Broadway the Hard Way: A Conversation with Richard X Heyman (part two)

continued from part one

Bill Kopp: There seems to be less reliance on samples and keyboard-sourcing of sounds on the new music; you’re employing real players for the cello, violin, trumpet etc.

Richard X Heyman: As much as possible, yeah. We had a budget, so we’d have people come in and play one thing at a time, and then try to make it sound like an orchestra. I definitely wanted it to sound almost like a Broadway pit orchestra, with a really organic feel. I grew up to listening to stuff like West Side Story; it’s in my soul. Not just rock’n’roll: jazz, blues, gospel.

BK: You call the paired albums a “popera.” Now, even on something like Tommy or Quadrophenia there are linking pieces, short compositions that serve to tie things together but that aren’t really designed to stand on their own. On these albums I don’t really hear much of that; every piece seems to move things along. Was that by design?

RXH: A lot of that was just to keep the length down. Because as it is, it’s already thirty songs. If it was ever staged as a pop opera, we could retool it. If we just put the songs end to end…you know, if you go to an opera, it’s just a group of songs one after the other. So they just segue from one to the other, and it becomes this whole long piece.

All that’s semantics. It’s a story told in music. Songs. So what do you call that? A pop opera.

BK: What are your plans in terms of performing this music? Will you just work some of the songs into a set? Or would it be more performing it as a unified, start-to-finish piece?

RXH: I haven’t even really been thinking about performing it. I’ve been so busy with the Doughboys. I have an idea that we’re going to do a record release presentation with modern dance and ballet. We’re going to rent a theatre out. But it’s going to be the actual record being played, with live dancing and film behind it. That’s something that we’re probably going to film for a DVD. We’ll do that here in New York. So we have the beginning stages of it, and we’re getting dancers together. The songs are so visual; as we were working on it, I kept seeing [in my mind] a ballet on certain songs. I’d say, “This one would be great with a visual image; maybe we could this or that friend to do a film for this.” I’m picturing a nice theatre with a big screen. And maybe even some play actors doing a pantomime or something like that.

We’re hoping to get it onstage this summer. We can’t make any promises, because we have to get all these people together.  

BK: Aside from all this, what else are you up to? What’s next for you?

RXH: I’ve already started the next album. What happened was, we recorded a lot more songs than were included. See, this was supposed to just be a single album. I was originally going to get it all on one album. Then I came up with the idea of the twofer. We didn’t want it to seem like a double album; I know when people see two discs in one package, they think of it as a double album. And listening to the whole thing at once is too overwhelming; that’s what I was trying to avoid. I want people to concentrate on the Tiers album, and that in and of itself is long: it’s over an hour of music.

But together, it’s too much. And people are compelled to review it as all-in-one. I was hoping that people would concentrate on Tiers as the main course, and then the other album could be reviewed separately. People are set in their ways: they see two discs in one package, and it’s a double album.

The two are connected. But And Other Stories picks up the story with me moving back east, and the songs aren’t in any sort of chronological order. It touches on various things I was interested in. there are songs about 9/11 on there, and there are songs about friends dying, contemplating the baby boom generation sort of slowly disappearing. Contemplating my own death, really.

BK: In connection with some of your more recent albums, you’ve made available a bonus disc for fans. Rightovers, for example.

RXH: Not that they’re lesser songs, but the tracks on the second album are sort of a bonus album. In hindsight, that’s what I should have done. Because based on the reaction I’m getting from people, they’re so overloaded. In today’s short attention span world, it’s asking a lot.

BK: I’ve always liked the clear, straightforward sonics of your albums. I think these new discs are even a couple notches above that.

RXH: I think I finally figured out where to keep it empty, to have those “holes.” And I think the lack of a layer of guitars opens up a whole spectrum of frequencies. So my vocal is in a different spot, sitting on top of piano and strings. And I really got into how you use a trombone: what role does a trombone play, an oboe play. I based it on listening to a lot of Broadway growing up, and classical.

BK: In rock’n’roll, to some extent you can almost hide behind an electric guitar when it’s bashing away. But when you have a bunch of instruments that each can only play one note at a time, the melody and the performance have got to carry the song.

RXH: Hopefully. The arrangements serve the song. When I started this album, I said, “I want to do an album like Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon or Blue. There’s virtually no drums on those; maybe a bit of hand percussion. So that’s the kind of album I really wanted to make. But being a drummer, I said, “I want to put drums on this.” So we rented studio time and I cut drum tracks like I normally would. But I did them last; on all my other albums I do the drums first.

I didn’t want to make a pop album. I wanted to make something a little more arty, I guess.

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