'If it's a total turkey, I don't want to be associated with it at all,' Steely Dan leader tells Billboard.
After a three interconnected solo albums, Steely Dan's Donald Fagen wanted his upcoming "Sunken Condos" to stand on its own.
"(2006's) 'Morph the Cat' concluded what was a sort of autobiographical trilogy, although it didn't start out to be that, so this is kind of new," Fagen tells Billboard. "I just started writing songs, and I figured it would just be on a song by song basis, although of course it turned out to be really a sort of continuation. But I didn't feel I was under any structure, stylistically. I didn't feel any need to refer to anything that was on those three albums. It kind of freed me up in a certain way."
Making a definite difference on "Sunken Condos" was the presence of Michael Leonhart, who plays trumpet for Steely Dan and the Dukes of September, Fagen's occasional touring band with Boz Scaggs, and Michael McDonald, as co-producer. Fagen had produced "Morph The Cat" himself (Steely Dan partner Walter Becker helmed 1993's Grammy Award-nominated "Kamakiriad") but says he wanted a collaborator who would do more than simply engineer the sessions.
"Sometimes at sound checks when we were playing with Steely Dan or whatever, Michael would sit there with the drums, just fooling around," Fagen says. "I had demos of all the songs... and I said, 'Here's a couple tunes. Why don't you just try playing the demos. Just play the drums. He was sort of reluctant to do it... but they sounded really good, and I knew he knew the technology and stuff, so it was a good fit."
Leonhart, who's worked with Fagen since 1996, adds, "Over the years the collaboration has kind of grown. I've always felt very free to create with Donald, and he's always felt very free to say, 'No, I don't like that,' and I don't really take it personally and we move on and try other stuff. I don't think I had a major agenda other than to help Donald get whatever's in his brain out on to tape -- or in this case to hard drive."
Fagen acknowledges that many of "Sunken Condo's" songs were being written while Steely Dan was on the road, but he knew they were unlikely to turn into band tracks. "I knew Walter was involved in his own solo project," Fagen explains. "I suppose if Walter had said, 'I'm ready to record' or something like that, as would usually happen over the years, I would say, 'Well, I've got a few things that you might want to work on.' So, yeah, I might have shuffled some of those half-finished tunes over to him and we would have worked on them together. But it turned out he was busy doing other things, so I kept them all."
"Sunken Condos," which includes eight originals and a cover of Isaac Hayes' "Out of the Ghetto," is due out Oct. 16. Fagen -- who, along with Leonhart, hits the road again with the Dukes of September in October for shows in Hawaii and Japan -- says he's mulling over the prospect of some solo shows to support it. "I'd really like to do it," he says. "We actually did a very brief tour after 'Morph the Cat' came out, and that was a lot of fun. It was a little scary for me; I've been the frontman for Steely Dan for a long time, but it was a whole different thing, being the center of attention with your own band. It was kind of a heavy deal for me, but it was a lot of fun. So we'll see what happens with ('Sunken Condos'); if it's a total turkey, I don't want to be associated with it at all. But if it seems like it's worth doing, we probably will do something."