Psychedelic Fanzine Interviews Brian Gladstone
Double Issue # 11 / 12 – September 2002. – Forward by Hedegus Mark, Editor, Psychedelic Fanzine
Toronto singer-guitarist Brian Gladstone is an inspired finger-picking guitar player, a colourful performer and a passionate songwriter. A true original who forges his own path in the world of music, Gladstone’s first release (1999’s "Back to the Dirt") led to immediate airplay and international recognition. Now Gladstone is back with the playfully-titled "Psychedelic Pholk Psongs"–an important new step in the evolution of an exciting career.
Gladstone grew up to the sounds of Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul & Mary; Phil Ochs and other Sixties trailblazers. The honesty in Gladstone’s songs is a tribute to the early greats of folk music, as is his dedication to acoustic instruments and to natural-sounding records.
When he started work on his second cd, Brian approached the project with his trademark straightforwardness. The result is an organic and spontaneous-sounding collection of nineteen original songs, recorded as simply as possible in Gladstone’s eclectic home studio. "Psychedelic Pholk Psongs" features Gladstone’s intricate guitar and banjo work, complemented perfectly by Tony Quarrington on additional guitars. Daisy DeBolt, Ron Korb and Maureen Brown also make
significant musical contributions, as does Brian’s sister Bonnie Gladstone on harmony vocals. Inberview conducted with mastermind Brian Gladstone.
Reprinted from Psychedelic Fanzine, September 2002
Interview Conducted with Mastermind Brian Gladstone
Since I really don’t know much about your band, let’s start with a brief history. How long have you been playing music, what bands did you play in before, and how did the band "Brian Gladstone" get started…
I was just an ordinary guy till a few years ago. I have played my guitar and written songs since I was a teenager. However it wasn’t until 1998 that I decided to record an album. I had always been a closet musician till then, just playing my tunes around the house. There is not really any history to tell you – I have no previous bands and not much musically history. The band was only formed in the last two years.
Are you a trained musician? If yes, then to what extent? Which happened first for you, country or playing guitar?
As a musician I have not had any formal training. All of my learning came from a few different sources such as books, but mostly watching and listening to other guitar players. I started to play the guitar in 1964 after the Beatles came to North America. Every boy I knew at the time learned to play the guitar – because chicks always liked boys with a guitar. I have studied many of the master finger picking guitar players such as Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Blake and more. I would practice their guitar playing for hours every day. I also learned rock and blues guitar – growing up in the 60s there was certainly no shortage of great guitar players to emulate. And then I started to listen to a lot of folk, ragtime, and bluegrass — then I guess styles together somewhat combined with my style – and Im sure you can hear all the influences.
With regard to your 'country' reference in your question – I really didn’t conceive or even vaguely envision abort music being called country. Then I seemed to be getting a great deal of radio play from Country Stations – and I thought to myself. "Am I one of those country dudes now?" And I suppose the answer was 'yes', I was one of those country dudes. So as you can see the desire to 'go country' was more a matter of fate than it was a conscious planned strategic decision.
What is your music all about? Any message you’re trying to convey?
I think they main thing in the music is fun – I like to think my music is happy and uplifting – as that's how I feel most of the time. The music wants to give something to the listener. I write about real things, subjects which are on my mind and offer my perspective on the topics I write about. I get quite a few emails in which people are offering their interpretation about the lyrics.
Describe in words, to the best of your ability, the overall sound of the Brian Gladstone Band.
I like to surround myself with great talent on the stage. We have a four piece band – all have strong music careers on their own. I truly test the band constantly – we seldom rehearse – everybody works on their stuff individually and separately – and when we meet on the stage there is room for much improvisation and spontaneity. And whenever they catch on – I change something without warning and they always seem to follow seamlessly. Im very fortunate to have these great musicians playing with me.
My back up guitar player, Tony Quarrington is not only a renowned jazz guitarist with several successful albums, but also is an award winning producer and writer. I think we play well together – bring out the best in each other – both of us listen and try to feed the other one ideas and leave holes for their notes. Rarely do we play the same thing the same, ever. His guitar playing always has a motive, is tastefully, articulate, and Tony has a genius ability to anticipate where I am headed and find all the notes to take the song to the audience. He is a master of the instrument.
Our percussion player, Maureen Brown, is one of the best blues and jazz drummers in the country. Maureen is an award winning drummer and vocalist. Normally she plays with her own band at clubs and festivals. But she doesn’t use her drum kit with my band – she bangs sticks, brushes, washboards, and shakes eggs – she just senses what we need and fills in the rhythm with natural sounds of mostly wood. We are really luck to have Maureen in the band.
The other vocalist is my younger sister, Bonnie Gladstone. Once she was referred to as Sister Bonnie in a magazine – as if they thought she was a nun. I don’t think that is likely. Bonnie is like the designated driver of the band. She is the most true to the music – and not only brings her beautiful harmonies and perfect sense of relative pitch – but while Im playing and stretching the tunes she is always bringing me back to the musical basics. Bonnie has always believed in my music, and has been singing with me since we were children. I never know what to expect from Bonnie as she is impulsive and intense. Sometimes I think she is the spine of the band.
What do you consider as influences for the music?
Everything I have every seen or done.
How would you compare "Psychedelic Pholk Songs" to the debut album "Back to the dirt" in terms of songwriting style and in terms of production?
I think Psychedelic Pholk Psongs is a more mature album. They are both bear my stamp, but Back to the Dirt was a bit of a learning curve, so we used what we learned on Psychedelic Pholk Psongs.
What’s the significance of the title "Back to the Dirt", and what are your favorite tracks off the debut?
It is hard to ground yourself through concrete. I used to say we are all going 'Back to the Dirt' weather we liked it or not – it is something over which we have no control. It is our past as well as our future. I always recognized the great power of the earth – everything we are comes from the planet – we are a part of it and it is a part of us.
'Back to the Dirt' has significance at many different levels. Our negative energy can be electro-statically discharged through the souls of our feet like a sponge osmosisly into the core. We can become reenergized and refreshed anew. All levels of peace start within, not without. Inner peace can only be found when we put ourselves at the same potential as the planet. It is a prerequisite condition to achieve a true state of equilibrium, provides the core of one's aura, the platform for our inner energy, the catalyst of our energy source – but most important acts as the filter to purify our bodies and maintain our concept of truth. When you feel blue, take a walk in the woods with your shoes off. Let your feet touch the dirt to discharge the negative ions and collect the truth, let your hands feel the texture of the leaves, and let all the cells of your body electrostatically discharge themselves and reach the same potential as the planet. That's 'Back to the Dirt'. We've all been there – it’s a very refreshing, self-propelling, perpetually powering, and a feeling of wholeness and inner contentment. Sometimes we forget that place, so Back to the Dirt can be a reminder.
On another level, I see an incredible power in nature – so strong as mankind cannot fully comprehend the magnitude. There is more power dissipated in a hurricane which is really an insignificant gesture for nature – than man can produce in a hundred years. Nature can stamp us out easily – with a simple blast from her nostril – and let it all start over again. There is incredible balanced self-regulating system on our planet – it will always reach its natural state of equilibrium. Back to the Dirt can be the consequence of disturbing this fine level of balance, and man does every day. But its coming back to hurt us – we are dying of our own pollution and being baked solar rays we invite in.
There's much more to 'Back to the Dirt'. We all know the answer if we look inside. I really believe that .
How has the debut album sold, and are you going to keep this in print?
From the viewpoint of a basement recorded debut album from a virtual unknown singer songwriter – 'Back to the Dirt' has done tremendously well. It has gone to two pressings, and they are almost sold out again. Im not really sure about the future of 'Back to the Dirt' at this point in time. It's almost become an underground cult kind of album in some places – and its becoming more rare and harder to find. (although we have a few hundred copies available). I would suppose if there is a demand, we may send them for a third pressing. Its just something we will have to watch as it unfolds – and wait for a signal to react and make a decision about something.
If I’m well informed, then both of your records are self-released, so have any European (or even Stateside) labels expressed interest in releasing future Brian Gladstone recordings?
Yes you are truly well informed, both records were self-released. 'Back to the Dirt' was eventually signed with Comstock Records in Arizona – and they were great at getting lots of European airplay and putting me in contact with high profile DJs and lots of people I need to know. It was a short-term arrangement, which has now lapsed, but Frank Fara at Comstock did a great job.
'Psychedelic Pholk Psongs' was released in September 2001 – and you know what happened that month! It was a real challenge to get some promo happening, but we did our best. After getting reasonable airplay and some publicity, we starting talking to labels in January 2002. We were intrigued by the offer from Murray Krugman at 'Silverwolf Records.' Silverwolf is a folk and roots label whose artists included giants as Odetta, Kingston Trio, Josh White Jr, and the Kerville Folk Festival – so we very impressed with their mix and thought our mission for roots and purity was a perfect fit for the Silverwolf concept. We signed 'Psychedelic Pholk Psongs' with Silverwolf in April 2002. Much of the CD has been re recorded – its all been re mastered- and the new pressing will be on the street in August 2002. Watch for it.
What are the best shows/festivals you’ve played over there in Canada? How is the music life in the other end of the Earth?
I like playing festivals the best – I have always enjoyed live music in the outdoors, and it's a very rewarding experience to play live for an enthusiastic sitting on the grass Sunday afternoon wine filled crowd. This year I was fortunate to do a few outdoor shows. I especially enjoyed the Summer Solstice Festival in Fergus – put on by Canadian super folkie and friend Nonie Crete. Also, I was really thrilled when Bob Stevens asked me to participate in a guitar workshop for the Mariposa in the City Festival with some of my favorite guitar players like Rick Fines, Grit Laskin, and Eddie Baltimore. It was great to share the stage with these boys.
Music is pretty happening on this end of the planet. Canada is a great creative talent resource – our artists are know worldwide. Im am constantly impressed with the young generation of musicians I am seeing. I suppose that was us, thirty years ago. I think our musical future is in good hands.
Your recent CD is entitled "Psychedelic Pholk Psongs"; it came out last year and contains relaxed spaced out acoustic country music with a psychedelic touch. How do you feel about it after a year since its outcome, and what kind of reactions did you receive with it in the press?
I like your expression 'relaxed spaced out acoustic country music with a psychedelic touch.' You must understand that when the album is being written, recorded, and mixed – we didn’t really have a pre conceived plan (at least I didn’t have a plan!) about how it should sound. There was no strategy in place. Our process was to write and record a track or two, then listen to it, and see if anything jumped out as to offer an idea of what it needed. Often I would suggest to put a banjo here, or some woodsticks here, and a harmonica at this spot. The entire album basically evolved on its own – we were just following where it was taking us – and the sound you hear is the result. We only knew it was finished when it stopped changing. Once it had stabilized, and we thought it was complete – only then were genres assigned. I always thought it was folk music – but I guess its many kinds of music. So the fact that you say 'relaxed spaced out acoustic country music with a psychedelic touch' is just the vector sum of a bunch of natural forces.
'Psychedelic Pholk Psongs' has received almost a hundred reviews by now. The majority of the reviews are good and excellent. As to be expected, we got a few average ratings, and a few really bad reviews. The weighted response has been simple overwhelming on the positive side, which is very encouraging. Many of the reviews are posted on the website. www.backtothedirt.com
If there was one thing that bugged you the most about the album, something that you’d want to do over or have sound different, what would it be?
Actually there were a few things that I wanted to change. It's not often we get a second chance. Fortunately when I signed Psychedelic Pholk Psongs with Silverwolf Records, we had an opportunity to make some changes. It’s a bit risky from an artistic standpoint, but we decided to go back into the studio and add a few new guitar tracks, do some re mixing, and try to address the areas which we wanted to change. Silverwolf offered full artistic licensee, and encouraged us to work independently and freely. The new Silverwolf version of 'Psychedelic Pholk Psongs' is a little different that the initial released version. (which is staring to become collectable, I am told)
Are you into a lot of 60’s/70’s Heavy Rock bands? What are your favorite artists from this period of music?
Thought you would never ask – I was raised on Rock and Roll. Im a survivor of Woodstock '69. I saw the Grateful Dead on a small stage for 200 people watching form the grass. I saw Hendrix in concert before he was famous, playing in a half filled 5000-seat horse palace. Ive seen the Cream with Eric Clapton directly after their first release 'Fresh Cream' in a 1500 seat auditorium. I have seen all the great rock bands from the 60s and 70s, including live concerts of Beatles, Bob Dylan (15 times), Byrds, Yardbirds, Animals, Jeff Beck Band, Mountain, Santana, John Sebastian, Janis Joplin, Procul Harum, Melanie, Rolling Stones, Hollies, Cream, the Band, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkle, Joni Mitchell, Jim Kweskin, Maria Maldaur, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Gordon Lightfoot, Jefferson Airplane, Doc Watson, Arlo Guthrie, Roger McGuinn, Leo Kottke, Andrew Cash, Tom Chapin, Jesse Winchester, Crosby Stills and Nash, Jonathan Edwards.
I come by the psychedelia honesty. I grew up in it. I cannot pick a favorite – it's like selecting your favorite flower in the garden. It is their combined beauty which is important.
What release ideas do you have lined up for the near future?
I am starting to write a new CD now, perhaps I will have enough material to go back into the studio next March or April 2003. I am the festival director for Winterfolk www.winterfolk.com in Toronto – the great indoor music festival. My immediate priority is putting that together.
What do you have for sale and how can people get in touch with you? Please list both contact addresses.
For information about CDs and sales, please visit www.backtothedirt.com for information. It will point you in the right direction.
How about things from now on? Is there a goal to be achieved, what are your last comments to this interview
Im not too big on planning in advance – so its difficult predict about things from now on. I just indent to keep on doing whatever it is I do – and deal with issues as they arise.
As for some closing comments – I want to thank you for the opportunity to talk to you, and share our thoughts with your readers. I enjoyed reading your magazine and it is an honor for me to included. I wish all people inner peace and sunshine.
Brian is also joined by Allen Soberman on bass and backing vocals, erstwhile drummer Maureen Brown on percussion and tambourine, Ken Yoshioka on harmonica (“The Flags of Freedom” and “A Time for New Beginnings”), Frank Barth on dobro, Randy Kemph on bass and vocals (“Wally’s Pre-Owned Automobiles” and “Every Day Can Be a Sunny Day”) and Larry Larmand on washtub bass (“Couch Tomato” and “For a Day in the Park”). Laura Fernandez also guests very nicely on backing vocals on several tracks.
Brian adroitly fingerpicks on acoustic guitar and sings the lead vocals on mostly all of the tracks (as well as playing banjo on “Wally’s Pre-Owned Automobiles”), but vocals are dispensed with entirely on the aptly named “Mr. Pick Quick’s Polka” and the flowery “Estrogen”, a song that would have sounded even better with flute accompaniment.
Brian Gladstone describes these recordings as “humble and hopeful”, which pretty much describes his own personality. His love and respect for peace and the beauty of nature will probably always figure as central themes in his songwriting, but sometimes one has to release suppressed emotions to be heard above the rest. Then again, perhaps we could all learn a lesson from him in anger control management, as our modern society needs no additional aggression in its collective and individual behavior.