This week’s Nakedly Examined Music podcast features the Grammy-winning Texas swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, which Ray founded in 1969. They’ve released 26 albums of original tunes and classic covers while touring constantly, with Ray being the only consistent member through their various line-ups.
Your host Mark Linsenmayer talks with Ray about the title track from Half a Hundred Years (2021), “Pedernales Stroll” from Keepin’ Me Up Nights (1990), and “Am I High” from The Wheel (1977). Intro: “The Letter (That Johnny Walker Read)” from Texas Gold (1975). Closer: “The Road Will Hold Me Tonight” feat. Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, recorded in the early 80s but only released now on the new album. Learn more at asleepatthewheel.com.
Brian started as a teen music enthusiast and journalist as early as 1970, running into folks like Jim Morrison and Nico and making connections with every musician he could lay eyes on. He leveraged this effort into finding vehicles for his songs, first with OK Savant (ca. 1990), a band that frequented CBGBs and then broke up right as it was signed to a major label. After some false starts and life changes, he likewise used his network to support his creation of three and half solo albums starting in 2008. He has also been an active producer and collaborator for artists like Ollabelle, Lucinda Williams & Taj Mahal, and several international musicians.
Each episode of the Nakedly Examined Music podcast involves picking three recordings from an artist’s catalog to play in full and discuss in detail. Your host Mark Linsenmayer here engages Brian about “Killing The Dead” (and we listen to “Wrong Birthday” at the end; see the video below) from Winter Clothes (2020, written with now-deceased Ollabelle guitarist Jimi Zhivago), “And She Said” from The Opposite of Time (2016), and “The Promise” from All Fires The Fire (2008). Intro: “The Book of Sleep” by OK Savant, recorded live at CBGBs in 1990. For more, see briancullman.com.
Australian singer-songwriter Peter Milton Walsh started The Apartments in the late ’70s, and our interview begins with a snippet of the opening track from, “Help” from his 1979 Return of the Hypnotist EP. He also around this time played with the Go Betweens and other groups, and released The Apartments’ first LP, The Evening Visits…and Stays for Years, in 1985, a heart-wrenching affair which made it onto the New Music Express “albums of the year” list. This led to some singles, one of which–“The Shyest Time“–made it onto the soundtrack of the 1987 John Hughes film Some Kind of Wonderful.
The band had all the moody jangling of early REM, the Smiths, and The Psychedelic Furs, with a unique front man, strong melodies, and the mood of the moment? So why (presumably) have you not heard of this group? Their 1993 album drift (the first full album since their debut) was apparently a big hit in France, but none of their work sold particularly well in the English-speaking world. As Peter reveals on this episode of Nakedly Examined Music, he didn’t much like high-pressure studio recording, resulting in whole eras of his songwriting left largely undocumented.
Personal tragedy also derailed his career from the late ’90s until the late ’00s when he returned to live performing and eventually released a couple of really devastating albums, including 2015’s No Song, No Spell, No Madrigal and the newly released In and Out of the Light.
On each episode of the Nakedly Examined Music Podcast, host Mark Linsenmayer plays four of an artist’s songs in full and discusses them with the songwriter at length. Here Mark and Peter discuss the structure and recording of two songs off the new album: “What’s Beauty to Do?” and “Where You Used to Be.” They then look back to the middle of The Apartments’ ’90s output with “Sunset Hotel” from Fête Foraine (1996), a song capturing his observations of a group of heroin addicts. Finally you’ll hear “Looking for Another Town” from that 2015 come-back album.
Chris founded Talking Heads in the early ’70s with his wife Tina Weymouth and David Byrne, and he focuses heavily on these early years of his career in his new memoir Remain in Love, describing it as very much a group effort, even though they intentionally put the spotlight on David, who in turn pretty early on announced that he had to write all the lyrics, that he couldn’t sing other people’s songs.
On the Nakedly Examined Music Podcast, Mark Linsenmayer interviews songwriters about their creative decision-making, and in this interview, Chris tells how he and Tina and David collaborated on lyrics for their early single “Psycho Killer,” and then how Chris’ lyrics were used for “Warning Sign,” a song (played in full as part of the podcast) that appeared on the Heads’ second album, 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food.
Also surprising is that Chris and Tina’s spin-off band, Tom Tom Club, formed in an interval when both David and the Heads’ lead guitarist Jerry Harrison wanted to pause Talking Heads to record solo albums, actually had its best-selling single, “Genius of Love,” prior to the Talking Heads real financial success with hits like “Burning Down the House” and “And She Was.”
The interview includes a detailed treatment of the composition and arrangement of two Tom Tom Club songs that are also played in full: “Bamboo Town,” a reggae-inspired track from their second album Close to the Bone (1983); and “Who Feelin’ It,” a dance track replete with record scratch percussion from The Good the Bad and the Funky (2000). This song was later remixed by The interview concludes with a song that Chris sings: the title track from Tom Tom Club’s most recent release, Downtown Rockers (2012).
Both these last two tracks have as their main lyrics lists of artists that Chris and Tina wanted to pay tribute to, both in influencing their musical sensibilities and/or playing shows with them at CBGB’s during their formative years as Talking Heads in New York City. Chris’ book gives us a vivid glimpse of that scene, as well as the excitement of their first album, working with Brian Eno, their first European tour, and other milestones all the way up to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, which was their first time playing together since the group’s split in 1991.
For more Nakedly Examined Music in-depth interviews about songwriting, arrangement, and the musical life, visit nakedlyexaminedmusic.com.
In episode one, for instance, indie rock icon and activist for artist rights David Lowery deconstructed the lyrics for his story songs “All Her Favorite Fruit” (Camper Van Beethoven, 1989) and “I Sold the Arabs the Moon” (from his 2011 solo album), contrasting these with the nonsense song that launched his career, “Take the Skinheads Bowling.”
The songs discussed are played in full, and the idea is to get a sense of the artist’s approach in very specific terms, and how this has changed over time. In episode 15, Craig Wedren shows us his development from writing heavy (“post-hardcore”), dissonant music in the 90s with Shudder to Think, to creating disco synthscapes with his early 00’s band Baby, to now composing music for soundtracks like Netflix’s “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.”
The emphasis in a given interview depends on the artist: Guitar virtuoso Gary Lucas (Captain Beefheart, Jeff Buckley) eschews music theory, so the focus is more on the ideology of creation, whereas tap-guitar wizard Trey Gunn (King Crimson, David Sylvian) instructs us in combining time signatures and soloing in modes. The interviews both teach us how to listen to and appreciate music by showing us what to focus on, and also serve to instruct songwriters real and vicarious about decisions that go into a choice of chord or lyric or instrumentation.
What kind of music can you expect to hear? Officially, anything that has thought behind it, but I’m starting with my experience as musician (see www.marklint.com) and music lover growing up in the 80s and 90s listening to popular, indie, folk, punk, and progressive rock. There hare been some movement into soul (Episode 16 features the great Narada Michael Walden, who produced Whitney Houston among many others), electronica (Gareth Mitchell), country (Beth Kille), and future episodes will venture into classical, hip-hop, and world music. More typical, however (i.e. more akin to my own writing), are figures like 90s sweetheart and political activist Jill Sobule, cow-punk pioneer Jon Langford (Mekons), grunge-peddler turned symphonist Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev), NPR darling Chad Clark (Beauty Pill), and 80s Cutting Crew front-man Nick Eede. One of the episodes next to be released will feature Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks).
In one of the most interesting interviews (episode 3), major league music video director–and member of 70s supergroup 10cc and 80s duo Godley & Creme–Kevin Godley takes us from 70s prog excess (and getting to record jazz legend Sarah Vaughan) into the New Wave and out of music altogether, only to rediscover it post-retirement.
This is not about getting behind the scenes with your favorite stars or any other hype of that sort, but about talking with smart people to figure out the language of music, the motivations behind creation, and the techniques available for self-expression. In the course of these discussions, we get into changing trends in making a living in music (or not!), new music technologies, and, of course, philosophical issues.
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