An Interview with Eric Carmen
Conducted by Gordon Pogoda in 1998
Before talking about your new album, "Winter Dreams," let's discuss the period right after your top 5 hits "Hungry Eyes" and "Make Me Lose Control." Arista Records had you record a number of other people's tunes, especially songs by Diane Warren, like "My Heart Stops," which was released as a single. But no album ever came out. Did you record an entire album's worth of material then?
No, there were three different sessions. (1) There were songs that Guy Roche and I produced—songs that Diane Warren wrote or co-wrote. (2) There were songs that were presented to me that were recorded with Ric Wake in his studio in New York. (3) Then, there were a couple tracks done with David Cole in Los Angeles. He used to co-produce with Richard Marx.
In terms of the Guy Roche material, would that include "Feels Like Forever," which was written by Diane Warren and Bryan Adams?
No. There were a lot of Diane Warren things. That was Bryan Adams and Diane. There was an Albert Hammond and Diane Warren song, that I felt would be good for Dionne Warwick. [Writer's Note: The song was called "I Couldn't Say Goodbye," which was recorded by Tom Jones.] Overall, it wasn't that they were necessarily bad songs. They were really all pretty good songs. But they weren't all good songs for me. What's a good song for Dionne Warwick isn't necessarily a good song for Eric Carmen.
It's another one of my favorite middle eighths, a middle eight from God.
There's a rumor that "Feels Like Forever" was recorded as a duet with Bryan Adams.
No, Bryan sang background on it.
Was " Someone That You Loved Before," a song you wrote with Warren, recorded back then, too?
No, it was written during that time. I think we did a demo then. But, we never got to record it then.
What songs did you record with David Cole?
We did yet another version of "My Heart Stops." And "I Wanna Take Forever Tonight" I think.
What songs did you do with Ric Wake?
We did "Feels Like Forever." We did the Albert Hammond/Diane Warren song that should have been for Dionne Warwick. We did "My Heart Stops" and something else. I can't remember what it was now.
You once played me a song called "Never Say Die," which you wrote with Desmond Child — was that a contender for the album?
No, I never submitted it for anything. Somehow it just didn't feel like the right song for me.
It didn't sound like you singing it at all. When you played it, I was wondering if it was you or Desmond singing it.
The verse was a totally weird thing for me to sing. The chorus was OK.
During this period between albums, you wrote some fabulous tunes with Dean Pitchford like "Between the Devil and The Deep Blue Sea" and "Wild, Wild Heart."
"Wild, Wild Heart" is a really old one. It was written for a Disney movie called "The Journey of Natty Gann," a story about a girl searching for her father during the depression, 1920's or something. The film did OK. It was a tough assignment in the first place because the song couldn't be a love song and couldn't have any sex in it. It was a very specific thing to this film. It was not normally stuff that you write songs about.
I thought Dean and I did a really good job coming up with that tune. It was in the film [at first]. The director and the Disney people loved it. Then they had a big shuffling of the hierarchy at Disney, and the new regime came in. Someone got to the director and convinced him that any song would cheapen the film. But that's where the song came from. It's another one of my favorite middle eighths, a middle eight from God. Dean told me that Art Garfunkel was going to do that song on a children's album for Columbia. I don't know if he did it.
And the rare "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" is an absolute favorite amongst the fans that know it.
Well, you know what? We just have to find somebody great to do a version of it. Maybe my next album, who knows? It's a nice song sitting there.
You also had a Vanessa Williams cut during this period with "Long Way Home." What part did you write?
I think I wrote the chorus melody. I didn't spend much time on it. One day I was sitting around with Phil Galdston. He played a little something. He had the title. For some reason, we didn't finish it, and he called me up one day and said, "Do you mind if I finish it with someone else?" He got together with Brock Walsh, and they polished it off.
"All By Myself" has been covered by many acts in the past four years including Jewel, Sheryl Crow, Babes in Toyland, and Celine Dion whose version recently peaked at #4.
It's been an amazingly active little copyright. I thought Celine did a marvelous job. There were a lot of people that felt her version was too bombastic. My reply to that is simply that she is a phenomenal singer, and I wouldn't have expected her to do the songwriter version of the song. I would have expected her to do just the version she did, which is the fantastic singer version. For her to do a raspy-voiced, understated vocal performance would be a little silly. I thought David Foster produced a beautiful record. I thought the [new] key change was nothing short of brilliant.
Let's move on to your new album "Winter Dreams." It's your second album title to be inspired by an F. Scott Fitzgerald story.
That's true. It's my favorite short story of his.
I could get in my car after dinner and drive to the studio, and work for 5 or 6 hours, and then drive 10 minutes home, and sleep in my own bed.
Why did you choose it as the album title?
To be honest, I didn't have an album title. I knew the album was coming out in January. I was sitting around looking at my Fitzgerald book one day, and I thought, "'Winter Dreams'—that's a nice title. Why not?" This wasn't a concept album, and I didn't want to pull one of the songs out and call the album "Cartoon World" or something. "Winter Dreams" captured the mood of the album, and the album photo.
The album was recorded mostly in Cleveland.
Like 99.997% of it. I think we did some background vocals in Los Angeles on one cut.
How do you like recording in Cleveland vs. L.A., and where would you do the next album?
I like recording here [in Cleveland] because I could get in my car after dinner and drive to the studio, and work for 5 or 6 hours, and then drive 10 minutes home, and sleep in my own bed. It's a great thing—instead of being in a hotel room somewhere for six months at a time. From the standpoint of the talent pool, it would be easier to do it in Los Angeles. If you need a guitar player or bass player, you just pick up a phone and someone's there. It's more difficult to find talented, studio-caliber musicians in Cleveland, although I'm sure there are some here.
You played most of the instruments on the album. What instruments other than the keyboard did you play? Or was it all synth based?
It was mostly synthesizer stuff and percussion stuff. And the drum programming—I wasn't really playing an instrument. I was trying to figure out a way to label this stuff [on the album sleeve] without making it sound really pompous. I didn't want to list "drums programmed by Eric Carmen, bass programmed by Eric Carmen, strings programmed and arranged by Eric Carmen." It just seemed like that would be really an awful lot to be doing after every song. And Pioneer [Records] wanted some sort of credits. So I thought the least offensive way I could do it was just to say, "All instruments Eric Carmen," and you'll catch my drift.
I remember on one of your early solo albums, you actually played drums on the record.
Yeah, I didn't actually play drums on this record. I thought up the parts, but we used a sequencer.
What was the first song and the last song written for the album?
"I Could Really Love You" was a pretty old one. I remember writing that in my condo I owned before I moved to L.A. That might be the oldest. The newest song is "Isn't It Romantic." I wrote that one around November 1996.
What was the quickest song to write?
"I Could Really Love You" took about five minutes.
And the song that took the longest?
Probably "Every Time I Make Love To You." It took a week or ten days, mostly because Andy and I were slaving, beating each other to death over the lyrics, over two lines. We went to a point where we were totally blank and couldn't think of anything. Then we called Steve Kipner in, and his energy got the last two lines written.
Did you write any of the lyrics on "Winter Dreams?"
Oh sure! It actually worked differently for every collaboration. Usually what happens is that the music is mostly mine. The lyric is about a 50/50 split or a 60/40 split, in terms of whoever I'm writing with. "Cartoon World" was my concept and title, and I had the music for the chorus and the intro written. When I got together with Wes [John Wesley Harding], we needed to come up with a verse, and I think he had the idea for the verse, musically. The two of us wrote the lyric. Because he's a much quicker lyricist than I am, he probably pitched in more lines.
There were certain lines I came up with where there was a little debate about using them, like "What's a little ethnic cleansing? That's the way it's always been." That was my line. It was written right after the Gulf War. I was in a particularly cynical take on how things had progressed in this country to the point where everything is just too big. Every movie's got to have bigger explosions. Every movie star's got to have bigger biceps or bigger breasts. Everything seems like a cartoon to me at this point, and the song was kind of a take on watching all those scud missiles. It was about a kid who was bored at a certain point with the Gulf War, and he had to get back to his Gameboy, because that was more exciting to him. Reality kind of ceased to be exciting.
So that word was "Gameboy" [in the line 'Now I've got Gameboy, I'm a happy man.] A few of us who knew the demo version heard the line as "Now I've got cable," which made perfect sense because the Cartoon Network is on cable TV. We also misheard the line "I love the way the sex is so overt." 'Overt' sounded like 'unfun' or 'on fire.'
That was Wes' line.
Again, that line made perfect sense—"I love the way the sex is so unfun" because the next line is "I love the way the violence doesn't hurt"—the idea that everything is a neutral response, that no one really feels anything.
I understand. I used to do this with Rolling Stones songs, by the way, when I tried to figure out the lyrics. I could never figure them out from listening to the records. We'd come up with incredibly bizarre stuff. Then we'd see the real lyric and it wasn't even close.
You refer to the Gulf War in the lyric, "I was excited when the war began."
I just had this vision of this 15 year-old who has been totally desensitized by American culture, by "Terminator" movies, Dolly Partonism of women, whatever—just sitting on the floor of his room, watching the Gulf War with one eye, and getting bored with it and going back to his Gameboy because reality was just too dull. Even the Gulf War. That's where the song came from.
I like the change of words between "It's bigger than life" (in the first chorus) and "It's smaller than life" (in the second chorus)—both lyrics are so apropos.
The original line we had was "It's smaller than life and bigger than you and me." But when it came time to record it, I didn't quite like the way it sang, and I thought it was getting a little too confusing.
"Cartoon World" reminds me of something you'd find on the first solo album—like "Great Expectations." Both songs exhibit a novelty slant without being full-fledged novelty records.
Yep. And I've been really excited that "Cartoon World" has been as accepted as it has. It was the last song I added to the album. I wasn't sure if people would like it. So I'm really pleased.
This final mix has a few elements I hadn't heard before including some brass lines, whistles (adding a nice party-on-the-street atmosphere) and chorus background vocals.
Thank you. The demo was done in a day. A real quick $100 demo. It was fun to go into the studio and use all the toys that we have at our disposal to try and make it even better. I went into the Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers cartoon library, which is available on CD, and got all the cartoon sounds. There are these sounds right after "I love the way the violence doesn't hurt" that go …[makes explosion sounds]. And what those are, as opposed to a drum fill—those are slaps, kicks, and hits from the Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera library, strung together in the beat of what a drum fill might have played, but they're actually cartoon slaps and punches. The car horn at the end—I was actually looking for a bicycle horn so I could pay tribute to that song from "Pet Sounds" that ends with a car horn. I tried to find that exact bicycle horn. I opened up this phone book sized thing, and there were 10,000 car horns, arranged by year and model of car. Just to find some of this stuff was unbelievably tedious and time consuming.
Did you use other sound effects?
We used that whistle sound that goes "wee…"
Bernie Hogya (who runs the Eric Carmen web site) said the brass line in the intro sounds like it came from The Beatles' "Twist and Shout."
Oh, it's the horn melody which is in the verse. It's actually kind of from the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout" from 1962 or whenever. It sounds like there are these Latin guys playing horns [on the Isleys' record], and I always loved them, and I was looking for something to spice up the verse a little.
How does working with Harding and Warren differ from your partnership with Dean Pitchford?
With Dean, it's much more—Dean's the lyricist, I'm the music guy, but it's never entirely 100% music me, 100% lyric Dean. With Diane, it was really a very 50/50 kind of collaboration.
With your other co-writers, was it more two people writing the music and two people writing the lyric?
Why aren't there any songs written solely by you on this album?
You want to know the absolute truth to this question. This is a terrible thing to admit to, but I'll tell you. Once upon a time, when I was writing the "Boats Against The Current" album, which is everybody's favorite album including mine, I was in a profound state of depression, I had no life, and I basically sat in a room every night at 4 a.m. reading my Fitzgerald short stories, and purposely working myself into as deep a depression as I could get to, to then go sit at the piano and try to come up with this stuff. Almost always, I wrote the melodies first. When you go back and listen to something like "Nowhere to Hide," where there's a very syncopated melody, and rhythm to the melody, you lock yourself into such a tiny corner when it then comes time to try to write lyrics to that melody.
There were days where I would work all day long. Literally, I would get up in the morning, sit down to write at noon, on a couch with a pad and pencil in front of me and try to come up with one line. And I would sit there for twelve hours and not get it. It was just torturous. Sometimes I would not get it for three days, and I was ready to lose my mind completely. The truth is it's not that I'll never write another lyric [by myself], and it's not that I didn't have anything to do with writing lyrics on this album. I found that in today's world, unless I was in a situation where I had no life and no distractions—I have a little son now—It's not that I can't work, some of the lyrics I've written have taken me three months to write. "Nowhere To Hide" took three months. Sometimes I'd spend two weeks and get absolutely nothing.
Your lyrics on the Geffen album [from 1985] are incredible, too—like "She Remembered" and "I'm Through With Love." Was that a painstaking process as well?
Sometimes they're more organic. "She Remembered" was more organic. Every so often you get one that seems touched by God. He just gives you a present. "Boats Against the Current" was like that. It came to me in my sleep one night. But other than those two songs, the lyric part of it is a very tough and tedious process for me. It's sometimes worthwhile when you get to the end. But at the same time, I have so much more to do now than to just want to sit in a room for weeks on end by myself, working myself up into a depression, to write a song lyric. And there are guys who can do these things pretty well. Dean can write lyrics as quickly as I can write music. Instead of having to spend three months writing a song, you can spend three days.
I poured every ounce of my blood, sweat, tears, soul, and life into that album for two years.
Your lyric writing may be more time consuming for you than for your co-writers, but I think the overall sentiment is that the lyrics come out much deeper. Most feel you are undeniably the best lyricist for your music.
I don't disagree, and I only take it as a great compliment. My only problem is that for me to sit down and say that I'm going to write all the lyrics and all the music for my next album, if I use the same perfectionist instincts that I used during the "Boats Against the Current" album, I don't know how long it would take me to write another album now. It would take forever.
When I was 20, I didn't have a girlfriend or wife or mortgage or kids, and I think as you grow up, your life becomes more important to you. When I was 20, all I wanted to do was write the great American song.
It's not that I don't want to do that now. But I have so many other things, people that depend on me. You have a little boy suddenly and you look at this and say, "Where would I rather spend the bulk of my day—sitting, brooding on the couch, or rolling on the floor, playing with my little boy." And I'll tell you what, you look at your little boy and go, "I'd much rather play with my little boy today." And in the long run, it's just as rewarding to do that as to write a good song. Whereas music used to be 100% of my life, now it's just a part of my life. It's a part that I dearly love.
There's another aspect, too. When you write the lyric, and you write something that you really believe, and someone chops it to bits, it's such a personal thing at that point, and it hurts so much—I've tried to develop thick skin. Rejection is part of the business and you need to be able to deal with it.
But there's something about writing a song completely by yourself, where you've crafted every word, phrase and musical nuance—When somebody tears it apart, it's more difficult somehow when it's something that you worked on for six months than when it's something you worked on for three days, and you wrote it with someone else.
One of the reasons that the "Change of Heart" album was probably my least favorite album was because I was just crushed after the "Boats Against the Current" album's lack of success. I poured every ounce of my blood, sweat, tears, soul, and life into that album for two years. And when it didn't happen, and when the label didn't recognize what it was at the time, that's an incredibly difficult thing. It's like people killing your children.
You mentioned that the record label didn't respond to the "Boats" album. That label also gave you a similar reaction with the songs you were writing and submitting in the late '80s and early '90s, which I feel includes some of your best material. Did that contribute to your writing less songs by yourself?
Absolutely. There was a time around [1980's] "Tonight You're Mine" album where [Arista Record President] Clive Davis said to me point blank, "I don't know. Maybe you really should be writing with a lyricist at this point." And talk about shaking the foundations of your belief in yourself, suddenly this guy is saying to me, "You can't write lyrics anymore. Maybe you should start working with collaborators. Maybe you should record some songs by other people."
Having regained my freedom and the ability to do what I want in the studio, this album was a first step for me in an evolution toward doing what I do again.
He showed me some Tom Snow songs and some songs by whoever Clive's writer du jour was at the time. It definitely shakes your confidence.
Certainly if you continue to write songs in the '90s, as I did, and he says, "I don't really like it. It could never be a hit. It's an album cut," at some point in time, you kind of go—if you've spent three months writing something and you hand it to the guy and he says it could never be a hit, that's three wasted months of your life. On the other hand, if you spend three days writing something and he says it could never be a hit, your commitment to that is a whole lot less. It's a lot easier to swallow.
It's strange that one person can have such an impact on your writing.
It's true. It's really true. I'm not blaming Clive for the reason I don't write lyrics anymore. That's not true. It's a combination of many things, and it's not to say that it won't ever happen again. Having regained my freedom and the ability to do what I want in the studio, this album was a first step for me in an evolution toward doing what I do again. The fact that Pioneer let me do what I did, and that I'm pleased with the result, goes a great way toward putting band aids on some of those scars that Clive helped open up.
"Top Down Summer" is another homage to the Beach Boys and the would-be perfect follow-up to "Make Me Lose Control."
About ten years too late, but other than that…It was written not too long after that. When Dean and I wrote that song, there were major Santa Anas going on in Los Angeles. We were trying to write that in Dean's living room, and it was 104 degrees outside, and he had all the windows closed, and I was dying. I had the verse music written. Dean had a little notebook and started reading me off possible titles, and he said, "Top Down Summer." I said, "That sounds cool."
He already had that in his book of titles. I would have thought he wrote it specifically for you.
No, it was just a note in one of his notebooks.
I like the brass splashes (as the song develops) and the breakdown chorus. Also, the timpani and timbale drums are reminiscent of the Beach Boys live shows.
That's what I was thinking about. We used to tour with them, and they would have 19 guys doing percussion. I loved their Latin flavored timbale and cymbals that they used to insert into songs like "Do It Again," which would be a straight, standard rock 'n roll beat. But then they'd do these spicy things to it that would make it more interesting. This was a good opportunity to take that approach to the next step.
The harmonies sound even more like the Beach Boys than they did on "Make Me Lose Control" and equal to the Beach Boys influenced vocals on "Long Live Rock 'n Roll" (an earlier version of "Make Me Lose Control.")
That comment is right on the money. On "Long Live Rock 'n Roll" and on "Top Down Summer," I sang all the vocal parts except for the female answer in the bridge of "Top Down Summer." When we recorded "Make Me Lose Control" in L.A., [producer] Jimmy Ienner didn't want me to sing all the harmonies, so we used session singers. I think it was Kip Lennon, Jon Joyce and Mark Hudson, but I'm not sure. I know Mark was there because he's a lunatic, and we always have too much fun when we get together.
Jimmy and I always had a different opinion about Beach Boys style background vocals. He felt we should stay away from making them sound too much like the Beach Boys, and I feel just the opposite.
"I Could Really Love You" has been compared to the Beatles and your early work with Raspberries.
I got the lyric from Dean in the mail, I pulled it out of the envelope and sat it on my piano. I went over and sat down and played it, and pretty much played it through. I called Dean up afterwards and asked him, "By the way, how did you hear this thing?" And he said, "I heard it as a ballad." And I said, "Really? 'Cause I didn't see it that way." This is what happens when you write with someone long distance and you don't talk first.
Great Brian Wilson style modulation into the bridge.
Can you talk about working with [former Raspberry] Wally Bryson on two songs for this record?
It was just great fun. I didn't know whether he'd be interested in playing or not. But I thought Wally's Rickenbacker and his touch would sound really nice on it. I called and asked him, and he said "Sure."
Were there other songs he was going to play on?
I think originally I had him play acoustic guitar on "Almost Paradise." It was the last thing that we did that night, and it was pretty late, and I didn't check it thoroughly. And when I came in the next day and really listened to the part, there were parts of it where the timing was perhaps a bit rushed here and there, and whatever. Inasmuch as that I was using it almost like a rhythm instrument—it wasn't like a big deal but when I was working with Bruce Gaitsch at one point, we just went back and redid it. On "Every Time I Make Love To You," Wally's 12-string part is the part in the chorus. You actually have to listen for it.
You commented that that song is the type of song that has to grow on you.
I think so. I don't think it's as immediately obvious and accessible as some of the others. But once you catch its drift, in some ways its more interesting than some of the other stuff. That's just my personal take.
Did your co-writer Andy Goldmark write some of the music on it?
When we write together, Andy is more rhythmically based, and I'm more melodically based. We seem to work well together because of those differences. I may come up with the melody, but sometimes my melody will start from a little rhythm that Andy will sing. It's very complicated really. On "Isn't It Romantic," Andy sat down at the piano and played some crazy little keyboard part that in no way ends up in the song. But that little keyboard part triggered something in my head that made the verse happen. And from the verse, the chorus happened. So, did Andy write the music to that? No, but at the same time, it was his little rhythmic idea that was the spark plug that got it all started.
That song has quite a different style for you.
He said, "With your voice, you should do a samba sometime." I said, "That sounds like fun."
The first three songs on the album each contain a key change for the last chorus which—
Is something I always said I don't like to do. All I can say is that I didn't plan it that way. When I worked with Diane, she felt that our song should have that key change. And I can't disagree. I think it works. When Andy and I wrote "Every Time I Make Love To You," we thought we'll try it. And it worked there. It didn't sound cornball. At this point, they're part of the ammunition, part of the tool chest of a songwriter. I can't say that I will or won't use them again. Everything's on a song by song basis. If it helps the song, why not?
"I Was Born To Love You" is the first single in Japan.
Andy [Goldmark] and I sat down in a room somewhere. We kicked around titles. It was Andy's title. Within two or three days, the song was done. We both worked on the music and lyrics together. I really like that song. It's one of my most perfect records, in terms of what I heard in my head and what ended up on the record. Bruce Gaitsch did a great job on the guitar, just tasty.
Your voice sounds great on the new album. I heard a rumor that you stopped smoking to get a cleaner sound to your voice, whereas in the past you've said you liked to smoke to get a raspier sound to your voice.
It's partially true, partly because Beechwood Studios is a nonsmoking studio. It's the only recording studio I've ever been in that you're not allowed to smoke in, which was a real pain in the neck in the early going. And then secondly because at a certain point I thought it's really time to stop this. It turned out that I actually smoke about three cigarettes a day, down from a pack a day. So I've been able to table the habit part of it and have an occasional cigarette when I'd like one. I think it was helpful. As I've gotten older, I don't need the cigarettes nearly as much to get that rasp. The rasp is part and parcel to the voice now.
Co-writing to me is great fun many times. It's like going on a first date.
"Someone That You Loved Before" is the second Japanese single. You wrote it with Diane Warren. I wondered which composer would dominate on this song. I thought for sure it would sound like one of you wrote the music while the other sat in the corner or hung out by the pool (and I honestly didn't know which would be which—that would depend on who got to the piano first). Interestingly, I'd have to say it sounds like a 50/50 blend—a Warmen melody.
It was pretty close to that. Diane doesn't really like co-writing. Co-writing to me is great fun many times. It's like going on a first date. Diane is much more comfortable by herself. We'd been hanging out together for two or three weeks, and we'd been in the studio together every day recording "My Heart Stops," and then one day she said, "All right. Let's write a song."
Diane played the synth, and I sat down at the piano. She threw out the title. It was like we'd trade off lines. She'd sing a line, then I'd add a line. We finished the verse and chorus and she said, "OK. Let's eat." I think we wrote the song in 45 minutes. I kind of wrote the bridge in my head overnight. Probably Diane had more to do with the lyric than I did.
Did you write any other songs with her?
No. That's the only song.
It's a trend of Japanese record companies to have an artist re-record about three of their old songs for an album, along with the new ones. Is that why your song "Almost Paradise" is on the album?
It certainly is one of the reasons. They wanted me to do "All By Myself" and probably would have liked me to do "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again" and "Almost Paradise." I wasn't that interested in doing all those things. I did, however, think that since I'd never recorded "Almost Paradise," it would be a fresh thing for me. It wouldn't be like redoing "All By Myself."
I always thought this would make a great duet between you and Bonnie Tyler, only to find out later that the Footloose producers were originally considering you and Tyler to record the duet.
Yeah, originally one of the things they had said was "Maybe you and Bonnie Tyler would be a good duet for this." It was one of the things we had in mind when it was being written. I don't know if that was just sucker bait to get me to write it.
Speaking of covering the old songs, weren't you considering recording a ballad version of "Let's Pretend" at one point?
Yeah. There were a lot of songs I had considered at various points. At some point I might re-record "Let's Pretend" as a ballad. There was talk about "Starting Over." That came into play at one point.
"I Wanna Take Forever Tonight" was originally recorded by Peter Cetera with Crystal Bernard (of TV show "Wings" fame), which made the Hot 100 and became a big AC hit. Did you write it with him or you in mind?
I wrote it for me initially. It was recorded during the Arista, last album stuff [circa 1990]. Clive wasn't terribly gung ho on it. He didn't hate it, but he didn't love it either. After it was apparent to me that the record wasn't going to come out on Arista, Andy and I talked about finding a nice home for it. We heard Peter Cetera was looking for material, and we sent it to him.
Did you like his version?
Yeah. Peter changed some of the words, which I wasn't too crazy about. He toned down the lyric, made it a little less sexual. I understand why he did it, but I wasn't too excited about it.
Did he ask you first if he could change the lyric?
I don't think so. I think he just did it. It's OK.
You cover Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee." I used to say that the rare "Cindy In the Wind" (which you recorded during your Cyrus Eerie period) reminded me of "Walk Away Renee." Now, whenever I hear this recording, I say it reminds me of "Cindy in the Wind."
That's interesting. "Cindy in the Wind" was written at the time as my take on "Walk Away Renee," when I was 16. "Walk Away Renee" was an instrumental song in my thinking, in terms of what I wanted to do. It was a formative record in my early years. This arrangement [on my new album] was basically because I had so many different ways and approaches to do the song that I couldn't decide on which way to do it. So, three of the choruses are all different. And then the last chorus is kind of like all of them played together.
It was because—the first chorus I did, just with the strings, sounded so great to me, that I couldn't use drums in it. I had to do one this way. The next chorus was kind of like—if the Raspberries were doing it, how would they do it? It was the way the Raspberries would sound. The third chorus is what I call the Def Leppard chorus.
Because of the "fuzz" electric guitars?
Yeah, the Mutt Lang electric guitar. Grind guitar. Power guitars in the auditorium sound. I put them all together on the last chorus. I was having fun. This is what happens when you're unchecked by someone else being your producer.
The record certainly isn't a carbon copy of the Left Banke version by any means.
Exactly. Which is the other reason for doing it. When I first started, it was kind of very [similar.] It was like, how do I make this different? The harmonies have to stay the same, the melody is the same, and the chords are the same. So how can I make this into something new? That was a way of approaching it.
Two of the three choruses are actually breakdown choruses, the first and third, where most of the instrumentation drops out. I never heard a record that did that before.
I never even thought about it before—the self-indulgence of being your own producer.
Considering the original recording was one of your earlier influences, closing "Winter Dreams" with this cover makes perfect sense, as it seems to bring you full circle.
I also opened the album with this really sweet, understated arrangement of "I Was Born to Love You." And I like that we closed the album with a squawk of feedback.
Why did you decide to cover the Beach Boys' "Caroline, No" for this album?
It's always been one of my favorite Beach Boys song. It's a great lyric, a really sad lyric. I came up with what I thought was a nice arrangement, without straying too far from the original. I used a couple interesting things. Instead of the flutes, I used a shokuhatchi, which is a Japanese fluteophone. I thought since we're doing this album for Japan, I'll use a Japanese instrument here for the solo. I don't know if anyone ever even got it.
How many songs did you write during this period, the last ten years, that didn't make the album?
Oh lots. There are things I wrote with John Bettis, things with Seth Swirsky, some other things that I wrote with Dean that are pretty good.
Dean told me about one called "Blue Highway."
I don't know that we ever finished it. It was kind of an R&B feeling, strange song. Moody song.
What did you write with John Bettis?
Two or three songs. I spent some time over at John's house out in Mandeville Canyon. He's a great guy, a good lyricist. Some of them were demoed, but I don't know that they were ever demoed in any format that you could have gotten a hold of them. Years ago we wrote a song, "Young Hearts On Fire," that was supposed to be for Stevie Nicks.
We wrote it at the request of Jimmy Iovine, when I was at Geffen, around 1985. I remember playing it on the piano, and Jimmy Iovine said, "It's too Stevie. Sounds like something she's already done." It was like, "I guess we really nailed it." I can't remember the titles of the others. We also wrote a rock song with [Heart] in mind.
How did the songs with Seth Swirsky turn out? He wrote Taylor Dayne's hit "Tell It To My Heart" and it seems his style is rather different from yours.
Seth is an old friend from many years ago. I think we met through a mutual friend when I was with QBQ Agency. His friend worked for my friend and agent Dennis Arfa and we were somehow introduced. We wrote a few songs in a number of different styles that turned out fine. Seth is actually a huge Beatles fan.
After completing a song, do you have a certain group of friends and/or songwriters you run songs by to see which songs get the best reaction? I understand Diane Warren does this, and I wonder how you pick the songs for your albums.
I actually don't run the songs by anyone but my wife. She has great ears and usually comes up with good comments. I pick songs for my albums based on how comfortable I feel about singing them.
If you do something brilliant and there's no place to play it, people aren't going to hear it.