ROCKIN' PAST 40

JOHN HIATT'S NOT DEAD, HE'S JUST PLAYING IN AN ALTERNATIVE BAND

"Interesting though it may have turned out, it was an experiment," Hiatt says. "It's called find a band. Mostly, we didn't." Often a surly interview, Hiatt sounds on this day like he looks on the cover of the new album--at peace, full of confidence and mischief.

"The last leg we did with Little Village, when all the managers had gone home, and after the record hadn't done what we hoped and we all basically agreed that it was over, we went out and played the most shit-hot music of all. We went to Europe for four weeks and just burned. So that got me goin'. That amped me up."
This creative shock set Hiatt to work on a batch of new song ideas, and an urge to get hard--musically speaking. Rooting through his 15-year-old son's cassette collection for inspiration, he became particularly attached to the two Faith No More records produced by Matt Wallace.

Wallace, who was then working on Paul Westerberg's 14 Songs, agreed to take on the Hiatt project. It was this alternative producer who found Hiatt his alternative band. Hiatt wanted muscle and a bigger, fuzzier guitar sound. Wallace obliged by bringing in a bunch of young alternative players headed by Wire Train drummer Brian MacLeod and School of Fish guitarist Michael Ward. Not surprisingly, the who-influenced-whom equation came out in Hiatt's favor. Rather than Hiatt turning into R.E.M., the collaboration seems to have transformed Ward and the others into left-of-center traditionalists.

"I was fully reenergized prior to meeting with these young bucks," Hiatt says, brushing off a semiserious question about whether these young upstarts brought new life to an old man. "I simply needed to get some young players to keep up with me."
Hiatt has assembled a road band that will feature Ward and an even more distinguished infusion of alternative talent, drummer Michael Urbano and bassist Davey Faragher of Cracker. The as-yet-unnamed group will spend October in Europe before opening a U.S. tour in November. Hiatt says the live show "gets nastier" than the album and that the live set will also mix in lots of older material, reaching as far back as his powerful but largely ignored third album, 1979's Slug Line.

There's an outside possibility that Hiatt, Cooder, Keltner and Lowe could regroup for another album, possibly under a different title than Little Village, at some future date. "Probably in 96," Hiatt says, without a trace of seriousness in his voice. "For the Atlanta Olympics. We could play the opening ceremony. Keltner could shoot a flaming drumstick and light the torch. I can see him standing up, waving his sticks: 'Let the games begin.'

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