Annette Brown, Lifetime The story of June Carter Cash comes to life in the…
- Posted on Jan 4th 2008 5:00PM by Steve Baltin
Did you write the album mostly in London?
It's a London-based album. To be honest with you, if you're writing, it doesn't really [matter], 'cause you just have to be alone with yourself or if you're writing with others. I don't. I wrote it by myself. But if I'm working with others, it doesn't make any difference.
The reason I ask is that for some artists the environment does make a difference.
There used to be a wonderful recording studio [AIR Studios] on the island of Montserrat. It was built by George Martin, who produced all the wonderful Beatles albums, and he built this amazing studio, and a lot of bands recorded there. We recorded the Tourists there in the '70s. It was such a beautiful island ... Montserrat subsequently suffered from volcanic eruptions and half the island is covered in volcanic ash, but that's another story. At that time it was still very beautiful. We were working there and I hated it. I didn't hate the studio, but I just felt very torn. It was so beautiful outside I was like, "What the hell am I doing in this beautiful studio?" I just wanted to go and lie down in the sun, 'cause you never get sun here. It was torturous [laughs].
What did Glen Ballard bring to the album?
Oh, Glen had a huge effect on me, because I felt he is a man of a particular intellect, and I really love being in the company of people who have a shared humor and a certain kind of station of thinking. He's incredible. He's a kind of genius in the way that he is such a storehouse of knowledge but not just any old knowledge. He's really kind of filtered it in such a sophisticated way that I found being with Glen in the studio or just sitting down having a bite to eat very stimulating. It's very important for me to feel I'm sharing a particular kind of mindset -- that I'm understood -- and it has a lot to do with humor and a shared view of the world. There has to be that connection, an intellectual, emotional connection.
'Songs of Mass Destruction' is a very political record, and artists like Bruce Springsteen, when he did the 'Vote for Change' tour, and the Dixie Chicks, of course, have taken a lot of heat for being outspoken. And it's such a far cry from the '60s, when music from Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, etc., was expected to reflect a social consciousness.
Well, I think the paradigm has shifted, definitely. But I kind of cut loose in my interest in a lot of contemporary music. Perhaps it's my life passage, perhaps it's because I have teenagers and I'm just in another kind of mindset, but I am pretty sure that there must be people out there that have something individual, independent, authentic, genuine to say. But the powers that be, the channels that they go through will kind of interface them somehow. Music is a whole other deal for me, and I guess because I'm older I've never seen it as any other way, just like, "This is the music that I create and what we express and keep the corporations away." I've just always wanted to keep them all at bay.
That brings up an interesting point. You are currently without a record label, correct?
Yes, I am. That just happened recently. And I don't want to go into the corporate structure. I never wanted to be in the corporate structure in the first place. But the whole thing has so changed and now I don't even know. Right now at this very, very moment in time I couldn't care less.
Could you see yourself going the route of a Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails and shunning the label system entirely?
It's changing so radically; in six months' time it's going to be something else. There will be another phenomenon come on and it hasn't quite come to a standstill yet. Who's to say what the mode of putting out your music will be? I haven't got a clue. I have issues in some way with people downloading, but maybe I'm wrong. So, for me, if I want to make a certain kind of record I personally have to get the band together, the studio engineer, the producer. I have to pay a good deal of money, for example, to make that happen in a particular way that I might want it to happen, which is fine. But if people just download it that means I'm indulging in a very expensive hobby. I don't quite see how people can do that and have it make sense. I can't go into Starbucks and demand free coffee. We're in this capitalistic system where nothing is for free except music, and I just haven't quite understood it yet, how that works. Why don't we all just play the music in the streets, in that case? People passing by can just enjoy it.
What have your teenagers turned you on to recently?
Nothing for a while. But they do sometimes, occasionally, but not for a long time because I've been away a lot on tour myself. But it's interesting because things really do trickle down very fast with them and they're always like, "Oh, Mum, you should listen to this" or "That's really wonderful." Right now, Amy Winehouse is just for everybody. Everybody loves Amy Winehouse's music. I love Amy Winehouse's music. I think she's genius. I went to see her perform when she was 18, and I heard her first album when it was in demo form ... and I was like, "This child, she is like whoa! How does an 18-year-old sound like she's 60 in the best possible way, i.e., a seasoned jazz singer like something you've never heard before?" So, to me, she's, like, profound. Forget about all the rest, about all the troubles and all that. There's something about her that resonates with everybody.
Let's turn to 'Sing.' How did you get involved in Africa, and how has it influenced you as an artist?
It goes back a long way to the apartheid era, me being a teenager and being aware that there was a system in South Africa where black people and white people were divided. And it was unbelievable to me. There were many musicians in the '70s and '80s subsequently who refused to go to South Africa. Little Steven started, back in the day, this movement that said, "I ain't gonna go to Sun City." So that was a kind of like Rock Against Racism period, and Dave Stewart and I, as the Eurythmics, played Wembley Stadium while [Nelson] Mandela was still incarcerated. And it was a very special event because it was part of the tipping point where people were coming out and saying no to apartheid, no to racism, and eventually Mandela was out of prison and subsequently became the president of that country, which is a total miracle. The man is exceptional and what he stands for, the integrity, the just fight.
But now, it goes again to going to South Africa for the very first time and being exposed to Mandela personally and witnessing him talking about the new event of HIV/AIDS, the pandemic, which has decimated millions of people across the continent of Africa and is continuing to decimate millions of people. He described it then as a genocide and I got to learn that the government in power for the last 12 years in South Africa has sidelined the issue of HIV/AIDS, has taken up the denial in effect that [South African President Thabo] Mbeki has said that HIV does not translate into full-blown AIDS, that his health minister has said that antiretroviral medicines are so toxic they will kill you more effectively than the diseases related to AIDS will themselves.
So it was very confusing to understand that there was this anomaly going on in the country of South Africa and that people were being left to their own devices in such a way, the health-care system in South Africa and all across Africa is on its knees for lack of funding, for lack of proper structure, for lack of workers. People are trained to become doctors and nurses and they will leave the country because there are more opportunities for them outside. I've been learning about this over the last four and a half years and it's deeply disconcerting to me that people could be dying in such numbers and yet on our side of the planet, on the Western side, we don't seem to realize it or respond to it. And I have personally witnessed the devastation that it has created in people's lives. I've met child-headed houses, orphans and individuals who are right on the nub of life or death and it's deeply and profoundly horrifying. So I've tried to respond to it, and I'm working alongside an organization called Treatment Action Campaign, who are just a fundamental, grass-roots South African organization. In all truth I can't put my hand up and say I know the solution, because I don't. There's no simple solution to it. Yes, prevention; yes, treatment; yes, advocacy; yes, education, all of that. But how to implement it, very complicated.
Well, your film footage ties into the record because it puts human faces on the issue and the record takes all of the global macro issues and puts them on the personal micro scale.
That's the point. You do go to one individual person, as I've done on numerous occasions now, and it's manifest. For example, this little family that I know, four boys, orphans, HIV/AIDS, mother and father both buried in the backfield, and the age range goes from 14, 11, 4 and 3. And they're just left there, absolutely with nothing. The situation is extraordinarily dire, beyond anything you could grasp. And the funny thing is that actually encountering that, seeing that, being there, transmits what it is a thousand times more than a photograph or film could ever transmit because it steps through the two-dimensional image and what is absolutely tangible and real. And it changed me profoundly. You have to kind of be there and then, my God, it's a kind of transformation. You say, "F---, what can I do?" And it's almost like you're crying wolf. You're kind of, not crying wolf, but it's like there's a fire going on and you want to tell people. That's why I was motivated to make the film. It's my way of saying, "Jesus Christ, this is going on! But I don't know really know how to put the fire out."
There certainly is a point where music can make people feel better and make a difference in their lives, though. Have you found that connection from people with this album?
I must say it has been heartening. In the gigs that I did, I did enjoy the intimacy of, like, a 3,000-seater theater and people coming out and just being part of something like that, and it was meaningful and it was emotional and I thought, "You can't take that away. This is a direct experience. We are playing music, I'm singing here, people are getting back. There's no interface." For me, in a funny way, it's kind of soothing and it's inspiring, too. In Russia back in the day, before perestroika, when you weren't allowed to have access to things, friends of mine that lived there would be smuggling in tapes of the Beatles, and the rooms were tapped, without any question. And the KGB would just be around the corner to come and arrest you. It was that cut and dried, and in a weird kind of way it's almost like we're reflecting that back. Of course it's not the same, but the corporate culture is almost the same, and the antithesis of the communist structure. I'm feeling like it's so all pervasive, from the coffee that you drink to the stuff that you watch on the box to the clothes that you wear from the high street chains -- it permeates the whole thing. But where's the bit where you get to be authentic? And it's just what it is and it's not interfered with. I think that's really important to feel they don't have a handle on you, Big Brother, whoever that is, doesn't have a handle totally on everything that you do from the toilet paper in your bathroom to your dreams. I think we should end with that [laughs].