JA: Hey, Mike how are you doing?
SM: I’m fine and you? I hear you’re having some problems with the touring van.
JA: I’m staying in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, the very hotel where John (Lennon) and Yoko (Ono) had their bed-in. So you know?
SM: That has to be pretty awesome.
JA: (laughs) And the van, it’s an eight-cylinder and I guess a couple of cylinders aren’t firing. So, I don’t know what that means, do you know what that means?
SM: Me? I have no idea. All I know is I’d be stranded somewhere.
JA: You are in Pittsburgh, right?
SM: Yes, sir.
JA: We are enemies!
SM: How so?
JA: Because I am a Browns fan.
SM: Oh no...
SM: Maybe we shouldn’t make that too know here in Pittsburgh...
JA: Yeah, yeah... you might want to keep that out of the article. (laughs)
SM: There is no quicker way to turn a Pittsburgher against you than being a Browns fan.
JA: Well, you guys won. So let’s just face it. (Won) the whole time, so.
SM: We are winning for the time being, but Cleveland is a team on the rise. We got to watch out.
JA: I hope so, it has been a lifetime of heartbreak.
SM: So, with the van broken down, is this going to delay the tour at all?
JA: No. The van is ok, it is a little shoddy, but it’s alright. It got me here. It was in the shop for a second, but it will be fine. We have no show tonight, but we hit Toronto tomorrow and that is like a 5 or 6 hour drive.
SM: Just wondering because you have a show here on Friday. I guess you have a lot of traveling ahead of you in the next few days.
JA: It’s fine. I’m used to it by now.
SM: So on to your latest album, “The Graduation Ceremony.” It came out it May?
JA: That seems like a long time ago. I guess so, huh. I really don’t remember the exact date, but I guess it is a couple months old now.
SM: In doing some research, I read that “The Graduation Ceremony” spawned out of two different records you were working on.
JA: Yeah, in a way it did. I have been working on this album called “The Ballad of Boogie Christ,” which is sort of like this psychedelic-soul record. It is sort of a big production and I have been working on it for a couple of years now.
I started to write a few more acoustic songs, “Out on a Limb” being the first one, and I recorded it during the recording sessions of “The Ballad of Boogie Christ” and I really liked the way it came out. So, I just started on working on the record alongside the other one and just finished it. And the thing about it is Jim Keltner came in to play songs on the “Boogie Christ” album and he turned around and played on all the songs on “The Graduation Ceremony.” So I had an acoustic/singing Jim Keltner record. All of a sudden, that started taking precedence.
SM: So, let me get this right; the album that you were working on is called “Boogie Christ?”
JA: Yeah, it is “The Ballad of Boogie Christ.”
SM: Now, is that a concept album? It sounds like it almost has to be.
JA: Yeah, kind of.
SM: The title alone paints that sort of picture. Do you mind me asking what it is about?
JA: It is either about someone that is enlightened or insane.
SM: Uh huh, that is simple enough.
SM: That kind of flows into my next question. I read on a PR release that you don’t have writer’s block; you almost have the opposite of it?
JA: I guess part of my predicament is trying to keep a focus on one thing long enough to fit in the cycle of whatever of I’m promoting or presenting to the people.
As opposed to just throwing stuff out there to the point where people don’t pay attention.
SM: I like him, but it is kind of like Ryan Adams that tosses stuff out at a moment’s notice...
JA: The thing is too, you know, people tend to think that when people are prolific, that it means that they don’t edit themselves and they are putting out sub-standard stuff. But I really don’t think that is true.
I was recently asked to do this thing for this radio station in New York called WNYC, where they were doing pick a year and tell us what it means to you. I picked 1977 and I was looking up things that had come out in 1977 and something that struck me was (David) Bowie put out “Heroes” and “Low,” two classic albums. Iggy Pop put out “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life” that year. And then you think about The Beatles and how long their career really was and how many records they put out.
I think the opposite is really true, that when people are flowing and not being too precious about stuff, that is when magical things happen.
SM: That is very true.
JA: But that seems like that is not how people paint it nowadays.
SM: Yeah, it is like people think that people let it go to the head and they can just throw out whatever they want, that it is supposed to be good or it is supposed to be that and it is not taken for face value. And everyone today has lost perspective, like you said with Bowie and Iggy, Queen was another one that put record after record out through the 70s and 80s...
JA: Or The Stones or Bob Dylan. Really when you look at, like, everybody that did the classic record, they were all done pretty fast. It is the rare bird that it is like this long arduous, over-thought, overwrought thing that comes out as a classic record. It is not the Stanley Kubrick syndrome in rock and roll; it is usually the opposite. But I don’t know why nowadays that it doesn’t get taken like that.
SM: It’s almost like instead of appreciating the flow of music, we (as a society) have ADD and can’t stay focused on one thing to appreciate what someone is doing.
JA: Yeah, exactly. Well, there is something I always think about; on Charles Bukowski’s tombstone he put, “Don’t Try,” which was his philosophy to writing. It is sort of like a punk rock, it seems like punkish, bratty thing to say, “don’t try,” but it is actually a very intelligent, deeply philosophical thing to say. It is like Zen almost. I would say as opposed to having writer’s block, I would say I have “don’t try.” I don’t really try, I don’t feel the pressure to write anything or not write anything. I’m a little bit backed up in terms of material I could release. I am cognizant of the fact I shouldn’t try and throw too much stuff because people then resist it for some reason.
All cylinders are still firing (with me). I just did another interview with somebody and they told me this Richard Thompson quote, which I thought was amazing, “The secret of my success is my continued failure.”
SM: Wow, that is...awesome.
JA: And I can totally relate to that. I just feel like I have this hunger that hasn’t gone away and I feel as hungry as ever, but not in a negative way. It has actually turned quite positive, because I still feel completely inspiring and useful about the whole thing. I don’t feel bloated and it’s done or anything like that at all. I feel like it is in a good place, a healthy place. Bukowski always used to talk about that like how he was so happy that he didn’t really get any of the prizes until late. He was always going on about, “Thank you so much for holding out on me.” And I think that keeps the work strong.
SM: Yes, it doesn’t go to your head like if you get the accolades early in your career.
JA: Yeah, it doesn’t become this heady thing and if you have massive success, how can it not be a heady thing. If everybody is paying attention to you, on one level it is great and it could be nurturing, but it could be the opposite.
SM: I don’t understand how people do cope with instant success, because I would think anything that you had following through your mind as your next step would automatically stop.
JA: Right, or just become analyzed to death. You would have to have a certain amount of not caring and not trying; you always got to incorporate that.
SM: You started your own record label. How is that working out?
JA: It is a mixed bag. I started actually for “Nuclear Daydream.” It has been pretty cool. It started out right on top of the record industry completely collapsing. It is not a controlled environment to assess the situation, let’s put it that way. It is like throwing something on to a complete pile of chaos and see how it deals with it. It definitely feels like it is the way things are going.
SM: I was just going to ask how you think the music industry is going now; CDs are gone, everything is online.
JA: I am surprised that CDs are as prevalent as they are.
SM: I just picked up a couple the other day and they are just vanishing from stores; stores aren’t carrying them anymore.
JA: I don’t know. I don’t really have an opinion about it. It is what it is, you know. It is the way things evolve. I don’t think it is either bad or good. I know, personally, I like having access to the music I have access to in the simple way I have access to it. It is not a romantic thing to say, but...I do like that. I know that is really not the party line... (laughs)
SM: It’s true and it is nice to hear someone say it. It is nice to be able to want to hear something and instantly go and have it.
JA: And, you know what? As much as I love vinyl and everything, and I have a massive vinyl collection, but right now my vinyl collection is in storage because of where I live in New York. I used to have a bigger space, but now I got a studio space and I have a recording studio with equipment that I need to make work. I don’t have the room for a massive vinyl collection. It takes up a lot of room. I mean, if you have a big record collection, that is one side of the thing people don’t talk about; unless you have a big space it takes up a lot of room.
SM: I would think it could be one or two rooms worth dedicated to a big collection.
JA: You could dedicate rooms to record collections for sure, easily.
SM: And bringing this interview full circle in relation to The Beatles, last year, you were part of the, quote-unquote, super-group, Fistful of Mercy (with Ben Harper and Dhani Harrison). How did that come to happen?
JA: That came about because I was going to LA to play the Trubador for two nights and I thought I should try and change it up. I was just going through my phone and I thought I will call Ben and see if he wants to, well, at least tell him I’m playing and see if he wants to sit in on one of these nights. Just to make it different. He was, like, “Hell, yeah.” He sat in both nights.
Then I was like I am in town for a few days, we should get together and write something. I just figured we would write and record one song or something.
And then he asked me if I knew Dhani and I didn’t and I asked him, “Why? Is he in our band?” and he said yeah.
So we three just got together and we had three days in the studio. After the first day, we had three songs and we thought that if we can do three songs by the end of each day we can have a record. So then that became our goal and we met the goal and that was the record. We sat on it for a couple months, and we figured it would just come out like as is, but then Jim Keltner ended up playing on it. I really like the way that came out.