Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Interview:-- Martin Briley (Singer/Songwriter)

"I won't cry 
for the wasted years,
'cause you ain't worth
the salt in my tears."
~ Martin Briley ~

Martin Briley is one of those wonderful creative musical cats who may not necessarily be a household name (except for those in the 80s who had their hearts busted up) and yet you know him just the same.  This successful singer-songwriter-musician has performed, recorded, and written spirals of songs for a host of diverse artists.  From Ian Hunter to Gregg Allman.  Pat Benatar to Barry Manilow.  Mick Jones to Charlie Pride.  And dozens in-between.

Martin Briley has also provided music for television and movies.  And, of course, he has recorded his own albums, as well...including the pop-rock, critical rave-up..."One Night With A Stranger." Well worth seeking out.  A one-trick pony, he's not.  He thinks quick on his feet.  Leads, when necessary. Improvises, when needed.  Adapts, when imperative.  Martin Briley is a survivor.  And we are all the better for it.

Martin Briley

Casey Chambers:  Martin, I want to just jump around, if you don't mind.  My introduction to your music came from hearing your signature rock-burn, "The Salt In My Tears" from the album..."One Night With A Stranger."  What a great song.

Martin Briley:  Thank you.

Casey Chambers:  Were you expecting that particular song to be the one the label was going to push?

Martin Briley:  Like most writers and artists, my favorite song is the one I'm working on at the time.  So while I was writing it, I thought it was pretty good. (laughs)

But a lot of other songs were being presented to the label as well.  They'd gravitate to one song and then another one, and then another one.  And then they'd say...' well, most of the wives of the A & R department liked this one.' (laughs) But eventually, that (song) seemed to be the one and so we put it out.  To be honest, I was a little...I didn't think it really represented who I was.  It made me sound a lot more rock and roll than I think I was.  Yeah, I mean it's basically a three or four-chord song with a riff that everybody's used, so it didn't really stick out to me at the time.  And y'know, that's the thing.  Is it a hit or is it not a hit?  Well...if a song is not necessarily destined to be a hit record, it can still be a hit record once you get the machine of a huge label behind it.  And you hear a song over and over again, you start to like it.  So, I think they probably could've started out with another song and had the same result.  But there it is.  It's that.

"One Night With A Stranger" - Martin Briley (1983)

Casey Chambers:  You had already established yourself as a songwriter for other artists. Watching a song you recorded take off like it did must have felt pretty satisfying.

Martin Briley:  Yeah. I went through most of my career always expecting a 90% failure rate (laughs) which, to be honest, isn't that unrealistic.  In fact, I kind of approached my record deals the same way.
Believe it or not, I didn't really want to be a recording artist like that, because I had just come off the road for two years with Ian Hunter.  Standing behind him and watching with amazement how he would manage to throw so much into a performance.  I'd sort of think...' wow, I'm glad I don't have that job!'  So, I was very happy being a sideman for a while.  It was a very low-pressure job.

By the time the tours had ended with Ian and also with Ellen Foley, I had been touring with both of them for about two years.  And also making albums with them in the breaks.  When I saw it was starting to slow down, I knew I was gonna need to do something else.  I had only managed to write about two songs while I was touring and I took them to the only publisher I knew at the time...which was Ian's publisher, Chrysalis.  And they described my two songs as five minute long, suicidal dirges.  They asked if I could write something happier and three and a half minutes long.  So considering I was completely broke, I said, 'yes, of course, I can do that.'

I wrote something called, "I'm Just Using You."  It was immediately covered by Karla DeVito which impressed Chrysalis publishing, who hadn't actually signed me yet.  They were just testing me.  They kept asking me to write for this and write for that and I kept winning.  So they offered me a really miserable deal which, naturally, I snapped up.  Then they said, 'y'know that miserable stuff you first brought in...you could probably be an artist with that.'  They found me a manager who started fronting my stuff around to all the labels.  I'm just assuming nothing will come of it, but then I got a deal.  And we put the first album together.

"Fear Of The Unknown" - Martin Briley (1981)

Casey Chambers:  You're talking about "Fear Of The Unknown." (1981)

Martin Briley:  Yeah, I'd put most of my previous five years into that first album.  And here's the weird thing.  That album was getting amazing critical reviews...but the label completely ignored it.  I think they just wanted to see if I was serious or not.

Casey Chambers:  Thanks for nothing, right?

Martin Briley:  Yeah, so then they picked me up for another year, which I didn't want them to do.  I'd gotten the attention of a couple of other really good labels, but I wasn't signed because Polygram picked up my option again.  I headed into the second album feeling like I really didn't have any music left. (laughs)

That's when I squeezed out "The Salt In My Tears" and a few other songs.  Even then, I'm thinking it's over.  'Cause I knew what the odds were.  The stars have to be completely aligned for a hit to happen.  It's got to be the perfect song at the perfect time and everybody involved has to be on board.  And the records have to get delivered to the stores.  There's a million things that could go wrong.  And I was pretty much counting on that. (laughs)

So when "The Salt In My Tears" started climbing the charts, I started to freak.  It was coming in right on the heels of MTV.  Which meant that within hours almost everybody knew my face.  Suddenly, I couldn't go outside anymore. It was so fast, I was almost praying it would slow down and go away...then maybe I could get used to this thing.  Anyway, that's kind of how I felt when it was climbing the charts.

"The Salt In My Tears" / "One Night With A Stranger" (1983)

Casey Chambers:  Where did you make the video?

Martin Briley:  That was done in London.  A couple of my videos were done in London.  You normally go where you get the most bang for your pocket.  So we did that one in England.  And back then, that was a pretty low budget.  I think it was like $30,000.  It was a one day shoot.  A pretty long day.  To be honest, I was kind of disappointed.  I thought it was a bit too Benny Hill...but it was extremely popular.

The other thing is, I had some kind of food poisoning at the time.  I was really, really fainty and kept sitting back on the couch.  Eventually the director said, 'Stay on the couch. We'll make you look nonchalant.'  And I guess I did.  Whenever I've gone on YouTube to look at some of the comments, they're always exactly the same.  There'll be some guy saying, 'Yeah, my girlfriend just dumped me and I played your song and I thought yeah, fuck you bitch.'  And so that seems to be my purpose.  To make lots of guys feel better about it.

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, the song speaks to the "middle finger" in all of us.  It's great! (laughs)
You've been tapped for plenty of session work over the years. Picking just one, I'd like to ask you about playing on Julian Lennon's first album, "Valotte" (1984).  Was that a good experience for you?

"Valotte" - Julian Lennon (1984)

Martin Briley:  It was kind of fun, but it came out of kind of a dreadful experience.  I was recording my third album with Phil Ramone.  And it was not a good match.  He was at a point in his career when he was desperately grabbing any work he could get.  And he had to grab three projects at once.  He grabbed me, Julian Lennon, and a movie.  A breakdance movie called "Body Rock."  It was all being done in the Hit Factory Studio in New York.  And Phil was just basically going from room to room...up and down the elevator.  Not really doing a very good job of anything. (laughs)  There it was.  So, I think the idea of getting me to play on Julian's record and vice versa was to kind of placate the both of us...for him being missing in action most of the time.  Although Julian didn't play much very well, so he didn't end up being able to return the favor.  But yeah, still it was fun.  I remember doing that session.

Casey Chambers:  Which songs did you play on?

Martin Briley:  I was on the hit single..."Too Late For Goodbyes."  And I forget the other.  It was one word.  I think it might have been the title track.

"Too Late For Goodbyes" - Julian Lennon / "Valotte" (1984)

Casey Chambers:  Jumping to another one of your classic gems is the killer..."Put Your Hands On The Screen."  The song has a delicious bit of late Genesis mind-vibe.  And the video is just bonus.

Martin Briley:  Yeah, well I'd recently discovered televangelism while I was touring with Ian Hunter through '79 and '80.  We'd find ourselves sitting in dumpy hotels in all kinds of obscure places all over the country.  And very often we'd be getting this guy, Ernest Angley, on the TV.  I don't know whether he's still around or if he's dead or went to hell, (laughs)  but he literally used to say, 'If you're a cripple or a drug addict, put your hands on the screen and feel the power of the Lord.'  All this kind of stuff.  I thought...this is like a joke.  I mean, this is something people would say as a joke.  But this guy is actually taking it seriously.

And the thing is, to me anyway, rock music in the '80s...there's not a whole lot of subjects you could write songs about.  I mean, essentially pop music is all about romance and you can step out of it sometimes...but not often.  And I thought televangelism was a subject that would actually work.  So I used Ernest Angley's words...' Put your hands on the screen'.  And again, I thought the video was just a little bit Benny Hill. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Well, Benny or no Benny, the song has major burns.

Martin Briley:  A funny story about that video is we were trying to get the most out of our budget, so we decided to shoot it at The Osmonds video complex in Orem just outside Salt Lake City.  And because the script required an audience...a televangelist TV show audience...we had to use a lot of extras.  And guess what?  They were all Mormons!  Mothers nursing babies everywhere.  Those Mormons like to do it, there's no doubt about that. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  I'm with ya. (laughs)

"Put Your Hands On The Screen" - Martin Briley / "One Night With A Stranger" (1983)

Martin Briley:  The director of the video was Don Letts.  I don't know if you remember, but he was in a band called Big Audio Dynamite.  It also had Mick Jones from The Clash.   And Don is this black Rastafarian guy and it was kind of funny watching him try to give directions in Utah.  I don't think many of them had ever seen a black man before, let alone a guy with dreadlocks. (laughs)  So, it was kind of a funny experience.  I thought it might be really weird, but in fact, most of the Mormons felt just as creeped about televangelists as anybody else.  So there were no complaints.

In fact, if you're familiar with the video, there's a scene in it where the evangelist is saying something and a guy in the audience is holding a trident...a devil's trident.  You may not remember that scene, but the guy who held the trident is actually on my Facebook now.  He messaged me and said, 'yeah, I'm the guy who held the trident.' (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Good story!  And now all those mothers holding babies are grandmothers holding babies...holding tridents.  And it's all your fault! (laughs)  You co-wrote the song "Raising Heaven (In Hell Tonight)" which found its way onto one of my favorite "guilty pleasure" films..."Road House."

Martin Briley:  One of the old fashioned reasons for being with publishers...I'm not sure if they still exist...was to help you make more money by connecting you with people who wanted to record your songs, etc.  And movies are a good example.  And around that time, in the late '80s, getting onto soundtracks was a big thing.

The only thing about doing that is...you never really know whether the movie's going to be a dog or not.  You just know there's gonna be a movie and you want to get one of your songs in it.  Which was what we did.  We didn't exactly jump up and down that we'd gotten a song in a Patrick Swayze movie, but it has turned out to be quite venerable.  I think it still turns up on every royalty statement.

"Raising Heaven (In Hell Tonight)" - Patrick Swayze / "Road House" (1989)

Casey Chambers:  Yeah, it seems like you can find "Road House" (1989) on cable or streaming almost every week, so "Raising Heaven (In Hell Tonight)" has gotten a pretty good ride.  You wrote that song with Willie Nile, right?

Martin Briley:  Yeah.  I think I've written about six or seven songs with Willie Nile over the years.  I can't remember whether we were in Los Angeles or New York, but I think we wrote the song with that movie in mind...although I'm not really sure.  The briefing we got for the movie was pretty loose.  It wasn't like we wrote about this thing or about that.  But we were in the right place at the right time and we wrote that song.

Casey Chambers:  So, what have you been up to lately?

Martin Briley:  Well, I've been amusing myself for the past nine months writing for the TV show..."American Pickers."  It's been a hugely popular show all over the world and it's now in its seventh season.  Anyway, I started writing music cues for the show.  Each episode has about...I don't know...hundreds and that's what I've been doing lately.

Casey Chambers:  That's an interesting gig...providing music spark throughout a TV show.  That's really cool.

Martin Briley:  Yeah, the show airs on the History Channel.  The premise is about two guys that get in a truck and just drive around the countryside all over America looking in people's barns.  Looking to find special old and odd things.  I wouldn't call them antiques exactly, but it's kind of like the "Antique Roadshow."

Casey Chambers:  I've never caught the show, but I do know it has quite a devoted following.  And now I have a reason to prop my feet up and ride along.  Are you still writing songs?

Martin Briley:  I do, but unfortunately, the way it works now is the fight to get on records is still just as hard...but there's no reward.  In the '80s, if you wrote a song yourself and it sold a million copies, you would make $45,000.  Which is like an average middle-class income.  Right now, a million streams will make you $35.

Casey Chambers:  That's it?

Martin Briley:  That's it.  And they're forcing artists to work for nothing or walk away.  It's kind of ironic because I also teach a little bit at local colleges about professional songwriting.  What I really want to tell them is don't be a songwriter, because there's no money in this anymore.  Right now, 94 cents of that sales dollar goes to the label. The other six cents is divided among the artists, the writers, the producers, and the publishers.  But anyway, that's the state of the business, and it's not good.  That's why I've been writing TV cues for the past year and I think I've made more money that way.

Casey Chambers:  I'm glad you brought up the subject about the unfair treatment of artists by the "music monkey machine."  Many have told me that it's a slippery road nearly impossible to walk and it's killing the art.  So that was a great reminder.  "Fair reward for services rendered."  Martin, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us today. I appreciate it.

Martin Briley:  My pleasure.  It's been nice talking with you.

Martin Briley Website

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Freedy Johnston -- "Neon Repairman" (2015) Review

"I am a 
repairman of 
neon lights."
~ Freedy Johnston ~

One of the unexpected gems from 2015, and one that seems to have passed mostly unnoticed, is singer/songwriter Freedy Johnston's beautiful..."Neon Repairman."  And it's one of his best.

A collection of ten songs filled with out-of-step characters who find themselves traveling on the kind of roads that demand single file.  And they may be broken, but he likes them.  You can hear it in Freedy's voice. And his voice has never sounded better.

Just listen as he sings..."...in the winter night. She remembers longer days..." ("Summer Clothes")  An achingly beautiful story about a woman left to wander the streets with no place to go.  Not really, anyway.

Then there's the terrific..."A Little Bit of Somethin’ Wrong"...about a soldier struggling to adjust.  The deceptive melody disguises darker lyrics.  "...I've got a wife and kid, but I'm supposed to stay away from them."  Freedy's light delivery makes the words cut all the deeper.

The diamond on this disc is the haunting..."Her Hair Is Blowing in the Wind of Another Planet."  Just a wonderful, mysterious song that's open to interpretation.  It's killer.  And your headphones will love it.

"Her Hair Is Blowing..."  -  Freedy Johnston / "Neon Repairman" (2015)

"The First to Leave the World, Is the First to See the World"...is a wistful tale told from the perspective of the first man going into outer-space...and how surreal the experience. It's a sweet song and I liked it.

"Baby, Baby Come Home" is a nice, catchy radio tune that pops right out of the speakers and captures the beautiful timbre in Freedy's voice.  Yeah, just like that!

"Baby, Baby Come Home" - Freedy Johnston / "Neon Repairman" (2015)

Which finally brings me to the awesome title track which opens the record, "Neon Repairman."  It's about a lonely guy who fixes burned-out light-bulbs throughout the city. "The Horseshoe Bar, yes I know it well.  The Coffee Cup Diner and the Palm Motel."  And the song succeeds in its intent...to pay homage to one of Freedy's favorite songs...the Jimmy Webb classic, "Wichita Lineman."  The song sounds both truly original and comfortably familiar at the same time. And it just works.

Freedy Johnston always writes songs that are never cheap...and sings them with a deliciously weary resignation.  After five years, "Neon Repairman" is a much-welcomed return.  A simply solid recording. Haunting, beautiful and a gentle reminder that the good times can sometimes be a fragile bitch.

Freedy Johnston Facebook

"TCCDM" Freedy Johnston Interview

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers