bonus tracks, one of which is the Rollers’ hit “The Way I Feel Tonight,” which Tommy Dunbar produced, and Jon Rubin is singing all of the background vocals. So, yeah, I talk to Jon probably every day. We’re best friends.
KV:I don’t know much about Ric. That was the only time I’ve played with him, and I think it’s the only time I ever met him! I’m guessing Parthenon brought him, and I think he played on “Taking Over Me,” but he was great. It was very minimalistic and beautiful. I remember he used very few drums, kinda like Nick, and I really dug it. He was a nice guy. That’s all I really know. I… (Hesitates) You know, I don’t I think I ever even gave him a copy of the album! Man, what a jerk, huh? Golly, I’ll have to mail him one. “Hey, man, I know it’s almost ten years late, but thanks for playing!” I hope I even paid him! I’m sure I paid him; I’m usually really good about that, so I’m sure I paid him. And at least he got a lunch out of him, I’m sure.
PD: If you hadn’t paid him, surely you would’ve heard about it by now.
KV: Probably. But I have moved a few times, just to avoid these kinds of things. (Laughs) Geez. Be sure you bold Ric Menck’s name in the piece, so I can really get into trouble.
PD: Oh, I always bold Ric Menck’s name in everything I write. It’s kind of a personal rule of mine. (Laughs) So do you have any personal favorite songs on Wow & Flutter, or is it a “they’re like my children, I love them all equally” kind of thing with you?
KV: “Van Gogh Sunset” I love only because I recorded it in the cheesiest, lamest, lack-of-quality format. I won’t get into technical details, but when I was in the mastering session, the guy said, “Wow, this is the best recorded song on the album!” And the other songs were recorded on these great machines and consoles, top of the line everything. So that song means a lot to me. And, of course, the lyric means a lot to me, so I do have a real special place for “Van Gogh Sunset.” And then the songs I did with Tommy – “The First Thing on My Mind,” “The Day the World Changed” – we pretty much did at his house at Berkeley, and they just came so quickly and they were so fun and so pop. Just pure …well, in another life…pure radio-friendly pop. And…let’s see, “Taking Over Me,” that’s on that album, right?
PD: Yes, it is.
KV: That one, also. Because it was another one that came really quickly, simply, and easily, and when I mixed it, I was in the studio, and there was a whole gaggle of people in the studio that day, and I said, “Let me run a board mix of that song, just to take home.” And we hadn’t finished it. We hadn’t added any keyboards, and I normally like to just throw everything on there and then just take things out. That’s kind of how I produce. Well, on this song, all we had was really the guitars, and I think I was just sitting there hitting a piece of wood as the rhythm section. And, like I said, I think Ric played drums on that one. So it was really minimalistic stuff. So I did a board mix, and the next day I came in and said, “‘Taking Over Me’ is done.” And they’re, like, “What are you talking about?” And I said, “That’s the mix. We’re just leaving it. It’s beautiful.” It reminds me of an old Beatles song that wasn’t over-mixed. It’s like “I’ll Follow the Sun” or something. I really love that song. And the lyrics…I was going through just kooky stuff at the time, so all the lyrics really mean a lot to me on that record.
PD: Now, my copy is one from when it was originally released on SongTree, but then it scored a wider release on Varese Sarabande, is that right?
KV: Yeah, Varese Sarabande picked it up and added two tracks. I think I gave them a pair of extra tracks for that release.
PD: Did you end up scoring any additional sales out of that distribution, or had your existing fanbase already gone out and bought the indie version?
KV: That’s an interesting question. I think I probably did. You know, I have my sales base…I have my three fans… (Laughs) …and I think three more probably found out about it, because Varese has much wider distribution than I do. So it did hit a lot of people, and it sold pretty well. In fact, I think I only have…in my basement, I have big storage shelves with all my product, and Wow & Flutter I think I’m down to only about four copies. So that one sold pretty well, yeah. It definitely exposed it to a lot more people, being on a majorly-distributed label.
PD: You’ve had a lot of songs played on a lot of TV shows and films. Do you have any particular favorite usages?
KV: Well, financially… (Starts to laugh)
PD: (Laughs) I think I already know where you’re going with this.
KV: Well, there are two of them. “Happy Ending” was played on “All My Children,” which was a nice little paycheck, and “Wake Me Up,” which continually, to this day, gets airplay all over the world because it’s some silly movie (“The Other Sister”) and keeps making me happy three or four times a year, or whenever BMI decides to pay the little underlings their pittance. (Laughs) I’ve certainly made the most off that. And the “Arianne” airplay is hilarious. That by far has had the most spins, as far as just pure numbers, because it was picked up by a digital satellite system.
PD: I was going to say, actually, that I’ve heard it in supermarkets a couple of times.
KV: Right! I mean, it gets played like crazy. I’d hear it when I used to go to a gym in L.A., and I’d hear it while I was on the treadmill or something, and I’d turn beet red out of embarrassment. All of these big, buff studs are next to me, going, “What the hell is this wimpy shit playing?” And I’m, like, “I don’t know, man, ‘cause I didn’t write and record it! I agree: what is this wimpy shit? Hand me those barbells, wouldja?” (Laughs) I’m thinking, “Omigod, if they find out, I’m gonna get killed…”
KV: You nailed it! That’s exactly how it came about. Very good.
PD: I actually have that album. That’s why I was wondering.
KV: Yeah, it was a guy named Wayne who…I believe he managed Duncan, but I’m not sure about that. Wayne had something to do with Duncan, anyway. And so I sang on that record through Tommy, although I never met Duncan. Well, I’d met Duncan a zillion years ago, when Candy played with a band called Karu, which was the band the remaining members of the Rollers became. They played Madame Wong’s, and Candy played with them. So I became friends with Eric, Woody, and Duncan…and that was kind of weird. And, plus, I’d seen the Rollers when I was a kid. I was playing in the jazz band…to bring this full circle, when I was playing with Donald Byrd or whatever, they were in the other theater next to me, and I went over and saw them. And I went, “Oh, man, forget jazz, forget the saxophone, I am becoming a pop singer!” (Laughs) I mean, it was, like, “Look at the audience! I’d be a fool not to do this!” So something like a year and a couple of months ago, I was out recording in L.A., and the phone rings, and it’s Wayne. And I’m, like, “Hey, Wayne, what’s up?” He and I had kept in touch, because he had played the heck out of “Wake Me Up.” He brought it to #1 in Omaha, I believe. So he said, “Hey, man, you know, we’re thinking of adding a real lead singer to the reformed Rollers,” or whatever incarnation you’d call this, “and would you be interested?” And I said, “Uh, yes!” So he said, “Great, let’s fly out to Vegas and let you do an audition in front of 5,000 people.” So I did. And for the next year, I played some shows with them. So that’s that. I do side projects, but certainly the focus is continuing to put out my own albums, because…well, because I’m insane, obviously. (Laughs) That is the definition, isn’t it? Making the same mistake over and over again…?
PD: Hey, the music industry allows it, so what can you do?
KV: You know, I’m gonna tell you something, man, and I don’t know how this will sound, but a good friend of mine…do you know Elliot Kendall?
PD: I know you’re on his album, and I’ve heard a few songs from it.
KV: Elliot is a great musicologist, and he has a great gig over at…we were roommates, and I’ve known him since I was eight years old, so Elliot’s my longest known friend that I have in the world. We were roommates for at least ten years, all told, and so he gets the perfect gig for him: a cataloger at Universal, in L.A. But it’s much more than that. He’s also calling radio stations to get airplay for Rick Springfield and Def Leppard’s new album and stuff like that. So he’s doing exactly what he should be doing. So I walked in and had lunch with him a few weeks ago…Jon Rubin, me, and Elliot…and I walked into Universal, and one executive and two executives’ assistants come out of their offices, and he introduces me to them, and they go, “Kyle Vincent? Oh, my God, ‘Something to Remember Me By’ is the most-played song on my iPod!” And I’m, like, “What?” It was the weirdest thing. He’s, like, “Kyle Vincent! How are you doing? Are you going to have some new music out soon?” And I’m not telling you this out of ego. I’m telling you this out of shock, because I just have no idea…you just have no idea what your music means to people, or how many people have been affected by it, or how many people even know about you! I mean, I just assume that nobody does, to be completely honest. Or very few people, anyway. It’s just really weird. People have this vision that, if you have a hit single, you’re a zillionaire living up on a mountain, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m just figure I’m doing this music to satisfy myself and maybe five other people. (Laughs)
PD: Well, I will tell you that my wife knows you for “Wake Me Up,” of course, but she knows you as much as anything because her name is Jennifer, and I’ve put your song, “Jennifer,” from Wow & Flutter, on many a mix disc.
KV: (Laughs) When you’re in a fight, you can use that song to help you through it. That song was completely a sell-out move, by the way. It was, like, “We need a chick song! We had ‘Arianne’ on the last album, so let’s look it up and see what the most common name is. Oh, it’s Jennifer? Let’s write it. We’re guaranteed a million sales.” (Laughs) That’s totally how we wrote that song!
PD: We’re definitely a musical family. Our daughter is Allyson, named not after Elvis Costello but after a song by a band called The Crayons called “Allyson Fell Off the Bike.”
KV: I’ll have to look that one up. There are a lot of great songs with that name in them. Rick Springfield, the Gin Blossoms…
PD: Oh, yeah, “Allison Road” is part of the “AllySongs” playlist on my iPod.
KV: There you go! Well, on the new album, there’s an “Emily.” So I’m going back to the well one more time, hoping that there are enough Emilys in the world to finally get me out of “Bubbling Under” status. (Laughs)
PD: I’ll close with this observation, because I’ve kept you for a long time…
KV: No problem!
PD: …but I’ve felt for a long time that the Adult Contemporary market gets a bad rap. I feel like it would potentially be so much cooler if it was viewed as a place for gentle music as opposed to writing it off with a sneer as “the place where the music your mom listens to is played.” If that makes sense.
KV: I understand what you’re saying. There are different kinds of AC. I was watching the Killers on “SNL” a few weeks ago, and it was a really poppy, pretty song. It was aggressive and it was up-tempo, but it was really melodic. It was totally a pop song. And I’m, like, “My mother would like this song, if she was exposed to it.”
PD: Exactly. And that’s what I mean. My mom has an open mind when it comes to music.
KV: Right. And, technically, that’s probably not an AC song, if you’re thinking of AC as, like, Engelbert Humperdinck or something. I agree. I always lament…the biggest loss in my lifetime is the time on radio when Earth Wind & Fire was followed by Anne Murray, who was followed by…well, name whoever you want to name. Ted Nugent, maybe. And I mean, literally, all that stuff was on the same station. And that was so neat. We’ve just categorized ourselves right out of existence, almost, as far as radio goes. But there’s some great stuff out there, man. And I totally hear what you’re saying. I was just playing some of my new stuff for Jonathan Daniel the other day, and I didn’t really want to play it for him – I was actually shopping my nephew’s band – but he said, “Let me hear some of your stuff.” And I’m, like, “Why do you want to hear my stuff?” I’m not trying to be self-deprecating. I truly thought, “C’mon, you don’t want to hear it.” But he’s, like, “No, I do!” And when he did, he said, “This is it. Totally. This is totally what’s going on right now, it’s great, and you should get it out there. It’s melodic, it’s that piano-poppy singer-songwriter stuff. It’s working.” So that kind of gave me a little confidence boost. It was kind of nice to hear. So maybe…I don’t know, maybe all of that stuff won’t matter. All sorts of things are changing in the world right now…as we speak! So maybe radio’s going to change again, too.
PD: We can only hope.
KV: Well, with fans like you around… (Trails off)
PD: (Laughs) Why, thank you.
KV: And there’s my kiss-ass end to the interview. (Laughs)