Thursday, October 17, 2002

Interview: Tommy Emmanuel

Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel has played all over the world, from the Sydney Opera House to the Grand Ole Opry.

"I've played in places that have never seen a white man play guitar before, places in Africa, Burma and Vietnam," he said. "I grew up in the Outback of Australia, so no kind of culture really shocks me."

Emmanuel said he approaches all of his shows in the same way.

"I try to approach everything I do with the attitude of give it everything I've got - whether I'm playing in a small place somewhere in Thailand or whether I'm playing at Catalina Island to a few thousand people," he said.

Emmanuel is touring in support of his latest album, "Only." It's his first solo acoustic album, as well as one of the first releases on the acoustic arm of Steve Vai's Favored Nations label. Emmanuel said many of the songs on "Only" reflect his own experiences.

"Some (of the songs) were written on the road, some were written in different countries, some were written on a plane, one was written on a train," he said. "It's like snapshots of parts of my life. The things that happened to me are all there in the music."

Emmanuel said the task of making an album that featured only him and his guitar had some challenges, but the choice of guitar was not one of them. He says the acoustic has a depth that the electric can't match.

"I think for the songs I write and the way I play, the acoustic is the right choice," he said. "Electric guitar, I enjoy too, but with that you definitely need backing; you need a band. The acoustic is like its own little orchestra. It's got everything, and when you play in that style, it's truly self-contained."

Though Emmanuel is a household name in his native Australia, he's only begun to achieve the same kind of fame in the rest of the world. It began with a performance at the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. That, he says, was one of the highlights of his career.

"It was an extreme honor to be asked to do that," Emmanuel said.

But during the performance, he says he didn't consider the wide audience he was reaching.

"The amount of preparation it took to put that together was an extraordinary effort on everyone's part," he said. "At the time, you just concentrate on trying to do the best job you can and being part of a whole team of people. When you're out there, you don't think, `there's 2.5 billion people watching this' - you just don't think of it. You're just trying to play your best."

After that performance, he made his way to the United States where he played the Grand Ole Opry with one of his mentors, Chet Atkins. He was also nominated for a Grammy for a collaboration with Atkins and peformed on Atkins' final album.

Ultimately, though, Emmanuel says music isn't about worldwide recognition, it's just what he was born to do. He thinks people who attend his concerts will see that.

"I think people are going to see somebody doing something that they're born to do," he said. "I've played music all my life. It's not only how I make a living, but it's also, I believe, my calling in life. I think if people come out with an open mind and an open heart, they're going to have a great time."

Friday, October 4, 2002

Interviews: Flaw

After a successful run on the second stage of Ozzfest this summer, Flaw is getting back to grass roots. Over the next seven weeks, the band will be hitting smaller venues in places that Ozzfest didn't reach in an effort to expand their fan base.

Singer Chris Volz says Ozzfest was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but he'll be happy to get back to a more intimate setting - not to mention a more normal performance time.

"(Ozzfest) was a rotating schedule, so some days we were literally on stage at like nine in the morning," Volz said. "That was quite strange."

He says Flaw won't miss the big outdoor shows of Ozzfest, though. This tour will give them a chance to connect more closely with fans.

"It's really almost a separate feeling when you play these huge outdoor festivals because the barricades are 15 or 20 feet from the stage," he said. "People don't feel as close to you as they do in a club setting where they're right up against the stage and you can reach out and shake hands, talk to them, show respect in that manner."

Taking care of their fans and earning new ones is what Flaw is all about. Volz says they try to go the extra mile in their live shows, even when that includes hanging around afterwards.

"We have an intense live show," Volz said. "We're really energetic. We go nuts a lot. We really just try to feel what the crowd is feeling. We're also the band that stays after the show and signs autographs until the last person is gone. It's a really emotional thing for us."

It seems to be working. Their major label debut "Through the Eyes" has shipped 300,000 copies in its first year of release, and their latest single "Whole" is still going strong. The diverse collection of songs appears to have a wide appeal. Volz says he hopes there's something on the album everyone can relate to.

"We definitely like diversity in music, and we feel music should imitate life," he said. "Life's never really the same for too long. We think music should follow that same guideline, so it never really gets stale."

Coming out of Louisville, Ky., the band had a few problems getting noticed early on. One thing they needed was a CD to put in press kits and promo packs. That was an issue with the shoestring budget provided by their part-time jobs. A popular music catalog's 30-day money back guarantee provided a unique, if perhaps legally questionable, solution.

"We ordered all of the equipment we needed out of Musician's Friend to record our own album," Volz explained. "They have a 30-day money back guarantee, so we used the stuff for about 26 days and recorded as many songs as we could in that time. Then we sent it back saying we just didn't like the equipment. All we had to do was actually pay for shipping and handling, so we recorded 13 songs for about $69."

Volz and the rest of the band have no regrets about the deception. He says they were hungry to make their mark in the music business, and that was the only way open to them.

"It's borderline fraud, but sometimes it's the only way to get things done," he said. "You've got to do what you've got to do."

With Universal, the band doesn't have that problem. Volz says they'll finish writing for the second Flaw album when this tour is over and go into the studio in January. He hopes to have a new product out by spring 2003. Then they'll hit the road again.

"We're going to stay on the road, keep coming to as many towns as possible and try to stay in everyone's face so that they have a chance to understand exactly what we're trying to do," he said.

Interview: Charlie Daniels

Even at the age of 66, Charlie Daniels would rather be on the road entertaining his fans than anywhere else.

You might think that after nearly five decades in music and 30 years with the Charlie Daniels Band, he'd have a little trouble getting excited about a new tour. You'd be wrong.

"I don't have a problem doing that," Daniels says. "It's a lot of fun. I just thank God that I can make a living doing something I enjoy so much."

Daniels is currently out in support of a new album, "Redneck Fiddlin' Man." The title pretty much sums up everything you need to know about the country rocker, and the sound is everything his fans expect.

"It features a fiddle on all the cuts; it's pretty much a straight-ahead CDB album," Daniels says. "It's got a lot of uptempo stuff on it. Travis Tritt did a duet with me, and Garth Brooks sang harmony with me on a song. But most of it's just me and the band kind of beating it out."

What that means is an album that can appeal to country fans as well as rock and blues fans. Daniels is one of a handful of country artists who enjoys respect from fans of rock and other kinds of music.

"We don't really specialize in any one particular kind of music; we play some of all of it," Daniels says. "We don't claim to be one thing or another. We just claim to be the Charlie Daniels Band, playing Charlie Daniels Band music. Whatever it is, it is."

The new album features a couple of Daniels' classic country rockers like "Little Joe and Big Bill," "Southern Boy" (with Tritt) and "Rock This Joint." It's also got a couple of his famous jam songs ("Redneck Fiddlin' Man," "Crosstown Traffic"), a Cajun-flavored tune ("Fais Do Do") and a few moments that reflect on Sept. 11 ("Last Fallen Hero" and a fiddle rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner").

The song "Last Fallen Hero" and a previous Sept. 11 song "This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" have drawn criticism from some, but not from Daniels' fans. They've become two of his most popular songs in years.

"We appeal to the old boys that farm and work hard for a living," Daniels says. "They're kind of where we're at, and they seem to like those kinds of things, so I'm glad about it."

Daniels isn't shy about letting people know how he feels, and it isn't his first brush with controversy either. He aired some of his opinions on crime, drugs and politics in the 1989 song "Simple Man."

"It just depends on what I'm thinking about and what's on my mind," he says. "If something's strong on my mind, I'll write about it sometimes."

He's also begun posting his opinions on a section of his Web site called the Soapbox. Fans can read what Daniels thinks on a variety of subjects from political to personal.

"I've always been pretty opinionated, and one day I just thought: I'll just sit down and write something here," he says. "I did it, and it was pretty well received, so I decided I might do it on a regular basis."

His political opinions often earn him an inbox full of e-mail from both supporters and detractors.

"I get all kinds of responses," he says. "Some people don't like what I say, and some do. I think most of our people - the people we appeal to - agree."

But Daniels says he doesn't mind the people who disagree with him. That's just part of what makes America "the greatest country in the world."

"That's their right; they can certainly disagree," he says. "As long as they're intelligent about it. Some of them are just absolutely asinine. People write and say `you're a big, fat slob.' Well I may be, but I ain't the only one."

Political opinions aren't the only thing he airs, though. He's also talked about some intensely personal issues - including his battle with prostate cancer. He says he hopes to help others by providing some insight.

"That's a very common thing with men, especially up around my age, and even younger," he says. "I feel that they need to understand it's very important to stay on top of their PSA levels, because it can save your life. I think it's an important issue, and that's why I do it."

No matter what his opinions are, though, his legacy is his music - and there's more than 30 years of it with the Charlie Daniels Band alone. In his career, he's played with some of the luminaries of music, including a three album stint with Bob Dylan in the late 1960s. So, after all of that, is there anything else left for him to do?

"There's always a mountain to climb," Daniels says. "I'm still working on my first goal - to have every album platinum and every concert sold out. If I get that done, then I'll move on to something else."

And retirement? It's not an option for Daniels.

"What would I do?" he says. "Sit around the living room and play guitar? I might as well get paid for it."