Danny Weinkauf Interview
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Part One
- 2.1 What made you decide to release an album for kids, as opposed to adults?
- 2.2 When did you first think that writing children's songs might be something you wanted to try your hand at?
- 2.3 What have you found to be the greatest challenges in recording your own album?
- 2.4 Apart from thematic differences in the song subjects, do you take a different approach to music writing for adults than you do for children?
- 2.5 In the rapidly changing music industry, many feel like crowdsourcing is the future of music, particularly for new artists. What influenced your decision to go to Kickstarter to fund your project?
- 2.6 How much of the instrumentation on the new album did you do yourself?
- 2.7 As a multi-instrumentalist, were there any instruments you found more difficult to learn than others? Are there any that you'd still like to master that you haven't tried yet?
- 2.8 When writing songs, for this album or for projects in general, what instrument do you sit down and write with?
- 2.9 You used to preface early performances of "Where Do They Make Ballons?" with a disclaimer that you were not a singer. What made you change your mind? Was there anything in particular that helped build your confidence for vocal performance?
- 2.10 Do you workshop your songs with your own children, or do you finish your songs first before you share them?
- 2.11 Kai has an incredible singing voice. Has he received formal training, or is that just natural talent?
- 2.12 No School Today includes a song about Ben Folds. Is he a particular favorite of yours and what inspired you to write a song about him?
- 2.13 "The Moon Is Made of Cheese", was originally a potential track for a TMBG album, correct? How did it make the transition to a solo piece?
- 2.14 Will there be a tour for your solo album?
- 2.15 What are some of your favorite children's albums from when you were a kid, and have they influenced this album significantly?
- 2.16 Do you feel like your years working with TMBG has influenced your own songwriting style?
- 3 Part Two
- 3.1 From other interviews, we've heard the official story on how Marty and Dan came to join TMBG. What's yours?
- 3.2 How did you first meet Dan Miller?
- 3.3 I don't have a specific question, but I'd love to know more about Lincoln (we know very little!); how did it form, what was the band (specifically Chris Temple) like, and how did you and Dan both make your way to TMBG? (And what were your initial impressions of TMBG?)
- 3.4 -How did the vibe change from touring as part of Lincoln to touring as part of They Might Be Giants? Have there been any stops on tour that were particularly memorable, for good or bad reasons, you'd like to relate?
- 3.5 Do you recall any particular moment when you first felt like you had "made it" as a professional musician?
- 3.6 Did you get your own Grammy statue or do you have to share one with the rest of the band? And if you did, where do you keep it?
- 3.7 In your Kickstarter, you describe yourself as bassist "for TMBG" rather than "in TMBG". With the whole history of John L and John F _being_ TMBG before there ever was a full band, there's an interesting and unique structure to the musical org chart. Do you consider yourself to be _in_ They Might Be Giants?
- 3.8 At what point in the TMBG songwriting process are you and the rest of the backing band brought in? Does it vary from song to song or is the general structure usually already in place before you hear an idea?
- 3.9 Are there any TMBG songs that you are particularly proud of your contribution to?
- 3.10 Do you have a favorite TMBG track? Are they any that are just particularly fun to play? And are there any that were a real challenge to learn?
- 3.11 What's your favorite TMBG bass line? Favorite Beatles bass line? Where do they make balloons?
- 3.12 Would you say the sound of the band has changed in your opinion since you started playing with them? Also, what's the relationship between everyone during downtime been like over the years?
- 3.13 What have you learned from the other members of the band that has influenced you as a musician and a songwriter?
- 4 Part Three
- 4.1 When did you start playing bass?
- 4.2 How much formal training do you have in music? How is that beneficial (or detrimental) to your songwriting process?
- 4.3 Who are some of your favorite bassists? Is there anyone in particular you credit with teaching you a lot?
- 4.4 What bands / music do you listen to personally?
- 4.5 You have done a lot of song writing for commercials and television over the years. Do you find writing music for a client to be more or less challenging than music you write for yourself?
- 4.6 I was interested to read that you've worked as a Pediatric Physical Therapist. How difficult was it to make the transition from PT to full-time musician? Was music just a hobby that you nurtured during your years as a PT, or something that you'd always planned to pursue?
- 4.7 Besides music, what are some of your other interests? Any interesting hobbies?
- 4.8 Do you still drink tea? What are your favourite teas?
- 4.9 Do you have any pets?
- 4.10 Do you personally ever use This Might Be a Wiki?
- 4.11 And finally, the question everyone wants to know, what is the origin story on the famous red pants?
To celebrate the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for his new kids' album, No School Today, Danny Weinkauf granted an interview to TMBW! Many of the questions were submitted by wiki users. The interview was presented in three parts, all of which now available to read. Following the success of the Kickstarter campaign, the album was released on April 29, 2014.
What made you decide to release an album for kids, as opposed to adults?
Well, I LOVE writing songs for kids! It is fun and challenging and sometimes I research a topic before I write, so it can even be an educational process for me as well. I don't think one precludes the other though, truth is I have more than an album's worth of adult songs waiting to be set free into the world. Somehow now feels like the right time for me to be concentrating on the kids' songs. Also, my wife suggested that I make my own kids' record and she's pretty much always right - so, there's that too.
When did you first think that writing children's songs might be something you wanted to try your hand at?
(Question submitted by Johnreale)
When TMBG was working on the No! album. John F. mentioned to the band that he'd consider adding our songs if we had any - so I wrote "Where do They Make Balloons". John F. and John L. were very supportive of me and that track - I considered having someone else sing it, but they insisted that I would sound good singing it, so I did - and it worked out.
What have you found to be the greatest challenges in recording your own album?
My initial answer to that question would be: Getting my family members to stop what they are doing and come into my studio for a few minutes to sing or speak a part. They all have their own busy lives and it's actually a challenge to get a few spare minutes sometimes. Seems funny - but true. Other than that, the whole process is "challenging" in that from the beginning idea to the final mastered track I am aiming for the best ideas - with the best melody and harmonies - arranged in the best way possible with the best parts etc. and on this album in particular I played all the instruments and engineered it myself, so that is a creative challenge as well. I love that process, starting with nothing and ending up with something that people can enjoy. It's one of my favorite things in life.
Apart from thematic differences in the song subjects, do you take a different approach to music writing for adults than you do for children?
(Question submitted by Johnreale)
For the most part, "no". That was one of the things that I loved about making the TMBG kids records. We would approach each song the way we did any song - come up with the best parts and the best sounds for that part in order to serve the song. I think that is one of the great things about those albums that I tried to capture on my album. Not playing down to kids - not patronizing. My kids never said to me "Daddy, this Beatles song has too much distortion on the guitar, I don't like it" or "the Ramones song on the radio has too much energy for me - I just can't relate". Actually, it was quite the contrary, my son's reaction to first hearing music like the Ramones and Chuck Berry was immediate, visceral joy! His whole face and body became energized. I also think that this approach makes for music that parents can actually enjoy along with their kids rather than just putting up with music they don't like. And, I say "for the most part, 'no'" because there are some times when you will avoid making the music get too dark or maybe add a little bell type sound to keep things kid friendly.
In the rapidly changing music industry, many feel like crowdsourcing is the future of music, particularly for new artists. What influenced your decision to go to Kickstarter to fund your project?
Well, it took a bit of consideration before I made that move. I've always been self reliant and was not sure whether a fundraising site was the right move for me. I researched several of those type of sites and spoke to many people who had used either Kickstarter, or other sites like PledgeMusic, for their projects. Then I spoke directly to the folks who run those sites and ultimately decided on Kickstarter. I liked how their focus was not specifically on the idea of simply selling something in advance - the main idea is the support of a project that the backers believe in. Yes, the music industry is really in a free fall. It has always been a challenge for bands or artists who are not as huge as, say, Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake to make it in the business, but it has actually become much harder in recent years. It is an amazing thing to see that fans of the arts are willing to support the projects they like - crowdsourcing has made that possible - those backers are really making a huge difference in the lives of those artists. Personally, I am extremely grateful for every person who pledged or simply forwarded my info on to a friend.
How much of the instrumentation on the new album did you do yourself?
All of it …wow, it sounds like I'm ego-tripping to say that. Part of that was just convenience and an effort to keep costs down. For example it's easier to play a guitar part quickly myself than to hire and schedule another player. If I had a giant budget, It would be great fun to hire a whole band and track the tunes in a fancy studio. As someone who composes and records music for TV and commercials - the turn around on those projects is often very quick, so out of necessity I've become accustomed to playing all the instruments myself.
As a multi-instrumentalist, were there any instruments you found more difficult to learn than others? Are there any that you'd still like to master that you haven't tried yet?
(Question submitted by BlueCanary)
I started really concentrating on piano pretty late in the game so it's been a struggle trying to get my fingers to do what my ears tell them to. I would love to be better at every instrument especially the ones I already play! There are so many cool instruments. I'd love to "master" them all: drums, cello, sax, french horn etc etc etc...
When writing songs, for this album or for projects in general, what instrument do you sit down and write with?
Finally a simple question - most times either guitar or piano. Occasionally ukulele, mandolin or banjo. On several of the songs on this album I wrote much of the song without an instrument - maybe riding my bike and singing into my iPhone or in the shower.
You used to preface early performances of "Where Do They Make Ballons?" with a disclaimer that you were not a singer. What made you change your mind? Was there anything in particular that helped build your confidence for vocal performance?
(Question submitted by BlueCanary)
Singing the songs I've written for TMBG in our shows has certainly helped. The TMBG fans are so supportive it's hard not to be encouraged. Also, a few years back I read something where Elvis Costello was commenting on another singer song writer who he described as "singing with the authors' voice". Which to me meant that as the person who wrote the song there is a "realness" to your delivery when you sing it. Let's face it, there's only one Lennon, only one McCartney - nobody sings like them, so I just do the best I can.
(Question submitted by Johnreale)
I'm actually kind of shy about my music at home. For example, I don't like to have others hear me practice. I feel like they shouldn't have to hear me making mistakes or playing the same tricky part over and over. With the children's songs - at times I will bring in one or both of my kids or my wife and ask if something works for them or not. Because I'm just "Dad" to them, they may be the toughest audience - my son, Kai, has no issue with telling me flat out that he doesn't like something. On one of the songs on No School Today, I initially sang it in a very affected character voice and my daughter said, "why are you singing it like that eeew no". So I went back to the drawing board.
Kai has an incredible singing voice. Has he received formal training, or is that just natural talent?
(Question submitted by CallMeMommyMarshmello)
Thanks for the compliment - I am in full agreement but then I'm his dad. He has had no formal training at all - unless you count the school chorus. I wish I could say that we sing around the house all the time but my kids really don't like to do that - maybe because that's my profession? I really don't know why. Anyway, my wife and I had a wonderful parental surprise when my son was in the 5th grade. He tried out for the school play and got the lead role. He needed to learn the songs so I went over them with him at home and when he started singing we were floored! Beautiful, on key, with a little natural vibrato - amazing! We really didn't know if he could sing well or not before that point. Since then we've tried to encourage him to keep it up, which he manages to do when it doesn't interfere with sports and video games with his friends.
No School Today includes a song about Ben Folds. Is he a particular favorite of yours and what inspired you to write a song about him?
You are referring to the song "The Ballad of Ben". Yes, I'm a fan of Ben's - we've met at festivals that our bands have played and Flansy directed a video for him a few years back. Also, after the Ben Folds Five stopped playing together initially, Dan Miller, TMBG's guitarist, and I attempted to put together a side project with Mike Viola (from Candy Butchers) and Darren Jesse (Ben Folds Five's drummer). Darren was trying to get his solo career going at the time so it ultimately didn't work out but it could have been fun. Getting back to your question, as a way of teaching myself how to play piano - I have transcribed tunes by people like The Beatles, Randy Newman, Elton John, and Ben Folds - so one day I wrote a piano song that sounded to me like something Ben might play (my cheap imitation) and I thought why not make up a story that includes some of the things Ben has been involved in - as a tribute to him. It's kind of a song for the parents that I hope kids might like too. It also gave me the chance to name drop William Shatner, Nick Hornby, and Pomplamoose on a kids' record.
"The Moon Is Made of Cheese", was originally a potential track for a TMBG album, correct? How did it make the transition to a solo piece?
Wait a minute, how did you come by that info? Working for the NSA in your spare time? Yes, when we were working on the Here Comes Science album I wrote a saloon piano type song that we tracked with TMBG which ultimately did not make the final album. The lyrics were the same, as was the general harmonic structure. Later I decided that it might be cooler and more fun as a rock tune, so I amped it up and sang it in a character voice with a heavy British accent and that's the version on No School Today.
Will there be a tour for your solo album?
(Question submitted by Bells12)
Shh, that is a secret… actually, I am working that out. I would be very excited by the challenge of stepping up to the front for the whole show but also realistic enough to realize that it is not easy to put and keep a band together - not to mention the costs.
What are some of your favorite children's albums from when you were a kid, and have they influenced this album significantly?
(Question submitted by Mongoose)
Actually, (and this is not to sound like a sob story) - but I don't recall ever listening to a children's album as a kid. There wasn't a lot of music around my home growing up. No one played an instrument - we didn't have a piano or any other instruments. I do remember that my parents had a copy of the vinyl LP of the Supremes greatest hits that they would sometimes play on the weekends - man, I loved those tunes - still do. Funny, to this day, my favorite bass player was the guy on those records. The legendary motown bassist James Jamerson. A good example of how much I've been influenced by James Jamerson is the bass on the song "One Everything" from Here Come the 123s.
As far as my kids having favorite children's music - I'd say aside from the TMBG albums it would be the music of the Phineas and Ferb shows. It's a total guilty pleasure for me too - I really enjoy that program and the tunes are generally very clever, funny, and melodic - even irreverent at times - and (as I mentioned earlier) don't sing down to kids.
Do you feel like your years working with TMBG has influenced your own songwriting style?
Absolutely, how could it not? 15 plus years working with guys as amazingly talented and prolific as John and John? I hope something good has rubbed off on me!
From other interviews, we've heard the official story on how Marty and Dan came to join TMBG. What's yours?
Well, I was fortunate in that I played in two bands that were the opening act for TMBG. First was the Candy Butchers with Mike Viola and Todd Foulsham and then again with the band Lincoln with Dan Miller. So, the Johns were familiar with me and my style of playing. Then at some point Graham Maby left the touring band to work with Natalie Merchant. Flansy's friend Hal Cragin then became the bassist (Hal had worked with Mono Puff, etc). Hal was also the bassist for Iggy Pop at the time and after a while he started to have conflicts - so I was asked by Hal to sub for him. I subbed on a couple of shows and one day on stage at sound check at the Hatch Shell in Boston, Jamie Kitman (manager for TMBG and Lincoln) asked me if I'd like to be the full time bassist with TMBG. I told him I'd think about it and immediately went and found Flansy backstage and asked him if this was all OK. I didn't want to take anyone else's gig - Hal had always been a real gent with me. Flansy assured me it would all be great and he was right.
How did you first meet Dan Miller?
Not that long ago, in NYC, the Village Voice was a free newspaper that you could pick up on almost any street corner. Every week in the classified section you could find want ads for bands looking for musicians or musicians seeking bands - any type of music - any level of experience - I don't think there's anything like it today (although I'm sure someone will design an app for it!). I answered an ad in the VV for a bassist - I think the ad referenced Crowded House, Billy Bragg, and the Smithereens. Anyway, I went to meet the band at an apartment that was a bi-level. The guys looking for a bassist were Scott Klass (the Davenports) and Rob Sharenow (now the head of Lifetime TV). They answered the door but evidently we were in the lower level of the apartment that was occupied by their roommate, Dan Miller. I entered and as I recall Dan was standing there eating peanut butter off his finger - he said hello and offered me some peanut butter (which I politely declined haha). We went upstairs and I not only had a good audition but made two very good friends. While we were playing, Dan was down in his part of the apartment noodling away on his guitar - doing all this 2 hand tapping crap but also playing some very nice guitar. I asked Scott and Rob why they didn't add Dan to the band - and they said that he was too busy or something. Later on we wound up doing a couple of shows together and Dan did play with us so when Lincoln came along - Dan was on my short list of people to call.
I don't have a specific question, but I'd love to know more about Lincoln (we know very little!); how did it form, what was the band (specifically Chris Temple) like, and how did you and Dan both make your way to TMBG? (And what were your initial impressions of TMBG?)
(Question submitted by)
Lincoln was another Village Voice story. Chris Temple had put an ad in the VV looking for a bass player and drummer. I went to Chris' apartment down on 2nd St.in NYC. We spoke and he handed me a demo tape that he had just made using the great musicians Andy Newmark (Sly Stone, Clapton, Lennon, Harrison, etc) and Nils Lofgren (Springsteen, Neil Young, etc). So, as I was driving away I popped the cassette (old school!) into my car stereo - it sounded great and Chris' voice was so unusual that I actually turned around and drove back to his apartment and asked him to sing for me. He laughed and sang a little of one of the songs and I stopped him before he was even done and we made plans to play together soon. The audition went very well and about a week later I asked Chris if we could try playing with a drummer friend of mine named Gonzalo Martinez who I'd worked with in a band called Nate Ouderkirk. Gonzo, Chris, and I immediately had a great playing chemistry and we played a few shows together then decided to audition guitarists. I remembered Dan Miller, and he was the clear choice for our 4th member - he wound up playing both guitar and keyboards in the band. We four did a few more showcases and played all the downtown clubs at the time - CBGB's gallery, Brownies, Sine, etc - it was an exciting time. There was a buzz around town about bands like us and Candy Butchers. Record labels (back when there were record labels, he said with a shrug), A+R folks would be at all the shows. Lincoln got signed to a big fat record deal with London Records (Polygram) and made a very expensive album simply titled "Lincoln". That band had a lot of musical potential but was not destined for success. Touring in a van opening for other acts and following them across the country in their busses (where you can sleep while you travel) is a very hard way to live. It can bring out the worst in people and it certainly did with us. The band started breaking apart after about 1.5 tough years. I then joined TMBG as I explained above and Dan Miller was only about a month or 2 behind me in joining up with TMBG (I guess you know his story).
My initial impressions of TMBG were from hearing them on the radio and seeing their videos. I loved "Don't Let's Start" and later "Ana Ng" - these guys were different. The songs were melodic and singable - slightly odd and interesting and not like anything I'd ever heard before. Then, as I mentioned before, I later toured quite a bit in their opening bands so I got to see them night after night. I was always blown away by the quality of the song writing and the level of play in the live show. I have great respect for John and John and also for guys like Graham Maby, Hal Cragin, Dan Hickey (who was still the drummer when I joined TMBG) and Dan Levine, Stan Harrison, Curt Ramm, etc. TMBG always played with such talented musicians - the resume of these guys includes Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Joe Jackson, Joe Cocker, B52s, Springsteen, Chic, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, etc, etc - they are some of the best players in the world. So, when TMBG asked me to play with them I really felt honored at the opportunity. As Flans said to me at the time (in an old world show biz voice) "this ain't like touring with no little opening act like Lincoln or Candy Butchers - this is the Big Time".
-How did the vibe change from touring as part of Lincoln to touring as part of They Might Be Giants? Have there been any stops on tour that were particularly memorable, for good or bad reasons, you'd like to relate?
(Question submitted by Mongoose)
The vibe from one to the other could almost not be more different. We went from five men crammed into a van, driving all day, every day and then having to rush and play a 30 minute set to sleeping on a very nicely set up bus with a fully stocked kitchen, DVD players in all the bunks, and two lounges with TVs. Our days are free for the most part and then we get to play for almost 2 hours with an amazing band and a repertoire that is very deep. There are many spots that are memorable for sure: Lincoln Center for the view, 9:30 club for the fans, Fillmore West for it's history and the city of San Francisco, Stubbs in Austin for the food and the city. One time on tour with Lincoln, I met a local musician on a night off in Columbus, Ohio - he invited me and Gonzalo over to his studio where he had a whole band of guys waiting to play and we recorded one of my songs that night. A very spontaneous and fun experience. I remember Gonzalo joking with Chris the next day saying if he didn't watch out we'd start a new band without him.
Do you recall any particular moment when you first felt like you had "made it" as a professional musician?
(Question submitted by BlueCanary)
Have I made it? I don't know that there was a moment like that. I do know there have been times when the reality of the situation was memorable. One example was a time when Dan Miller first joined TMBG. I had already played a bunch of shows with them and we were on stage playing at some festival in a large hockey arena. The crowd was massive and he was just looking at me. I motioned for him to look out at the crowd and we both looked back with big smiles. Maybe that was the day we had "made it".
(Question submitted by BlueCanary)
Yes, I did get my own Grammy statue. It was originally on a random shelf somewhere until my parents came to visit and insisted that I should put it in a more trafficked place in my living room with a Grammy photo next to it. After that it has slowly been demoted and has moved to a lower shelf with the photo in another room. It was kind of a surprising thrill to be involved with the Grammys (my wife and I went twice). I know that it's really not any measure of quality, but is sure is a fun party and some people think it's a big deal - which is nice too.
In your Kickstarter, you describe yourself as bassist "for TMBG" rather than "in TMBG". With the whole history of John L and John F _being_ TMBG before there ever was a full band, there's an interesting and unique structure to the musical org chart. Do you consider yourself to be _in_ They Might Be Giants?
(Question submitted by johnreale)
They Might Be Giants is John and John - it was set up that way from the start and it was in their best interest to have it that way. When we all get on stage, it certainly feels like I am in the band but it is John and John who the fans pay to see and it's their amazing life's work that we draw from each night.
At what point in the TMBG songwriting process are you and the rest of the backing band brought in? Does it vary from song to song or is the general structure usually already in place before you hear an idea?
That can vary a great deal. There are times when a song demo has been made that has very specific parts that are integral to the way the song works and we may just go in and replace the parts with real instruments, adding or subtracting what sounds best. Other times, we may just start with an idea for a song and a couple of chords are discussed and we all go in and create a track - most often it's somewhere in between those two scenarios.
Are there any TMBG songs that you are particularly proud of your contribution to?
Here's the cliche - but that's like choosing a favorite child! I am super proud any time I feel like I provided a bass part that serves the song well - and, if I'm lucky, adds groove or interest. Sometimes a song doesn't need a lot of notes - just the right ones at the right time - and sometimes a lot of notes can be exciting - figuring that out is the challenge and the fun part.
Do you have a favorite TMBG track? Are they any that are just particularly fun to play? And are there any that were a real challenge to learn?
Again - favorite child - or maybe my favorite child of two guys named John. In general it is a blast to play with this band - any song any day - I'm there! Sometimes a crowd reaction can make a song extra fun - so, if the crowd goes nuts for a new or old song - we get that energy on stage - I think you can probably see that from the audience. It's always fun for me to play Cloisonné because I get to switch to keyboards. The most fun would have to be when I get to sing the songs I wrote - that's an amazing feeling - the TMBG fans are such a great audience!
What's your favorite TMBG bass line? Favorite Beatles bass line? Where do they make balloons?
(Question submitted by Wireless mike)
I'm not sure I could pick a "favorite" TMBG bass line. A couple that I think are really great that come to mind are "Rest Awhile" by Graham Maby and "S-E-X-X-Y" by Hal Craigin. My favorite Beatles bass line might be one that can only be found on the Anthology - the alternate version of "And Your Bird Can Sing".
Would you say the sound of the band has changed in your opinion since you started playing with them? Also, what's the relationship between everyone during downtime been like over the years?
(Question submitted by PuppetToupee)
I think the "sound of the band" is always changing since before I was in the band and into the future. John and John are always looking for new ways to write, new topics, new sounds, etc. It's an ever changing sound. The guys in the band are all gents - you can probably tell that from the audience - we all get along very well and enjoy each other's company even away from the music.
What have you learned from the other members of the band that has influenced you as a musician and a songwriter?
I could write a book about what I've learned from the guys in the band. First of all, John and John are very different individuals but both have unusually unique and prolific writing abilities. They also share a sensibility for exploration when it comes to new sounds and styles of music, etc. - nothing is off limits and the entire world of sounds is their palette. Then there's Dan Miller and Marty Beller - most people might not know it, but aside from being great musicians in a band setting they are fantastic composers. Each of them has scored films and TV and they do so often and at a very high level. When Hootie and the Blowfish took TMBG on tour with them years ago they talked about challenging other bands in games of basketball - music is not a competition, but I bet the combined amount of musical talent in TMBG would out shine almost any other band.
When did you start playing bass?
(Question submitted by Bells12)
I got my first bass when I was 20. I didn't really start playing though until I was 23 - I got a call from a former Chemistry teacher of mine Santo Barbarino ("Dr. B") - he had a band that played social gatherings - weddings, parties, etc - they had a gig on New Years and their bassist couldn't make it - I borrowed his bass (mine was junk) and faked my way through the night but wound up replacing him and played on weekends for a fews years while getting my physical therapy degree. This was not your average club date band - for example the guitar player was my friend Scott Totten who went on to play loads of broadway gigs like Tommy, Rent, etc. and is now the musical director and lead guitar for The Beach Boys. I'm very jealous when I hear someone talk about playing music at a young age - for a while I felt like I was always trying to catch up with the musos around me - maybe that was good in a way and made me work harder?...
How much formal training do you have in music? How is that beneficial (or detrimental) to your songwriting process?
(Question submitted by Apollo)
When I was 19 I went to Berklee College of music for a year (playing guitar). I had been playing for about 2 years at the time and was lucky enough to get a couple of performance scholarships from the school. I also took a couple of general music courses in a couple of different colleges I attended and a couple of online courses studying orchestration and recording engineering. That's pretty much the extent of my formal training - definitely beneficial - but also beyond that I've spent many, many hours and years of self study - It's one of the things I do for fun. Whenever I hear anything I like I generally try to get under the hood and figure out why it's great. Also, I have spent my entire career working with great songwriters - The Johns, Mike Viola, Adam and Chris from Fountains of Wayne, etc, etc - that's something you can't get from formal training. I think it all adds up and gives a person a musical vocabulary to work from - whether it helps or hurts? I think helps - I write much better songs now than I did at 20.
Who are some of your favorite bassists? Is there anyone in particular you credit with teaching you a lot?
James Jamerson (Motown - name the act and he probably played bass), Paul McCartney, Bruce Thomas (the Attractions), Colin Moulding (XTC), John Entwistle, Pino Paladino, Tony Levin, Lee Sklar, Jaco Pastorius (Joni Mitchell, Weather report), etc, etc. I've tried to learn from all of them.
What bands / music do you listen to personally?
(Question submitted by PuppetToupee)
Music from all genres - I probably listen more to music to learn from it than I do for pleasure. If I hear a great song I want to figure out why it's great. How does the groove work? What's the Harmonic structure? How does the melody work with and against the harmony and rhythm? Same goes for an orchestral score or maybe just a cool piano part on a song or a cool bass part - I want to be able to have that sound as part of my musical vocabulary (within my personal limitations).
You have done a lot of song writing for commercials and television over the years. Do you find writing music for a client to be more or less challenging than music you write for yourself?
Those are very different animals. Both are challenging but writing for clients can be very difficult because many times they don't know what it is they want until they hear it - and finding it can be a pressure filled and tedious process. Writing for myself is challenging in that it's easy for me to write music - but not easy to write good music - that is the challenge.
I was interested to read that you've worked as a Pediatric Physical Therapist. How difficult was it to make the transition from PT to full-time musician? Was music just a hobby that you nurtured during your years as a PT, or something that you'd always planned to pursue?
(Question submitted by CallMeMommyMarshmello)
Music never felt like a hobby to me. I always felt like it was something I needed to do to make me feel like myself. At the same time I grew up in an environment where it didn't seem like real people actually could be musicians for a living. I worked for years as a musician before I realized "hey, I might be able to keep doing this if I'm lucky". Transitioning could be difficult at times especially because I usually did both PT and music - neither one as a hobby. Coming home from a tour with the late hours and travel and fans etc. to having to be up at 6 am the next day and work all day with some very challenging children could be tough - but also humbling and certainly a reminder of how fortunate most of us are.
Besides music, what are some of your other interests? Any interesting hobbies?
(Question submitted by BlueCanary)
I hope this is Ok but I'd like to take the focus off of me for one question. Whenever anyone ever mentions "hobbies" I can't help but think of a great man named Michael Kahn. Michael worked for Hornblow Group (TMBG and Lincoln's management company) as the day to day manager and handled pretty much any aspect of the music business that a band might get involved in. He was a dedicated, hardworking guy but also sweet and gentle - not words I often use to describe other men - but anyone who knew him knew this to be true. Michael passed on after a hard battle with cancer - he was way too young. Getting back to hobbies, Michael's passion for things he was interested in was unparalleled. By describing a visit to his home you'll get an idea of what I mean: In his dinning room around all 4 walls, stacked about 3 feet high there were Star Wars figures in their original packaging - but not just Star Wars figures - all the same one (I think it was Darth Vader). I was told that this was only about 20% of his collection. in another room there was a shelf that held about 200 figurines of Simpsons characters - one for every single character that ever appeared on the show. His living room was Halloween themed - the window sills were painted black, the walls orange, there were skulls with light-up eyes on shelves and cob webs all over. He loved to dress up in costume at any opportunity so there were photos of him as various characters - you could see how excited he was by the expression on his face in each photo. Michael was lucky enough to meet a kindred spirit in a beautiful girl named Brigitta who shared these hobbies with him. The world was a nicer place with him in it and we all miss him very much - I hope in some way this helps spread the love he gave us...
Do you still drink tea? What are your favourite teas?
(Question submitted by)
Switched to coffee years ago - 4 out of 5 of us pretty much require it before we play. Not a brand snob - just like it very strong.
Do you have any pets?
(Question submitted by Self Called Nowhere)
Yes, a very gentle, well behaved little dog named "Dr B."
Do you personally ever use This Might Be a Wiki?
(Question submitted by Apollo
Yes, actually we (TMBG band) have all used it - sometimes backstage to check facts or past info, etc. It's great that it exists!
And finally, the question everyone wants to know, what is the origin story on the famous red pants?
Well, it actually started with Mike Viola. When I first saw Mike playing as a duo with Todd Foulsham he would often wear red pants (which I liked). Later, when I eventually toured with him I asked about the red pants and he said he didn't even realize that he wore them that often and that it wasn't intentional. That was all I needed to hear - I kept it in mind and when I came across a pair in my size in a vintage shop - I snatched 'em up. Back then, red pants for men was not at all common - to get my 2nd and 3rd pairs I had to search high and low on the internet. Now you can find 'em all over. David Bowie once said that it's not the person who does something for the first time that gets recognized it's the one who does it second - and besides - what's better than red pants?