He's the man behind the kit on Bourbon Blue and Last Chance Lounge.
John Carpender took time recently to share a few thoughts
about playing with Michael McDermott and what's he's up to these days
Tell us a bit about your background - where you grew up, where you are today
I grew up in New Jersey until the age if 13 and then moved to the Chicago suburbs just before starting Jr High School. It almost killed me. I didn't know anyone and had no friends so I got a drum set. I now live with my wife and 2 kids in the North Suburbs.
When did you begin playing the drums and what was the inspiration to play the drums?
I took my first drum lesson 40 years ago when I was 8 years old at Victor's House Of Music in Ridgewood New Jersey. I had seen Keith Moon blow up his drums on the Smothers Brothers show. I think that was pretty motivating for a kid who wanted to hit things...before blowing them up.
Can you share a bit about you played with when you first began performing?
I played with some bands in High School in Lake Forest IL. I played in two very weird bands in college in Wisconsin- a fusion jazz group and a punk rock band. I loved them both. But the punk band got more gigs...and taught me more
Who were your influences when you started out and are they the same today?
I love a lot of drummers but I think I'm more influenced by songwriters and composers. I went through an AM radio phase, a Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple phase, a British art rock phase, and then a really really long Frank Zappa phase that never really ended, and a sort of punk rock phase. These days I feel as inspired musically by singers like Gillian Welch, who's music has no drumming, as I do by drummers. I am continuously stunned by the talent of Paul McCartney and Nick Lowe.
How did you meet Michael and how long did you play with him? Any plans to join him again?
He called me out of the blue in 1993 and asked me to play with him. I had just finished a stint with a pretty popular Chicago hard rock band called Phantom Helmsmen. I think he saw me with them once. I only knew one of his songs: A Wall I Must Climb, because it had been on the radio in Chicago a lot.. When I met Michael I told him that I hadn't exactly been sitting around listening to his music, and to his credit, I think he felt that that was OK. I think he wanted someone who would bring something new to his sound. I played in the band recording and touring for 9 years - until 2002. I learned a lot. I think It was pretty new for me to play music in which the song lyrics are paramount- that's what the audience was there to hear, not a guitar solo or a lot of bluster from the drummer. I also got the chance to tour from LA to New York, do the Conan O'Brien Show in 1997 and play at Ravinia. I met some....interesting people... It was almost all fun. Michael still has my number. I ain't hidin'....
Favorite McDermott song to play?
Hard to say....Forgotten was always fun to play. I came up with the way that song ends live. We used to do a pretty rave-up song called Burning At The Stake that was really cool. I also liked playing hand percussion on songs like Rhythm Of The River. I have to say, and it may surprise you, that Michael was always willing to make changes to new songs for the purpose of playing them live. He almost never brought in a song that was written in stone. I'm pretty sure that more than once he cut an entire verse from a song. I never felt like it would be stepping on his toes to suggest changes to songs to make them work better live.
Tell us a good Michael story if you have one
Well, as you can imagine, in 9 years I played a heck of a lot of shows. I seem to remember a really great show at the Mercury Lounge in New York...I never felt I played well at Metro in Chicago, though those were some of the biggest shows we did....playing on the Conan show was a riot. I think our strongest performances in Chicago were always the Schuba's shows- the audience was always able to give us so much energy there. I also remember playing at a really crappy Chicago sports bar one time and standing in the basement with Michael writing the set list...I think we both felt like it was a stupid gig...and we were probably both tired and hung over...I was trying to help him remember what songs we might play...he wrote maybe two song titles and then wrote Wall...and as he wrote it down he just said...."Wall....Wall...Wall...Wall...." like he was sooo tired of doing it, or even saying it. We went on stage that night and when we got to Wall I Must Climb he skipped it, I'm not sure exactly why, but we ended up never playing it. That was the only McDermott gig I did in the 9 years I was in the band where we didn't play that song, which was fine with me. I'm not sure how he still manages to give that song any life these days. He's got plenty of better songs.
What's on Jack's IPOD or in the CD Player?
There are 3400 songs on my iPod...including Don't Pull Your Love by Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds, Danse Macabre by Camille Saint Saens, Strange Kind Of Woman by Deep Purple, Yankee Go Home by Richard Thompson, Rubber Shirt by Frank Zappa, and the Theme from the original 1950's version of The Blob. I recommend all of them. Go listen to all of them. NOW.
What is Jack up to these days?
I play with an amazing rock band called Tomorrow The Moon with my old comrade Steve Gerlach. I write a few songs for the band as well. It's a bit math-rock...sort of King Crimson meets David Bowie. Melodic mayhem. I also play in a wonderful cover band called Expo '76 which was created by my friend Dag Juhlin guitarist with Poi Dog Pondering and The Greenwoods. The band is a mind expanding romp through the world of obscure 1970's AM radio classics, and we even have a horn section. We play at Simon's Tavern on the north side of Chicago on the second Wednesday of each month. It's a major party. Seriously. Ask Michael - he's been there. I also played on the last record by the Ike Reilly Assassination.
Who's going to win the World Series?
We recently spent some time with Michael McDermott
and took a look back at the year that was 2010
Go back to December 31, 2009. What were you hoping 2010 would bring?
i'm not entirely sure, but i'm sure if you told me that i'd have a baby, getting ready to do a new year's show, and going to do some recording in Nashville in January i would have said you were crazy. I'm more of a guy who figures out moves as life happens, i appreciate people that set out goals, make a list and then seek it. I've never done that....well maybe this is the year
Hey La Hey received very positive reviews from both fans and critics. Two songs were featured on A Taste of Triple A Samplers. In reflection, selling a million records aside, did the record perform as you hoped when creating it? Or is that not part of the thought process when creating a new record?
i've had guarded optimism for the last 5 or 6 records.....the best you can hope for and a tangible goal is that you like it....your base likes it and if it garners good reviews then thats great....you hope in this equation that the people that are supporters of you are able to convert some new fans and turn some people on to it......it's your definition of success that you base your life on. I'm in a good mood while i write this, so you ask me right now was it a success??? Yeah it was......ask me in a not so good, i may say something different.
“Carry Your Cross” made its way to the GAC airwaves. Can you first talk about how this song came about and your writing process? Can you talk about how the video came about and what your thoughts were the first time you saw it?
song was originally inspired by a gal i had met that had been a victim of a pistol whipping and shooting.....it was found, when she went to the hospital she had cancer. It was such a blow to her that i wished there was something i could do.....She just died a few months ago, so she ended up fighting quite a battle but eventually succumbed. The video was by one of my best pals Brian Fitzpatrick. I was on tour and he said he had some great new cameras and we should do a video. DId it in his basement one night with a bunch of beer and some friends. Higgs and Eddie and Scott. I was blown away when i saw it......is an amazing piece of work in its own right.
Monday Morning Madness continues to be a weekly highlight on michael-mcdermott.com. Take us through the process of picking the songs you share each week.
Its pretty much if i have new stuff to share first and foremost, but if i don't ...i usually just go through my itunes and its amazing i find stuff that i've completely forgotten about....i'm not sure how much stuff is still left to be perfectly honest.....but with Willie in our lives, its just finding time to work....has been challenging.
Your travels took you to many different stops in 2010 including a rousing show in January at the Hotel Intercontinental in Rosemont, a moving private performance in Wisconsin in March, along with performances of the National Anthem at Wrigley Field. What are your personal highlights in terms of live shows this year?
It's funny, Tony Robbins questions why it is people remember the bad things people say about you as opposed to the good things.....i think gigs are kind of like that.... i seem to remember the shows i didn't deliver in or that the sound wasn't good, or my voice failed or anything.... I think this was one of my better years of performing. I felt pretty satisfied with most of the shows. I loved that Wisconsin show where i did pretty much all songs i had never played before....it really keptme on my toes....Greenbelt was amazing. Libertyville was a highlight, with Jack Carpender. Probably the longest show i did. The shows with Cracker were all really great.....
Your live performances often overflow with a great deal of passion and urgency. You often look completely wiped out after a show. What do you hope your fans take away from a live performance? Ever get nervous before a show these days?
Always get nervous.....every one.....that has never changed and i hope it never does. And if i'm not wiped out, then something's wrong. I didn't do my job.
You made a return appearance to the Greenbelt Festival in UK in August. What was that experience like this year compared to previous appeareances?
It was different in a few different ways. Was my first as a father, and it was weird to go without heather....we have been playing together for so long now and doing a show without her was odd. Also leaving them only a month into Willie's life was pretty weird. The festival as always was amazing. About 800 people waiting for me in the audience when i stepped on stage. Ended it by singin' a cappella through the crowd when i left.
You became a father this year. How has that changed your outlook on both your music and your career?
It's a wild ride indeed. Its certainly changed me in ways that i probably woudn't be able to articulate. My DNA is different. 100%. You see everything different. Love, Protection and Care take on totally different meanings. Its effected the work in terms of there just isn't as much time for it right now. That's the only drag. For Heather more so than me.
Someone mentioned you may be writing a book. True?
Yes but all i'm going into at present.
What’s in Michael McDermott’s CD player these days. Or should we ask on the IPOD?
Willie seems to love as well as me Enya "Shepards Moon " amazing album for the morning especially....we've been listening to it so much i'm learning some of it on piano.
December 17 brings you to Schuba’s for a Fans Pick the Setlist performance. You might have to relearn some long, lost classics. Have you done a show like this before?
Well, that Wisconsin show was kind of like that but it was self imposed. Doing old, obscure tunes was really great for me as an artist. Sharpened up the tools for me.
You will be closing the year out with a New Year’s Eve show at the Hotel Intercontinental in Rosemont. Any surprises in store?
Was just talking to heather about that.....there just might be a few.....
You have very dedicated and passionate fans. As the year closes out,what would you like to say to them?
Kind of what i have said in the past. WIthout you i'd have nothing...without you, i'd be empty. Without you i would more than likely be homeless or in some kind of institution where there was a lot of padding. I wish there was more discourse about monday morning madness because i do like the imput. Alas it seems the more i ask for it, the more quiet the paupers get.....hint......Most of all.....THANK YOU.
What’s on tap for 2011?
Well there are some very exciting things planned. I'm really excited about this year. This may be the one to top them all. Buckle up.....
Question: Tell us all about young Klem and his adventures (OK – where did you grow up and all that)
Klem: Growed up as one of nine kids -- 5 older, 3 younger -- in Moline, IL. Moved to Hollywood, CA after HS to attend music school. Eventually returning to midwest -- Chicago -- to actively pursue music career.
Skipping ahead – when did you first begin playing music and was bass your first instrustment? What else did you play or do you play now?
Started studying piano at 6 years old and saxophone at 9 years; continued both into college. Started playing bass in 7th grade.
Early musical experiences?
Listening to AM radio 24/7 -- every opportunity anyway -- waking and sleeping. Started playing in clubs when I was a high school freshman. We had to sue one club owner who refused to pay us and we prevailed in small claims court. However, the fucker never paid us. Then played frequently at the Rock Island Arsenal officer's club (If memory serves, as a federal installation they didn't have observe age restrictions in places that serve alcohol) as well as weddings and parties. The band played lots of Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Jackson Brown and the music of other less well known southern Cali artists. We were young and cheap and not too awful so we worked quite a lot.
When did you first meet Michael, and other than the hair, what was your first impression?
MM called me while I was in Hawaii vacationing right after a band I was in -- Dick Holliday -- broke up. First time I met with him was at his apartment where we discussed music, family, religion; he played tracks from the upcoming Gethsemane. (At the time titled, From Chicago To Gethsemane). I hadn't really even considered joining another band when he called and didn't have a clue where I'd fit in. He was a rising star and I was stoked to have a chance to play with him, especially after hanging with him and hearing the new album.
Talk about the years you played with Michael – when, highs and lows, favorite memories. Did you do a lot of traveling?
Some of my fondest memories of playing music have been with MM. The release of Gethsemane kept getting pushed back but after it came out we went out on a bus for months. It was liberating to wake up in a strange place and not have any responsibilities other than making music. And we were all over the place. The Conan appearance was a highlight. Asbury Park was a memorable dump. Witnessing up-close MM's struggles with the record company and management was eye opening. And watching uninitiated audiences turn-on to MM ranks as one of the most rewarding memories.
During the day, what does Klem do?
I play bass, write songs, clean my house, run errands and talk to my dogs.
What’s in your CD player today?
Mixes of demos I'm working on. I did listen to the Daniel Lanois disc, For The Beauty of Wynona yesterday which I discovered via MM.
Who else have you played with? Have you done any recording? Current musical aspirations?
I have performed with a veritable who's who (or just "who?") of has beens and wannabees. For a short while I performed and recorded as a member of the band Survivor. In maintaining that relationship I've played with scads of 80s singers over the last many years. Additionally I've worked with several Nashville singers as a sideman and recorded a lot; commercials, albums and demos of all genres.
You played with Michael in Italy last year. Can you share any experiences from those shows?
MM hyped that run as "everyday will be more incredible than the last" or something like that. That statement proved entirely true. Although it was a blur, I think about Corsica often. Also, Nick and I departed Italy with Jimmy Page and his family. Page sat in the back of the plane, near the toilets, in a middle seat
Without getting anyone in trouble, you played with Michael for awhile and then didn’t and are playing with him a bit again? What’s the story?
I don't recall exactly when that was. I've worked off and on over many years with other artists too. It's kind of the nature of being a sideman. To this day MM divides the shows between a couple (or several) bass players. I'm just grateful to be invited to the party.
We can’t leave without asking – got any good stories on Michael?
He's a genuine, good-hearted man; crazy about his old lady and their daughter. We've laughed and sobbed together.
Favorite Michael song?
Wounded. (I'm also partial to Long Way From Heaven ... I could go on....)
Who’s going to win the World Series? (Please note this interview was conducted in October 2010)
Q: How has being adopted influenced your life? Your music? Could you share a bit about that experience overall?
A: Utterly and completely. My survival skills as a child were completely acquired from the protection of music. It's not a "woe is me" sort of thing, but it was true that my adoptive family had very little idea as to what to do with me or how to communicate...as a result, sinking into my music was a complete solace. The struggle I had was that I was raised in a home and environment where you become a doctor or a lawyer or a professor.
Q: Do you have any pets (or did you have any special animal friends growing up or otherwise in your past)?
A: Awwww....what a sweet question! I am an animal lover through and through. I love critters – of all kinds. I had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, fish, birds, frogs and even baby chicks as a child. My absolute beloved pets as an adult were my cats, Humphrey Howdy and Georgia Alice.
Q: Aside from playing in Michael’s band, what other artists have you accompanied or do you still accompany? Can you share a bit about these experiences? Also, do you have a band of your own and if so, could you provide some info about its members, their experience and their influence on your work.
A: I have been extreeeeemely fortunate to be versatile enough to be hired to play and sing with dozens of artists [in Nashville] and on the road. I have [also] been blessed with the greatest musicians this world has to offer between Chicago and Nashville and the list grows every week. So many to name...long term band members include, Tom Logan, Mark Beringer, Kevin Patrick, Chris Forte, Rob Davis, Skip Williams, Tom Gerlach, Derek Brand.
Q: Everyone knows how difficult it is to make a living as an artist today. Agree?
A: I can only say that as an "artist", you either are one or you aren't. You either HAVE to do it or you don't. I have to. If that means having little or no money, then that's what it is. Most artists I know are a specific brain type and unless they have people help them focus or catapult, they would die of starvation...but still be doing what they love to do and need to do. I believe in the aspect of "paying one’s dues" in a relative capacity, but agree that distraction and/or starvation can hamper one's creative process...but can also heighten it in the end. Sure has for me!
Q: How do you feel the fact you’re a woman in an otherwise all-male band changes the dynamic of performances? And, does adding a female perspective – particularly when working on new songs in rehearsals – ever alter the way your male counterparts view songs…perhaps even changing the manner in which they’re performed to somehow include this alternate viewpoint?
A: Michael doesn't actually rehearse – which is funny and so beautiful to me. He usually sends the tunes out as he's demo'd them and we the musicians listen for our parts as he's recorded them and do our best to cover them. For now, I’m the best candidate to cover Michael's background vocals, so it's me – a chick, singing the harmony. That’s pretty common though.You'd have to ask my male counterparts if or how their view of the songs are altered as a result of having a girl in the band. But, I think it's safe to say that it's all sort of naturally put together pretty spontaneously.
Q: What’s your favorite McDermott album? Why?
A: That's pretty impossible to pick after finally being introduced to the rest of his recorded work prior to my introduction 5 years ago...but in mass, I'd hafta say between Noise From Words and 620 W Surf. But, as of the date of Hey La Hey's release, I will scream from the top of any rafter that this is his masterpiece. I am so in love with it and so happy for, and proud of, him.
Q: What are a few of your favorite unreleased McDermott songs? Do you ever encourage Michael to add these to the setlist, and if so, what is his reaction?
A: Cal Sag Road. I ask for that one and [Mike Jordan’s] Mississippi when he draws a blank on what songs to add. As everyone knows, Michael has 8 zillion and 7 songs to choose from, so he draws blanks all the time as to what songs to do. He welcomes everyone's suggestions!
Q: Do you and/or the other band members offer suggestions on playing songs differently from Michael’s original intent for them? How does he respond to these suggestions? Whose musical vision usually prevails?
A: There's never a reason or inspiration to suggest anything different. He plays the songs from solo to duo to full band which are all very different approaches. His musical vision prevails with grace.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of sharing the stage with Michael?
A: He's astoundingly spontaneous on stage....never know what's gonna happen next.
Q: What’s the best part of sharing the stage with Michael?
A: He's astoundingly spontaneous on stage...never know what's gonna happen next.
Q: Is there anything you’ve learned from working with Michael that even his longtime fans might find surprising? Can you share one or two of these discoveries?
A: On a professional note; that he is completely natural as a musician In 5 years we have rehearsed 3 times....not to say that the show wouldn't profit from such a thing – but that, as a bandleader, he is effortless and perfect in his roughness. On a personal note; he is shy and a bit of a recluse. He’s also one of the smartest people I've ever met, and truly one of the funniest.
Q: In recent years, you’ve split your time between Chicago and Nashville? What special attributes does each offer? Do you feel Nashville provides more opportunity for you in the music business than Chicago? Do you have a personal preference for one or the other? Also, why Nashville? Why not New York, Los Angeles or some other city with a reputation for breaking new artists?
A: Tons of work, opportunities and future for me in Nashville...but my family is in Chicago. I love them both.
Q: What are a few of your favorite movies, and why?
A: Amadeus, West Side Story, Sound of Music, Elf, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest....off the top of my head.. I'm not into anything violent. I LOVE funny and musical flicks. Bernstein and Mozart are my top 2 for all music history.
Q: What are a few of your favorite books and why?
A: Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" is my favorite book of all time. I believe it is the greatest lesson of humanity anyone has put to words or any such art form. Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet" is my bible.
Q: Michael’s music prominently features the duality of an almost perverse pleasure in debauchery juxtaposed with a deep reverence and spirituality (often tinged with regret for the aforementioned debauchery). How do you interpret this, and how do these very different images influence finding your own personal and musical identity, onstage, and off?
A: I think Oscar Wilde said that, at the center of contradiction, is genus
Learn more about Heather Horton here
You've seen bassist TJ Pavletic on stage
with Michael McDermott many times
He might not say much there
but he shares a few insights here in a recent interview
When did you first become interested in a career in music? When did you first learn to play an instrument?
I first started playing guitar in college with my buddy Devin Hodge (he’s Michael’s friend, too). Devin and I used to go to all the McD shows when he first started playing.
Who are your most significant artistic influences (musicians)?
I always loved music as a kid. I listen to all kinds of music, but I don’t buy as much anymore. My girlfriend listens to everything, and that’s really how I hear cool new stuff. I’m a huge Black Crowes fan… Stones, Waits, Keith R… Michael, too. I think Nick Kitsos is the funniest guy ever. He’s so dry and witty. Everyone that I have played with over the years has influenced me, and I’ve learned a lot…Nick K., John Carpender, Klem, Jon Spiegel, Heather H, Fitzy, Angelo Santucci, Gary Stier. It’s great just watching these people play, and I always ask them musical questions. It really is an honor to play with this quality of musicians. I’ve only taken a couple actual bass lessons. It’s more Michael showing me the basics and trying to pick up stuff from really talented people. I am so lucky I’ve crossed paths with all of these people.
Could you share a bit about your common experiences growing up in Orland Park?
Growing up in Orland was great. It must have shaped me somehow. Everyone is nice. I guess I’m generally pretty laid back…don’t know if that has to do with Orland Park. I have one story where Michael connected again. I was sitting in front of Sport Mart at, like, 4 in the morning, waiting for Bruce tickets. Next to me was this other cat in a car, and after a few hours I noticed it was Michael, so we sat waiting for tickets. This had to be before we were hanging out. It was the Tunnel of Love tour and I got 13th row. I don’t remember what Michael got.
How did your playing in Michael’s band come about?
I don’t have a start date but I probably was playing with Fitz and Michael needed a bass player. I just started filling in here and there. Basically, time would go by and then, “I need ya for this one,” or “Can you do that one?” It’s been that way since the beginning. Whenever he needs me, I’ll be there, no problem. It’s really an honor just to be considered.
Aside from playing in Michael’s band, what other artists have you played with?
I still play with Fitz and the Celts. I play with the orphans – that’s Angelos band. Angelo has always been a great teacher of music. I’ve played with Gary Stier for about a year. He’s also a tremendous teacher. I’ve learned a lot from these two. And, playing with Fitzy has been great. I’ve been with him about 17 years.
You accompanied Michael on a trip to Ireland some time ago. Could you share a bit about that whole experience?
I was just moving back from Milwaukee. I’d just broke up with a girl, and Michael asked me if I wanted to go. It was just a vacation – we went to have fun. We had such a great time we missed our plane on purpose to stay longer. We went to Galway, and a bunch of small towns…spent 14 days in Dublin, though. We’d drink all night, sleep all day. It was the time of our lives. It was great. Of course, Michael had to meet a girl and invite her back to Chicago. She showed up at our apartment a year later to stay with us for a month…ran up a huge phone bill and eventually we had to change the locks. She was the only bad part. But, we had fun
Do you ever encourage Michael to add some of his older, unreleased songs to the setlist?
I have tons of demos from back in the day. I suggest some stuff. Some songs he says, “Yeah, that was cool” or “No, I don’t like that one.” This only happens when I open that old demo box and listen to stuff. I’ll be like, “Dude, remember this song?” I think he’s re-used many lyrics from the old stuff. He does that a lot with songs.
Do you and/or the other band members offer suggestions on playing songs differently from Michael’s original intent for them?
He’s totally open to anyone’s suggestions to help a song. If he likes it, he’ll do it.
You went through a very serious health crisis in 2002. Can you share a bit about that?
Michael was great. He came to the hospital and all…took me to radiation a couple times…and the East Coast trip. That was the trip when the ice went through the windshield. NYC was great. Rick Conrad and his brother were out in New York. The boys were back in town. There were so many people – family and friends – I couldn’t have done it without them. The fans were great, too. I got so many cards from people that I didn’t even know, yet they knew who I was.
Do you have a favorite McDermott song?
Day like Tomorrow is one of my personal favorites
Michael’s music prominently features the duality of an almost perverse pleasure in debauchery juxtaposed with a deep reverence and spirituality How do you interpret this?
I guess with Michael – and he might feel the same – it’s like in Bruce’s “Backstreets”… “trying to learn how to walk like the heroes we thought we had to be.” Don’t quote Michael on that…but for me, yeah, be it an actor, writer or singer, if I really like them… some part of you tries to be like them. I guess any performer tries to emulate their heroes.
Can you share one or two things you know about Michael that even his longtime fans might find surprising?
Well I have to save something, ya know – if I ever need it told hold it over his head…
Interview by Mil Scott