Q: It almost sounds as if you feel like you are starting all over again?
NL: Well, Iím starting all over again in a sense. My last record, which was released in 1995 on Rykodisc, was a sign of the times. The industry was becoming more hands on as I became less and less that way. So for five years now, Iíve pretty much been without a record company. Three years ago, I released an acoustic live record with some new music on it and eventually a couple of companies licensed it in America and Europe. I produced it myself and started selling it at shows. I decided to do the same thing this new record Iíve made, "Breakaway Angel." The record deals today are so one-sided and so bad, that at first I got upset about it, then I realized there was nothing I could do about it and decided to go with the flow. It is in a way starting over again.
Thanks to the Internet, Iím back in business again. I have my own Web site, www.nilslofgren.com and Iíve got a list server. Itís been fascinating and I feel like Iím at the start of a new business venture. Record deals are so lopsided for the companies that it really doesnít make any sense for an artist to release a record on a major label unless youíre Sting, or Bruce Springsteen and can reach millions of people. The nice thing is that Iím not burdened with politics anymore. I see silly things all the time, even to major artists like Bruce. Remember when he sang "Philadelphia" and won an Oscar? A year or two later, he recorded "Secret Garden" which is one of the most beautiful, haunting pieces Iíve ever heard him do by one of the most prolific writers in history. You would think it would be a no-brainer for Sony records, who is one of the biggest machines working in the industry today, to push the record. Heís handing them the follow up to "Philadelphia" and what do they do? Nothing. No promotion, nothing. They drop the ball and it took Cameron Croweís movie, "Jerry McGuire" to make that a hit. To me thatís whatís wrong with the business.
They donít play rock and roll on the radio today, but when youíve got a guy like Bruce and youíre Sony, you make them play it and you find a way to make people hear the song. Thereís no danger of Sony ever signing me, so I donít care. Thereís a freedom that I have now where I can say such things. Itís weird because I have all this experience and a wealth of knowledge and Iím going back to a grassroots effort in promoting myself. I was just recently in England for five weeks and Iíve never gotten a record royalty in my life, and here I am at a table, selling my new CD, signing it for people and theyíre giving me money for it. On my Web site, people are talking about my tracks, and itís all kind of bizarre for me. But thatís the beauty of music. In a lot of ways, even on the business level, Iím like a kid again and Iím trying to find my way because the industry and radio have said, "Weíre not helping you." Thank God for technology and thank God for what Iíve learned. The thing is, I have a gift and Iím just trying to share it. My main goal is to remain passionate and try to be grateful for whatever comes. Right now, this is my journey. Itís a new career for me and a new adventure without the corporate structure.
Q: Tell me how "Breakaway Angel" was recorded and when did you start?
NL: I started "Breakaway Angel" at the end of 1998. Again, with no record company budget, I recorded it in a home studio in Maryland with my drummer, Timm Biery and recorded them on these DA-38 machines or eight-track digital recorders. When I got all the parts done in my basement, and most of them were done live because I tend to get impatient. So this was an enforced way to keep it fresh. I also recorded at Chaton Studios here in Phoenix, a fabulous studio. We cut the tracks, and did the final mixing. Thanks to technology, we didnít have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in New York or Los Angeles, and didnít cut corners on quality. I was able to hold onto the musical freedom without the musical budget. I got an old buddy of mine, Ralph Steadman, to do the illustration. He did all the "Fear and Loathing" artwork for Hunter Thompson. I felt I took the time do what I felt like was a very classy package. My manager, Anson Smith just struck a distribution deal with Big Daddy, who will start distributing it in March. Itís funny, Iím just learning all this stuff now after years of record company support. On the other hand, itís very exciting because thereís no politics. Iím not just cut out to be anybody but who I am. I think Iím slowly getting better because Iím already thinking in my mind the next record I want to cut is this electric, funky thing, and I donít have to bounce it off these record executives who will tell me to stick with the acoustic thing. Iím able to maintain the creativity that I should be able to do. At the end of the day, itís all about staying passionate about what I do.
Q: What are the songs on "Breakaway Angel" reflective of?
NL: This is a schizophrenic collection of songs. As always, thereís a few autobiographical pieces. For instance, "Seize Love" is a love song about my wife, Amy. Itís about our journey when I met her seven years ago when I was kind of in relationship retirement. I was a year-and-a-half into my second divorce. My job was too crazy, my business was too crazy, the world was too crazy and I thought people couldnít hang with me. So I came out of relationship retirement with Amy because sheís just so wonderful. Then "I Found You" is a song about the perfect girl who couldnít exist, then in fact, I met her and fell in love and married her. A lot of the songs are about fictional characters with autobiographical emotions. "Heavenís Answer to Blue" is another song about Amy, who never really knew her father. Somehow she got in touch with an aunt and found out about the father she never knew. Her aunt gave Amy her fatherís old upright piano, which we have in our Maryland house. The first time I sat down at the piano, I felt like I was being channeled by her father and I wrote this song, which is an amends from a father to a daughter he never knew. It was very strange because most songs take a lot of elbow grease and itís a puzzle you work on it for weeks or months. Then there are some songs, like that one, where it just comes out. Then "Driftiní Man" is great because I co-wrote it with Lou Reed which was great because Iím not much of a co-writer. "All I Have to Do is Dream" is the old Everly Brothers tune, which was just a fun thing to do in the studio. It came out great and we just stuck it on there. "Puttiní Out Fires" I think is one of the best things Iíve ever done, I think. It just combines all of the elements of the things I do, and itís acoustic-based. Itís six-and-a-half minutes long, and itís an unexpected jam that just happened in the studio. It was all unintentional and we just left it all on there. Same thing with "Cryiní Tonight," where we just ended up riffing for the last three minutes of the song, and thatís how I ended up leaving it, something that would never happen if I were with a major record label. Thereís just a lot of emotions and feels on this record.
Q: How did your second release this year, "Nils Lofgren Tuff Stuff! The Best of the All-Madden Team Band" come about?
NL: The producer, Bob Stenner, whoís produced all of John Maddenís shows from the beginning, was an old friend from Los Angeles. Basically, they started asking me to write original rock Ďní roll for the show that I started contributing from the early 1990s. Every year, they kept coming back to me and asked me to do more. As a musician, I was honored they kept coming back to me for original music, but as a musician, I complained to them no one could really hear the music when they had the clips to look at and their voices when they talked. After eight or nine years of this, I went to Johnís agent, Sandy Montag, and Bob Stenner, and asked them if I could put out an all-instrumental music album of the stuff I did for them. They said, "Great, letís do it." I asked John to put some Madden-isms into the music and he did, so I called it "Tuff Stuff!" Itís 80 minutes of music, that now you can crank up and roar during football season.
Q: As a musician, youíve had more than your share of nine lives, having played and recorded with so many great artists. It almost seems as if youíve been born again?
NL: Iím a little startled and amazed at where I find myself, and Iím grateful for it. I find myself doing everything for all the right reasons. Iím making music I love with a maturity and passion that comes from my journey and history. I feel like Iím starting to learn again, and thereís still so much I have to learn. Iím doing well, I have a great band Iím playing with, I have the support of a lot of fans and friends and a colorful history to draw on. My goal is to keep at it, and health permitting, to keep doing this the rest of my life. I joke with my friends that if I can keep doing this until Iím 65, then I can become a blues artist. (laughs) This is a good time for me now because Iíve finally got the record and the band Iíve always wanted out, and my main goal is to remain passionate about what I do.
Stone Pony London
Nils Lofgren Intervew: Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4