|Interview SID GRIFFIN
February 2003 (by E-mail) www.sidgriffin.com
Johanna: Sid, you're wearing various hats, you're a singer-songwriter, you play with a few bands, you're a writer-journalist, a DJ and you have your own label. Please, put on your first hat and tell us about the plans for your new solo album?
Sid: The new solo album is called "As Certain As Sunrise" and I am very proud of it. It was recorded over the last five years as we had some problems in the studio which took forever plus I was touring parttime and then my little girl was born and I was being a Daddy... and there were simply not enough hours in the day to finish it off!
But the album is being "shopped around" as we say in the business and if no bigger label wants to buy it we'll put it out on my Prima Records Ltd. label and go from there. Which is fine.
J: Your recent release is Italian, a live-album, how did that come about?
S: Steve Wynn sent me this magazine with a free Steve Wynn live album on it, a magazine called Ill Mucchio Selvaggio EXTRA which comes out quarterly. I was really impressed so I wrote them and asked if I could be the free CD and they were thrilled, it turns out they were big Long Ryders fans and they said as long as the Sid Live CD has some live Long Ryders stuff on it they would love it.
So Pat McGarvey, the bass player in Western Electric and the banjo player in the bluegrass Coal Porters, started going through the tapes looking for stuff we could put on the record. We came up with over an hour of pretty good performances which were pretty well recorded.
The mastering of the album was difficult as the songs are from so many places but we finally sent it to the Italians and they loved it. The magazine has sold over 7,000 copies so that's seven thousand Italians who are listening to my music.
J: You're touring quite a bit, anything funny that happened recently or a strange place where you played?
S: Yes, we were in north London playing a gig and I got stuck in an elevator with someone's grandmother. It was a very small elevator and it was very awkward so after a few minutes struggle we finally got the small door open to the emergency telephone inside the elevator. I picked it up and pressed the button. After a few rings a man answered and said hello. I said, hey, I am stuck in an elevator in north London at such and such an address. The man said, "what's that got to do with me? I work in insurance and am eating my dinner here at home in south London."
J: Do you prefer to work on songs while you're home or can you also do it while touring? Do you like to co-write? What's your method of writing?
S: All of the above. Most songs I write by myself. Some I write while touring but I need to be alone to concentrate, I cannot do it with noise and a lot of activity around me. Co-writes are rare and usually with the same people like Steve Wynn or Pat McGarvey. I don't co-write to order but I guess I could if someone told me I had to. But the main thing is I need to be alone and I need to concentrate with few distractions around me.
J: Do you usually write from your own experience, from fantasy or dreams? Do you think it's important to write about social issues?
S: I write some from my own experience, most of it is simply a product of my imagination. I know vaguely how the song goes before it starts. I never write from dreams or work in fantasy. Although you might think it is fantasy if you hated my music! Social issues, yes. I don't see the importance of being an artist and not writing about social issues. Freedom is always in danger of being lost, it has to constantly be fought for. Not that there is much freedom around today.
J: With The Long Ryders, you were part of the Paisley Underground Scene, what was that like? Did you play on double-bills, did you record together for projects, were you friends?
S: Yes, of course, you must know this already. There was tremendous sharing in those days. At first everyone was on equal footing and then some bands became rather posessive and a bit more private but the Long Ryders were always looking at things from a socialist perspective. People shared amps, guitars, worked for other bands... Steve Wynn put out the early Green On Red album, I worked doing merch for several bands, Matt Piucci of Rain Parade became a kinda guitar roadie if you needed help like that and the Bangles sang back up on a lot of other's people's records.
Many of the bills of the day were three of these bands all at once. Perhaps Bangles, Dream Syndicate, Long Ryders... something like that. We played with seemingly every indie band in the USA back then. Actually the Long Ryders never shared a bill with REM but I think we did with every other USA indie band of note!
J: Your band The Coal Porters played countryrock and is a bluegrass band now, the Chris Hillman-tribute was well-received, what are your plans with this band?
S: To keep playing bluegrass. I guess I don't play barroom rock and roll anymore. I play alt-country in a kinda psychedelic fashion with Western Electric and I play bluegrass with the Coal Porters and I play some solo troubadour gigs but that's about it. To do anymore would drive me batty! The Chris Hillman Tribute Concerts were very well received and now we are working on the studio follow up to that record. So far it sounds great, half new songs, half covers but some surprising covers at that.
J: Then there's Western Electric, with the self-titled album. Didn't it take a while for people to figure out you were also behind this name? The American release is slightly different from the European, any particular reason for that?
S: Western Electric is probably the best album I have ever done. Period. Musically it is so much better advanced than the Long Ryders. But I suppose many people are just now figuring out it is me, that's why I put my production credit on the front, to remind people it was me inside. The American release is different from the European release because the American label wanted different songs than the European one did. Simple as that. So each label got the tunes as they wanted and in the order they wanted. Sounds fair to me.
J: Has somebody ever been of much importance to your musical career, giving good advice or a chance to do something?
S: Chris Hillman has always given me good advice for about twenty years now but sometimes I am not in a position to take his advice and do what he says!
J: You like vintage guitars, can you tell us about the guitars you're
playing and do you have a special favorite?
S: I know a lot about old guitars, yes, I suppose it comes with the job. Right now I am playing a 1962 sunburst Gibson ES-345 I found in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. It is a beautiful guitar and means I can now sell my 1966 sunburst Gibson ES-335. Do you want to buy it? Anyone? Make me an offer! I also still play my 1967 Rickenbacker 12 string a lot, it is a beautiful sounding guitar. And I have an old Martin D-35 acoustic. The rest of my guitars are hand made for me especially, I am really into that these days. Wish I had started doing that earlier.
J: How do you feel about all these tribute-albums coming out? If they ask you, do you contribute a song?
S: Actually we have turned down several tribute albums. There are just too many of them. Western Electric did the one in the USA for Mike Nesmith and for John Fogerty and they were great, we all really enjoyed them. I just did one with only Pat McGarvey helping me out for Bruce Springsteen in Spain but it was for a charity so I could not turn it down, no way. But people have asked me to do Captain Beefheart and so on and I just don't have the time. So we only do the ones really, really important to my heart.
J: What do you think when you see a big hype around somebody, Ryan Adams for example?
S: Ryan Adams is not a hype. He is a very talented guy. At first I was resistant but nope, he is a very talented guy and I have really enjoyed his last two solo records a great, great deal. I saw him live too and he was pretty darn good but a bit silly in places. With time his live show will really become something special.
Then there are some people I just don't really get. I don't really like the Be Good Tanyas, I just don't get it, they sound amateurish to me. Laura Cantrell I really like, everything you hear about her is true!
J: Is there a favorite singer or musician you would like to share the stage with one day?
S: I have played with a lot of the rock and country people I admire therefore I would have to say I would love to sit in and play with Ralph Stanley or a bluegrass act like Ricky Skaggs. Those guys are real heroes to me but I really don't play good enough mandolin for that to happen. Yet!
J: Your wife is also a singer and she plays various instruments, please tell us about her?
S: Kate St. John was in the Dream Academy who had three albums on Warner Bros in the 1980's and had a huge hit with "Life In A Northern Town" in 1986. Then she joined the Van Morrison Band for about six years in 1991 or so and played on a bunch of his
records like "Hymns To The Silence", "So Long In Exile", "A Night In San Francisco", "Days Like This" and "No Guro No Method No Teacher". Now she works on sessions and has played recently with Shirley Bassey, Morrissey, the Pet Shop Boys, Blur and people like that. She also has two solo albums out on All Saints, "Indescribable Night" and "Second Sight" in addition to a duet album with Roger Eno called "The Familiar"... and she was in Channel Light Vessel on All Saints for two albums with guys like Bill Nelson from Be-Bop Deluxe. So interview her and not me!!
J: What do you think is the biggest difference between Americans and Europeans?
S: Americans are more influenced by African rhythms and Europeans are more influenced by harmony and melody and lyrics. Americans are a physical, impulsive people and the Europeans are a more self-conscious one.
J: You're also a journalist, you even studied at the university, most people know about your Gram Parsons-book, what I also like very much is your story "Sin City". Do you have a dream project in mind? Any chance you write a Chris Hillman-book? What have you been writing lately?
S: I have a book on my early life in rock & roll slowly going on. I guess that is my dream project, I have done about four chapters so far but I am proud of it. Finding the time to finish it off is my problem. I would love to help Chris Hillman write his life story but for now... no chance, too busy. Both of us I suppose. By the way we might be playing with Chris this summer as his back up band on European dates. We'll see. Other than that I have been writing the same old stuff for Mojo, Q and my regular outlets.
J: You recently started your own radio shows, Sid the DJ, please tell us about it? Have you been working as a DJ before?
S: I play bluegrass 10pm to 1am on Thursday nights and honky tonk swing like Webb Pierce or Buck Owens on Saturdays 2pm to 4pm. (This was on a webstation, Mean Country.) I was a DJ on GLR, the London BBC outlet for awhile and then I was a DJ on Radio Q which was run by Q magazine before they gave it up so yes, I have some experience. But I am sure I have much to learn too.
J: What music have you been listening to lately, at home, just for fun?
S: I have Billy Bremner's demos. He was in Rockpile with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds and they are really good. Believe it or not the new Bangles album, "Doll Revolution", is pretty cool and I obviously listen to a lot of Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. He was an amazing musician, a God walking amongst mere mortals. Dylan's "Love And Theft" was terrific, much better than "Time Out Of Mind" which everyone said was so great. The late Magic Sam has a "new" live album on Delmark, you know I love that hard old Chicago blues sound to pieces.
J: On your label, Prima Records, you release the albums of yourself and your bands, also some CD's of others?
S: Prima is only me and my friends like Steve Wynn and Peter Case. I don't really see me releasing anyone who is not a close friend. I simply don't have the money to do so! It is as simple as that.
J: What is your favorite line, from a book or a movie? And from a song?
S: My favourite line(s) from any book is the bit around page 33 from "Really The Blues" where the author Mezz Mezzrow describes the clothes and shoes he was given to wear in an American prison. You gotta read this passage, people!
My favourite line from a movie is "Let go, you dope!" from a 1940's gangster film with Humphrey Bogart called "All Through The Night".
My favourite line(s) from a song is from the Dictators' "The Next Big Thing". It goes: "We knocked 'em dead in Dallas, we got great reviews, we knocked 'em dead in Dallas, they didn't know we were Jews". You can't beat that kind of songwriting!
Interview by Johanna J. Bodde, previously published on Real Roots Cafe, The Netherlands.