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