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INTERVIEW: Dean Friedman

Hi Dean, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

I’ve been just hunky-dory, thanks for asking. Although, I wouldn’t mind a little less snow, up here in the foothills of the Catskill Mountain range, in upstate New York.

As four decades past by – how would you say you’ve grown as an artist since?

I feel like I’ve honed my songwriting craft, just a bit. And I like to think I make better use of my poetic license; which I always keep in my back pocket in case I’m stopped for excessive punning or alliteration. Also, after doing this for four decades, it feels like I’m gradually learning how to sing. It’s taken a while.

With the release of 12 Songs – was the idea moving on was to re-release Well, Well, Said The Rocking Chair? How did that come about?

My new album ’12 Songs’ was my chance to go back into the studio and try and apply all the things I’ve learned, over the years, about the craft of songwriting and recording. At the same time, as I approach the 40th Anniversary of “Well, Well,” Said the Rocking Chair’, I’m reminded that no amount of craft can replace sheer inspiration and raw passion. The goal for any artist, it seems to me, is to do both – to somehow retain that early sense of discovery and open-eyed wonder, while applying your craft, and bringing to bear all those hard-earned life lessons. Or put another way, I try to take lots of crazy chances – and then edit like hell!

How was the re-mastering process?

“Well, Well,” Said the Rocking Chair’. was recorded in a luxurious studio called Le Studio, right outside Montreal, Canada, in the dead of winter. It was an idyllic setting – sitting at the piano, you could look out of a picture window onto a snow-covered lake and picture post-card forest – but cold as hell. Some nights the temperature went down to 40 degrees below (Fahrenheit). So, listening back to those tracks in my own basement studio was like experiencing a kind of time warp, remembering the vivid setting, but hearing familiar sounds and textures in new ways. In the pre-digital days of vinyl, a crucial aspect of mastering was to make sure the recording was compressed just enough to keep the mastering needle from skipping out of the grooves. Because that’s not a consideration with digital, it allowed me to ever-so-slightly fatten up aspects of each track, the bass, the vocal, some strings, which might have been sacrificed to the necessity of the master-cutting room. I’m pleased with the results. I don’t think anyone will miss anything from the original release; if anything, it will sound fuller and richer.

What made you want to perform the entire album live for this new edition?

I’m as surprised as anyone that forty years have passed since I wrote and recorded “Well, Well,” Said the Rocking Chair’. Because I’m reminded, every time I tour, about the impression the album made on so many folks, I wanted to take the opportunity to revisit those songs, many of which I haven’t performed in years, and a few of which – like ‘Don’t You Ever Dare’ and ‘I Will Never Leave You’ – I’ve never performed at all. I took it as a challenge to be respectful of the songs and offer my audience a chance to hear them all in sequence, the way they heard them for the first time and for all these years since.

Was it easier than what you thought or it was a challenging process?

It’s still a challenging and daunting process, but also exhilarating. In some ways it’s like having a conversation with my younger self. It’s funny, I can still find new meanings in lyrics I wrote back when I was a 22 year old musician, living in a ground floor, studio apartment on the west side of Manhattan. It was what you might describe as ‘sparsely furnished’ – which might account for the fact that all the furniture and appliances suddenly started talking in ‘Rocking Chair’!

Do you tend to take a different approach when you are scoring a film or series rather than working in your own original material?

The fun part of scoring a film or TV project is that instead of staring at a completely blank page, waiting for inspiration, you generally have the benefit of some type of brief – a storyline, a character theme, a mood, the demands of a particular scene or sequence. The job is to serve the story. And that can be quite liberating, and fun. When I wrote the soundtrack for the TV series, ‘Boon’ I got to put on my cowboy hat and become a country western singer, belting out songs like ‘Texas Rangers’ and ‘Restless Wrangler’, with my best southern twang. When I wrote the score to ‘I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle’ I got to throw on my shades and burn through heavy metal guitar licks on tracks like, ‘She Runs on Blood, Not Gasoline’ and ‘Scratch & Bite’. Like I said – fun!

Did you draw inspirations from other sources this time around for the songs and lyrics?

Like all my albums, ’12 Songs’ is unabashedly eclectic, both musically and lyrically. Musically, it’s an amalgam of styles including jazz, pop, rock, country and folk. Lyrically, I always draw inspiration from the world around me; my own life, the lives of my family and friends… but also newspaper headlines, books, magazines. ’12 Songs’, includes songs about love, frustration, success and failure; songs about being on the road and missing home, the terrors and joys of raising kids, dissertations on the physics of time and space, randomness and causality; there’s a song dedicated to Malala Yousafzai, the brave survivor of an assassination attempt by the Taliban, youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and relentless defender of all girls’ right to an education; there’s a song about my old Martin D-35 acoustic guitar; a misanthrope’s duet… there’s even a song about ducks – the true story of the ‘Easter Rising’ – a failed 1916 uprising in Ireland. The world is terrible and miraculous, from its greatest tectonic cataclysms to the tiniest ephemeral beating of a hummingbird’s wings. It’s all fair game!

How are you preparing for your upcoming tour?

Every year, as spring gradually settles in, I prepare for a new tour by walking up and down the ridiculously steep hill we live on. After a few weeks I ease into a lazy jog. You need to be in pretty good shape to jump around on stage singing and banging on a piano and guitar for two hours, plus. This year, because of the 40th Anniversary, I’m also spending a lot of time learning to play all those early songs. No easy task, even though I’m the one that wrote them!

What are you looking forward to the most?

The same thing I look forward to on every tour – the always enthusiastic reactions of my very loyal audience.

Can fans expect a new set or any new things?

For the first set, I’ll be playing a mix of old and new fan favourites, including some of my comedy songs off my ‘Squirrels in the Attic’ album, like ‘Death to the Neighbors’ and ‘I Never Really Liked You All That Much’. For the second set, I’ll be playing all the songs off of “Well, Well,” Said the Rocking Chair’, start to finish. One difference is that, usually, I invite the audience to sing the girl’s part on ‘Lucky Stars’; but this year, I’m running a ‘Lucky Stars’ Duet with Dean CONTEST, inviting submissions from anyone for a chance to join me on stage to sing the ‘Lucky Stars’ duet. I’ve done it on a  few occasions in the past, and I know it’s gonna be great fun. [Link TO ENTER ‘Lucky Stars’ Duet with Dean CONTEST: www.deanfriedman.com/luckystarscontest.html ]

What else is happening next in Dean Friedman´s world?

Last year I published a book on songwriting titled, ‘The Songwriter’s Handbook’ [Amazon.com] based on ‘Songwriting Masterclasses’ I’ve held around the world, including places like L.I.P.A. (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts). It’s my personal take on the art and craft of songwriting, and includes examples from my own songs, as well as the songs of other familiar songwriters. Once I’m back home, I plan on producing a video series based on the book, my main premise being that while some songs, very occasionally, write themselves, more often than not, a songwriter needs to make decisions about where their song is going. Once ‘inspiration’ arrives, those conscious decisions, those choices, are what the ‘craft’ of songwriting is all about.

Dean Friedman remastered album  Well, Well,” said the Rocking Chair’ is released April 13th on Real Life Records

For UK tour dates:   April-August  2018 –  visit deanfriedman.com

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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