Art Garfunkel Talks "The Singer"
Mon, 10 Sep 2012 09:13:41
"Let's talk about how interesting life is," smiles Art Garfunkel. "It's a work-in-progress. We don't know what's going to come next. God keeps us safe by good fortune. It bubbles along".
For Garfunkel, life has arrived at The Singer —a 34-song career pastiche he personally curated. This is the best way for listeners to meet him as it spans everything from 1964's Wednesday Morning, 3 AM through 2007's Some Enchanted Evening. In addition, two newly cut tracks "Lena" and "Long Way Home" will also satiate any longtime fan's appetite for more. This is a flawless collection covering the work of one of the most important voices of all time.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Art Garfunkel talks The Singer and so much more.
The Singer seems like it's perfect for both the uninitiated and long-time fans.
Yet, there are things that could've made it that had been rejected. There are always songs that don't make it. This is very personal. This is what I think of my own singing and when I really hit it on mic. These are those nights where the musicians really hit the groove great. I was there, and I made them so I think I'm the best to judge what makes up the best Art Garfunkel retrospective. Here's where the singing is at its best.
What was the curation process?
First comes the obvious. You can't leave out "All I Know", "I Only Have Eyes For You", "Heart In New York", and great Simon & Garfunkel favorites, but you do lean on the Simon & Garfunkel stuff where I was prominent. There's "Scarborough Fair". I put in "My Little Town" because I need up-tempos. Paul Simon always said he wrote that song with me in mind. I go with the ones I personally know have really great quality singing. The accent is always on the quality of the singer as if, God forbid, the listener will put on headphones, crank up the volume to number eight, get deep into what's going on, and then they will hear artistry [Laughs]. This is my hope. You'll see "99 Miles From L.A." It's really cool. I selected what I know to be my strongest stuff. "The Promise" comes from my lefty album. I know I hit it that week I was recording. I know my records intimately so I'm aware of when I went to town on a song. When the sax comes in at the end of "When a Man Loves a Woman", you realize this song has a really dark lyric. When a man loves a woman, she can bring him such misery. That's a theme worth singing as a singer. You love those kinds of purple lyrics. This is me saying, "Trust me. These are the strong ones". There are 93 nouns in "Waters of March". It has fabulous perspective. I'm talking as an editor.
What's the thread between these songs?
I sequenced it with real feel. This word "feel" is everything. I just finished Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. It essentially says that before we start consciously thinking, we have instant gut reactions that come from the unconscious. They fly through us like the wind. We don't notice it, but they inform us tremendously. I know my music so well that I can put down my roster of favorites without knowing the order. Then, I start saying, "Well, when this song finishes, what wants to begin next? What would be seamless?" You don't want to necessarily stay in the same key. You don't want to drop to a slightly lower key unless you really want a sag to happen. You're conscious of these things. If you've done two songs in a row that are folk-y and medium-paced, then you want a hot tune or you want to be upfront and more present. It's all feel. You pull this data in the wonderful computer of the mind that knows how to feel what comes. I'm pretending I'm a listener, and I'm trying to serve up what feels great next.
Was it important for you to capture a wide emotional spectrum?
What we love about Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is variety. When Billy Shears was finished on the first tune and Ringo came in "With a Little Help from My Friends". You also heard a deeper echo sound. Production-wise, there was a different feeling to that second song. By the time "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" came, not unlike "Bridge Over Troubled Water", you had a variety of sounds going on. This variety makes the listener move to the next place. It goes from a light Brazilian feeling to a straight-out ballad to something that's more rock. Those changes of feel from tune to tune and the variety it creates gives a nice "wholeness" I was looking for. If you stick with my album and play it in continuity, it adds up to a certain something. By the end, you should feel, "This singer can sing".
Even though the recordings are from different eras, they fit well together.
I carry the same talent. I'm a tenor who does what I do. I guess I have a similar commitment when I'm on mic. I'm always looking to diction well and carry heart and soul in the lyrics. I'm the same guy through the decades.
What's the story behind "Lena"?
Billy Mann put me together with Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock and created a trio back in the early aughts. We made an album called Everything Waits to Be Noticed. I became a songwriter for the first time by writing with them, and I fell in love with Maia musically. She's a great jazz rock chick. She writes fantastically. She produces. She plays all of these instruments including mean sax! She's a phenomenon. I called her a year ago, and we talked about working together. When I was planning on doing this album, we had a delay. I decided to use the delay to enrich the project with two new things. I want to show I'm singing just fine in the present tense. I went to Maia and said, "You know how I've always loved your demo 'Long Way Home'? Let's cut it". A month-and-a-half ago, we did. Her father Randy wrote "Lena". She showed me the song. I loved it, and we gave it a try. It's history. "Long Way Home" is subtle. There's a great rock groove in there. If you strip away the vocal and showcase the track, it swings.
The songs resonate on an emotional level.
Well, you can't go to a lyric that doesn't connect with your heart and mind. As soon as I say that, I think, "Well what about the great rock 'n' roll lines that are really dumb you love, Arthur?" [Laughs] You love to they sing them when they work. You don't need to have an intelligent lyric. I love "Sugar, Sugar" from The Archies because the track is so good. I'm a thinking man so I go to these tunes that have a third-dimension to them. "When a Man Loves a Woman", "The Sound of Silence", "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright"…that's a wink from Simon to Garfunkel, "So long Artie. We'll be splitting up next year. You may not know it yet". That's what "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright" is. I recorded "Skywriter" in the late '80s. It's Jimmy Webb's song written to me about me. It's my biography. He knows me well. We're old friends. The line goes, "I'm tired of chasing vapor trail ghosts in the sky". I'm tired of floating around being a "Skywriter". He puts me up there because he knows I've had personal tragedy, and I was being a loner in the '80s. He writes that about me. This is our one chance to be on earth, in my opinion. Maybe we'll have another, but while I'm here I'm going to say "It". I'm going say the biggest, deepest, and most authentic things you feel. That's what these lyrics are.
What are your favorite lyrics on this collection?
Good question…I love that question. "Skywriter" jumps out. I love "The Promise". "Barbara Allen" speaks of two lovers who both die for want of connection who have very different styles. He's a red rose; she's a thorny bush. They're both living things in love. They meet after they die, entwined over the graveyard wall. It's fantastic stuff. I wrote "Perfect Moment". It's the third song. I like that a lot. The question is too good for me to rush. In "Kathy's Song", Paul Simon writes a magnificent sentiment. What a killer writer. I love "Waters of March". There's a great lyric. I duet with Kenny Rankin on "I Wonder Why", and that's another great lyric.
The Singer functions as a journey. In your opinion, does it tell your story?
It takes you on a journey if you stick with it. Do you think people listen? I feel like an artist in a parched desert if you want to know the truth. Will people listen to this and get to know what you're just hinting at? It does add up to something if you stay with it. If you drop in for pieces because of the techno age we live in, I don't know if I have much of a chance to reach the reality you're getting at.
People uncover their own reality—whether it's one track or the album as a whole experience. That's the most important thing. If they don't take the whole journey, but they take a piece and apply it to their own lives, that can mean just as much.
Fair enough. The transitions from tune to tune have a really nice ride. I accept what you're saying.
Have you heard The Singer yet?