Q&A: Paul Westerberg On Pitching Songs, Pleased To Meet Me, And Testing The Sales Waters
It's a funny thing about Paul Westerberg. The legendary ex-Replacement, who brought humor, hypersensitivity and hymns to drinking yourself stupid to the left side of the dial, doesn't like to talk to the press. But on the rare occasion that he decides to do so, he's like a man on sodium pentathol: he'll tell you anything! We spoke to him about writing songs for Glen Campbell (well, indirectly), the demos in his basement, scoring children's films anddrumroll pleasewhether he's ever going to put out another official Paul Westerberg album.
I'm guessing you're a longtime Glen Campbell fan.
Absolutely. But in the sense that I heard all the hits on the radio. Songs like "Galveston," which is a favorite. I also used to watch his TV show (The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour). And I know about his guitar playing before that, with The Wrecking Crew.
Both your contributions to his album, "Ghost On The Canvas" and "Any Trouble," sound like they were written just for Glen. Especially after you heard the news about him having Alzheimer's. They both seem to be about death and where you might go afterwards. Was that deliberate?
No, not at all. One song is about two years old. The other is from the late '90s. Glen did my tune "Sadly Beautiful" on his last record, but I'm still surprised when anyone wants to do something of mine. Even if I tailor a song, it rarely works out how I planned it. Like, I'd love to tell you that "Dyslexic Heart" was written for [the Cameron Crowe movie] Singles, but it was just a nice accident. Like this.
So, the song pitching is hit-and-miss?
To put it mildly. I'll just write and write and write and think, "Oh, this one would be good for Randy Travis." But if I aim it at someone, it doesn't work. I've got all these tapes in my music room, lots of songs that may never see the light of day.
Well, you could put them out, right?
Of course, I have. I just don't know if anyone has noticed. I've been releasing things on my own. I did "Ghost" myself in 2009 on PW & The Ghost Gloves Cat Wing Joy Boys. And "Any Trouble," I recorded a demo of in (searches through his tapes)... wait a second... in 1999. I don't know if many people heard my version.
It must feel good to have a couple of songs done by somebody so legendary.
Yeah. And who can actually sing (laughs). Well, who has the pitch to sing them correctly. They're both a little too high for me now. But yeah, established people like that, great, classic artists, it makes you feel good. It's really nice to be encouraged, too. You feel left behind sometimes, like you don't have it anymore. When somebody tells you they like a song well enough to record it, it makes you think, "Well, I'm not finished."
Paul, you're pretty legendary yourself. You still feel that way?
Campbell was a part of The Wrecking Crew. It had to feel good having a connection to one of those guys.
It's some of the best pop music ever recordedThe Mamas and The Papas and The Byrds. You know, they used to do, like, four songs in an afternoon and they'd all be hits. I can remember, in the '90s, it would take me a week to just get the right drum sound. In terms of recording, I think we're going backwards. Speaking of The Wrecking Crew, not too many people know that that's [session man extraordinaire] Steve Douglas playing on Pleased To Meet Me. He was all over the Phil Spector and Brian Wilson records.
What else do you remember about Pleased To Meet Me?
Jim Dickinson did a great job producing. But, of course, he's a session player, too. We finished the record and thought we were done. And he ended up overdubbing all these instruments on them later. That he played! Producers are always frustrated musicians and songwriters.
By the way, all my friends tell me that their kids loved Open Season [the 2006 animated film for which Westerberg wrote music.
That's nice. It's great when you get kids interested in your stuff. They're not like most rock fans. They come to things with an open mind.
As far as the grown-ups go, are you thinking of putting out a proper solo album again, or have you had it with the industry?
I'm always writing and I have plenty of songs, but I think the Glen Campbell record is a bit of a test to see if people still buy records. Or go for my stuff. I'd like to go on record and say something concrete, but I can't. So, we shall see.