The Jason Falkner Interview: Part Three

(continued from Part Two)

Jason Falkner: The Early Years
And the fun of making records is a theme to which Jason Falkner often returns. Like many artists who have their own singular identifiable talent, he’s a big music fan. Falkner is a major student of pop music. Perhaps nowhere is that more evident than on his collection of covers From the cover songs of the second disc of Everyone Says It’s On (2001). His cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” in particular, is brilliant. And its inclusion suggests that young Falkner’s musical education was rather broad.

“I had a very eclectic, interesting upbringing,” he admits. “First of all, when I was very, very young — three, four, five years old — I had a tiny turntable. And my dad, who’s an artist, thankfully had some very interesting albums. He had Piper At the Gates Of Dawn and he had a couple of Love records. He had Crosby Stills Nash & Young‘s Déjà Vu, he had some mid-period Procol Harum, and he also had records by people like Taj Mahal and experimental people like Steve Reich and Terry Riley, so I grew up with that. Those were my first impressions. I was a little tiny kid listening to Syd Barrett!”

“And that,” he says, “is quite a powerful thing to unleash on a completely malleable mind. A little bookmobile came to school when I was a little kid, and I went ‘I want Beach Boys.’ I had heard the Beach Boys on the radio, and it was such an immediate kinship with that music. So I got Endless Summer (1974), the double LP retrospective, at the bookmobile! And that was when I was six years old.”

But listening was only part of the equation. Falkner’s formal musical training began early as well. “I started classical piano lessons when I was five — because I guess I showed a real proclivity to piano — and so I was in some pretty intense classical piano training from about age seven until I quit when around 15 or 16. So that is an influence that can’t be ignored, really.”

Not,” he laughs, “that I’m doing baroque pop music or anything like that. But it’s an undertone that will always be there. And it also has to do with the way that I arrange, and the way I hear countermelody and all that stuff. I was just indebted to all of that classical music that I was just choking on. You know, I had to practice every single day for nine years.”

So take equal parts early pop music fandom, classical piano studies, and…FM rock. Falkner mentions “Heart, of course Led Zeppelin, and even early Van Halen. I mean, the first Boston record, I love that one…I love that one…I had it on 8-track, and then my sister — who’s a couple of years older — had a boyfriend who actually turned me on to a lot of stuff. He had a friggin’ 8-track that you could record compilation 8-tracks.”

But there was yet another piece of the puzzle, provided by that guy with the 8-track machine. “He had this mysterious device, and he compilation tapes for my sister. And he gave her one that was just basically a ‘New Wave happening’. Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Blondie, the B-52s. And oh, I hated that when I first heard it. Because it just didn’t have the big, fat sort of guitars that I had liked. I knew it was the antithesis of the whole kind of arena-rock kind of vibe, definitely.  But one day my sister was just playing the tape, and Elvis Costello came on. I said, ‘Holy shit! That’s speaking to me way more than any of this hard rock.’ I just totally totally got it one day. Then I got into my odyssey of very obscure English art new wave, or what I call ‘expelled hard-rock.’ Essential Logic, the Monochrome Set, the Fall.”

Songs by some of those artists crop up on Falkner’s Everyone Says It’s On, a highlight of which is “Song From Under the Floorboards,” originally by Magazine. Falkner says that “Magazine just ripped my head off. And Howard Devoto, what an anti-singer. Magazine is like a Martian soundtrack, and yet it rocks and is totally jagged and angular.”

Falkner’s musical likes seem driven not by when they came out, or how popular they were (or weren’t), but rather simply by quality. “You know, it’s weird,” he observes. “I discovered punk and new wave, and then went back and really got into ’60’s garage and then ’70’s garage, and then got really into the obscure 70’s rock bands like Sky, and things like that. I never really trusted what was put in front of me by ‘the machine.’ Because I know The Machine and I know the people who run the machine. Idiots!”

Falkner has developed his own theory about influential musical artists. “You’ve got to dig really deep to find the stuff that’s influencing the stuff that’s widespread. Behind most musical trends and scenes, there are the pioneers who are influencing the pioneers of that scene. Often for every band that became influential, there was another band they saw and they said, ‘We wanna be like them!’ They’d be a collective of people who would be bold enough to say ‘I’m gonna rip them off!’ And they’d also have the personality type that is going to ensure that they’re successful. They’re gonna do anything it takes by any means necessary to beat everyone. It’s competitiveness that I think most people who are ‘innovators’ actually possess. Real innovators are too busy innovating. They’re too busy with their head in the clouds creating the magic.”

Working with Sir Paul
Speaking of magic, in 2005 producer Nigel Godrich called Falkner to ask him if he’d be interested in doing some session work. Falkner and Godrich had worked together before – Godrich produced Can You Still Feel? — so they were very familiar with each other’s abilities and work habits. Falkner picks up the story. “Nigel called and said, ‘I’m producing Paul McCartney, and I would love it if you could come down and be around the whole time and play guitar. I’m thinking about tracking with just a trio, you and Paul and Jim Gadson (Beck, Bill Withers).’ He’s a bad-ass. So that was the trio.”

Falkner’s most recent album at the time was his Bedtime With the Beatles (2001). He recalls, “A girl who worked at Sony was at a party in New York, and she overheard Stella McCartney talking about Bedtime With the Beatles. This girl told Stella that she worked at Sony. Stella said, ‘yeah, I love that Bedtime With the Beatles.’  She said, ‘I’m going to send it to my Dad.’ So a few years later when we were in the studio, I was thinking ‘maybe there’s a chance Paul knows that, and would recognize that that’s me.’ But he didn’t know about it.”

Falkner continues the story. “After the second day I had the CD in my pocket, and I was waiting for the moment when I would feel comfortable enough around him that I would say, ‘hey, check out what I did!’ And I also thought, ‘I want to give this to him with enough time so that if he does listen to it I can get his reaction.’ I didn’t want to give it to him on the last day. What — he’s gonna call me? So I gave it to him and he said ‘Ah, yes!’  And I said, ‘Yeah, man, I did it in the same studio where we are right now. I played every instrument, mixed it, produced it myself and all that stuff. What you think?’ I told him that I know there’s so many of those posthumous Beatle things, and that this is not one of those. This was done with a different attitude.”

“And he freaked out!” Falkner gushes. “I didn’t see him for about five days, and I came back into the studio and he was just ‘Bedtime With the Beatles, then. Nice one!’ And then he would not stop talking about it. He’d say to people, ‘You oughtta hear this guy!’ He told me to my face that he was flattered that I made this record and he said, ‘You probably know our stuff better than we did.’ It was amazing.”

“Then I saw him a couple of months later, at a listening party for the record. Just me, Paul, James Gadson, and the president of Capitol Records. And we’re listening to the record, and the president of Capitol Records starts brown-nosing — you know, ‘Best thing since Ram’  and all this stuff. Then Paul said, ‘I was in New York with Heather, in a friend’s boutique. Bedtime With the Beatles came on the speakers and I ran up to my friend and I said “I know him!”’ And the president of Capitol looks at me and says, ‘Holy shit!’ And I’m like, ‘I know! He’s excited to know that he knows me?’  You know, and it’s outrageous. It’s unforgettable. It’s life-changing. Paul sent me a really sweet note that I still have hung up on my wall. And it said ‘I’m enjoying Bedtime With the Beatles between naps.’ It’s just amazing. So I had a real cool kind of connection with good ‘ol McCartney.”

Other Collaborations
Inveterate readers of liner notes will see Jason Falkner’s name on a lot of other people’s albums. Like Air, Beck, Dennis Diken and Pugwash, to name but four recent projects. “I don’t really pursue any kind of session stuff,” Falkner admits, saying his studio session work is almost always with or through friends. “The McCartney stuff, that was through a friend. And I had known Beck for a long time; we’re friends, and I’ve worked on four of his records, pretty extensively. And I worked on Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s new record. Beck was producing that.”

“I don’t really put myself out there in that regard,” he says. “It’s not something that I love doing, though I like doing it, and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it. I’m able to go in and just do what I do, and everybody’s very happy. Nobody’s saying, ‘hey play more like…’ whatever. So I’ve got a little kind of collective of people that I work with pretty regularly, and they call me all the time to come and do stuff.”

Live Dates
Sometimes Falkner calls on other people himself, putting together a band for live dates, but there hasn’t been a Tour of North America sort of thing in a long while. “It’s not for a lack of want,” he explains. “But I plan to do that this year. I’m gonna try and book some West Coast stuff. And I really want to get to the East Coast, because I haven’t played there in ages. I don’t know about a full-blown band tour all across the country, but certainly the two coasts. And maybe I’ll go to England.”

Like the old joke goes, Jason Falkner is big in Japan. “I’ve been going to Japan every year for three years, and that’s been miraculous. I don’t end up making a lot of money, but I don’t spend any money.  It’s all paid for by the label, because that’s how they do it there. Theoretically I should be coming back with $10,000, but I end up coming back with 500 bucks!  They make a lot of money off of me when I go there, because they book two places that hold more than 400 or 500 people, in each city, 2 nights, and tickets are like 75 bucks there! So do the math. I think,” he laughs, “that there’s a lot of cash being made, and I really don’t get any of it. But they pay for all of the flights, and they put us up in our own rooms and drive us around and all that stuff, so it’s a great experience. And next time I go I’ll get paid, goddammit!” He laughs heartily.

All Quiet on the Noise Floor
Falkner’s album I’m OK, You’re OK came out in Japan in 2007, and finally got domestic release two years later. That album’s followup is All Quiet on the Noise Floor, released in 2009 in Japan, but still not out in the USA. “The whole early Japanese thing is going to end with this record,” Falkner promises. “From now on it’s gonna be a simultaneous release.” So when can North American fans expect this fourth album of new material from Jason Falkner? “Sometime here in the late summer,” he says.

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