Winners Circle, GRAMMYS 2012
The Grammy Awards are certainly more than the biggest music event of the year, delivering exciting and memorable performances to millions of viewers as the show is broadcasted live on CBS Television Network. It is also a weeklong series of events and charitable initiatives concerning education, technology, community, history and, of course, music.
the civil wars
Though they look like a married couple, and sing songs about married couple issues, Americana Country stars, The Civil Wars — a delightful duo with thriving chemistry and an exciting future — are not a married couple. Joy Williams is expecting her first child this year and they have just won two Grammy awards after exploding on to the scene in the last year. The other half of the destined duo is native Alabaman, John Paul White. We chatted with The Civil Wars just after they had won their two Grammy awards for Best Country Duo/Group Performance and Best Folk Album and right before performing on the Grammy stage.
The Civil Wars were enjoying their first Grammy nominations that resulted in their first two wins. They said that the experience has been completely surreal — just the idea that they were nominated was outrageous. Their record — which was self-recorded — was put out a year ago last February. And it’s still their DIY project. They are thrilled to be welcomed into the realm of country and folk. No one knows what category to put them in, but they are happy to be in any category.
Their videos have generated huge buzz in part due to their simplistic beauty. Becky Fluke directed the videos, and it was just Becky, Joy and John Paul who pulled together the performance. They are decked out in clothes from Southern designer and Vogue boy wonder, Billy Reed, and even shot “Poison & Wine” at the designer’s house. The “Barton Hallow” video is set out at an old church where a lot of John Paul White’s relatives are buried. So there’s a little bit of a family lineage in those videos.
Joy is currently expecting her first child and she told us how the baby was kicking while she was talking to us and that it was quite distracting. When asked about how they were going to handle their touring and production schedule with a new baby, Joy recalled that they were home for a total of only 40 days last year. So with the impending birth of her first child, they are going to have some time off, while writing their next record, and heading over to Europe. When the baby is a few months old, they are headed over to Europe. Joy plans on having a bohemian-styled family.
Their skyrocket journey to stardom and subsequent double Grammy wins has had a profound affect on the duo. They use the word “unreal” to describe it. They made a pact that they would only make music that pleased them and tried to be as selfish as they could possibly be. They knew that anyone else’s opinion was subjective; they couldn’t control what anyone else thought of what they did. When they met each other they knew that what they were doing was so intensely special. They didn’t care what genre it fell into. They didn’t care if radio would play it. They didn’t care if anyone would actually buy it. They just wanted to make music that they loved. And luckily, they are those artists who are able to do that, and their fans respond and want to hear it, and want to come and see them play at shows. They are intensely proud and feel very fortunate for the response of listeners.
Joy adds that they have a really amazing group of people behind them that have been hand selected along the way in this journey to stardom. She says it really is a patchwork quilt of people, a small tribe but a tribe who gives a damn. She says there’s nothing greater than to have people behind you who are working as tirelessly, if not more, than they are each night. It means a lot to Joy and John Paul and they feel like this is definitely a shared celebration with their team.
The duo met at a song writing camp, there were about 20-25 writers put together in one spot. Basically, the long story/short is that they drew straws and ended up in the same room together. Prior to the camp they didn’t even know each other existed. But from the initial moments when their voices intertwined — right from the beginning — not even signing words, just making up sounds, it was really surreal, like they had been singing together all their lives. Joy calls it “family blend” and says it was such an unexpected serendipity. They had both been writing full time for years, so it wasn’t uncommon to be harmonizing with another singer. What was most uncommon was how their voices blended. It felt like they had known each other in past lives.
John Paul speaks of how their entire year has been littered with little stair step moments and everything keeps falling in place. He feels that a lot of it has to do with the team that they put together and some of it is luck and some of it is hard work. He laughs and says they always say the old adage of “the more you practice, the luckier you get.” He says that this was a really big gig for them to perform but that they are still all about just playing music they love. Obviously, playing on the Grammy stage is something they always dreamed of and they have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
After our interview the band was set to perform during the Grammy awards. Joy said that she was feeling butterflies but she couldn’t tell if it was her baby kicking or the actual butterflies, but she said that both sensations were really, really wonderful. John Paul said that he was still processing winning two Grammy awards but that now that it had happened he could start to fret about the live telecast performance. While they are used to more intimate crowds, filled with people who know the words to their songs, that to be performing on the Grammy stage was not only a great honor, but that thankfully, they would be able to look down and see some familiar faces. John Paul laughed and said that luckily they were playing at the center of the floor, so Paul McCartney would be sitting behind them. He said, “I don’t need to lock eyes with Paul McCartney.”
Alison krauss & union station
Best Bluegrass Album went to the record holding, perpetually Grammy winning artist, Alison Krauss along with her band Union Station. Alison said that the hardest part of creating the album Paper Airplane was getting everyone together. She said the process took longer than they had hoped. Scheduling was the toughest thing because everybody has other careers outside of the band so it was hard to get everybody lined up.
In celebration of their 500th episode, Alison Krauss and Union Station played The Simpsons theme in their bluegrass twang style and brought toe-tapping energy to the beloved Simpsons jingle. The episode aired in February 2012, around the time of the Grammy Awards, when Alison won her record holding 27th award. Of the Simpsons experience, Alison says that they loved it, and had a great time doing the theme. It was a very different kind of recording process for them. Most of their recordings are always very serious and to get to play something that was light, happy and funny resulted in a really nice time in the studio.
When asked what inspired her, Alison replied that she loved to look at photographs and sought pleasure and inspiration in collections of photographs from different photographers. She loves huge collections that show a whole body of work, of the different tastes of the artists. She closed the interview by saying that she is inspired by paintings, museums, and bad drivers.
neal cappellino & mike shipley
Neal Cappellino and Mike Shipley won the Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical for their work with Alison Krauss & Union Station on Paper Airplane. The duo could not stop gushing about how wonderful it was to work with Alison and Union Station. They said that winning the Grammy award was fantastic and really great; that working with Alison was enough, a phenomenal honor to make the album, so the Grammy award was an additional honor. The project took them about a year and a half. They took plenty of writing breaks, and song finding breaks. It was an incremental process, which worked out perfectly. “Alison likes to take a long time and get very involved in the songs that she does. When you work with her you end up cutting a lot of songs.” Neal and Mike said that it was an amazing time and that they got soaked up in the whole Union Station/Alison Krauss world, which was a great place to be.
Mike Shipley said that the interesting thing is that most of the records that he’s done before are rock-type records but that Alison was interested in doing something a little bit different. The intimidating part about working with Alison is that she’s a 27-time Grammy winner so it’s a lot of pressure to follow in the footsteps of her previous team of engineers. Adding to the stress factor was that Mike had not engineered a record in 15 years. He had just been mixing records when Alison asked if he would work with her record. The band was like “Hmm, funny accent, not been engineering records. . .” But what worked was just taking an individualist approach.
They couldn’t just follow the normal recording rules so they tried bringing in new gear. They got their hands on the best sounding recording gear they could find and it worked out great. Mike said that the band is so fantastic that you really just have to point a mic in their direction. He adds that they are all such amazing players, but he and Neal worked quite hard to make it sound a little different than usual. Neal adds that it’s a matter of just capturing things that are natural. The band works their music in a way that it almost creates itself; you just have to be there to capture it.
They are one of those bands that are all in the room at once so everyone is really in the moment. Which is what makes it so exciting. It’s not like, lets do the drums, lets load up the bass, its not the normal way of making records. It’s literally, she’s singing and then the band is playing off what she’s singing. It’s a bit different with every take so it results in a great recording experience.
They were recording with the most celebrated, most winning female voice in Grammy history: Alison Krauss. So it’s a very special event whenever you are in the studio with her.
adam machado/arhoolie records
Grammy winner for Best Album Notes, Adam Machado is nice enough but the main character of the story is Arhoolie Records and the life’s work of Adam’s boss, Chris Strachwitz. Chris started Arhoolie Records 50 years ago by traveling around the south with a tape recorder, recording music in Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi. He would record in people’s homes, this was “Down-home” music. He lived in Berkeley so when he brought some people to play in Berkeley he recorded them at clubs, houses, parties, and festivals. Chris and Adam gathered up those recordings, listened to them and picked some of the best ones that were unreleased. Then Adam wrote about the whole scene of how the record label was started and each artist’s relationship with Chris.
Adam had absolutely zero experience with any of the aspects of packaging music. He had to figure it out as he went along with trial and error. He had never put together a box set, never sequenced sound recordings, and never written liner notes. The whole thing was a learning process. Even though he won a Grammy award with zero experience in his field, he still feels that there’s always room for improvement and he wants to do better the next time. He’s excited to give it another shot and he’ll have his chance soon as they are working on a couple of new projects.
They are working on a set of field recordings by folks made in Louisiana in the 50s and 60s, some at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, some out in Cajun Country in Mamou. And then they went to Iowa and recorded German Polka Music and Gospel music around Iowa. They recorded a man named Harry Oster. They’ll be telling his story and then annotating and building some context around those recordings.
Le’Andria Johnson is a woman committed to her religious beliefs which are, through her voice, expressed in song. Her soul is joyful and she always gives thanks to God for her voice and for her life. She is also the winner of a Grammy Award for the best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance for her presentation of the song, “Jesus”. Le’Andria is a “reality show” discovery after winning Season 3 of BET’s gospel singing contest, Sunday Best.
Says Le’Andria, “Everything that I can think of that was bad or negative in my life before this moment, I won’t forget it, but it’s simply erased. Nothing to dwell on anymore, because I have crossed the hurdle, and I was favored”. She is quick to thank God and her team, which includes Mathew Knowles, father of Beyoncé and President and CEO of the label, Music World Entertainment.
Le’Andria is a single mother of three who has seen her fair share of struggles as she has traveled through life. She hopes that winning the Grammy or as her kids call it, the “trophy”, for Best Gospel, will remind other single moms to power through the struggle and not give up. She hopes to be a beacon of optimism and confidence to single mothers across the country. Thank you, Le’Andria.
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band plays lively jazz, the kind that makes you tap your feet and feel like dancing. It’s happy music. Gordon describes it as “Contemporary, Pop, Funk and Latin music”.
Goodwin recently won the Grammy award for Best Instrumental Arrangement. During our chat he told us a story about writing the arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue, the famous George Gershwin composition that you’ve heard promoting United Airlines — it’s a very comforting piece of music.
Gordon says that “George Gershwin did all the heavy lifting”, but that everybody knows the composition so he “didn’t want to screw it up”. Even though Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band’s music is usually more pop and funk-esqe, once in a while they like to do a classic piece like the Gershwin tune. Their arrangement premiered just down the street from Staples Center, at Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of a Gershwin tribute. Gordon had only two days to arrange the composition for his band and they had only an hour to rehearse it. Like true professionals, they pulled it off and ever since they have played their arrangement all over the world — including Japan and Australia. Goodwin says that the people of the world just love this piece of music. He doesn’t really understand why people relate so well to the piece, but he knows that it’s instantaneous.
The ironic thing is that Gershwin — for all the great pop songs that he wrote — really wanted to be a classical composer. He wanted to compose like Mozart or Stravinsky. His desire was to do more mentally developed composing as opposed to just writing lyrics and pop songs. Leonard Bernstein famously said to Gershwin, “Are you nuts? To write a melody that is concise and simple and elegant, that is hard!” Gordon says that he can relate and that hardest part of music making is developing a melody that moves the hearts and souls of us all!
“the book of mormon”
“The Book of Mormon” won the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. This incredibly successful and popular show has also earned a Tony Award. “The Book of Mormon” co-creator is Trey Parker. Others who created the show are the lyricist Robert Lopez and the musical director Stephen Oremus. Producer Anne Garefino discussed the success of the show. She said that they don’t know why it’s so popular and that they didn’t write it thinking it would be particularly successful. In the beginning of their creative process, they brought together an incredibly talented team that held little workshops, where 40 people would come in to see the show – everyone seemed to enjoy it. At the same time there were still the naysayers who implied that opening the show in the same year as “Spiderman” was a terrible idea. Well, they were wrong!
The show was a success and now there’s a Grammy winning album, a tour and talk of a movie. The group said that making the album was an experience filled with lots of pressure just performing the recording. The theater act itself is a fleeting moment — when the performance is over, you can never get it back. People can never come together again in the same way but the cast album is preserved for all time — hence the pressure. Adding to the stress was the speed in which the album was put together; it’s a very fast process. There were only two days with the entire cast orchestra. But those two days captured the energy and the excitement of their show.
About seven years were spent putting together this musical and now the show is being taken on the road. The creators say that Mormons are everywhere, so their humor is universal. There’s also talk of a movie, but for now they are just going to enjoy their success, go on tour and spread the gospel of “The Book of Mormon”.
booker t. jones
Funky sound maker, Booker T. Jones won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album and he was overcome with joy. He said to us, “I am so exhilarated! I thought — since I’ve done this before — I would know how to feel. But I just feel lifted up and it’s just an amazing moment, pretty much indescribable”.
After winning his Grammy, Booker was due at the White House for a gig as the Musical Director for PBS’s “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues”.
THE BEACH BOYS
The Beach Boys played at the Grammy Awards and have, since then, announced a 50-year anniversary tour and a new album — great news for Southern California’s pride and joy! The Beach Boys are still the same: big jokesters with legendary status. It has taken them 50 years to perform at the Grammy Awards. They’ve been up for a couple of Grammy nominations before, but “Good Vibrations” lost to the Mama’s and the Papas “Monday Monday” in 1967, and then in 1989, “Kokomo” lost to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. They joked that they are tired of losing, and that they’re glad that they finally made it on the show. We all laughed as Bruce Johnson said, “We’ve been sitting by the phone, waiting for this call.”
During our chat, they reminisced about their incredible career as a pop group, recalling how it felt to hear their music on the radio. Mike Love recalled that it was not the money, but the thrill and excitement of getting out on stage, “that was so fantastic”. Al Jardine shared with us that he was told, “you’ll never make it” — so his message was to ignore the doubters and “just do it”. That’s a good message for all of us! Just Do It.