Writer: Brian Lush
LOVE LIKE THIS
MIKE ZITO TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT HIS LATEST CD 'TODAY'
GROWING AS A SONGWRITER
AND MAKING THE ALBUM HE'S ALWAYS DREAMED OF
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
While MIKE ZITO has released CD's in the past, it was funny for me to hear him refer to his latest release 'TODAY' (ECLECTO GROOVE RECORDS) as a real album. I was curious as to why he saw it that way. "I got to be in a real studio with a producer and musicians." says ZITO "The whole thing was recorded and mixed in eight days. The band recorded all of their parts in three days and I did a couple of days of overdubs, but most of the album was recorded live. It was like making a real record."
ZITO is right to be blown away by the results. 'TODAY' is some of the finest roots rock this side of JOHN HIATT's 'BRING THE FAMILY'. Heartfelt and brash, ZITO's enthusiastic approach to songcraft is matched only by DAVID Z's flawless production and a top notch session band (which includes keyboardist BENMONT TENCH of TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS). While ZITO was in awe at the fact of working with an ace production team, it was actually something that he saw in the cards for himself, when as a youth he looked on the back cover of PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION's PURPLE RAIN and saw DAVID Z.'s name as producer. "I've been a fan of PRINCE since I was in high school." remembers ZITO. "When I was a kid and saw the name DAVID Z., I always thought 'Maybe that guy's name is DAVID ZITO!' 'Maybe I'll get to work with him someday!' It's actually true. I told him (DAVID Z.) that when I first met him and he thought I was crazy. When DAVID came onto the project, we were able to get all of these wonderful musicians involved."
ROCKWIRED spoke with MIKE as he was on a break from an extensive tour. He had just come out of the movie theater after seeing GET SMART with his son. Here is how it went.
It's pretty early in the tour right now and you're already finding time for a little break.
We've been out since last month ever since the album came out and I've been gone since then and I won't be home until around the first of July. We've got a couple of spots were we're off for a night or two , and right now I'm around St. Louis which is where grew up and mom and my oldest son live here, so it's pretty much worked out. It was good spending time with them.
This is a great CD you've got by the way.
Thank you very much.
Now that it's out there for everybody to hear, how do you feel about it?
I've made records before and I've done things and I don't mean this in any negative way, but I like it too. I think it's good. I'm happy and this is the one where the recording is what I've always hoped for and I feel that anyone who listens to it is going to get the chance to finally hear me. I like the songs. Whenever you're recording something, I'll listen back and hear all of the flaws at first and listen for things that I wish I would've done this way or that way. But now, it's been long enough since I've worked on the album and I'm really happy with it. I'm pleased with it.
In reading about you it said that before getting this album recorded, you had approached it with a clean slate and a fresh outlook. Had life fallen apart?
It did fall apart but that was about ten years ago. Five years ago, I started putting it back together and getting my shit together, and I did. In five years after starting over, I've done all of the things that I had ever wanted to do which was sign a record deal with a good label and live the life of a musician which was something that I always wanted to do ever since I was a kid. In the past I had missed opportunities over and over again just from drinking like a fish and being crazy. If all of this had happened ten years ago, I'm pretty sure I would've pissed it all away.
What was your introduction to music?
Nobody in my family plays music at all but my Dad really liked music. I was a big fan and he had a lot of records so we listened to music alot. There was a lot of jazz and SINATRA and things like that. I got a record player when I was eight and the first album that I ever got was VAN HALEN.
The very first one back 1978. I had an older brother and older sisters that handed off their records to me, so that was how I got into music. I just listened to everything. I started snging in a band in high school, and up until that point I had never seen anyone play guitar before that wasn't famous and I was like "Wow!".
That is something! It's that same thing for me when I was a kid.
Yeah. There's something to be said for that. And that guy who played guitar is, to this day, one of my closest friends. I walked up to this band and I said 'I heard you're looking for a lead singer." I was like fourteen of fifteen years old and this guy had an electric guitar and a MARSHALL amp and this guy is playing and it's sounding exactly like what I'd hear on the records and for me it was unbelievable. It was like "How did you learn to do that?". From that moment on, it was like "Okay, I've got to learn. I've got to figure out how to do that." So, I got a guitar in high school and started learning how to play it. Right out of high school, I got a job at a guitar store and I worked there for ten years. That was the best job in the whole world. Everyone that worked there was older and played for a living and I learned just about everything you could possibly learn about an electric guitar.
When did songwriting begin for you?
Pretty young. I was in a band with those guys from high school. Of course we did covers and all of that but the guitar player had stuff that he had come up with and we had a handful of songs right there. That was when I started writing songs and I just continued to do it. It was just something that came easy and I guess I sort of took it for granted. I couldn't always play the guitar like the actual record because I didn't have a lot of training so I kind of wrote my own songs just to have stuff to play.
How does a song get written for you? How does it go from a simple idea to this thing that everyone is listening to?
That's an interesting question. I don't know if it's one hundred percent explainable. I don't know that I have an exact process that I've whiddled out. There are times where I've hummed something in my head and have come up with a line and it's like "Oh, thats kind of cool!", and then eventually it becomes a song. Ussually, what happened is I end up coming up thinking about what I want to write about, then I'll start with a title. That comes from being a kid. When me and my friends were young, we always wanted to make movies and we'd come up with titles. I did the same with songs and I kind of went from there. Most of the songs I've written are kind of from experience so they come together pretty easily. I haven't really crafted and mastered the art of songwriting but I have a couple of songs that I wrote were it was like I just wrote a song. It had nothing to do with something happening to me last year,or anything like that. I simply wanted to write a song and that ws what I did. An example of that is the song 'SUPERMAN'. You hear these great songs on the radio and they're really hook-y and you're thinking 'Man! Where do people get this shit? Where do they come up with it?' 'SUPERMAN' was one of the first instances where I feel like I just wrote a song.
I understand what you mean completely, just by the title alone.
Yeah, it's not about me or anything. I really love songwritng now more than ever. I really love LYLE LOVETTE, and JOHN HIATT. I really like songwriters where you hear their work and you wonder where the hell they got it from. They have really mastered this art of storytelling and they all can't be personal experience. They get ideas and they're poets. The poetry aspect is the part I'm working on. The best songs of mine, I think , were the ones that were written in about ten to fifteen minutes. It's like the song was already there and when it's all over, I'm wondering if it was actually someone elses song. Luckily when I go back and listen to my music collection, that's not the case. When I try to write a song, it really doesn't work out. It'll get things moving and when I start making myself write. Ussually within three or four songs, I might be on to something, but the ones that I end up liking are the songs that just kind of happened.
Who all worked with you, production-wise, on the CD?
Oh man, I was really lucky! DAVID Z was our producer and he was co-produced by TONY BRAUNAGEL, who was also our drummer on the record. This whole record was kind of a fluke actually. I got the label interested and I had put out an independent release in 2006 called 'SUPERMAN'. Finally, it seemed like I was starting to get somewhere with songwriting and sining. Things were coming together but initially, the record company was simply going to re-release 'SUPERMAN' and re-mix it. TONY BRAUNAGEL was hired on to work with me and luckily enough, he listened to it and he really liked it and he said "You need to do a real record. These are good songs!" So we went to the label and convinced them and then DAVID Z. came in. He produced 'PURPLE RAIN' and lot of other PRINCE records. I've been a fan of PRINCE since I was in high school. When I was a kid and saw the name DAVID Z. I always thought 'maybe that guy's name is DAVID ZITO!' 'Maybe I'll get to work with him someday!' It's actually true. I told him that when I first met him and he thought I was crazy. When DAVID came on to the project we were able to get all of these wonderful musicians involved. TONY BRAUNAGEL himself has been a drummer for BONNIE RAITT and has worked with TAJ MAHAL for years. He brought in HUTCH HUTCHINSON who has been BONNIE RAITT's bass player for the past twenty years. He's also played with everyone from the ROLLING STONES to JOHNNY CASH. BENMONT TENCH played keyboards on this album and he's been with TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS since the beginning for over thirty years now. I just felt like I had no business playing music with these people at all. So this was a pretty good first real record. Everyone really wanted to do it and it all fell in place.
It's very interesting for me to hear you call this one the "real" record. Were the other albums fake?
They were what they were. The very first one I did was about ten or twelve years ago, and the guy that I worked with at the music store gave me two thousand dollars. That was one thousand dollars to record my album in one day. We did the whole thing live. The other thousand dollars went to print a thousand CDs. It was in a guys basement in St. Louis. It got things started. For the second album, this other guy got involved and we threw a little more money in and spent all of this time and then the album kind of sat there and then the third one was recorded in my living room with a home recording machine. The fourth one was recorded was recorded in a shed in the back of a guy's house.
So by "real" record, you mean that you had time and money?
Yeah, and on those other albums, I did everything. I came up with the arrangements and I played all of the other instruments. They were very independent and very low budget but with 'TODAY', I got to be in a real studio with a producer and musicians. The whole thing was recorded and mixed in eight days. The band recorded all of their parts in three days and I did a couple of days of overdubs, but most of the album was recorded live. It was like making a real record.
You did make a real record. You did!
But it was the greatest thing in the world for me to be able to be there in the studio with these people who really liked my music. It was really fun.
You talked about the song SUPERMAN already, but what other songs off ot this CD sort of stand out for you at the moment?
You mean as in which ones I like?
Yes, and don't say that they are your children!
I really like 'LOVE LIKE THIS'. I've heard it so much on the internet and stuff when I go to check my MYSPACE or my e-mail and I'm like "Okay, I've heard this song before!", but I really like it. I really like 'SLOW IT DOWN' and I really like playing that one live. 'TIME TO GO HOME' is also another favorite but I'm not gonna lie to you. I like 'em all pretty much. Some of them I'm liking more now because we're playing them, like the song 'DIRTY THINGS' which was just this random song on one of my records. I had hardly ever played it live, but as we were going through, they picked it and everyone was like 'this is a really good song!' and I was like 'really?'. Now that we're playing it live, I'm really starting to like it. It's rockin' and it's really fun to play. I look forward to playing it every night.
That sort of falls into my next question. How are audiences taking it all in?
I've got a really good band and we play three piece. The drummer sings the background parts with me and it's a really good sound. I think we do the record justice even though there are only three of us. It's a stripped down version but the songs really come through. we have been killin'! It's been going real well! When we get going in front of a crowd, we seem to win them over and we've been selling a lot of CDs. Right now, we're getting sold in the bluesier side of the music industry. The record is bluesy, but I don't necessarily think it's blues in the traditional sense. So when we play these places, at first they are expecting some straight up blues, but they end up liking our music a little more maybe because there is a little more going on. There's some storytelling, some singing, some guitar playing going on and some stuff you can dance to.
What do you want someone to come away with after listening to 'TODAY?'
Well obviously, I hope they like it. I'm really proud of the record. I like it. I like the songs and I'm happy for them. I'm happy that they got their due and that they got the production that they deserve. I love making this music, so if enough people like it enough so that I can do more records, that will be great.
ROCKWIRED LIVE PRESENTS: MIKE ZITO
AND HIS CD 'TODAY'
SATURDAY, JULY 19, 2008 AT 5:00PM (PST) ON WWW.KTSTFM.COM
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