Saturday, June 19, 2010

Donald Fagan interview

At the Gothamist.

an excerpt from the middle of the interview with Steely Dan member and solo artist Donald Fagan:


Do you have any theories about what’s made your collaboration with Walter [Becker] so fruitful? We share a lot of the same interests. We met at Bard College in the late ‘60s and we were both jazz and blues fans as kids, which was kind of unusual at the time; I guess it still is. At the time there were a lot of different kinds of music and it was all novel at the time; soul music was basically invented when we were in high school and that grabbed our attention. And we just combined all those things into the kind of music that we like.

On the other hand, we were both also interested in literature. At the time, I guess we were of the generation that began what they used to call black humor, which they now just call humor. It was a kind of dark humor that was typical of the upcoming writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Bruce Jay Friedman and, on a more sophisticated level, Vladimir Nabokov, who was a big influence. We were both fans of those people and I guess our world view was kind of shaped by the subculture which we were a part of. Now the whole world sees everything the way we did back then, but at the time, coming out of the conformist ‘50s and so on, it was sort of unusual, I guess. But it’s not anymore.

There was a long period where Steely Dan existed as just a studio band and the impression was that you didn’t like playing live. I guess that’s changed? For a long time we had been trying to get a band together. And we finally got a record contract still without having a band, really. So we got together a bunch of guys we knew who were competent but we had never spent any time together. And when we went out on the road various problems developed. They were all very enthusiastic and had a lot of energy and all that and the band had all that going for it, but it wasn’t exactly what we had in mind when we dreamed of starting a band. So after a couple albums we decided to let everyone go and employ studio musicians to try to realize what we had in mind. And that made it difficult to tour because studio musicians for the most part didn’t want to go out on the road. And we ended up just making records.

The first couple nights at the Beacon will be opened by Bill Charlap. Yeah, rather than get someone we don’t really know – especially since we don’t know too much about popular music anymore anyway – we’re taking it as a great opportunity to have some jazz musicians come on and open. Bill played with us in the studio a couple times and he’s going to open. And we have the Sam Yahel Organ Trio opening for us in the south and a few other places. There are some other jazz artists opening on the west coast too. I think it’s good; a lot of people over the years told me they started listening to jazz because they starting hearing some jazz artists soloing on our records. So I think it’s a good thing to do.

My older brother is one of the many fans always hoping to hear Dr. Wu live. Why has that become such a rarity? We tried it out in sound check a couple times last year and it sounded okay. It’s mainly that I don’t like the way it feels on stage. I think a lot of those songs have aged really well and aren’t dated at all. And if the words still seem relevant in some way or can be recast to make some kind of sense, we rearrange it – if the music seems dated. That tune feels dated to me and it’s difficult for me to sing if I feel, you know, that it’s not… There’s something about the curve of the song that doesn’t work dramatically on stage for me.


Read the full interview HERE.

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