Songwriter/guitarist Gary Lucas(who has co-written hits with artists Joan Osborne on Spider Web and Jeff Buckley for the songs Grace and Mojo Pin) has teamed up with singer/songwriter Jann Klose to bring you the new album Stereopticon. Jann is also collaborating with Ann Hampton Callaway, Renaissance’s Annie Haslam, John Oates of Hall & Oates, as well as The Yardbirds’ Jim McCarty. Gary is writing with Chris Shinn (Live), Steve Kilbey (The Church). Gary and Jann both worked on the film GREETINGS FROM TIM BUCKLEY (Tribeca Film/Focus/Universal); Gary consulted and played guitar (Tony Award winner Frank Wood portrays Gary) and Jann is the singing voice of Tim in the movie.
Can you tell us a little about your earliest days? How do you think they influenced you to be who you are today?
Gary: I grew up in a house full of music–on the radio, the hi-fi, later the stereo and color TV. I think hearing all this great music—classical, pop, soundtracks, Broadway shows, early rock, folk, blues and jazz— all went into the mix of molding my sensibilities. To me, music was sacred, and when properly done it still is.
Jann: I had a cassette player and recorder when I was a boy and would tape songs off the radio, make mix tapes and then play those over and over again. I don’t come from a musical home and never had support from my family when I wanted to learn a musical instrument unfortunately. When I came to the States as an exchange student I received the kind of support I was looking for from my host family.
When did you first discover you love of music?
Gary: Hearing Thurston Harris’ Little Bitty Pretty One on the AM radio with my mother on the way to the Snowflake Bakery in Syracuse to pick up some half-moon (black and white) cookies. It just sent me! I wanted to hear more music of that rocking ilk.
Jann: Probably watching the South African musical The Warrior in Johannesburg when I was a boy.
When did you know it was what you wanted to do with your life? Did you ever want to do anything else?
Gary: When I first put together a band—actually a “combo” is what we called them then, in the 6th grade when I was 12 years old—to play the school assembly. Stuff like Java by Al Hirt and Acker Bilk’s Midnight in Moscow. Yes, I wanted to do other things of course—at various points in my life—I wanted to become a vampire, a rabbi, a magician, a film maker, and a novelist. When I started to work for CBS Records in 1977 as a copywriter though I became resigned to my fate to working in “the music business.”
Jann: I can remember wanting to be a singer when I was about 2 or 3 years old. I don’t know why, I just always loved to sing.
How did you come to work together? What have you learned from each other along the way?
Gary: Jann approached me to sing at a tribute to Jeff Buckley I was curating in NYC three years ago. We hit it off, liked each other as people, and thought we’d try collaborating—and voila!
Jann: What Gary said.
How does collaborating with other artists differ most from working solo?
Gary: I think when a collaboration is really successful the end result can often take on larger dimensions and have more impact than the efforts of the individuals on their own.
Jann: Also what Gary said.
What does it take to write a solid tune?
Gary: An innate knowledge of hooks, hooks and hooks—both in the music and the lyrics. The music and the lyrics have to work together as one so the end result appears inevitable, compelling and seamless.
Jann: The only thing I would add to that is “emotional response.” Not everything I love will be loved by others. One never knows. It’s important to just put to out there and find out what people think and feel about a tune.
What do you love most about making music?
Gary: The feedback from listeners. When someone comes and tells you your song changed their life, that is the best feeling on earth. It makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Jann: Yes, same here. That moment when you can tell you’ve made someone’s day a little brighter.
How does it feel to have Rolling Stone call you, “One of the best and most original guitarists in America…a modern guitar miracle.”?
Gary: I was totally honored and humbled that they would say that in print like that, what can I say? I try and always do my best to live up to it.
How would you say you have grown as a musician since we spoke last?
Jann: Not sure when we spoke last but I do know that there have been some major changes and growth in my career. Collaborating with other artists like Gary, Annie Haslam and Ann Hampton Callaway, among others, has really opened up the way I write.
How did the album Stereopticon come about?
Gary: Jann and I went ahead and started writing and loved the results. I sat in at a solo show of his soon after attended by Dan Beck, who was one of the nicest guys I knew back in the day when I worked at CBS Records writing ad copy. I knew he had also written songs with Dion and other artists, and thought Jann and I should invite him in on our writing sessions, as I suspected he would contribute a fresh lyrical input. He also helped us get the project off the ground business-wise due to his skills honed marketing artists like Michael Jackson back in the day. He didn’t let us down, and is very committed to helping shepherd the project forward, which is a big comfort.
Jann: Yes, without Dan’s contributions it would not have been possible. I’m grateful he got involved. It’s been a really fun and exciting process to watch it all unfold!
How do you think the music industry has changed most since it’s early days? How would you like to see it evolve in the future?
Gary: It’s presently so driven by the metrics that it seems to throttle creativity in the cradle. In an earlier era, A&R guys and major labels in general were not so driven by accountants and “bottom line” bottom feeders making creative decisions as to who got signed, how much money to invest in the marketing and promotion of the act, etc. Maverick visionary record men used to sign artists by a gut feelings, by the seat of their pants, by instinct alone—whether or not the artist had previously sold a ton of records. They were given a certain amount of time to nurture and develop the artist for a much longer haul than presently, where it’s get in/get out and hopefully make a lot of money in a short time frame. The advent of digitization has theoretically leveled the playing field for indie artists but again mainly it is mainly the artists or their financiers with the deepest pockets who can generate the most noise for them through publicity and promotion who seem to garner attention and the most market share out of the box.
So despite more folks putting their work out digitally which is theoretically more democratic than a major label having a stranglehold on the marketplace, there is less opportunity for folks to find that work because of the overwhelming amount of sheer volume out there—a wilderness of work, most of it not all that worthy of your time–that no one has the time to winnow through it all and find the real treasures. I for one would prefer it to go back to the older limited distribution model but that is just wishful thinking of course, because the genie is out of the bottle. I don’t see a way forward really, the market is only going to become more cluttered, unfortunately.
Jann: I agree with everything that Gary is saying here. What I would add is this: I came up in the biz in the early 2000’s when it had already begun this change. While I would love for the business to recover some of its early functions I realize I’ve had to make the best of it the way it was and is. I do think it has changed a lot but I still believe there is a lot of opportunity. Artists just have to do a lot of the work themselves now. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, in some ways I think it has afforded us as artists the ability to have more direct control over out careers. I do believe that the market IS in fact more cluttered and that it’s harder to discover new music. A lot can get lost in the cracks. The cream can still rise to the top if you have the time and money and an understanding of social media, modern and old school marketing and are willing and able to tour. I’ll tell you what hasn’t changed: The creative spirit. Nothing will ever stop that!
Do you have a dream project you’d most like to bring into being?
Gary: Playing and recording with Van Morrison.
Jann: Scoring a feature film beginning to end! I just scored my first short film which is being screened at the Pasadena International Film Festival in March 2016. It’s called The Beauty of Disaster.
What projects are you looking forward to bringing to life next?
Gary: Creating a new film score and more collaborations with a variety of artists.
Jann: My next solo album!
What do you think is key to a life well lived?
Gary: Doing what you most enjoy for a living– and getting paid for it.
Jann: Working hard and being kind.
Is there anything you’d like to say before you go?
Jann: Check out our album STEREOPTICON, it will grow on you!
Gary: Stay warm.