Was (Not Was) Finds New Life On Tour
Was (Not Was) just wrapped its first set of U.S. dates since 1990 and is planning a lengthier tour for April. With a greatest hits compilation and a new album due this spring, things are finally heatiWas (Not Was) just wrapped its first set of U.S. dates since 1990 and is planning a lengthier tour for April. With a greatest hits compilation and a new album due this spring, things are finally heating up again in the Was (Not Was) camp.
Best known for the MTV favorite "Walk the Dinosaur" and a series of dance club hits in Europe, the eclectic combo currently features Was (Not Was) founders Don (Fagenson) Was and David (Weiss) Was along with Sweet Pea Atkinson on vocals, jazz saxophonist David McMurray, Randy Jacobs on guitar and newcomers drummer Sergio Gonzales and keyboard player Tio Banks.
The reunion got moving thanks to an invitation to perform in 2003 at the ASCAP showcase at the Sundance Film Festival, and the band felt it was a good way to test the waters for further activity. The show went well and, according to Don, "Soon Bruce Solar, an agent with the Agency Group, came forward and said 'I could book you guys.' And here we are. It's getting better every night. It's unfortunate that it's so few dates."
Also an in-demand producer who, as previously reported, recently worked on new projects with the Rolling Stones and Solomon Burke, Don spoke with Billboard.com prior to soundcheck at Was (Not Was)' gig in Chicago.
Why is this the "Life After Meth" tour?
I wouldn't look for too much meaning there. But of all the holes to climb out of, a meth jones is probably one of the less likely ones to successfully leave behind. So this is a come back. It didn't appear that this was ever gonna happen.
What was the reaction when you made the "We're getting the band back together" call?
Until the bus showed up none of these guys believed me. [Was (Not Was)] is a good case of the whole "being greater than the sum of the parts" -- even though there are some great musicians in this band and Sweet Pea Atkinson is the greatest soul singer alive. But something else happens when we get together and we know that and we don't know what it is or why it happens or how it happens -- which makes every show precarious. Is this the day that the light is going to go off?
We used to do shows with the Neville Brothers. That's what I aspire to. I think that this band could go out there and build a loyal audience and play forever. We're going play now 'til we die, basically. I don't think anyone is doing what we do. I don't know who to compare us to. That might not be a good thing commercially at this point, but in the milieu that I come from, that's something to aspire to and it's taken us a long time to get it to that point. But I think we have a unique voice now.
How are you going fit it in? It's not like you have a lot of free time!
I'm just going to make time for it. For about 15 years I've seriously worked non-stop. I'd finish an album and start something new on Monday. And I'm just not going to do that any more.
Does being with your own band scratch the same itch as producing?
In a way, [producing] creates the itch. When I work with the Rolling Stones and they go out and tour and play every night, I want to play all night.
We are almost done with the new [Was (Not Was)] record and we rehearsed in my house for the week before this tour started. I set up a couple mics just to record the rehearsals and it sounded like a great old funk record -- everything was bleeding into everything. I want to go back and re-cut some of those songs from my basement. That's a case where live performing gets you into making records. That should go hand in hand, I think.
How's the new record coming?
We'll be done by the end of the January. We've brought recording equipment out, but so far the lure of a Stephen Segal movie on the bus is greater than the lure of the Pro Tools. In the years that have passed, we have passed through the Carl Jung barrier -- the mid life transition -- and we've come out the other side. Our goals are quite different. I don't feel like we're out there competing against anybody or trying to prove anything to anyone. I feel like we're out there trying to use up our remaining time doing the thing we love the most. When you come from that place, you don't have to go searching for your direction. We know what we do. When you take that stance, the business follows.
We came out here perfectly ready to put out our own records and finance our own tours but suddenly people are coming forward with record deals and endorsements and all that. There's something to be said for knowing what you want to do and sticking to it. You hit a certain age and there's just no other way.
Are you recording with any special guests?
Kris Kristofferson is going to be on a track called "Green Pills on my Dresser." At one point in the session David leaned into the talk-back mic in the studio and said, "Kris, don't worry too much about the nuance of your performance because we're going to lay the sound of a cattle stampede through it." He still can't get over that direction. Once he understood that the nuances weren't important he got into it and played large. And the cattle sound great with Kris.
What else can we look forward to?
There's one song that we wrote with Bob Dylan when I was producing [Dylan's 1990 album] "Under the Red Sky." We were sitting around watching "I Dream of Genie" in the lounge, and I thought, 'This was kind of a waste. You work all your life to be able to hang out with your hero and then you end up watching "I Dream of Genie."' So at the time, my wife [then in A&R for Virgin Records] had signed Paula Abdul so she was about to record her second album. So I said, 'Let's write a song for Paula Abdul.' So Bob shut the TV off and he, David and I wrote "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore."
Did Paula ever record it?
[Laughing] I think it would have been impossible for Paula to do it!