PM: I love the new CD, Traveling. I'd love to hear from you about the atmosphere and the logistics of where and how that record got cut and, of course, with whom.
SP: I made that record in Austin. I want to get you the companion piece to it, it's called Unraveling. [Which, I'm sorry to say, didn't arrive till after press time.] Because I'm making that available at my live shows. The way the CD came about is the guy that produced it, Billy Harvey, he did my last CD, Chinese Vacation. I met him when I was on tour with Bob Schneider. And Billy and I fell in heavy man-love as two friends can do. We just both really got along and we were instant friends. So when I made the second one, he said, "Why don't you just live at the studio?" They had a futon or something, so I slept in the keyboard room. And I came out with, I don't know, anywhere from 80 to 100 songs to--and I just sat with him. He's really patient when he takes on a project. And we just went over each song painstakingly, and played them again and again. We'd listen to the demo, record it and drive around listening to them, and slowly but surely the songs kind of started talking to us and forming some sort of a whole piece.
SP: And my stated goal when I met with him was "I want to take all these songs and whittle it down to 11. I want to do an 11-song record." People think they have to fill these CDs up. But when I was a kid, I liked how short a record was. So Billy said, "That's a great idea." So we had to ruthlessly edit stuff. But then at the end I was like, "These other 11 songs need to get on." And then it was his idea, he goes, "Why don't you record them, and then make the CD jacket big enough so we can fit the other CD in it, so people can buy it at your live shows?" And then instantly--like I just love it when I'm in the throws of the creative process--instantly I was like, "Oh, my God!" I had just finished reading Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and I loved how Holly Golightly's business card said, "Holly Golightly, Traveler." And I went, "Oh, man, this is all coming to me. I'm going to call it Traveling. And then I thought of Joni Mitchell, Traveling and Unraveling. And then the next thing I knew, the whole--I love it when a concept comes to me and I know in my mind it's right. Nothing else can get in my way.
So then we got it mixed, and then I wasn't happy with the mixes, so I paid to have it remixed by a different guy. And the whole thing just totally saw the light of day, and then here it is. It's weird how much work goes into something, from writing songs that are kind of painful, like "Hater's Union," and stuff like that, songs that really hurt to write, like that I cried when I wrote them.
SP: And then now here I am on the road selling them. And a song, you can't touch it. You can hear it, but it's this thing that's almost like a piece of alchemy, and it's magic. So here's this song that came out of being in a really bad place, and now it's on a CD for other people to hear. It's really cool. I love it. It's the greatest job in the world.
PM: So when the new guy mixed it, were you in on that process, or you were already touring behind it, and he just mixed it on his own?
SP: I'm really bad at doing that kind of work. I'm not really very detail-oriented, and I don't want to sit there while somebody mixes a record. I like to find somebody I trust and then say, "Email me the mixes as you get them going, and I'll listen to them with headphones on." And so wherever I was--and I remember being in Croatia listening to some final mixes, and then sending notes back like, "Love this, love this, love this, bring the bass down on this, blah, blah, blah." And so you have to find somebody that you really trust. And the guy that mixed it, that did all the final mixes, Lars, he lives in Austin, and I love him. He's got this big Swedish accent. And he is a Beatles freak. Like he can tell you any mic they used on any song. I love Lars. So we would have these long email discussions about the songs and everything. And that's how that all came about.
PM: Now, it's interesting that you've never been to India, because I know you're a lot more than a casual yogi, right?
SP: Yeah. I've been to Morocco, but not India. It's weird. I'm going to get there. And I figured I was waiting for the right time, and I want to go on a yoga journey over there. A lot of my traveling when I first started traveling I was busking through Europe, and it was more about partying. And now as I get older I love going and learning stuff. Like I went to Thailand and took cooking classes. So I'll just find something weird or interesting to do.
PM: Now, if you, by any chance, go to Goa [India], I have an old friend who is at the front of that whole dance trance movement, a guy named Goa Gil. And if you go, you've got to call me and I'll tie you up with him, because he has got the place wired.
PM: I mean, he's a world famous dance trance guy. He used to come to our gigs in Marin County in the '70s, and he's an old friend of mine.
SP: Did you always live in Marin County?
PM: Well, I did for many years, but now I've been in Nashville for a dozen years. But yeah, I lived there for maybe a dozen years before that.
SP: Did you live there when Shel Silverstein lived there?
PM: I don't know. But I never met him, so I'm not sure if I did or not. But I knew some of the guys in Dr. Hook.
SP: He spent a lot of time there on a houseboat, and then in Nashville he spent a lot of time.
PM: Wow, so I've lived both places where he was, but I never had the pleasure.
SP: Yeah, he had a house in Key West, a house in Chicago, a house in Sausalito and a place in Nashville. And wherever his whimsy and mood took him he would get a ticket that day. He probably died with 20 million dollars in the bank, and just had these little cracker box houses filled with old books. He loved to collect old books. And he was just really interested in the type of paper they used. He was such an artisan and such a perfectionist for how his books were going to come out. And then all the plays he wrote, and all the songs he wrote, and he just constantly worked and remained single his whole life. He was like a ladies man. He started at Playboy doing those cartoons. That guy is really fascinating with the amount of creativity he put forth into the world.
PM: Are there good books about him?
SP: Yeah, there's one out right now call The Boy Named Shel. It just came out by this woman named Lisa Rogak. And it's really good.
PM: I got to get that. [And there happened to be one at ebay for .01 and 17 hours to go...]
SP: I love Shel Silverstein--all those songs he wrote. I mean, he wrote everything for Dr. Hook.
SP: All those great songs--like "Sylvia's Mother" to this day still holds up. That's just a great song, when he says, "And the operator says 40 cents more for the next three minutes."
PM: [laughs] So many great songs.
SP: Yeah. And then all the people he hung out with in Nashville, Bobby Bare did a bunch of albums of his songs. He was like an Uncle to Bobby Bear Jr. once he was born. He had such deep Nashville ties, Shel did, for a Jewish guy from Chicago.
PM: Wow. Yeah, he was like the Jewish Roger Miller or something.
SP: He was! Another guy I'm obsessed with, I love Roger Miller. I've got to find a book on him. Did you know him?
PM: No, I never had the pleasure. [Check out the book Ain't Got No Cigarettes: Memories of Music Legend Roger Miller.] I've met his son, but he's nothing like him, of course.
SP: Of course.
PM: Is it still true that the career launching single you wrote with Jewel, "You Were Meant For Me," is the longest running song on the Billboard 100? Is that still true?
SP: It was for a long time. I don't know if it still is. I don't even pay attention to any of that. But people told me it is, and it was for a long time, so I tend to believe them. Would you mind if I put you on an x-ray belt? Because I'm going through security right now?
PM: Yeah, let's--
SP: And it'll only take a second. I'll do it at the last moment.
SP: But yeah, it was on the charts for a long time.
PM: Does that still make a bunch of money every year, between all of us?
SP: Yeah, it does.
PM: That's beautiful.
SP: It's like having an annuity. When we made up that song, I was just like, "Ah, you can have it, whatever. I don't know what a hit song is. I just like making up songs." And she was my girlfriend, and so why not go songwriting with her. So the fact that it ended up that popular--it's crazy because you never know what's going to happen to you. So I just was lucky to be involved in it. I remember when we made it up, it blew out of the window on the cocktail napkin we'd written it on. And I was going to leave it. I said, "Just leave it."
SP: We wrote "Food Stamp Love" and "Daddy, She's a Goddess," these other songs that I thought were funny. And she said, "No, we're not going to poltzerize this one"--meaning have somebody get killed in it, or put some weird word in it. She goes, "Let's just make this a straight-ahead love song." I was like, "All right."
Then it blew out of the window. And I remember it was next to the water. I went, "Just leave it." And she said, "No, we got to get it. Let's just get it." So we got it. Little did I know that was like the winning lottery ticket blowing off.
PM: Oh, my God. Now, although more people know about that Jewel smash, did you also write "Waterfalls," which was a huge hit for TLC?
SP: No, I didn't. I wish I did.
PM: Who wrote that?
SP: I just covered that. Okay, I'm putting you down on this belt right now. I'll talk to you in a minute.
PM: That's great. I've done hundreds of interviews, but that's the first time I ever did that...
SP: Did you hear the security girl say hi?
PM: Yeah. [laughs] That was fantastic.
SP: She's cute.
PM: So you didn't write "Waterfalls" you just covered it?
SP: Yeah, I just covered it. Boy, I wish I wrote it. That's a great song. That is such a good song. I always had a crush on Lisa Lopes from TLC.
PM: [laughs] So have other artists covered your songs after Jewel had that huge smash with one of them?
SP: I'm not sure who did what. People have done my songs, but I'm really weird, I don't even know why I don't know. I know other people have covered that song, too.
PM: But yeah, you don't pay much attention to it.
SP: No, I like to look ahead. I just like to create it. It's the creative process that gets me off.
SP: I'm more excited about the fact that I just made up a song called "Dreams" that I'm really into right now.
SP: They're like gifts, so I like to be wherever my head is at. Like the night I played in Nashville when you saw me I was mostly excited about this new song I'd written from a point of view of the guy that gets shot in Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."
SP: So it's from the point of view after Johnny Cash says, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."
PM: And you want to be the man in Reno.
SP: Yeah. And I made the guy a transvestite having drinks in the bar.
PM: "I shot a tranny in Reno."
SP: [laughs] Yeah.
PM: "Just to watch him die."
SP: Johnny Cash says, "I'm going to shoot you"--because Johnny Cash goes outside to a park with him, and they're getting together. I'll probably get shot by somebody for writing this song. But it's creativity.