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Friday, October 12, 2001

Graham Parker chat transcript

Singer/songwriter Graham Parker chatted live with JAM! Music on Friday Oct. 12, 2001. Here is what he had to say:

Mike Moreau: Hi Graham, did you ever consider postponing or cancelling your tour with the Figgs in light of the events of Sept.11(glad you didn't). Being an anglo living in N.Y. what was your take on the whole thing? Cheers, Mike

Graham Parker: I didn't consider cancelling. I had hoped that business would continue as usual. I thought that gigs would be cancelling. I thought there might be clubs that would be closing down due to lack of business. It was very unpredictable at the beginning. But it appears the ticket sales are quite healthy. I get the feeling people want to go out and hear music, and people are much more drunk than usual. You have got to get on with life. It has affected me so personally as it has everyone, I don't want to get into it too much. It is traumatizing. I have a syndrome, catastrophe syndrome. We are all going through it. There is a riot of emotions that keep coming back and keep rolling through me. It is not going to go away, it was such a powerful experience. I think that is not unique, what I am going through. We can't get over it. But at the same time we have this level of awareness about the catastrophe and it is deeply affecting. What can I say? I'm sure a lot of people feel the same way. I got into a car to drive to Boston on the most beautiful day, and the first thing I heard was on public radio that a plane had hit the world trade building. You thought, some idiot in a Piper has screwed up. But it started unfolding on the radio, on the most beautiful day. But it became pretty serious and then it was a terrorist attack of a huge magnitude. At a service station, I walked in and there was people around a TV and they announced the second tower had collapsed. People started rushing to phone friends in New York... I was completely dumbstruck. I just kept driving to Boston where I was due to rehearse with The Figgs. We spent two days trying to rehearse. At night, we went back to a house where we were all staying, and we watched footage until two or three am, drinking. Amazed and horrified. We were supposed to be flying out of Logan Airport to Portland for a one-off gig. Logan airport was a crime scene. It was very eerie to get up in the morning to look at this beautiful weather and no planes, scanning the horizon looking for mushroom clouds. The rehearsal didn't quite gel, so we had a another rehearsal before we left to get out on the road.

Thomas: As a songwriter, how do you begin to write about what's going on now in America? Do you think it's the responsibility of songwriters, and artists in general, to voice dissent? Thank you.

Graham Parker: Dissent? Well, it is a songwriter's job to create something that resonates within the songwriter. So it doesn't matter what it is about. That is the work. To write something that has a flare of originality and is inspired. It should not be ... I'm not the kind of songwriter that would write something I would consider a superficial description of this. That to me is bad folk song writing. I have written stuff that I think takes this into consideration. It is almost like I have already done it with "Dark Days," the first song on my new album. A journalist who talked to me a few days after the attack, he said, how do you feel about "Dark Days." I just said it is that feeling that a lot of people have now that something terrible is going to happen, whether this kind of thing or an environmental catastrophe. An act of our own terrorism on the planet. I feel we will reach some dire stage with an environmental catastrophe. It seems like small potatoes after this, but I think that is were something very bad is going to come. The other part is an ominous feeling of not being safe in the world, and the huge mass of people trying to get on with their lives is going to overload. The song takes in that kind of paranoia, and it is manifested in these attacks. It is almost like I have already written a song right there. It was eerie to me to watch television and hear spokesman say this is america's darkest day. I am not a prophet, I just feel like everyone does, that bad things can happen in this world. They have happened all through history, and they will happen again. I don't feel any need to pick up a guitar to write about this specific event. I have included the idea of this in other songs. I don't want to try to make some kind of grand statement. That would be very wrong. I have no idea what I will be writing about next. I have a large stockpile of songs at the moment. I picked 11 out for the new record and have a lot left over. When I feel it is time to look at those songs, I will look and see if there is a collection there, and I may try to write something that compliments. But I will not attempt a grand statement.

Jack K.: What does the line "The demon lies in his lair/And looks at the goddess Abraxas" mean in "Dark Days" (from "Deepcut To Nowhere")?

Graham Parker: Actually, it is "licks at the goddess." It is pure and simple imagery. It is just a sinister image, along with the volcanoes. And it rhymes. Abraxas was a Santana record, and there was a picture of a black woman, kind of naked. And I think I remember Carlos Santana saying it was the goddess Abraxas. I have never heard of that goddess, but I get the feeling she is a heavyweight. This image of the demon licking her came up. It is like a camera moving along and capturing these upsetting images, this bestial sex or whatever. It is an image of part of the world going crazy and falling apart. It has no real significance at all, it is a camera playing across things and puts you on edge./

Toni: I noticed that some of your '70s albums have been reissued recently. How involved were you with those reissues, and how do you feel about them? Thanks.

Graham Parker: I was contacted by someone from Universal Records. He told me of the plan to re-release the stuff. He said they wanted to do all the separate albums, but with spare tracks. I thought that was just great. There has been a lot of compilations. It was the 25th anniversary of the start of my career. I do a little rap onstage about it. I said there are two things that surprise me about this: That it has been 25 years, and that Universal owns my records. I think I recouped in England on Phonogram. I presume there are royalty cheques, but I don't even know about them because they are not significant. I did the liner notes, and a journalist did liner notes, which I thought were very good. It was a pleasure to read about my career as the success story it is, rather than the negative way they usually are. They should be celebrated. They should be in print. Universal in America put out a compilation. The Ultimate Graham Parker. I do not know they are going to release the (reissued albums) collection in the US or whether you have to go to the internet. I was certainly never given any idea that this was going to be released anywhere other than the UK. I'm glad the imports are coming in and they are not too expensive. But record stores have limited space, so do they want to dump another five cds into the rank? It is something that is a mystery to me at the moment

VERTIGO: You worked with the late, great Jack Nitsche (sp?) on "Squeezing Out Sparks." Was he as great a producer as people make him out to be? If so, what made him good? If not, do you think he has been overrated since his passing? Any general memories or anecdotes of him would be great

Graham Parker: I think Jack was great in as much as he did very little. That was the great thing about him with "Squeezing Out Sparks." His objective was to get the band to stop over-playing and being absolute egoists about who they were and to listen to my songs as I played them on acoustic guitar, and to try and interpret what I was doing. The first three days was a shambles and he was in a mood. He thought The Rumour was about themselves and not about my songs. After three days, they got nothing done. I said, JACK, you are the producer, produce us! Tell them what to do! That's why I hired you. The next day, I went in and started playing a song, and Jack said, why are you falling all over each other, taking things away from the song? Once the drummer started playing more straight ahead -- very simple arrangements -- things were entirely effective. The band stopped in their tracks and got into it. Riffs came out that were uniquely theirs. The record only took 11 days. This was before the 80s, when technology took over, and often producers in the 80s would use the new technology to the detriment of the record. Jack wasn't part of that syndrome. It was very simple. He wasn't doing any of those overt production tricks. His idea was to take a really good song and make it stay a good song. I wouldn't overrate him in any way. He was fantastic at that, at least with me.

Bob: Since parting ways with the Rumour, you've either toured or recorded with all of them except Bob Andrews. What's he holding out for? Great album,and great show at BB king's in NYC! Thanks GP.

Graham Parker: I have actually played with Bob Andrews. He lives in New Orleans. I am in touch with him. We got together and rehearsed my songs. I was playing solo, and he joined me onstage. Martin Belmont, I have played with him on a couple of shows. Bob is in New Orleans. Keyboards aren't the most important part of my records. To fly someone from New Orleans when I can get someone close by in England or America, it makes sense. Bob is a brilliant player and we may actually record something again, but it is not something I go out of my way to do. I don't really consider it something I need to do. As for a Rumour reunion, you have a reunion to make a lot of money. The other is to boost your career a bit, because clubs would love that. The fact is, the height of our touring took place in concert halls and colleges, and that was then and this is now. If we toured again, we would be playing clubs. Clubs don't pay enough, it would be a loss situation. You would need a major record label behind it for tour support. There is no reason to do it. It is just not cost-effective. On record even, it would cost more than my independent label budgets would allow. If I said I wanted to reunite with The Rumour, they would come up with the money, but when I write my demos, I think, why would I do that? I think my records have been better since then. People don't understand that grown men should not be confined for long periods of time. You can't do this. It is a brutal way of life. Everybody pisses everybody else off. You are grown men, you want to live your lives, and playing this game, being boys, doesn't work. Why would you want to get together with your ex-wife and be on a tour bus? You wouldn't do that. We are friends. We talk, but putting a band back together is a whole new ballgame.

John: Hey Graham, I was at your show at the Double Door in Chicago last Friday. Your right I was drunker than usual but you and the Figgs were fantastic. Any plans after the tour is done career wise?

Graham Parker: I always tell people I have no plans. A tour takes all my energy. I have nothing left to give. I just try to save my voice for the next gig. That is my only plan. I just do not know what is around the corner. I presume I will look at the songs I have stockpiled and add some more and see if I can get another album out reasonably quickly. Maybe in a year or two, but definitely not to go five years. I would like to get on with another record. There is nothing else in the foreseeable future. A month long tour and maybe a few gigs down the line. I think we are going to stick to the east coast. This is a tour where I plan to break even. You have to look at the realities of this. I don't see myself taking a band on an airplane right now. We were looking at the West Coast gigs, but for whatever reason, the offers I was getting did not make it feasible. We are looking at more gigs on the east coast. We don't want to be losing money. I am going out and preaching to the converted. I do want to do more gigs, because we are pretty good right now. Toronto is not in the cards right now. I would like to take this band to London, but it just doesn't seem sensible. When you play the club level, you don't get paid enough and it is brutal, trying to have some comfort as you go through this, getting into a vehicle and drive for eight hours. Younger people who don't know any better may want to do it, but I know the reality of it. We are limiting ourselves to the balance of reason.

Frank: I really enjoyed your "Carp Fishing on Valium: The Stories, The Songs" show. Your portrayal of the various characters was hilarious. Are there any plans to release a recording of these performances, or do anything else with the material?

Graham Parker: Two of the songs, as this person probably knows, ended up on Deepcut To Nowhere. They both turned out to be good songs in their own right. Most were of a comedic nature, parodies in a way. There were one or two that could pop up in the future. But a "Carp fishing On Valium" record, the moment has passed. But I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. It was the most challenging thing I have ever done, for me and the audience. It was just fantastic. I was very pleased with it. I do want to write more stories. I have things on the back burner, but I am a weekender writing fiction. To write those, I had to stop everything else. There was five years between "Acid Bubblegum" and "Deepcut To Nowhere." It takes a lot of energy and time to go into that tunnel, and the editing process. Much longer-term for me than writing songs, which is a much more instant process.

Hester: Graham, Rated 1-10, how do you REALLY like doing things like this internet chat?

Graham Parker: I like it a lot if it is now and again. Interviews can be enjoyable. I like to talk about myself. It gets depressing when you have three in a row, internet or newspapers, and then you do it again the next day. They are fine. These questions are all valid questions. In this game you will end up answering the same questions over and over again. But that doesn't mean I don't get some enjoyment out of it and get some stimulation of rethinking the same question again. This has been very good. I am fresh, and I am enjoying it. I would like to thank everybody for bothering to get involved with this. I thank you very much.

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