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A Chat With Stephen Bishop

April 14, 2007
By Jason Thompson

It's not every day that Stephen Bishop releases a new album. So when the chance arose to interview him regarding his new release, Romance in Rio, on 180 Music, I jumped at the chance. Bishop has always been a personal favorite, and as I told him, his Red Cab to Manhattan album was one of my all-time favorites, and a real influence on me when I was a kid. We talked for quite a while, getting sidetracked on all sorts of good stuff like his film work, current musical tastes, his knowing John Belushi and other members of the original "SNL" cast, the wild times of the '70s and '80s, and whether or not it was more lucrative for him to tour outside of the states. (The answer to the latter is "yes," after Bish' rolled off all the places he's been to around the globe recently, doing live shows). It was a great conversation through and through, but the main goal was to discuss to the new album, and that is exactly what we have for you here.

Bullz-Eye: I loved the new album, I think it's great!

Stephen Bishop: Thank you!

BE: I did my research, so I know a fan on your website's message board came up with the name of the album.

SB: Oh, yeah!

BE: (laughs) How do you exactly pronounce it?

SB: The name is pronounced "SOW-DODGE-EE." I know it's a tough one, but you know, I figure it's time for America to learn a new word.

BE: (laughs) Yeah, well I looked it up on Wikipedia and they gave about five different pronunciations for it, so I thought I'd ask you.

SB: It means "to have an earnest, heartfelt longing for something or someone beyond reach." And it's almost unexplainable in the English language. It's a very heavy Portuguese word. I've got this, ah, on my web site just the other day, this guy he played the album for his mother who is Portuguese and he told her the title and tears came to her eyes because it's such a, you know, it's just a heavy, heavy word.

"I'm a big title guy. I really love writing songs from titles. Titles usually really spark my creativity, and I was in a DVD store and I noticed a DVD of a documentary called "New York In The Fifties" and I rented it and I just loved the whole idea."

BE: Yeah! And the winner (who named the album) got to have dinner with you in some snazzy L.A. restaurant.

SB: Oh yeah, it was like an incredibly expensive restaurant and we went with the producers of the album (Oscar Castro-Neves and Peter Bunetta). We had a great time.

BE: So did 180 Music come to you for this project?

SB: Yeah, they came to me with this idea. It was Jimmy Brandmeier and Peter Bunetta's idea. And he's a producer, really, you know, a hit producer that's worked with a lot of different artists, he's a really talented guy. I had worked with him for a while, and he's also been a really good friend of mine. So they came to me with this idea and with Oscar in mind to do all the guitar work. I normally play the guitar on my albums, but he's like the master. So, they came to me with the idea and I'd never thought of it, I don't think I'd ever think of it, but I love Brazilian music.

BE: Yeah, me too. So you worked with Eric Clapton again on it.

SB: Yeah, that was fun! You know, Eric's been on tour for almost a year…he's still on tour. But he took off time from his really busy schedule here. He zoomed in to L.A. and was doing all these interviews for his new album, and then he just came over and we wound up trying him on three different guitars. Electric guitars, Spanish guitar, and we borrowed this acoustic steel string 'cause we didn't have one – I have a million at home, but we didn't have one in the studio.

BE: You've worked with him way back on Red Cab To Manhattan, right?

SB: Yeah, and he played on my very first album, Careless, and then my other album, Bowling In Paris.

BE: That's right! I had Careless on a really old MCA cassette, but it didn't have any credits in there, and I bought my mom Bowling In Paris when it came out, as she loved your music, too. But you know, it was "Thief In The Night" that made me a Stephen Bishop fan way back when. That and "Sex Kittens Go To College" (from Red Cab) both appealed to me then as a nine or 10-year-old boy (laughs).

SB: Yeah, Eric Clapton played on "Sex Kittens" along with Phil Collins.

BE: So you also have Luciana Souza on Romance in Rio.

SB: Yeah, I'm a big fan of hers. She's really an incredible singer and she came in the studio and she just had this sultry Astrud Gilberto voice.

BE: Yeah, that's a great track! ("Un Baile Del Corazon")

SB: When you hear her voice on that song, when she comes in, it's just like, "Whoa!"

BE: Yeah, I was really blown away by it the first time I heard it. Was there a strict way you came to choose which songs you were going to do, or was it pretty open to whatever you wanted?

SB: We had a couple different meetings. I met with Oscar on five different occasions just to go over the songs and go over the style of what he was going to do with the songs and how he was going to weave his different kind of arrangement and different chords into my different chords.

BE: Right.

SB: The first meeting we had, we just sat there and went over the songs of mine that would lend themselves to this kind of album. And there were certain songs of mine that would fit perfectly, you know. I specifically went over songs of mine that I thought would specifically lend themselves to the style of this album.

BE: Yeah, I think it's a great selection, and I like the newer cuts on it too, like "New York In The Fifties."

On whether there will ever be a box set: "You know, it's funny, 'cause somebody just asked me that. I would love to have that! But you know, it's tricky 'cause a lot of my albums are on different labels, so you have to license it, and so many other things."SB: Yeah, that's the newest one. I wrote that last year. "New York In The Fifties" is not real Brazilian, really (laughs). But, the whole album is very romantic. It's one of those albums where you'd have a femme fatale and get the little candle thing going maybe with a little enhancement. And then hopefully things would maybe go your way, but then when you hit that last song you have to wrap up everything. That last song is when you're checkin' out of the hotel and getting your clothes back on (laughs).

I'm a big title guy. I really love writing songs from titles. Titles usually really spark my creativity, and I was in a DVD store and I noticed a DVD of a documentary called "New York In The Fifties" and I rented it and I just loved the whole idea. Then I thought, "Well how should I approach this lyrically?" I had the music, and then I thought "should I do a love story, etc." So I decided I wanted to write about the beat era in the '50s, which was a unique era in the '50s before the Beatles and all that.

So I got into all that, and I did a lot of research on the Internet. 'Cause I was just a little kid then, and I wanted to be accurate, so I did a lot of research about it to find out that Thelonious Monk always played at The Ink Spot, and Normal Mailer and all those different references.

BE: I saw on your website that you're going to try to offer Romance in Rio to your international fans eventually (currently the album is only available in the U.S. through Target).

SB: Yeah, we haven't gotten that together yet. The international fans aren't happy about it. A real drag. I'm just depending on the people at 180 Music to get that together. I've been bugging them every day. But, you know, it's created kind of this weird demand for it. Demand is good, but I've gotta come up with something. Now they're getting it off eBay.

BE: How do you feel about that? The state of music these days, with everything going digitally with MP3s, etc.?

SB: Well, I think it's cool! It's great for me. You know, I have iTunes and I get songs from downloading there. It's fun, and I enjoy it, but you know, I think it is sad that Tower Records closed here in L.A. That was a shocker. It was just kind of an icon. It's a landmark here in L.A.

BE: Oh yeah! Well, I'm originally from Tennessee, and my friends and I would drive the three hours or so to the one in Nashville every now and then just because it was the coolest record store to visit.

SB: Well, you know, everything changes, and boy it's really changing!

BE: So is there ever going to be a Bish' box set?

SB: You know, it's funny, 'cause somebody just asked me that. I would love to have that! But you know, it's tricky 'cause a lot of my albums are on different labels, so you have to license it, and so many other things.

BE: One thing I noticed on the message boards over on stephenbishop.com, is how much you do interact with the fans. I liked that aspect. I thought it was cooler than what a lot of artists have, which is one of those corny "journals" that only gets updated every six months or so.

SB: Yeah, I do interplay quite a lot on there. It's fun and I'm surprised how faithful the fans are! They stay year after year.

BE: Getting back to the new album, had you known Oscar Castro-Neves for a long time before now?

SB: No, I had never met him, but he's a great guy. A real sweetheart of a guy. He worked with Jobim, and he's very well-respected and supposedly there's a stamp in Brazil with his face on it. And he was with the first Brazil 66 when they first came over and he's been around and he really is genuinely a talented guy. I've also worked with Earl Klugh on there.

BE: Yeah, he features on "Un Baile Del Corazon" doing the guitar solo, right?

SB: Yeah, he's another great guy and a wonderful guitarist and it was great working with him as well.

BE: And you've got Kenny Rankin on there as well.

SB: Yes, Kenny Rankin. He sang the backup vocals on "Bish's Hideaway."

BE: Yeah, it's just a really great album, and has a very nice, intimate sounding production to it. Is there anything else you'd care to add that we haven't covered so far?

SB: Just that I hope the music gets out there and that people hear it and get interested in what we're doing here and really enjoy it.

BE: All right! Well, Stephen, I think that should about cover it. Thanks so much for taking the time with us, and thank you as well for all the great music you have given to us.

SB: Thank you, Jason! I enjoyed it a lot and take care!