Interview: Garland Jeffreys. Truth In Between.
Garland Jeffreys is on a UK tour and stopped off at the Hotel California in Bloomsbury to talk to me about life on the road, truth, families and sleeping in. He went to the same school as Lou Reed in Syracuse, they were friends for 50 years. He studied Renaissance art in Italy and he wears a fantastic skull patterned shirt that he bought in Utah because he needed something to wear and that was all that was left in the store. Already six albums in, who has played with reads like a music industry Who’s Who, he came to my attention first in the 1980’s.
Do you remember in 1981 playing with The Rumour, you did 96 Tears on the TV show The Old Grey Whistle Test?
I remember, I actually know Graham Parker very well we did a tour together just me and him driving from place to place, sharing the driving turning up and playing. One night he would headline the next I would.
I know all the guys really well, what great players they are.
We did a tour in the US. We did a show in Asbury Park at the Fast Lane and we did two encores and it was the first night of the tour the fans were loving it, they went wild. We went back to the bus and I wanted to do a third encore but the tour manager said not to. You know I had played that place before, I know what it was all about, he was new. “What do you mean that’s enough the crowd are wild I want to do a third encore”.
It was kind of like an argument. For some reason I went along with, accepting what he said and then a women walked past the bus, turns out that she’s my wife…she is now my wife. I met her because I did not do a third encore. So never do a third encore, stick with two and you may get married. I met my wife of 33 years as a result of this. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.(laughs)..but it is a fantastic thing. I have a great wife and a great daughter.
That’s the story ..The Rumour ..they don’t really know what they have given me.
Since you mentioned families can you tell me more about the song and project Collide The Generations?
We were recording in the studio with a wonderful bunch of people, Larry Campbell, we had a great session, Steve Jordan on drums, Steve is a friend of mine I try and have him on every recording I do, when you play with players like that you don’t have to do tracks over.
I like to do the vocal live, recording it and the music at the same time. We were lucky enough to get the songs in the first or second take. With this new album Truth Serum it is all one take tracks, we finished the basics of the album in one day, we added a couple of things later.
So Collide the Generations is a very natural thing for me I wrote the song and it was about the whole issue of kids growing up with parents and kids growing apart and something happening, things changing, the struggle, often, not always and the actual thing that happens in the process and that families experience in different ways.
In our case our kid now is 17 and she is exhibiting a lot of…she is wanting to break away, you feel it and I’m feeling it. The essence of this website we are creating is how music of one generation is passed down to the new generation and how they grasp it, how they like it , how they choose it , what they choose, what they go for.
Graham Parker has written about his kid, the idea is to have artists, songwriters journalists all kinds of people not just the headliners, regular people who are going through that experience, we are getting a lot of people of the site who are getting it, its fun its kind of an experiment.
The new album is called Truth Serum, why that for the title?
I like the idea of truth and I am like most people I think (suspicious) especially of government, in everyday life we are faced with the truth but is it the truth? We know the government fools around with the truth, you are telling me this is the truth but it cannot be the truth.
I had another title It’s What I Am, I liked that title also, I liked that song very much but Truth Serum has a wider meaning. I would rather have the listener discover the song than have it as a an album title. Truth Serum can be fed to some people to investigate honesty and dishonesty.
This album was recorded very quickly and then 18 months ago you completed another album…..
Yes, the King Of In Between, also recorded very quickly in a similar way with the same players, I had the experience with those players and I was ready to work an a new album bring songs to them. I wanted the same approach. Brian Mitchell on keyboards what a phenomenal player he is, so good that is plays piano, organ, harmonica, accordion, and Larry on guitar, Steve, I don’t do a record without Steve, he has played on a number of my albums, he’s a fun guy we have a few laughs. James was on the last album, James Maddocks he adds something here and there, very helpful, very encouraging. Duke Levine is another great guitar player from Boston who appears on this album.
I have a show coming up at the Highline in New York where Brian will be playing all those instruments and it will be the first time I have used horns in a while. I invited James to join us but he has another gig he has to do. he’s making a big mistake (laughs) but that’s OK.
James is accompanying you on this UK tour why do you like playing with him?
James and I are new friends. We have been friends for about a year and a half. Bang, we just made a great connection, we hang out together, we have a lot of laughs we think alike. Our politics are similar, he’s writing songs for his new album, we collaborate mentally.
Just going back to talking about the albums, before the King of In Between there was a long, really long break between studio albums why was that?
Generally what I have done throughout my career is take time to make records. When I made King of In Between, I had to shape it, it was the first record I had done in a while.
Before I made that album I had put my career on the shelf, we raised our daughter and she is great. I think this has a lot to do with the attention we gave toward her. I wasn’t out on the road traveling, I was home all the time, when she came home she saw her father.
When she was very young I took her to nursery school everyday. We would sing songs along the way. We would see other mothers and fathers, Susan Sarandon would see me pushing my daughter we are singing at the top of our voices. These kind of pleasures I would not experience if I was on the road or in the studio. I was determined to be a father who was present.
Why is it that recent tours seem to take you repeatedly back to Holland and Belgium?
I had a number one hit in Belgium and Holland and then all over that part of Europe, France, Germany, Austria. A song call Matador, it was a huge huge hit. That song pays our bills, it pays our bills to this day. It was released in 1979, the record company said they wanted to put out another song. I said I think you should try to realise this one.
They said it was so long and I asked them to fade it earlier and they actually listened to me an it went to number one. It is a song that gets played constantly. I call it my Bridge Over Troubled Waters.
Whilst we are taking about songwriting you have never been afraid to confront racial issues in your songs. Has anything changed in your songwriting from the 1970s’ to now?
Its the same struggle, same point of view, sometimes it seems worse than before, sometimes that there is progress. In my country race, problems, issues, racism plays an enormous part in American politics. I think half of the problems of Obama’s presidency is because they are continually undermined by the right wing, it’s obvious.
When I was seven years old, I remember quite clearly seeing something that I thought was unjust, I saw it and I thought that I have the power to change it. At 7 years old can you imagine? There was no great plan just the belief that that was wrong. I guess in a way that has manifested in my songs. Its an effort to say things that a lot of people don’t say. I try to say it in a special way that sometimes people don’t even know what they are hearing, but it’s there. Sometimes its more direct.
I was at a baseball game and I was with the guys and I went to get some “franks” when someone shouted “Hey buckwheat, buckwheat, get the fuck out of there”, you know because I was standing up, I was in the way, I think he should have taken a different approach. I didn’t know what to do, I was shocked and deeply upset.
I was standing in line to get the “franks” and I said the words “Don’t call me buckwheat, don’t call me buckwheat” and I went home I wrote the album. It took a while but I wrote the album.
You seem, at 70, so full of life and energy. What gets you through the day what makes you get up in the mornings?
Its a good question. I don’t jump right out of bed in the mornings and if you had come a bit later (laughs). I have responsibilities. Responsibilities to my band, to my music. If you are doing a show you want to be ready for it.
We also talked about his love for his family, New York city and Lou Reed. Garland was a joy to talk with.
Interview and photography by Simon Jay Price. 28th February 2014.