A New Interview with
former Blue Oyster Cult bassist,
Joe Bouchard has recently released his second solo album – "Tales From The Island". If you liked Joe’s debut album – you will easily dig his new one. Joe has also been busy with ‘Blue Coupe’, the band also featuring brother Albert on drums [and vocals] and Dennis Dunaway [bass & vocals]. You can check out my previous interview with Joe elsewhere at Universal Wheels, as well as a new interview with Dennis [by myself and Ron Mann]. But here, the original Blue Oyster Cult bass man answers questions pertaining to his new album, as well as Blue Coupe, whom also have a second album coming up.
Enjoy the read!
Thanks to Joe for his time during a busy period, and thanks to Ron for putting it all together on the website.
If you get a chance, do not pass up the chance to see Blue Coupe live, and check out Joe’s website to order the CD, as well as his other live shows. Keep up with Joe at:www.joebouchard.com and www.bluecoupe.com.
First, after taking years to put together your first solo album, did this one come together any easier or quicker?
Yes, having the experience of the first solo album, 'Jukebox in My Head' behind me made this one easier and quicker too. It took about two and a half years to get it all together. I'm already planning a third solo album, it might be a departure from the first two, but it's a nice feeling clearing the slate of old material. Positive comments and reviews make me want to do yet another album soon.
Reviews and response to ‘Jukebox…’ were good. How often did you read a line similar to ‘the best BOC album the band never recorded’ ? I think the album was unique enough that it wouldn’t be mistaken for a BOC album, but certainly has some elements to attract old fans and new ones. And the new album seems to go a step further in being something different.
A few comments seemed to lean that, but for the most part I do my own thing. My voice and bass playing are prominent on the solo albums, so fans could hear that in the old BOC style. Occasionally I'll think of how Donald might have played a guitar part, but I usually bring in influences from other favorite bands when I'm recording. I love 60s bands like the Beach Boys, the Stones, and so on. They influence me more than the BOC style.
What drove you to make this a pure solo album – with no outside players? Was there ever any thought of using any guests or were you pretty determined from the start to do it all on your own?
Well, it was a pragmatic approach. The whole album was recorded in my home studio. I was planning for Michael Cartellone (of Lynyrd Skynyrd) to play drums. We discussed arrangements and approaches to the songs for months. But he is on tour for the entire summer, and recording drums would have to wait late in the fall. Also I was under pressure to finish the new Blue Coupe album and the new X Brother's albums. I could have waited and added more outside musicians, but since all the songs were the way I wanted them I said right now was best time to release the album. It was an easy decision. I may do remixes and alternate arrangements for bonus tracks and repackages in the future, which could involve a number of outside musicians.
You play a lot of different instruments on this album. How used to everything were you? Was there any [instruments] you had to familiarize yourself with more, to use it on this album?
The guitar is what I do most, and piano is probably secondary. But I love the mandolin and 12 string guitar. They were the backbone of several songs on the album. I added banjo to the Katrina song, because I couldn't find a suitable guitar part and the banjo was perfect. I used to play trumpet in the 60s, so I played trumpet on Katrina too. Was going to replace the trumpet with a real player, but I like the idea of walking down the street in New Orleans and hearing a ragtag band coming out of a doorway with just those instruments, wailing away, appealed to me. You don't have to be a virtuoso to make up cool arrangements. Some people say that track sounds like the Band from Big Pink who often traded old instruments for effect. Bass is what I did with BOC for 16 years, one of the reasons I did both solo albums was to show old fans that I could still pick up the 4 (or 5) string bass and make it work.
After your first album you mentioned you’d probably record another of John Elwood Cook’s songs or possibly put together an album for him [?] , and on "Tales…" you’ve recorded 7 of his songs. How did this many come about, and what is it about John’s writing that seems to suit your style so well?
I love John's approach to lyrics, and his chords force me to stay with a simple groove. To me he is an undiscovered genius of Americana music. He's been doing it for years. Albert and I have told him he should put out his own recordings, but he doesn't do well with modern technology and he's basically a shy guy. But that's all the better for me, because his songs resonate with many people and I love performing them.
About two years ago I mentioned to him that I might do a whole album on his songs, and he's got 100s to choose from. But many might not work for me, it's real quirky stuff that he writes for his own amusement. But I like a lot of it. As it turned out having 7 songs on an album is a fine start to a strong songwriting catalog. I can be his mouthpiece. I'm already performing 5-6 of the his new songs in my acoustic show.
How do [did] you end up choosing songs that were penned by John? Are they things you’ve heard him play or things that he’s sent to you? [Was there a process?] And how much a part of the songs is John beyond writing [do you keep in touch as to how a song should sound or say ‘hey, I’d like to take this and add this and that to it’ or discuss the lyrics?]
John and I sit on his porch, or my family cottage kitchen, and jam on into the summer nights. I tape a few things, but sometime I forget to turn the recorder on. While we're jamming on his songs I get a vibe, some kind of spark, for the best songs. I envision an arrangement in my head and when I am alone in my studio it comes pouring out. When a song works on the porch or the kitchen, it will work anywhere.
When I do my arrangement at home I'll send an MP3 to John. Depending on the track, John will usually not like what I've done, but after living with it for awhile he usually likes the song. I am the performer and producer so ultimately it's my responsibility to come up with something that I can perform live with conviction.
Btw, I love the remix [extended] of "Dark Boat". How did that come about?
The Dark Boat extended remix was an idea I had when mixing the original track. The track was really long and I recorded more parts than needed. But I faded it out. The fade in happened spontaneously when I forgot to shut off the machine. I made a note to myself that fade in with two more minutes of wildness would be great to do at some future time. I added strings to the remix too. They add a new dramatic touch to the recording. It's doing real well on YouTube with the remix and starry video. It's Like almost psychedelic, man!
Regarding some of the songs from Tales, 'who' is the 'retro rock star'?
Retro Rock star is the guy who's retired from the rock star life, but he loves to play, just like me. It's my story but I see a little Richie Blackmore, or any number of other hotshot players that will never give it up. Sometimes I would stop into a bar to see a band, and inevitably some fan find out who I am and bust a nut that I'm just a regular guy at a bar having a beer. I love to sit in with bands, I hope they keep asking me.
You tend to write story based songs. Curious how much truth or personal experience is in them, or perhaps what inspires them [with ref to new tracks like "Roadtrip", "Motel Tropico", "The Pub That Never Closes"?
I've tried to write simple love songs, emotion songs, but the story songs seem to hang together better. Those three are great examples of my stories. Roadtrip is about out legendary trips to Myrtle Beach in the 80s with the X Brothers. Motel Tropico is another similar story but relates to Soft White Underbelly traveling to California in the 60s to record for Elektra Records. They never asked me to go since Andy Winters was their bass player then, but I loved the romance of driving to the westcoast and staying at the Tropicana Hotel, a famous rock band hangout. It's gone now, turned into a parking lot. I saw Rickie Lee Jones and Tom Waits sitting in a diner booth there once. Apparently Rickie was nursing a wicked hangover, I could feel her pain.
In all your years as a writer, what has changed from your perspective [musically and more lyrically] from your early BOC days? Do you think any of your solo songs [from either album] are songs that could’ve easily been submitted and used with BOC?
I've actually learned how to write better songs. Working with Ian Hunter for about 6 months in 2000-2001 was a revelation. Mostly he would tell me that you must spend the time doing it, writing songs. It can be long and boring and lonely work. Sometimes songs don't come easy. He would work for 5 years on some of his solo albums. He said that if he worked all day and only found one good word for a song, it was worth it.
You also have "Your Dark Secrets", co-written with the late Helen Wheels. Has this appeared anywhere else or is this something you had stashed away? It’s a relationship song, but seems to be a bit ‘dark’ and heavy [love the slow heavy sound] .
JB: I had that lyric stashed away in my attic in the same box from the 80s I found the lost Jim Carroll lyric, Angel's Well. I remember working on it back in the 80s but I got nowhere with it. This time it came together in one day, and I was amazed how it fell together so easily. Sometimes I have to change a word or a half a line sometimes, but this was near perfect all the way through.
Albert did a similar song with the Brain Surgeons called Dark Secrets. He told me that Helen would sent out different versions of a similar lyric. His version is much different than mine.
And you have "Heart Of Wine", co-written with Richard Meltzer. A great rocker. Love the vocals, and guitar solos. Where did this one come from? And what exactly is that effect on the vocals in the verses?
Heart of Wine was a lyric that Richard gave me in the 80s. I liked the lyric, but I said "I can't do this lyric, this is a song for an old man". Well, guess what happened? At my age now it's a near perfect song. I love it. I actually wrote a country version of the song that I liked and listen to for months. But the country version lacked focus, it was like the Eagles meet the Who, but not in a good way. So I said Meltzer loved the punk bands, so I imagined Joey Ramone doing the song. And it came together fast and I think it's really focused in it's style. The effect on the verse vocals is the old telephone filter. It gives the sound of a guy talking on the phone to an old girlfriend, probably a pay phone, no modern cell phones here.
Will there be a vinyl edition of Tales From the Island as well?
It depends on demand. If enough people want vinyl I'll do it, but it's very expensive compared to CDs. I just broke down and ordered CDs. I'll have to order more because they are moving so quickly.
Regarding Blue Coupe … You are working on a new Blue Coupe album. What is the status on that?
We've recorded all the tracks for the new Blue Coupe. We are putting out a single called "Gotta Fever" this summer. It will be available on iTunes at first and other formats at a later time. The complete CD should be ready early in the fall.
What exactly were the Grammy nominations for it? [so, you guys must've had some good industry response!?]
Yes, it was great to be considered for a Grammy. We were in the cool categories like Best Rock Song, Best Rock Album, Best Short Form Video and the coolest category of all "Best New Artist". Wow it's only taken us 40 years to get there! We didn't make that much headway with the nominations since a lot of it is name recognition, but we got some votes that I know of.
You wrote less on the first album, with Dennis putting in about half. Curious as to how that worked and if there’ll be more of your stuff or any band collaborations on the next one?
With Tornado we worked really quickly and Dennis had the most useable material. This next record is more thought out, and I personally have collaborated with Dennis and a couple of very strong songs. You'll be hearing them soon!
You guys did a cool video [an actual video, with you guys acting and all] for "You Like Vampires" written by John Elwood Cook. Who’s idea was the video ‘plot’ and how was response to it?
Albert's son and my nephew Ace is the producer and director of the video. He just graduated from Film School and he got several of his classmates to help him on the production. They worked their asses off on the shoot. Every shot was really well planned and the camera angles and lighting were just like a major movie. He's got a real talent in film. We're going to to do much more with him in the future, as long as he is available.
You had Robbie Krieger on the Blue Coupe album? [how did that work?]
As we were coming back from Canada a few years ago we were mulling who would make the best special guest on a Blue Coupe tour. Robby was on the top of our list for the whole trip. Albert called him when he got back to NYC and Robby was very cordial. He said he was way too busy to do any gigs, but if we sent him some tracks for an album he'd play on it. That was the spark that started our album Tornado on the Tracks.
We recorded basic tracks in NY and the first one we sent Robby was "Angel's Well". He sent us back 5 or 6 guitar parts that we easily loaded into the song. After some editing we came up with a composite solo that was a knockout! Some other guitar parts were used in Albert's song Man Up. We owe it to Robby for inspiring us on that album.
Will there be any guests on the next BC album?
Yes, but we don't have specifics yet.
What will you be doing to promote your solo album? any chance of any solo acoustic gigs up this way?
Maybe, I love to play it depends on if I can get the bookings that work around the Blue Coupe schedule.
Blue Coupe – "Waiting For My Ship"
Review: ©June 2012 Kevin J. Julie / Universal Wheels / TravellersInTime