Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bonus Q&A with Timothy B. Schmit

Here's more from my insightful interview with Schmit:

Before doing the four previous solo shows this past October, you’d mentioned being apprehensive about playing small venues where everyone is so close. Have you acclimated to the situation now?
Yeah, I’m doing better. I’m still a little more nervous than doing an Eagles show. But that’s ok. A few years ago, I did a couple songs at a charity show for my friend Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals baseball manager. He was in the wings with me and asked, ‘are you nervous?’ I said ‘yes.’ He said, ‘good. I tell all my players that it’s good to be nervous. It’s the right kind of feeling.’

When was the last time you played anywhere solo?
My fifth solo show ever was last night. Back when there were more record stores, after my last record came out, I’d do like five songs at an in-store [appearance]. I’ve never really done it until now. In some ways, it’s kind of cool because there’s this new energy happening with my career. It’s exciting to have this happen at this stage of the game.

In the past, you’ve tended to collaborate on lyrics, but these songs were written only by you. Did that tend to make them more personal in nature?
Definitely. I wasn’t bouncing ideas off anybody else, just myself. I would turn off the light at night, then have to turn it back on to write something down.

“White Boy From Sacramento” is one of the most autobiographical songs on the album. Were you aiming to tell your story but also poke a little fun at yourself as well?
Yeah, I’m definitely poking fun at myself, but everything in that song is totally true. It’s a real life thing and was fun to do.

Did your teenage son Ben ask to play guitar and drums on that song?
I believe I asked if he was up to playing some drums. He really liked that idea. He was pretty young. That track [came early on] and is probably four years old. I actually didn’t know if it was going to work out. But I had to tell him I was just trying it - if I doesn’t work out, not to be discouraged. I told him the story about when I used to sing for Steely Dan now and then. They called me in many times and I’ve been fortunate enough to be on three of their albums. One time, I sang on a song and it just wasn’t the right texture. It wasn’t like I did a bad job. That was fine and I totally understood. I told my son that story just in case, but it all worked out. He did a really great job and we kept it.

Would you consider this album a return to your early folk/rock roots?
Yeah. I started every song with acoustic guitar. My process would be – I’d cut guitar track acoustically and before anything else, I would sing the lead and fix how I wanted it. Then I went to everything else.

Did you have a wish list of possible guests or were many people friends and acquaintances?
A little of both...I didn’t know Keb’ Mo’ at all until he walked into the studio. He turned out to be a sweet guy, so we’re pretty friendly now...I actually didn’t use a couple people who were definitely interested [but] they couldn’t make it to my house. I was that strong about not wanting [exchange files from other studios]. In some ways, I missed out with a couple people I might’ve had on the album. Maybe next time.

Is the stark ballad “Ella Jean” a love letter to your wife?

It is. She was out of town for a week or two and it stretched on and on because she was involved in an art project. I was home with our teenage son. I was working out of the house and said, ‘go enjoy yourself and come back.’ It turned out to be about five weeks. During that time, I decided to write her a song for when she got back. I didn’t originally intend it for the album, I was really writing it for her.

I'll bet the scenery outside your home studio is a great source of inspiration for writing songs...
It’s beautiful where I live. On the last song “A Good Day,” when I sing “the creek outside is an open book,” I was thinking of when you walk outside my house to a trail, you can walk a short way to a really beautiful creek. It’s definitely an inspiration.

Since you played a variety of instruments on the album, do you think that will change people’s perception of you as just a bassist/vocalist?
I have no idea. I’ve never written a song on the bass. I’ve always written on guitar. But I don’t get the opportunity to play guitar in the situations I’m in. I’m always the singing bass player.

As a kid, wasn’t your first instrument the violin?
Yes, you’ve really done your homework, haven’t you? I played it when I was really young and got disenchanted with it. It’s really difficult. My brother had been playing trombone in the school band. He quit and it was sitting in the closet, so I picked it up and started playing in the school band [too]. Early in high school, I stopped and got interested in strumming instruments. My friends used to dabble in folk music and had banjos and ukuleles sitting around. My friends and I learned songs on those.

You were a big fan of Kingston Trio back then. Is that when you first started working on harmony vocals?
I’d say that’s exactly when I started doing that. We started learning their songs and all these other folk songs of that era. Then we started playing little church events and high school things. That’s when my friends and I really started learning how to sing. By mid-high school, we were interested in playing electric instruments because there were a lot of surf bands around town. That looked like fun so we found a drummer, borrowed some instruments and amps and learned a bunch of surf songs. At that time, everybody wanted to play lead guitar, so we used to switch between lead/rhythm/bass. It didn’t take too long to figure out who should play what. That’s when I really started paying bass a lot.

Is “Compassion” on the new album sort of a tribute to The Beach Boys with that lush vocal section in the middle?
I didn’t think of that, but I guess it’s reminiscent of them. I’ve always been a big fan. I’ve been fortunate enough to do some singing with them on a project here and there.

While you were doing tons of session work in the ‘80s and ‘90s, did you ever get flabbergasted when asked to work on someone’s record you idolized?
Oh, yeah! That happened to me constantly. I would never have dreamed of meeting any of these people and to be called by [late Beach Boy] Carl Wilson to sing on his solo record, which he reciprocated by singing on my first one, was like dream stuff. I remember hanging out and later singing with [The Byrds] Roger McGuinn. When I was in high school and seeing them on TV, I would’ve never dreamed for a second I’d be talking with these guys, let alone singing with them. That’s happened in many cases.

What was it like touring with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band?

Imagine playing the bass and turning around and seeing Ringo on drums. Pretty great.

Is it true when you were touring with Jimmy Buffett, you coined the term ‘parrotheads.’?
I did. We were driving into some venue in the summer. It was an outdoor one where you have to drive where people are parked far away and walk in. They saw that Buffett was driving and I was in the car with him. I said, ‘you ought to give them the papal wave.’ He was acknowledging people here and there. He said, ‘these fans are kind of like deadheads.’ I said, ‘no, these are your own parrotheads.’ He took it and ran.

A couple years removed from The Eagles’ album ‘Long Road Out of Eden,’ are you satisfied with how your lead vocal songs - “Do Something” and “I Don’t Want to Hear Anymore” – came out?
Yeah. I’ve always been a fan of [“I Don’t Want” and "Love Will Keep Us Alive" writer] Paul Carrack [from Squeeze, Mike+The Mechanics]. I was writing a lot of songs during the recording of that album. Most of them weren’t flying with the other guys, so I asked Paul if had another one in his pocket. He had part of that one. Everybody heard it and said, ‘yeah, finish that.’ I’m good with that. He really taught me a lot about singing with the twists and turns he does with his voice. Those are things I wouldn’t go for, but I really studied what he did and was able to do that song.

“Do Something,” I was at Henley’s home studio in a bedroom. I was sitting on the bed strumming some chords over and over. He walked over and said ‘I have a chorus that would be great with this.’ That’s how that started. For the first time since “I Can’t Tell You Why,” Don and I sat down and wrote a song together. Steuart Smith added some bridge parts as well later on.

The Eagles seem to have more fun onstage these days than in the late '70s or even the mid-'90s.
I think that’s the reason why we all originally got into it. Recently, I met these teenage girls who have a band and asked me all kinds of questions. They mainly wanted some advice. I said, ‘don’t forget what it’s like now you’re having fun. No matter how hairy your career gets and the roller coaster ride, just remember the reason you started doing it.'

Did you enjoy the Poco reunion at Stagecoach last spring?
I had put off going back and playing with them for the longest time. I’m not sure why. I just wanted to move forward. My friend Richie Furay said all the main players from Poco are going to be there. Even George Grantham, who suffered a stroke five years ago and was finally up to singing again. I said, 'if George can make it, I can.' It was ok. It was short and sweet.


keith garcia said...

I would have loved to be a "fly on the wall" when you conducted this interview. Great job GP!!

newwavegeo said...

Yeah, he seemed like a really down to earth guy on the phone. Really polite too.