Q&A Josh of Spain
June 6, 1:22 PMLA Indie Music Examiner Michele McManmon
The group Spain is a deep, soulful, moody love child of the talented bassist Josh Haden. The group made a huge impact on the music scene in the 1995-2003 with 4 CD releases, gaining the attention of greats such as Johnny Cash, producer Rick Rubin, and legendary bassist Mike Watt.
To help Spain get their single "I'm still free" released on 7" Vinyl please go to:
Spain played a stellar set at the Silverlake Jubilee, making it obvious these cats traverse into another dimension with their music. After the Q&A it became obvious that perhaps they may even create an Indie revolution within the Industry by using Kickstarter.com to get their work out to the world without backing from a label with your help.
Talking with Josh is like gliding on a pond of fresh ice...
Your Dad is Charlie Haden, a great jazz bassist that played with Ornette Coleman. Is your Dad originally from the Mid-West?
He was born in Shenandoah, Iowa. His family made their living singing as a group called the Haden Family. They played instruments too, like guitar, bass, and mandolin. They would travel from town to town, show up in a town, and go to the local radio station, knock on the door, and ask if they could perform gospel-country music. They eventually settled in Springfield, Missouri.
You certainly come from a long line of talented musicians?
Yeah, on my Mom’s side too. My Mom’s family was part of the Los Angeles Mandolin Orchestra. It was like a 40 piece, or many players, whom all played mandolin, except a few who played bass, and the bass were called mando-bass. It’s a double, acoustic, stand up bass with a more flat body. I’m not sure what the difference is with tone.
When did you fall in love with the bass? Was that your first instrument?
When I was 12 or 13 I got my first guitar and I really didn’t, I don’t know what, but I just didn’t connect to it, the chords and too many strings, so I told my Dad I wanted to switch to bass and at the time, and he was visiting his family in Missouri, and the Haden family owned a pawn shop, and he got me a bass from the pawn shop. That’s how I started playing bass. I was fourteen. (He says smiling through his voice).
Who were your musical influences?
Whatever was on the mainstream radio, Van Halen, Led Zepplin, Aerosmith, you know? Then I remember going to school and a friend came in with his boom box and a cassette, and he slammed it down on the table and said “Josh you gotta listen to this” and it was Black Flag’s “Jealous Again” and that changed my life. It changed everything. I was 13. I forgot all about Led Zepplin and Van Halen. It was all punk rock from that point on and that’s when I started playing in bands. I listen to classical, country, jazz, bluegrass, and a band named Tindersticks now.
What bass players stand out for you?
What I do as a bass player is pretty simple. I don’t read or write music. I haven’t taken numerous lessons, and I do it by ear. There are some incredible bassists that are revolutionary, just building off of what Jacko Pastorius has started. This was a long time ago, but Mike Watt (Bassist for re-formed Stooges) wanted to start a bass band with me, and I couldn’t keep up with him. He’s such an incredible bass player that I had to tell him I couldn’t do it, cause it was too complex for me. I was listening to this guy in a speed metal band, I think they’re called Augury, it just blew me away. There are people like Flea that are just over the top, he’s great at playing and has a great musical ear. Mike Watt, Steve Lawson from the UK, of course my Dad, and Charles Mingus. I’m listening to Mingus, Mingus, Mingus a lot lately.
What is it about that album that stands out for you?
I spoke to my Dad about it and he said it’s a great album, but it’s completely different. It’s a jazz record, but it’s different from any other jazz record. It’s like taking a big band and turning it upside down.
What were the origins of Spain?
It was a gradual progression of wanting to do something different, wanting to broaden my musical horizons…all my friends went one direction and I went the complete opposite. I went to UC Irvine and that’s where I met the guitarist, Ken Boudakian, who was on the first Spain record. We were put together as roommates and when I graduated in ’91, I called Ken to start a new band. Back in ’91-92 that’s how it started, I just didn’t have a name for the band.
So your origins were punk rock?
They still are…you know I listen to all kinds of music. I still read Maximum Rock n Roll at 42, I still listen to Punk Rock. The new Spain record we are recording right now, a few of the songs on the recording, are totally different then the “Spain” sound that the group has kind of been pigeon-held in: slow core, down tempo, mopy and introspective. The first record I was consciously writing songs to mock the Rock n Roll idiom. I was trying to write Rock n Roll changes in the song at a very slow tempo because I wanted majestic Rock n Roll chord changes and guitar solos, but at a really slow tempo, which is like, on the first Spain record a song called “I lied”. I can’t make the same records over again though, so the subsequent Spain records change musically. This latest one, it’s been almost 10 years since the last Spain record has been released. There are 2 songs on this new release are very up-tempo and even, God forbid, kinda Rock n Roll. A friend of mine told me not to mess up the Spain formula, to which I said “the songs may be faster, but they’re still in the Spain idiom with song structure, they’re Spain”. They are Blues based songs. We played two of them at the (Silverlake) Jubilee.
How did it feel playing them live?
It felt good. I got to belt out the lyrics and usually I’m borderline whispering the lyrics. A friend of mine at the show asked me if I had originally written the song for my punk rock band, and I hadn’t, but they were so far off of Spain’s regular motis apperondi. I’ve never been a fan of categories
So your songs are all blues based? No jazz? I’ve been told by musicians it’s either one camp or the other…
It’s true that usually bands go one way or another and the second Spain record had much more of a Country music influence and the third one had more of a Rock influence. That’s the best thing about my band is that we are all influenced by different styles and it comes through in our music. It gives me more avenues of expression. It’s sort of a mish mash of blues, country, pop, rock, jazz, but the tempo has to be slow and very little distorted guitar, but now I still adhere to that for the most part, but I’m branching out a little bit.
Part II Josh talks about his connection with Johnny Cash, Rick Rubin, and his revolutionary idea on releasing his own vinyl...Indie style
How did Johnny Cash come to record your song “Spiritual”?
“Rick Rubin who was producing Johnny Cash’s record that the song appeared on heard the Spain version off of “Blue Mood” played on KCRW, and I guess Rick played it for him and he liked it, so Johnny recorded it. So it was that easy.”
Without your permission? How rude?
I don’t know what the rules are governing that but, you know, they didn’t even have to ask me. Rick called me at some point, it was so long ago, I don’t quite remember, but I had a manager at the time and he must’ve told my manager, who told me, that Johnny Cash is going to cover “Spiritual” and I mean, what do you say to that? It’s like every songwriters dream come true. Plus he, back then as he is now, was such a big influence on me, and plus there’s the whole family connection with my Dad, who grew up singing country songs on the radio, and was in the Mid-West and knew the Carter family. My Dad’s Dad and his Mom used to hang out with the Carter family. It seems like a full completion of the circle and it’s so incredible, I still can’t believe it. How long ago was it, 15 years ago and I still can’t get over it.
Do you have a date for Spain's new release?
No. I don’t like setting dates because it often gets pushed back anyway. I’m in a great place where we don’t have a record deal and so we are recording at a very leisurely pace. I have no pressure of deadline. My intention is to release it on my own label. That’s a whole nother aspect of my career and Spain in general. The problems in the execution of contractual agreements with other record labels that make me feel very free now. I don’t have the encumbrance of someone at a label, who doesn’t know my music as well as I do telling me how and when I should present my music. I’m savoring this feeling of being totally independent.
How did you come up with the idea for Kickstarter.com to help get your music printed on Vinyl if you match the dollar amount needed to do so?
The whole issue with Spain’s single “I’m still free” is that I had an agreement with this other label to put it out on vinyl. A series of events made me not want to work with them. I was still left with the idea of wanting to release it on vinyl though and so my friend told me about Kickstarter.com. The way it works is that the person who wants to buy the 7” is basically pre-ordering the disk, but their also financing the creation of all the disks. The manufacturing and shipping for all the 7” will be $1400. Also though the person placing the order can pledge certain amounts of money, like for $10 you get the 7”, for $15 you get it autographed, and $20 gets your name in the “Thank You” section. I don’t know if it’s gonna work out. If it doesn’t then I can’t release it because I don’t have the money for it right now for the up front costs. It’s worth giving it a try.
I think it’s great that you’re generating new ideas of ways that Indie Artists can try to get their music out their without a label. It’s very inspiring what you are doing!