22 Questions with Wendie Colter
L.A. pop diva Wendie Colter recently took a few moments out from the busy task of promoting her new CD, Payday, to play 22 Questions with The Lullaby Pit. Payday was #4 on the Pit’s Best CDs of 1999, and despite a complete lack of help from the corporate music complex, it’s getting spin on stations across the country.
1: What’s the biggest adjustment you’ve had to make as you’ve moved from fronting Box the Walls to recording and touring as a solo artist?
WC: Remembering that I am a solo artist and I don’t have to worry about other people’s musical opinions! At the risk of sounding Diva-esque, my point is that too often as a band leader I would allow my own intuition in musical decisions to be put to a majority vote, which is always risky to the creative vision of a song or an album. Being a woman added to the stress of it – guys aren’t used to being dictated to by a woman, and I’ve never been too comfortable dealing with that “alpha dog” thing.
2: What are the last three CDs you purchased?
WC: Owsley, Owsley; Wilco, Summerteeth, and The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin.
3: How’s Scout, your adorable retriever?
WC: The Adorable One is doing great – especially since I adopted another black lab doggy pal to keep her company. Juniper is his name, and he’s a younger, more rambunctious version of her. They’re so cute – they sleep side by side with their paws touching.
4: What do you see as the most important trend/event/development in the world of popular music during the last decade?
WC: Business-wise, the corporatization of the industry has actually given more power to independent labels as dropped acts with good-sized fan bases found new homes at indies. Ex-corporate heads are starting up smaller but well-funded labels. But most importantly, artists are smarter than ever regarding the pitfalls of the business, and many have taken their careers into their own hands and turned them into successful cottage industries. The Internet has changed retail marketing in every possible way. Musically and artistically, it’s been an amazing decade – probably only rivaled by the ’60’s – and it’s getting better, though you have to look a bit harder to find the good stuff. Over the last part of the decade, commercial radio has been eaten alive by the corporations who’ve monopolized the airwaves (there should be some legislation coming down about it over the next couple of years). The Internet might make a difference in radio, too, but that might be some years off. Print press has gone corporate as well, but there’s a strong underground of great small press magazines in every genre. We’re in a very interesting flux period.
5: What can we expect from you during the coming year – new CDs, major tours, what?
WC: I plan to keep touring and working Payday this year. The second single goes to radio in February. I’m setting up local tours – Northern California and hopefully the Pacific Northwest again. I want to get to the east coast this year, too. (Ed. note: Dammit, I didn’t see Denver in there anywhere.)
6: What was the last movie you went to see? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
WC:Sweet and Lowdown, the new Woody Allen film. Sean Penn got the role of the egotistic, screwed up genius musician right, but his left-hand guitar technique was dreadful! I was shocked at how badly he faked it! I give it a “thumbs sideways.”
7: Your new CD, Payday, is considerably more positive in tone than Stuff, your 1995 release with Box the Walls. What changed in the four years between these two records?
WC: Lordy, what didn’t change? Through 1996 we were working the Stuff record – touring, etc. In 1997, we were recording Payday and struggling with various business entities and personal elements in the band. In the last two years my whole life turned around – I dumped the band, my management, my label, and a very significant relationship. Out of all that turmoil, I learned an important, life-perspective-changing thing – I learned that my personal happiness is not dependent on my circumstances.
8: What’s your favorite song on the new CD to play live?
WC: Probably “Pushing the Rock Up The Hill,” because it’s really a blast to sing and it’s got a good emotional kick.
9: What do you think is the best make-out CD ever recorded?
WC:Kind of Blue, Miles Davis. Also, Avalon, Roxy Music.
10: In AllMusic.com’s Wendie Colter listing, under “Similar Artists” it compares you to Sheryl Crow, Meredith Brooks, and Melanie Doane. Any comments on that?
WC: Sheryl and Meredith I suppose I can understand, but Melanie??!! (That’s the “rollerskate key song” gal, right?) (Ed. note: no, this is a different Melanie – she’s worked with The Pursuit of Happiness and Dayna Manning, as well.) Um, well, you know… People love to compare things to things. I think I’m more comparable to Aimee Mann or Neil Finn, but I’m grateful for the comparisons if it makes people interested enough to check out the CD.
11: What non-musicians have most influenced your music?
WC: The real answer is – everyone I meet. I write true stories, so everything I experience is an influence. To answer the question more conventionally: my mother, the Post-Impressionists, Dylan Thomas, Henry Miller, Richard Brautigan, String Theory.
12: Online services like CD Now represent a great distribution option for indie artists like yourself, but they also pose a significant threat to the independent record stores that have long supported non-corporate music. How do you see this conflict resolving in the next few years?
WC: Perhaps the independent stores will have online stores, too, eventually. I prefer to fund the independents, but I have to admit that I order from the online biggies when I want a new CD – purely for the sake of convenience. If I knew I could order online from my neighborhood indie, I’d shop there instead.
13: What artist that you absolutely cannot stand to listen to do you respect the most?
WC: I find Nels Cline’s work fairly unlistenable, but I respect the heck out of him.
14: What artist that you have zero respect for do you listen to anyway?
15: What’s your favorite TV show?
WC: We used to schedule band rehearsals so we could all watch The Simpsons together. I rarely watch tv anymore – it’s like a giant leech sitting in the corner of the room. When I watch it, I feel my brain being sucked out of my cranium and I find it hard to even physically move! It’s like junk food or drugs, for me.
16: You devote a lot of time to the LA Power Pop scene, promoting, setting up shows, etc. Which of these artists do you most enjoy working with, and what is the most rewarding part about these activities?
WC: I like working with all of them – the comeraderie and supportiveness is extraordinary. Doing the monthly pop shows are a reward in themselves – the turnout is always great and everyone loves to play. The most rewarding thing is not having to worry about the shows at all – they’re booked months in advance and are tons of fun.
17: What Web sites do you visit most often?
WC: I periodically do searches on my name to see if there’s any new press or whatever. I also visit my own website to update it. Amazon. Mapquest. The Lullaby Pit! Really, I’m a big bore on the internet. (Ed. note: No need to suck up – we love you already.)
18: Besides this one, what’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked about being a musician?
WC: The classic: “Which do you write first – the lyrics or the words?” Someone actually asked me that.
19: What was the best live show of your career?
WC: That’s a hard question because my experience and the audience’s experience can be two different things. However, the best show for “feeling the love in the room” was on the final Box The Walls tour in 1996, in Boise, Idaho. The agent booked a 200 seat venue, which we figured would be fine for Boise – and over 400 people showed up. They all danced to everything (can you imagine people dancing to quiet emotional tunes like “Prayer”?!), sang along with everything and wouldn’t let us leave the stage – we ended up doing every cover song we could think of. It was a magnificent evening. As a matter of fact, that whole tour was great and we had a lot of wonderful moments.
20: AAA radio was once a friend to artists like Box the Walls, but now seems to be about as corporate as any other format on the dial. Is commercial radio dead forever, or is there hope that it can be salvaged somewhere down the road?
WC: Commercial radio is not dead, it’s still kicking in the smaller towns. Big cities feel the lack of interesting playlists the most, because those stations have contracts with the major labels via the corporate promoters. However, in any market, big or small, there are smaller commercial stations, public radio and/or college stations that are doing great things and bringing new music to the public. You definitely have to search it out, but it’s not impossible to find. A lot of indie artists feel fairly hopeless about radio, but I believe it’s still the best way to get music to the public. I don’t know if Internet radio has caught on, yet.
21: Let’s say I could arrange for you to meet and have dinner with any one person alive today. Who would you choose?
WC: YOU! (Ed. note: I can arrange that. What time can you be here?)
22: Insert your own question, that you wish I had asked, here. Then answer it.
WC: If you could be any animal, what would you be? The Dolly Llama.
No, thank you.