16 September 2008
Interviews | 2008
|On his new album Soul Speak, ex-Doobie Brother and self-professed blue-eyed soul singer, Michael McDonald once again finds him digging down deep in the history of American Soul. In this interview, he tells Americana UK about perfect soul songs, illegal downloading and the prospect of him recording a blue eyed country album. Which might just happen.|
Interview by Soren McGuire
Soul Speak is your third album of Motown covers. Have you approached it in a different way this time?
We didn’t want it to be so exclusively Motown like the last records. We widened the range of artists and songs and moved outside the Motown label. We even added three originals, and even though we reserved our judgements on that one until the end, we thought they sounded good on the record with the other songs.
Why do we still like these old soul songs?
It’s a tough question to answer. The whole point of these three records is to show how we never got tired of these old songs even though we’ve listened to them, over and over again, for so many years. We didn’t just move on to the next thing. They still strike our hearts and minds and they still resonate with us the same way they did when we first heard them on the radio
Were songs recorded back then just better or do you think music today will have?
Well, oddly enough, what people were saying back then was that these songs would probably not have the same lifespan as the songs from the 1940’s. But obviously they have. There are great songs written today by young artists that will last a lifetime like these Motown songs, but we won’t know which ‘til we get there.
There’s a few of your own songs on the new album. Isn’t it a bit intimidating putting your neck out there and saying “here’s some legendary Motown songs and a bunch of my own”?
It might be dangerous, yes, but I looked at it as a challenge. I know the Motown songs have the familiarity as opposed to the new songs and that was really my reservation all along about putting them on there, but in the end they seemed to fit in musically. The thing about making an album like this is that I have raised the bar and now I have to meet it or suffer the consequences. It is a little daunting to think that I have to come up with songs in future that are equally as good as these Motown songs.
You don’t seem to wander off to far from the original versions on Soul Speak. Why not change it and see if it stands a different approach?
The first rule of doing a re-recording is to ask yourself: are we changing it just to change it or are we changing it to try and make it feel contemporary? Those are two places I don’t like to go. I don’t like to do a cover just to make it sound contemporary enough or different enough. I’d rather record a song completely like the original than make some unneccessary changes to it.
Ever heard a really crap cover-version of one of your own songs?
I’m sure I have, but I can’t think of one from the top of my head.
You’ve been in the music business for nearly forty years now. Was it easier back in the 70’s when you were actually able to make a ton of money as an artist?
The music business has changed a lot over the years. One thing I’ve noticed is that this business reinvents itself every two or three years whether you like it or not. It keeps the blood-flow healthy. What’s going on right now, however scary it might be to artists and labels alike, is actually keeping the music business healthy. It’s giving opportunities to bands and labels that we would otherwise never have heard of. It’s like FM Radio when that first came out. It cleansed the blood of pop music and these changes in the dynamics of the music business will do the same thing.
But doesn’t it scare you that, erm, kids might be downloading your music without paying for it?
I think that somehow some way that’ll all be worked out one day. Obviously I think that artists should be compensated like anyone else providing a service. If we stop paying for music there’ll be a whole bunch of really talented artists who won’t afford to do what they do. If they all have to go dig a ditch to be able to afford their music, it’s gonna damage the quality of it. I actually had a conversation with my son about this. He’s been downloading music since he was eleven and I told him that if he really likes the music, he should go out and buy it. They depend on it to do another record. Everything I get for you, your clothes and your food, I get because I’m able to do this for a living. And he just said, “don’t worry, Dad, no one’s downloading your music anyway”. That was kind of comforting. In a weird way.
Before I let you go – given any thought about releasing a country album in the future?
Yeah, I actually have, and I would probably enjoy every minute of that. I’ve even talked to a couple of great producers about it. I don’t know exactly wich way I would take it. I might get someone who’s produced country to do it or I might do it myself and try and stay a little bit more above the fray. But either way it would definitely be what I would considder a country record. Country is such a goldmine to lower yourself in to, there’s so many great songs to cover. But I don’t know when it’s going to happen.
Soul Speak is out now on Universal