Christopher Cross interview, November 2009
Interview with Christopher Cross.
When you “Google” your name, it is always the 2 first albums that come up. My personal opinion is that your song writing really becomes much more personal and interesting from the album “Rendezvous” (1992) and on. On your debut album, you state that “…I’m a very non-political and non-intellectual lyricist. But people have so many demands on them already in their lives. I’m just trying to give them a little enjoyment and relaxation…”
Well, it was a long time ago – the album was in 1979. There are certain songs on the first album which I really like, for instance “Sailing”. Songs that still hold their ground. A lot of the songs were lyrically very simplistic. But I was younger then and starting my career out. It is a bit frustrating to keep working all this time, make 9 albums, and really, most people don’t know about them at all. The 2 first albums are the only ones that are still in print. The only way to get the other ones is on I-tunes.
To me, the Rendezvous album from 1992 is a very strong album. I’ve read somewhere that you were also inspired by Steely Dan – especially the song “Deputy Dan” has a Steely Dan thing about it; the way it moves to the chorus.
The whole title “Deputy Dan” is a tribute to them. It talks about being a jukebox, kids that are playing cover songs in clubs, and it talks about “the heroes in the war”. The heroes are Steely Dan, and the war was just the process of having success in the music business. We play the tune sometimes in the show.
On your latest release, “The Café Carlyle Sessions”, you play a lot of your old and new songs in new versions with jazz musicians. It must be nice giving all your songs a new twist.
You know, you always have to play the old songs, ‘cause people – especially in the States and not so much in Europe – mostly come because of “Arthur” and “Sailing”. And that all they know. In Europe and in Japan, it’s more so, that people know the whole catalogue. And I think you are doing your audience an injustice if you don’t play the hits that they know, because they are paying to come.
But wouldn’t it be fair to say, “Hey, I have moved on. I have a new thing I want to show you”. Like a painter or another kind of artist. I mean, you have been making music for over 30 years now.
Well, it is true, but if you take someone like Van Morrison, he sometimes leaves out some of his biggest hits, and people are disappointed. I just saw David Gilmour, and he played his newest album “On An Island” in its entirety, but then he played a whole set of Pink Floyd songs. I think you have to play your hits.
As far as the “Carlyle Sessions”, I did a month long gig at the Carlyle in New York. It’s a very small room with about 80 seats. We did it with just piano, sax and myself. It was very different for me, but people really like the sound of songs being more acoustic, so we went and had it recorded like that. And it’s really more of an unplugged acoustic album, without all of the production of the 80’ies. But I did use jazz musicians. However, I’d hate to call the album ‘jazz’.
No, it’s jazz musician playing pop music…
Exactly, it’s like Sting, who works with jazz musicians. It has been a thrill for me, cause I love the players, and they are incredibly inventive and they bring something new to the stage every night. The songs are much more stripped down, which I like. More as they were written. And it also allows me to use musicians from all over the world, as I have my charts on my server. Tonight, I’m using a bass player, Sascha from Berlin, whom I have never played with. I really enjoy it – it’s a lot of fun. It’s simpler without the electric guitar and all the stuff.
You don’t miss it?
Yeah, I miss it, but travelling with all that gear is a hassle, and also, I do enjoy the soprano saxophone playing many of the solos. It’s just something different. I have been doing the same thing for a long time. And a lot of the gear I want to use – the guitars and vintage amps – is very difficult to bring along.
Soon you will be releasing a new studio album – the first one in 12 years.
I hadn’t done anything new for quite a while. Well, I did a Christmas album. But we haven’t really done a proper release of it yet. I’m very, very happy with it. I have two original songs on it which Rob Meurer and I wrote.
But other than that, the last 10 years I have had a writer’s block. I got divorced 3 years ago. Apart from the 2 songs on the Christmas album, I wasn’t really doing something new. But in the last 18 months, Rob and I have written 14 new songs.
And it’s going very well and fast with the recordings. In fact, in the next couple of days, mixing engineer Doug Rider will start mixing the first five or six songs, so the album is almost done. I just have a few more things to do, when I get back. If I had had two more weeks, I could have had it done. Michael McDonald is going to sing on a track and Eric Johnson will play guitar on another. We will release it in the spring of 2010. The 14 new songs are very different.
Will you play any of the new songs on the tour?
No, we won’t, and the reason is, that with all the telephones and taping ending up on Youtube, I want the songs to be heard for the first time in their proper form. And the ensemble for the new record is completely different from the live band. Right now, the new album is tentatively called “Dr. Faith”, and I think that will probably be the title. Right now, there are no keyboards at all. I play all the guitars. As I said, Eric Johnson will play a solo. I usually have Eric playing a solo on my albums. We’re old friends. His solo on “Minstrel Gigolo” from my first album is actually Eric’s first solo on an album. I do love the fact that Eric and Michael are my close friends, but it’s really more about that they are the right ones for the songs.
So, when you have written a song, you already have an idea of how you want it to sound on the record?
Rob and I write the songs together, and I am producing. And as the tracks start coming together, I think, ‘Hmm, Michael would be right for this and Eric would be nice for that.’ But there are very few guest artists on the new record. Basically, it’s drums, bass and a lot of guitar textures. There are strings on seven tunes. Chris Walden, who is a kind of Jeremy Lubbock protégé, has arranged the strings. He is brilliant. There are also sax solos on a couple of things. The album is very different from earlier. It’s more like a Crowded House kind of sounding record. Or Tom Petty sounding. Lyrically I think it is some of the best stuff, we have ever done, and I think the songs are really, really interesting and unusual. Rob and I are very excited about it. It’s too bad the music business is in the state it’s in – for us bargaining it’s hard, but the record is turning out great! I’m probably gonna play it for Edel Records (German record label that released “The Café Carlyle Sessions) during this tour, and hopefully they will like it and will distribute it.
How I am going to present the new album in concerts is a big challenge. The kind of ensemble I would have to present “Dr. Faith” is so much different than the old songs, so I don’t know what I will do. I may have to do what you said in the beginning and just say, “I’m playing a few selected clubs just doing “Dr. Faith. That’s all – I’m not going to do the hits.”
The ensemble I’m touring with now works great for my whole career, because I have the sax, and all the songs work with that. You know, it’s nice doing something different. I got tired of doing the same thing over and over – replicating the records from the 80’ies.
You said before that you are producing the new album. I don’t remember you as a producer since the Alessi album “Long Time Friends” from 1982.
Well, I also produced my Christmas album. I’m probably more proud of that than anything I’ve done. It’s just upright bass, strings, and Michael Omartian plays the piano. So I’m producing him – for a changeJ.
Talking about Michael Omartian, is there any special reason why you stopped working with him after the “Back Of My Mind” album in 1988?
Money! I mean, without Warner Brothers it is hard to afford Michael. Man, he deserves his fee, and it just got too expensive.
If we look at the music industry today compared to how it was earlier, you mentioned that it is difficult to get your albums out. We know that they are available on I-tunes, but as for the buyers of your music and related styles, they still want to have the cd – the “real thing”. Do you feel that you as an artist have to make bigger efforts to get the stuff released tan earlier?
Well, I don’t think there’s anything you can do. I think the record business is over for the most part. Music and records are the first things to fall. As you can see now, movies have started to be compromised. I have just read, that there are some writers in China who are suing Google for scanning the contents of their books without paying them. That will be the next thing. You will see novels having the same fate. It’s all gonna be ripped off. So, the only advantage someone like myself has is that I have a name, so I can play live. Cause really, that’s the only way to make money. Artists like Prince and Radiohead give away their music and draw people to the concerts, and they make money live.
That model works OK except for young artists. Al this new technology like Youtube is great, because you don’t have to get a record deal anymore, and you can make your music on Pro-tools and put it out. The problem is that trying to get your voice heard above everybody else’s is almost impossible. The field is simply too crowded. So I feel very bad for young artists.
I was talking with Jackson Browne about this, and we lament the fall of our business. It was a model that you used to make a record, the record company gave you an advance, they put the records in the stores, you went on the road. It was a cycle of life. That cycle of life is gone. There’s nothing we can do. In America there is Wall Mart, Target and Best Buy, and they are very hard to get into. Artists like myself really can’t get into those stores. They only want to deal with big acts.
So you touring in Europe could be a kind of investment, maybe coming back every once in a while and make people buy your albums.
Well, I don’t really plan to make money on making records. It’s just what I do. My new record will cost about 80.000 $ which isn’t much. I’m doing most of it at home. Usually, I use strings, and that’s what’s expensive. Some people say “why do it, then”, cause I can tour without that record. I tour mostly on my past hits. As I said, I do it because I love it. Rob and I write songs, I want them to have a life. It’s part of my legacy, and I’m very proud of it.
Interview by Georg Forchhammer, November 2009 - Photos by Carsten Weide.
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