METH on PAT DiNIZIO 1/23/07
THE SMTHEREENS: SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW
NJís Own Smithreens return with a Beatles tribute to end all Beatlesí tributes.
Itís a little embarrassing. Iím experiencing Smithermania and for a man my age, that can be hazardous. Pat DiNizio isnít worried, though. The bandís lead-singer/songwriter savant continues pumping me with coffee, knocking back three to my one, chain-smoking cigarettes like thereís no tomorrow, and perhaps there isnít. Weíre in his kitchen, discussing his groupís new album "Meet the Smithereens," the rigors of recording, and what a long, strange trip itís been for the best band New Jerseyís ever served up.
Meth: I suspect the seed for "Meet the Smithereens" was planted when you recorded "I Want to Tell You" for "Songs From The Material World (A Tribute to George Harrison)".
DiNizio: Not at all. I was very much against recording that because the arrangement for "I Want to Tell You" was absolutely perfect on "Revolver" and I couldnít imagine any way that we could improve it. For years, we were asked to do cover songs for movies. We did "Time Wonít Let Me" for "Time Cop" and it was okay, but thereís not too much you can do with it, so I was very anti- doing cover songs unless we could absolutely make them our own. Somehow, we did achieve that with "I Want to Tell You".
Meth: Itís the best track on that album. Most of those tracks werenít repeatable--not Bill Wymanís, not John Entwhistleís. Iím not saying this because weíre pals or because Iím sitting in your kitchen drinking your bad coffee.
DiNizio: You donít like the coffee?
Meth: I love the coffee but Iím starting to tremble.
DiNizio: The track works well because itís like The Who meets The Beatles but it still sounds like us. I came and did my vocals and split. We have a lot of coversósome are good and some are not so good. When they were making this Christian Slater movie "Kuffs," they wanted us to record a version of The Whoís "Shaking All Over" from "Live at Leeds"--but they wanted it to sound like The Talking Heads. Itís like, "What are you, dreaming? Weíre The Smithereens, not The Talking Heads." So we did it and itís okay. We did "Wooly Bully" for "Encino Man" and Ringoís "It Donít Come Easy" and then I didnít want to do anything we couldnít improve on... With "Meet the Smithereens," which is our song-for-song recreation and interpretation of the first American release by The Beatles on Capital, we follow closely the structure of the songs while maintaining our own identity.
Meth: Your gigs--even your solo performances--often have Beatles songs.
DiNizio: We learned from the masters, from The Beatles, The Byrds, The Beau Brummels. We learned from newer groups like The Jam about live performance. They were contemporaries of ours. You take different things from different sources. What weíre trying to achieve with the new CD is the subtle background sounds of The Beatles without losing ourselves. Come on--letís play a couple tracks.
So we played a couple tracks and I was bowled over. It was like hearing The Beatles again for the first timeóall that freshness and energy, a fierce lack of digital affectation, and those instantly memorable signatures that informed my musical sensibilities for the rest of my life. And yet it was still a Smithereens album. Jersey beat meets Mersey beat. I remembered why I love this band.
Meth: When you first started, who did you want to sound like?
DiNizio: I donít know that we were going for a soundóI think it just happened. The band stills sounds very much the way we did when we first sat down and played together in my dadís basement in Scotch Plains in 1980. It hasnít changed that much except, perhaps, the songs have matured. Some of the first songs I wrote, while charming, are not great compositions. Itís someone learning how to write songs. Yet some of them--in fact my first composition, "I Donít Want to Lose You"--wound up on ďEspecially For YouĒ and a lot of folks like that song. So you never know. It took a long time to get to that point--understanding how songs work, the mechanics of songs, having to dig deep inside and come up with melodies that are memorable. The hurdle I had to get over in terms of my live performances was when it dawned on me on stage one evening at Kennyís Castaways that I was singing original material that contained lyrics that revealed a lot of my inner life to complete strangers. Eventually, I figured out that this is the job, this is what I do.
Meth: Did you know you had a hit when you wrote certain songs? Say "Blood and Roses"?
DiNizio: The only time I had that feeling was with "Girl Like You," which was written for Cameron Croweís film ďSay Anything.Ē After a minor argument with producer James L. Brooks, we decided to take the song back. Obviously I had a feeling at the time that it was a hit or we would have given it to them. But my feeling was based in part on the fact that the first album was a hit, the second album had a #1 rock radio single, we were on a roll, and it was likely that radio would receive a song like this from us. I remember my wife at the time saying, "Itís a good song, but itís not your best song."
Meth: What did she think your best song was?
DiNizio: I remember while writing Smithereens 11 playing a demo of "Blue Period" and my wife said, "Did you really write this song?" Not saying how good it was but inferring that it baffled her that I was able to come up with it.
Meth: "Blue Period" might be my favorite.
DiNizio: My wife was of the opinion that songs like "Blue Period" should have been hits. They werenít. They were handled improperly or perhaps they were out of time. They might have hit in 1966 or Ď67. There were always problems on every level, with management, with distribution. But letís not go there.
Meth: What do you prefer--live or the studio?
DiNizio: I enjoy the immediate feedback that you get from an audience; you know whether you are on your game or not, whether people are enjoying it. But the studio is fulfilling on another level. Itís more difficult to get to where you can say I enjoy listening to it because itís a building stage. You start with basic tracks and layer and mix. You donít know really, until the eleventh hour, whether what youíve done has any meritl. For me, going in the studio is very difficult. I donít enjoy the process. I appreciate it. Iím happy to still have the ability to make records, but itís not funÖIt was fun in the early days, when we hadnít yet made records, but it was always pressure. I still get that tingling, that sense of excitement whenever we go in, but itís stressful because I really work at it and I want everything to be the best that I can get.
It shows on ďMeet the SmithereensĒóthe bandís most ambitious project to date.
Reprinted from The Aquarian
© 2007 Clifford Meth