FACE TiME POLiCE
|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS JOHN LEFEBVRE
LET THE DiCE ROLLELVIS COSTELLO once said that you have your whole life to prepare for your first album, but I donít think that even COSTELLO Ė thirty years ago Ė couldíve imagined someone like Canadian-born troubadour JOHN LEFEBVRE. LEFEBVREís debut PSALNGS is no mere album but a twenty-nine song opus. Perhaps this is to be expected when one has their whole life to prepare for their first album. In LEFEBVREís case, that would be fifty-seven years Ė and what a fifty seven years it has been. The rough and tumbled rock n roller started as a choir boy in Calgary who grew to study piano and learned the guitar after being exposed to the music of the sixties. A drug arrest at seventeen for selling acid to an undercover cop earned him an eight month stay at BOWDEN INSTITUTION. After a series of odd jobs, LEFEBVRE had a daughter and went to law school and embarked on a successful law career until he chose to walk away from it at age forty-five to pursue music.
JOHN LEFEBVRE TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HiS 29-SONG DEBUT ALBUM PSALNGS
FACiNG A POTENTiAL JAiL SENTENCE
AND CAPTURiNG MOMENTS THROUGH SONGWRiTiNG
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
But wait, the plot thickens.
PSALNGS was recorded in desperation. While out on bail and unable to leave the City of Angels after his arrest by the Justice Department and being charged with criminal conspiracy (which he plead guilty to) for his involvement with a money transfer service, LEFEBVRE got in touch with Nashville producer BRIAN AHERN and assembled ace musicians (the legendary AL KOOPER, MATT ROLLINGS, JIM KELTNER and PATRICK WARREN) for his 29 song undertaking.
ROCKWIRED spoke with JOHN LEFEBVRE over the phone. Here is how it went.
Forgive me for taking so long in getting back to you for this interview. It took a while to give a PSALNGS a good listen.
I know itís a lot of songs. If I had to do it over again, I might not have put so much stuff there because it can be hard to listen to it all at once. I do appreciate you giving it a fair listen. The experience I have in making this album is very lovely. I let people have it and they are like ĎWow! Thatís very good!í and then six months later they say ĎThat song WOUNDED KNEE is so great!í You listen to a song on the album and then all of a sudden you are into the next one and the next one. I almost want to say to people to pick one song and listen to it and then turn it off.
It sounds a little self-defeating but okay.
I have been getting some good response to it but it takes a while.
What fueled the idea of having twenty-nine songs on your debut CD?
Well BRIAN, I think that once you turn fifty-seven, youíll probably have twenty-nine songs too. There arenít going to be twenty-nine songs on my next record, thatís for sure.
So itís an experience thing?
I accumulated all of those songs! When I went to BRIAN AHERN with those songs I had about eight songs that I thought were good enough to go on a record and he really started listening to them. Later on, I started to write a bunch more. I had some half baked songs in my mind and when I really sat down and put my mind to them, I found that I had thirteen or sixteen more. There are twenty five original songs their. I wrote about a third of them in the ten years before I made the record and two-thirds of them right before I made the record. It was actually a very creative period for me.
It sounds like it. Describe working with BRIAN AHERN.
BRIANís an eccentric genius. He like the rest of the players on this album. They have all worked with prima donnas and they know who they are and they donít have to boast to you. BRIAN is a guy that could be this celebrity type if he wanted to be but heís not. He is just completely down to earth and very much himself and not at all impressed with the rock n roll scene or the country scene or anything like that. He is his own guy and he has seen it all and met all of the assholes of the world and worked for some of them Ė but not for long. He is originally from Nova Scotia.
So youíre both homeys?
Yeah. Heís been Stateside for about thirty-five years now. Heís an American citizen now and he is a lot more comfortable in Tennessee than he is in Nova Scotia. Itís easy to not be impressed with the music scene down here and Iím trying not sound disparaging. Itís easy to not be impressed. We see whatís going on in Canada and we see whatís going on here. My daughter is in Ireland and I get to see what is going on in Ireland and there is some really, real music going on out there and not much of it surfaces to the States.
Where are you calling form at the moment?
Iím calling from Malibu. I donít know if anyone has told you or not, but I going back into the studio to work on the next album. Whereabouts are you BRIAN?
Iím in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Albuquerque actually shows up in one of my new songs. Itís called JUICE and itís about all the towns where I tried to quit different kinds of alcohol in and rhyming Wild Turkey with Albuquerque. Iím recording at OCEAN WAY RECORDING STUDIOS. Weíve got it for five weeks and the same band is coming back to record except for MATT ROLLINGS who is tied up with some other stuff. On piano we have BILLY PAYNE from LITTLE FEAT. I havenít met BILLY yet but he is going to join us on November 7th Ė in two weeks. Iím back in the studio with twelve new songs and Iím just going to keep pounding them out. Itís a little bit tough for me to get on the road these days because of my situation.
Yes Ė your situation. Before I go any further I just want to say that Iíve interviewed tons of people with long and winding stories but yours is the longest and the winding-est Iíve ever heard so Iím going to start from the beginning. How did music begin for you?
My mom introduced me to music when I was a child. I was a choir boy at ST. MARYíS CATHEDRAL when I was seven. I started taking piano lessons when I was either eight or nine. I took lessons until I was in the sixth grade and then I discovered guitars and found out that girls are more impressed with guitar than they are with piano players around the campfire. When I was fifteen, it was 1966. I was twelve when THE BEATLES started making records so I was the perfect age for listening to music. Weíd line up down at the store because we heard that the new KINKS 45 was coming out. I was introduced to legitimate music Ė choir music and musicals Ė through my mom. We knew the difference between BACH and BEETHOVEN when we were kids and as I grew older I identified very strongly with what was going on with pop music. As a kid I was always an admirer of guys like the DAVIS BROTHERS and all of the usual suspects. I was also a huge fan of guys like JETHRO TULL and PROCOL HARUM. I found their music Ė as wells as being really great rock n roll Ė was very orchestral in its structure and in itís instrumentation. I went there musically whereas some of my friends didnít. I always liked great blues and great rock n roll like JIMI HENDRIX but I also went over to that side of rock n roll that was a little more orchestral and I think that had to do with the fact that I was raised with that music. GARY BROOKER Ė to me Ė is one of the greatest songwriters ever. He knows music better than most guys do. I couldnít not listen to PROCOL HARUM.
You actually pursued a career in law for a while.
Well I got knocked up, didnít I?
Yeah you did!
I did and I had to look after my little girl. Sheís twenty-eight years old right now and living in Dublin and teaching college. If you were to go to school there, EMILY would teach you your first year Latin course. Sheís well on in her career and married and has a beautiful young Irishman for a husband named PADRAIC. I came into a couple of bucks and I didnít have no more responsibilities at home so I asked myself ĎWhat would you do if you had the capacity and the time?í and for me, it was making a good record. That was what I had set out to do and youíve got the results of the first try there. You might have the results of the second try in about five or six months.
Explain Ė if it can be explained Ė how songwriting happens for you.
It comes to me in different ways. Sometimes, Iíll be playing on the piano or a guitar and Iíll stumble on something that occurs to me to be an interesting little hook. Maybe itís more than a hook. Maybe itís a verse. Do you play any music at all BRIAN?
When you are up late Sunday morning at about 3 a.m. sometimes you knock something out that is actually some good shit. If you take the time to capture that, than youíve got a song or you can just let it go and it disappears just like a dream disappears. Itís not that I try to write a song. What I do is I try to get a day where I can fuck all plans Ė no phone calls, no meetings Ė so I get up in the morning, make a piece of toast, sit down at the piano and bang around a little bit, read a little on the internet and then pick up my guitar. If Iím focused on it and open for it, Iíll probably have a riff and craft a song from there. When you or I are just walking around doing nothing, little smart aleck remarks might occur to us and you can think ĎThis wouldíve been funny if I had said thatí or you can pull out your notepad and write it down. Itís not going to take to long before you find a riff that matches those words and you just take it from there. Itís not like I just sit down and try to work something out. I just gather these thoughts when they occur and they occur to all of us. Maybe they donít but I do know that they occur to me and I know that they occur to some of my friends too. Itís a discipline to not let moments like that disappear. One song on my new record, I actually woke up in the middle of the night with a melody in my mind I was humming it to myself. I had been dreaming it I suppose. I picked up my i-phone and hummed into it. The next morning I woke up and played it back and went ĎHoly shit! I hope nobody hears that.í But it was a wonderful melody and itís on my new record. That one came to me in a dream. The creative process of allowing these things to arise within us is very much like dreaming. If you donít harness it, itís going to disappear. That is how the process works for me.
What inspired the spelling of the albumís title?
I am a punn-y sort of guy as you might have figured out. I play word games and you can hear some of them in the lyrics. I like to read and I like poetry and I like to look at what words really mean and where they come from. One word that comes to mind is the word Ďimpertinentí. The British used to say things like ĎStop being so impertinent!í Ė which meant to not be a smart aleck but the word Ďimpertinentí actually means to not pertain to what is actually being discussed. It means to be beside the point. I looked up the word Ďpsalmsí and thought that it was a neat word and than I matched it up with the word Ďsongsí and there it was. Beyond that, it is complex of feelings and emotions. These songs are a little bit like prayers for me. Iím not a religious guy. Iím far from it. If God does exist, he doesnít give a shit about what happens on this planet, thatís for sure. He knows that people like us come and go. There is something wonderful about love. Why wouldnít we never be good? Why arenít we just cunts? There is something in us that gets rewarded by being good. We become more wonderful when we do good stuff. It might be being good to your neighbors and being good to children or it maybe calling out the fucking liars. ĎYou fucking guys are full of shit!í It all feels the same to me. I want the stuff that I write to be so meaningful. I want it to move me. If it doesnít move me, itís not good enough.
Youíre optimistic about going out on tour despite pending legal issues.
Iíd love to do it. If I can I want to go out with these guys that I play with. More than half of them have said they would love to do some dates. A lot of these guys make their plans about six to ten months ahead of time. If Iím going to tie up anybody to doing twenty gigs they need to know when that is going to be and it needs to a tight, nicely arranged schedule. What I have to do is get my head around the possibility of being in jail next year. Iím starting to come to terms with that. Iím starting to think that this is one of those things where you just roll the dice and go with it. With whatever he District Attorney decides to throw at me, maybe Iíll be like ĎOkay thatís fine and all but let me do this tour first and then Iíll go to jail.í Iíve had a hard time getting my head around that but now Iím willing to give it a crack.
Talk about the song WOUNDED KNEE.
Weíve all read the story BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE and we all know what happened but I look around at what is going on in America and it breaks my fucking heart to see how lost weíve become and how we donít even care. When I was a kid, people understood what Ďfair playí meant. People understood the difference between fairness and people who are assholes. When I was a kid, police treated you with respect if you earned it from them. Now, ĎYou need to sit down!í Where does that come from? Weíve got DICK CHENEY telling us that torture works Ė like heís some kind of fucking genius. The guy has got absolutely no moral basis and no sense of compassion. There is nothing human about the guy. WOUNDED KNEE asks the question of whose heart did we bury. The guys whose heart got buried is the guy who thought that he won. We buried it in our history and we buried it in what we teach our kids. Our kids donít know anything. Our kids donít know that we stole all of that land from the Japanese at the beginning of the Second World War. Our kids donít know what we did to the Native Americans. We put PRESIDENT JACKSON on the twenty dollar bill and we think he was a great president. Yeah, he was a great President who completely breached six hundred treaties during his presidency. America got rich because PRESIDENT JACKSON stole land from the Indians. We do shit like this and lie about it and pretend that we didnít do it. JOHN MCCAIN gets up there and says America does not torture and I truly think that he believes that is the way we should be but itís not the way we are. We torture. Weíre pricks. Weíre fucking pricks.
Another one that stands out for me is INDEPENDENCE DAY.
That actually came to me on Independence Day when I was living in Malibu. I was on the beach here one day and I was looking at the stars but when I tried to look back at the main city, I couldnít see anything. The skyscrapers in Downtown Los Angeles are almost like mountains. On a clear day you can see them but there arenít too many of those. It seemed amazing to me that you could see the Milky Way but you couldnít see Los Angeles. At the time I was listening to that song MALIBU by HOLE. BILLY CORGAN from THE SMASHING PUMPKINS co-wrote that one with COURTNEY LOVE. I really loved the song and I was on Malibu Beach and actually living that shit. The idea behind the song is that things that are happening in the city are so shady and murky that you canít see anything and yet we are in a universe that is so bright and clear. Shouldnít we aspire to make what goes on in our cities as brilliant as what goes on in the stars. I love Los Angeles. I know that you are supposed to hate this town but I love it.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard PSALNGS?
I donít know where to take that. If they listen to them all Iíd really like them to go ďI really like this one song!Ē There is such a wide variety of styles represented on that album that I always end up saying to people that for whatever style of music you like, there is going to be something you hate. If people listen to it and find just one song that touches them that would be a wonderful thing. When people come up to me and tell me that theyíve got that one favorite song from the album, I feel like Iíve performed some magic.