What I want to know first is about song-writing. How do you get the idea for a song. How does it enter the world?
Jon: Sometimes, you hear a title, and that can inspire everything else. Typically I've done that in the past, where you hear a title, and that becomes the song. It then influences the chord progression which influences the lyric, because the melody or the lyric has to fit that chord progression.
Do you can hear that from other people?
Jon: Well sometimes you read something and the title jumps out at you. Or you hear another song, and you may pick up on a lyric that turns into a title. Or staring out the window there, there was a little girl crossing the street and she looked, you know, cold and wet, and I started to think of this story that might go with her. So you might see something, or you read or you hear other music. But typically in the past a good title can inspire a song...
A title can inspire the whole song?
Jon: Yeah. Then you pick up a guitar and you start plucking away, or sometimes the piano depending on what you think the feel of the song is. "Blaze of Glory" had to be written on a guitar; it didn't work on a piano. I started to fiddle around on a piano and I said "run into the other room and grab a guitar before this idea runs away from you" so it was one of those things. Now when I wrote "Always", it couldn’t have been written on a guitar; it was meant to be written on a piano. And so sometimes, you know, the instrument dictates the song.
Do you get the muse? Do you suddenly think “I have to write this song. It’s in me now”?
What does that feel like?
Jon: It’s a sudden bolt of lightning. You don't know where it comes from but when it does, and it all comes right through you, it's almost as if you're just a medium for it to come down onto the paper and you don't know how it happened. Other days you can toil over a lyric for days, you know. And sometimes, longer, depending on the scenario you're in and I don't know if those are usually the best ones.
The toiling ones?
Jon: Yeah. I mean I remember when Richie and I wrote "Wanted Dead or Alive". We wrote the song and another song in one afternoon, and obviously that song has stood the test of time. It was just one of those magic moments whereas, even though "Always" was probably the biggest song, if in fact it was the biggest song I've ever written, it took a long time to write. And I don't know if that song will stand the test of time, if that makes any sense. So it's dependent really.
You say it’s like you're a medium through it sometimes. It must be amazing then to see a song recorded and think "I did that".
Jon: Yeah, yeah. The best feeling I get out of anything that I do is writing. Not recording it, not performing it live. More than making movies or all the other things that go with it, but the actual feat of writing the song to me is the most satisfying of anything that I do.
Right, the actual writing it and completing it.
Jon: Yeah! Completing it, right. That's even better. Completing the son of a bitch.
So, do you have your own demo studio? Do you then go and demo it?
Jon: Typically what I do when I write it, the day I write it, is - your tape recorder is too complex. It is simply press record and play on the simplest, easiest, cheapest recorder you can find and sing into it. Play the guitar, piano, whatever it may be and that's the end of it. And then I'll go into a studio, usually mine, with a band and it takes on a different life because it goes from what you thought it was going to be to "oh, that's a good bass line", oh, that's a nice riff; let's build that" and it very well may turn into something else and then it takes on another life. And when you perform it for eight or ten months on the road it actually evolves further, usually for the better.
Right. Yes, there was that Rolling Stones Live tape on earlier, just before you arrived, and I was thinking "these songs are entirely different from how they are recorded".
Jon: They take on a different life with time. You almost wish you could tour and then do the album..
How many songs do you write a year?
Jon: It depends. When I did the last album, with Destination I wrote... I guess it was twelve on the record. So typically you write thirty to get ten. And then when I tour that same album, I don't write a lot on the road, "cause the day's taken up traveling, doing interviews or doing anything other than playing, so it's more difficult for me to concentrate on writing when I'm in that frame of mind. You know, so it depends on the year.
Are there any sort of styles that you'd like to tamper with?
Jon: I'm not an artist like Elvis Costello who's capable of writing a country album, a pop album. Now he wants to get into more symphonic music. I tend to write what I know and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. You know, you do what you do and try to expand upon that, like I did with Destination…
Yeah, I mean that did have a different sound.
Jon: Yeah. It was a different record for me. And what I'm writing now. I don't know what it is, to be honest with you. I don't know if it's a band record, a solo record, or a soundtrack to a film that I'm trying to do, or Disney's trying to do for me. So I'm not quite sure but, I have a batch of songs and I'm gonna just start the process. I have eight or nine things finished and again, God willing, it'll turn into thirty to get ten. And then I'll decide where it's going.
Right. And I remember you said that for Destination Anywhere, the lyrics were far more close to you than they had been before. Is that increasing? Are you writing about different things?
Jon: I don't have a voice yet. It's too early in the process of this forthcoming record to know what the voice is. It's pretty scattered at the moment and that's OK. It's natural, it's typical for me.
It must be quite exciting as well.
Jon: It is 'cause I don't know what it is’, you know? And two weeks from today I'm gonna go and record this first batch and, hopefully I'll write another one or two before then. Then it'll start to take a shape. I don't know what that shape is so, therefore, it is very exciting right now.
Yeah, I can imagine. And what sort of studios?
Jon: Well my studio is. .. it's like a commercial recording studio.
You've got the full monty then?
Jon: Yeah, yeah. I've had it for ten years now.
Right, I didn't realize.
Jon: Yeah, my studio's about as big as this place...
Really? It's enormous!
Jon: Not as high, but it's as big.
So you've got a good live room and everything?
Jon: No, it's not as high. It's in the basement of my house so, you're constricted by the existing ceiling but we've recorded. Quite a bit of These Days was done there and a lot of Destination Anywhere was done there. And prior to that I had done a lot of demos there. So ifs been used quite a bit.
Have you ever tried to write about something, lyrically, and found it difficult to put into words?
Jon: Yeah, sure. If I had to write a song explicitly for a subject matter, unless I knew enough about that subject matter, it could be very difficult because you don't know what the point of view is. Urn, when I wrote the Young Guns soundtrack, for instance, now that's a record that's not about me. It's about a movie and about a character. I found only about a year or so after it came out that, though it was about Billy The Kid and those people, I'd say that half of it was about me, too. And I didn't realize it until after the fact, but I tried to think that it was under the guise of me being Billy The Kid, so it depends on the situation. That's why I'm saying, with this forthcoming film project that Disney's trying to do, with me or for me, I really want to look at it. It would have to be the voice of a character. See there are a couple of songs I've written with that in mind but those sentiments very well may be me, so I'm not quite sure yet.
Have you gone back to old song and thought?
Jon: Of my own?
Yeah. That you thought were very vague and you realize, "hang on a minute..."
Jon: Oh, sure. There's plenty of them. I mean, "You Give Love A Bad Name" was a perfect example of that. You know, it's about nothing. It's about, a fun title that we made work: that's all it was. I realize now after the song's been written I'm gonna have to change the title, if only because of that. I wrote a song called "Older" and then it hit me. I went, "Oh right, George Michael had an album title called "Older". But the point of view, it's so wonderful in the song and it says, "I'm not old, just older" and I really love that. And it's a great story and it really is me. Here I am. I'm 36 years old and I'm not old but, I like the skin. "I like the bed I'm sleeping in, just like me it's broken in, it's not old, just older". And "like a faded pair of old blue jeans, the skin I'm in is alright with me, it's not old, just older." And it's just saying, I'm a little more experienced. I've been around the block... and I dig it. I'm having a good time in my life right now. I don't know if I want to go on stage and say, "I'm older", because I don't want to be misconstrued as "when I was young." Cause that's not what I'm writing this album about. But it was a point of view that I was saying, "this is OK. It's OK to be making your tenth album."
I was re-reading the lyrics 'cause they were sent along, for Destination Anywhere, and I thought, "why do people sometimes mistake you for not having a sense of humor?" Cause some of those lyrics are so sharp.
Jon: Thank you
They were very observational. Do you find that?
Jon: Yes, I try to be observational. The lyric heroes that I look to in guys like Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Dylan, are very picturesque. I mean, the way Waits would describe a full moon, "the moon hangs like a testicle in the sky". I mean it sounds like WHAT?!? But you think about it for a minute and go, "wow!" You know it's a strange observation but in essence, it's poetry. You like to make things seem more picturesque.
You know, I think they're a lot more clever than you're given credit for.
Jon: Oh, thanks...