Monday, December 28, 2009

Dave Lewis engages John Paul Jones in second artful interview of the year

As previously mentioned here, Dave Lewis conducted an interview on Dec. 1 with John Paul Jones. This was their second published Q&A session of 2009; the other occurred in April and contained a vague hint of the band that had already been in the formative stages over the past couple of months. There was a lot Jones knew about Them Crooked Vultures at the time but wasn't saying.

Ever since the cloak of secrecy regarding that project has been unveiled, he's been speaking much more freely in interviews. However, the demeanor Jones puts forth in some interviews ranges from very comfortable to slightly agitated. For the second Jones/Lewis encounter this year, out now in Issue 25 of Tight But Loose, the star feels right at home. This speaks to the efforts made by Lewis, who knows the subject like few others do.

Thanks to the generosity of that interviewer, can bring you a transcript of a portion of his conversation with Jones, which contains the following gem of a remark about Them Crooked Vultures:

"There is a second album planned. We are having such great fun onstage, nobody wants it to end yet."
--John Paul Jones, in TBL 25

Lewis kicks off the interview by asking first about the intended yet aborted band project with Jimmy Page and Jason Bonham in 2008. Jones confirms that their group was not conceived to be a continuation of Led Zeppelin but an altogether new band. Emphasis added to the following:
Firstly, one thing that needs to be clear is that we were trying to start a new band. We weren't trying to do Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant as was widely reported at the time. We were writing new material and we did plan to go on the road and we realized if we went out, we would need to do some Led Zeppelin songs, and we were trying to get a vocalist to fit what we required -- a singer who probably could handle some Zeppelin songs but had his own style. We tried a few people out, but basically, we could not agree on a way forward.
To this, I can't help but say: See, I told you so. This affirms the distinction has always made, one even Jones now says the press was misconstruing. It's a moot point now, as the project was called off a full year ago and Jones has obviously found a way to move on.

And at that point in the interview, Lewis also moves on.

He starts asking questions about Them Crooked Vultures, which formed early this year. After he and Jones discuss that group's formation, the band name, the secrecy under which they operated for the first round of touring, the questions really get deep into the way the music sounds.

Novices who've done interviews with Jones since the veil of secrecy was lifted early in October so quickly made a cliche of asking dumb questions like, "What does the band sound like?" that the band has posted this question foremost on the list of "10 THINGS YOU REALLY DON'T NEED TO ASK THEM CROOKED VULTURES" that forms the group's bio on their official Web site.

But there's no need worry about lame questions with Dave Lewis. The experienced interviewer he is, Lewis offers some good, open-ended questions for Jones to put some thought into an answer. Here is a sizable chunk of the chat:
DL: The album songwriting credits read Them Crooked Vultures. What was your particular input to the songs? Did you bring in any material you had stored for a possible follow up to the Thunderthief album?

JPJ: It was mostly all fresh. There was one song I had from about a year ago that didn't make the album. It will appear at some point; it's called "Highway One," and it's a song we now do on stage. In the studio, it's been very democratic. I've said before that Zeppelin was the product of the four members and this band is the product of the three members. It really is, it's not like anyone's the leader. At first a few of the songs started out with Josh, but we all came in with different ideas and things would go off in different areas -- hence the joint credits. It was quite an organic process in the studio.

DL: A couple of people have mentioned to me that they feel this album has the same immediacy and feel of Presence. Is that something you've been aware of?

JPJ: Not really. I guess it does have the same feel as it's a very guitar based album which Presence was. It could be described as that but I've never thought about it really. In the studio it all felt fresh. I used a clavinet on "Scumbag Blues" that Josh had hanging around his studio. "Dead End Friends" was the last thing that we did -- that was an initial Josh idea. I really like "Spinning in Daffodils" and "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" is great too.

DL: It's evident that you have a real empathy for Dave [Grohl]'s drumming. Would you class him as the second best drummer you have played with?

JPJ: Yes I would say that. He's very Bonzo-inspired though he's got his own feel and his own groove. He's a groovy groovy drummer as well, a groove merchant as Bonzo was, though they are different drummers of course. The great thing is that we are turning into a rhythm section, if you know what I mean. We are learning from each other, and we know what each other can do, and that empathy between us is getting stronger. We go though a song on stage and come to the same conclusion, which is really inspiring.

DL: You've brought along to the shows a wide range of instruments. Four-, eight-, 12-string bass guitars, keyboards, mandolin and the purple slide guitar setup. Hugh Manson must have been busy. You are also using a keytar -- where did you get that from?

JPJ: Hugh has been busy as he's on the road with me. The keytar I got off eBay, believe it or not! The track "Interlude with Ludes" started with a sample I had on my computer. Then I thought, "How am I going to do this live? I can't just sit there." And then the keytar idea came up. It's terribly naff, but it's a fun number, and it allows me to wander around the stage. Same with the slide guitar: That also allows me a walk. Hugh got that for me.

DL: Were you nervous at the first gig?

JPJ: Only as much as we wanted to get it right. It was a lot of material to remember to play live. Dave was actually really keen to play some gigs before we had made the album. It was like "Come back, Dave, we've got an album to finish!" He was very keen to get out there and play drums.

DL: What would you say have been the stand-out gigs?

JPJ: Well, what's happened is that every gig has gone better than the one before, which is of course a great way for it to be. The festivals have been great, in particular Reading, which was brilliant.

DL: Now that the album is out, has the audience reaction changed much now [that] they are more familiar with the songs being performed?

JPJ: Well, they now mouth the words at us and before they didn't really know them! Early on, the audiences were so great in taking in completely new material, hearing how a song was sounding, going a bit mad and then having to concentrate again. The audiences have given us a lot of commitment.

DL: You must be looking forward to playing in Australia in the new year.

JPJ: Well, the plan was a world tour, so it's great to be able to go to places like Australia as they are very keen for us there, it seems. The Australian promoters actually came to the Chicago show to see us and were pretty impressed.
Interview segments copyright Tight But Loose.

In talking about plans for the band's future, Jones dropped the suggestion of not only a second album but perhaps even an EP with some of the surplus material from their first studio effort.

My praise goes to Dave Lewis for nailing this interview, but it's the type of stuff he's used to doing. This is, after all, his third issue of Tight But Loose published in 2009 and 25th overall since 1978. And with all the books he's been authoring over the years too, his many readers are pretty well used to this level of stuff, for crying out loud!

So, if you haven't yet acquired this issue of Tight But Loose (I promised him I would plug it), think about what you'd be missing out on if you don't:
  • the full John Paul Jones interview excerpted above
  • Them Crooked Vultures U.S. tour coverage and album review
  • "40 Years On -- Still the Only Way to Fly"
  • Led Zeppelin Autumn '69: Mike Tremaglio compiles the definitive Led Zep fall tour log, plus 
  • Led Zeppelin II: A Kind of Rock Reappraised
  • Nick Anderson compiles the collectable Led Zeppelin II
  • TBL exclusive interview with Eddie Kramer on recording Zep in the studio, at Stargroves, and live in concert
  • TBL exclusive interview with Nicky Horne on Earl's Court '75, the '77 tour, and Knebworth '79
  • It Might Get Loud U.K. screening details
  • Book reviews with comments from authors Charles Cross and Ralph Hulett
  • CD reviews
  • The latest Page, Plant and Jones news
  • And more! Thirty-two pages of essential Zep text -- the perfect post-Christmas Zep read to set you up for 2010.
All that is for Issue 25, the final issue of 2009, which can be purchased for £6 in the United Kingdom, £7 in the rest of Europe, or £8 in the United States. Check TBL/Web for Issue 25 ordering instructions.

Then, don't miss out on subscribing to the three TBL issues planned for 2010. In fact, he's extended a subscription deal through Jan. 31 that gives the buyer a discount off the price of his next planned book, focusing in detail on the final Led Zeppelin tour. That book is to be called "Led Zeppelin: Feather in the Wind, Over Europe 1980 -- 30 Years Gone."

The issues of TBL to be published in 2010 will include a unique three-part series focusing on the events of 1970, with key comments, rare visuals and analysis.
  • TBL 26, due in April, is to contain retrospective articles on the famed Royal Albert Hall concert, the Copenhagen show played under the name the Nobs, the spring North American tour, the trip to Bron-Y-Aur cottage, and more.
  • TBL 27, due in August, is to focus on Led Zeppelin's summer 1970 shows in Iceland, at the Bath Festival in England, in Germany, and again in North America later that same summer (i.e. the tour that includes the noted "Blueberry Hill" concert), plus the making of Led Zeppelin III, and more.
  • TBL 28, due next December, is to feature the release of Led Zeppelin III, the single pairing the heavy "Immigrant Song" with the non-album acoustic track "Hey Hey What Can I Do," the Melody Maker poll awards, the Parliamentary Awards, and the immediate beginnings of the untitled fourth album.
Led Zeppelin's first year of the '70s certainly was a productive one for the band, and marking the anniversaries will keep Lewis and readers busy next year, catching up on all the 40th anniversaries noted in his magazines -- and also the 30th anniversaries in his coming book on the events of Led Zeppelin's final year.

Surely, you'll join me in subscribing to TBL in 2010. I've paid up, and I'm still glad to be doing this commercial! Check TBL/Web for 2010 ordering instructions.

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