|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS MASON DARiNG
DARiNG TO DREAMIt would be all too easy to write off MASON DARINGís latest release as a bookend to a most prolific career, but the truth is that his self-titled release is more like a brand new beginning. Back in the early seventies, DARING came to the conclusion that rock n roll glory was eluding him, despite being signed to COLUMBIA RECORDS. Eventually, he walked away from the business and pursued a law degree. While doing so, something curious happened Ė DARING couldnít put the guitar down. Music got him through his legal education. Even after passing the bar exam, DARING couldnít stay out of the studio producing releases by local New England folk artists. Things took a turn for the better when DARINGís expertise in entertainment law was requested by a young director named JOHN SAYLES. When it became know to SAYLES that his legal counsel had something of a musical background, he asked DARING to hear a couple of pieces and from there, one of the most prolific director-composer relationships since ROBERT ALDRICH and FRANK DE VOL was formed. You hear DARINGís handiwork in such SAYLES films as LONE STAR, RETURN OF THE SEACAUCUS 7, SUNSHINE STATE, THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH and EIGHT MEN OUT. One would think it would be easier to rest on the laurels of such fine work but making a truly definitive solo album was something that DARING had always dreamed of. Teamed with long time guitarist/collaborator DUKE LEVINE, DARING smiles back at his past on his latest release but also looks to the future with new material. ďOne day I called him and I said ĎDuke, youíve got to do this with meí and bang! He tore into this album like you wouldnít believe.Ē recalls DARING. ďFor the rehearsals and the primary sessions and the recording, he was there. This was truly a vanity project for me. This was the first record that Iíve ever paid my own money for and thatís okay. I did this for me. I had to get this record done and DUKE was just amazing. He really believed in the record and he teamed me up with a lot of good people. Without him, the record never wouldíve been made and it sure as hell wouldnít have been as good.Ē
ACCLAiMED FiLM COMPOSERMASON DARiNG
TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HiS SELF-TiTLED RELEASE
WORKiNG WiTH DIRECTOR JOHN SAYLES
AND STEPPiNG UP TO THE MiC
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke to MASON DARING over the phone. Here is how it went.
Describe your feelings regarding this new release.
Iím very happy to have this record released. Iíve put out records all the time but never with vocals. I love singing again and I love playing again. Itís a nice thrill for me.
So this is your first time out front.
No, back in the seventies I did a couple of records with a woman named JEANIE STAHL. She was a vocalist and we toured together throughout the northeastern part of the United States, but then the movie thing took off so I followed that for about twenty five years and then my wife passed away and I had to take care of my kids. At the moment, Iím doing a show for PBS so Iím still working though I donít work like I used to. Now seems to be a god time to release this record. All of my friends had been telling me forever to do a d record and to get back into the scene. All of the players went in on it so I figured why not. It really takes a long time to do a record like that. You canít just dash it off Ė at least I canít. I took quite a bit of time last winter working on the record and we finished it around May or June and the rest of the time was all manufacturing.
Talk about what drew you to music in the beginning.
I started playing trumpet in the fourth grade and then in the eighth grade I got a guitar. One of the things that helped me out in the film world was that I was known as someone who could do both classical and pop. I can write orchestras but I could also compose a fair amount of pop stuff. I had done folk music for a fair amount of time. I worked as a musician through college and was a lawyer for a few years and worked my way through law school playing guitar. Once I had gotten out of law school I was signed to COLUMBIA RECORDS and was pretty sure that I was going to be a rock star by 1971 but that didnít happen by 1973, I realized that I wasnít going to be rich and famous doing that so I decided to go to law school and the second I got to law school I really started to play music. That was when I met this woman JEANIE STAHL and we became really popular in New England. I ended up becoming a lawyer anyway. I just hated every second of it. I was a lawyer when I met JOHN SAYLES. I was his lawyer for his first movie THE RETURN OF THE SEACAUCUS 7 which was quite popular actually. It was one of the first big independent films and that was what kicked off the whole movie thing for me. I was producing albums for folk artists in New England so I was pretty comfortable in the studio and JOHN asked me to write and record music for his movie for seven hundred dollars and I did. That movie did very well and as they say, the first movie is the hardest one to get. I wrote songs, I didnít just do scores for him. I did a number of songs for most of his movies. I didnít sing them. I just wrote them and produced them. A number of those songs are on this record. There were so many songs that I just wanted to sing myself. Half the songs on this album are from JOHNís movies and other peopleís movies and half of the songs are new so the album is a little bit of both.
Explain the creative process for you.
In the beginning, I wrote songs with an image in mind but I found out when I got into the movie business that it was a lot easier to write background music and songs for film because I had a scene for it. For example, there was a scene in the movie LIANNA that is set in a lesbian bar and I needed to write a song that women would be listening to in a gay bar in 1982. I see that scene and I know how I should go about it. Then I wrote a song called PEOPLE ARE TALKING and I wrote that for a yuppie film for TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX called KEY EXCHANGE and that was set in this bar in 1984 in New York City with a bunch of young professionals dancing to it. I figured that this song is all about vanity and everybody thinking that everybody is looking at them. For me, it is far easier to write a song for a movie because you see the scene and you know what it is supposed to say about the time and the place. I did a couple of songs for RITA MORENO for a film that JOHN was doing called CASA DE LOS BABYS. I also did a song with RUTH BROWN but unfortunately after she sang it she passed away before she could be in the film and that was for the film HONEYDRIPPER. I knew exactly where those songs should be sung Ė what year and what the scene was going to look like. When you see that story it is very easy for me to write a song. It is not as easy when there are no parameters. When no scene is set and someone just says write a song Ė there are just so many damned options. I like it better when the choices for what I can say are narrowed down. The creative process for me is helped tremendously by limiting it a bit. Having said that, I got into certain moods in my life for some of the later songs on the album and these songs have nothing to do with movies. There is a song called LIGHTSHIP on this album and my idea for this song is that it is a movie. When you play the song, everyone should see a movie. Not everyone is going to see the same movie when they hear that song but I donít care. I consider it a kind of cinematic-spiritual song and I would hope that people are able to see things with their mindís eye as they are listening. One of the things that always bothered me about music videos is that they were so confining. The artist is telling people what to see with their mind when they hear a song. Everyone should imagine their own movie when they hear a song and that is what I like about a song like LIGHTSHIP. So, I do it from both directions. Somebody sets the scene and they ask me to put some music behind it or I can write a song and people are free to make up any scene they want. It works both ways.
And of all of the artists that have covered your music, what artist got to you the most in terms of interpretation.
Wow! Iíve got to think about that. Thatís a good question! I might have to go movie by movie. In some ways, LITTLE QUEENIE in EIGHT MEN OUT stands out for me. She sang this song called I BE BLUE Ė which is another song on this album. That song sounded like you were in 1919 in Chicago, which was when and where the film was set. LITTLE QUEENIE just nailed it. DOC CHEATHAM - who was ninety one at the time Ė was a jazz artist who started with LOUIS ARMSTRONG and then he passed away two years after I worked on a record with him, He was working with jazz trumpeter NICHOLAS PAYTON. They were touring together and PAYTON was thrilled to be playing with this ninety-one legend. CHEATHAM died on that tour. He sang a song of mine called TO MUCH which is also on this album. Here was this famous jazz performer doing all of these covers that I was producing and then one day he walked up to me and said, ĎHey, I hear you write music. Can I hear some of your stuff?í So I played something and he said ďOh, I really want to do that!Ē and he just did it that day. He learned it immediately and if you hear his version, it will just break your heart. He does this beautiful vocal on this song and that really transformed the song. I was really glad to re-record it.
Of the newer material on this album aside from LIGHTSHIP, what stand out for you and why?
The only song that I didnít write on this album was TRAVELINí MAN which is a RICKY NELSON song. That song stands out because it has always been a pleasure to sing. I donít know why itís so much fun to sing. I really couldnít tell you. Itís beautifully written by JERRY BUTLER. People consider it a pop song that would horribly politically incorrect today but in the early sixties when the song was released, it was right on the money. There is something about that song that resonates for me beautifully. There is this song called FUNNY. Itís got a lot of irony to it and Iím happy with the writing on it. I just love singing. Iím having more joy singing then I ever have before and thatís pretty interesting. Iíve got a big show coming up a week from Sunday in Boston with a band and Iím looking forward to it. Iíve got a feeling that it is going to be a wonderful evening because I get to sing in front of a band.
Describe working with DUKE LEVINE in producing this album.
I worked with DUKE for about fifteen or twenty years. He is my guitarist of choice for virtually all of my movies. DUKE is a musicianís musician. When he plays live in Boston, the audience is made up of hundred guitar players all looking at him with their mouths on the floor. Heís not as well-known to the general public as he is by guitarists around the country. Heís really famous amongst guitar players. When I think of DUKE LEVINE, I often think that for some people a lot of their professionalism is tied into their character. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. He is the guy Ė no matter how busy he is Ė will call me up to say hello. We know each otherís family. He is a great friend and it has nothing to do with all of the work that we have done together. His character is as thrilling as his shop. Had I not asked him to produce this album with me, the album probably wouldnít have been made. One day I called him and I said ĎDuke, youíve got to do this with meí and bang! He tore into this album like you wouldnít believe. For the rehearsals and the primary sessions and the recording he was there. This was truly a vanity project for me. This was the first record That Iíve ever paid my own money for and thatís okay. I did this for me. I had to get this record done and DUKE was just amazing. He really believed in the record and he teamed me up with a lot of good people. Without him, the record never wouldíve been made and it sure as hell wouldnít have been as good.
Talk about the status of DARING/ROUNDER RECORDS.
The company doesnít exist anymore with ROUNDER. I get along with those people really well but they decided a few years ago that they werenít going to distribute anyone anymore. We talk every now and then and theyíve recommended people to me to produce. I was actually their lawyer back in the late seventies and then my wife was their lawyer when I retired form the law and just started writing music full time. Then they asked me if I was interested in running a record company for them. I did some unusual environmental recordings for them called THE ABSENCE OF MAN and I would go out with these digital recorders and record sounds of surf and things like that and then I sold quite a few copies of my soundtracks like THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH Ė which was a pretty substantial film.
I know. Iím actually very familiar with JOHN SAYLESís work. LONE STAR was my favorite.
You know what? Itís my favorite to. Iím not going to argue. Itís a great American film and itís got everything.
When I was a kid, I saw it in the theaters by accident and I ended up loving it.
I was actually talking about that film today with someone at THE BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC. Itís a great American film and I sold a bunch of that soundtrack through DARING/ROUNDER RECORDS. I did pretty well with ROUNDER and then I took all of that money and I used it to put out a number of jazz albums with some friends of mine like BUTCH THOMPSON who was the leader of the band from PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION for a long time. I also did three records with DUKE. So, I just spent all pf that money but what the hell! Then, the record industry kind of collapsed a few years ago and ROUNDER didnít want to distribute anybody anymore. I was actually the last person that they dropped. They hung onto me for a while and they were nice about it. My wife was getting ill and I had to stop everything that I was doing to take care of her and my family for a few years. Now Iím back and my kids re doing well.
In speaking about JOHN SAYLES, I remember this science fiction film that he wrote called BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.
Yeah, did your ever see it?
I own it.
Isnít it a great movie? Four days ago, I was talking to someone about that movie. That was the funniest goddamn movie in the world.
Yes. Itís the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN in outer space.
Yeah, that was how he described it to me. He told me about that script about a year or two before I could finally track it down and see it. When I was getting to know him around 1979 or 80, it had just come out. I couldnít remember how I finally saw it but oh my God I laughed. What a brilliant movie. He was writing for ROGER CORMAN. He did PIRANHA and LADY IN RED. PIRANHA had like five sequels. BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS Ė Iíve got to get a hold of that. It had RICHARD THOMAS, ROBERT VAUGHAN and GEORGE PEPPARD right?
Yeah, and that girl from TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.
Thatís the one.
I did an ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTSÖ with her.
Weíre talking about the work of JOHN SAYLES but Iíve got to ask what itís like to work with him.
Fabulous. The first time he came to see me he was looking for a lawyer. His car broke down and we worked on his car all day and we got it running. It was just the day for us to become friends and that is kind of what the whole thing is about. We became friends that day and we never stopped. I just saw him last weekend when he came to Vermont. I think that at some level when directors use the same composers, it shows an element of trust. I never take it for granted that Iím going to do JOHNís next film. I think that would be a terrible mistake. I think I have to earn the right every time and I feel very strongly about that. I love it that he makes me stretch artistically. He doesnít just rubber stamp everything that I do. Some stuff he loves, some stuff needs changing and some stuff needs to start all over again. He is an incredibly kind person. He is really, really thoughtful. If he needed me for another project, Iíd do it tomorrow. Iíd be a fool not to. Itís an honor to be associated with him. His movies Ė five years after they come out Ė they are better than they re the day they come out and I canít figure out why that is. I canít figure it out for the life of me, but every movie he does, I like better later. Maybe it takes me that long to mature into what the movie is about. He makes me stretch and I get to work with great people. I get to go on set a lot which is something that most composers never get to do. I get to go all o f the time because there is music in front of the camera. The people that JOHN hires for his films are fantastic and you are just surrounded by smart, hardworking, very funny people. That is really something and that happens every time I work with him.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard this CD?
Iíd like them to whistle thee songs on the way home. Iíd like someone to whistle a tune from it two days later and go ĎWhere did that come from?í