Thanks for taking time out. They're working you hard, I gather?
Well, I'm leaving on my tour in two days, so we're clumping all the interviews together. I have to go back to the recording studio today, finishing up a song for a Jack White compilation. I'm trying to manage my time efficiently.
Congratulations on the album.
Thank you. For me, it's a real charge to have people like it. This is the first album where I have played all the guitars. The reason I think it sounds good is because it is my guitar sound. That's something a lot of people have had a hard time realising through the years: that I've been playing lead guitar since I was back with the Screaming Sirens in 1984. People will see me live and go, "I didn't know you played guitar. You shred!" I go, "well, thanks." They're not used to seeing that. They hear the songs on the radio or the net and they have no idea I play guitar. If you listen to Iris DiMent or John Prine or any singer-songwriter record, you wouldn't assume they were playing the guitar, you'd just go, "their guitar player is great." The fun part has been being out on the road; I start with my "Surf Demon" song, just to set the bar straight. "I'll be adding vocals to this guitar next." I'm trying to get the word out as a guitarist. Everyone knows Bonnie Raitt is a guitarist, but people just don't know that about me. It's funny; I started playing lead guitar at 16, in my first all-girl band. It is about time.
There must have been lots of overdubbing, but it still sounds fresh and live. Was that a challenge?
I cut the tracks with the bassist and drummer, doing everything live as a trio. I tried to rock the rhythm out with them so I could get the feel of the song. That's important because I was going to be the singer on it. I wanted to get it in the right tempo, the right key. When the rhythm section left, I'd put some solos in and some fills, so that was a second layer. On one song, I added a piano, on another B3 and pedal steel on my favourite, "Yeah Yeah." That's the tribute to Duane Jarvis [Americana guitarist and songwriter who'd played with the likes of Dwight Yoakam and Lucinda Williams]. I came to town to do a memorial tribute concert to him. People like Buddy Miller and John Prine were there performing; it was really magical. The day before I got together with a couple of friends and said, "let's write something while we're here." It was like DJ's spirit was in the room. He wrote a song called "Live For Today, Pray For Tomorrow" and those lines got in there to let him have a voice in the song. It was cool that happened and we sang it as the closing song of the concert.
It's definitely an eclectic album.
There are a lot of fun things on the record. I've always wanted to do a surf song; I just wanted to show diversity on my guitar playing, as well as being able to sing songs that express where I'm coming from as a musician and woman. From "Little But I'm Loud" to "Love Must Have Passed Me By," that says it all. I've lived a long time and I started singing jazzy/pop songs when I was six. My dad would hand me the lyrics and record me. That's a long time: to have been living in the '50s and living through each decade. The album shows my influences and where my tastes are, as far as the kind of music I have loved through the years. Notice there's no rap on there [laughs]. It's got R&B influences there and blues. Alejandro Escovedo brought that song to me, as he thought I could do it well. I did it on a show with him in Chicago. I had fun picking the songs. I've always been a huge Beatles fan and "My Guitar Gently Weeps" has always been one of my favourite melodies. I've always played with it over the years and I wanted to do it in a way that showed my individuality and perspective. I thought playing it from a woman's perspective might make it a little jazzier and sexier. I think it came out pretty good.
Tell me about the Bobby Vee song. I gather his son is in your band?
Yes. I met Bobby Vee through his son, Tommy, who did a string of dates with me one time. We got to be really good friends. When I was in Minneapolis, they turned me onto his studio, where he had recorded with drummer Noah Levy, back with Brian Setzer on one of his solo instrumental records, Lonely Avenue. They said, "we'd love it if you came here and made a record with us." I said, "let's do it." I did all the tracking, most of the guitars and 80-percent of the vocals there. When I got home, I added a few more parts and harmonies, and the guest musicians. I had to come up with some money to get that done and I wanted to work with the engineer I used on the Janis Martin project. I had to pawn a Gretsch guitar to come up with the money, but I knew I could get it back. I ended up selling a painting of Elvis I did to pay him back, but I got a pretty good price on that. It was also encouraging to me as a painter and a sign I should keep at it.
I'm sure Bobby Vee loves your version.
He sings harmony on it. I got to meet the Vee [Velline] Family and spent last Thanksgiving with them. It's amazing to be around their family and see all Bobby's rock'n'roll memorabilia. It's like a little museum in his house. They're all sweet, happy, beautiful people. I hope the record will sell well enough that I can take those guys back out on the road with me and keep this going. For now, I'm starting a tour with Marti Brom.
The record you made with Janis Martin just came out too. Are you pleased with the response?
I am so pleased. I got great reviews from The New York Times, The L.A. Times, USA Today and I went on NPR with it. I didn't want to play on Janis's record, as I wanted to be there for her, walking around back and forth, and be the producer. Last night, I read a letter she'd written me, thanking me for doing this. She said she was really nervous about doing this, but wanted to do it for her son, who'd just passed away from a brain aneurysm. That's the son that RCA dropped her for being pregnant with. He died just a few months before her. I wondered if the heartbreak was so deep that it may have been hard to fight the cancer. But it's great to see how people are loving it. It was very stressful trying to get it out. It taught me a lot about myself; it taught me about being patient and to realise I have to give of myself and be compassionate towards other people. I just learned a lot of life lessons from this labour of love. There were laughter and tears in trying to get it done. It also showed me who my real friends are and gave me a good perspective on life. Now, with both these records finished and out there, it's time for me to get on with the fun part, which is to get out there and play the music. Marti Brom and I will do a combination of Janis's old and new songs and then songs from her new record and from Working Girls Guitar.