Glen Burtnik: Something old and something new.
Glen talks in detail about his diverse, but rocking new CD Welcome To Hollywood, out now. And then there's his time with Styx!
G'Day Glen. Great as always to talk with you - you have had a busy time of it lately. Not sure where to begin, so maybe I'll start with the album and work backwards!
First of all, Welcome To Hollywood is now released. Judging by your Newsletter comments, it must come as a great relief to see if completed and actually available?
I am very glad this record is finished and finally finding it's way to an audience. As Bon Scott once sang, I've done everything I'm gonna do. The rest is up to you
It seems there were times where you felt that wouldn't happen?
Well, it sure took a very long time
Like Eric Clapton said, Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees.
Was the recording process for this album much harder/different to that of previous albums - and if so - why was that the case?
I've never recorded an album while on tour before. At the same time I was making Welcome To Hollywood I was constantly traveling, performing with Styx, Journey, John Waite, Bad Company, REO and Billy Squier. Meanwhile, there was the writing and
recording of Cyclorama, of which I contributed my share. So it was nuts that would've been hectic enough, but I had to fit in recording time on my own disc whenever I wasn't doing all that other stuff.
This album is truly a work of art - more so than any record you have made in your career, this one really holds to a theme and features the most intense musical workout of any CD you have been involved in.
Do you think? Plink and I really did pay close attention to the recording process. I thank you for the compliments. I'm glad you think so highly of it.
What was your personal thought process going in to writing and recording for this album? What did you want to achieve?
I wanted to, as Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, Achieve total heavy-osity.
Seriously, my previous album, Palookaville was about the songs and a bit quirky and DIY sounding. I was listening to more Ben Folds and Jon Brion during the making of that one. For this new album, I'd been checking out some slick sounding, well recorded
current heavy pop records (like System Of A Down and Evanessence, for instance). Productions have become more sophisticated, at least in the Pop music world.
I also began to recognize what a large Classic Rock audience had become exposed to me though my work with John Waite, Patty Smyth and Styx. Together, these ingredients made me want to make a disc that sounded big and fat and glistening and spectacular. I also thought that approach might suit the album's Hollywood concept better than my quirky singer-songwriter style.
The use of additional production effects and drum loops, plus a slant towards the modern is a change of direction for you. Have you enjoyed doing something a
little different and unexpected?
I sure do, although I think I've always been into production effects and such (Talking In Code was a very techno-synth-Pop/drum machine record and Palookaville is practically buried in audio zaniness). Like I said, I hoped to make a sonically dazzling album. I'm a card carrying believer in the If you can't convince them with the truth, dazzle them with bullshit philosophy.
Foremost, it was Plink's skill in the studio, especially with digital editing, that fires up this
album. He knows I like playing with audio manipulation and I encouraged him going for that kinda thing. When we began, I played him examples of absolutely slamming modern rock records that all had very advanced production standards, and there was
always an attitude of experimentation. That's what I was going for and we stayed pretty true to that aim throughout. Like Elvis Costello sang, My aim is true.
How much of a challenge was it to merge the classic singer songwriter with the more aggressive modern rocker style that the album takes on?
That was about the easiest part. I am naturally drawn to musical areas where I'm not necessarily expected to go. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.
The songs are typical of your searching/probing socially challenging lyrics. Can you tell us a little about the writing behind the songs?
I had the idea of making an album about modern celebrity culture. So there are a number of songs that touch on that topic.
I got into shoe horning as much information as I could into every tune. A lot of the lyrics were co-written with Bob Burger, and when he was done with a draft of lyrics, I'd add more to them and send them back to him. In the end this is a collection of some densely
written songs, lyrically speaking. I even somehow got into the habit of changing the words in almost every chorus.
(By the way, that ends up being hell on me when I have to perform live - too many damn words!)
How vital was partner Plinky's role in creating the album and ensuring it stayed on path?
Plink was, needless to say, invaluable. His dedication to sonics is untiring. I was much more the conceptual guy, but we both stayed pretty focused on all the fronts.
Plink is a very musical dude who approaches genius, but it's probably more his work ethic that wins. Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Thomas Edison said that.
You wrote extensively in a personal journal that would be sent out to website newsletter subscribers. These thoughts and updates on the album were some of the best notes I have ever read. The notes themselves were a work of art! Were they a source of therapy for you while recording the album?
The Journal was a number of things for me. I personally crave any and all the technical information I can get my hands on regarding the recording of my favorite albums of other artists. I page through The Beatles Recording Sessions constantly. So I thought
keeping a written record of the steps of making this album might someday be made available for liner note reading nerds like me.
Then Paul Holt, my friend and webmaster, suggested I come up with a monthly message to fans who subscribed. So, this gave me a deadline for organizing the notes every four weeks. It put a face on who I was writing it for.
And then, it struck me as an opportunity to include something cool with the CD - Enhanced extras on the disc in CD-Rom form. I re-edited the journal, which
adds up to over one hundred pages of my psychotic musings about the process of making the album, and added it to the other bonus material (all accessible
by putting the disc in your computer).
Yeah, it probably wasn't without it's therapeutic benefits. And like Todd Rundgren said, Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
How did you enjoy the feedback from those newsletters?
I was surprised that people seemed to enjoy my writing as much as they did. That is extremely encouraging. Like Joe Walsh's fans, They write me letters, tell me I'm great. I'm a lucky bastard.
Let's talk about the songs of the album any personal favorites among them?
That's difficult for me to say. I care for all of them. Horace Silver said, "My songs are like my children. How can you like one more than another?" I think I like BAM! best, at least right now.
What about the use of a few older tracks on the album - what made them stand out to you as perfect to fit on the album?
There's only a few, actually. But I have a drawer that's filled with DAT tapes of songs of mine that have never been released. I have computer files of tons of lyrics to songs that haven't met an audience. Some of these I'm too fond of to let them fade away without people hearing what I've done. I want theses songs to Step into the light (as Dylan sang in Highway 61).
And you re-recorded the track you took to Styx - Kiss Your Ass Goodbye. It's a killer track and a monster live - where you not happy with the Cyclorama version?
I didn't have a whole lot of say regarding the production of Cyclorama, but to be fair, that might've been by my own choice. Winston Churchill once said A camel is a horse designed by a committee and I believe there's nothing more inefficient than too many
chefs in the kitchen when it comes to making an album.
I feel Cyclorama is a strong record, but I knew Kiss Your Ass Goodbye could sound punchier than the Styx version. Everyone played great on it, and Tommy came
up with a nice guitar counter-point. But the Styx production philosophy is a bit restrictive, and for a reason. Whereas they feel a need to make records that sound LIKE STYX - music that will to a certain extent fit in with their past sound - I am free of such considerations. I don't need to limit myself or 'live up to' some preconceptions. Hardly anybody buys my records!
Another thing was that I felt Kiss Your Ass Goodbye was one of the best songs on Cyclorama. Of course, you'd know I'd feel that way, since it's my song. But still, it seemed to me that if there were a snowball's chance in hell that Styx were to reach the mass market which is necessary to the band's future if they wanna grab the brass ring again - Kiss Your Ass Goodbye was the obvious track to release as a single.
Alas, it wasn't and never would be. I understand the band's dilemma, in that they're trying to bridge their old audience with the current marketplace, but I also came to the realization that it'll never matter HOW good a song anyone came up with, it wasn't gonna get a shot if it weren't written and/or sung by Tommy Shaw or Dennis DeYoung.
Knowing that there were more people who HADN'T heard Kiss Your Ass Goodbye than those who had, I wanted to record it right as potent as the current punk band records and the song's story fit in more on my own album. The bottom line is that song doesn't suck. Why NOT re-record it myself?
There are a couple of tracks on the new album that feature rapping vocals. I've discussed this with you earlier, but can you tell us why you used such an effect?
By now, I believe we've seen 'Rap' rise as a viable, powerful musical expression. Just as Danny And The Juniors predicted "Rock and roll is here to stay" back in the day to all the disbelievers, it now seems pretty apparent, after 20 some years after it started, that Rap isn't going away. And there's a lot of rap in rock music now.
I wanted to dip my toe in that pool. I don't think anyone got hurt.
Ok, now on When The Shit Hits The Fan - what were you thinking?! That's an extreme GB song to say the least!
Well Andrew, I know your site is called MELODIC Rock, and I realize this track is heavy on the shouting and rapping and light on the melody, so I'm not surprised that you'd be put off by such an aggressive approach.
I understand that most of the people who are aware of me are Classic-Rock fans, like yourself. That pretty much means Anti-Rap. I've always felt Rap was the line drawn by Gen X to leave the baby boomers behind.
And I've read another Classic-Rock reviewer who compared When The Shit Hits The Fan to Rage Against The Machine AS IF THAT'S A BAD THING.
I considered that a compliment. Let me just point out that Rage Against The Machine is a band that has probably outsold Styx for the past decade. Somebody is buying
those records. I should only WISH to have a following as large as theirs. Who's to say all those fans are wrong? I think it's simply a matter of taste. Some people love Rap-Rock. Some people love Linkin Park.
Some people love Nine Inch Nails. Some people love Emenem. Some people love Sinatra. I say ALL of them are right!
Like Sly Stone said, Different strokes for different folks.
I was raised on, and greatly influenced by, artists that changed from record to record, often taking surprising turns (the Beatles, Bob Dylan - Even Rick Springfield took a leap when he released Tao and I know he lost a lot of Jessie's Girl fans for it,
while it's my favorite album of his).
Then again Sly Stone also said
and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby, so what do I know?
In any case, I am not interested in limiting myself. And I respect the audience enough to assume many are about as open minded as I am. I am unapologetic about this.
In my journal The Making Of Welcome To Hollywood, I wrote the following paragraph:
If you won't come to the HOLLYWOOD project with open ears, you might not like what you hear. It's still very much my music, but definitely a new approach in my presentation, and sometimes not for the faint of heart. I believe I lived up to my initial aim for the record's style: experimental, yet effective and accessible, hoping to appeal to classic rock fans without forgetting current rock fans. A more contemporary version of me (Burtnik v.2003), including my current interests, not without hints of my 80's big
haired rock thing.
I think When The Shit Hits The Fan is absolutely slamming and I'd expect musicians (another sub-strata of supporters of my music) to dig the track most, but I also expected guys who limit themselves to Melodic Rock to not get it. And that's okay. Sinatra didn't
like Elvis at first and Andy Williams slammed the Beatles.
I certainly hope I'm not coming off too harsh on the Melodic Rockers of the world you are perhaps the group that keeps me on any map at all and I am grateful. I love melody and harmony almost as much as anything in this wacky life.
But at the end of the day, when there are hundreds of albums by artists like myself, which usually won't sell a fraction whatever the new flavor-of-the-month act the Corporate Giants of the world are dumping millions into promoting, it will come down to how I feel about the album I've made. Did I challenge myself? Did I create something worth listening to, or did I only try to fit in to some format? Is it music I believe in, music from my heart, or just repetition of formulas I could recreate on autopilot?
I'd rather take risks than repeat myself. And in the words of Rick Nelson (early rock Idol and son of successful New Jersey Big Band leader Ozzie), You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.
I found the passage of the tracks Spiritual War/Flash/All That's Yet To Come and The Muse as quite brilliant from a writing perspective. Did you always intend for these songs to flow together, or did that just develop?
I'm not so sure that it's all that interesting an explanation, in fact it may very well lull your
readers into a deep narcoleptic trance, but here goes.
There were two main inspirations for the way the album culminates. Initially, because I set out to make a more rocking album, I was concerned about Cry. Although it's possible that at the end of my life I might look back and consider this one of the best
songs I've written, I was concerned it might be too soft, too adult contemporary for this hopefully harder edged album. So I sought out to immediately follow up Cry with a kick ass rocker, in the same key and tempo. I employed an old guitar riff I'd been
schlepping around and the song developed musically, incorporating a shuffle idea of Plink's, although I still wasn't sure what the lyrics of the song were ultimately going to be about.
I had already begun planning the album's sequencing. One thing about Welcome To Hollywood is that there is a story, a message, a concept, if you will. I don't want to get into what that is, cuz that might make me look stupider than I already appear. But
let's just say I knew I wanted this story to end on an uplifting note, something inspirational. The Muse was an obvious choice - but so was All That's Yet To Come. So I connected those two together, and both are somewhat spiritual, at the very least
optimistic, in message.
I asked myself what comes BEFORE a spiritual awakening? Most often a crisis, a breakdown, or at least a dramatic ending to a previous way of looking at life. It became clear to me that what followed Cry should be a tense, escalating, edgy device. That became When The Shit Hits The Fan, which leads right into Spiritual War, a song which definitely addresses exactly what the title suggests an inner battle for one's soul.
(Jeez, somebody make me stop with all this self-seriousness!)
Eventually, once those two were connected in medley form, I wanted to bring the listener back down gently. I came up with Flash Before Your Eyes which is really just an arrangement exercise, a way to recap all the album's previous songs. It's as if someone
was looking back at their life, replaying all the different episodes. This eases you into the very sparse All That's Yet To Come before The Muse finally ends the show.
So there are the two catalysts for the album's
1. Musical and
2. Plot line.
Are you sorry you asked?
How about All That's Yet To Come. It's one of your great vocals and highlights your voice alone. How do you feel about this track now?
I thought that after all that sound from the preceding three or four tracks, it might be a good time top strip away EVERYTHING and simply record my voice solo, basically unadorned, up close and intimate. Besides, it fits into the album's 'Top-Secret' concept.
keep it on the low down
The Muse is yet another side of Glen Burtnik many would not have heard...
Do you think? It's actually based on a cool track Plink had come up with years ago. If I'm not mistaken, he had forgotten all about it until I brought the song back to his attention. We finished it together.
Roses For The Working Girl is an unreleased track you have massively updated for this record. The new version works well - what do you think?
Well, as you point out, we're talking about a tune that has never been released. I realize my music is hard to find, and fans have become good at finding outtakes and demos in this era of the internet, file trading and CD burning. But I actually have mixed
feelings on that topic.
Roses (For The Working Girl) was a song I wrote with Bob Burger and recorded a demo of with Plink around 1989 when dinosaurs still roamed the earth in preparation for my third A&M solo album. After my manager physically threatened the head of A&R for the label I was dropped and that record was never completed.
At some point thereafter, I was approached by a few European music aficionados, offering possible record deals. They asked for demos, so I trustingly sent some out. Now what happened next was that those demos became copied and traded all over the freaking globe. Some of those recordings I wouldn't have ever voluntarily wanted many people to hear.
But so be it. Being a music fan, I've collected unauthorized Hendrix and Beatles bootlegs myself, so I certainly understand the appeal. (I just wonder if the collectors understand what it's like for the musician and if they can imagine how they'd would
feel if, lets say, ugly personal photographs of themselves were copied and traded far and wide, blemishes and all, without permission
Anyway, among those demos was Roses (For The Working Girl). And that one seems to have gathered some popularity with the fans.
Here it is, years later, and while I was in the planning stages for the Welcome To Hollywood album, Magnus Soderkvist of Atenzia suggested that tune. I remembered that it was not only a decent song, but one that I've been often asked about, especially from the AOR/Melodic Rock heads.
My only concern was that the song was inherently dated. I kind of worried the lyrics might be slightly Springsteen-ish by way of Desmond Child and that the original arrangement was sort of Bon Jovi-esque. It was a song I thought might've worked in 1989, but I wasn't sure about it fitting in with my newer music.
So Plink and I were on a mission: to take a good but dated song, which had never before been released, and punch it up, modernize it, in hopes of making it new again. And I wanted it to fit in with the new album.
I think we did a decent job. Plink really deserves a tip of the hat, because he started it off with the aggressive dance/rock groove for the track, which I immediately reacted to. Then, once I tried to interject a bit of AC/DC in the guitars, Plink took off with it. I think it sounds like a hit record now, and I could imagine everyone from Rob Zombie to Britney Spears covering it. Finally, Bob Burger and I streamlined the title down to Roses for this incarnation.
You have included a DVD with the first pressing of the album. Who's decision was it to do something like this?
I have a friend, a fan really, who began writing me letters when she lived in Japan. Eventually I got to see her at enough shows that she became a friend. Her name is Megumi and she lives in Canada now. While I was working on this album, she approached me to ask if I'd mind being the subject of her Film Making Class project, suggesting making a video of something off Palookaville a song called Watching The World Go By. I counter offered to rather do a new song from the new record. We decided on Another and she made a really lovely video for the song, shooting my scenes in Buffalo, NY.
Around this time I had a dinner conversation with a couple of sound engineers, Doug Nightwine and Gary Loizzo, regarding present day consumer technology.
I'd just read that DVDs were outselling CDs in recent years and it all got me to thinking (which is always dangerous). I wondered, wouldn't it be cool if I could manage to compile a few videos for the album? So I called up some friends, and friends of friends,
seeking volunteers to create videos for my music for the experience of it.
What we came up with is about 9 music videos. These are not big budget videos, they're mostly homemade. But they're not bad!
Atenzia Records generously agreed to do manufacture an initial Limited Edition release of Welcome To Hollywood which includes a free bonus DVD.
What can we expect of the DVD?
There are videos for the following songs: Welcome To Hollywood, Another, Bam!, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye, Super Boy, Roses, Heart In 3 Cry, and Intermission. I am in every video. There's humor in some and regular rock video ones as well as
experimental stuff. I made a few. My son made one. There's a great one by Jerry Heer, that looks like a band, but when you look real close you see that they're all me. The disc should come with a warning, CAUTION: IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE LOOKS OF THIS BURTNIK GUY, DO NOT PLAY THE DVD.
Would you ever record the whole album making process for all to see?
You mean create a documentary of The Making Of 'Welcome To Hollywood'? I actually thought about that and would've loved to do it. But honestly, I had
too much on my plate as it was. And anytime you introduce a camera to a situation, people act different, and the working priorities get altered. Besides, Plink's studio is so small and cluttered and it would mostly be footage of two guys staring into a
computer monitor. Just like you are right now! How does your hair look?
But if you're asking if I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Was it a hard decision to leave Styx?
Sure it was. It was a steady paycheck and I was treated like a rock star. Styx has such a good staff, and unbeatable crew, everything was taken care of.
There is much arrested development in the touring rock band lifestyle. Basically the only responsibility I had was wiping my own ass. I think I miss Todd Sucherman most of all. He is one of the best Goddam drummers I've ever worked with.
That being said, playing in Styx circa 1999 until the present was keeping me away from those who love me most. And I was going along with tending to the whims of other guy's wives (instead of taking care of my own).
Did you ever hear that Dylan song, I ain't gonna work on Maggie's Farm no more?
When did you begin to think my time here is up? What promoted the decision to leave and get off the road?
Well, I realized I wasn't going to be able to persuade the others that we didn't HAVE to constantly live on tour buses, that there are other ways for a band like theirs to work, and quite effectively actually.
It was me, not them. Those guys are quite satisfied with spending so little time at home and I was apparently the only one unhappy about being away from my kids and my wife.
I was beginning to come apart and I developed full blown personal issues. I also concluded that the heart and soul I was putting into the show every night was ultimately pointless, that my influence on that band would never equal the control of some of the
people who weren't even on stage, and I was personally in danger of losing touch with my own family.
I think it's all well and good to write and sing songs extolling the virtues of love, but I BELIEVE in that stuff. As the Darkness puts it I believe in a thing called love. Ultimately I'd rather live love for real than continue in some adolescent rock star
Now, the audience is much much smaller, but at least I'm in charge of my own life, make my own decisions.
You solo crowd walking spots were popular with Styx fans - did you enjoy your time in the spotlight?
I had a great time every night. I took to running through the audience every chance I had and enjoyed the living crap out of it. I like to think I stole the show, at least for a few minutes each night.
I saw the LA 2003 show the fans were just eating it up - it's one of the few new tracks played by Styx or Journey that night that saw the crown united on their feet clapping along. That must have felt great!
Yes it was great fun. I got to exercise my showmanship a little. I felt good about injecting that kind of energy into a classic rock show. It was maniacal and perhaps triggered by some deep rooted psychologically twisted the little boy who could ego
trip. Oh well, you only live once, make a big noise.
Is there any chance on earth of the Talking In Code and Heroes & Zeros albums resurfacing on CD?
Yes, I guess there is a chance on Earth. I just don't wanna do the accounting. I've always been much more interested in my new music than in the maintenance of my back catalogue.
Besides, the accolades you and others have so kindly bestowed on me regarding my earliest releases are wonderful and positive publicity, however I suspect that Talking In Code really isn't as special a record as it's reputation might have one believe, and
I've often wondered if the 'legend' of it is better than the actual recording.
As one songwriter put it, Well there's mystique and there's mistake
How do you feel about the compliments that still flow to this day about those two great AOR albums?
It really is quite humbling, especially considering the original sales (dreadful) and that
they've been out of print for over a decade. Just the fact that you're bringing up these albums is some vindication which I'm very grateful for - and I'm amazed that anyone knows about this forgotten music at all. I was really blown away to have seen copies go
for over $400 on Ebay!
You have a wealth of unreleased demos recorded - is there any chance of a box set or anthology release being put together to unearth some more of these gems? Perhaps a Retrospectacle 2 sometime?
I was approached about a box set a few years back, but I wouldn't exactly hold my breath, if I were you. Then again, like John Lennon said, Tomorrow never knows.
Where to from here Glen? Any solo touring planned and how do you intend on trying to get a US release of this great album scheduled?
It looks like there's going to be a way to get the album in the U.S. (but that wouldn't be on a major label - it doesn't matter to American labels how good your music is, it's about other stuff: how young you are, how young your audience is, etc. They're in the business of ignoring music fans - like Melodic Rock.com readers. I've played the game of releasing a record on a 'major' only to watch it go unpromoted. I don't need to sign my life away to some corporation to do that
He said grouchily).
I'm playing gigs here and there with my new band, which includes Tom Brislin (Yes, Meatloaf) on keys and my son Beau on bass. And I have plans to record a new
album, which will probably be very different from Welcome To Hollywood.
Please don't leave it 8 years between solo albums this time!!!
I'll try not to. Thanks for your interest and encouragement. And if I may quote Lord Buckley, People are the true flowers of life, and it has been a most precious pleasure to have temporarily strolled in your garden
Thanks Glen, you are a true gentleman and a legend to boot!