[…continued from last post]
Post-Punk Monk: So “Stick Figure Neighbourhood” had gotten the band noticed and Ready Records wanted to move in a dance single direction. How did the band at that time feel about the label suggestion? What was the reaction in the band like?
Rob Preuss: Oh, we liked it! We thought it was great because we had seen what was happening with bands like OMD and Spandau Ballet who were releasing their 12-inch mixes of their songs and so it was already a thing we were familiar with and I think as soon as we had released “Stick Figure Neighbourhood,” we recognized that things were sort of shifting in a way. There was only a few record stores where you could get the UK Imports and I would go to try to get the latest releases from from Spandau Ballet, Gary Numan, Ultravox or whoever, and if there was an extended mix or a different version you’d be like, “holy s—, this is like the gold mine, right?” So we knew that was sort of the place you wanted to be going towards, and when they when they suggested to us, I think we probably all sort of thought of it at the same time, but that just sort of became the focus. We sort of decided, “well we’re not going to worry about a whole album… let’s just get two good songs and we’ll make this 12-inch single and that’ll be the next release.” But the focus was to say we’ll make it a dance single.
PPM: That’s very good synergy. You can’t hope for more than that.
R: Yeah, exactly.
PPM: So when John Punter was producing the record, a record producer is so many things. A record producer is a part psychologist, part co-writer, part arranger, part engineer. Where did Punter fall on the producer’s spectrum? Obviously if he was programming your drum machine, he was being very hands-on about it. but as you, say the writing was already done up front. So he didn’t say “oh go back to the drawing board, that song’s not good enough” or anything like that?
R: No. We did pre-production with him though, and we did work on the form of the song. Like the arrangement of the song in terms of the intro and the verses and the chorus. And I don’t remember specifically now the suggestions that he made, but I there’s a demo of “Nova Heart” that they included on one of the releases [“Nova Heart 30th Anniversary EP”] because we recorded a demo in the winter of ’81. That’s probably the thing that he heard, I guess. And there were some small changes in the arrangement of the song that I’m sure he was the one who suggested to make the changes when we were in pre-production. And he sort of sort of extended reintroducing the theme of the opening and stuff like that, but as far as actual songwriting, he didn’t really come to us with a lot. I think when we went to do the whole “Arias” album, there were more places that he felt like having more input in that way. When he was younger, his instrument was drums so that’s why it was valuable for him [to get involved in that area]. I think he was excited to be able to program the drum machines as well.
PPM: And were you using 808s on that record?
R: Yes! So the story… the legend of “Nova Heart” is that the day we got into the recording studio, I think we had booked like, three or four days in the studio, and he had probably told whoever that, “we’re gonna rent a drum machine,” and I think he was expecting the Roland CR-78. You know the infamous Duran Duran …Phil Collins drum machine to show up, and they didn’t get one [of those] so they sent an 808 instead, and we were like, “what the f— is this?” Nobody had seen an 808 before. That was the first time, and I can still picture us all in the control room like looking at this thing going, “I don’t know… I guess we’re gonna figure it out.”
So John was like the one who said, “okay, I’ll figure it out,” and basically he pressed start and he started realizing that here’s where you press the button and it lights up. And there’s where the beats go. And he made the “Nova Heart” beat within a very short span of time. He came up with that beat and really, that’s what you call in the heat of the moment, you’re gonna just be creative and that was what he came up with. Because once you’ve once you’ve programmed the beat, we’re gonna then play on top of that. And we had to lay our bed tracks down, so the beat had to be pretty much set, because we weren’t syncing up with any computers, or simply tracked to line it up or anything.
PPM: And this was all pre-MIDI.
R: Oh yeah. There was nothing like that. So we had two drum machines: we had the 808 for “Nova Heart” and then they also brought along this Korg drum machine which we used for the song “Symmetry.” And that we synced up a Moog synthesizer to play this one ostinato kind of a note that just went all throughout it, and I don’t think we could figure out how to do that with the 808. Which is probably why we used the Korg machine. So it ended up that the 808 became the sound of “Arias and Symphonies” as well. Because when it came back to the summertime [making the full album] we all said, “let’s bring that machine back” because that was the cool thing that we liked incorporating into the sound.”
PPM: The glue that everything together.
R: Yeah, for sure.
PPM: So you were lucky. Gordon was the main writer but he obviously had no problem letting people co-write, so you helped write three songs on “Arias.” “One In Ten Words,” “No More Growing Up,” and “South American Vacation.” What was the writing process? Was there a typical method that you and Gord would hammer things out in rehearsal or that he brings songs to you, you bring songs to him? How did that work out?
R: Most of the songs were his initial inspirations. Where he would bring a real basic idea of a song to us. We would gather in our in our rehearsal space and he might have the very bare bone beginnings of song like a song like “Nova Heart” let’s say. Where he had the piano intro and then he had sort of a rough idea for the verses and the chorus. We would just sort of play things over and over and over until it started to make sense and usually he would write his lyrics and the melodies would come much later.
So we might have a pretty fully formed song, and then he would sort of then take that and sort of figure out… sometimes he would do that thing that David Byrne used to do where he would sort of mumble stuff and there would be, sort of nonsense lyrics, but out of the consonants and the things that were coming out of his mouth, he would sort of go back and go “what does it sound like… what does that feel like?” And then kind of took it from there, you know?
But the songs that I co-wrote, like “One In Ten Words,” for example, I sort of had the basic chord progressions for the song. I worked them out on my own with two keyboards and then I think I brought that to him and then he sort of came up with a melody on top of that and we just sort of took it from there. And the other songs were sort of the same. They were more jamming like sort of playing over some chords together and then the fact that we were together was like, “well I guess we’ve sort of written this together,” because we’re sort of following each other’s lead in that way.
PPM: So when I look at the credits to the record, basically it’s just two synths on there. All Roland tech: Jupiter IV and the SH-2000, which is a monosynth. That’s pretty limited. How did this small synth palette affect the recording of songs?
R: That is a good question, because I loved the fact that I did it all [with those two]. Our first album I did with only the Jupiter IV, and it never occurred to me to add more. But like I said before like when we sort of realized that there was something happening with more synthesizers in music, that we thought “let’s go ahead with my electric piano.” and then I added more. I decided to add my SH-2000 because it was the first synth that I ever got when my parents bought it for me when I was 11. So we had it hanging around in my house and I didn’t use it on The Spoons gigs originally because I thought, “oh, it’s just a monophonic synth… I don’t need that!” I was sort of excited to just have one synth to focus on everything. But then once we were working on the songs for “Arias,” on “One In Ten Words,” the opening little melody line was the SH-2000, and then it’s got the Jupiter IV arpeggiator underneath it and that’s basically how I came up with the song.
So I only used it in a few places on the album, but it was just nice to have that limitation because I realized, “oh I don’t need to play much more than that anyway.” So really, most of the album is the Jupiter IV and only “One In Ten Words,” and “Arias and Symphonies” itself are the only two songs that I use the SH-2000 on. And then there’s a couple of places that I played a bit of grand piano as well as some overdubs to sort of beef things up a little bit.
PPM: In many cases less is more, and it helps keep the album really tight and focused.
R: Yeah! Well, like I said earlier, the fact that the Jupiter would only play four notes…it never occurred to me that I needed to play more than two or three notes, because I was usually busy playing with my right hand and then I was adding filters and modulation and stuff with my left hand because the Jupiter has a good little controller. And all I ever wanted to do was be able to play a line and then I had a filter pedal and then I had the modulation and the filter stuff going on with my left hand. I hardly ever played with two hands, which to me now all these years later, it cracks me up because I realize how great that was, to be able to just focus on that one part of the bigger sound, which is what it was.
PPM: So the first three Spoons records are quite a quite a leap frog. You’ve got the first one which is a Canadian indie record, then you bring in English royalty to produce the next one, and on the third one you’re there with Nile Rogers. How did that feel? Did it feel like you were being pulled forward beyond your ability to grasp what was happening? Or were you all taking it in stride and dealing with the changes?
R: I would say we were definitely taking it in stride. It was a real natural progression for us in terms of the making the music. Because making cool music was our primary concern. From the moment when I joined the band and we were in this little rehearsal space and just like finding our sound together and then being able to go in the studio and record the first album. Daniel Lanois was our engineer for the first album, which sounds much cooler now.
Because sometimes Gord will do interviews and he’ll sort of mention Dan as if he was “Daniel Lanois,” but he wasn’t! He was just Danny, because he was the house engineer for the studio because it was Dan and his brother’s studio, Grant Avenue. Of course in hindsight you look back and go,”holy s—, it was Daniel Lanois working on our record!” [laughs] But I mean he definitely had a contribution to that first album as well, but we definitely took it in stride because of the fact that we were just excited to be making music and being able to go in the studio and just come up with these ideas and collaborate with these producers who were sort of pushing us to do new stuff as well and it was the best thing ever.
PPM: The band basically went through the changes of ’84-’85 and you and Derrick left, and what I did not know until very recently when I was doing research, was that Gordon and Sandy were a couple and then they split up and at a certain point in the late 80s, the band went on ice for what seemed like forever. And you played that one gig with them on the 30th anniversary. That was the one time you played back with them?
R: It was actually ten years ago that I did a gig with them, and then I did another one… Derrick and I did another one with them, like, two years later in 2014 and I think that’s the last time. Well, we did we did a small gig in 2017 because it was Canada’s 150th birthday and they were doing a big thing in Burlington with an orchestra by the lake and a friend of mine was the music director and I did a little arrangement of “Nova Heart” and “Romantic Traffic,” and we played with this Orchestra, so Gordon, Sandy and I came up and did a performance with this Orchestra which was kind of cool at this outdoor thing by Lake Ontario. But yeah, the 30th Anniversary was the first time that I really did a real set of music with them again in ages.
IT ALL GOES BACK TO ABBA®
PPM: Later on you went to Honeymoon Suite and then you found yourself in a very different situation. How do you make the transition from Honeymoon Suite to musical theater?
R: Weird, right? I mean of course it’s not weird to me now, because it feels looking backwards like, “oh, it was all meant to be!” That’s just the natural progression of things. I just sort of found my way into it. I was in Honeymoon Suite and we had a pretty busy schedule. I mean, joining Honeymoon Suite after being away [for a while]. I left The Spoons and then it was about nine months after, that I joined Honeymoon Suite and it was like jumping onto a moving train! Like they were going full speed, and then it was about two and a half years of non-stop stuff and I had seen a newspaper ad announcing that “Phantom of the Opera” was going to be coming to Toronto and it was like a light bulb went off in my head.
And I thought, “wow, they must use musicians on a show like that.” It’s a musical and there’s probably keyboard players working on that because I was obsessed with Lon Chaney when I was a kid, and I loved monster movies and stuff. But then I pictured Lon Chaney in the Subterranean dungeons of the Paris opera house playing the pipe organ and I thought, “oh, there must be keyboard players!”
So I listened to the recording and I heard all the stuff and I sort of thought, “man, this might be really cool if I played in a show,” so I sort of found my way into that world and the timing happened to be good because it was sort of a new scene happening in Toronto as well, and then it just turned into a non-stop thing where I was playing on different shows. I played “Phantom” for a couple of years and I did a Canadian tour of “Phantom,” and then I came back and I did several years of shows in Toronto. And then I got involved with the musical “Mamma Mia” at the turn of the century and I ended up doing that for many years in New York on Broadway and stuff.
PPM: Wow, so I was thinking to myself that you’re probably like, 25-26 saying, “I’m sick and tired of this Rock and Roll grind, is there something else out there I can be doing?” But it’s not even that. It was just like, “wow, that sounds interesting!”
R: It was a little bit of both. I was only 23 actually, [laughs] but you’re right. It was that same kind of thing. So when I left The Spoons, I felt like I was sort of having a midlife crisis at that point and I had just turned 20. Derrick and I, we left the band at the same time, and I sort of felt like, “I don’t even know what I’m going to do next,” but I just sort of felt like I needed to leave the band because I’ve been in the band for five years at that point.
So then some time went on and I joined Honeymoon Suite and it was almost the same kind of thing again. Like I sort of had this itch of, “I still want to do something musical,” but I feel like I need to challenge myself more. And then the world of musical theater scared the s— out of me, and I thought, “man I don’t even know if I’m qualified to do this, but I’m going to sort of just try my best and figure out how to get into this world.” Certainly none of my Pop music credentials had anything to do with that except that it sort of got me in the door, because one of the keyword players had heard of my band and said, “oh yeah, come sit with us in the pit and come check it out,” you know. But then from that point it was like I had to audition and prepare… like really prepare and be super scared…super nervous. I was way more nervous sitting at a pit than I ever was being on a stage in front of an audience.
PPM: Well, you’ve done that since you were 10, you know? So you got to work on “Mamma Mia” for quite a number of years and you were working with Björn and Benny on that?
R: [laughs] Yeah it cracks me up now, because it was so long ago, they were my age! I think now we started 21 years ago. We started in 2000 at the turn of the century and I think, “holy s—… Benny was like, 55! And I think, “if that was me and somebody was making a musical of my songs, and it was going to become this worldwide hit, no wonder they were so excited!” All of the Canadian cast and me getting to be with them in the rehearsal room, it was such an exciting time for us because we grew up loving those songs. One of the first songs I have a recording of myself playing was “Mamma Mia” in my band when I was 10 years old, two days before I turned 11, there’s me playing “Mamma Mia!” And all those years later to be able to be a part of that musical and helping them sort of create the international version of the show was like I couldn’t have ever guessed that it would be such a cool experience to have.
PPM: Exactly. Those guys are like Pop Music royalty, you know?
PPM: They were responsible for some of the best Pop songs ever written. To this day I will go to my grave saying all right, “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is one of the best songs ever! I mean, have you ever heard a more mature breakup tune than that? I haven’t!
R: I know. It’s true! For me to be involved with the show for all those years as well, I always felt sort of responsible in a way to keep the music alive. Coming to Broadway with the show. The British creative team asked me to come to Broadway as the associate music director because I had done the Toronto production and I think they felt confident having me in the mix only because I had already been involved with the show and they knew that I had the background in recording and, you know, my Pop background. So they felt that I could help keep it real in a way, which definitely is something that I felt through all the years of doing the show, no matter how many Broadway performers came through. I was always there to help them and teach them the melodies and the vocals. And I could sort of help kind of keep away some of the Broadway things and keep it more Pop in a way. So I felt it was like a bit of a responsibility to keep it true to Benny and Björn in that way.
PPM: It was a big responsibility, because you were the thread of continuity for the shows reaching back to pop music history, basically.
What’s on your shirt it looks really cool? I can’t tell what it is.
PPM: Well, it’s actually OMD’s “Maid of Orleans.” [leans back in chair]
R: Oh, there it is… that’s amazing.
PPM: They were selling these online and I said, “I have to buy that!” I can wear this out in public shopping for groceries and get compliments on it.
R: Amazing. I love it. I browse all the time, like looking for like the ultimate Ultravox t-shirt or the ultimate like OMD and Simple Minds [shirt] as well. I do more browsing than I do actually buying things, but when I see a good logo or something I think, “oh. it’s just really inspiring to have that, you know?” Because we relate to that music in such a different way. I feel like we still have a bit of an underground scene which I think comes back to why I love reading your blog and reading all the music that you write about. Like even Robert Gordon. I was listening to him today and I haven’t listened to him in ages, and then you had mentioned the episode of SCTV that he did. I totally forgot about that.
PPM: I’m a huge SCTV geek! It’s one of my four favorite shows of all time. My favorite TV shows are very easy:
• Batman 1966
• The Prisoner
• Slings and Arrows
Half of them are Canadian.
R: You know, I’ve never seen “Slings And Arrows” and I have the box set somewhere because a friend of mine gave it to me years ago and he said, “you have to watch the show,” and I’ve still never seen it, but you’re the second person that mentioned it in the last month, so I need to watch it.
PPM: “Slings And Arrows” is actually one of the finest TV shows ever. You’ll see scenes of a director directing “Hamlet” that are the most gripping thing you will ever see. The show is impeccable… and it’s funny as hell.
R: Gord was a huge fan of The Prisoner as well. I’m sure you knew that.
PPM: I had no idea until I read the press materials that you sent me. We’re obviously cut from similar cloth. No wonder I’m a fan.
R: Exactly. If you look at the at the vinyl of “Stick Figure Neighbourhood,” do you remember when they were pressing the vinyl, you could scratch in the serial number on the vinyl and on the very inner plastic part Gord had them do on side one “arrival” and on side two he had them write “departure.” because that was his little nod to The Prisoner.
PPM: Wow! You know that’s amazing, because to this day I still don’t have a copy of “Stick Figure Neighbourhood,” but when it came out on CD it got on my infinite want list and one of these days I’ll have to go to the Spoons webstore with a hundred dollars and clean up on everything.
R: Those kind of influences are our thing, right? Just from that period you look at, all that stuff. And that’s why I was saying with logos and stuff that I think we were in a secret club listening to all that music and it became the mainstream, but there is that period like what you write about too, and I feel like that there was something really magical about that period.
PPM: It was a transitional period, for sure. In America all these British bands that from ’78, ’79, ’80, ‘81. they came to America and they got signed to A+M by ’84, ’85 and that’s when it was supposed to happen.
R: Yeah, I still remember listening to…I guess it must have been in ’85, Casey Kasem’s countdown when Tears For Fears went to number one and I was with my girlfriend in my car. On Sunday nights we would listen to the countdown, and I remember we were both excited but like a little bit disappointed, because I felt like, “oh, the secret’s out now… they’re not our band anymore, you know?” And it’s so funny because we’ve loved them for so many years already at that point.
PPM: So that’s part of the thing I struggle with, you know? How much of this is the band compromising? How much of is the label. I try not to be exclusive about it because basically I like to see everything I like become very, very popular. But I like to see it become popular for what it is, not for what it’s trying to be or what it thinks it has to be to attain popularity.
R: Exactly. Have you listened to the new Simple Minds album? I don’t know how recently it came out.
PPM: It came out last week. I ordered it Thursday and it’ll be here next Thursday. I ordered the deluxe book pack and it’ll be here soon.
R: I listened to the opening track and it was weird. On the opening track it took me a second to recognize Jim Kerr’s voice and I couldn’t figure out like why it didn’t really sound like him, but then as time went on I thought, “oh I think I’m just getting used to his voice again,” because he’s singing who he is today and this is his voice, you know.
PPM: Actually, one of the most amazing things about doing the blog is not only meeting fascinating people like yourself, but I had written about Simple Minds a lot in there.
PPM: I have a book on Simple Minds hidden within the pages of the blog, right?
R: For sure.
PPM: So a few years back the A+R guy who got them signed to Virgin Records, Ross Stapleton, started contacting me through the blog to discuss The Minds [among his many adventures in the music industry] and he doesn’t really comment on the blog but we have a running dialogue, mostly about politics [laughs]. I never would have in a million years believed that I’d be friends with the guy who signed Simple Minds to Virgin Records! How did that happen? It’s bizarre. I’m just writing the blog but I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s got quite a reach, and I was very happy when I saw that you were subscribing. I said [to myself], “wow, Rob Preuss is subscribing!”
R: [laughs] That’s amazing! I listened to a great interview with Jim Kerr with Bob Lefsetz. Do you read Bob Lefsetz’ blog at all or listen to his podcast?
PPM: No, no. I’m not even familiar with Bob Lefsetz.
R: You need to be! I think he’s been in the music industry since the 80s as a lawyer or a marketing guy, but he’s written a music blog for years and years. And then he started a podcast as well, but he’s got a great interview with Jim Kerr and it’s an hour and a half. It was earlier this year and he basically talks about moving to Italy and running a hotel there and stuff but it’s a really, really good in-depth interview with him talking about the early days of the band and then what happened to them in the 2000s when they thought that they were done and nobody wanted to hear from them again. So he decided to open this hotel and stuff. I’ll send you the link though. It’s really, really good.
PPM: I don’t have too much time for podcasts. [Ed. Note: I listen to music intensely and primarily since it’s the grist for the mill of this blog, but he sent the link and it was a great Jim Kerr interview] I basically download them and years later I finally listen.
R: Me too!
PPM: Like yesterday I was doing housework, so I thought okay and I listened to Electronically Yours by Martyn Ware. He’s got lots of very interesting people on.
R: It’s funny because I’m the same way though. My list of podcasts to be listened to is huge and I see them all the time I’m like, “oh my god, that’s gonna be amazing,” and then it gets away. Life gets in the way, right? And you’re like, “well, I’ve got this amazing collection, when I’ve got an hour or whatever to listen, I’m gonna listen.” But I think for you with Simple Minds you’ll dig this Jim Kerr interview, for sure.
PPM: Definitely. Because I have to say that when I saw Simple Minds on the 2013 tour of America they did with just seven date, it was the most exciting concert I’ve ever seen.
PPM: They were doing tracks on this US greatest hits tour of seven places. I went to the same place I saw them in 2002 which was the 9:30 Club [in Washington D.C.] Yet they slipped in “This Fear Of Gods,” right in the middle of a greatest hits set. The hairs are going up on the back of my neck right now just thinking about it, right?
PPM: That was the one concert that I went to where I thought, “ohmigod, I understand beatlemania now.” Because I was just losing it, right?
R: That’s amazing.
PPM: Did you ever you go over to England to see their 5X5 shows?
PPM: I thought about that, and I kick myself mentally because I really should have engendered the debt for that, because that was just like a once in a lifetime thing.
R: The closest I came to one of those kind of concert trips was I went to see Thomas Dolby in 2009. He did a reunion of “The Flat Earth” with the touring band and he did a concert where he was basically recreating the songs on stage and relearning the songs. Because I was a huge Dolby fan at that point, I went to I went over to London to see that. But that’s the closest I’ve came.
PPM: I was lucky. I got to see him twice that year . I saw him when he was touring America for his new album, “Map Of A Floating City.” That was a dozen years ago. He was playing a club in South Carolina that was only about an hour away. And that same year he was a guest at Moogfest.
R: He was a huge inspiration for me, not directly on the music that we were making, but just what was in the air. You know, like around the time that we were recording and even by the time we did “Arias,” I guess, he’d already released “One Of Our Submarines.” He had that EP and the whole “Golden Age Of Wireless” album. I just loved it. It was like all these things were happening at the same time, and he was using the Jupiter IV so I would listen to his records and go, “oh my god, I totally know what sound he’s using, like it’s the same preset!” It’s the brass preset that I used on “Smiling In Winter,” you know?
It’s like you recognize all those things. It’s the same with our with our first album. When we released “Stick Figure Neighbourhood” it came out right around the same time… or maybe even before, Duran Duran released their first album, and I remember listening to their album thinking, “oh, Nick Rhodes has got the Jupiter…there’s his arpeggiator, he’s got all the same sounds I do,” but it’s just because that’s what we used. It was just the same stuff.
PPM: Again, that’s another thing part of the fabric of “Arias And Symphonies,” is that [the Jupiter IV’s] arpeggiator gets a real workout.
R: Yeah, for sure. Hold the chord, let it do its magic.
PPM: Exactly, and it just adds that that level of sheen to the track and complexity while being simple! That’s what I love about the record, right? But it’s also emotionally stirring and almost grandiose.
R: It sort of became that way, which is interesting because especially with a song like “Arias And Symphonies.” It’s such a simple melody. Like what I played on the keyboard was just that melody and nothing else. And then in the second verse there’s an arpeggiator and then there’s a little melody that comes in and I remember sometimes thinking, “god, this almost seems too simple!” Like there’s just nothing to it. Should I be doing more?! But then I realized there’s nothing more to add to it, because the space is sort of filling in, like your mind fills it in in a way, right?
PPM: You know, you want to Keep It Simple, Stupid.
PPM: Simple is a better way to go.
R: And the very end of the song I did my tribute to Kate Bush, because the very end on the piano [sings the climax from “Arias And Symphonies”]… I totally stole from “Babooshka!”
PPM: Oh wow, you’re right!! I never thought of that!
R: [laughter] And nobody knew I was gonna do it, but when I was recording, because I laid down all the synthesizers, and then I laid down the piano to sort of just mirror the same melody and it got to the very end of the song and then I was like, “I’m gonna just do it… what the f—,” and then that became the end of the song.
PPM: At that point you’re thinking, “what’s the next note that should come after this?” Your brain fills it in! “Babooshka’s” ending yeah! In 1982 I was totally listening to Kate Bush and I never, to this day, realized that.
R: Thank you! See, isn’t that funny when somebody points that kind of s— out? Like sometimes I’ll hear people say things like that! When I was working on “Mamma Mia” with Benny and we were doing our first time sing through with the cast, with the cast of the band together. And so Benny and Björn were all like lined up. Benny was like sitting right beside me and we were playing songs and he’d lean over to me and whisper song inspirations! We were playing “Chiquitita” and in the chorus and then at some point in the verse he leaned over and said, “that’s Paul McCartney… ‘Monkberry Moon Delight,” and I was like, “I don’t even know what that is.” And then I would go and listen to it and then I thought, “oh my god, I could totally hear that was the inspiration for ‘Chiquitita!” There’s a keyboard line of “Chiquitita” that goes [sings melody] and it’s exactly the same thing that’s in the Paul McCartney song.
And I thought, “people often don’t get to hear these little secrets of like, where the inspiration comes from,” but that’s sort of how music moves along, right? So I always love my story of Kate Bush, because I think it sort of came out of the heat of the moment. I’m gonna just try it and if they say don’t do it then I won’t do it but I thought, “f— it, I’m gonna just try it.“
TALKIN’ ‘BOUT POP[E] MUSIC
PPM: It doesn’t hurt to try. I need to ask you how you ended up working with Carole Pope who’s a real Canadian music icon in the last eight years? And Rough Trade have a hallowed SCTV appearance as well, because that’s where I first heard them.
R: I first met Carole Pope in NYC back in 2002. We had met back in the 80’s at a few awards shows etc., but only briefly, so one day in 2002 I was in a shop and saw her, and I approached her and said she probably wouldn’t remember me, etc., etc., …but she remembered my bands, and it turned out that we had both recently moved to NYC [summer of 2001] so I told her if she ever wanted to make some music sometime, call me! And so she did!! We’ve been friends ever since.
Over the years we’ve done some gigs in NY, we’ve co-written several songs together- my favorite is one we did in 2011, “Landfall.” She wrote it as a duet with Rufus Wainwright, and the three of us got together in the summer of ’11 to record it. I played piano and bass guitar, and wrote a cello arrangement for it!! It’s still one of the songs I’m most proud of creating!
I’ve worked with Carole on the Rough Trade musical over the last few years too….and this past September, I played with her in Toronto with her band Rough Trade. That was exciting because I used to listen to their records back in ’81, before we recorded our first Spoons album, and I’d listen to Rough Trade and imagine how cool it was that we were actually going to make our own record too.
PPM: I have to say that her version of “Some Velvet Morning” on the “Music For Lesbians” EP totally eclipses the [classic] original! It’s true that Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra weren’t the most dazzling of vocalists. Give me Carole Pope any day. She makes the refrain “Some velvet morning when I’m straight,” positively explode.
R: I had forgotten about our version of “Some Velvet Morning.” I did all the music for that!! I just listened again, and it’s pretty good!!
PPM: Well, the glockenspiel was utterly perfect. And then I see you’ve also worked with Ottawa Synthpop band Church Of Trees both with and without Carole Pope!
R: My involvement with Church Of Trees happened through meeting Bernard Frazer, leader of the band! He asked me to do some remixes, and over the last 4 years I’ve done a bunch!! And I brought Carole on board to sing his pandemic anthem, “World’s A Bitch…!”
PPM: So has this more recent material been the only Pop music you’ve dipped your toes into after years of theatrical playing? Or have you found yourself scratching the itch on a more regular basis?
R: I’ve also done some work on a few other projects. A cool Canadian band called The Foreign Films have a new album coming in the new year.
PPM: I see you’ve played synths on their last two albums of what is very baroque, ornate pop that I was not familiar with.
R: I’m currently developing a solo show to play in Canada next year which will be an evening of music I’ve made over the years, starting with Spoons and Honeymoon Suite, but also mixing in some of the theatrical music I’ve been involved with, as well as all sorts of autobiographical inspirational music which I have always wanted to play for audiences as well. I’ll have guest singers, guest musicians and I think every show will be different, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years!
PPM: Your solo show sounds like a real musical autobiography of sorts! It makes more sense than a book, actually.
R: If you want to do anything else let’s do it, you know, because I would totally love it.
PPM: Well, we may find the time and space to do this again.
PPM: Because like you say we’re basically the same age and went through the same music as it was happening, so you know we share that commonality for sure.
R: It’s absolutely the truth because because it’s like you find your people, right? When you recognize something, which is why I feel like what I recognize and what you write and the music that you share…I’m instantly drawn to it because even if I don’t know it, I feel like I’m gonna learn something or I’m gonna remember something that I knew that I forgot, that I need to remember! So that’s the best part. It’s like it’s good reminders, you know in that way.
PPM: But it’s like good positive reinforcement I like to think of it as positive reinforcement.
PPM: To be honest I have been wanting to seriously write about “Arias + Symphonies” since I started the blog and I wanted it to be really, really good. With this interview I could take the time and give it the consideration it deserved.
R: So it was worth waiting for! So it’s good that we got to meet in the meantime, right?
PPM: Exactly. Because this this is the impetus for it to finally happen. It was lovely speaking with you. It’s been a lot of fun I enjoyed it very much, Rob.
R: Me too. I am going to send you a link to the Jim Kerr interview as well and we’ll just stay in touch.
Fantastic to hear from Rob about this era, thank you to both PPM and Rob for doing and publishing the interview.
There really is something special, something magical, about the “Arias & Symphonies” album. All the planets aligned along with the zeitgeist just so. I became obsessed with it at about the same level it sounds like PPM did. I was 15 years old at the time. I was promoting it to all my musically like-minded friends, typically with a track or two on a mix tape for them. And that usually wasn’t “Nova Heart,” that would be too predictable! It was more often “One in Ten Words” (I loved the opening synth lines on that one) or “Arias & Symphonies.” And “Blow Away” made a great final track for a mix tape.
As you both observed, I think part of the magic really was that you could discern the individual layers in the tracks. There was simplicity, space, despite the songs sounding plenty fleshed out. The 808 put just the right amount of slick sparkle throughout.
Once I discovered A&S, I was determined to track everything else down, which was pretty difficult in the pre-internet days, and although I had access to several great record stores in my area (southern California), they seemed to import lots from the UK but next to nothing from Canada. In 1984 a friend was going on a trip to Canada, so I tasked him with some record hunting. He returned with the “Listen to the City” LP for me. And in 1986 I nagged my poor grandparents to please please check a record store or two for me when she had a trip planned. She brought back “Stick Figure Neighborhood!”
Thank you both for the great read.
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Mathmandan – Yes!! You get it! In the pre-internet days, I only ever found out about “Stick Figure Neighbourhood” with the taunting entry in the Trouser Press Record Guide that I first bought in 1990 or so! Fast forward 32 years and I still haven’t heard it in full, but that’s my own fault. Heck, I thought “Arias + Symphonies” was their debut album back in 1982. I can distinctly remember when I first met Mr. Ware in 1985, we had so much musically in common we were like twin sons of different mothers, but the devil was in the details! The bands that we didn’t each have fat collections of! I recall loaning him “Arias + Symphonies” up front in the early days of our friendship.
And …you’re most welcome!
I actually took about 30 minutes of my time in Tokyo to read it, despite having a packed schedule (e.g. kayaking under Nihonbashi, +…).
I was totally unfamiliar with Spoons until about 2000 or so when I bought “Collectible Spoons’ from Todd Durant (A Different Drum). I listened to it a few times, but it really didn’t strike me very much. Then about 3 days later while walking down the street all these fantastic songs flooded my mind, and I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. Then it hit me. BIG TIME!!
Ever since then I’ve been a megafan. Later that year I flew from NYC to Toronto twice to see Spoons in concert (Music Hall, ?? on the Danforth) and was amazed (no Rob P. though [frown emoticon]). I’ve probably been to about 10 or so of their concerts, multiple times in Toronto, Vancouver, Gage Park, etc. Even saw Gord playing in AFOS in Norwalk CT last year.
The first few Spoons albums are classics, and i really have to thank fellow NYer Rob for such wonderful music (and PPM for conducting the interview).
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schwenko – We do it all for you, you crazy kid! Leiber Gott In Himmel, you’re reading marathon PPM posts when you’re in Tokyo… and should be shopping for CDs in the one place where they are plentiful??!!?! But thanks for the validation. I devoted about two weeks of free [and not so free] time to that epic thread/interview, and it’s appreciated. For some reason, your comment got tagged as spam. Grrr. Good thing I review constantly! Now that we’ve got that out of the way I can indulge in serious envy at all of your Spoons concerts under your belt. Even as a latecomer! Alas, when I was traveling to Toronto, Spoons were tabled so I’ve never had the pleasure. They are still on my bucket list, though I hold out the dim hope of seeing Gord in AFOS, since that’s at least possible in the Lower 48! It pleases me that he’s got that side gig, as he’s probably well suited for it. They need a hot guitarist to make it work!