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The Popdose Interview Tag

Five years may be a long time to wait for a new release from Deb Talan and Steve Tannen — better known as The Weepies — but there probably aren’t any fans begrudging the time they’ve taken. Since the release of 2010’s phenomenal Be My

Lisa Loeb

With the renewed popularity of female-fronted alternative rock, New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert saw a window of opportunity to bring ‘90s alt-rocker Lisa Loeb, a noted influence for many of those same artists, back around to file a new chapter in her own discography of work.

Gilbert, a longtime fan of Loeb’s music, knew exactly the kind of album that fellow fans would want to hear from Lisa and he also knew that fans had been waiting for quite a while. Loeb had been wrapped up in a variety of projects which had carried her away from making the “adult” music that brought her name recognition, starting in 1994 with “Stay,” the  #1 Grammy-nominated hit which served as her musical moment of introduction to the outside world.

Having developed a healthy career of his own outside of New Found Glory as a producer, Gilbert had the right resume and experience to tackle the job and he was bold in his approach. He emailed Loeb to say “I know you do these kids books, but when are you going to let me produce a full-on modern indie pop/rock record for you? You haven’t done one in a while.”

Loeb’s new album No Fairy Tale (in stores as of January 29th via 429 Records) is the result of those conversations and fans will be pleased with their combined efforts, which bring together a healthy batch of Loeb originals with additional collaborations, including recordings of two songs penned by Gilbert’s former New Found Glory tour mates Tegan and Sara.

Gilbert and Loeb also wrote two tracks together for the album, including ‘Walls,’ a track which is classic Lisa, both musically and lyrically, with words that hang and hook in a way that has long been a signature of Loeb’s music.

Co-producing the sessions together, Loeb and Gilbert proved with the new album that they’re quite a winning pair. We were happy to get the chance to discuss the science of how it all came together during a recent interview with Lisa.

This new album finds you working with Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory. We live in an interesting time where it seems like now more than ever, if you’re a musician, you have an even greater opportunity to work with your influences and people that you’re a fan of. Did working on this new album with Chad feel like a different experience in comparison to some of your past albums and the way that you were used to doing an album?

Yeah, it’s funny, Chad kind of reminds me of what I’ve heard about Prince. He really has everything thought out. He’s really a great producer. He knows exactly what he wants to hear and he has great ideas for guitar lines, vocal parts, drum sounds – you name it – he’s really a producer. It’s funny, it’s almost like being a guitar player in his band is his first career. I think his second career or continuing career, as it is, will continue to include a lot of producing. He has a really good ear for it.

I’ve  worked with a lot of people who have a good ear for producing, but we did definitely record in more of what seems to be like the punk/pop/rock style – we spent less days in the studio and we did everything quicker. I think that worked partially because I have more experience being in the studio and I was able to get vocals more quickly and guitar parts more quickly and I understand [things] a little bit better now than I did when I started out, you know, when we can get something better and when something is the way it really needs to be.

So I think between the two of us and my experience and also, I’ve produced a lot of records too — it was different — it was quicker, it was faster, I was able to take more vocal direction from him than I have in the past. We were really able to stay focused and get the record done more quickly than any record I’ve made before.

Was there a song which really helped to put down the stamp directionally as far as the style and feel of the record and where it went?

You know, it wasn’t one song as much as it was literally the entire album and all of the songs. We sat down and talked about what kind of record he wanted to make with me and I agreed that that would be a different direction for me and something that I hadn’t done quite like that before. From the minute we started writing songs together for the record [we had a plan and] we also checked out some of my old songs that I hadn’t put on records yet, that I had been working on over the last couple of years and then a couple that he brought with Tegan Quin from Tegan and Sara.

We just wanted to pick songs that fit and that would be able to be produced in this vein. There were a couple of extras that we tried that weren’t working for the record, so it was really an over-arching goal of [achieving] a certain sound and how everything would sound within that sound and usually there was variety within that sound.

If you want to feel inspired, spend a few minutes talking with Debbie Gibson. Certainly, you’re probably aware of the chart success that Gibson enjoyed in the ‘80s, beginning with her first single “Only in My Dreams” in 1987, the first of five Top 40 singles that she would notch from her debut album Out Of The Blue.

The first three singles from Out Of The Blue charted Top 5 and with her fourth single “Foolish Beat,” Gibson would become the youngest artist (at age 17) to ever write, produce and perform a Billboard #1 single, an accomplishment that remains unbeaten more than two decades later.

Gibson faced challenges while working for the chance to record and release that first album and single, but she fought hard and the story of how Gibson stuck with the songs that she believed in — those very same songs that would be massive chart hits only a few years later, is a good one.

Part of me fears for Hayley Reardon. The 16-year-old singer/songwriter’s voice has the same timbre as Kasey Chambers, or a young Maria McKee, and in that voice I hear the echoes of records I’ve loved for longer than she’s been alive. She employs that voice in the service of self-penned songs whose concerns ping back and forth between empowerment and vulnerability, joy and confusion. They are at once universal and unique to her experience as a young woman—open to interpretation, to the layering on of the listener’s experiences and impressions, as good songs often are.

But they are also the work of a teenager, and that is why part of me fears for her. On her fine debut album, Where the Artists Go (Kingswood), she displays an emotional openness typical of a teen’s diaristic tendencies, but with the musical vocabulary of adult pop, throwing open her candid musings to anyone within earshot. Indeed, the marketing of the album seems to aim it directly at grown-ups, even as Reardon engages her peers in anti-bullying efforts (through her “Find Your Voice” program) and plays coffeehouses (and, recently, a middle school in Alaska).

My thoughts on Truth & Salvage Co.’s self-titled debut have been documented on this site— it’s an impressive slice of Americana, a harkening back to classic purveyors of the form, from the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Band, to the Jayhawks and the Bottle Rockets. The warmth and charm is obvious from the first song on the album, called “Hail Hail,” in which Scott Kinnebrew, one of the four singers in the group, gives a shout-out to two bandmates—keysman Walker Young, who, according to Kinnebrew, has the answers to our oil-based economy, and drummer Bill “Smitty” Smith, who apparently has some rather cosmic questions about space and our place in it.

(Hear the record for yourself, on us: Popdose has an autographed vinyl copy of Truth & Salvage Co. to give away. Just send your name and mailing address to me in an email with the subject line “Gimme Some Truth.” One random entry will be selected, and the album shipped to the winner shortly thereafter. Deadline is 5:00PM ET Friday, August 13, 2010. Since we’d rather die a horrible, fiery death than share your information with others, I will personally delete all received emails after the winner is selected. Okay, back to the introduction.)

I spoke with Smith back in July, to talk about his questions, his band, and their album, which was produced by Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, with whom Truth & Salvage toured for the bulk of 2009. I caught one show (in Lancaster, PA) and was smitted by the band’s interplay and harmonies, as well as its ability to kick ass when ass-kicking was required.

Smith spoke to me from his home in Los Angeles, while suffering from a post-tour head cold.

The production cycle of what turned out to be the biggest issue of a monthly magazine ever published would seem an unlikely subject for documentarian R.J. Cutler, who co-produced 1993’s The War Room, the Oscar-nominated look at Clinton presidential strategizing, and directed 1996’s A Perfect Candidate, about Oliver North’s failed bid for a Virginia Senate seat two years earlier. But Cutler says he’s less interested in issues than in the opportunity to tell a story populated by “fascinating characters”—and those are the fabric of The September Issue, which walks down the DVD runway this week.

The September issue of Vogue in the last gilded year of 2007 was a true fashion monster, coming in at 840 pages and weighing five pounds. Every mailbox-wrecking page was of course stamped with the imprint of its editor, the feared and revered Anna “Nuclear” Wintour, who was lampooned by a former assistant in the bestselling novel The Devil Wears Prada. Her reputation precedes her. When Cutler asks a current staffer if Wintour is the “high priestess” of fashion, she guardedly replies, “No, the pope.” There’s a walking-on-eggshells feeling as Cutler and his crew roam the hallways, observing the globe-hopping drama that goes into making the issue that will set the tone for the year to come in fashion.

That said, everyone encountered is walking, not hobbling around on crutches. Wintour emerges as more complicated than her legend, less like the praying mantis in the book and more like Meryl Streep’s layered portrayal in the film version (an excellent study of office politics dressed up in chick flick finery). As the classic comedy Ninotchka (1939) was advertised as “Garbo Laughs!” so too might The September Issue be described by the un-Wintour qualities on display, not least of which includes foregoing her famed sunglasses for much of the film: Anna Smiles! Anna Wisecracks! Anna (Almost) Panics (when a lavish Mario Testino cover shoot in Rome veers off course)! Anna Regrets (that her family doesn’t get why when she sneezes the entire fashion industry comes down with a cold)!

Mike Meadows

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to chat with Mike Meadows from the group porterdavis. Mike has a varied background:  he studied music at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston where he fell in love with hand percussion and the rhythms from India, Africa and also Arabic grooves. He’s been to Ghana twice to absorb the music and wider culture and, partly because of his travels and the desire to produce a versatile drum that can be used in a variety of settings, he created his own unique drum called “The Black Swan.”

I recall in the late ’80s reading a Rolling Stone review of Richard Thompson’s Amnesia that began “Ho-hum, another first-rate Richard Thompson album.” The uniform excellence of Thompson’s work, particularly in that period, could indeed lull one into complacency, to the point where that excellence could easily be taken for granted.

I thought something similar in 2005, about the work of another UK singer/songwriter, David Gray. That year, he released Life in Slow Motion, a devastatingly gorgeous collection of songs that extended a winning streak begun with White Ladder, his breakout record of six years previous (you remember “Babylon,” don’t you?), and continued through 2002’s New Day at Midnight. Each of them set Gray’s reedy, plaintive voice against a musical backdrop that melded acoustic instrumentation with electronic flourishes, in the service of deeply personal, deeply resonant songs. Combined with a compilation of the best early tracks from his decade-plus career (Lost Songs, 2001), these exceptional discs alluded to a talent whose excellence we could take for granted.

Four years have passed since Life in Slow Motion, and, if anything, Gray’s new record, Draw the Line, raises the bar even higher. Sporting a new band with a fuller, richer sound than he’s managed previously (as well as guest turns from Jolie Holland and Annie Lennox), Gray has written a record that easily stands with his best work, perhaps even surpasses it. You get the feeling he knows it, too—he’s put on a full-court promotional press in advance of the record’s release (September 22), including a ton of interviews (a metric ton, actually—he’s British, after all), showcase gigs, and an appearance on Letterman, and will be returning to the U.S. this fall for a more extensive tour.

Gray was doing promo work in London when I spoke with him on the phone, about two and a half weeks before Draw the Line’s release.