Beyond the Folklore

by Lindsey Eck · Part 2

Q Let’s talk about an early song that got a lot of airplay: “How Does It Feel?” I think the hook in that song isn’t the title but the Na-na-na-na-na-na part that alternates with the title. … How do you go about writing a song like that? Does the na-na part occur to you first and then you write around it?
A No, no, not at all. As a matter of fact [as] I wrote that song … I was basically wanting to go public with my anger at this girl I’d broken up with, and, to tell you the truth, it was pretty much a ripoff of “How Do You Sleep?” that Lennon wrote to McCartney. And it turned into that song. I mean, when I first wrote that tune, it was like this primal scream song. It was — at that point I didn’t have any material where I could yell and be really obnoxious on stage and get out all the angst I had inside me and that was the first tune, I really felt like vocally I could just go, you know, I could say some things. And by the time it got into the studio it turned into an actual song with na-nas and stuff like that. I liked it better before, actually [laughs].

Q You opened for the Stones during their last tour. What was it like opening for such a rock ’n’ roll phenomenon? Did you learn anything from watching Jagger and Richards in action?
A Yeah. … When we did that tour … I’m the kind of person that never realy enjoys where I'm at, and the moments go by, and I tend not really to grab and go, “Wow, I'm so excited to be here.” And so the Stones thing — I just sat there and laughed for a week and a half that we were on the road. It was like, “I cannot believe that I’m on the road with the Stones.” And I’d call up my friends, “Guess where I am.” I’d never done that. So for me it was really a celebration.

But there’s … a couple of things I learned. One thing had nothing to do with songwriting or anything but … we’d been on tour with Z.Z. Top and Z.Z. Top was cool but I didn’t like their staging. I always thought it was kind of cheesy. And when we got on the road with the Stones I realized that you could have a huge arena show — or stage show in their case — and it could still have integrity. ’Cause it was really cool. They had all this Day of the Dead stuff … ’Cause I’m kind of going more to where I almost want to do a performance-art thing when I'm playing as opposed to just standing up with an amp and a guitar. …

Q I really enjoyed the horn arrangements you’ve used in some of your songs, reminiscent of the great horn arrangers like Allan Toussaint. How do you go about arranging a song for horns? Do you do it yourself or rely on an arranger?
A Well … when I did “Stain” — from Modernday Folklore … that one was mine; I had Darrell Johnson, who plays with Daniel Lanois — he helped me … translate it to the horn players, going, “This is what we want here, this is what we want here.”
Q So you would play it on guitar?
A Oh, no, I’d hum it out. … Now what I do with the … horns that are playing with me in Houston — basically I let them come up with parts and if I don’t like something we [change it] … Hopefully what I like to do is incorporate people that are good enough where they can … knock that by themselves and then, if we disagree on something, obviously I will speak up because it's my band. …
Q You’re also working with a cellist. Was Alejandro Escovedo, who uses a lot of strings, a model for this idea at all?
A No, the thing that was a model was me playing classical music for 12 years. I’m a violinist. I play violin.
Q Was that your first instrument?
A Well, actually my second instrument. … Sitar was my first instrument. Not very good, but I had a sitar and [it] was the first instrument I played.

Q “Muddy Jesus” has the potential to offend some people. … Do you think controversial lyrics help your sales more than hurt them?
A Well … it’s kind of funny, but … my first record, there were a lot of people that thought I was like this Jesus rocker guy [laughs]. And it really offended me. It really bothered me. I mean, I have no personal problem with Jesus, but …
Q Where’d they get that idea?
A They got it from, like in “Blue Sky” it says Look for the heavens while I search for the truth. … The problem I have with a lot of Christians is they’re so literal; they don’t get that there’s things that are a little more subtle. And so [“Muddy Jesus”] was kind of a dig at how black-and-white Christianity can be … And, I don’t care; controversy’s fun — at least it gives you something to talk about.

Q One of your tracks showed up on the KGSR compilation disk. Other than the ego gratification of being recognized in this way, how valuable is appearing on this compilation to your career?
A Well, it was a terrible, terrible version of “Society” [laughs], so I really don’t know … That was a rough day; I was really hoarse, and I remember calling up Jan [Mirkin, Ian’s manager] saying, “I don’t know if I should go in and do this.” … I’m glad I’m on there because there’s some great people but, but when I heard the track I called Jan, I was like “If you ever let me put anything like that out again I'm gonna kill you!”

Q You recently participated in the NARAS Grammy® in the Schools project. Are you a product of AISD yourself?
A Yep.
Q What kind of things do you tell aspiring high school rock ’n’ rollers?
A It was really funny. I was wearing a cowboy hat that day, just kind of because I felt like doing it — just kind of as a goof, and … [some of the questions] the kids asked me were like, “Do you guys dress like this every day?” Ricky Treviño was there, and he does … I really try to get people to feel comfortable with just expressing themselves and being kid of freaky. Because those are the things you’re embarrassed by in high school, but then later on in life they’re the things that define you as an interesting person.

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