Tag Archives: All Things Must Pass

An Interview with Adrian Bourgeois

I interview musician Adrian Bourgeois, who has released an ambitious 24-song double album, Pop/Art. Joseph Arellano

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Pop Art

Did you and Lady Gaga get together to coordinate your new album titles, as your double album is called Pop/Art and her latest release is Artpop?

Oh, yeah, “Steph” and I are total BFFs. We coordinate everything together from what we call our albums to what we wear.

“Pop/Art” is a term usually used to describe visual art, but I’ve always used it to describe my music. My goal has been to create music that on the one hand is universal, accessible and memorable, and on the other artistic, challenging and thought-provoking. I just like the title and feel like it fits this music well.

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Your album, with 24 tracks, is diverse and sprawling; it might be called Adrian Bourgeois’s White Album. Do you agree with this, or would you describe it another way?

There are few albums, if any, that have influenced me as much as the White Album. What amazes me about that album is just the stylistic spectrum they go through from song to song – from heavy rock, to ragtime, to folk, to chamber pop and everything in between. What’s even more amazing is that the songwriting remains spectacular across the board. So I guess with Pop/Art I wanted to make sure that if I were going to record a double album, I would feel great about every song on there. There could be no throwaways.

If anything, it’s my All Things Must Pass album. I’ve had all these songs building over the years without much chance to record them.

The album has excellent stereo separation, which also calls to mind the late ’60s and early ’70s. Is this because you wanted the release to have a retro sound, or is this simply reflective of what you heard in your head?

I just go for what seems to be best for each particular song. Naturally, what I came up with ends up being strongly influenced by what I listen to. On “Jonah,” I recorded two identical drum parts and piano parts and had Andy Freeman pan one of each pretty hard to the left and to the right. I put a flanger on one of the drum parts, too. I did a totally different session with legendary engineer David Bianco. He taught me this harmony trick of tripling each part and then panning one to the left, one to the right, and one down the center, so I used that too, mainly on “Celebrate the News.”

In listening to Pop/Art, I would think that you were influenced by The Beatles (especially Paul McCartney), Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Elton John, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Are there others you would like to mention or acknowledge?

All of the above are definitely big influences. Probably the biggest one not mentioned is Elvis Costello, whom I’d call the greatest solo singer/songwriter. Simon and Garfunkel, the Velvet Underground, U2, Ben Folds, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, The Rascals, Tom Waits, Roy Orbison, Eisley, Hanson, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Lynne, Big Star, Elliot Smith, George Gershwin, Chuck Berry, and others have influenced and inspired me.

I would consider my best friend Ricky Berger as big a musical influence on me as anyone else.

Speaking of Mr. Rundgren, you have a song “Everybody Knows It Was Me,” that sounds as though it might have been included on Todd’s Something/Anything? album from 1972. It’s a good commercial song. What can you tell us about it?

Maybe commercial for 1972! But thanks.

Yes, Something/Anything? was definitely another big influence on this record as Todd recorded it mainly at home and played most of the instruments himself as I did. “Everybody Knows It Was Me” is probably the most reflective of that album. I don’t know what it was about. I refer to these kinds of songs as “template songs,” where you just come up with a template or concept like, “It could have been this, it could have been that, but everybody knows it was me…” and then you just fill in the blanks.

Another interesting track is “Time Can’t Fly A Plane.” What’s the back story on the song and its lyrics?

“Time Can’t Fly A Plane” was actually the one song on the album from a different set of sessions. I remember when I wrote it feeling like it was a step forward for me. I think it speaks to a universal experience of being in your twenties and feeling the need to outrun the onslaught of time and all the things dragging you away from the innocence of youth.

A lot of songs I write are letters of advice to a part of myself that’s struggling with something from a part of myself that knows better.

Interestingly, one word that I heard repeatedly in your lyrics is “poison.” Is there a reason for its use?

Sometimes it just comes down to a word having a good sound. The word poison sounds good when sung. It’s not a conscious thing. When I write a song, I usually start by singing nonsensical syllables that sound good with that particular melody and then I start associating the sounds with similar words and go from there.

Although this is a “solo album,” you had help from about 19 of your musical friends – including your father, Brent Bourgeois, right?

Sometimes the one-man band was the vibe I wanted, but I also employed the help of my extremely talented pool of friends. The two other voices you hear most on this album, other than my own, are Ricky Berger and Paige Lewis, both incredible artists in their own right (Paige and I have a band called See How They Run). There’s probably no element of a recording more important than vocal harmonies.

One person I was very excited to have on the album was Probyn Gregory from Brian Wilson’s band. He plays about a million instruments and performed a gorgeous French horn part on “New December.” Caitlin Bellah, who sings the chorus vocal on “Don’t Look Away,” was my girlfriend for four and a half years. We recorded her vocal a few weeks after we’d broken up.

Gina Belliveau is a very talented singer/songwriter from Tacoma who I became friends with. She played glockenspiel on “Parachutes.” I was happy to have cousin Pete – an acclaimed New Orleans jazz musician – play an incredible flugelhorn solo on “Touch” that added the right sound to that recording. And, yes, I did get my dad to sing on “Celebrate the News.” Vince DiFiore from Cake played trumpet on that song.

Everyone who played on the album was awesome and made the album so much better because of their participation.

If you had to select a song to record a cover version of – a song that you did not write – which song would you select?

That’s a good question. One that I’ve always wanted to record is a song called “Tommy’s Coming Home” that was co-written by Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello. They wrote a number of songs together in the ’80s and this is probably the best one but they never released it. The only recording that exists of it is a crude acoustic demo. I think it would be awesome to record and release the first official version of that!

How can music fans purchase Pop/Art?

The album is currently available at adrianbourgeois.bandcamp.com
and at any show of mine. Before this year is over it will be available in more places.

This interview was originally published by the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/an-interview-with-adrian-bourgeois/

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It Don’t Come Easy

Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970 by David Browne (Da Capo, $26.00, 368 pages)

“Half the people are stoned/And the other half are waiting for the next election.”   Paul Simon

The year 1970, as some of us remember, was the year that Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water was both the best-selling album and single of the year.   But what might not be remembered is that S&G would soon be targeted – during the very same year – as rock’s ultra-conservative sell-outs.   The New Yorker music critic, Ellen Willis, wrote of Mr. Simon:  “I consider his soft sound a copout.   And I hate most of his lyrics; his alienation,  like the word itself, is an old-fashioned, sentimental, West-Side-liberal bore.”

Not to be outdone, critic Miles Kingston (who claimed to be a fan) wrote:  “Some people hate Simon and Garfunkel because their music has no guts, because it is a middle-class look at life, because it slips too easily from idiom to idiom.”   Kingston described their fans as “the left-out kids – the loners, the book-worms… (and worse).”   And then there was the Time Magazine reporter, assigned to do a cover story on James Taylor, who wrote that, “…the people interested in James Taylor are those who never quite got over a fascination with Simon and Garfunkel.   Upon whom it is now fashionable to dump.”

Yes, David Browne has a knack for finding interesting bits and bytes of information that challenge our collective memory.   This is a non-fiction account of the 1970s – and, specifically, the decade’s beginning – in post Kent State America.   Browne writes about the softening of rock ‘n roll in a year that saw the demise of three of the world’s most successful groups – The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY).   Yet, in a year that one publication initially termed The Year That Melody in Popular Music Had Died, it was to be a year of rebirth in music, of melody.

If the hard rock of the late 60s had just about killed melody (John Lennon had called Beatle Paul’s Helter Skelter, “just noise…”), it was soon brought back to life in the form of new performers like James Taylor and Elton John.   Browne’s account is actually a melding of two – one, a background look at the music of the time; second, a description of the social and political environments of the late 60s/early 70s.   In this it bears many similarities to Girls Like Us, an earlier-written account of the musical careers and times of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Carly Simon.

I noted that Browne has a knack for finding interesting factoids.   Here’s another one…  According to his research, backed by Paul Simon and Paul McCartney, two of the major songs of the decade were written not for the composer’s own group/band but for the voice of Aretha Franklin.   Yes, both Bridge Over Troubled Water and Let It Be were specifically written for the Queen of Soul, who – luckily for fate – rejected them.   It’s one reason that both songs, written within weeks of each other, share a gospel soul and structure.

If you’d like to read more fascinating things that you never knew about all of the band members and performers listed in the book’s subtitle, and about others like Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Phil Spector, Allen Klein, Mary Balin, and Billy Preston, you’ll want to run and pick this one up.   As James Taylor was to sing, “Hey, Mister, That’s Me Up on the Jukebox!”

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Notes – Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller was reviewed on this site on February 2, 2011 (“Women of Heart and Mind”).

Elizabeth Taylor was to say that, “People don’t like sustained success.”   Which is perhaps why, in 1970, George Harrison sold more records than either Paul McCartney or John Lennon.

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Isn’t It a Pity

13 rue Therese: A Novel by Elena Mauli Shapiro (Reagan Arthur Books; $23.99; 288 pages)

Initially this appears to be a beautifully presented novel based on the possessions of a woman who once lived in the early 1900s (experiencing both World Wars), in Paris.   The graphic reproductions of items owned by Louise Brunet, which came into the author’s possession as a young girl, are reproduced in a high-class manner.   Unfortunately, this story also contains some troubling characteristics which ruined the experience for this reader.

In the early 1980s, the author’s mother salvaged a small box of mementos formerly owned by Mrs. Brunet:  “This box is the sepulcher of Louise Brunet’s heart.   The story behind the objects is lost; the objects are now the story…  As I have carried this strange box through life and across the world, I have always intended to make a book out of it.   This book now exists; you hold it in your hands.”

It is a charming and promising premise – fleshing out an unknown life via the author’s imagination.   A great deal of the content involves the lives of French people, men and women, during World War I.   The read is initially quite engaging as we encounter an American historical researcher-professor, living in the present day, who comes across Mrs. Brunet’s possessions and begins – as he charts out the happenings of her life – to fall in love with her.   It will be an unrequited love except for the fact that through a miracle of time travel he comes to meet her face to face.   Having met Mrs. Brunet, the researcher is essentially freed to fall in love with a woman of his own time.

All of this has a Somewhere in Time or The Time Traveler’s Wife aspect to it, which seems wonderful on its face.   And yet, the Louise Brunet that the reader comes to identify with in the first half of the novel turns into a madwoman in its concluding portion.   This is a happily married woman – a woman who has never had a child – who engages in an affair with a married neighbor, knowing full well that it is wrong and that she takes the chance of getting pregnant; something that would destroy her marriage and world.

This female protagonist also engages in crimes and enjoys confessing her sins to a Catholic priest, to the point where she laughs hysterically after confessing her adultery.   It all seems strange and disjointed, as if the two halves of the novel do not fit together properly.   But this is not the biggest issue with the telling.

“She does not understand the power of that man’s body over her…  He is like a poison in her, all the more potent because she doesn’t want an antidote.   She welcomes this disease of desire.”

The major problem with 13 rue Therese is that the sex scenes are described in terms more than a bit reminiscent of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – rude, crude and shocking.   The polite language of an earlier time gives way to terms that appear to be deliberately intended to shock the once comfortable reader.   Perhaps this was done deliberately as an attempt to demonstrate the lack of control that overtakes Louise, a woman ready to destroy her life for a man she’s attracted to even while she does not understand that attraction.

In summary, 13 rue Therese is like one of those schizophrenic films (the movie version of Steve Martin’s Shopgirl comes to mind) that is quite pleasurable for the first hour, but hard to watch for the second.   This is a novel with great potential that simply self-destructs, and concludes in a rather mundane fashion.   It’s a pity.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   This novel was released today.

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