Taking It Easy: Joe Walsh Of The Eagles Interviewed
, June 21st, 2012 04:16
Julian Marszalek speaks to Joe Walsh about life with the world's biggest rock group, going solo and, er, boshing pills and going out raving to psy-trance
That The Quietus is awaiting the presence of a superstar is well in evidence. The interview is scheduled to take place in a well-heeled hotel in Knightsbridge just a stone’s throw from Hyde Park. Awaiting the appointed hour in the lounge of a comfortable suite, your scribe is kept company by an online PR, a traditional press officer, a man from the record label, a photographer and a camera man who asks if it’s OK to film part of the interview for inclusion on a possible visual document of the star’s visit to London. It’s difficult to shake the notion that this is how the other half live.
Yet where else would be an appropriate place to meet Joe Walsh? As guitarist with The Eagles, he is a member of the highest-selling American band in US history. Their albums have sold a staggering 120 million copies (it’s been reported that 100 million of those have been in the US alone) and with Hotel California they released one the most successful and planet-shagging albums of all time. These are the kind of eye-watering figures that can drive an artist insane as they struggle to replicate their success. It can also leave a profound mark on the ego and alter the way a musician reacts with the world and how he or she deals with lesser mortals.
“Hi, I’m Joe.”
Any worries that a star of this level may prove to be as daunting as the circus that goes on around him are dissipated the moment he strolls into the room. Taller than one would imagine, his firm handshake is a world away from the limp grip offered by many stars of a colossal stature. Dressed in black jeans and a jacket that’s worn over a t-shirt of – what else? – an eagle, Walsh’s long, blond hair almost lights up the room as much as his personality.
“How you doin’, man?” he asks before offering a choice of soft drinks. Grabbing himself a Diet Coke, he leads The Quietus through to another room for the interview. Sitting opposite each other, it’s striking how often Walsh smiles and laughs throughout the interview and the intense level at which his blue eyes shine with life and vigour. Here, at the centre of the superstar hurricane, is a sense of calm and a man who is at peace with himself.
Walsh is in town to promote his new album, Analogue Man. His first solo effort in 20 years, it finds many of his trademarks in place – the reedy vocals, self-deprecating humour, his muscular lead breaks – but also explorations into territories not usually associated with him. This is the sound of Walsh having a lot of fun.
Among the bonhomie and laughs that punctuate our time together, Walsh is disarmingly frank about the alcoholism and drug abuse that derailed him in the wake of The Eagles’ success and their subsequent split. These are issues he also addresses with humour but rather than dwelling on them regret or a sense of shame, Walsh is more concerned with the here and now and how best to live life to the full. More importantly, Joe Walsh is remarkably good company with the ability to make our allotted time seem a lot shorter than it actually is.
Why has it taken you so long to record a new album?
Joe Walsh: Well, 20 years went by like that! In 1994, two things happened: one was I was in pretty bad shape and I had to get sober and I ran out of options. I had to start over and pretty much learn everything without alcohol and other substances and you could measure how long that took in terms of a couple of years. Everything, for example, like playing live in front of people was terrifying at first. Trying to write music in the morning was terrifying at first [laughs]. The last time I’d seen the morning was when I was going to bed! But across the board I just plain had to learn how to live life sober. I hadn’t been sober in a long time.
In the meantime, I really didn’t feel like writing or feel comfortable in the studio so I let it go for a while. I’m 18 years sober now and I’m writing really well and I feel really good in my own skin.
If you say you couldn’t face making music, how much of a gap was that in your life? That must be a hell of a void to fill?
JW: As the disease of alcoholism progressed, I really lost track of myself. There was a time when I hardly played guitar any more or do music. Gradually that came back. There’s about 10 years there that I wish I had back but the important thing is that I’m sober now and I’m glad I stopped because otherwise I don’t think I’d be here right now. I don’t really have regrets because I had a great time. One of the most terrifying things in my life was that Keith Moon decided that he liked me and that we were going to stay up for a couple of weeks to get to know each other!
But the other thing that happened in 1994 was that The Eagles decided to get back to work and Hell Freezes Over came out of that. We’ve now been around the world at least three times and because of that I never really got any momentum going to finish an album and put it out. So between both of those things it’s been 20 years and I don’t know where it all went but I’m good to go now!
Did you have a realisation that the music had taken second place to all the rewards that go with global success?
JW: Yeah. That’s a real hazard of the occupation and that’s something that most musicians have to deal with at some point. With any level of success you get some non-musical things that come along – money, ego – and it’s easy to lose your perspective and get off doing what you did to get there. It’s easy to do that. And it’s easy to get on to something like alcohol or drugs so my advice to musicians is don’t lose your perspective because you will waste time in terms of years.
The same thing happened to The Eagles the first time around. With Hotel California we achieved an amount of success we never dreamed of. It went way beyond being successful. It became a big thing and it became such a financial thing. To the record company it was a whole corporate corridor whenever an Eagles album came out. We started playing for a lot of money and between touring and trying to deliver another record and wondering how we were ever going to top Hotel California – knowing that we never really could – the emphasis kinda came off the music and that affected our creative output. It got going really fast and we started getting really tired and we started going crazy.
Is it possible to get any kind of perspective when something is that successful and huge? How do you function under all the demands that are made of you?
JW: We just plain had to stop because it stopped making sense. We were all in bad moods all the time. It just felt yucky. At the time, I found when you’re living your life it seems like random events mashing into each other like a huge car accident and that mutates into something else and you have no idea what’s going on. And then something smashes into that and then it’s anarchy and chaos and, ‘I don’t know what’s going on!’ as you live it. After the fact is when you get your perspective, when you look back upon it and it’s kinda, ‘Ahhh… I see!’ It’s like someone wrote a finely crafted novel; it all finally makes sense looking back at it but at the time I was so into it, it was like being in an air raid [laughs]! Bombs were dropping everywhere and I didn’t have an idea!
How easy is it to repair the relationships and dynamics within the band after what you’d all been through?
JW: We were lucky in that we stopped before we destroyed all that. We just plain couldn’t do it anymore and if we kept on pretending that we could then we wouldn’t have been able to get back together. But like I say, later on, in retrospect, things make sense and we all realised that it got away from us; it got outta control.
When we get together it turns in to something bigger than any of us individuals; there’s something about The Eagles’ chemistry. We realised that and we missed it. We went into solo projects and we played with other fine musicians but it wasn’t the same. We realised we have the true chemistry of a real band. That’s what made us figure that hell freezes over so let’s try it again now that we have our perspective back. Let’s be careful not to let that happen again and let’s pick it up where we left off and try it.
We still had it and we’ve been able to moderate it and keep control of it and we’ve done really well that way.
It seems that the title track of your new album is about that sense of perspective and very funny it is, too. Where do you see yourself as an analogue man fitting into the digital world of the 21st century?
JW: [Laughs] Yeah! It’s kinda like a Woody Allen movie or something! Look, it’s OK; I’m not saying analogue is better. At all. It is the digital age and there’s no denying that. You make adjustments and you go ahead on with it. Digital technology can change the music and with analogue technology you would document the music. You can fix things with digital technology and there’s a temptation to fix everything or make it perfect and what you’re losing there is the human performance that may not be perfect but there may be magic in it. You can make it perfect but music doesn’t sound good perfect for some reason.
Your producer, Jeff Lynne, is a huge perfectionist. How did you two get together?
JW: We respected each other’s wavelengths and we learned to work together and we had a great time working together. Jeff’s got the right perspective, which is what I’m talking about.
The album has an impressive cast list that features a Beatle in Ringo Starr and also two thirds of CSN with David Crosby and Graham Nash. How would the Joe Walsh who was starting off in the James Gang react to that if you told what was coming?
JW: He would tell you to go away! I never dreamed that I’d be within a hundred miles of any of those people. Somewhere along in the journey you cross paths and sometimes that turns into a life friendship. I was in Ringo’s first All Starr Band so I’ve known him for quite a while. I got married three years ago and my wife happens to be the little sister of Barbara Bach so Ringo is now my brother-in-law! And if you’d have told James Gang Joe Walsh that he was going to have a Beatle for a brother-in-law, he’d probably have poured a drink on your head [laughs]!
That just happened and I’m just lucky that way! I wrote a song about it!
I was going to ask you about ‘Lucky That Way’. Is that a sequel to ‘Life’s Been Good’? And as for luck, is that something that just happens to you or is that down to the people that you’re with?
JW: I didn’t intend it that way and write a sequel to ‘Life’s Been Good’ but it did come out that way. I wrote that with a guy named Tommy Lee James from Nashville. Another thing that my wife did was to introduce me to Barbara Orbison - who was Roy’s wife – and she took care of his publishing and had an office in Nashville and she had a group of writers there that she sponsored. They’re responsible for a bunch of stuff that came outta Nashville and one of them is Tommy Lee James and she sent him out to LA and told me I should write with him. He brought that Nashville feel out of it and he brought the chorus with him and the verses were according to Joe.
I don’t understand it. A lot of it is luck. In my insecure days I used to think, ‘Boy, I’ve had a hit record! That had to be luck! And if my luck runs out then everyone’s going to think that I stink!’ Y’know, that’s a complex I had. It’s karma, I guess; I don’t know what it is. But I’ve had a good run and David Crosby and Graham Nash said they’d love to sing on that song and anything that they sing on makes it special. I’ve known them for a long time and they’re good people and brilliant singers; I couldn’t have asked for more.
So I guess I am lucky that way and I wish I had an answer for you but I just don’t get it. But I’m still here and I’m writing pretty good stuff. I can still play and I can still sing. I’m really lucky – I could be moving pianos, y’know [laughs]?
I mention the name ‘Joe Walsh’ to a lot of people and it elicits a particular reaction and that reaction is, ‘Yeah! Wow! Joe Walsh!’ – almost as if you’re everyone’s favourite bar buddy. What do you think creates such a response?
JW: Yeah, I’ve always tried to be that way. That’s what ‘Life’s Been Good’ was about. This is not as extravagant a lifestyle as it appears. For two hours, when you’re onstage, you’re pretty cool and on a good night, people take note. But that’s for two hours. People see that and they think, ‘Life’s like that 24/7.’ It ain’t [laughs]! You’re in the trenches with everybody else the other 22 hours! And I’ve never forgotten that.
I gotta stay humble, y’know? When I met heroes and people who influenced me and it was so important to me. When a hero would take time to say ‘Hello’ to me and listen to whatever silly rap I had and maybe sign something for me, I was on top of the world! And when a hero was a real jerk, I was crushed! And I got to remember that because people stand outside for a long time and with an album and if I’m too busy or I’m in a bad mood then I’ve got to remember what that did to me. And if I take the time to say ‘Hello’ then it can be life changing. It could make them wanna be a musician and they might be a good one if that went well. I always try to remember that and keep it in perspective. I’m just a guy and I can play guitar good, y’know? But I’m like everybody else on this planet trying to figure it out.
You’re a guitar player but I understand that you love psychedelic trance…
JW: I do!
Have you ever popped a pill and gone raving?
JW: I haven’t but I’ve heard all about it! And this drug ecstasy but I’ve never done that! But house and trance and all these other parts of it… I have a satellite radio at home and it had electronica stations and I listen to that stuff and I’m just floored by it! There are young guys who are making music with a computer and it is brilliant. And they’re not mainstream. I had to go looking for it but it’s out there and these guys are brilliant. They’re just working at their craft making this music.
I was in India with my wife and I went to a club in Mumbai and I heard an electronica band. These guys were in their early 20s but they didn’t play anything; they played three laptops and oh, my God! – all up with the lights and everything – it made a huge impression on me! And so I got home and I thought, ‘Damn! I don’t know how to do this but I’m gonna try it!’ And so I made some loops and stuff and played some lead guitar over the top of it but that last song on the album is called ‘India’ because that’s where I ran across it. I love that stuff and that was my try at it. I salute those guys!
Psychedelic Trance is that last thing most people would expect from Joe Walsh. Is there anything that you’re listening to that might surprise people?
JW: There’s so much stuff out on the internet that you could spend all day listening to it and still only hear 0.5% of what’s out there. Every once in a while you get lucky and someone blows you away. The Black Keys I think are brilliant. Wow! They’re right on it! And Kings of Leon make great records, really great records. And there’s a band called Gorillaz and I happened across them and I think they’re great.
See, I listen out there and I don’t hear a lot that’s gonna be played 30 years from now, put it that way, but it’s out there and when I come across a good band that knows what they’re doing then I have great hope for the future.
I wouldn’t say rock & roll is dead but the current music made by young people isn’t really rock & roll.
When you started out in the James Gang, rock and roll was very much at the centre of youth culture and interlinked with protest and politics. Do you see a time where that could happen again?
JW: I think it’s in transition. You look at the Roaring 20s and that was a boogie decade, y’know? And in Europe too. And then I don’t know what happened; that war and all that and then rock and roll came in the 50s. I think we’re in an in-between stage now. There are a lot of young bands with new music and of course, digital technology came. It ate the record company’s infrastructure. There are still good labels but the infrastructure of record companies and record stores is kinda gone. That effected up & coming bands big time.
Digital technology also ate intellectual property. Royalties are non-existent now and that is an obstacle to up & coming bands. And to some degree digital technology has eaten classic radio as we know it. Independent stations with disc jockeys who chose their own music have all gone now; it’s these huge parent companies that own a hundred stations and then decide what we should hear. That’s an obstacle to up & coming musicians. The musicians have got to manoeuvre through this and figure it out – and so do I, we all do – but somebody’s gonna come outta this and start something that catches. Music will be back. We may not understand it but it’ll be the foundation again with another huge creative period again like England in the 60s or rock & roll in the 50s or something like that. We’re in between now and everybody’s kinda scratching their heads because it don’t make sense right now. I think that’s an observation and not a judgement and I think that’s where we’re at.
Is it true The Eagles are getting back together again?
JW: Yeah! This is down time. We’re taking it easy for a while. It is our 40th anniversary and we’ve archived everything from Day One and we’re doing a documentary and I saw some of it and it’s pretty powerful stuff. We were so young and passionate and naïve and stoned [laughs uproariously]! It’s great stuff to watch!
We’re gonna get the documentary out and the plan is to get a whole new show together and a whole new production based on 40 years and a ‘Happy Birthday To Us’ tour and revisit some of the album tracks that weren’t necessarily Top 10.
Given the nature of the tour, will you be approaching Bernie Leadon to come on board?
JW: I wouldn’t be against it! I think it’d be a real hoot if some of the alumni showed up. We’ll have to figure that one out. Speaking for me, I’d like to see that! We could have some great arguments on stage and share it with the audience [laughs uproariously]! That’d be good [laughs even more and harder]!
What do people most get wrong about Joe Walsh?
JW: [Long pause] I don’t know. I don’t know what they think. Here I am 18 years sober, grounded, focused, I’m writing again, I like where I am. I’m real positive and I got this great family that came along with my wife – I’m happily married and she’s a great part of me that was missing – and I feel real good.
And Analogue Man is like, ‘Hi! Remember me? Well, I’m back!’ and it won’t be 20 years before the next album. I’m not done yet; there’s still a lot of stuff I wanna do. I’ve been rich a couple of times and I’ve been famous a couple of times and really what’s left for me is to work at my craft and to keep going.
I played Atlantic City, NJ, a few months with BB King and he opened for me and I said, ‘I really should be opening for you’ and he laughed. He’s got a bad knee and played sitting down but I gotta tell you, he played just great! And he sang great and he’ll put his guitar, Lucille, behind his back and he’ll tell a story and then he says, ‘And that’s why I play the blues!’ And he gets that guitar and he starts ripping it and he’s 85! So, y’know, I don’t feel old – he’s showing the way! Keep going! I don’t feel old; I feel like this kid in this body that’s starting to slow down. I don’t like that part but I’m not done yet! I don’t wanna retire.
What’s the last thing that you learned?
JW: Two things: compassion and don’t be in such a hurry [laughs uproariously again]!