A Conversation with Joe Jackson (continued)
PM: The band did a brief tour of the UK last fall immediately before you recorded Volume 4. Was that so you would be able to take that live energy into the studio to tap into while it was still fresh?
JJ: Yeah, exactly. If we'd just rehearsed the songs and then gone straight into the studio, it would have been too safe. So, I wanted to add the element of danger that you only get from playing live. It takes it to another level, and I think you hear that on the album.
PM: Does taking new songs on the road before recording them, and hearing them mixed and mingled with old songs, also help you get a bead on how the new ones stand up and what they might need, what works or what doesn't work about them?
JJ: Yeah, although I have to say, they really didn't change much, musically and arrangement-wise. It's just that there is a level of intensity [on the record] that was higher than it otherwise would have been, I think.
PM: Joe, what are some of your favorite tracks on the new record?
JJ: Oh, all of them! [laughs] You can't ask me that, it's not fair! [more laughter]
PM: Okay, well, I'll tell you that one that I really dug right away is "Still Alive." I know you love the Beatles, but I don't think I've ever heard you do such an obvious Beatles homage before, and I just think it's beautiful. I assume that's what you were going for. The backbeat gives the song a real "Ticket to Ride" vibe.
JJ: Yeah. The drumbeat was just what came into my mind as being the right kind of feel. And someone had to tell me that it was "Ticket to Ride"--I didn't even realize that.
PM: Also, I don't know if Gary's actually playing a 12-string guitar on that song...
JJ: Yeah, it is a 12-string.
PM: It definitely gives the song a Beatles/Byrds jangle. I'd never heard you do something quite like that before.
JJ: Well, you know, we did a lot of things on this album that we never did before, which is what makes it fun, I think. We could have just come back and done some kind of blatant imitation of the first couple of albums, and we didn't do that. And that's what makes this album cool.
PM: Yeah. Another track that I really love is "Dirty Martini." On that one, I think it's cool how you've got that New Orleans-style of piano playing going, but you've also got this kind of Turkish thing going with the organ.
PM: I just love the way you mix that stuff up!
JJ: [Joe's smile as he responds is audible.] I certainly didn't think that it was Turkish. I don't know what it is, of course.
PM: One track I particularly wanted to ask you about is "Fairy Dust," because, aside from the fact that, musically, it's one of those "hairpin turn" type of tracks that we were talking about before...
PM: ...I'm not entirely sure of everyone that you may be addressing in this song. At first, I think you're having a go at gay bashers. But then, I listen to it more closely, and I think that maybe you're giving militant gays a collective "bitch-slap." I wonder if would care to clarify...or be willing to?
JJ: [chuckles] Uh...it's sort of a satirical song, and it's sort of aimed at an aspect of the gay world. But, by the same token, it stands for the way that any minority group that is fighting for it's rights, shall we say, at some point becomes just as bad as the majority. That's just because, in order to be a group, you have to include some people and exclude some people. And in order to be effective, you have to have an identity. I see the gay identity has become more and more about being so masculine that you're more straight than the straight guys. And this is something that I find quite funny. I sort of get it, and at the same time, I don't like it that much. It's mixed feelings. And if we're talking about stereotypes, then I guess what I'm saying in the song is that I almost prefer the older stereotype--this sort of Oscar Wilde/Quentin Crisp gay stereotype, I almost prefer that to the more-straight-than-straight stereotype. Of course, you know, when you talk about it and explain it, it all comes out seeming so much heavier than it really is. But it's a sort of satirical song about the gay world.
PM: And speaking of satire, I think "Thugz 'R' Us" is a fun poke in the ribs at suburban kids who, from watching a lot of MTV and movies, try to look and act like real gangstas.
PM: I also think "Awkward Age" is terrific because it makes me feel a lot more comfortable about things. When we're growing up, we feel alienated in some ways and don't fit in. But as we grow older, in different ways, we feel alienated and don't fit in. All of us are always at an awkward age, in one way or another. It's comforting to know that others feel that way as well.
JJ: Yeah, absolutely!
PM: A few other songs on the album seem to be about relationships, about how love is really a gamble and that it takes courage to take the risk. We don't decide to fall in love, it happens to us, as you more or less say in one song.
JJ: Yeah, in "Blue Flame." That's the only real love song on the album, actually. Well, "Love at First Light" is a "maybe" love song--maybe it's happening, maybe it isn't. And "Bright Grey" is a "what-the-hell-happened-to-love?" song. But "Blue Flame" is about loving someone in spite of the fact that they're absolutely impossible, because you just can't help it.
PM: Are you happy with the reaction to the record so far?
JJ: I don't want to get into this game that a lot of artists play with themselves of what is an acceptable level of success. I mean, I'm happy every time one person buys the album, because I have no expectations at all. continue