2. August 1999
mit Lee Leonard, News 12
Following is a summary of a television interview that Lee Leonard
of News 12 in New Jersey did with Robert Lamm on Aug. 2, 1999.
Why did the Chicago sound change?
Stone of Sisyphus album (not mentioned by name)
On Phoebe Snow:
On "Sleepin' in the Middle of the Bed Again":
On the song "Will People Ever Change?":
Lamm discussed the strains of being in Chicago:
About the early Chicago albums:
Asked about bands that tried to sound like Chicago:
He mentioned that the band has to fill the concert with songs from the Chicago 17 era.
What he listens to:
(End of interview)
Hi all! I just wanted to share with you a great interview that was in this months issue of the LIE (Long Island Entertainment). There's alot of great stuff here. I hope you all enjoy it.
Chicago's Robert Lamm:
Lamm, a New York City resident for much of this decade (He finds The Village to be vital and inspiring), remains one of the most candid interviews in the business. He doesn't dodge questions, he doesn't candy-coat and he's insightful. What make's him truly intriguing is that he never wanders into being disgusted by what he wishes was better, he just accepts it. But it's there, the heart of a musician that realizes that sometimes you have to be a pop star when you'd rather just be a player.
"We wanted to do an original album, top to bottom," begins Lamm on the new release, "but I think it scared 'em (the record company) because it wasn't their idea. What Warner Brothers prefers to do was exploit our '80's catalogue, I think that's what management wanted too, so we just added a couple of new songs and that was it. We're really excited about the new songs, "All Roads Lead To You" and "Show Me A Sign," because they were produced by Roy Bittan and he really gets what we do. He used to play keyboards in the E Street Band and from day one, he's always wanted the band to be what the band is".
To me what Chicago was at their absolute best, is a band without boundaries, a fabulous group of musicians that followed the muse, though the later stage of Chicago hasn't always been as experimental as they were in their early days. When the statement is put on the table, Lamm surprise with his frankness.
"What management...A&R... a label wants, is not necessarily what a band wants," begins Lamm, "but you do have to strike a balance. I wouldn't hesitate to say that our first seven, eight, nine albums were far more interesting than subsequent albums. We've been on tour for thirty years now and that's where we try to reconcile those two elements, the types of songs people want out of us and the way we'd like to play. We'd like to jam in a down and dirty way, open it up for over 2 hours, but we have such a mixture of fans now.
We could probably get away with it with 18 and 19 year olds if we were playing college dates, to be self indulgent and explore more things in the show, Underneath it all, the hits, the radio songs, still lurks a band that would rather be at the Fillmore East and exploring stuff. What makes things complicated is that when you do shows, you really want EVERYBODY to have a good time, and that also requires a balance. We've changed the show around, added a lot of surprises to the set and the production has been redone as well, so I think people will enjoy it. The other three founding members will still play many, many licks I've heard many, many times, but I do still love it, and we try to find different little ways to do certain songs but not too different. I still get nervous when we do tours and I hope that never changes, I hope that I never get so blas? about things that I don't get nervous, because that's when your supposed to stop. I'm a musician and I knew early on that I would be for life, so if people get tired of playing songs that make people happy, they're probably not doing it for the right reasons. As an artist, you'd always love to experiment more, but you also have to want to make fans happy and the sales will let you know what the popular songs are. There's just not time for everything and if we did more jamming, we'd do even less songs."
I mention Chicago's "Big Band" album from a few years back on Giant records, an album of standards from the jazz/swing era and Lamm lights up at the mention.
"In a way, we snuck that in," says Lamm, excitements rising in his voice, "we weren't Chicago the radio icon on that album, we were ourselves. That was an album we really did for us, one that we were really able to stretch out and play on. It was just taking some great songs that we all loved and making them Chicago songs. It was just a great time." It is also a method of album making that Chicago will visit again in the near future.
What else Lamm is really excited about is his third solo album, due out this fall. Where a lot of members of big bands step out to investigate their own popularity, Lamm has been making solo albums for the reason you really do it... he's making music that he loves that doesn't fit into the context of what Chicago does. Though the band is quite busy this year, Lamm hopes that time will allow him to do a few solo shows.
"It's kind of an urban, triphopppy thing," says Lamm of his John Van Epps produced solo album, "I had close to 20 songs for it but we used 10. John (Van Epps) picked the songs because I'm the worst guy at doing that. It was just a great time, I got to work with a lot of wonderful people like Phoebe Snow, John McCurry (ex- Cindi Lauper), Eric Troyer, Jeff Mironoff and John (Van Epps), and it's the first of a three album deal with Mystic Music. They're a small label, but they're going to get a single out and a video and they really let me do what I wanted to do. I also have an album, a trio project with Jeff Buckley and Carl Wilson that nobody's heard and I know that will be out in the future. I'm having a great time with my life. Being able to do the solo stuff gives you the freedom that a band can't always give you because as a solo artist, the expectations are different. I get to play with Chicago, which has made everything in my life possible, and I get to go do different things on my own, so how could I ask for anything more?"
As Lamm gets ready to head another show, I ask in passing if the book he's thought of doing, from time to time about the life and times of Chicago, will ever come.
"I don't know," say Lamm candidly, "sometimes I think I should do it, most times I think that things should be left the way they are. I know I wouldn't do it until Chicago is over with and, right now, we still don't see the end of the line. We can still tour, we still feel we have a lot of music we want to make and as long as people still come to see us, we'll be there."
For whatever the restrictions the business may place on Robert Lamm, the people have proven they WILL be there. And Chicago, regardless of what they might want to do on any given day, will be right there, the way they want them to be.
Robert Lamm Talks about Chicago's Muscial Direction
Tired of Bland Pop, Chicago wants to take back control of it's sound. (Originally from Indianapolis Star and News) by Marc D. Allan Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, July 25 '96.
Copyright 1996 Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
But not Chicago. Its members are only too happy to tell you how lackluster their group has been for the past 15 years.
"Once Terry Kath died (in 1978), the hard-driving, hard-blowing Chicago that we all knew during the 70's went away," says keyboardist and original member Robert Lamm. "Unfortunately, at the same time, punk and new wave was upon us, and we certainly didn't fit into that. So it wasn't until '82, when we started doing this very '80s greed-is-good, pop-love-ballad stuff that we were able to survive as a band."
Soft-rock hits such as "Hard to Say I'm Sorry", "Love me Tomorrow", "Stay the Night", "Hard Habit to Break" and "Look Away" enabled Chicago to sustain a career founded in 1967 on a foundation of jazzy, horn-dominated rock.
But as one ballad led to another, several members grew increasingly unhappy. They wanted to rock, and they thought the band's live shows suffered when the sets became too dependent on soft rock.
This summer (1996), Chicago is on the road with Crosby, Stills & Nash.
In an interview three years ago, trombonist and founding member James Pankow put it succinctly: "This band has enormous talent, and that talent has pretty much been locked up in a closet for the sake of this formula pop."
Lamm feels the same way. "But unlike Pankow, I accept the responsibility for participating in it," he says.
"But by around 1993, we had all had it up to here with record companies, with radio," says Lamm, author of Chicago classics such as "Saturday in the Park" and "25 or 6 to 4."
"I finally got on my little pedestal... and said, 'I have to tell you guys, I enjoy my standard of living (which is why he didn't quit the band), but I'm enjoying it less because I would really rather succeed or fail on our own merits rather than doing what everyone tells us we should do.'"
Lamm thinks the direction may change with the creation of Chicago Records, which will distribute the band's future discs.
Chicago's new company won't have the huge publicity budget that the band's old label, Columbia Records, could provide. But Chicago will have creative control over its music.
Lamm says the band expects to release a greatest-hits disc , including some new songs, later this year, and a new studio album in 1997.
Meanwhile, Chicago Records has released Lamm's new solo album, "Life is Good in My Neighborhood," which was borne out of frustration with the direction Chicago has been heading. The disc's centerpiece is "All the Years," about the country coming apart at the seams.
"I've always been a songwriter and a singer who wants to sing and write about things other than love," Lamm says. "Historically, whether is's 'Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?' or 'Dialogue' or 'Saturday in the Park,' they're not love songs. They're more about the human spirit or condition. More and more, I was not being fulfilled with Chicago. After taking a break from songwriting for about 8 years, I realized I really missed being fulfilled."
He played the songs for producer Phil Ramone (who has worked with Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra and Sinead O'Connor, among many others). Ramone told him Chicago fans missed that element of the band and suggested he write songs in that vein.
"I feel like I'm hitting a mid-life renaissance," Lamm says. "It feels kind of good."
" Calgary Sun"
By DAVID VEITCH
Calgary Sun - Saturday, March 1, 1996
His band records for its own independent record label. He wants nothing to do with major labels and condemns the "corporatethink" that drives the music industry.
But he's not a moody Seattle grunge type, or an indignant, snot-nosed punk-rocker.
He's Robert Lamm, 51, a driving force behind the veteran "rock band with horns" Chicago, which performs at the Jubilee Auditorium next Saturday. "We spent a dozen years with CBS and Warner Bros. Everything we suspected was wrong with big record companies is indeed what's wrong with big record companies," says Lamm in a telephone interview.
Why the bitterness, especially from a band that has sold more than 100 million albums in its 27-year recording career and remains a popular concert draw?
The answer partially lies in Stone of Sisyphus, intended to be Chicago's 22nd album (and second to be given an actual title, not a number). Recorded in 1993, it never has been released. The album was first rejected by Reprise, which subsequently dropped the band. Chicago's next label, Giant, also rejected Stone and ushered the group into the studio to record last year's Night and Day, a collection of big band covers that sold poorly. Since then, Chicago and Giant have parted company and the group has formed its own label, Chicago Records, which has reissued the band's first 14 records and has put out a new Canada-only hits compilation, Overtime, that features two tracks from The Great Lost Chicago Album.
"It was demoralizing. It was frustrating. But, at that point, our hands were tied," Lamm says about trying to get Sisyphus released. "We were in love with the Sisyphus album, so it was a little difficult to let go of the idea of releasing it in its entirety. But Š there's a very likely possibility we'll be releasing the album in its entirety anyway in late fall."
Lamm is also raiding the vaults, hoping to put together an album of Chicago out-takes, an album of live performances, and an album of recordings made by Terry Kath, the group's original guitarist who accidentally shot himself in 1978.
Chicago's future may be in its own hands now, but the band still faces a difficult task in resurrecting its moribund record sales. The group enjoyed success with slick power ballads in the '80s , but these records alienated many older fans who remembered Chicago as a jamming, rock-jazz combo responsible for such brassy hits as 25 or 6 to 4, Feeling Stronger Every Day and Make Me Smile. When slick power ballads went out of style, so did Chicago.
"It's pretty interesting how the stuff from the first few albums holds up very nice and, in some ways, better than some of the stuff we did in the late '80s and '90s," says Lamm.
"There is a strong feeling we want to move as far away from the middle of the road that we were on, especially in the '80s. That's pretty much the manifesto. We want to get back to the side of Chicago that most people relate to, which is the first few albums. That concept; not necessarily that sound."
Indeed, that sound would be difficult to re-create. Kath is gone, and so are two other original members: Singer Peter Cetera, who launched a successful solo career in 1985, and drummer Danny Seraphine, who was fired in 1990.
The split with crooner-bassist Cetera was particularly acrimonious, though Lamm insists the bitterness has "mellowed out." But don't expect a reunion just yet.
"We have certainly talked to Peter through a third party about either touring with Chicago, or doing an appearance with Chicago, because we had heard he was interested in doing that. But it turns out he is not interested," Lamm says.
I ask Lamm about the band's work in the European market and, quite unexpectedly, the anti-establishment part of him surfaces again. "I don't want to quibble," he says, ready to quibble, "but I really resist calling those regions markets. I think record companies do."
Record companies also call albums: product.
"That drives me crazy. And we're meat that sings. Chicago: Meat That Sings." That should be the title for your next album, Robert. Much better than 2, or 6, or 17.
"Yeah, it's got a Zappa thing to it."