by Andi Bricklin
It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to experience being in the presence of an artist of Mac’s caliber, yet when I was asked to review the NON-COMMvention line up to see if there was anyone in particular who I was interested in interviewing, I have to admit that I had to remind myself of just who Ian McLagan was. Well shame on me, of course I know who he is! Mac’s unique keyboard style and sound is recognized on such legendary songs as the Faces’ “Stay with Me”, Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” and “You Wear it Well”, as well as “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones. In 2012 he was inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Small Faces/Faces. He has toured and/or recorded with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams, and is arguably the coolest “musician’s musician” I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak with.
With a wealth of knowledge and a first hand glimpse of how the music industry has changed over the years, I ask Mac to share his feelings on the current state of the music industry and what he thought were some positive and negative impacts on the art itself. “I try not to think about the music industry, but I have seen a rise in indie record stores and vinyl sales. My new album is going to be released on vinyl, I read that 50% of new albums are being released on vinyl and that number keeps rising.”
Mac reminds me that music has become so manufactured, that we forget what it’s like to just listen to the music through real speakers. “Everyone’s walking around with the music being fed into your ears, but when you listen through a really good set of speakers, you’re listening WITH your ears.” It’s a heavy concept, when you think about it. A good set of speakers moves air, and when that air moves–you can feel it, and that feeling sparks an emotional response. That response is the art of song. Great advice!
From there I ask him to tell me what kind of music he listens to when he’s not performing or recording. “I grew up listening to Little Walter and Muddy Waters, and I enjoy Blues and Rock n’ Roll.” Mac admits that he hasn’t looked at the charts in a while but he was very excited to talk about a young band that he recently saw on Letterman.
“Have you seen this band?! The Strypes?” he asks.
I reply, “The White Stripes?”
“No,” he says, “just ‘The Strypes’. They’re a group of 17-19 year olds from Ireland, and they were just fast and furious, they reminded me a lot of the Small Faces when we first started out, you have to check them out on YouTube, just Google ‘The Strypes, Letterman’.” I did, they are amazing!
Mac made the move from Los Angeles to Austin in 1994. “I decided that after the earthquake of ‘94, it was time to get out. I considered every major city that had a music scene and the answer was Austin. There is every kind of music here, and it’s full of live music and musicians.”
Speaking of musicians, Mac has an amazing group backing him up in the Bump Band. “When I moved to Austin I told my friend Paul Weller, who had produced some tracks for Elton John, I need a guitarist. He introduced me to Scrappy Newcomb and we’ve been together for 20 years.” Other members of the Bump Band include bassist Jon Notarthomas (Aimee Bobruk, Craig Marshall), and drummer Conrad Choucroun (Damnations, NRBQ and Bob Schneider).
So how has the move to Austin influenced Ian’s songwriting? “I wrote a song called “Warm Rain”. I’ve never felt warm rain before, you know?”
Mac comes to Philadelphia on Thursday, May 15th, 2014 for the NON-COMMvention and is hosting and performing the “Rock’s Not Dead!” set along with three up-and-coming bands: Those Darlins, Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires, and Benjamin Booker. He also has a new record being released June 17th on Yep Roc Records.
“I’m excited about this album because it’s the first one I didn’t engineer. Darwin Smith engineered the album and he also filmed the video.” Mac surrounds himself with great talent and they work together in the process. “I write the songs, and the whole band plays and works on arrangements and we see what works. It’s like chipping away at a sculpture.”
You can listen to the Rock’s Not Dead set during the NON-COMMvention starting at 8:00 p.m. on WXPN at 88.5 FM or online at xpn.org. While listening, remember some final words from Mac: “Support live music, and always listen to music WITH your ears, not just with music IN your ears.”
Great piece on Ian.
I was lucky to have had a friend call me back in the Spring/Summer of ’79 to invite me along to see The New Barbarians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Barbarians_%28band%29) at Capital Center in Landover, Md.
“I’d never heard of them”, he mused “but I read the ad and it listed Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Stanley Clarke, Ziggaboo Modeliste, Bobby Keys, Bobby Keys & Ian McClagan. So…damn.) He had me at Keith and Stanley.
We we’re two among roughly 3,000 in the cavernous, mostly empty hall, and I heard what was for me one of the best sounding shows ever. It was interesting that it took place in a largely unpeopled arena (FOH engineers always promise that ‘things will sound better’ once the room is filled with people). Another premium sounding show was years later, outdoors at RFK Stadium–The Stones Steel Wheels tour. That was in a steady driving rain. I fancy that the two concerts were perhaps mixed by the same folks.
Ian McClagan: A great one, no doubt, who’s playing (and writing) will continue to enrich and inspire.
Thank you for sharing this Jon. Andi and I met Ian back in May, he was a very sweet man.