Catching Up With John Wetton
TWRY recently caught up with him to get the scoop on the new album!
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
Raised in Captivity is your sixth solo release and is already receiving chart success in Canada, your native England and other areas of the globe. Was the album title and song something you had worked on during a previous recording session or was it sparked by more recent events or circumstances?
I had that title from back in 1992 when I was recording what became Battle Lines. It really sort of describes me and my childhood growing up. The basis of it stems back to me in the middle of Great Britain just after World War II and being a post war baby. Lots of personal stuff. There was still rationing when I was a very small child. Victorian morality was still hanging over us everywhere. Children were basically seen and not heard in those days. It was pretty brutal at school. Then the 60’s came along and suddenly all of that when out the window. You couldn’t have long hair and all of that. It went to free love and everyone hanging around all of the time. A reaction to the post war Britain. For me I didn’t know what the hell to do at that point. I left school and joined a rock band and the rest is history I guess. The freedom that I feel now in my life is a lot of what I wrote about. The rest of the songs are really just about how great it is to be alive today. My philosophy is very much “live for today”. I went through two life threatening illness in the last ten years so it does make you stop and reflect. There is not much I can do about yesterday so why bother trying to go back? “Goodbye Elsinore” did touch upon another area I wanted to explore and was about geographically leaving somewhere, metaphorically leaving something that had happened. Elsinore was Hamlet’s castle. I wrote that song on the Ferry leaving Elsinore heading to Sweden. The sea ferry was actually called The Hamlet. Everything was Shakespeare orientated on that afternoon. It was a very beautiful day and I was going to see a violin concert and that Ferry ride takes about an hour and the song just came to me. Here I am mumbling into my mobile phone trying to get down the lyrics and people are just looking at me like I’m nuts! That only happens once in awhile most of the time a song can take weeks or even months to come together. My manager has been on me for like 3 years to get this record done and in January of this year my schedule opened up so I had no excuses!
Was recording ‘Raised in Captivity” in Los Angles by choice and describe what Billy Sherwood (Yes, Toto, Asia, RATT, Jack Russell) brought to this record?
We actually recorded the whole record in about 3 weeks. Recording with Billy Sherwood was a blessing because he likes to work fast and so do I! I had seven of the songs written prior to arriving in the studio. They were not in the form that they ended up on the record but I did have most of the melody lines and lyrics written so that certainly helped. We basically put together another 5 tracks while we were in the studio. The reason I chose LA and Billy Sherwood was because back home in England I basically end up playing on the piano and acoustic guitar and they end up sounding like dreary folk songs. The atmosphere in which the songs are recorded tends to have a major influence on how they end up sounding and I felt like I needed that shift to get a feel for what ended up on “Raised in Captivity”. I got off the plane in LA and instantly my heart rate goes up. I mean you’re exposed to all of those police sirens, helicopters and I’m working with a guy who drinks too much caffeine! That energy and Billy’s quickness gave my stuff a different flavor. That edge and that big rock sound which is what I was searching for. I used to live in LA (not that I would want to any more at this stage of my life) and it’s just a great place to record. One night while we were there the whole area of Woodland Hills was in lock down while they searched for a cop killer; that doesn’t happen in my hometown in England!
The album contains some terrific guest appearances by some old friends and former and current band mates. Who are some of the guest appearances on Raised In Captivity?
The soloists were sort of handpicked based on the different stages of my career. King Crimson founder Robert Fripp helped out on “Raised In Captivity”. Mick Box from Uriah Heep lent his playing on “New Star Rising” and did just a bang up job. I knew I wanted Steve Hackett to play the solo on “Goodbye Elsinore” even as I was talking into my mobile phone on that ferry to Sweden. Funny when I was writing “The Devil and The Opera House “the instrument I almost always associate with Satan is the violin or the fiddle (thank you Charlie Daniels!) and I approached Eddie Jobson about playing on it. Boy he made a great little devil! I had originally approached Allan Holdsworth about the solo on “Last Night of My Life” and he had originally agreed to do it but it just so happens that was in the midst of recording his first solo album in about 10 years and clearly this wasn’t going to be a priority so Alex Machacek stepped in at the last moment and did a marvelous job. Geoff Downes just happened to be in LA at that time and played on ‘Steffi’s Ring” The only one I had never worked with was Steve Morse (who was a friend of Billy’s) but he did just a fantastic job on “Lost for Words”.
Will you tour in support of Raised In Captivity or are there other commitments at the moment?
I don’t have any touring commitments really at this time. Next May I start a huge world tour with Asia which could last into next summer. But yes I would like to tour. It’s the easiest thing in the world for me to assemble a first class band but if you really want to be ambitious you have to be realistic about the size of the places you want to play. I’m sure we can get the gigs and I’m certain we can get interest in this project from promoters so I’m optimistic about going out on tour in support of this record.
Do you find it easier at this stage of your career to travel or is it just a necessary part of your profession and you have to deal with it?
On this last tour with Asia we went to Central and South America and it was just mind blowing. The different life styles between the rich and the poor, the “haves” and the “have nots” is truly staggering. I had never really seen that before so it really opened my eyes to the big picture. But truly the airport experience (post 9/11) has taken a lot of fun out of traveling. The hours you have to be there early, taking off shoes, belts, the random bag checks and then customs coming back is a real drag. Security has made it just a horror show really and you cannot do anything fun anymore on a plane in general. Delays and the hours I have spent on runways..if I could only get that time back! But I do like traveling in general just not airports. I like seeing people I haven’t seen in awhile or that I have never been. As much as I can complain about it when I’m doing it the moment I’m home I miss it.
Do you find recording an album by today’s standards and modern technology easier, harder or the same as in the past?
Certain aspects of recording are easier. All of the advantages of modern recording have made life easier. But by the same token my responsibility as an artist in terms of budgets, time in the studio etc (as a more established artist) become greater and sometimes pulls my creative juices into flowing in the wrong direction. We used to struggle to try and record using 24 tracks systems now we have unlimited tracks so that’s truly easier. Sometimes now there is too much going on in the studio that I cannot simplify a vocal for instance that when I wrote the track was just me at my Dictaphone at the piano and I have to get that vibe back. There is just so much more choice now in modern recording but that doesn’t always make it easier. Having an outside producer (in Asia for instance) he knows the kind of sound he wants from each of us as a collective unit and can usually relay that using modern supplements as opposed to what I want in one of my solo projects and how I envision the song to be which could take longer.
The Asia records have always been known to have over the top art work and set the standard for high quality album covers. How much is lost in that appreciation with the current trend to just download the music?
Some folks just want to hear the songs and don’t care who played on what track and used what guitar on which solo or who sang or added harmonies to one song or another. It’s the song that is the most important thing to them. Then again there are people like myself still like to buy the physical record album or CD and enjoy reading the booklet and enjoy the artwork. When you download you miss all of that. It’s tough to say that in the next 5 years or so if CD’s and records will be around. I hope they still are. That first Asia record had a very recognizable cover and was a huge part of the merchandising of the band as we broke out into main stream music across the world. I recall a meeting with a Geffen executive as the first album came out and he thought the artwork was silly and the logo was illegible and that it won’t work with US audiences and I moreover I don’t hear a hit single on any of the tracks. I guess in hindsight he was wrong.
How much did MTV in 1982 make the debut ASIA album as successful as it was? Also what did you think of video as a medium to selling the music then and what do you think is the future of music videos not only for you but for any new artist as well?
I didn’t do any videos from Raised In Captivity. It was mentioned but they decided in the end not to invest into that aspect of advertising for this cd. I think back to 1982 when MTV was just starting out and they had targeted a few bands that they were going to put into heavy rotation that we ended becoming synonymous with the first year of MTV and it really helped boost sales..no doubt about it. There was no evidence (at the time) if the video medium would survive after that first year but it did. But it changed and became much more urban and left behind (slowly) everything about it which made it successful in the first place. Of course today it’s almost unrecognizable compared to those early days. We were the darlings (along with Duran Duran) of the station early on and I recall doing a guest VJ slot and got to play all the songs I wanted to hear and it was just great fun. As for the future of video..it’s tough to say as budgets decrease and the role of the ‘record company” becomes more and more reduced especially with pop music.
Frontiers Records is really setting the standard for producing high quality records from bands from different eras and areas of melodic rock music. How has your experience been thus far?
I was one of the first artists to get hooked up with Frontiers. I did a guest spot on a record in the 90’s and when I was looking for a label for the ICON project I had started with Geoff Downes around 2004 Serafino was excited about the project and we got signed and also signed Asia as well. With my solo record it’s like 6 records in 6 years..very old school! I really like them. The talent that is being amassed is amazing really when you think about it. In 2011 the vision is clear and the bands are all having different levels of success all from a guy who is a fan #1 business man #2.
My 13 yr old son was peaking over my shoulder when I started to prepare for this interview and started to ask me questions about who is John Wetton and then after listening to Raised In Captivity (after never hearing any of your older recordings) he then asked me how is a gentlemen at 62 years young still creating such great new music and what motivates him to carry on?
I like him! I like your son I think he’s a good guy! I have never really done much else quite honestly! I’m still quite agile in the mind even if the body is starting to wear down. I may slow down a bit in terms of touring but I’ll never stop creating..writing and being in the studio. I still have goals, more great music to create and the fans who keep wanting more so it’s up to me to deliver. There will be a day where I may not be able to answer the bell and have to stop touring I’m sure but the creative part of me as a musician will forge on.
For more on John Wetton visit his official website