Thursday, March 31, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Tom Rush, an influence to many folk musicians,
does a benefit concert at The Lyric on Wednesday
His live performances are known for delivering raw ballads and talented narratives. His recordings made him a legend and introduced the scene to voices like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. Generations of musicians have cited as a major influence singer-songwriter legend Tom Rush, the 60s folk-scene force who started off at coffee shops while a student at Harvard.
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Getting into the music biz was easy in those days, he says. Rush takes a moment to reflect on the beginnings of his career, and offers some hope about the current state of independent music.
After you took some time off [from Harvard], how did you get back into music?
Tom Rush: I went back to college and finished the three semesters remaining and kept singing after that. I graduated with an English Lit degree, so I was pretty much unemployable.
Yeah, that's what I did too.
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TR: I wasn't sure what I was gonna do, but I was having a good time singing and playing, and people were willing to pay me money for it. . . . To my mother's dying day she kept asking when I was gonna get a real job.
And that was even when you were quite successful.
TR: She kept thinking that this was probably not a long-term solution to anything.
So you played in coffee shops for a while, and then you started touring.
TR: Well I actually toured pretty intensely. . . . At that point [after moving to New York] . . . there was a five-year period when I only had ten days off.
A lot of dreamers out there would want to experience exactly what you experienced. Was it happy times for you? I know eventually you needed a break, to reconnect or whatever, but how were those days in the meantime?
TR: That was a fun time to be in music. Access was very easy. Now if you're starting off and you want a record deal, you have to wear spandex.
Or something worse. The access has become more limited. I guess with the indie rock thing there's a little more access than there used to be.
TR: Yeah, with indie rock and with the Internet. It's really exciting. But for a long time the access was very difficult, and I just happened to come along at a point where it was very very easy. I remember being upset at one point back in Boston, because I was the only guitar player . . . who didn't have a record deal.
A lot of people in my generation look back to the 60s with this weird nostalgia. But for aspiring musicians, there's a feeling that the indie label thing is maybe more like it used to be. As someone who really came through that scene, would you agree with that somewhat?
TR: I would agree with that completely. It's something I started thinking about around 1980. . . . There's a lot of different audiences, and the pop music model was a very efficient marketing machine that didn't really reflect any sort of reality, in terms of audience and art. And access was what it was all about — controlled access.
More a product of marketing research and less a product of the people.
TR: Anything that brings up connections between the art and the audience is good. The Internet is terrific. I think more and more people are going to start bypassing the labels altogether.
That would be ideal I think. . . . Except for the recording aspect of it — going into the studio and making a polished product. There are still certain aspects of home recording . . . you can get some great results until you get to the vocals and the drums. You reach a point where you just don't have the rooms or the mikes.
TR: That's an art form that requires some equipment. Although having said that, on my laptop I've got what 15 years ago would have been a quarter-million dollar or half-million dollar studio.
TR: I'm missing the subtleties of the actual physical equipment, but I've got compressors and limiters and all sorts of equalization.
That's sort of a natural evolution, for the people who are taking the independent approach, toward everything being more electronic and more processed
TR: A lot of music has happened that couldn't have happened 15 years ago, and that enables a lot of good music and a lot of dreadful music. . . . And it's gonna be up to the audience to sort out what they want to hear and how they want to hear it.
Tom Rush will give a concert to benefit Planned Parenthood of the Blueridge, at The Lyric Theatre in downtown Blacksburg, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.