Fireworks Magazine Online 62 - Interview with Venice

SUMMER IN WINTER: An interview with VENICE

For fans of Venice such as our correspondent, Gary Marshall, the sudden emergence of a new album was a shot in the arm bring a flavor of California sun into the perpetual rain of the British winter. Gary hooked up with the band members, the Lennon’s (Kipp, Pat, Mark & Michael) to discuss ‘What Summer Brings’ the album he reviewed so favourbly last issue.

Before we discussed the new album I asked the guys if Venice being on hiatus during the extensive Roger Waters tour as his backing vocalists had resulted in potential loss of momentum for the band. Kipp is the first to respond

“Not really. If anything it made us appreciate Venice that much more and want to get back to writing our own songs making our own records and doing our own shows.” Mark concurs “We got a lot of great exposure in new and different territories. We were in the tour programme with a small version of our Venice biography and our website URL. We were interviewed by any number of music magazines, Radio DJ's and newspapers.  It also gave us all a time-off vacation from doing the Venice thing and that made us realise how much we loved and missed it.  What’s more, the time flew by. Three years seemed like one; seriously!”

So, the Roger Waters tour was too good an offer to turn down. Kipp is effusive in his reply:

“Of course it was! Who in the world would ever turn down a gig like that? It may have been a hiccup in the Venice schedule but as a life experience it was really beyond anything any of us could have imagined. Of course, the fly in the ointment was Michael not being able to go, but beyond that it was touring and performing on a level that most people can only dream about. Private jets, sold out arenas and stadiums, hotels that normal people like us could never afford, the biggest tour of the year three years in a row. Plus, travelling and performing with one of the architects of classic rock and Prog Rock. It was really an honour and a privilege to be in his band, watch him work, and be a small part of the Pink Floyd history.” Mark adds a good dose of reality. “The money we were offered allowed us to really be free and concentrate on our writing when we got back. All bills, home repairs and debt worries were gone and we could put something away for the future. A trip around the whole world, twice, for free was a bonus.” Pat also chips in. “One thing that was a concern was that when the offer came in we were in pre-production for an album with the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands. Every year or so they pick an artist to make an album with them, naturally we were honoured to have been chosen. It was going to be a West Coast album; we’d already chosen the songs and a conductor. I believe it would have lifted the band profile quite a bit. We weighed that against being on the road with Roger Waters and we chose the tour and I believe in the long run we’re happy with that choice.”

How did it feel being involved with such a huge production? Mark’s enthusiasm is obvious.

“Fabulous! We were never nervous just so excited. Even though we did the show more than two hundred times it never got old. Each venue and crowd was different; sometimes they stood the whole time on their feet singing every word at the top of their lungs.  Other times they sat silently taking in the Rock opera and hanging on every word like the real theatre.” Pat is similarly smitten. “It was so fun. I would be in the middle of singing to fifty thousand people and in my head I was screaming, ‘I got the gig! I got the gig!’ That went on for three years.” Kipp picks up on the theme. “To hear that crowd roar each night as the lights went down. Fifteen to eighty thousand people every show all over the world with more than half the crowd being in their teens and twenties. Not many 70-year-old performers can say that about their demographic but the Floyd legacy is really a wonder to behold.” “We also learned a ton about how huge production teams work” retorts Kipp. “Everybody from the truck drivers to the sound crew to the carpenters to the catering everybody was nice and at the top of their game, professional and always on time. Not forgetting that costumes were pressed and ready for you each night. Gourmet, five-star catering, a half hour massage before every show (laughs).”

The guys are too professional to share any strictly private moments about Waters but do feel able to reveal some interesting facts as Pat confirms.

“Every night at the intermission Roger would meet with twenty to thirty veterans of wars around the world. He would hang out with them for fifteen or twenty minutes and then head right back out for the second half. Roger has told this story so I don't feel I’m betraying any trust. One night I happened to intercept him as he was leaving the veterans and he looked visibly shaken. I asked if he was okay. Roger said that one of the veterans had said to him, ‘Your father would be so proud of you.’ As I’m sure you know Roger's father was killed in World War II. He said he’d never thought of that before, and it affected him deeply.”

They also felt able to confide about David Gilmour’s guest appearance at the O2 Arena in London.

“Well, the rumours began so early about David Gilmour joining us at some point” says Kipp. “He had asked Roger to do a Benefit concert with him a few months before we began ‘The Wall’ tour and Roger had made a deal with him that he would sing at the charity event and Gilmour would perform ‘Comfortably Numb’ at one of our shows. They never agreed on which city or what day. The Pink Floyd army of fans began speculating on websites from the very beginning. ‘Gilmour has a sister who lives in Detroit! It’s for sure Detroit!’ That kind of stuff.” Pat muses on his experience. “Before every show I would walk around in the audience and it was funny to hear people saying they knew that tonight was the night and he was going to be there. That went on for more than a year.”

It seems that the London dates were particularly special for the Lennons as Kipp confirms.

“London was an amazing set of gigs because we took a boat up the Thames every night to the shows. Six sold out shows at the 02 Arena was amazing. Roger would point out different buildings and locations along the way and tell stories about when Pink Floyd was starting out and gigging around London. We knew David wanted to be there for the first show just checking it out then would sing with us on the second show. So the first show was very exciting and surreal knowing he was in the audience. Roger didn’t make a big deal about it but we were all pretty amped wanting to do David’s songs justice. It was definitely one of our best shows ever. After that first night’s show David came backstage and was very nice to everyone, was very complimentary and chatty even. It was so amazing hanging with him; such an icon. Then the next night was incredible because we met in the lobby of our hotel pre-sound check to take the boat up the Thames again, but this time we were joined by David Gilmour and Nick Mason. A Pink Floyd reunion right there. The boat trip was uneventful with everyone small talking and hanging out. It wasn’t until sound check that things really started feeling historic and bizarre. The crew set up David on top of the wall with amps and his guitar and a mic and up he went. We rehearsed the song and when Gilmour’s voice came in, ‘There is no pain, you are receding’ it was mind-bendingly cool. We were just blown away. David and Roger got on like old band mates; we even rehearsed the show’s final song, ‘Outside the Wall’ with David and Nick joining us. After that it was dinner time and I must say that although we toured all over the world for three years off and on, seeing and doing some fantastic things, one of the images that really stands out for me was looking across the catering room and seeing the three remaining members of Pink Floyd quietly chatting and eating. I kept thinking of how many millions of people would love to be there but we all just gave them their space. After dinner I arranged with Mr. Gilmour to stop by his dressing room to go over the choruses of ‘Comfortably Numb’ as the high harmony I sing each night is more like a duet part and I have to stay right with the lead vocalist in order for it to sound right. David has sung that song countless times over the years as you can imagine but every YouTube video I found had him singing it a little differently. I wanted to rehearse and get it down with him. There I was, Kipp Lennon from Venice, California singing with David Gilmour all by myself. Crazy! He was laughing about remembering the words, because he hadn’t performed them in a while. By the time we did it live the crowd went nuts. He wasn’t announced but when his unmistakable voice started singing the sound of the crowd was like a jet engine’s roar. I was so happy singing with him trying not to screw up and just enjoying the moment. It was really amazing, as you can imagine. It was a heightened reality moment for sure.” Pat picks up the thread. “The sound check was so exciting. I walked out to the front of the stage with my mic and sang my part out there looking at David forty feet up on top of the Wall, and Roger was below him looking up too. So cool.”

Were they writing material on the road, or did the creative process take place during breaks in the touring? Pat takes up the subject.

“I actually did a bit of writing on the road. I didn't take a guitar with me but the guitarists in Roger's band graciously allowed me to use theirs whenever I wanted. After sound check there was usually some time for me to play and I knew I had to keep my fingers in shape and that was when I worked on some chord progressions that ended up in songs on the album.” Michael fills in some gaps. “For the most part the writing took place during the breaks in the tour. Some of the song ideas were already on tape or in our idea notebooks or journals. Some were even older musical ideas that never got finished back in the day but then we were able to look at them differently after some time had passed. ‘A Thing About Love’ is one of those where the musical idea and melody was something I wrote and recorded at least ten years ago. After hearing it recently Kipp came up with the awesome lyrics and suddenly we had a great new song.” “We aren’t the types to write too often on the road” says Kipp. “We jot down lyric ideas here and there or record musical ideas, but basically we save them all up until we have time at home to work on the songs for a few days at a time. That seems to work best for us.”

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They were recording the album when three of them got the call for more Waters dates leaving Michael to finish off.

“Well” interjects Michael “we just made a plan to get all the vocals done before the guys left and then it was up to me to finish overdubs and mixing while they were gone.” Kipp confirms “Since Michael was not going with us he could really spend as much time as he needed throwing ideas on each song as an engineer and a musician.” “I would send the three of them MP3's of updated arrangements and mixes” continues Michael “they would then make comments via email.”

“I felt so sorry for Michael” confides Pat “because he’d send those MP3's of work-in-progress and then get three different reactions from us (laughs).” Kipp is quick to praise Michael’s efforts. “It was so cool to receive emails from him with the new songs semi-mixed and with so many overdubs on them. Michael really came up with some very inventive and beautiful sonic additions to the songs. Cello, keyboards, horns; all the choices he made were like the things we would have chosen with him if we’d been home.” “It wasn't our normal way of doing an album” opines Michael “but in hindsight I think it allowed me to stay focused on the project without too many different opinions, you know, too many cooks spoiling the broth. In the end we’re all very happy with the outcome of this new album given the forced way of working.”

I put to them my incredulity at learning they were considering trimming the album to a single disc. Michael is first to respond.

“It was tough, until it was obvious. It had been seven years since our last studio album; we were free of label restrictions and big label politics because we made it ourselves and planned to release it on my own label. So we didn't have to compromise although originally we thought we'd be cutting out songs to make a final thirteen or so.” “We couldn’t bear it” says Kipp “Each song felt like a puzzle piece to a bigger picture.” “I've always been one for using all eighty recordable minutes on a CD” says Mark with a chuckle “If you like a song a lot it should never be cut or saved for the next album.” Michael carries on the theme “After the final overdubs were finished and the mixes brought all the songs up to their full potential we couldn't find songs that weren't worthy of being on the record. So we said, "Damn it, it's our record and these songs are good let's make a double album like the old days and give our fans what they've been waiting for; new music.”

Is there any significance in the album’s title?

“As an album title what I particularly like about it is that the interpretation is up to the individual listener” Kipp considers. “It can sound summery and beautiful, or melancholy like a sunset. I like that.” Mark refers to the song of the same name “We love that song and the album was written and recorded in summer. This is what our summer brought.”

They’re happy with the album then? Kipp takes up the challenge.

“Like most artists every one of our albums is basically like a time capsule of where we are in our lives as individuals and as a group both musically and lyrically. The melting pot of emotions and grooves is what makes a band such a magical thing at its best. It’s something that comes from true collaboration. We also definitely made a point of exploring more of our musical influences and not just the usual ones people hear in our music. Hence the horns on some songs and those driven by piano, which is a change for us. You can feel our Steely Dan reverence for sure, some early Elton John, David Bowie, Rickie Lee Jones, Earth, Wind & Fire, even Jimmy Webb.” “I think it has all the best elements of Venice” says Pat “It's got the Rock and the ballads and the mid-tempo. It's got one guitar and four vocals through to full horn and rhythm sections. I feel the lyrics are great because they’re so personal, they’re about our lives and our families.” Michael joins the conversation. “It's hard to describe a whole album lyrically, but definitely the lyrics are from a personal perspective. We can't fake things like feelings very well. Our best and most lasting songs come from the heart. Always have, always will. Musically, I’d say it’s a more mature album and a more musical album than ever before. We kept things more raw on this album but at the same time I was very meticulous in choosing the parts for each instrument. I was much more aware of timbres of the soundscape, or the sound of each instrument and how they would play against each other.”

Once again Pat is full of praise of Michael’s contribution.

“I've got to say something about Michael's guitar playing. I had put my guitar parts down before our final leg of the tour which left Michael to put his guitar work on as overdubs. It all sounds so flawless. When I got back, I had to learn those new parts to play live and I realised how rhythmically intricate they are. Michael came up with some brilliant stuff and his keyboard playing is so laid back and sparse.” Michael’s response is interesting. “There are more keyboards on this album than in the past and I ended up playing the keys on all but one song. Because I’m not as proficient as a really accomplished keyboardist it forced me to play simple parts or hooks. I try to stay out of the way and let the part speak when it's not competing for the listener’s attention. Less is more was my goal on this album. When each part is exposed it needs to be worthy of the listener’s attention. I kept a lot of the endings in the mix this time; normally we’d fade out but so many cool, spontaneous things happened on the outros that really keep the songs interesting which bore repeated listening. Those are things that I loved on the classic albums that I listened to when I was growing up. Also, we didn't over-sing the lead or background vocals. We kept the feeling and emotions of the lyrics and didn't give ourselves time to overthink or overwork it. Kipp’s vocal on ‘What's Done Is Done’ is one track with maybe six different punch in and out spots. That's pretty amazing in this day and age when many artists record ten to thirty lead vocal tracks and then edit together one final track from them often cutting three syllables from three different tracks to make just one word.”

However, the expedient approach that was borne out of necessity seems to have been beneficial. Michael agrees.

“That’s true. We can't take all of the credit for this ‘don't overthink it’ approach. Some of it was because we had no choice but to keep moving forward due to ‘The Wall’ tour quickly approaching. It’s funny how this burden to get it done worked in our favour and taught us something about ourselves as a band that we might not have realised otherwise. I've been producing, arranging and engineering Venice albums since 1990 so for me this is the culmination musically of all that I’ve learned over the years. I've always been a late bloomer and this is the epitome of that, doing my best work in my 50's!”

The band is incredibly popular in the Netherlands, how did that come about? Kipp explains.

“In 1998 a popular radio DJ and TV host, Jan Doewe Kroeske, was shipped our ‘Born & Raised’ album by some local record store people. He started playing our songs and we sold a few thousand records, unbeknownst to us. There’s always been a huge following in the Netherlands for harmony music and we got that proverbial ‘Big in Japan’ phone call and got on a plane to Holland. We were asked to film a TV show called ‘Two Meter Sessies’ similar to MTV Unplugged. Through the incredible power of TV we were instantly in the living rooms of millions of people for a whole hour of our songs.” “It was a live acoustic performance of nine songs and interviews” continues Michael “that showed people who we are. There’s no hiding when it’s just acoustic instruments on a live performance. The exposure of that Show started the ball rolling.” Mark adds “From this one visit those people each told ten more and so on; it snowballed into what it is now. The main thing is that the Dutch people are big fans of harmonies but also we were given an opportunity there that we haven’t been given elsewhere. We truly feel that, given the right opportunities, there would be a big audience for what we do in many countries all over the world.”

I recount the time I saw the band perform a superb gig in London one Remembrance Sunday. They’ve not the UK since. Can we expect UK gigs any time soon?  

“We’re trying to secure partners in the territories surrounding Holland” confirms Michael. “We need people who believe in the band and can help promote and distribute our albums there. Once we find those people there is reason to return.” Kipp has the final word. “We loved being there and made a lot of friends along the way; after all we’re children of the British Invasion. We’ve dreamed all our lives of making it in the UK. We’ve made some connections with UK folks because of ‘The Wall’ tour and we hope to turn that into more UK appearances.


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