Thursday, April 16

Interview #23 : Steve Wynn

Steve Wynn has been in rock bands for ever. His first recording band, The Dream Syndicate, released in 1982 what is considered today as a cult status album, "The days of wine and roses". The Dream Syndicate issued other albums afterwards which were as fascinating as the first one but they are specially remembered for this one. Steve later went solo and in other bands, his discography is quite impressive as you can see on his webpage at :
Nowadays he is playing with variable bands like the Miracle 3 or the Dragon Bridge orchestra with whom he just released the excellent "Live in Brussels" Cd. In the influences quoted by Steve on his page appear the Modern Lovers, a perfect reason to interview him as he must have things to say about Jonathan.

That first Dream Syndicate LP (“Days of wine and roses”) was released in Europe in 1982 on the French Closer label. I remember buying it in the mythical New Rose record shop in Paris because I was hearing it played on the shop hi fi set and instantly liked it. It sounded briliant, completely original though familiar at the same time. There was an obvious Velvet / Television side to the music but also something which reminded me of the Modern Lovers. I must say that I am still listening to this LP today. Were did your sound come from ?

"days of wine and roses" French LP

SW: I was listening to a lot of music that was surprisingly out of fashion at the time. Not many people were talking about bands like the Velvets and The Stooges and the Modern Lovers-everybody wanted to be into horrible synthesizer and New Romantic bands. It was pretty awful. But I knew I loved the sound of those bands as well as newer bands like The Fall, The Feelies, Black Flag and The Fleshtones and it turned out that a lot of other people were out there that wanted to hear that kind of raw, hypnotic guitar music as well.

The Dream Syndicate was stamped as the leading edge of the Californian Paysley underground movement, which I did not agree with, though I might have had a wrong understanding about that movement and you sounded more East coast than californian anyway. Were you more sensitive to the East coast culture ? Is it why you moved to NYC later ?

SW: You are absolutely right. I did feel a kinship with bands like
The Bangs and Salvation Army and the Long Ryders because we were all playing psychedelic, 60s influenced guitar rock but, to be honest, I was less entranced with all of those “groovy” 60s elements. I dug the harder stuff, the darker stuff. And I was as excited about the CBGB's sound of the punk rock era and the things that were happening in Hoboken (Feelies, dBs, Bongos) as I was about the Riot On The Sunset strip days of the Whiskey a Go Go. I've always been fascinated with New York City and moving here was one of the best things I've ever done

I cannot resist asking you a stupid question of the “do you prefer the Beatles or the Stones” kind. I noticed that you listed the Flamin' Groovies in your influences and was wondering what incarnation of the band you were prefering : the one with Roy Loney as lead singer or the one with Chris Wilson as lead singer and why ?

SW: I like them both. It's almost like 2 different bands, right? I'd be happy to have Teenage Head, Shake Some Action AND Jumpin' In The Night with me on a desert island.

Now, the Modern Lovers are also quoted as an influence, did you ever see them live ? If you had that luck, how was it?

SW: Oh, I WISH I could have seen them. Actually, I've only seen Jonathan 2 or 3 times in my life-in the early 80s, the mid 90s and then a couple of years ago.

Have you followed Jonathan Richman's music from that time until today ? How would you define it ?

SW: I've enjoyed things he's done during every phase of his career. I do like that his songs of the last 20 years have gradually dealt more with “adult” themes of life and relationships and he's continued to be honest in his writing and relevant to where he is in his life. It's important to evolve as a writer and he's definitely done that.

I see some musical connections you have with Jonathan and was wondering if it was the common influence of the Velvet Underground which had played a role ? For instance there is this song “Boston” which is in fine the town of Jonathan as well as the place where the Velvets got the earliest recognition and your lyrics go like : “Come back to Boston as soon as you can..”. So please, tell us about the Velvets and Boston ?

SW: Yeah, I guess we've both worshipped at the House Of Lou. The song “Boston” is actually about the time that Van Morrison spent in Boston after the breakup of Them and before he made Astral Weeks. I've read that he was pretty drunk and depressed and wondering what would happen next in his life.

On your Myspace page the influences list is impressive, not much english bands though but the ones that are mentionned are
certainly not the average famous ones. I would say that quoting the Only Ones and the Auteurs is showing genuine taste. What is the affiliation between these bands and your music ?

SW: Wow, those are 2 amazing bands. I think that the Auteurs, in particular is one of the most underrated bands of the last 15 or 20 years. Luke Haines is a great writer. I just love his lyrics. But I was actually more excited about some of the English bands when the Dream Syndicate started out-Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, Monochrome Set, Orange Juice-all of these bands stood out to me at the time.
Steve and the Miracle 3

- Your song “Bring the magic” is definitely the roadsong of the decade… I love it and is the true sequel to Jonathan's “Roadrunner”, lyrics are immaculate
All I do is dream inside my radio
Cadillacs and Bonnevilles are taking in the scene
Lipstick kisses blown across the double line
Landing lightly on a stretch limousine”
…) and the music is the magic of that song. Can you comment on that ? and how did you react to “Roadrunner” when your heard it for the first time?

SW: There's nothing like a great driving song, is there? I always loved “LA Woman,” “Maybelleine” and of course “Roadrunner.” And I feel good that my own “Amphetamine” and “Bring the Magic fit into that mold. I remember the first time I actually drove on Route 128 on my first tour. I was pretty excited. Of all the things I love about “Roadrunner,” my favorite element (and one I've stolen often) is the sound of the organ. Wow, that distorted organ just blew my mind the first time I heard the song.
In your recent works, I like very much “tick tick tick” from Steve Wynn and the Miracle3. It is a great CD and you pay tribute to the Velvets again with a red chilli pepper instead of the Warhol banana on the CD cover and you even have a female drummer in the band, laughs. Don't tell me you did not do this on purpose ?

SW: The pepper was a very conscious nod. But you can rest very assured that I didn't choose Linda as my drummer (or as my wife) as a tribute to Mo Tucker. Anyway, she plays more like a hybrid of Keith Moon and Charlie Watts than any chick drummer.

Linda and Steve - picture credit Ann'Arbor

- More seriously, can you speak a bit about “the deep end” as it is such a perfect song ?

SW: Thanks. It's one of my favourites. Linda and I wrote it when we were making the Smack Dab album in Spain a few years ago and it first appeared on that album as “Lavender Foam.” It's always a fun song to play because it sounds and plays like the words to the song. You have to abandon yourself to the waves of sound, the push and pull of the musical tide.

- Like you, Jonathan has changed the format of his band or backing partners through the years. He has eventually settled to go solo with only Tom Larkins backing him on drums. How do you feel about that evolution ? Would you consider go on tour with Linda only ?

SW: I love the way Jonathan plays with Tommy. Linda and I have done some shows as a duo and it's fun but I just love the sound of a bass guitar mixing in with the drums. There's nothing like it.

I read on your Blog about your impressions during the Leonard Cohen concert. Jonathan is covering a Cohen song (“Here it is”). How important do you think is Cohen's presence in the music today ?

SW: Isn't it great that his importance and influence and popularity grows as he gets older? It's what we all hope for. I think his songs were always meant to be sung by an older gentleman so it makes perfect sense. I've seen him play twice in the last year and was amazed at how he fully commanded the stage during every second of the show. Then again, your job on stage is much easier when you have a catalogue of songs like he does.

There is another city which has connections with both you and Jonathan. It is Tucson where you recorded a couple of albums. Was there any particular reason for you to choose that place ? what do you think of the local scene ?

SW: Did he record in Tucson? I didn't know that.-he did not actually but Tommy lives there- I guess it makes sense with Tommy and everything. As for me, I was looking for something new, a new source of inspiration back in 2000 and Howe Gelb told me about Wavelab Studios and Craig Schumacher and I had a feeling it would be just the thing to shake things up a little. I was right and the 5 years that I spent recording out there revived my creativity and my career as well, I suppose.

You have been a very prolific songwriter, how do you manage to keep your inspiration so creative ?

SW: I still get a huge thrill out of writing a song and hearing the first time a band brings it to life. I tend to write my songs in bunches these days. I'll knock out a dozen in a few weeks and then not write for months. I find that a new project or a new collaboration usually gets me going and fortunately there are always new projects and new collaborations.

You have a substantial following in Europe as does Jonathan. Do you think your music and his have something to which Europeans can relate to and which is less obvious in the US ?

SW: I think that European audiences are more loyal to artists who have been around for a while and that the greatest crime to a European music is not getting old but rather if you play bad shows or make bad records. That's a pressure I can accept. I think that the US audiences and press sometimes treat age and experience as a negative, always looking for the hip new thing which so often turns out to be a smokescreen. It's important to show that you can hang in for the long run.

What would be your favourite Jonathan song or album ?

SW: Naturally, I'm enthralled by that first Modern Lovers album. And I know that's like someone telling me they love “The Days of Wine and Roses” It's so obvious and yet you can completely understand it. But I also really like the title track to “Back In Your Life.” The line about the maple syrup always busts me up.

In your song “Boston”, you are quoting “Cypress Avenue”. I would not have thought Van Morrisson had also played a role in your musical life ?

SW: I'm a big fan, especially of the “TB Sheets” sessions.

- Would you cover a Jonathan song ? Which one ?

SW: I've considered doing "Someone I care about" for a long time. Maybe now's the time !

Would you have any anecdote related to Jonathan ?

SW: I've only met him once but it was a great night. He took me out on a tour of Madrid tapas bars after I saw him play a show there a few years ago. He really knew his stuff and I still go to those bars-he turned me on to pimientos padrones. Wow, those are amazing.

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