Tell me the story of how you met with Bobby Harlow (The Go) and how the album "The Distance Calls" got made.
NN: My friends Talia Lugacy and Rosario Dawson were making a movie called Descent. Talia wanted a song for a party scene that had a retro ‘60s bluesy, jangly sound. I wrote it and knew Bobby could hit it out of the park, (I’ve been a Go fan since the beginning, their taste and songs are immaculate) so I randomly contacted his manager. It was a wild spur-of-the-moment idea; a midnight email. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but it ended up working out. I went out there for a weekend to lay down two songs with him that became my Motor City Recordings EP; one of which, Gone (Fly Away), ended up in the film. In that session, he guided me vocally in a way I hadn’t experienced before and I think it worked like a charm. Working with a vocalist I respected so much really pushed me, so I sent him about 25 demos to check out. He picked 14, and a year later I was back, this time for 10 days. Bobby assembled an absolutely stellar line up of musicians for my backing band, including Dean Fertita (The Dead Weather, Queens of The Stone Age), Joe Mazzola (Detroit Cobras, Sponge), Kenny Tudrick (Detroit Cobras, Kid Rock) and John Krautner (The Go). It was like rock fantasy camp for me, a total treat.
Tell us three of your musical heroes and what makes them so special to you.
NN: Mark Lanegan – he jumps from project-to-project with the grace of a chain- smoking, whiskey-soaked gazelle, and they all sound fantastic.
Bob Pollard – to call him a prolific songwriter would be the understatement of the century. And he was a school teacher, as was I.
Bob Dylan – because he’s aged like a fine wine and has become slightly less enamored with words and more with living (Love and Theft and Time Out of Mind have songs I can play on a loop for days and that capture a mood I’m in perfectly).
None of your sound is remotely like Jeff Lynne or ELO, so why cover "Do Ya" and did you get to meet Jeff in getting his permission to cover the song?
NN: If I had the money to hire an orchestra to record, you might not say that 😉 But seriously, I like a catchy melody and ‘70s rock. And ELO certainly has both in spades. I also love Jeff’s work with The Travelling Wilburys and Tom Petty. I do strive to write that, that kind of effortless jangly literate pop rock. The decision to record Do Ya was totally random. I was just finger picking on the couch, watching the tube and then I realized I was playing the chorus chords. It’s such a well written tune that it holds up nicely stripped down. And it brought out this intimate, pretty, emotive voice in me that hadn’t really been there before. Jeff had to approve its use on Californication and apparently loved my version. Incredible! But unfortunately, he didn’t pick me up in a convertible and drive me down the PCH while we listened to it.
Can you tell me any good stories about touring and playing in clubs to support the music?
NN: I could but then I’d have to kill you.
What’s next for you? Will the band be playing at any upcoming music festivals?
NN: Right now I’m promoting my parallel videos for California Run (starring Rosario Dawson) and When The Rain Falls. They’re being featured at the Philadelphia Film and Music Festival on September 25 where I’ll be opening for Mike Brenner’s band; Slo-Mo. Mike produced my Songsmiths EP and is a very tasty lap steel player who used to play with Marah and Jason Molina. On November 9, I’ll be rocking International Pop Overthrow (which I have you guys to thank for, since David Bash heard my record as a result of your review, so thank you!) and releasing my animated flying car video for my song Highways. Then there’s the gift that keeps on giving with my kooky Santa Claus Is Coming To Town charity video. And in 2011, I’ll release an Earth Day themed A/B side and some recording side projects.
Thanks for the interview, Neil!