Joe Bouchard Part Two: Solo Record
That should change for Joe's absolutely excellent record Jukebox in My Head this fall when it will be re-released on Spectra Records. The ex-Blue Oyster Cult bassist has crafted a rare thing in recent times --- a record that has 12 songs and all of them hit the target right in the middle of the bulls-eye. Who knew Joe could play guitar like this as well? Well maybe anybody who picked up his previous output with bands like The X Brothers and BDS (with ex-Alice Cooper members Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith. Or even his latest project which is the killer Blue Coupe band with Dunaway and brother Albert (also ex-BOC).
I was jazzed as hell to speak with Joe recently to talk about Jukebox in My Head and he had a great many interesting stories to tell.
antiMusic: You came out with a solo record in 2009. Were you just too busy over the years to release a proper solo set or was there a reason you waited until now? It just seems strange to me since it seems you are a touring musician but obviously a songwriter and must have a catalogue of stuff you write with no outlets.
Joe: Actually, I don't think I had that many songs. I put out a couple of albums with The X Brothers and those records would be patched together. All the songs weren't thought out the way they were on Jukebox. The last X Brothers record was half covers and half originals. So I thought it was time for an all-original album. I was able to finance it from the royalties from the games. Blue Oyster Cult was doing pretty well with royalties so I had a little extra cash. So that was funneled into my solo record. Everybody says you can do it with no money these days but you have to have a little money. And so because of the games Rock Band and Guitar Hero, we started to see a windfall in royalties and that helped pay for the album.
I think I made a good choice with Michael Cartellone on drums. I agonized for a bit on that because I have a lot of good friends who are really good players. Of course, Albert's a great player. But I had gone to see Lynyrd Skynyrd and I talked to Michael and he was very excited about helping me with the album. It was the kind of style I was looking for. A good solid rock & roll style and that's what he brings to the table --- very tremendous technique.
I started writing some stuff and I was thinking in terms of a more acoustic album. I might have gone more in that direction but after Michael played his parts, I thought "No, this has gotta ROCK!" So it ended up being half acoustic and half rock.
antiMusic: One of the surprises for me was variety of material here. On records by some other artists it can sound like just one big messy soup, but with your record, there's some rockers, a country-ish song, some vintage rock 'n roll and a couple of instrumental yet everything hangs together wonderfully. Did you intentionally set out to mix the record up or do these song structures just use you as a conduit and find their way to you without your planning?
Joe: I think I was as intentional as you could be. I did want to show some versatility. A lot of people know me only as the bass player in Blue Oyster Cult and I've been doing a lot of different things for a lot of years and I just wanted to put that out there. I think you put up your own website and work on your own little cottage industry and this would be the centerpiece of where I want to go with it. I think it really helped a lot in a different ways. It's really hard to measure how a solo album does that well.
So, why a solo album now? Well, why not? If not now, when? (laughs). No I'm just feeling good about being creative. I think I'm just getting a little more comfortable with producing myself. I tried to be a record producer after I left Blue Oyster Cult and I was very unsuccessful so it's been a very slow process of learning how to produce well. And most of it is just listening critically and not being too affected by outside things.
I guess, to be accurate it all started when Metallica covered "Astronomy" on their Garage Inc. album.
In 1998 when I heard Metallica was covering a BOC song, and I found out it was my song "Astronomy", I was floored. It was like a giant pat on the back. One of my co-written songs finally got some major recognition.
The first thing I did was quit my day job. Honestly the money wasn't that amazing, but it was the principle of the thing.
The second thing I did was call Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople), who lives nearby in Connecticut. I asked him to co-write some songs with Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith. Ian hates a schedule but after being prodded by a couple of six-packs of beer, he was co-writing with the band known as BDS. We wrote four songs together.
Not much came of those songs, but it was a start. Then I started thinking about moving in a more acoustic direction and a flood of songs started appearing.
antiMusic: That's so funny you should say that because I think you must have learned a lot because part of the appeal of this record are the subtleties about it, the harmony vocals and the strings and things like that.
Joe: Well, you know I also started studying the raw tracks for each song that I liked. You can buy raw tracks from bands like the Beach Boys and just get the harmonies and that sort of thing. Also there's a program on VH1 Classic called Classic Albums. And I love that because the engineer sits there with the basic track and he pulls different parts of the song in and out. So you see what goes into making the magic in a lot of songs. So I study that stuff a lot. There's a great one with Jimi Hendrix making Electric Ladyland and you're there with the engineer and he's saying "Jimi did this and Jimi did that" and "we had to put up this part" and so on. And sometimes when you're recording you put up something that never ends up in the final mix and that's kind of fun too. So you don't have to put everything that you record in the mix. A lot of it is just basic stuff but I've kind of been obsessed about it in the last few years and perhaps that's made me become a better producer.
antiMusic: Some of the strongest collaborations are with Patti G. Who is she and how did you antiMusic: become writing partners?
Joe: She played in my cover band for about 10 years. And I didn't know she wrote lyrics and this one time she said "I've got this lyric called 'French Toast" and I said "OK, let me see if I can do something with that". And she ended up giving me, maybe 20 or 30 different lyrics and we put them together and we'd go to open mics to try them out. She was going to sing more on the record but she has a back problem and she can't sing like she used to. It's really too bad but I'm very happy that we collaborated on the lyrics and we share the publishing on those songs.
antiMusic: The record starts off with a tremendously strong track, "Shadows on the Streets of New York". I've read that this is about old friends of yours who have passed on. Did the lyrics come first for this one and how did it all fit together?
Joe: I think I had the title. I woke up one day and the title popped into my head. And then the music went through a couple of different changes. But I still had the title. I was thinking about Helen Wheels who was my collaborator back in the Blue Oyster Cult days. "Nosferatu", "Light Years of Love", "Celestial the Queen"….those are all Helen lyrics and she passed away a few years ago. The same with my guitarist Billy Hilfiger who was part of the X Brothers and had cancer and died. But I think back to the fun times in New York and I'd go and stay at his apartment and we'd be putting up posters because that's what you did in those days when you had a show. You had to paper the walls of the construction sites in New York to get people to come to your shows. Now you just put up something on Facebook but back in those days it was all in the trenches. But it was a lot of fun. So this is just a little look at that world that I had back then.
antiMusic: "Travellin' Freak Show", I take it is at least about your days with BOC?
Joe: You got it. (laughs) Actually, I was listening to nights with Alice Cooper. And he started out saying "OK kiddies, let me tell you a story about these crazy bikers and they were all dressed in leather and they came from the desert and they were called Alice Cooper." (laughs) Yeah, a lot of that was from our tour, which was our second tour after The Byrds when we opened for Alice Cooper, which was a traveling freak show for sure!!! And I added into that song Paul the pyro guy, who used to work for us and maybe overloading the charges and the big fireworks display. I mean, you wouldn't get away with that today but back THEN. Those guys were the traveling freak show (laughs), Just recently I saw one of the guys who worked for us has this website and you can see the pyro that BOC used to have. You'd see a little dot in the middle of all this smoke and that was me (laughs).
antiMusic: "Cowboy's Dream" is one of those unexpected songs but is an absolute winner. I mean anything about a cowboy probably wouldn't work as a metal song so did the lyrics dictate the music for this one?
Joe: That was Patti G's idea. She had an idea called country boy's dream. I don't know if it was about me because I'm from the country. Then I read it wrong and thought it said Cowboy's Dream. So I said, "OK, Cowboy's Dream, it is." I've always wanted to write a song like that and it was a lot of fun to work on that song. I wrote a few lines of the lyrics but most of that is Patti's.
antiMusic: The title track is a perfect summation for this record considering the variety of music and I love the swing vibe of it but I've read there's a secondary lyrical idea for this song?
Joe: Yeah, and a lot of the lines are titles of songs. Because we used to play in a covers band a lot, we used to joke about some of the silly cover songs we had to play. So she just strung them all together in this very clever way. And of course, I loved the idea of a jukebox in my head. I mean, I didn't want the album to seem nostalgic because if you put a picture of a jukebox on the album, then people will think it's another oldies album. But it's a good idea anyway.
antiMusic: By far my favorite on the record is "Which Road is Mine". This is one of the ultimate road songs. I love it on the stereo at home but it sounds best in the car. How and where did you come up with the music for this?
Joe: That was one of the first songs that Patti wrote when we got serious about writing. And I think it was a thing where she took off one day and was driving around and got lost. And that's where that started. The title wasn't that in the beginning. It was "Going Somewhere" or something like that and I said "Wait a second. Let's change it to "Which Road is Mine" because that's a much stronger title. But yeah it's definitely that kind of song.
antiMusic: I absolutely love the guitar on "Kicking a Can" and it's a tremendous song. Who is Jim Bouchard and what about this song made you want to tackle it?
Joe: That's my younger brother Jim. He's an acoustic musician from Boston. He's been playing music for 30 years….longer probably. He's the probably best writer in the family. He's really talented. What he does now is Internet collaborations. Using Garage Band, he sends files back and forth with people he's never met. He has a band called The Furs with a young woman from Texas. They've put out two albums and he's never met her.
So, yeah that's one of his older songs. I started playing it at open mics and it went over really well. I worked on a track that had brushes in it and I liked the way the brushes felt. I had this cheap Fender acoustic guitar. It doesn't sound like much of anything for regular use but sounds great for slide so I love doing the slide on that one. My friend Shrdlu played harmonica on that and that was one take, by the way. I just said, "OK, go out and play me some blues". And it was like, Ok, done, perfect. Next. But yeah, a nice, very thoughtful lyric. That song takes me back to Clayton, New York where I grew up. And in the days before videos and the Internet, there wasn't much to do but one of the things that we actually did was find a can and we'd kick it down the street. And it would make a racket (laughs) I remember doing that with my cousin at like three in the morning, just kicking a can down the middle of a street. But anyway, that's just a little nostalgia there
antiMusic: "Haunted Dance Floor" is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard. I think I said in the review it reminds me a bit of "Laguna Sunrise" by Sabbath. The strings are terrific and the guitar is just perfect. Did that song evolve much from its origins and where did the title come from?
Joe: Well, that was the product of a snow storm. We get some good snow storms, even down here in Connecticut. I got snowed in one day and I happened to borrow a Roland keyboard and was messing around with doing a piece in ¾ time with brushes again. I did the string part first and the rest of it is all improvised. The mandolin was improvised. The guitar was pretty much one take. It was one of those things that had a good feel and just fell together really easy. Then I think the last thing was I found the title, "Haunted Dance Floor", because I play so many gigs and I really love the old ballrooms that have their original hardwood floors. And the floors have been worn down from people slow dancing on these floors and it's like sandpaper. And we'd play these places like Roseland in New York City and lots of little old ballrooms in some hotels. The Grand Island Casino Ball where all the big names had played. I was sitting with a big band on bass at the time. My mind was in the music so I wasn't really conscious of what was going on at the time and the leader called a waltz. I looked up and the whole room was just spinning around in this beautiful waltz. And then it occurred to me after I had written the piece that it was sort of a tribute to my mom and dad. They passed away in 2006 and had met in a dance hall in Boston right after WWII. My dad came back after the war and met this little Irish girl from Cambridge. So it's sort of a tribute to them….how they met. The haunted dance floor.
antiMusic: The companion piece is "Camp Sunset", another gorgeous song. How did that one come together?
Joe: I was messing around with some open tuning. When you do acoustic music you learn more about open tunings then if you just do rock music all the time. There are some interesting tunings in Led Zeppelin and stuff like that but the real acoustic guys are really into the different tunings and I found a tuning that I like. It's an open G tuning with an A in it and it's what would be a modal A. So I thought, well, let's put something together that's really simple, you know? And I'll try doing finger style. I wanted to do four finger style but I'm not that good at it. And then I play mandolin so I said we'll keep it simple. Just guitar and mandolin. To give you an idea, "Dark Boat" had 90 tracks. And this one had less than 12.
In the old days you had a 24 track machine and maybe you hooked up two machines but nowadays with computers you have no limit to the number of tracks. But that doesn't necessarily make good music so you have to figure out, "What is the size of this production going to be?" Sometimes it just has to be straight ahead and simple and other times it has to be a bit more lush.
antiMusic: "Dark Boat" is absolutely hypnotizing. Really, really tasty guitar work on here and great brush work from Michael Cartellone. Did you play around with the guitar lines here very much since I imagine that type of song is something you can just really sink your teeth into?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Well first of all, it was the last thing that I had finished for the album. I was actually kind of afraid of starting it (laughs). Because I knew it was going to be complicated. And that's why it took 90 tracks. There were actually 3 sets of drums. I had a set of D drums which were like shakers and sound effects like bell…a ship's bell. That was Michael who did all of that. Then he did a tom tom kit which was mostly tom toms. And everything sounded great. But the last thing he did was, he said to me, "Why don't we do a bit of a brush thing?" So he did it --- 10 minutes of this very intensive brush work. So the drums were all recorded, so maybe 35 tracks of just drums. Acoustic guitars maybe 8 sets. The mandolin is in there. A little bit of keyboard but not much. There's the contrast between the stark vocal at the beginning and then a huge vocal with lots of background harmonies that are embedded in there. So it kind of scared me at first. I was thinking, "Man this has to come out good because it could be a pile of mud. I could end up in the weeds with this."
And the lead guitar work, it was kind of temporary. It was done in one take but I was thinking, "OK, I'll come back to that and maybe fix it later." But then when I got the whole thing together and started assembling the 90 tracks and mixing it all down, you didn't want to touch the guitars. They fit in perfectly. So that's the story of that song.
Really good lyrics, related to the St. Lawrence River and our life up there. The skating on the ice is kind of a true story. My brother and I when we were young teenagers would go skate-sailing. So you'd have two poles and some big canvas and you'd strap it on and you could just fly. Especially when there would be a little thaw and you'd get that real glass-like thing. So we decided one day that it was getting a little late and we lived about three miles out of town. But we could skate up the river and cut through the woods to get home. So we strapped on the skate-sail and we were flying up the river and we missed the path and ended up about 8 miles out of our way. Cuz you had these strong tail winds and it was getting dark and so we couldn't really see. So we're out in the middle of the St. Lawrence River and it's frozen solid or rather you hope it's frozen solid. So then we were 8 miles too far and had to tack back so we could cut back through the woods. And I'll tell you our parents were so mad at us. They were saying "You know, you could hit a crack in the ice and would never have been found." So when I found that lyric in John's song, I said, "This is just too cool." That's what everybody does up there. But I'm glad you like it. The song has a lot of meaning and I'm glad I put it on the record.
Of course, John didn't want me to put it on the record. He's kind of spooked by this whole recording idea. We would jam on his porch and for two years in a row, he kept playing this song. I said, "Wow, that's a great song." And I told that to another one of my brothers who was with me. I said, "Jerry, that's a great song. I have got to record that." So I remembered how it went and I did a demo back home. Then I was at the point that I was doing the record and thought I'd better call John and ask him. So I sent him a demo and called him up and he was kind of in shock that I had gone and done it. Finally, he came around and said he liked it.
Of course, he also wrote "You (Like Vampires)" so he's into rock & roll now (laughs). He came to see us at a show and we did "You (Like Vampires)". He wanted us to do "Dark Boat" but it was an outdoor show in the middle of an afternoon and a slow song generally doesn't go down well in situations like that. But the song got a great reaction and he's watching the crowd because he had never seen us play. And he was just going "Wow." But now the wheels are turning. (laughs) He's just a fountain of great songwriting.
antiMusic: Two of my favorite tracks come at the end of the record. "Running Out of Time" is just a straight ahead rocker that just makes me smile and the background vocals show off your appreciation for the Beach Boys. I would think this would be a great live track were you to do it with a band.
Joe: Yeah, I've played it live a few times but just acoustically. That's a very good song.
Patti and I were jamming and there was a reality TV show on at the time. And we thought, well why don't we write a song for this show? We never submitted but it got us going on the song.
antiMusic: Possibly my other favorite track on the record is "Coming For You Someday". Allan Becker really helps make this song and for my money it has one of the strongest choruses on the record. Simple but effective. How did that song come together?
Joe: Well, that was one was a tribute to a friend of our who had passed away. He was a singer. A good friend of mine, Rodney Crosley. I had worked with him in this funk band at one time. And he was pretty young….a heart attack. So we wanted to do something about how this guy was so much fun.
antiMusic: You've mentioned that a record company has will be putting out "Jukebox" shortly. What can you tell us about when it will be out and will you be doing a full band thing to promote it at that time?
Joe: The record is due to be released on September 13. I would love to do a full band show to promote it. I've started "Joe Bouchard's Acoustic Jukebox" which is upright bass, acoustic guitar and maybe a little blues in it. But depending on how the album does, I would love to put together a whole show around the album. I think maybe when I get my second solo album out….which is coming soon. I already have some new John Cook material. So whenever that comes out and I have the two albums so that would definitely be in the cards for playing recorded versions of the song and not just truncated acoustic versions. So if I can do it, we'll do it. Either way, you're going to see me out there because I love to play.
If you missed it, see part one of this interview with Joe where he talks about Blue Coupe. You can read it here.
Look forward to next week's final installment to read about some of Joe's experience with Blue Oyster Cult.
Preview and purchase this CD online here