Covering a Beatles song is like taking up residence in the Great Pyramid: The…
- Posted on Jul 19th 2011 4:00PM by Dave Steinfeld
Backed by bassist Joey Maromba and percussionist Lionel Cole, Jones delivers well-known songs like 'Chuck E's in Love,' 'Young Blood' and 'Satellites,' as well as some rarities like the opener, 'It Takes You There.' In addition, she is recording a version of the classic Band song 'The Weight' for an album that will benefit victims of Multiple Sclerosis. Finally, Jones is spending part of the summer on tour, performing her first two albums -- her 1979 self-titled debut and 1981's 'Pirates' -- in their entirety. Spinner recently caught up with the talented and unpredictable artist to discuss the DVD, her career and performing in Israel with Bob Dylan.
What was it about this particular show that made you decide to film it for DVD?
[Director] Ian McCrudden's wife is Swedish and she said it was a really beautiful theater. Then he had crew and friends living in Stockholm, so it was a good show for him to film technically. That's the main reason.
How did you go about choosing the set list for the show? It seems like it touches on almost every phase of your career.
Well, generally, that's what I do: I play stuff from my whole life. There are probably 10 staples that I usually do in a show and then the other 10 are depending on how I feel. Also, I don't have a set list, so the camera affects how I feel and it maybe takes a little longer for me to come out of my shell. Sometimes I can be camera-shy, but this video looked like it caught a show pretty authentically, which isn't easy to do. I knew Ian and that helped. It was an incredibly beautiful theater and I felt relaxed.
Sometimes, especially with TV, it's so hair-raising it's really hard to have a true experience no matter how hard you try. You have three minutes and there are other reasons that people are there. They're not [just] there to see you, necessarily. So when they're there just to film what you're doing, it's a much more authentic experience.
We were struck that the first song is 'It Takes You There,' since it's not an obvious choice to open with. Was that planned or did you just get up onstage and feel like opening with it?
It wouldn't have been planned. But probably I'm thinking that I really liked how we did that song together, Joey and I and eventually the percussionist. Probably that night it felt like a good way to ease into [the set]. I often like to open with drama or maybe 'Chuck E's in Love' -- you know, unexpected things. That's somewhat in the back of my mind because otherwise the songs will get old for me.
Which songwriters or musicians have influenced you?
The Beatles were the biggest influence. They kind of changed my life. Before the Beatles, I would listen to records that my [parents] had. They had a lot of Harry Belafonte. My father had a Nina Simone record that used to drive me crazy. She had this contralto voice that was so unusual. When I got a little older, I began to love that voice and was really glad that I had grown up listening to it. After the Beatles, the door opened. People I really took in were Neil Young and Laura Nyro and Van Morrison.
Also, I should [include] Janis Joplin. I just adored her. Your mentors influence you in so many ways. It's not necessarily that you end up sounding like them but you learn from the things you love. I have the antithesis of Janis Joplin's voice! It was frustrating for me because I couldn't scream or get any grit in my voice at all. But I guess I was attracted to her spirit.
What do you have planned for this summer's tour?
I'm doing the first two records. And so far, that's all I'm doing; I'm not adding anything to them. I'm bringing some horns and we're doing them in their entirety.
We love both albums but they're so different from each other. Was the recording process different for each?
[Laughs] Yes, I'd say so! The first record I was unknown. My producers said we [would] start in September and we ended in January. I came in with maybe six or seven songs and I wrote the rest during the process. And I had big success and had to write another record. I think I had two or three songs. We'd go in and record them, then months would go by, we'd record a couple more, months would go by. I think it took maybe a year and a half. I recorded ['Pirates'] in New York and L.A. There are fewer songs on it but they did take a little longer. That was probably part me spreading my wings a little and also having to write the songs. You know, the first record you have your whole life to write and then the next one you have a year.
Sadly, some folks lost track of you after your debut and have no idea about all the great music you've done since 'Chuck E's in Love.' Were you ever tempted to take fewer risks and try more consciously to write another hit?
Sure, I always try to write a hit. I think many of the songs I do are potentially songs that could be, if played over and over, songs that people wanted to buy, or even songs that affected other songs. I cannot debut again, and maybe because the debut was so impactful, I always stand in the shadow of the amalgam of the times. But I do not think I have totally disappointed people musically. I have written unusual songs, and gone down paths that were consistently defiant of expectations. [For example], to do 'The Magazine' in the heat of the electronic British invasion was courageous -- raw emotion amidst all that dismissal of feelings and spirituality.
I have always been aware of my work socially as well as artistically. And sometimes it is a defiance that is passed on. The 'Chuck E's in Love' singer, jazzy drug girl, ex-[Tom] Waits lover ... While I might not have had [another big] hit, I had impact, and this must be what I wanted most of all.
You were recently in Israel playing with Bob Dylan. What was that like?
I did just a 30, 35-minute set before he came on in Tel Aviv. But what was most exciting was meeting Matisyahu after the show! I like Matisyahu's music so that was a big surprise. Bob Dylan, I've spoken to him a few times in my life. He's always been really kind and sweet to me but often he doesn't talk to anybody. And that was one of those nights, so it was nice to have somebody reach out. It was fun playing to a large group. It's a challenge to play to 20,000 people who came to see somebody else.
I did it for two reasons. One, to go to Tel Aviv and play with Bob Dylan but the other [was] to play to people who might not have ever seen me or know my music. I want to be part of humanity. I want to know them and I want them to know me. I've been pretty reclusive most of my life. [The stage] is a place that brings out the higher aspect of my spirirt [but] it doesn't necessarily translate when I walk off stage.
Download Rickie Lee Jones Songs | Buy 'Live in Stockholm'