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Thursday, 11 June 2020

Mick Dillingham Interviews : Brad Jones

There was an abundance of great music released in 1995 and still Gilt Flake, the one and only album by Nashville’s Bard Jones was an effortless stand out of that year.  It is a glorious record full of melodic invention and craft, a one-man tour de force, sung beautifully, played masterfully and produced magnificently by him alone. 

But the greatest talent on display here is the individualistic and highly addictive songwriting that shines throughout. Dripping with sublime melodic hooks in generous measures and anointed with deceptively charming lyrics that both intrigue and beguile you with strange under currents. All the while the surrounding magically musical riptide drags you in to drown into the depths of listening pleasure of the finest kind. 

It really is the loveliest of records, one that would grace any collection.
After this Brad concentrated on the production side of things and as you will see went on to producing some of your favourite albums.  What a joy it is for me to finally talk to the fine fellow.

What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?

“Mom and Dad at the piano after dinner, her playing, him singing. They harmonized a good bit…that always got my attention.  They were all about the great mid-century songbook, so as a little kid, I heard a lot of Gershwin, Porter, Rogers, all those melody masters.”

Which music artists made you sit up and take notice back then?

“Summer of ’66… I was five and my mom was taking me to work with her, so I heard A LOT of car radio that summer.  Music was visual, out-of-doors and moving along at 50mph. Really exploding on me, even the questionable stuff like “There’s a Kind of Hush” by Herman’s Hermits and “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky.” But also “Mother’s Little Helper” and “I Saw Her Again Last Night”,  “Paperback Writer” and on and on….a good year.

Then a couple years later I was sitting on my Grandma’s floor diddling with some Lego or something and my Uncle had just returned from college with a copy of Sgt. Pepper.  He snuck up behind me and just to see how I’d react he clamped a pair of headphones on me. Lennon was singing “…picture yourself…”  in that little vari-speed elf voice and my brain kinda went electric.

That was also the first time I heard stereo. Suddenly things got very INTERIOR and I started buying albums and hiding out in my room.”

When did you start playing an instrument and why? Would you consider bass to be your primary instrument?

 “Somewhere between The Hanky Panky and the Hogsheads Of Real Fire. I had started piano lessons, which I still consider my first and best instrument, since it’s the only instrument I still play everyday, here at the house.  But since the piano didn’t cut it at the Teen Dance, of course I got into electric guitar and was a guitar player in rock and roll bands from age fifteen to about twenty eight.  Then came bass, because here in Nashville they already had some guitar players"

Were you in any bands in those early days? You seemed to gravitate towards the production, engineering end of things right from the start.

“I was in cover bands, dance bands, rockabilly bands, an instrumental surf band (probably my favourite). Probably the last “band” that I was in was a post-collegiate hard-rocking band that was trying to sound like The Hoodoo Gurus.

During that band I had a 4 Track, so that’s when I started trying to figure out recording.  But of course when I was twelve I was doing what everybody else who had two cassette recorders was doing. I was ping-ponging (overdubbing) piano and guitar and voice onto the Nth sludgey generation.   Good fun, good learning.

My more proper training in sound started when I got here to Nashville in ’88.  The guys who were kind enough to show me the ropes, I consider them my rabbis, were Joe Baldridge, Jim Rondinelli, Bill Halverson and Mitch Easter.   I also did a fair amount of self-education.  I found out which books were on the syllabus at the recording school and I bought them.”

How does songwriting work with you?  Where do your lyrical ideas come from? How happy were you with the finished album?  What are your favourite songs on it?  The only bad thing about Gilt Flake was it turned out to be your only album…why was that?

“Two liberations: The first being the sad variety… divorce.  You can hear a lot of that in the lyrics.   The other liberation was the good kind… musical.  That last aforementioned band had just broken up and for the first time ever I didn’t have to write for a crowd or for the guys at rehearsal or for dancers or for possible A&R guys to like. I was just writing for me. It freed me up to go back to what had been inside me all along…melody, whimsy etc.

It was also a whole world of recording opening up for me, alone in my East Nashville basement with my new 8-track recorder, which seemed like a kind of miracle machine to me.  Probably 75% of my life’s musical growth was in those three years.  Since it was just me, it was me who had to learn how to play bass, how to play harmonica or mandolin, how to program a feckin’ drum machine, how to arrange a song, what combinations give new textures, all that stuff.

I also had some very specific influences during that time:  Game Theory, Jules Shear, Big Star, Trip Shakespeare, Sonic Youth, Todd Rundgren, The dBs, Rossini and Debussy, Nick Drake, Kaleidescope.

Back to Gilt-Flake!  All the scrappy sounding stuff on that was recorded during the basement-times.  I put it out on cassette, back when we did things like that without irony and people liked it and passed it around.   Three or four years later, Mike McLaughlin offered to put it out on his label, Ginger Records. So since it was going to be on a real CD and everything,  I added two newer songs with a more “pro” recording (I had my studio Alex the Great by then).

Both these songs were co-written with my friend Ross Rice. The best of the two was “Miss July.”  Ross wrote the music (brilliant!), I wrote the lyric.  By then, I was over my guilt and could fall in love again.  Ross thought “Miss July” was a Playboy Centrefold, but she was actually just a girl who was all mixed up with summer in my mind.

To answer your question, yes I was happy with the album, but looking back from the vantage point of years, I wish I hadn’t have pitched my voice to fecking high!  But I still (mostly) like the songs.  I never NOT meant to make a follow-up, I just got busy producing other people’s stuff, which I like doing, the challenge of it, the puzzle solving, the camaraderie.

"I did make a record that I kind of consider to be my second album, even though it’s really a buddy-record with Hans Rotenberry.  It’s called “Mountain Jack.”  I feel like that record came out right and not unlike how I would hope a Gilt Flake 2 would sound.”

Jerker from Hit The Hay had a couple of tapes full of other songs, different takes and the like. Have you ever considered releasing these in some form of other?

 “I’d rather make another record with Hans!  But yeah, some of those one-offs are good and could probably make a nice record.” 

I always considered your role on Cotton Mather’s spectacular Kontiki to be a bit like David Briggs's role on Spirits greatest album, The Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus.

“Let’s not overestimate my role in Kontiki. The band brought me a fantastic, creative batch of recordings.  Yes I did to help organize it all, it was a mess and I did most of the mixing. We added a few more parts. But Robert and Whit had already done all the creative heavy lifting.”

I rate the Imperial Drag album and your production on it is a big part of that. Were they easy to work with?

“Oh yeah they were great, everybody was enthusiastic and up for anything. We had three months to mess with music and sounds. I learned so much. Roger had a bunch of great studio trickeries that he’d picked up from Jellyfish times and Eric had a bunch of very creative ways of looking at guitar and writing.”

You’ve worked a lot with the mighty Bill Lloyd What’s it like producing someone who is also a producer in his own right?

“It’s always great producing a producer, they are the best communicators. They know what’s important and what’s not and they are always so relieved to just play some music and let somebody else do the worrying for a change! 

They can stop hovering in the overview helicopter and just get down in the fields and start chopping crop circles. (I stole this analogy from the great Chuck Prophet).”

Let me throw a few names at you starting with The Shazam.

“The Shazam  (R.I.P.) were always my favourite rock band to work with.  Drummer Scott was the very embodiment of rock and roll… freedom, humour, and excess…and Hans, well what can I say?  Besides having that voice, he has always been a good influence on me.

We were mixing a song and he kept saying “turn up the guitar solo.”  I said “I can’t, it’s already much louder than the band, that would be a mixing mistake.”  He said,  “I know.  TURN IT UP.” 
We keep coming back to the same theme don’t we?  Liberation.”

Matthew Sweet

“Never worked with him creatively, I was just playing bass in his band, but he’s a deep guy and gave me a lot to think about.  He was all about musical honesty and he didn’t go in for frills.   I admired his ethos.  I admired that he had an ethos.”

Ross Rice

“Umpteen” is the great Ross Rice! I was just chiming in. Man I love that song “Dancing Lessons.”

The Autumn Defence

“Aw those guys are just beautiful.  Again, I was just on bass (and loving it). Sidebar: their current bass player is my favourite in town, James “Hags” Haggerty."

David Mead. We love a bit of David Mead. Did you first meet him through the Mockers?

“No, I must’ve know him well before that.  He was a local lad, he was always here.  That song of his “Chatterbox” is a massive hit (in my mind, at least).  He is insanely good.  We’re great friends.”

Josh Rouse and Jill Sobule are two artists you have a long term working relationship, not only producing, but playing all over their records.

“Musical sophisticates, both of them.  I own them both a huge debt.” 

As a producer yourself who would you say are the producers from the past that you are in awe of?

“Oh man where to begin?  Sam Phillips.  Mickie Most. Phil Ramone. Todd Rundgren. Quincy Jones.  Teo Macero. Whoever produced “Rock On.”,  Joe Boyd.  Brian Eno. Thom Bell. Owen Bradley.”

If you could be the engineer to any producer who would it be?

“Any of the above, maybe add Tom Wilson or Tommy James”.

If you could go back in time and be the fly on the wall for the recording of any record, what sessions would you go for?

“That’s the juiciest question I’ve ever got!  I’m going with the Beatles first EMI album — what a day!  Just to stand halfway between the AC30’s and the mic Lennon and McCartney were sharing.  Just stand there and hear what they sounded like.

Since they weren’t using headphones yet, they were self-balancing. Singing those famous vocals, for real and me not having to hear it filtered through a mic, but the actual original sound coming out of John or Paul’s actual right-there mouth — could only be heard live once— too much”

If you are unleashed in the studio, given carte blanche what type of production would you gravitate towards?

“Orchestral driftwood.”

If you could produce an album by anyone, who would it be?

“Only the ones I can’t have.  Bo Diddley, Joni Mitchell, Ringo, Django, Jimmy Martin, Free.”

To me from a purely creative standpoint there’s a whole lot of difference between recording an album and producing an album. I love albums where the production is like another member of the band. If the songs are brilliant you should be confident enough to know that you can totally smother it in creative production, because the songs still shine through. 

As some one with a commercially run studio, it’s your job to understand what the particular artist wants from the production and adjust accordingly.  But if say the Dukes Of Stratosphere turned up at your door do you think you could deliver up the psychedelic goods production wise?

“Yes.  But I get your point, and you’re right, my productions have gone toward simple and uncluttered.  These days I’m always trying to make a woody cocoon where you “see” the instruments, each staking out his own corner of the room.”

Have you ever been down to Wayne Moss’s Cinderella Sound Studio?  I’m a massive fan of the stunning production on those early Barefoot Jerry albums

“Oh man Cinderella — always hoped I could see that place.  These days Wayne Moss looks like Methusalah.  I was on an elevator with him, as well as Mike Nesmith, who didn’t recognize his old Nashville sessions pal till they got to the ground floor, then he roared “Wayne!’ and hugged him.”


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