|ROCKWIRED INTERVIEWS COLIN ARMSTRONG
SPIT IT OUTYou never know where someone is going to end up. As a youngster, COLIN ARMSTRONG 's first musical education was not on a Sears & Roebucks Stratocaster, but on a bagpipe. Yes, thanks to his semi-traditional Scottish upbringing in San Diego California of all places ARMSTRONG got his JIMMY SHAND on and toured the world doing bagpipe competitions. Personally, I never knew of such an instrument until I saw MR. SCOTT playing one at MR. SPOCK's funeral at the conclusion of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and while my curiosity over how an instrument like this ges a young man laid permeates my mind , it should be noted that the bagpipe does not make a single appearance on ARMSTRONG's debut CD 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS'. Instead we hear a young singer songwriter taking his queue from the great American rock songwriters (BOB DYLAN and TOM PETTY) and mixing it up with sonics of U2 and THE BEATLES thanks to the stellar production of MIKAL REID (BEN HARPER, AEROSMITH, MICK JAGGER). Simply put, there is nothing anonymous about this soulful troubadour.
COLIN ARMSTRONG TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HIS FORTHCOMING DEBUT CD 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS'
CUTTING HIS TEETH ON THE BAGPIPE
AND FINDING HIS OWN SOUND
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with COLIN ARMSTRONG over the phone. Here is how it went.
Where are you calling from ?
Oh, you're in Orange County also?
Yeah. Where are you at?
I'm in the city of Orange. Your CD 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS' comes out in January. Whats all going through your head at the moment?
We just finished up a video for one of the songs and were putting the finishing touches on that. We filmed for the last couple of weeks up in Malibu and other than that, I'm hoping that people will hear it and and plan on buying the CD when it comes out. We're just doing whatever we can do at this point to get it out there. There is a lot going on and we're trying to hype it up as much as we can for January.
Where are you from originally?
I grew up in North County San Diego. I do a lot of my work up in L.A. so I'm kind of centrally located here in Orange County.
How did music begin for you as an individual. Where did that start?
It started with my family. My family is all Scottish so I grew up playing the bagpipes.
That was what I read. I'd like for you to talk about that a little more but first talk about the music.
For me, my mom's side of the family was into the Scottish stuff with the bagpipes and the celtic music. On one side, I was being exposed to that stuff even before I was playing the pipes and on the other, my Dad was more into country music and he would listen to MERLE HAGGARD and JOHNNY CASH and stuff like that in the car. There was kind of folk music on both sides that I was hearing as a kid even before I could play any instruments.
And is your mother first generation Scottish or -
Her father was born in Scotland and they moved to L.A. by way of Canada.
And your father?
My dad was born in Colorado and moved to L.A. from there as a kid. It turns out that my Dad's side of the family is Scottish too, but they weren't as full blown as my Mom's side. My Mom's side were the ones wearing the kilts and playing the pipes.
Talk about the bagpipe. When did you start playing that?
That was the first thing. As a kid growing up around that kind of music I didn't really have a choice. I remember my Dad telling me as a kid that there are a couple of things that I had to do; I had to do good in school and I had to play an instrument and anything past that, I could do whatever I wanted to do. My uncle taught me the pipes and that was an easy access to learning. I was ten years old learning the pipes and by the time I was fifteen, I was playing in a pipe band that was here in L.A. and was traveling overseas to compete internationally. As a teenager in high school, I was traveling to Scotland in the summers and competing and traveling with adults. There was a lot of time spent in bars and going throughout Europe. As I got into high school, my friends were all playing JIMI HENDRIX, STEVIE RAY VAUGHN and ERIC CLAPTON and I'd come over with the bagpipes and I think 'This doesn't really work.' I started sitting in with them and singing along to what they were playing and that was how I figured out that I could sing. I didn't want to just be a singer because all of the artists that I admired sung and wrote their own songs, so I had a friend of mine in high school teach me how to play guitar. So that is kind of how it evolved.
If you grew up with the bagpipe, perhaps it didn't look as intimidating as it does to me. The first time I ever saw a bagpipe was in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN at SPOCK's funeral. How complicated is it to learn?
You don't even start with the real instrument. You start with something that resembles a recorder to learn the fingering and gradually, you grow from that. You have to build up your stamina in order to keep it going. As a kid, it was a real pain in the ass getting over that hump. It wasn't a lot of fun. That is why there are so few pipers and let alone good ones because there are a lot of hurdles to get over. It's not like sitting down at the piano and hitting a key. There are all of these things that you have to kind of work at. If I wasn't a kid having my dad force me to practice, I don't know if I ever would've stuck with it, but that is kind of how it happened.
Does the bagpipe show up on 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS'?
It actually doesn't. It shows up in a live show here and there, but I haven't made that work on a record yet. I've been holding off on that. I don't want to use it for the sake of using it. The right song hasn't come along yet to actually make it work. The bagpipe is a very dominating instrument and it's got a lot of personality and if I recorded it, I'm afraid that it would drown out everything else in a recording.
So you have no desire to be JIMMY SHAND AND HIS BAND?
You didn't know I knew that did you?
I'm just very conscious of how it works with other instruments.
Before you start thinking I'm working for BAGPIPE TIMES instead of ROCKWIRED.COM, I'd better get back to talking about your music.
It's amazing that the album has nothing to do with pipes yet so many people want to talk about it. No one else in music has my story, I can guarantee you that.
Outside of traditional Scottish music, what else spoke to you musically?
As a young kid my Dad listened to all of the country stuff and sometimes even questionable country. Even as I was getting into high school, he had the MERLE HAGGARD and JOHNNY CASH stuff playing in his struck and I don't know if that stuff spoke to me, but it's in me somewhere kind of subconsciously. My buddies started turning me on to blues and rock music so I was into this blues thing a for a minute. From the blues, I became really interested in bands that wrote great songs. When I traveled to the U.K. I was inspired by all of the British music like U2, THE BEATLES, and THE ROLLING STONES and then I found myself going back to some of the American songwriters like BOB DYLAN, TOM PETTY, and BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and that is kind of where I'm at now. I'm heavily influenced by that American perspective but sonically, it's the British stuff.
When did it dawn on you that you could write your own music and get it out there? When did that begin?
I wasn't really sure about songwriting at first but I loved to sing and I loved to play songs. Going into college, I entered into this contest a couple of years ago for STAR 98 .7 when RYAN SEACREST was still on there. They did an AMERICAN IDOL spin-off around the time of AMERICAN IDOL's first season where you sent in a tape of you singing a cover song and I actually won that contest and that was the first time where I felt like I could really do this.
Were the songs for 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS' written specifically for this album or do they come from other places.
A couple of the songs have been around for a while. About a year and a half ago, I hit a streak where I wrote a good cluster of songs starting with 'HEY YOKO' , 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS' and 'FREE RIDE'. As I was writing in this way, I could see it all turning into a record. That group of four or five songs coupled with the few that I had before that, I decided to finish the record. Once I wrote the song 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS', the other songs sort of followed in that theme. There is definitely a common theme throughout the album. In case you weren't sure, LOST AND ANONYMOUS is a code for L.A.
Wow! That went over my head. Who all worked with you in putting it together?
My producer was MIKAL REED. Me and him co-wrote a lot fo the songs together and he produced and mixed and did everything as far as the record goes. The record that you hear is basically me and him. The album is completely our vision and other musicians would come in as we needed them, but the majority of what you hear is me and him playing guitars or playing bass. Everything was created in the studio and worked up from scratch.
Explain how songwriting works for you.
A song like 'LOST AND ANONYMOUS' was an idea before it was a song. A lot of other times you're jamming out chords and mumbling melodies and the lyrics are usually the last thing that come for me. I'll get like a chunk of lyric and then write the whole song down. I'll get a little idea and spit out some words and then create the words off of what I spit out subconsciously. It's amazing what you can spit out. It's always nice to have a tape recorder handy.
I think I have a title for the article now.
Yeah, 'SPIT IT OUT'.
Other than the songs you've mentioned so far, are there any other tracks off of this CD that stand out for you and why?
'HEY YOKO' stands out for me. It's a song about JOHN LENNON and what he would think about things that are going on now. Everything that is happening is very similar to what he was fighting against back in the seventies. I remember watching 'IMAGINE' one day and watching him go through seventies protesting the war and being struck by the fact that we're finding ourselves in the same situation. We had this song idea that was just an acoustic guitar part that sounded very BEATLE-esque and I remember were sitting in the backyard and playing it. We liked how it sounded so we just recorded it into the computer and kind of left it. One day I was heading up to the studio and I was sitting in traffic on the 405 and I glanced over at one of those cars that has every bumper sticker ever made and I thought that there should be a bumper sticker saying 'HEY YOKO! WHERE IS OUR JOHN?' When I got to the studio, I had the whole song in my head. So there's the songwriting process for you - being stuck in traffic without an instrument.
What has been the biggest surprise for you?
That I've made it even this far. It seems like the time has just flown by but it has been three years of figuring out how to get from point A to point B in this business. Sometimes the money is short or you don't know how you're going to play this gig, or you don't know what musicians you are going to find to be in your band and it's sort of amazing to me that I've been able to navigate my way through and I think that is testament to the people that I've worked with.
WATCH COLIN ARMSTRONG'S VIDEO FOR HEY YOKO HERE