TOM COCHRANE INTERVIEW|
Hi Tom, how are you?
I'm ok buddy, sorry it took so long to get hooked up here.
No look, it's fine. I cocked up the last interview so to speak.
I called you a bit late I think. It 's great to talk to you
Yeah we finally get to connect. How's everything down there?
Where about are you, in Melbourne?
I'm in Tasmania
No kidding, you're way down there, eh?
You know where it is, that's a plus.
Yeah well I've heard rumors. haha.
Very beautiful actually. It's a little like Vancouver. I'm living in Hobart, which is the capital.
Kind of mountainous right?
Very mountainous, very green. A river up the middle of the city, bridge over it.
I'd love to get there. Do Tasmanian devils really exist?
Absolutely they do.
Aren't they like badgers?
Sort of I guess, closest comparison anyway. You wouldn't want to pick em up though.
Very vicious creature, they'll take your face of!
Wow. You know I'd really like to get down there. I find it quite absurd that we've had a Number 1 record there and a couple of Top 5 records and we've never been down there.
Most of that is out of my control, it's in the hands of my agent and my management. I would really love to be able to get down there and do a show.
For sure. I was saying earlier that they still play 'Life is a Highway' on the radio all the time.
The name would still be recognized by the masses and it would be good to see some shows down here.
Well you know it's not out of the realm of possibility, it's gonna happen.
You know, it was 35 degrees Celsius here today, it was hot humid. I love this stuff you know a lot of people don't like the heat.
I love it. You have to really if you're Australian.
Well I guess so, you get some wonderful weather down there. You get some pretty good climactic changes through the season. Not like we get up here, we get drastic ones.
I spent a year there in Toronto, I didn't know you were from there, actually I didn't know where you were from. Where are you originally from?
Well I spend a lot of time in Vancouver. That's where I met my wife. You know, it's like a 2nd home. I spent my teenage years in Natobico and every 5th year in Oakflield, outside of Toronto.
I spent a year there in '92 and experienced your winter and your summer and I have to say the winter is incredible.
That was the 'Life is a Highway' year. That's when it was out.
Yeah, yeah. I was actually working in a record store so I was selling your discs in Toronto.
Is that right, cool...
Yeah it was fun.
Look I've got every record that you have actually released here. So excuse me if I ask you a few questions.
Yeah, well go ahead, shoot. That's what its all about and I'm pleased to help.
Yeah look I've been a fan since 'Breaking Curfew', that's when I brought your first album.
Wow, that goes back.
I mean I've gone back and got the rest since then, but I've also followed you ever since then. I should start with the last album I guess. Were you pleased with it?
Yeah I love this record, although it's funny that you're talking about some of those other albums because some people have pointed out that this record reminds them of some of the Red Rider stuff.
I'm not sure why. I think there's a very organic, honest feeling about this record. I'm very pleased about that.
It is a great sound, big productive yet still quite raw. That live feel
That's kind of what I work towards, honesty in the music and interpretation and not let the production take over.
I actually reviewed this album saying it was a mix of 'Ragged Ass Road' - the sound of that - with elements of every other single record you've ever done.
Yeah, I mean 'Ragged Ass Road' maybe was very pensive in some ways, this album I tend to get outside myself a little bit more. It's a positive record, like 'Life is a Highway' and some of the songs on that record were very positive statements. But I think the album takes a very decidedly hard focus at the world in general in some of the changes that we are seeing at the end of this decade and at the end of this century.
And you know, the kind of changes we go through as individuals and still it's a very poignant record because of that. I go from songs like 'Northern Frontier' which talks about native gang war here in Canada and is a very important issue I suppose. I'm sure other people can find other issues that they can relate it to around the world. Even though they are culturally specific and very local you can relate them to issues happening in a lot of other places. Because of mass media and communication and so forth. To me it's a very positive record. Hopefully people will get that from the album, that there is a message here. It celebrates life and is life re-affirming. In that sense it really does parallel 'Life is a Highway'.
It is a positive record, even with the slow tracks.
Yeah, it speaks to your soul. I think that life doesn't handle a death you know. Tragedy in life normally comes with betrayal and compromise, and trading on your integrity and not having dignity in life. That's really where failure comes. I think death is a really natural part of the cycle and how you deal with the travesty of life and the hardships kind of decide who we are. It's still meant to be, what do the Buddhists call it, a joyful participation in the souls of the world. You still have to be able to have a positive death.
That's what you have to have, you know I haven't been to Australia but I've known a lot of Aussies up here and they are always positive people. They just take life and really live to the fullest and I think it's important to do that and not be afraid of a lot of the guilt and paranoia that we tend to have super imposed on us form youth. Maybe it's a fact that Australia and Canada, we were settled by adventurers, people that had to leave the comfort of England and Europe and they had to kind of break new ground. I think that is indelibly etched on our cultural spirit. I think as Australians and Canadians that's why there is a kindred spirit there because we have had to stick our necks out to kind of explore new land. Expand and challenge that. Hopefully some of my music expresses that attitude of mine.
I think there is a big kinship between the two countries because I think we are both fairly isolated. I know that you are attached to the U.S you still are a fairly isolated country.
Yeah I think because of that we are a very isolated country. I think Canadians had to look globally.
I think we are globally minded, and so are Australians. We've always felt like we are a bit like outcasts and a bit excluded from the American thing. Similar kind of people because we are hybrids of all different nations, a mosaic of a lot of different kind of people. We've learned how to play the game and observe everything, a lot of what happens globally. Americans don't do that, they are not really conditioned to do that. Aussies do that. The English and the Americans tend to be insular.
You are an extraordinary songwriter if you don't mind me saying that.
No I appreciate it!
I think your lyrics have great emotional depth. I'm a big fan of your lyrics, I fact there's a few tunes that I won't to ask you specifically as we go along though the catalogue here. Where does the writing come form, is it natural. Where do you get the inspiration from?
Oh me. Well I think first and foremost when I was kinda going through my life change, when I was going through the telling of age as a teenager and college and all of that. In a sense because my career didn't happen and a lot of people got off to a quick start with a hit record whatever, you know I worked a lot of different jobs. I drove a cab, I worked in Cil Paints as a clerk, I worked Canada Packers, packing meat then when I moved to LA I was delivering phone books and washing dishes to make a living. You know, I really think that's a important issue I've drawn upon a lot of those real issues in life, a lot of wonderful people I met. A lot of the lucky ones and all the ordinary ones. That's living in the real world, what I do is not living in the real world. I make a living doing what I love doing and it's what brings me joy, it's a hobby and I'm professional at it, but if I didn't have those experiences to draw from and I did those things till I was 26 to 27 - I know what's it's like to make a buck and live in the real world. I try never to forget that and sometimes I do but I go back and remind myself that's reality.
I think hey I'm real lucky to be able to do what I do for a living doing what I'm doing. As a songwriter which is first and foremost what I am so to answer that's what I draw upon. Quite a few times through the last few records I would go back to those original experiences that I had, like living and working in that real world and apply that to a lot of the songs. There is that and reading, I'm not afraid to go outside of myself and write in the 3rd person. That is to explore, like 'Big League' for instance thinking from the position of a father who had a son who died in a car accident.
I have a major question about that song. Tell me the story.
Yeah, well he's going to be a hockey star in his dad's opinion and was destined that way but it never came to be. Now you know to me, obviously that became a big hit in Canada partly because of the hockey reference, but there is bigger issues that come to bear there. I think that an Australian dad can relate it to
Soccer or Rugby or football or whatever. I think in the States they could relate it to Baseball. The reason is because people could relate to it on a number of different issues but I think the most important issue with that song is that the dad said to me 'I wish I got to know my son better'. He said he was busy with his hockey and his school and he was busy supporting the family that we didn't communicate as much as we could of. I think we'd always feel like that, he probably had a great relationship with his son.
Did this gentleman just come up to you back stage?
Yeah he came up to me. He was a custodian at the rink and said my son is a big fan and he loves ' Boy Inside The Man'. I asked if he was coming to the show that night because I didn't recognize the tense he was talking in and he said that he had died in a car accident. That just struck me, like a diamond bullet hit me between the eyes and said I was really sorry and he told me the story. He said he had a scholarship in the states and he was playing hockey with a bunch of his friends and he got hit by a truck.
So to me it was a no brainer, it had to be a song. It just was just a matter of time. At the time I was working with Ken Greer basically Red Rider was Ken and myself, we were working in a house in Western Toronto. We had rented a house to write songs. We set up a studio in there, it was a big bare house, and I had just a mattress upstairs. I used to go upstairs and meditate on the mattress and listen to my tapes.
It was just a mattress, a guitar and my tapes and a few books. Anyway I meditated and then I fell asleep, came out of it and within 15 minutes I wrote the song and I had the lyrics and everything within 15 minutes. It happened that fast. The actual story I had had with me for over 8 months and it was just sitting in there formulating in my mind. It was sitting there in my soul and my mind and was just waiting to present itself in song form.
Now I read that the father said he went back and listened to the 'Boy Inside the Man' and the album to get over the death of his son.
Well the son was a fan as well of that song. The father said my son turned me on to the music. It kinda hit me pretty hard, You know I recently just lost my mother in law and we were very dear friends. It's never the same I guess than when you lose your own parent but I was very close to her. I remember going back and I drove to the store, down in Winnipeg the day after the funeral and looked at the tapes she was listening to.
They were all my tapes, she loved my music and I really feel strange knowing maybe she was listening to my music shortly before she died. She died of a brain hemorrhage, no one knew, so it was very tragic. This healthy beautiful young woman only 56 years old. It's a piece of you kinda goes with them.
Same as the kid in the 'Big League', it was a very poignant moment.
I guess as a songwriter nothing could effect you more deeply could it?
No, I've had people send me letters telling me their kid died in a car crash and they found the 'Life Is A Highway' tape in the tape deck. Sometimes you don't want to hear that stuff. You sit there and go geez.
To me though, it goes on, it's the cycle of life. I believe we do carry on another level.
Music is one of those things that make us feel a little less alone in the world.
Absolutely. Well I can say everything you just said is exactly how I've felt while listening to some of your stuff sometimes. I have a different album of yours for every mood.
I appreciate that buddy. That means a lot to me. I think a the end of the day as a songwriter if you can touch people and make them feel a little less alone in the world then you've done your job. That's how I try to look at my job, no more no less. It's not terribly complicated. Some songs don't though. Obviously what's important to person isn't to the next. A lot of people love Good Times and to them that represents a particular time in there life, a summer that they were going through certain changes, fell in love, had their heart broken, whatever and they were listening to that song. Maybe on the new record, Piece Of Your Soul or one of those. These songs are something like the soundscape for somebody life. A soundtrack for people's lives. It's a privilege on that level. I try to look at it like that every time I think it's not an important thing.
I talked to a doctor once and told him I really admired what you do, he worked in the ER room in the Vancouver general hospital and I said I really admire you, you save lives.
You know what I do is really self-serving. He goes on the contrary, what you do actually saves lives too, because what is does is give people an outlet, it gives someone something that can change their mood drastically. Because I believe a lot of disease comes from anxiety, comes out of loneliness.
So in that sense he made me feel better, but I still think what he does is more important. None the less makes me feel better about what I do.
I believe even if someone's listening to Life Is A Highway and makes them feel better and diffuses a lot of bad feeling they have driving home and they might not have a fight with their wife that night or a fight with their boss, hell you're giving people an outlet to use as an elixir.
I totally agree, absolutely agree. And I tell you what gets my spirits up on the new album - The duo of I Wonder and Heartbreak Girl. They are a couple of terrific songs, happy and feel good songs.
I'm yet to understand why I haven't heard them on the radio!
I gotta be honest with ya, where did you get the album? I don't think it's released down there?
No it isn't. The day it came out I had a friend of mine in Canada mail it to me.
So you didn't get it through the Internet or something?
No. I had someone go out to a store in Vancouver and get it for me.
Well we are going through this with the record company right now trying to get releases in different territories and it's tough you know. We got released in Japan and Portugal and a few others and I'm shocked because we've always done well there. I had a really great response and a lot of really good mail form Australia.
Now there's no release down there. So right now the record company wants to resign me and I'm actually a little bit pissed of at them for that. I'm thinking of leaving them and going to another label. Especially with the territory issue, I mean Australia to me is important and has been a major issue. Germany is another issue. We did well there so. Australia to me has always been important to me. I'd love to get down there but I'm not a booking agent. I'm not a promoter so I haven't had a lot of control over that.
Me neither. Otherwise I'd have you on a plane next week.
You've gone through an independent label in the States haven't you?
Yeah we're on World Domination.
Now on to Ragged Ass Road
it blew me away. I just love this album to death. It was a great album but it didn't sound like it had many singles off it. Just a really a solid record.
Solid record from start to finish. What were your thoughts on the finished recording?
It was a tough record, a strange record. It came out after we had this tremendous period of success with Mad Mad World. It was a real roller coaster ride. I mean my marriage went through a lot of problems at that point cause you're on the road so much and there are so many distractions. Form my point of view and my wife. We kinda broke up for a while, a couple of years actually and eventually got back together but you know it was a tough period and went through a lot of changes. Ragged Ass really was the boat that weathered that period. It was an important record in that it was a great release.
There are some pretty tough talking songs on there?
Yeah that's why I say it's a bit self-indulgent. You know and a bit cathartic. I didn't really care about sales figures and any of that stuff. I just wanted to get things off my chest. Yet oddly enough there's still some amazingly strong melodies I think. Some well crafted songs at least for me on that record. A lot of anxiety.
I'm very proud of I Wish You Well and Wildest Dream. Ragged Ass Road was an amazing song.
I love Paper Tiger.
Yeah, it's about Sylvia Platt. Who went through her own changes. I could really relate to her work. To some of her poetry. People like Dorothy Parker, I'm a big fan of all their writings. I've gotten a lot of inspiration from them. They have all lead very tragic lives. It is a very heavy record
I'd say it's your least commercial album but I think it's your strongest.
Thanks Andrew I appreciate it.
Mad Mad World was before that and I guess it had your biggest hit in a while didn't it.
Is that your biggest selling album to date?
Yeah it would definitely be. 2.5 million or something. Yeah it keeps ticking.
My favourite track is All The King's Men, fantastic. Sinking Like a Sunset is a favourite. No Regrets of course. Any particular inspiration behind the writing on that album?
The actual record
...It was quite a change in direction for you wasn't it?
Yeah well it was the music on that record that drew from the old Memphis soul genre of music. It's something I've always felt kind of a kinship with. Even stuff that was estranged from it like Joe Cocker or Derek and the Dominoes, I think all of those albums had an affiliation with Memphis. So we ended up going down there to work with a Memphis producer and recording a lot of the record down there.
Even though we did Life is a Highway to Mozambique and Vancouver. Looking back on it I am very proud of that record. It seems fashionable for people to knock albums that do well and in hindsight 4 or 5 years down the line, but again to me it sold well but it was an uncompromising record. It had a lot of burly pride I call it you know. It had a lot of pride that record. It was big and burly and positive and I think people related to it because of that. I used to love playing a lot of those songs; Sinking Like A Sunset and No Regrets as well as Life Is A Highway. I have no problem with success if there isn't a big price tag in terms of compromise. I didn't compromise on that record.
No I don't think you did. I remember that once again I had to get it on mail order and rang up a store in Toronto and had them mail it to me.
No kidding. Well you were one of the first because when it finally got out there to Australia it did really well.
I remember getting it and thinking what a change!
Yeah so you were one of the first
on the cutting edge, Could always use a few more fans like you that's for sure.
Haha! What was it like working with Joe Hardy? I'm quite a fan of some of the other stuff he's produced.
Joe is great. I heard the Colin James work that he had done and I thought it suited where I was heading with some of the material on that record. I really believe that John Webster and I co-produced that record and Joe's biggest contribution came in the mixing, He was always there, quality control. He used to bring in a huge collection of guitars to work with, some pretty interesting vintage guitars. He had great instincts. It was a real group project. Joe shone in the mixing.
And you two self produced the last 2 albums, so you'll keep doing that?
You prefer producing yourself?
Well, to be honest with you I think I'm a good producer but it takes a lot doing it yourself. I might go to an outside producer for the next record. But we'll see. I love producing with other people, writing with other people. We'll see what happens. It would be nice to pass the reins on that level.
That was your first solo album since the early 70's.
You know I don't look at it that way, but I know people do look at it like that. Ever since Boy Inside The Man it's been, not really a solo project because Kenny was there, but it was mainly me and then the two of us. Really through Boy Inside The Man through Victory Day, even though Victory Day is Tom Cochrane and Red Rider its completely different musicians than Tom Cochrane & Red Rider. None of the original Red Rider guys were there. Red Rider became like this ghost.
The Red Rider finished up after Breaking Curfew?
Pretty much yeah.
Once again, I've got Victory Day here and there are a couple of tracks on there I'd like to ask you about. Big League we've covered but Victory Day. That had pretty intense lyrics as well.
It's a bit of a reach for me to go back and get the inspiration for that one. It's talking about overcoming odds. I think which human beings are pretty resilient.
It sounded like it was also dealing with domestic violence.
Yeah pretty much, she's beaten black and blue. She rises out of that. It's been explored since quite a bit.
So now it seems kinda redundant to talk about it. I think women have had a tough time. I've done a lot of work with World Vision; I've been out to Africa 3 times now. It became a cornerstone. A bit of an anthem and I'm proud of it. I felt like no matter where you're from it always seems the women get short shifted. They are always on the bottom end of any totem pole when it comes to civil rights. They are always the ones no matter what situation are always treated the worst. In a lot of 3rd world countries as well as here.
There's a movie which deals with this over in your neck of the woods, over in New Zealand called Once Were Warriors. A very powerful film, one of my favourite films but it's kinda disturbing.
An amazing film, I agree. Not always fun to watch, but essential viewing.
Another favourite track on that album is Not So Far Away. A nice little ballad!
Yeah it became almost an anthem for the stuff I did in Africa.
That 's right, you did that live version.
Now my favourite album of yours probably because of the time in my life it came out and I got it is the Tom Cochrane & Red Rider album with Boy Inside The Man.
Yeah and that song has gone through so many changes. It's been such a gas. I mean I've done a lot of different versions of it. It's always fresh live.
You've done it acoustically, 10-minute symphony version....
Yeah. It always brings the house down. It's a great song to play. We were talking about that earlier about the changes you go through as a human being and I think if you're a good song writer, that's what you are first not a star or celebrity and you're a human being.
Boy talks about those changes. About starting out, you're wild eyed, romantic about life and you've got all these possibilities. Then you have a few disappointments but you bounce back through those and then you become a bastard cause you figure that's the way you have to be to survive. A few things happen to you and you change from that. Then you become someone that's a father; you marry someone that's wonderful.
You go through some great changes that way.
It talks about those changes you go through as a man. That rite of passage from teenager to young man and that vision of what a woman is and what love is and what romance is keep you going. The spirit and that quest. Define what's real. Even though you go through all these changes and you might be a prick at times and you might fall from grace here and there you are always struggling to learn. You are always struggling to find something that makes sense. It's a truth amongst all the bullshit. I think that's what defines us as a human being is struggling to do that.
You speak of several things and that theme runs through the whole album actually.
Yeah. Some of the stronger records I've done have been very inspired with the people I've worked with, but where we've done them. That one was done in Wales, a very interesting area. We used the same studio that Oasis used on their last record. It was quite an experience there for 3 and a half months.
That's quite a long time isn't it. There's one song that stands out on that record and it's lyrically hilarious and I heard a small story that you might be able to tell me more about. Citizen Kane and that it was directed at an ex-manager?
Yeah it was as a matter of a fact. I think he's mellowed since. One can only hope.
It's pretty lyrically biting isn't it?
What happened there, he ripped you off or something?
Well yeah it's the usual stuff you go through with managers. More a misunderstanding, lets call it a diversion, differing philosophies. Bruce was the big circus guy who didn't believe that there should be any meaning of songs and any meaning other than making money. I was pretty young, naive and green so yeah, I'd say I got ripped off at times. It was a tough period of writing coming out of Breaking Curfew. However very often out of adversity that's when the best work comes. That's what happened in the case of Boy.
So what are your favourite memories of the Red Rider years?
Well we had some good times, I mean to be honest a lot of it was fairly contrived, struggling to have an identify. You know when you're starting out like that in the music business in Canada, especially back then, it was a bit like endangered slavery.
That was part of the problem I had with Bruce Allen. Whereas I had all these lofty ideas about music and music being really important on commentaries on life and making statements on how people feel. It wasn't like a band that we were all friends and we all shared a lot of common interests like we started out in school it was all kinda contrived. I met a manager back in the late 70's when I was a singer/songwriter struggling and I'd lived in LA and I'd come back to Toronto and I was figuring out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Like a journalist I thought I'd like to be or a commercial pilot, so I saw Red Rider play and joined them.
We did have a lot of good times but a lot of rough times, I mean we struggled a lot. We got sent to the East Coast a lot in terrible weather, with not a lot of money and didn't get paid and didn't have anyone that would dig in for us. So I mean it was hard in those early years. I'd have to say the best times were when we moved to Vancouver and even though I had trouble with Bruce Allen and he was a bit of a bastard at times you know I fell in love out there, met my wife out there. Some really wonderful times in Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
Are you pleased to see all the catalogue has been re-eleased on CD?
Yeah it is. I think it changes from territory to territory and country to country. You know the Japanese will have combinations of different tracks. I can't keep track of who does what where but it's good to see.
I've actually got the Hang on to your Resistance CD here too!
No kidding. That's pretty early.
When did you record that? 74?
I was still going to school, I was in college. I was doing that on the weekends.
Now, you put out the box set Ashes To Diamonds. What was it like looking over all your work and compiling that?
Well actually a good friend of mine helped put that together. Frazer Hill. You hire the best people for the job and put those things in the hands of people you trust and he really dug out some great stuff, some really great demos that we had done. I really gotta give him the credit for that.
What I really like about it is there's some really good alternative versions on there and a whole bunch of live and unreleased stuff.
Yeah sometimes you figure that when a box set or one of those anthologies are released you're either dead or close to it. It kinda worked out. It doesn't really feel final. It's very important to me that those things don't feel like they're final.
So we can expect Vol. 2 then?
Well maybe. Depends. We are certainly getting a lot of good live recordings.
I was going to ask if you're recording any more live stuff cause I've got the Symphony Sessions and your Songs Of A Circling Spirit here.
We are at a stage now where we can record stuff to hard disc so easily and we've taken 8 DATS out on the road.
I'd love to hear some of the X-Ray Sierra stuff live. I do hope you do it.
Usually Andrew the stuff needs a certain gestation period and the public has to be educated about the song.
But songs like Beautiful Day seem to go over like I've been playing them a long time and people have grown to know these songs. Usually that doesn't happen, you have to have a lot of exposure. Songs like Beautiful Day really haven't had a lot of exposure.
With your Symphony Sessions was that complicated to put together?
No actually we had to give kudos to George B?............. who was the music director who lived in Edmonton at the time and worked with the Edmonton symphony quite a bit. Now he's moved to Vancouver he does a lot of film work but he helped score that and John Webster and Ken Greer really put a lot of work into it, put a lot of work scoring it.
We were so tired because we had been touring quite a bit coming into it, and I had a hell of a flu so those guys put it together and my mandate basically was I want this to be about the songs. We don't want over the top symphony on the songs, we didn't want to sacrifice the energy of the songs. So we put up all this plexi glass around the band and separating us from the orchestra and we pulled it off. I really think the songs have a lot of energy and the orchestra tends to follow the band instead of the other way around.
I mean songs like 'Can't Turn Back' actually sounds like you're not sure where you're going next!
Yeah exactly. In that song there was an element we left open to improvisation. It was quite exciting.
At one stage you scream out to Ken Greer about 10 minutes intothe song, "Is there anything left Kenny?....then kind of wind it up. Very cool!
It was quite an inspired performance. We tended to play some songs that way from then on.
And Circling Spirit was different again?
Circling Spirit was just about getting in touch with the songs. My manager suggested I was getting out of touch with my songs. The shows were turning into a circus after Mad Mad World and he said just forget about the band and go play on your own.
Do these songs justice. I really wanted to think about it first. He said don't wait too long cause I think this is what you have to do to become connected with your songs.
We tried Lunatic Fringe first up and a bunch of other songs and couldn't believe how good they sounded.
Called up my manager a week later and a month later we were on the road playing these stripped down versions of these songs. Half way through the tour we realized we had something special going on and started recording the shows.
The whole tour had a real special vibe about it. I never felt so close to the songs before. It really generated a strong sense of self esteem.
It was great to hear you strip down songs like Paper Tigers.
I really love those versions.
What next Tom?
We really trying to sort this international thing out.
Yeah well the more people that can hear your releases the better.
Sure, then I'm shooting to get a new record out within the next 8 months to a year. We'll have to see what happens.