Friday, August 18, 2006

Supreme Folk: Roger McGuinn

Like most people who become obsessed with music at a relatively early age, I did and do a lot of backtracking. I wander off into one corner of the universe for a while and get lost, then I find my way back to my central core and explore something else.

I think it was the mid to late 80's when I started with the jangle-pop thing. I horked a Byrds cassette from my poor, put-upon older brother (the one trying to keep Rosie from killing herself below) and played it to pieces, then worked around looking at influences. I got into folk in a small way--Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, mostly, spent some time following the Roches around whenever they were within a hundred miles of here (something that happened more often than you might think). There's a terrific, political folk act that plays around here pretty often, the Burns Sisters, who I just heard have a new record out. The breathtaking record Trio starts to head off toward country, but there's just no arguing with Emmylou's voice, in my opinion. Nor with her successor, Neko.

None of this history keeps me from enjoying folk humor, however, and A Mighty Wind is not only one of my favorite films--suprisingly respectful and poignant on a number of levels--but (I confess with a blush) I also listen to the soundtrack pretty often--and mostly unironically. There's all the movie songs, of course, plus some which are only hinted at in the film (Mitch and Mickey's "One More Time," for example, which I find really evocative of "Dear Prudence") and some which are album-only (The Folksmen's "Blood on the Coal" and alarming cover of the Stones' "Start Me Up"..... "You make a dead man!").

So I was thinking about all this when I read this recent interview with Byrds front man Roger McGuinn. He's long been a hero of mine, not too surprising given the history cited above, and it's interesting to see his take on a number of contemporary atists.

On alt-country
Going back to the Byrds, you mentioned Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which is credited with starting country-rock, and often cited as starting the modern alt-country movement. What are your thoughts on alt-country and the Byrds' role in its formation?
I love Jeff Tweedy and Gary Louris and those guys, and I think what they're doing is wonderful and it's really good music, and it's basically folk music to me. I think they're carrying on the thing we did back in the original days and I'm very happy to hear it.

You mentioned Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, and I see some similarities in their career path and yours -- starting out rooted in folk music and experimenting from there. Again, you can see the Byrds' influence playing out again.
It's a good feeling for me to see that. It's very gratifying.

Can you think of any current bands whose music will stand the test of time?

Well, I look at Elvis Costello ... Are you talking about really, really current?

Well, not the pop charts...

No Britney Spears?

No, nothing like that. Here today, gone yesterday.

I think Wilco is going to definitely stand the test of time -- no question -- and Uncle Tupleo, and the whole No Depression scene, which is now alt-country. I think that's going to be around a long time.

On the legacy of the Byrds.
Looking back, how would you describe the Byrds' legacy on rock 'n' roll?
I guess you'd have to focus on the main points, which would be that jingle-jangle sound of the Rickenbacker electric twelve-string, the pretty harmonies, the melodies -- the folk-based melodies -- and combining the folk songs or style of folk songs with the energy of the Beatles, kind of combining the two because that had not been done prior to "Mr. Tambourine Man". Now some people say it was the Animals, but that was a blues song, but (jokingly pauses), ok, anyway ... We were doing it, then exploring different territories, like country and jazz, and what they called psychedelia, which was really our jazz exploration.

On technology and music.
Going back to what you're doing now -- you're a technology aficionado. How has technology changed the way you approach music?
Well, it's changed the way I record music. I don't have to go to the big studio anymore. I can fire up a laptop and get the same quality recording that you used to only get in the studio, which is great. I've got the new MacBook Pro and I can work it on either Windows or OS X, and run either Pro Tools, or my favorite one is Adobe Audition, and it's got so many plug-ins that it's just like a million-dollar studio in a box. It's just amazing. That technology has democratized recording so that just about anyone can afford a setup like that and record.

It has democratized recording, but it's also democratized the marketing with what's going on with MySpace and...

The Internet has done that, right. The Internet has replaced print press and television and, you know, look at Google. It's just an amazing phenomenon where people are taking their ad money out of TV and putting it into Google. It's just totally different.

And again, I assume you see these changes as positive?

Yes I do, because it's positive for the artist because the artists used to have to rely on the big labels, who were ... you know, it was a form of indentured servitude to the big labels and now that isn't necessary. So I see it as a very positive thing for artists.

Finally, what new music are you listening to -- or are you?
I have XM and Sirius and I kind of scan the channels and, well, I don't really know [laughing]. Fountains of Wayne are good, stuff like that. But I don't listen to a whole lot of new music. I just kind of scan the channels and see what's out there.

I wandered over to check out the Folk Den and got lost for a good couple of hours: what an amazing archive!

1 comment:

Zap Rowsdower said... refreshing to see.

I really appreciate the fact that McGuinn isn't one of those "Well, I'm not getting props for what I did, so I'll savage everyone else". I just bought "Sweetheart" last year (the jumbo deluxe edition), and just get blown away each time I hear it (admittedly, I'm more of a Gram Parsons guy). "Pretty Boy Floyd" is one of the better Guthrie covers out there.

Thanks for the post, NYM!