More insight into Michael Been (~1991)
Where to begin? There’ve been so many changes for the Call it has taken on almost epic proportions. So, Michael, why don’t you just fill us in on what has been going on with the Call.
Well, I don’t know about epic, but to begin with Jim has left the group, at least for now. As you know he got married about a year and a half ago and he and Dixie wanted to start a family’ in fact, they are now expecting a child. It’s really as simple as that. That’s his #1 priority. And touring can sometimes get in the way of making and keeping that a #1 priority. He may still play on the albums, but he feels he can’t commit himself to the band 100% at this time in his life. Jim comes from a different musical tradition than Scott, Tom, or myself. We grew up admiring the lifestyle of the blues, jazz, and the big band guys who stayed out on the road almost year round and we’ve wanted to do that from the very beginning. We love playing live and being out in front of an audience. We always have and probably always will as long as we’re physically able. But it can be difficult to love touring in the sense that what touring means is getting up and driving 5-8 hours everyday. It means you’re separated from your family and friends for months at a time. And some people, after awhile, will decide that this is not what they want. I enjoy family immensely, but I also love playing in front of an audience. Maybe when I’m 50 years old I won’t want to go out and play, but right now it’s an integral part of my life. And I’d rather play live than play in the studio. When you record you do it in pieces – it’s very fragmented. Making records is fulfilling, bur not completely satisfying for me, and I know I can speak for Scott and Tom as well.
The Call have a new label and also a new representative who will be working with your long-time manager Gary Heaton.
Yes, we’ve taken on additional management. The manager’s name is Steve Fargnoli. He manages Sinead O’Connor and World Party and also used to manage the Call along with his partners Cavallo and Ruffalo from 1982 – 84. The Call left Cavallo, Ruffalo and Farganoli because we had wanted Steve to be our representative, but at the time their management firm was directing prince’s career and Prince demanded that Steve move to Minneapolis and work solely as his personal manager. So that left us without our preferred choice. Since then Steve split with Cavallo and Ruffalo and he was once again interested in managing the Call.
Steve has ties with the English record companies and he thought it would be a good idea if we signed with Warner U.K., which we have done. Warner U.K. is a division of W.E>A> International Records. They will finance the recording and videos and once that’s finished they’ll then offer the completed recordings to American record companies. This way the American record companies will know what they are getting.
The Call have had a problem in the past with American companies. A label would be enthused about the group and we’d make a record and then they would either not know how to market the record or not like it because it wasn’t what they were expecting. Which is somewhat understandable because we do ten to change considerably from record to record. Record companies would prefer you to make the same record over and over again. But this way they will have the actual record in hand and can decide whether they are excited about it or not.
And that’s probably a good thing, a wise decision, because the new record that we’re working on now is again a big departure from the last couple of records we’ve made. And this is caused by the divers background of the players in the group. We know how to play a number of different musical styles and we’d like to pursue it. Whereas most bands you hear from album to album sound the same because that’s all they know how to play.
So that was the problem with MCA?
Our problem with MCA occurred 2 months after we signed with the label. The president of MCA at the time, Irving Azoff, personally signed the Call and was extremely enthusiastic. However, 2 months later, because of his own contractual difficulties with the label and his desire to create his own company, Azoff left MCA. The new president, Al Teller from CBS Records, wasn’t that enthusiastic of the Call and the promotion of Let The Day Begin suffered drastically. The song “Let The Day Begin” went #1 on rock radio, but because the president wasn’t crazy about the group there was limited promotion. As the next 2 years went on the relationship got worse and worse. And Red Moon was such a departure from Let The day Begin, rather than adapt to that album, and promote the record for what it was, they let it go with little or no promotion whatsoever.
How is the new record different?
It’s a very guitar-oriented record with little or no keyboard. Since Jim’s decision to leave the band, at least for the foreseeable future, we’ve added another guitar player instead of keyboard. Our new guitar player is Ralph Patlan, originally from Houston, Texas, whom we met a couple of years ago on the Red Moon tour and we had him come up and play with us on a few songs – people may remember him from that tour. He and Tom really enjoy playing together and it’s been inspiring. I will also play guitar and Ralph will play some keyboards. A few songs such as “Let The Day Begin”, “Oklahoma”, and “Walls Came Down” we’ll be doing with 2 guitars instead of keyboards, which is appealing to us because we’ve done the songs for so many years the new approach is a welcome change. We’ll still have keyboards on “I Still Believe”, “Jealousy”, “I Don’t Wanna”, and “The Woods”, but on the next tour we’ll mainly be concentrating on the new record and material from the first 3 albums.
When the Call played at the Hard Rock Café in Chicago this past New Year’s Eve I remember wishing the show could go on for hours knowing that show might be the last one with Jim for a long time.
In the beginning of the last tour when Jim made it known he may be leaving, I decided to try and make the shows quite long since it might be the last time playing with Jim. So we did an many songs from Reconciled and Woods as possible. We were playing 2 ½ to 3 hour shows and it was great doing all those songs. But we’ve been doing those songs every year for the last five years and it’s difficult to maintain a genuine enthusiasm when you realize you’ve played the songs hundreds of times. It’s not to say I don’t enjoy doing those songs, but as a musician and writer it’s more exciting for me to be able to do new material, or do the older material, especially songs from the first 2 albums.
Your first 2 albums were more politically bent. We’ve just come out of a war, are you going back to that in your writing?
Some of the songs on the first two albums were political and some definitely were not. What I’ve tried to do with each record is, hopefully, express some total life experience which can range from a very intimate, private emotion to an outward, political expression.
Right now, for me, it would be difficult to write an overtly political song. I don’t think you are going to change or effect people’s opinions in the 90’s by appealing to some kind of intellectual social justice rational. The problem is so much deeper you have to try to change people’s hearts, or to touch the heart. So I’m trying to engage people in a much more intimate, immediate way that might awaken a deeper sense of love and compassion. If by politics we mean the complexities of the relationship between each one of us, then I would say all of our records have indeed been political records.
I do hope though that there will continue to be writers and musicians who can shed new light on global, political situations and moral responsibility and I may again do it myself. But I don’t go into writing a song with specifically in mind at this time. Although, during the Gulf War I did write a few songs that could be construed as political songs and I like them, but I’m not sure they’ll see the light of day on the next record.
Well, during the Gulf War singer Lee Greenwood also wrote a “political” song; albeit an anthemic one. How would you define your politics?
Anyone who has followed the call knows my general political bent. I’m fundamentally anti-military in the sense that I’m highly suspicious of the military’s motives and those in power who believe that military action is the acceptable way to solve problems. I detest the idea of sending the youth of any nation into battle as pawns in a deadly game between rulers of countries who should never have been allowed a position of leadership in the first place.
We put those people into positions of leadership.
Yes, but how some of these presidents, prime ministers, and kings came to power is a tragedy in itself. One of the biggest dangers is that the media and journalists seem to be in league with the powers that be and are being used to manipulate public opinion rather than enlighten by giving the people both sides of every story so that people cam make intelligent choices.
But, you know, the most interesting aspect of all this is that it doesn’t seem to me to be political at all. It seems to be the basic human desire for power and innocence. The political leaders of the world want to feel a sense of power and a sense of righteous innocence which is exactly what every other human being in the world wants, and I believe both of these desires are ultimately the downfall of every one of us.
Perhaps we pass judgement on each other because we feel we are better that the other person, that our goodness justifies our condemnation of another person or country, which is probably the ego that is compensating for some deep-seated feeling of guilt or inferiority.
Or because we have this debilitating need to have someone below us – a need to feel superior to another person or country; be it economically, culturally, militarily, the color of skin, the god we worship, or sexual propensity. We feel better about ourselves by sanctifying our goodness.
Exactly. My own feeling is that no one of us is that good. Maybe due to a fortunate up-bringing, or a well-balanced chemical makeup in our bodies we may be able to act out of the better part of our human nature, but all of those advantages to me are the luck of the draw. And those unfortunate enough to not have these advantages should be dealt with with compassion and understanding. Because after all if we want to utilize the goodness that we do possess, how better way than through compassion and understanding.
Michael Been recently finished up a week in the studio with Bruce Cockburn, lending a hand on Bruce’s new album due out sometime in the Fall. Along with Michael on bass guitar, Cockburn recruited Jim Keltner on drums, Edgar Myer on stand-up bass, and Booker T. on keyboards. T Bone Burnett had the honor of being behind the boards for this great line-up of musicians. Michael had this to say about working with the group:
“We really enjoyed playing together. It turned out we all had a lot of the same musical influences. Booker T. is a living legend and in incredibly sweet guy. Jim Keltner is a great drummer – he and I worked together in 1985 on Rosie Vela’s album. Edgar Myer is usually seen playing with a symphony orchestra – he’s a very talented musician. And although I was not that familiar with much of Bruce Cockburn’s past work, I was very impressed with the songs on this album, especially lyrically. He’s a great story-teller. The songs struck me as sounding very new, very fresh, and that’s a real compliment to someone who has close to twenty albums.”