Archive for May, 2006

Prefab Sprout revisited

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

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I am in Los Angeles remastering Prefab Sprout’s second album ‘Steve McQueen’ which I produced for them in 1985. It sounds INSANELY good. Many writers and music afficionados list this among their top LPs of all time, and listening to it for the first time years, I have to agree. Even if I was objective, I would agree. It’s a stunner! The fact it was never successful in America is one of the greatest crimes in living memory. Paddy McAloon’s voice; those chunky guitar lines interweaving with soaring piano; Neil Conteh’s tastful drum grooves; Martin’s melodic, inside-out bass; and Wendy Smith’s breathy bittersweet harmonies, all combined in a magic formula that was at once soulful and challenging. If you never heard this album, I urge you to seek it out. You won’t regret it. And, if you like my music, please know that you don’t have a complete overview unless you own this album and 1990′s ‘Jordan: The Comeback’–because these two works are as close to my heart as anything I’ve ever put out under my own name.

Return to the Shed

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

My equipment arrived home today. Darin and Justin set up my keyboard rig and stacked the cases and video equipment in my storage unit. Then their yellow Penske truck rolled off into the sunset. Somehow this officially wraps up the Sole Inhabitant Tour 2006!

My head is still numb. I walked across the wetlands to the bluffs this morning to get some fresh air and clarity, but none came to me. I stared out over the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and pondered for one last time the intricacies of hardware i/o buffer settings, and cutoff filter resonances. And it made me realize just how insignificant the Pacific Ocean really is….

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What’s next? A couple of weeks to recover and regroup. Once I come up for air I might start sifting though the video footage from the tour, and planning out the live concert DVD I’m hoping to release later this year. Or I might start working on a couple of new songs that have been buzzing round my head during this the last few weeks. I have a few doodles on my laptop, and I’ll admit i was tempted to debut them at one of the shows: but I’m too much of perfectionist, and it’ll have to wait until they’re more evolved.
Then in mid-June I have a gig in New York followed by a couple in London. These three gigs couldn’t be more different from each other. One’s a flesh-fest called the Exotic Erotic Ball, in a warehouse on the Hudson River, at which I hope to jam with my old friend George Clinton while dominatrixes and latex fetishists dance their tails off. The Scala gig will be as close as I can get it to a UK version of my US club/theater shows. Then the Wireless Festival in Hyde Park will be an opportunity to renew my association with Depeche Mode, and meet some of the new kids on the block like the excellent Goldfrapp. I will be playing a shortened set in broad daylight to tens of thousands of picnickers.

After that, I’m off on a much-needed few weeks’ vacation with my family. The kids love going to England, and feel a strong connection there. They get a big kick out of their many cousins, most of whom are in their twenties, and they like when I take them on a trek around the nether reaches of Britain, stopping in silly tea shops and climbing castle ramparts. We’ve rented a converted slate mining cottage on a small remote island in the inner Hebrides, and I’m hoping Eddi Reader and her two sons will come to stay with us for a couple of days. On the way up there we may stop in Co. Durham and see Paddy McAloon so I can listen to some of his new songs.

I feel really good about this year so far. The 26-date tour was a rare and fantastic event for me and my audience. I am very optimistic there will be another one this Fall, featuring new material. It felt great to be back onstage, and I was blown away with how well my crew performed, and the overwhelmingly positive response from the audiences. Thanks to all of you who came out to see me and helped sell out the gigs! Bring your friends next time and help me take it to the next level.

Professor Corpussal

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Well, I’ve been an action figure and a dancing hamster in a labcoat, and now it appears I’m the inspiration behind a cuddly vampire named Professor Corpussal. His creator, Holly Golightly and her husband Jim came to my show in Sellersville, and gave me a copy of her comic book School Bites containing this artwork. You can view more of Holly and Jim’s work at Jim Balent Studios.

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In Holly’s words:
“The character you inspired is named Professor Corpussal the Teacher of Blood Drinking 101 at the Shadow Academy, School for Vampires. He instructs his students on how to drink responsibly ! He is very scientific in his approach to, as he calls it, “plasma intake”…. He also is prone to fits of hyper-active excitement at the idea of teaching and so exuding with that wacky mad scientist energy! He is the main guide to my characters education of vampiric survival. In School Bites 3, Prof. Corpussal will reveal a very interesting method on how to choose ones victim.”

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And now the poop on School Bites in General:

“A cross between Harry Potter and Anne Rice, this original graphic novel is fun for lovers of Goth, Manga and all things Cute! “SCHOOL BITES” Follows, rebellious gal, Cherri Creeper as she discovers that there is indeed a School to teach fledgling Vampires to Drink Responsibly! Creator Holly Golightly (colorist of Tarot, creator of Vampfire, wrote/penciled Sabrina, Josie& the Pussycats and CosmoGirl) is gearing up to have the 3rd School Bites out by Autumn of 2006!”

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Holly’s also a regular on my Forum. Here’s a pic husband Jim took at the meet’n'greet at the Sellersville Theater.

Various pics by Lunesse

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

Lunesse snapped some nice ones during the tour. I’m sure she’d prefer to have the time to tweak them, and I bet she’ll make a gallery at some point, but here’s a sneak peek (click to enlarge):

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Editing audio samples in my hotel room

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With Mancow on his morning show

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With Stephen Trask, composer of ‘Hedwig And The Angry Inch’–one of the best musical movies of all time!

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With my friend Grant Morris, who co-wrote ‘Airhead’ and figured in my song ‘I Love You Goodbye’

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Uncle Stephen, R.I.P.

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Moody bugger!

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Nice red ceiling at the Royal Oak Theater

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Looking like a much bigger gig than it really was…

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Life as I know it…

Friday, May 26th, 2006

Today I got up and did things I haven’t in weeks. I bought groceries. Worked in the garden. Cooked dinner. Organized my glass studio.

It’s life as I know it, usually. The tour is over. Yesterday TMDR and I drove back from Aspen to Denver. I felt lightheaded after my massage at the Aspen Club, so I sat in the passenger seat for the first shift, my shoulders, back and neck glittering (the best explanation I have for the feeling) as we drove back down through the snow-dusted mountains. As we approached Denver the world flattened out into the plains, and I groaned, remembering the days spent on flat roads through flat lands as we had crossed Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska. Before I knew it we had left our trusty Dodge Magnum at the rental place, having put over 4,000 miles on the odometer, and I was saying my goodbyes as I went north back to Oregon, and TMDR went due west back to California.

In the car, TMDR had a conversation on his phone as we neared the end of the tour, saying how his crew was starting to all wonder about the experience, all the time and miles and sweat…what did it all mean?

Like everyone, I had my favorite songs in the shows. “Windpower” is one I really enjoyed hearing (most of the time I was not able to watch the show, the merch table being located down a hall, behind a wall, in a lobby, or, in the affectionate case of the Key Club, in “the pit.” But I could always hear the shows, and when I finally saw the accompanying video for “Windpower” I was hooked. I have been a huge fan of the aesthetics of windfarms and turbines for years, seeing Brian’s video and Johnny’s masterful creations with it, combining with the music put a smile on my face as I sat alone with the t-shirts and posters while everyone else was watching the show.

But my absolute favorite is the beginning of “Flying North.” The swooping chords over the opening lines, growing richer. I tried to convey to Thomas how much these few moments of music touched me every time, in my fumbling, non-technical way somewhere near Ohio, I think. These chords were buried in the studio version of the song, but I never heard them until he played “Flying North” live. On the last evening in Aspen, as those opening notes went by, my image of Thomas wavered as my eyes filled with tears, knowing it was the last time.

“You get to go to all the shows? Travel? You are SO lucky! It must be SO much fun.”

My answer to that one has been a big smile, and silence. Because it HAS been so much fun, but it has also been SO much work, for all of us who supported him on the road, and TMDR himself. There are times I was so tired, so very tired, and my computer was gone with a dead hard drive and I had forgotten some piece of information, or the hotel reservations were missing, or no one brought towels or water to the dressing room, or the GPS wouldn’t let us find a freaking restaurant and it was late at night…

Even with all that, as I sit at my own dining room table and I know what day it is, (Friday!) and the actual date (the 26th!) at the same time, something I haven’t been able to do for weeks now, I don’t ask myself what it all means. I know.

When I remember the few times I felt stressed, or just exhausted and wished I’d just stayed home in my own bed with my cats, and the infinite number of amazing, happy, elated memories that made me not want to trade my job for anything else in the world, I also remember those opening chords that I love and I know what it all meant…to support him…help him fly north.

It’s been a wonderful experience to talk to everyone I have met on the road. Thomas has some of the most intense, and delightful fans I have ever met. So many interesting stories to share, and ways to express how much his music has touched them. It has been a honor to serve you directly and indirectly, and I thank all of you for your kindness and willingness to share your stories with me. And the rest of the crew, they leave me speechless with their talent, drive, and never-wavering willingness to help me, as I hope I helped them.

And now I am off to sit with my cats, create some jewelry designs, and listen to the Oregon rain. I’ll see you all on the online forum! =)

Lunesse

Fun last show. All things must pass.

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

There we were in a delightful little club in the deserted resort town of Aspen. Literally nobody on the streets; no-one in our hotel apart from us. When I walked onstage, perhaps 12 people in the audience! But I noticed more filtering in to fill up the club during the set, and then round about ‘Europa’ two blondes came down the front of the stage to dance, so I yanked them up onstage. They gyrated in front of the video screen for a while then one of them started undulating behind me; she stepped on my audio cable and yanked out my headphones. By “Science” there were a dozen people grooving right in front of me as if in a disco. So I went straight into “Airhead” (good cue for the two blondes to come back onstage!) and rocked the house.

The crew retired to the lobby of our deserted hotel and Lunesse broke out the bottle of Sofia she has been carrying around the last 3 weeks. We told stories and ate potato chips. And now it’s all over. Hard to believe! I will write more when I come up for air. Thanks to my awesome crew for making this happen. And thanks to my incredible fans for filling these clubs and theaters and making this such a wonderful time for me. See you all again in the Fall perhaps! Thomas
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Left to right: Justin, Darin, Lunesse, TMDR, Bree, Johnny

Final gig tonight!

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

We just arrived in Aspen, Colorado. Very pretty drive from Denver, winding up green canyons towards the snow-capped Rockies. However, there was a mountain road closed on the way, and our crew fell prey to it. Johnny and Bree had to turn around an take a 90 minute detour; but Darin and Justin, our boys in the truck, had an interesting off-roading adventure that I suspect falls outside Penske’s rental conditions! Seems they came to the roadblock, their GPS unit had a bright idea they could take a direct route to Aspen that turned out to be 20 miles of dirt road. Not the greatest thing for my equipment. But here we are, in a luscious resort hotel that we got cut price because the ski season’s over and the summer season has yet to begin. As Lunesse pointed out, this tour is bookended rather nicely: Malibu and Aspen. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I’ll write later about our last show. Should be a party atmosphere tonight!

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Ryuichi Sakamoto / 'Windpower' podcast

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

In 1985 I worked with Ryuichi Sakamoto, and have stayed friendly with him ever since. He is one of Japan’s finest musicians, a music professor who started in the pop world as the leader of Yellow Magic Orchestra before establishing a phenomenal solo career. He wrote the beautiful, perennial ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ score (and co-starred in it with Bowie) and went on to win an Oscar for Best Score in ‘The Last Emperor.’ The record and video I made with him are hard to find but worth the search–the song’s called ‘Field Work.’

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Ryuichi contacted me a couple weeks ago about an issue that is troubling to him. In Northern Japan there is a nuclear reactor about to open outside the small town of Rokkasho. It has been measured to have potential levels of radioactivity way in excess of anything remotely safe or acceptable. For some reason the Japanese media are not paying attention to it. So Ryuichi has put together a web site http://stop-rokkasho.org where he and his artist friends from around the world have contributed music, words, photos and video clips to draw attention to this problem.

A few gigs ago we videotaped my live performance of ‘Windpower’ and I dedicated it to the people of Rokkasho. Today Ryuichi added the clip to his site, and it’s currently #2 in iTunes’ ‘political’ category. You can grab the podcast/download directly from the Stop Rokkasho site, or if you prefer you can get it here. Enjoy!
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John Cleese and Chow Mein

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

Yesterday was a travel day, so we got to St Paul in the afternoon and checked in to our hotel. I’ve been wanting to see Mission Impossible 3 which in theory I have a piece of music in, so I found the nearest cinema showing it, which was out in the ‘burbs. We have a TomTom GPS in the car (and no maps) and I’ve upgraded the voice to John Cleese. So, as one does, I just programmed in the address without paying any attention to where I was going, north and south etc. and allowed Mr Cleese to guide me to the theater 25 minutes away.

I saw MI3 which I found quite enjoyable. The action movie genre is not really my thing, but I always liked the paranoia of those old Michael Caine movies like ‘Funeral In Berlin’, along with the quirky 60s/70s style of The Avengers and The Prisoner. I know JJ Abrams is a big fan of that era, and I thought he did a fabulous job, especially as this is his first feature. My favorite parts were little touches that reflected his personality. For example there’s a helicopter chase at night through a farm of massive wind turbines, and at one point one of the huge blades gets sheared off and scimitars into the field below, startling a flock of sheep. I was the only person in the theater that laughed out loud at that one. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day I could project this sequence behind ‘Windpower’ when I play it live!

However, the piece I wrote with JJ was not really in evidence. I even knew the scene it was supposed to be in, but if it was there it was totally buried. At the end of the movie I sat there as the 300+ credits rolled by, all the endless ILM animators and digital matte artists. Everyone else had left the theater and the staff started sweeping up popcorn and looking between the seats for cell phones and loose change. I was convinced the projectionist would stop rolling the credits and I’d have to stand up and scream at the top of my lungs “turn that back on! I want to see my credit!”

I came out of the cinema around 9.30pm and had a real hankering for Chinese food. Programmed it into the GPS, which is never as effective with restaurants as it is with road directions. So John Cleese starts directing me to several closed or non-existent Chinese restaurants, all seemingly two or three miles apart. The streets are mostly dark and no-one is about, curious for a Saturday night, but I gather St Paul is not exactly a hotbed of activity. John Cleese is sounding increasingly aggravated.

Or is this in fact St Paul? I came to the realization I have no idea what city I’m in. Isn’t St Paul attached to Minneapolis? Isn’t that where Paisley Park is? I don’t know how to ask the GPS these sorts of questions, so I briefly contemplate actually stopping to ask for directions. Lapse into a reverie: I pull up to a large purple mansion. It’s the security staff’s night off. Ring the doorbell and a lithe silk-clad figure answers the door and, with a naughty flick of his eyebrow, invites me in to view his collection of Faberge eggs. A bit like that night 23 years ago when I staggered up a driveway in Encino in the pouring rain to visit the King of Pop! But this is just a fantasy. (And it’s Kathleen’s fantasy really, not even my own.)

Back to the serious business of finding Chinese food in a city where pizza and BBQ seem the more popular fare. John Cleese has one last suggestion: the Grand Hunan Buffet, only 2.3 miles form here. I decide to give it one more shot before reverting to the hotel (whevever the hell that is, probably 30 miles away by now!) I am led into a brightly lit downtown area. People are lining the streets in rhinestones and stetson hats, I can barely move. Cowboys and cowgirls are pouring out of a concert venue. I read on the jumbotron that it’s a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert, whoever they are. Then suddenly I see one of those rolling neon tickertape displays, like in Times Square. I recognize this from earlier in the day! I must be back near my hotel! There’s been another mining disaster and Barry Bonds has tied The Babe at 714. And there’s the Grand Hunan Buffet. Lights are on, but there’s no parking outside. I pull into an underground garage, and suddenly realize this is the garage under my own hotel.

The Chinese food was pretty good, so Mr Cleese came though for me after all. ‘You’re arriving at your destination’, he said in a bored voice, ‘but I’m not going to carry your bags. From now on, you’re on your own.’

Amazing variety of venues, audiences

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

Last night I played at Martyr’s in Chicago. It’s a cosy place with a very appreciative audience, but quite subdued. I wasn’t sure how into it they were, though I was feeling good myself. Then after ‘Windpower’ I got one of those inexlicable ovations that just goes on and on and won’t stop coming. Can someone please explain this phenomenon? I mean, I realize people like the music, and I’m glad. But when the applause at the end of a song, though not particularly loud or raucous, just sustains way beyond the expected, what does that mean? Hopefully that Chicago forgives me for canceling my last scheduled appearance in the city in November 1988–which is one of only 2 concerts I’ve ever had to blow off due to sickness.

Martyrs is one of those ‘sideways’ clubs where the stage is on the long wall, and I have to crane my neck to see the people off at the sides. I’m not crazy about that setup. The previous gig in Royal Oak, MI, by contrast, was a beautiful old theater with room for 1600, and tiered standing going all the way back so everyone gets a good view. We had about 700 but the manager said that was a better than average night for Detroit. The excellent lighting guy there did something no-one else has done on this tour: when appropriate, he brought up the house lights so I could get a good look at the audience. The view was fantastic. It was a younger crowd than many of my shows. No disrespect to my 30- or 40-something fans, but it’s very cheery to see younger folks out there, even small kids. Makes me think I’ll still have an audience when the original fans are old and grey and not mobile enough to get to my gigs :)

The Club Cafe in Pittsburg was so small the entire place would have fit on the stage of the Royal Oak Music Hall. There’s something to be said for those tiny venues. I fell like I have nothing to lose if only a 179 (sell-out) crowd is there to witness it. So that’s when I’m willing to try new things. At the Club Cafe I sang the whole of ‘The Flat Earth’ for the first time in 22 years. It’s a tricky one because the verses are so mellow and restrained, but the choruses are very high and I’ve got to belt them out, trying to keep it soulful rather than oversinging. And last night at Martyr’s I added a harmonica jam at the end of ‘Europa’ which I’ve been meaning to do all tour. When Lost Toy People used to play that, my guitarist Larry Treadwell blew a mean blues harp over the intro while I clattered away on timbales–the only time I’ve ever attempted a ‘steam’-driven percussion instrument on stage.

It’s really good for me to do this wide variety of venues. I see this as a boot camp refresher to get myself back in shape as a performer–with all the aches and pains that go with it. There’s almost no activity you can quit when you’re 32, come back to when you’re 47 and hope to be at the same level you left off. Singing and playing involve their own muscle groups, like anything else. Being able to deliver the best perfomance in a spectrum of different settings is all part of being a pro. Yesterday I got up at 6.30am to get ready for a live performance on ‘Mancow’s Morning Madness’, a highly caffeinated ‘shock jock’ radio show. I had to sing ‘Science’, ‘Subs’ and ‘Hyperactive’ and have them sound good on small speakers all over America, while Mancow and his lunatic posse went wild in the next room. Then later the same day I played a full 90 minute gig at Martyr’s. (BTW Mancow took Kathleen and myself out to dinner before the show, and he was a great guy, very knowledgeable about my music. He loved the show and left me some sensible constructive feedback on my voicemail, which not many people do.)

On this East Coast leg I feel like there’s a warm sympathetic exchange going on in the room when I play. It wasn’t like that when I was on the same bill as English Beat or Colin Hay. I guess at those S.Cal gigs a larger portion of the audience were in the ‘oh yeah Thomas Dolby, sure I’ve heard of him’ category, or the ‘I just LURVED “She Blinded Me With Science”!’ category. It’s always tougher in those situations, because you feel this slight tension where half the audience is just waiting for me to play the hits, while the other half would be happy to hear me sit at the piano and go through all my most obscure songs, ‘Therapy/Growth’ and ‘Urban Tribal’, explaining and storytelling as I go.

In some ways, my early career left a question mark hanging. Is he about quirky catchy one-off MTV hits, or evocative atmospheric ballads? Part of the issue is the music business itself. If you’re not prepared to allow the industry to pigeon-hole you, you’re in for a struggle. I leapt around and frustrated the execs. Funky top 5 debut; dreamy spacey 2nd album; overt, pulpy Aliens; soul-searching epic Astronauts and Heretics. As if designed to throw them off their scent.

How come a novelist is allowed to pick a new location, a new era in history, and new characters for each book he writes? Why not musicians too?

Still. Whatever the reasons, it’s water under the bridge. I’m determined not to leave that question mark unanswered for another 20 years. I think there’s a real opportunity now to enter a new phase of my career where everything feels cohesive, to me, to the fans, and to the music and media industries. And I’m getting that support and belief back from my audiences wherever I go. It’s been a great tour!