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INTERVIEW: Randall Wheatley

How would you classify your music?

Man, my style is all over the place.  Matt Smith, who produced and played on the album, calls my music“ProgUke”, but it’s more than that.  I started my artistic career as an actor, in New York, in the late 70’s and then founded a theater company in Austin, Texas.  Also, for many years, I was a playwright/screenwriter working with such icons as, Willie Nelson and Bud Schrake.   I think my theatrical experiences informthe majority of my music.  I write songs that tell stories. Listen to the album and I think you can see that “Some Things Are Better Left Alone” is a murder ballad, inspired by Nick Cave. “Shrimp” is a mash of Tom Waits, Lord Buckley and John Coltrane.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?

I saw the Beatles at DC Stadium in 1966.  My brother’s date backed out and he asked me to go.  We had to walk through a gauntlet of Ku Klux Klan members to get inside.  That image has always stayed with me of music’s power to inspire and incite.

I love Stan Ridgeway and the way he can effortlessly weave a complicated story line into a three minute song.

Tom Waits, the greatest storyteller of our time.

Randy Newman, for his unflinching sense of humor.

“They Might Be Giants”, for proving there are songs everywhere and in everything, you just have to listen for them.

P.S. I have to add Neil Young if only for “Powderfinger”.  If I could write a song half that good, that would be good.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

 I want them to take the cd home, play it, and be awed by the sheer depth and breadth of my talent.

Seriously, though, I want them to see that the ukulele is an instrument that has great range and passion, from the soprano to the baritone.It is not novelty instrument.  It can tell a story that impacts emotion as good as any other instrument.  No, that is bullshit.  It can do it better.

How’s the music scene in your locale?

Are you serious?  Have you ever been to Austin?  There is nothing happening here.

There was no question five, but if there was my answer would have been pancakes.

What is the best concert you have been to? What do you like most about playing live?

I just saw “Wilco” on their latest tour, and I would be hard pressed to say that I’ve ever seen a better show:  a beautiful set, incredible lights, great Jeff Tweedy songs and three hours of Nels Cline on guitar.

As for playing live, I am a newcomer as a musician.  I only started playing eight years ago, and until recently didn’t have the skill or confidence to play in front of an audience.  Now that I do, the thing I like most about playing live is remembering all the words to my songs, and not throwing up.

Is there a song on your latest CD release here that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?

I really like “The Middle Ages”.  It’s got a nice beat and you can dance to it, and I think it’s funny.  Also, I am very fond of “Betty Goes Shopping”, it has a Jimmy Webb loneliness and I think Jimmy Webb is about as good as songwriting gets.  Damn, I was only supposed to list one song.  Why can’t I follow directions? What is my problem?

How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?

I spent six months in the studio making my first cd.  Matt Smith is an incredible producer and musician.  He very patiently showed me how to take the bare bones of a song and raise it to the next level.  It was a profound learning experience.  When he told me I was going to do all of the vocals on the album, I thought I would die.  But he explained and demonstrated what he wanted me to do.  Going into the project I would have never believed I could sing harmony.  Now, with the help of Auto-Tune, I can!

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?

I would want to meet Keith Richards and go roller skating with him.  But only if we could skate to Donna Summer tunes.

I would love to play a gig with Bootsy Collins and feel the love and energy he radiates from the stage.

For dinner, David Bowie, if I could have fried chicken.

I would love to go drinking with Shane MacGowan of “The Pogues”, right up until the fighting started.  Then I would want to go home.

You didn’t ask me, but I would go for coffee with PJ Harvey, because her music scares the hell out of me, in all the best ways.  I would hope she would get decaf.

What’s next for you?

I am writing a theatricalized version of the album for when it tours.  It’s not a story with a continuous arc, but more a group ofanecdotes, bald face lies and yarns thatinform and comment on the work; hopefully in a funny way.   Also, there are a couple of videos in the works, some more time in the studio, and my fourteen year old daughter’s choir concert. I have extra tickets, if you’re in town.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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