ock n roll's connection to the blues is strong one. It's so strong that no white, English rocker is going to let you forget it. They were raised on this shit, and because of that, we have a visceral music that has withstood a lot of changes and fragmentation. Maybe a little too much fragmentation. So much so that rock's connection to the blues gets overlooked these days with this and that subgenre. That's why an ax-man and troubadour like ERIC McFADDEN is so important. In a time when grit is cast side in favor of clean precision, McFADDEN goes for the heart with his raw delivery and the impassioned approach to guitar playing. His musicality has been embraced by the likes of GEORGE CLINTON and ERIC BURDON and now, that musicality is put proudly on display on his new album PAIN BY NUMBERS. With backing from TERRENCE HIGGINS (ANI DiFRANCO) on drums and DOUG WIMBISH (LIVING COLOUR) on bass, and production and keyboards by TAB BENOIT, PAIN BY NUMBERS is a collection of reckless tunes inspired by the darker side of love and life that take the high road with some electrifying devil-may-care performances from McFADDEN and his fellow aces. ROCKWIRED had the chance to speak with ERIC McFADDEN regarding his latest release. Here is how the interview went.
The album PAIN BY NUMBERS is a fine album that you've got and now that it's out there for people to hear, how do you feel about the finished work?
It's kind of in my nature to be critical of something like this when it first comes out. The first thing I hear are the mistakes, but that is the way that it's always going to be. That is the kind of thing you have to contend with if you are the artist who is making a record - you hear all of the imperfections. I was listening to some of the ZEPPELIN and BOWIE stuff that I used to listen to as a kid. When you learn this stuff, you realize that there are mistakes all over the place. In that BOWIE song JEAN GENIE, the bass player goes to the five early before the rest of the band and they left all of that shit in there, so who cares? Right? Sometimes, you'll feel like it's not the best playing that you've ever done but everyday is not going to be your best, otherwise you wouldn't know what your best was. But, when I put all of that kind of thinking aside, I like the record. I think it's pretty genuine. We did it live and in the moment. There are no more than one or two takes of a song. It's a real performance. I was kind of going through a lot of shit at the time of the recording and I hadn't really been sleeping well. I guess you can hear all of that on the record. It all made for a very genuine recording. There were things that had occurred right before that. During a session a week or two before I recorded this album, my back pack was stolen and the back pack had a bunch of my journals and the hard drives and my laptop. I was going to work on all of the material for this record. All of those ideas were stolen and I was kind of left with some good co-writes that I had left and I kind of wrote the rest of the stuff within days of the recording. So a lot of it was pretty fresh. So with a lot of these songs, they were brand new and what you hear on the record is like the first or second performance of them. I guess the album has that quality of not being beaten to death or over refined. It's very spontaneous and live. I have to let go of all of that self criticism. You just torment yourself thinking about that stuff and it's usually over the stuff that most people don't give a damn about anyway. I'm pretty happy with the record. The people that I worked with are amazing. DOUG WIMBISH and TERRENCE HIGGINS are about as good as it gets and TAB BENOIT was great as a producer. This was probably one of the most painless recording sessions I had ever been involved with. TAB was just trying to get a real performance out of you.
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Describe working with TAB BENOIT. As a producer, what did he bring to the table that made this thing work so well?
For one, he doesn't like to beat the song to death. He models his approach after having a lot of bad experiences in the studio. You can suck the life out of the song by doing it twenty seven times. He definitely didn't want to do that. He knows how to get a good drum sound and a good guitar sound and a bass sound. It was really pretty easy. There was actually no set up because he had done that work before we even got there. I just thought he was able to give a big, warm sound. The vibe was really good int the room. It was just the band and there was no one else around. There were no distractions. We were just hanging out at his place in bayou country and we were just laying it down. It was a very easy process.
And giving you some backing on this album is DOUG WIMBISH on bass and TERRENCE HIGGINS on drums. How did you manage to get these guys to come in on the sessions?
DOUG, in my opinion, is just one the greatest bass players and musicians out there. We had met years ago. I used to play with GEORGE CLINTON as part of the FUNKADELICS and I think we met back in those days. We just really hit it off. We started playing together a lot and we just became really close. We had already done a lot of playing together prior to this recording. In fact, we were doing a show in LA at THE MINT in January and I told him that I was heading out to do this album in about tow of three weeks. He said "Who's playing bass?" And I said "Hopefully you are!" At that point I hadn't confirmed anyone. I had a couple of ideas but I just assumed that he wouldn't be able to do it for some reason, but that taught me a lesson that it doesn't hurt to ask. I've known TERRENCE HIGGINS for a few years as well from playing in New Orleans doing JAZZ FEST every year and then coming out around Halloween. We've done a lot of stuff together as well. We co-wrote a song for one of his records. I just couldn't think of a better rhythm section than those guys and I was lucky to be able to get both of them in there at the same time.
How is PAIN BY NUMBERS different from some of your previous solo albums? What is different this time?
The approach on this album wasn't all that different from my previous full band album in the sense that it was done raw and spontaneously. It's just that this album was done with one group of guys where as that other album had like three different bass players and drummers and such. That is the only record that bears much similarity to this one. Otherwise, I've had a lot of other players come in and there is a lot of other instrumentation and stuff like that. Sometimes, the recording process is dragged over the span of a few months going in and out of the studio. With this album, we really went in there and banged it out. This is the first time that I've ever finished a record this quickly in fifteen years and that album was a solo acoustic record. I also think that having TAB's input as producer was advantageous. He made it very clear what the objective was and how we were going to do it that made it easy of focusing on the task of playing the songs.
What inspired this set of songs for this album?
Personal challenges, difficulties and heartaches. Half of the songs on the album were brand new but the other half of them were songs that had been sitting around for a while that I had collaborated on with friends such as JAMES HALL and DAN MacINTOSH and those were inspired by things that I had gone through in the past and had come out on the other side of. The song THE GIRLS HAS CHANGE is about someone from my past. DON'T YOU WANNA LIVE? was a song that was written pretty spontaneously. I had the riffs from a while back, but when we got into the studio I thought about adding some lyrics to it and bang it out. Even thought there is a lot to express politically, I didn't get into it too deeply on this record, probably because I was going through so much personal stuff, but there are some of those issues that are brought up in the songs DON'T YOU WANT TO LIVE and SKELETON KEY. So yeah. Different shit!
And for biography's sake, what got you into wanting to make music. What inspired you to pick up the guitar and write?
A lot of that came from my parents record collection. I had pretty young parents. My mom had me when she was eighteen. My parents were of the sixties era and they were way into music. My dad played guitar and my mom was a folk singer who would sing at gigs at coffee shops in The Village with people like RITCHIE HAVENS. ALLEN GINSBURG was our neighbor. There were a lot of records in the house from people like BOB DYLAN, THE BEATLES, THE STONES, RITCHIE HAVENS and STEVIE WONDER. My mom had some weird old blues records from artists like MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT, BO CARTER and stuff like that. So I would go through those albums and I would get into the stuff by THE BEATLES and THE STONES. From there, I gravitated to stuff by LED ZEPPELIN and BOWIE. I started out being really into the rock n roll stuff, but when I got more and more into playing guitar, I started getting into those old blues records. Hearing JOHN LEE HOOKER's voice was otherworldly. How did he do that? I didn't know how that sound came out of his face - the big, deep, rich sound. So rock n roll lead me to the blues and then I got into all kinds of stuff after that.
Describe the songwriting process for you. How do you go about it?
There is not one way it happens. I'll stumble upon a musical idea and find that I like the chords, or this riff or this melody. After that, it'll sit around for a while and eventually I'll have to craft some words to go with it. Sometimes a couple of lines I'll come with the music idea. The way its been in recent years, I find that I rarely have time to sit down and finish the whole thing at once, so I have to keep going back to it and finishing it in terms of adding more lyrics or modifying the music a little bit. Another thing that is common for me, because I fly a lot, is that I write a lot of lyrics when I'm in an airport. It generally seems easier for me to add lyrics to the music as opposed to adding music to the lyrics. I don't know why that is, but that seems to be the case. With this process, since I lost so many of the songs, those songs had to be written very quickly so the best thing that I could do in that moment was not think about it but to write completely uninhibited and tap into the emotion and just let that come out. It's really like the songs were more reactions than they were compositions. I didn't have to think whether something was a good or a bad song. I just had to put it out there as it was and sometimes works out for the better. Hopefully in this case it did.
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And with that being said, what songs off of the album have you the most excited to get people to hear and why?
Well, that's a good question. Haven't really thought about that. I like LOVE COME RESCUE ME because that one was a collaboration with a couple of friends. I think I like it because it's very different from everything that I've done before. I wouldn't use that song as an example of what I sound like. It's not indicative of my sound, but it is kind of a natural progression for me. SKELETON KEY is another one that is a lot of fun. That was another collaboration. I've come to realize that the power of collaborating with other people is something that is really serving me well. In doing it that way, you tend to get the song done right there and then. You don't leave the room until the song is finished. When it's just myself, I can say "aw fuck it!" and then come back to it. I'm excited about those songs. I also like WHILE YOU WAS GONE. JAMES HALL helped me bang that one out a couple of years ago. SO HARD TO LEAVE is a song where I definitely captured the moment. It was the freshest, most spontaneous composition and performance. CACTUS JUICE was written on the last day of the recording session. I think I came up with it on either the day of or the night before. DOUG, TAB and I laid that one down as the last track. It was the last song written and recorded.
I've caught you on the road on the way to a soundcheck so there are some shows happening. Is this a part of the roll out for the album?
I've been out on the road for the last three weeks. I did a lot of shows in the Northwest in Portland, Seattle and Olympia and then I headed to Texas and did a few shows there. I did a show out there with GOV'T MULE and then I headed to New Mexico for a festival in Madrid and then I did a show in Taos. Then, I headed home the day before last. There are a few more shows left this month. There is one here in LA tonight and then I fly to Memphis for a festival on Sunday and then I fly to New Orleans and so on and so on. It just keeps going.
With PAIN BY NUMBERS, what is the big idea? What would you like ofr people come away with after they hear it?
I would like for people to identify with it personally on some level. For me, one of the purposes of music, I think, is to connect with people and be able to speak your own truth, pain or experience and hopefully people will identify with it and hopefully will be able to heal themselves in some way. If not that, I hope people at least have a damn good time listening to it. There is nothing contrived about it. It's a genuine album. I feel that if you don't like the record, you probably don't like me. I guess that's the best I can put it.
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