How did this record come together?
I write and record different styles of music, but power pop has always spoken to me. The “what is power pop?” debate bores the hell out of me. If it’s catchy, has loud guitars, and has some sort of verse-chorus-bridge mentality in play, it’s power pop to me. Personally, I have always preferred louder guitars. There are genuinely melodic pop rock songs by “hard rock” artists of the late 70s to mid-80s like Def Leppard, Billy Squier, Dokken, or even early Kiss, and when they get mentioned, the immediate classification is hard rock. The very tuneful chord progressions and harmonies happening within some – not all – but some of those songs are a joyful part of my life. If there’s a point here, it’s that by the same token, there’s hard rock in the music of quite a few bands that are universally (in this weird little musical universe) agreed upon as being power pop, like Cheap Trick, The Knack, and even The Raspberries. I love that middle ground between hard rock and power pop. I even came up with a term for it, “heavy melody”. So, wait, what was the question? Oh yeah! I wanted to make a “heavy melody” album! I liked the first few songs that I had which seemed to fit the idea of a melodically aware rocker cranking up his car radio in 1983, so I just went with it, and “Backwards Compatible” was born.
When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?
I still haven’t. I’m stubborn enough to ignore opinions anyway. My goals were already in gear when I started enlisting people to help me with it. At that point, it’s their fault if they’re making a big mistake! Seriously though, I’m incredibly grateful and fortunate to have the assistance of my wife and producer Lori Franklin and mixer/guitar hero/ long-time friend and musical compatriot Scott Cornette. “Backwards Compatible” sounds way better because of the contributions by my excellent friends Bill Lloyd, John Hawkins, Nick Bertling, Jon Leeds, Charles Shoemake, Matt Lutton, Samantha Morgan, Doug Davis, and the amazing and helpful Lindsay Murray (Gretchen’s Wheel). All of these fine and talented folks could have given me their opinions if they had chosen to, but all they did was do a great job on their parts. Maybe they’re all too nice to tell me they thought it was a hot stupid mess!
Any ideas about how to turn this one into a million-seller?
Absolutely. It will only take two things. So, step one is to invent a time machine and go back to the days when people actually had to pay for albums and release it then. Step two would be to become more talented. It would probably also help to suddenly be irresistibly handsome, so yeah, that’s three.
What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?
After a while of playing rhythm guitar with my first cover band (we were called Sabre!) as a 17 and 18-year-old, they finally gave me a lead guitar solo spot, on one part of the Eric Clapton version of “Cocaine”. The first gig we had after this exciting band development was attended by a total of maybe a dozen people. As we began the song, there were maybe half that in the place, including the soundboard guy. I wasn’t fazed, and I delivered my solo. I didn’t mess up! My teenage guitar God dreams had come true! I looked at the room, and no one was there. Everyone had gone outside. So, no, I’ll never forget that my first rock and roll lead guitar solo was performed to an absolutely empty room. I have somehow remained purposefully unincumbered by the metaphors.
Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?
In no particular order, and right off the top of my head today, let’s go with Marshall Crenshaw “Field Day”, Todd Rundgren “Something/Anything”, Mile Davis “Bitches Brew”, The Darkness “Hot Cakes”, and David Crosby “If I Could Only Remember My Name”.
That list will have already changed several times by the time anyone reads this. Oh, and thanks for specifically mentioning Mars. That takes off a bit of pressure, as I know I don’t need to list any David Bowie albums. Certainly, they have those on Mars already.
Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?
It isn’t for me. I did that pretty consistently from the late 80s up until maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Opening act status was confirmed many times over, never made much money or any measurable impact. I might be selling it short, but I know I’m not the kind of live performer who’s going to leave anyone transfixed. I’ve been in bands that played pop rock, heavy progressive metal, wildly experimental music, and played goofy performance artist type things…as well as loads of solo gigs in front of barely attentive drinkers and diners in loads of places. It’s a lot more work than some may think, and can be soul-crushing, especially when you’ve just debuted a brand new emotional manifesto and the first thing you hear after the last triumphant chord is “play Margaritaville!” Reaching my 50s has made me aware that it’s going to have to be something special for me to be interested in playing live at all. I’ve always been more interested in writing and making records anyway, so this isn’t a sad thing for me… but who knows? Maybe things will change. Maybe I’ll be shopping one day and run across an Elvis-styled bedazzled one-piece jumpsuit that leaves me no choice but to buy it and get back out there in that spotlight, baby. Stranger things have already happened.