The Cottage Views Interview
conducted by Senior Editor/Publisher Michael A. Cimino
Originally published in Cottage Views 8-3, Autumn 2000
When it comes to party music - and party people - look no further than that
little ol' boogie band known as Little Feat.
After 30 years, and very few changes, Little Feat return with their 16th
album, their 2nd for CMC International, and we find them alive and kickin' out
the jams, even taking on Bobby D, The Band, and some Phish to boot.
Cottage Views caught up with the Feats when they swung east for some red
hot Blues fests.
What is the overall vibe of Chinese Work Songs?
Barerre: It’s a typical
Little Feat record in the fact that it’s very eclectic.
There’s a Latino feel, almost a Cuban sound, on one cut, "Just
another Sunday." It has a very
rich, big horn section on the tag of the song.
There’s some typical Country Blues material - a tune that Fred
Tackett and I wrote called "Eula," which is a story of a southern
belle gone wrong (laughs). There’s
a couple of strong up-tempo rockers. There’s
one that [keyboardist] Billy (Payne) and [vocalist] Shaun (Murphy)
wrote called "Bed of Roses," and there’s another one that Fred and I
wrote called "Marginal Creatures."
And then there is a couple of experimental tunes.
One is called "Tattooed Heart," which has a very eerie quality
to it. It’s very percussive in
nature and Shaun sings it. It’s
almost a ballad-like vocal over the top of it.
And the title track, "Chinese Work Songs," which is... I read a
review of it yesterday that said it was ‘Zappa-esque Little Feat, hard
rocking, with a twist in the middle that will turn your head around.’
(laughs) So, there’s
twists and turns of every ilk.
it half new songs and half covers?
actually there’s seven original songs and four covers.
The covers came about in a strange kind of fashion.
The only cover that we were originally planning on doing was "Rag
Mama Rag." That’s a tune
that we’ve been looking at for a couple of years.
Billy always thought it would be good for Little Feat, and he thought
I’d be wonderful singing it, and we finally got around to trying it, and it
came out just great.
It was kind of our tip of the hat to Levon
Helm, really, more than anything else, and to The Band to show that
influences go both ways. The Band
were definitely influential, not only upon us, but I’m sure upon numerous Rock
‘n’ Roll bands that have been these last thirty years.
[Drummer] Ritchie Hayward brought in this
song called "Give Me a Stone," which is on a record called Largo.
It was recorded by two guys who used to be in the Hooters along
with a couple of guys from New York. They
had all these songs that were inter-related - Largo being a reoccurring theme -
but they had all these different singers, and Levon Helm was singing "Give
Me a Stone." It’s a great
song and Ritchie brought it to our attention.
As soon as we heard it we said, ‘Let’s cut it and see how it goes,’
and guess what Ritchie? - you get to be the lead singer for the first time in
thirty years (laughs). It came out
The tune "It takes a lot to Laugh, It takes
a Train to Cry" - the Bob Dylan song - is something that we’ve
been doing live for about the last two years.
Shaun brought it to us.
had done that with some of my own bands prior to joining this band and it always
worked well. We were looking for a
few odds and ends to put in at some of these Blues festivals that we do, so we
said, ‘Let’s try this one,’ and it really clicked.
Everybody liked it.
we recorded it we had just set up the studio at my house. Nathaniel
Kunkel, the engineer, had brought in his Pro Tools set up and we were just
testing the equipment. He said he
could make it work like a 24 track machine and he had the wonderful plug ins to
make it sound just as fat and as real as any tape.
So, we got everything set up and we started playing that song to hear
what it would sound like on a play back, and it came out great.
Here, once again, we can give a tip-of-the-hat to Bob Dylan, who’s
probably the pre-eminent songwriter in America, and also to show his influence
on us over the years - as far as lyrics. So,
one take - bang! We said, ‘Sounds
great! Might as well put it on the
one that’s on the record is a first take?
And then, we recorded a Phish song,
"Sample in a Jar." We did
that at the request of the Phish fans, who were putting together a record of
different folks recording Phish songs as a tribute to Phish, but all the
proceeds are going to the Mockingbird Foundation, which is a charitable
organization that they’ve got set up.
They sent us a CD Rom of a bunch of Phish songs
and included in there was "On Your Way Down," which is a song by Allan
Toussaint that we had recorded back when I first joined the band with Dixie
Chicken. I said to Billy,
‘Hey, we could cut "On Your Way Down" for this record.
It would be no problem at all. We’ve
done it a zillion times.’ And he
said, ‘No. Let’s pick an
original Phish song.’ So, we
decided to do "Sample in a Jar."
It was the last day of recording and we were
getting ready to break the studio down to do overdubs and rough mixes and I
said, ‘Hey, Billy, we still have to cut that song for the
Phish fans.’ He said, ‘Oh,
So, we put the tape on, and wrote up a quick chart, and in six cuts we
had this basic track that was slamming. I
mean, it was just unbelievable. We
liked it so much that when we finished it we sent it off to the label, CMC, as a
single with no note on it or nothing. We
hadn't even told them that we recorded it, we just sent it to them, and the next
day we got a call back saying, ‘Guys, this is going to be the first single out
of the box!’ (laughs)
They also said that we could still give it to the
Phish folks for their tribute record which is supposed to come out later this
fall, or early next year - which is a win-win situation.
So, all of a sudden we have four covers.
A couple show the influence on us and one that we hope shows a tip of the
hat to Phish, who over the years have played Little Feat songs in their
set - a kind of thank you back to them and their fans - and then there is seven
original songs, the real "Chinese Work Songs."
almost thirty years the core of the Little Feat band hasn't changed.
How is it having Shaun in the band on a full time basis?
know, we were just adding up the years, and she’s been with us seven years
already. It’s great.
For me, I loved [former vocalist] Craig (Fuller), and I
loved his voice and all, but Shaun brings more of that R&B feel back to the
band, and that’s really where my roots are. So, I enjoy it a lot. She’s
more one of the guys than having "a chick in the band."
She’s just so strong, vocally. The
reason we asked her to join the band was when we were recording demos for Ain’t
Had Enough Fun, when Craig decided he wasn’t going to be in the band any
longer, we had gotten a hold of Shaun to come over to the house and sing some
backgrounds on the demos, and she was hitting things that would just make the
hair on your arms, and on the back of your head, stand up.
That was really the impetus to have her join the band.
We figured if she could do that to us then she would be able to do that
to Feat fans, no problem.
is it like from the female perspective to tour with a Rock ‘n’ Roll band?
really very cool because the guys are great to me, and I’ve been working in
this business for probably as long as they have.
It kind of melded together and it was a nice marriage between the two
factors, so that was cool. I like
to be on the road, and that helps, too.
How did you fall into Little Feat?
I had been working off and on with Bob Seger since 1973 as a background
vocalist. When Bob was thinking he
was going to be doing his farewell tour, in '86, he asked [guitarist] Fred
(Tackett) and Billy to be on the tour with him.
They’d been on many albums prior to that, but that was the first time
they had been on the tours, so that’s how I met them. [When] Little Feat decided to re-form, in '87, they asked Bob
and I to come in and do some backgrounds on the record, and then on the next
record, and the next record, and here I am!
do you believe was the key to making this a great record?
got to do it at home. We did it at
my house in my back room studio, which is like a converted garage, and it’s
so... you know, you feel so at
ease. We got an incredible feel
going on the record. You don’t
feel that studio pressure of time is money and all that kind of crap. You can pick and choose your slots and take your time doing
stuff. What we were looking for
this time was to get a real good feel going.
what was the best part of recording the new album for you?
it at Paul’s house! No, (laughs)
I like the writing. I liked
everything about doing the record from the very beginning - the blood and guts
of it. I don’t get in on the
absolute finished product, which is the mixing and mastering, but I try to be
around for most of it.
now we need to let the public know that there is a new Little Feat record.
Paul: Exactly. The distribution aspect is really the toughest problem. Radio is a youth driven market and we're a band that has been around for thirty years, so the internet has been a big plus for us on that level. We manage to reach a lot more people these days, and the record is doing real well on the internet because people can order it at the touch of a button. Some folks have a tough time finding it in stores so they just hit that internet thing.
Originally published in Cottage Views 8-3, Autumn 2000
Copyright protected. No portion may be used without written permission.
Official Little Feat Website
Photos: Little Feat at the Bayou Fest 2000
Photos: Little Feat on Block Island 2002
Little Feat History/Hot Tomato Records
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