Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers allowed GetOut to listen to a preview of “The Independent,” the band’s seventh album due out April 29. Clyne was kind enough to give a track-by-track analysis and discuss each song as it appears in order on the album.
Q: Would you mind if we did a track-by-track analysis of ‘The Independent’ and talk about how you crafted the songs?
RC: It would be my pleasure. I’m just hoping to remember what I was thinking at the time. (laughs)
Q: The first song, ‘Ain’t Got The Words For This’ is not only the first song but the new single. It jingles and jangles, and has some nice layers… but I can’t help but notice has a touch of anger, too.
RC: Oh yeah, it definitely does. Actually, the whole album does. One of the greatest challenges of my career is to remain grateful. I’m so surrounded by blessings, but sometimes I forget to see them.
‘Ain’t Got The Words For This’ was the actual start of ‘The Independent.’ I sat down to write, knowing this was the start of the new album, and I was frustrated and uninspired, almost indulging in some self-pity. I literally started singing and trying to put the words together, and the first thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘I ain’t got the words for this.’ Then I kind of pushed back to the realization that maybe this is the song. Then I played it for my wife and a few friends, and they said, ‘Great, cool.’ So I decided that this was the song and carried on from there.
Q: ‘Once I Was A Thief’ lyrically transports me back in time.
RC: For sure. It’s a retrospective, and it’s a coming-to-terms song about age. An independent, entrepreneurial, rock-and-roll artist in this millennium. When I was a kid and had my dreams, I never thought I’d be exactly here doing what I’m doing. It’s astonishing how far off course you find yourself. All in the blink of an eye. It’s a song about how personal power changes at this point and time in my life, and hopefully others can relate to it.
Q: ‘Sic Semper Tyrranis’ speaks of gods, noble kings and fate. Then the song takes this left field turn, which commences ‘Stick It To The Man.’
RC: The song is Latin for ‘death to tyrants’ and is the intro for ‘Stick It To The Man.’ They’re really from the same book, just two different chapters.
I went on a writing foray with the band’s guitarist, Jim Dalton, and was showing him what tunes I had, and ‘Stick It To The Man,’ was one of them, but wasn’t high on the list to reveal. It was, at the beginning, this really lyrical Sex Pistols-esque, punk rock tune. Once I finished playing it, Jim stopped me and said, ‘Here’s what you’ve got to do,’ and gave it a ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ ’70s rock, glam tune.
So when we came back and played the song for the other guys, P.H. suggested some tempo changes and indulged me. Once it was done, it was very much like New York Dolls — and we’d never gone that direction before and it was really fun for us. But P.H. also said, ‘What we need now is a really weird introduction to ‘Stick It To The Man,’ and we’ll put the two together and go whole hog on this.’
So fast forward a couple of weeks, and we’re in the studio. P.H. says we’re going to record the intro. I said, ‘What intro?’ He said, ‘The intro for ‘Stick It To The Man.’’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t have that.’ He had already booked a pianist and basically told me I had two hours to figure it out. So I ran into the room, sat down and ‘Sic Semper Tyrranis’ just came out really quickly. I got lucky, I guess. Rarely does writing ever happen that quickly.
Q: For me, ‘Stick It To The Man’ is the album’s barnburner and will be one of those concert pleasers for years to come.
RC: I truly hope you’re right, because that was the song that came the furthest for me. If the album wasn’t titled ‘The Independent,’ I would have called it ‘Stick It To The Man.’ However, I thought it might have been a little too much. I think we ultimately carried the same sentiment, but in a little more subtle way.
Q: ‘Geronimo’ is another song that has commercial appeal.
RC: ‘Geronimo,’ I took it from the word paratroopers use when they make the leap from the plane — not the great Native American, who never surrendered, by the way. It’s another ‘Stick It To The Man.’ It’s about taking another leap, finding the thing that’s bothering you and jumping and taking it head on. I love that Geronimo is one of Arizona’s treasures, too.
Q: ‘Love Knows How’ is a feel-good tune.
RC: It definitely is. I find that now that I’m in my forties, I look back at my artistic expression, and I used to write about love with a small, or lowercase, l. Back then, love was more of a cynical, more self-indulgent act. But as I have grown — hopefully grown as an artist — I find that I now capitalize love. Love is truly divine, and ‘Love Knows How’ is with a capital L. Hopefully, it is a feel-good song, and it’s worth celebrating.
Q: What does the song title ‘5 x 5’ mean?
RC: The title refers to a description of how a transmission is sent and received. It’s the highest strength and highest clarity, with the lowest being 1 x 1. That’s how radio operators, and now video operators, send and receive signal strength.
The song is an outline of understanding of love. It could be for a parent or a lover who seeks to be a good part of someone’s life. Sometimes you have to be a stepping stone, a bridge — and not a wave.
Five-by-five means loud and clear. That song was brought to me by Jim Dalton, which has a great guitar piece. He said he woke up with that hook in his head after the initial opening of the song and sent it to me on a computer file. As soon as I heard it, I knew we had to do this song.
So I received the file and emailed him back, ‘Got it, 5 x 5.’ He emailed me back, ‘What does that mean?’ I said, ‘It means I received it loud and clear.’ He wrote back and said, ‘That’s a great term. You should use it as a song title.’ So we built the song around his guitar hook and titled it ‘5 x 5.’
Q: ‘California Breakdown’ could have been an outtake from The Eagles’ ‘The Long Run.’ It has a very dark and cynical tone.
RC: Ha! Perfect. That song does not have a happy ending, which is uncommon for our music. It is dark, but it’s truthful, so there it is.
I almost heard it as a ‘Long Run’ track, too. It’s a Jim Dalton-penned tune. The first story in the song literally happened to us. Our tour bus actually did break down on the side of the road between Sacramento and San Francisco on the causeway — I think it was Interstate 80. It was right on the freeway on a bridge going across a swamp. It was 20 miles, and there were very few exits. The bus just quit working, and we found ourselves on the side of the road and people ripping by at 85 miles per hour. We were in a 40-by-8-foot wide tour bus, stuck in a small lane that was barely eight feet wide. It was harrowing.
That did have a happy ending we didn’t outline in the song. We sent out a Tweet to our fans, and they came and picked us up in these landscape trailers and station wagons, and we made it to the gig on time.
After the bus got repaired, Jim Dalton came to the front lounge and said, ‘Hey, I just wrote this,’ and it had a happy ending. I said, ‘I think it’s better if we don’t show a happy ending. Can you write about any other characters?’ So he came back in a couple of days with the song finished with a couple of other characters that people can relate to, because I think everybody has experienced a ‘California Breakdown.’
Q: ‘Right Where We Want ‘Em’ has a nice rollicking vibe. Nick Scropos’ bass is really working for me.
RC: Yeah, the bass is really rocking on that one. It really, really moves the song.
It went through a ton of changes. There were originally a lot more minor chords to make it blue, but the band said I should stick with more major chord tunes. The suggestion really lifted the song, because it was originally so dark that it made the guys sort of feel bad. They didn’t think people would get the tongue in cheek references with all of the melodic turns, so we changed it.
‘Right Where We Want ‘Em’ is my underdog’s anthem, and it turned out okay. It encapsulates the feeling of the whole album. It’s an expression of personal power, which is emerging, not diminishing.
Q: ‘The Independent’ seems like a tip of the hat to those old spaghetti Westerns and movies like ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in the Old West.’
RC: That’s exactly how we wanted it to feel. It’s a story without lyrics, and I think it frames the idea of independence in a sonic way. It conjures up the imagination – The Man Alone, the lone rider out on a horse in the desert with his fate before him and (he) is an active participant.
The music was written first, and we wondered if we should put lyrics to it. The more I heard it, the specificity of lyrics would make it smaller and diminish the song and its potential. So we opted to keep it an instrumental, and I totally love it. We rarely put instrumentals on records, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
In a way, it is an homage to the records we listened to growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, and people just don’t do that anymore. But even going back to the early Police records, there’s a ton of instrumentals on those old albums that I look back on and love. Same with The Clash. I love The Clash.
Q: The album has tons of personality and feels like a real body of work.
RC: We were certainly hoping so. We had other songs that we could have brought to the mix, but as we were recording and sequencing them, I thought sometimes it’s best not to add more. I felt as if we had something special with the songs we already had, and everyone agreed. We felt like, ‘Let’s not say anymore by saying less.’
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