Old Articles/ Interviews

Big Dumb Rock
published _Greensboro News and Record 2002

Big Dumb Rock.
I miss it.
The glut of angst ridden non-singing, emo, pop punkers has really shown a light on what is missing from my musical diet… rock. Or make that ROCK, you know- big guitars, singers, guitar solos- the whole works. Lyrics that are about chicks, or drinking or nothing, instead of socio-politico wannabes- come on, you’re a singer in a rock band, why should I care what you think- in fact, I’d rather if you didn’t. Leave the thinking to me, after I turn off your cd.
The originators of rock didn’t waste time telling me what they thought about todays political climate, or how we are killing off the rain forest, or how damaged they are because their parents gave them everything they ever wanted- they told me about Long Tall Sally- and how she was built to please. They told me about great balls of fire. They sang to me about finding thrills on Blueberry Hill… Nobler lyrics have yet to be written.
Maybe what is missing is the sprit of rebellion, the bad boy mystique. I guess it is hard to rebel when you are part of the most spoiled generation in history. When you never had to work to buy your first guitar, what is there to rebel against. And today’s bad boys are all cardboard cutouts of one another. Take any member of sum 41 and mix it with a Blink 182 or a Good Charlotte and you still get the same thing- tired retreads of Green Day, who until their newest record were tired retreads of the Sex Pistols. And come on guys, tattoos and eyeliner don’t make you dangerous. Alice Cooper and the New York dolls did all that thirty years ago anyway.
Where are the Bon Scott’s and Steven Tyler’s? Where are the Jerry Lee Lewis’s and Jimmy Pages? Even Steven himself has lost his edge, so much that I am convinced that Aerosmith retired in 1980, and hired a group of imposters to fill- in. Joe Perry would not have played on “Just Push Play,” would he? Not in my world of Big Dumb Rock.
Where is the Sweet of today? Grand Funk? Humble Pie? Small Faces?
Maybe if our classic rock stations would open up to a broader range of music, today’s young musicians would realize the caliber of music that was made before hip-hop and Nirvana ruined rock and roll.
I could go on and on, ranting and sounding like an old man- out of touch with today’s music,
but instead I’ll leave you with this:
Well I worked real hard and bought myself
A rock ‘n’ roll guitar
I gotta be on top some day
I wanna be a star
I can see my name in lights
And I can see the queue
I got the devil in my blood
Tellin’ me what to do
(And I’m all ears)Gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll singer
Gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll star
Gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll singer
I’m gonna be a rock ‘n’ roll,
A rock ‘n’ roll star
(I hear it pays well)
Bon Scott. © 1975

Big Dumb Rock… I miss it.

Doug Powell Interview- 2003

Q: A question about your approach to songwriting- and your process-
Your obvious command of numerous instruments , in my opinion, gives you distinct advantages in your writing process, allowing you different vehicles for expressing what you hear. Do you set out to write songs that are more expressive of a certain instrument, ie. piano, synth or guitar, or does the mood or “feel” of the lyric set you in the direction of the instrument?

Lyrics never come first. Often titles do and I let them gestate for a while. Eventually, I get a sense of what kind of feel would fit the idea. Other times music comes first and then I go topic hunting. I got to the point with guitar that whenever I picked it up I played the same things, so I stopped writing on it. This left piano and writing in my head, which I do quite a lot of anyway. Ross Rice from Human Radio showed me how Keith Richards tunes his guitar (open G) and that reinvented guitar for me, making it way more expressive. Big Blue Sky, Beautiful, Diet of Worms, all from Day For Night, are a result of that rediscovery of guitar. Piano holds no limitations for me except my own ineptitude. So I’m always learning and discovering new things on that instrument.

Q: Also, in your actual approach tosongwriting- some artists write only in times of “inspiration”. Is this true of you, or are you a craftsman as well, attempting to write at least something on a daily basis.

For years I was a craftsman writing everyday. Then I had kids! Now time is very precious. I write way more in my head than before kids and I have very limited time to devote to formal sit-down-and-write time. So it must be as productive as possible. But this concentrated writing time turns out to be pretty inspirational in itself. So in the end it’s a bit of both.

Q:the technology of home recording software has enabled artists such as yourself to go from idea to, in reality, finished product in a single day of inspiration. and we thought the 4 track was cool, – your thoughts on home recording?

I got my first 4 track in 85 and really exploded as a writer because of it. For me the recording studio has always been another instrument. I do not think of records as documents of performances but as worlds unto themselves. Mercury focused on my more straight-up singer-songwriter material, but there was always more experimental studio-oriented stuff that
nobody heard. Much of that I am still recycling. And as technology matures people like me have more opportunity to go off the deep end without limit.

Q: You mention the “recording studio as another instrument.” This brings up one of your obvious influences, Todd Rundgren. I read in a bio, (on allmusic.com, I believe) that you were going to record an album with Todd producing. Any truth to this, and if so, is this pairing an option for the future?
Any other producers you think would help shape your musical vision?
What would the role of a producer be on a Doug Powell record?

Todd was to produce the second Mercury record but I got dropped instead. I’ve had some bites over the years since then of trying to pair us up still but none have panned out (because of the label, not Todd). I’ve always thought it would be great to work with Jeff Lynne as well.
The role of a DP producer at this point would be a check and balance to the insular approach that I always take. An outside view from the right person could be very helpful.“as technology matures people like me have more opportunity to go off the deep end without limit.”

Q: Listening to Curiouser- ©1998 muse sickle NotLame- I appreciate albums like this, as it gives insight into your creative flow. It is my understanding that these were demos for the album that did not happen. Releasing these songs in this fashion, lo-fi demos, that is, must have felt like a risk, even though your demos sound better than alot of cds I have listened to. How did this release come about?

Curiouser contains mostly songs for the unmade second Mercury record. I had no intention of releasing them but Bruce Brodeen at Not Lame asked for a tape and was very enthusiastic about the songs. So it was really kind of an accidental record – which helped inform the title.

Q: What are your thoughts now on record labels? Could you tell me about your independent record label experience versus
your experience with Mercury, and while we are on the subject, have any thoughts on the new digital music experience downloading( legal, that is, itunes, musicmatch, rhapsody,et.al.) and the digital distibution model set up by these “stores”?I prefer to hold the artwork, and have the entire experience, like when I was younger buying records. I think a whole generation is missing half of the experience.but I digress…

My major label experience is threefold: Elektra, RCA, and Mercury. Strangely enough, I worked with the same A&R guy at each label (nepotism abounds in that sphere). Elektra was a great experience. They had Jules Shear produce some demos for
me but ultimately put me into a holding pattern because my voice was so odd/underdeveloped. RCA was hideous. The upside was I had almost complete creative control. The downside was the control came from their undying unenthusiasm for me.
Mercury bought the record from RCA and at first all was well. Then the president got fired and the new president was at odds with my A&R guy. So his projects were intentionally shafted. I was one of several heads on the floor. I recall eating lunch once
with the guy who was to market my record. I asked what he music listened to for fun. He was dumbfounded and had to really think about it. It occurred to me then that most of the people I knew who worked in the music business didn’t care about
music. That held true, for the most part, until I started dealing with indy labels like Not Lame, Parasol, and Yep Roc. Those guys are NOT getting rich but they love music and love being advocates for music they like. The experience is unpolitical and very close to ideal. Except there’s no money in it! We do it because we don’t know how not to do it.
As far as downloading goes, I’m completely immersed in it now. It’s my preferred method. And hopefully it will force artists to work hard on every song and every recording. If people can buy just the songs they like off a record, I will compel artists to make every song count. No filler and no fluff. I do love to hold the artwork. I miss that. But I love having all the music I love with me all the time.

Q: You mention YepRoc records, which is right here in NC. Your release on their label was one of my favorite records of 2001, “Catchall” by your band at the time, SWAG. Tell us how this band came together, and if you could, exactly what caused it to grow apart.

SWAG was a side project of Robert Reynolds and Jerry Dale McFadden that they came up with while on tour with the Mavericks. They discovered they had a love of pop music and started trying to write songs that were similar. When they came home from the road, they’d have booked a studio to record all the latest songs and invite all sorts of people to play on them. Jerry Dale had met Rick Nielson at some point and Rick told him Tom Petersson had moved to Nashville recently. Turned out they lived in the same apartments! So Tom started going down to the studio. Ken Coomer was also a friend of JD’s and was frequently invited. I’ve known JD since about 85 through college friends back in Oklahoma. He invited me down one day and I ended up doing some backing vocals. Around that time I was asked to write songs for Hason’s Christmas record. After doing one JD asked if we could do one together, which we did, and then Robert wanted in on it so we all three wrote a song. The three songs all ended up not being used so SWAG convened in the studio to knock two of them out. While we were doing it we got an offer to do a gig. So that’s when it started to solidify. The whole thing was strictly friends doing it for fun. We ended up with enough songs for a record and found Yep Roc to be very supportive – they really wanted to go to bat for it. The press they got for the record was amazing in praise and volume. But, in my view, I think this is what killed SWAG. I think Robert, Ken and JD smelled blood in terms of making SWAG a full-time vehicle. And that is when the switch flipped and it was no fun anymore for me. On top of that, I hemorraged my vocal chords and needed an operation to remedy them (I had to have a steroid shot to sing on Conan), and my one year old daughted required open heart surgery. I was in no state to fool around with SWAG. So I quit. There were other things that were radically wrong with many of the business decisions we made. It needs to be said that Glen at Yep Roc bent over backwards to help us out even when we didn’t deserve it.

Q: The copy of the cd I have lists Tom Peterson as a contributor, but I have seen other copies that omit his name, and I think
Todd Rundgren appears on those new copies. I remember at the time visiting the Cheap Trick webpage and seeing a disclaimer about the swag record- and I also remember being really disappointed in Cheap Trick for making a huge deal out of a contribution to a really, really(did I say really yet?) good record… Didn’t Rick (from CT) contribute to a single released by Swag? Can you comment on any of this?

Catch-all had to be revised after the first printing. On the subsequent pressings Todd played bass on a couple tracks. Beyond that I can’t comment legally. But let me say that Tom Petersson has always been a musical hero to me and I enjoyed very much playing and writing with him. Rick did indeed play on an early SWAG single and there is a song on one of the later CT records that was written by Tom, Robin, Rick, Robert Reynolds and Jerry Dale.

Q: I have a few questions about touring and live performance.
Playing all the instruments(or the vast majority) on your albums, gives the opportunity for you to express your creative ideas exactly as you envision, but how does it translate to a live performance?
Do you generally perform with a band, or as an acoustic solo performer?
How much touring do you do?

The short answer is: it doesn’t translate. I have never been a good live performer. I’ve tried a number of things from dictating every note the band played to letting the band interpret the parts themselves, to playing solo. I stink at all of them! I think the bottom line is that I can’t get my brain to think of performance as a creative act, only a recitative one. And I have no interest in reciting music, just creating it. The idea of repeating my songs over and over is completely unappealing. I don’t see why I should devalue what I consider so precious by desensitizing myself to it. So, as you might imagine, I don’t play
live much. The SWAG tour in 2001 was the last one I did, and I didn’t last the whole tour.

Q: Lets talk about “Day for Night,” your new cd, released this year on Parasol records. On first listen, I was struck by the complex melody lines. Most “pop” songs have very defined , usually short melodies that repeat at predictable intervals. This cd has winding, but very memorable melody lines that draw the listener into the web of the song- making the hook much larger than an 8 bar chorus. Don’t get me wrong- there are some great choruses on this disk l(Goodbye Lady Godiva, Stanislaw Smith, come to mind,) but since I was expecting more in the lines of “Dinah Might” I was pleasantly surprised. Thanks. Another comment, “Diet of Worms,” to me was an entirely different direction than your previous work,, yet so totally
engaging that on first listen , I immediately hit the back button and listened again. and again…
Any comments on influences that have helped shape your writing style… from 60’s era pop to the sweeping song styles on this album?

After the SWAG record I became very unsatisfie with pop music as I had been doing it. Everything I was doing and had done was essentially retread. So begining with The Lost Chord and continuing on Day for Night, the idea was to create records that
were essentially Doug Powell, though outside influences could be seen, and not the other way around – where the influences are at the fore and Doug Powell was between the lines. Around this time I couldn’t even listen to power pop anymore. I love
Jules Shear, Peter Holsapple and Elvis Costello but I had to mingle with other artists now in order to stay vital. Instead my musical diet was made of people who have great pop sensibilities but pushed the genre to places unknown – Kevin Gilbert, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Bowie, Godley and Creme. These artists, and others unnamed, always held a dear spot in my heart but now became philosophical templates. The schizophrenic nature of the two latest records is certainly informed by Rundgren. I love the unexpected twists records like AWizard A True Star take. Keeps everything fresh. In regards to Diet of Worms specifically, I just sat down and played most of it without writing. It just came out that way. The chorus was tweaked a bit but otherwise it just squirted out as is.

ELO or the Move(Jeff Lynne era)?
ELO. And Idle Race!
Genesis (w/Gabriel) or Genesis (w/Phil)
I take it all up through 1983
Leno or Letterman
I don’t watch t.v.
Neil Diamond or Neal Sedaka?
Neil Diamond as long as it’s 1971 or earlier
Silver Surfer or Superman
Spider-man everytime

Q: and finally- what are the Top 5 cds in Doug Powells world

I just got an iPod so I’ve really just been letting it play randomly. But as far as whole albums go, in heavy rotation right now are:
Brian Eno – Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)
Brian Eno – Before and After Science
The Clash – Combat Rock
REM – Reckoning


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: