Great music from Monty Warren
By Rick Cornell, September 2008
West Palm Beach, FL/Raleigh, NC
Artist Bio: For various reasons - most notably getting a career as a trial lawyer off the ground so he could support his mother - Monty Warren waited almost 20 years to officially enter the music business. But when go time hit, Warren (who these days splits his time between his home state of Florida and his adopted digs of Raleigh, N.C.) was already at full speed, with music that seems hell-bent on genuflecting Chuck Berry-ward, out drinking Keith Richards and dissecting head and heart with the skewed precision of Paul Westerberg. Warren worked with Terry Anderson & the Olympic Ass-Kickin Team - think Rockpile and Faces lost in the wilds of North Caroline - on his debut, and he already has 2 more albums in the works with an eye on a dual-release spring '09. Call it making up for lost time.
CST's Take: Country-rock, with a massive emphasis on the latter half. In other words, more Georgia Satellites than George Jones, more Dave Edmunds than Dave Dudley.
Country Standard Time: When you were preparing to record "Trailer Park Angel," you wrote 22 songs in 20 days. Tell us about that songwriting frenzy, please.
Monty Warren: In my case it was, I think, the by-product of having gone for 20 years in a sort of exile without anyone in my immediate vicinity showing any interest or encouragement in anything I might write, to suddenly out of the blue being validated as having some talent by musicians of whom I was a fan and who were now interested in hearing my next one. That was like jet fuel...
All my life, I've been an obsessed fan and follower of an inter-related line of songwriters, each of whom seemed connected or influenced by the other and each of whom acted as my life's companions. As I grew up, I, metaphorically speaking, got to sit at "the children's table" listening to "the adults" weigh in on their respective views about life's journey. I got to nod in agreement with the likes of Chuck Berry, John Lennon, Dylan, Neil Young, The Stones, Tom Petty, Steve Earle, Paul Westerberg, Elvis Costello and Ray Davies.
Now, suddenly, it was as if this room now was silent and turning to me and saying, "So, Monty, what do you make of all of this? We're, at the moment, interested in what you might add to this conversation. We'll give you an opportunity to try to add to it. But fair warning, there are three rules: 1) You'd better not bore us. 2) You'd better be honest and from your heart when you speak. 3) You'd better know when to stop talking."
CST: You've said that you are "pretty evangelical" about the songwriting process and the old-fashioned way of writing songs. What exactly are you preaching?
MW: See the three rules above. As a songwriter, I think that we should strive to in some sense become the intimate companions of our listeners. In order to accomplish that I think it's necessary to put ourselves into their shoes and give them what they will need for this link between us to form: 1) Be aware of short attention spans, so don't bore us - get to the chorus. 2) Be honest and truthful with who you really are and what really needs to be said. If it's real and honest, it will ring true to the human experience, which means that it will by definition touch someone and, who knows, maybe some music writer will write that your songs have "universal" appeal. 3) Know when to stop. A rule that is a corollary to number three is to keep it simple. Know what you do well, and do that. Know what you don't do well, and don't do that. I say that I'm evangelical about this because so often I hear younger songwriters who, in my view, could be great if only they would stay out of their own way.
CST: Think I'm In Love Again clocks in at a brisk 2:25 seconds. Why is that the perfect time for the song and could it have worked at 3 1/2 minutes or even 5?
MW: Go listen to The Beatles' Revolver record and tell me if you find any song (other than one with lots of sitar on it) that even breaks 3 minutes. Almost all of my favorite songs on that record barely clock in at 2 1/2. They say what needs to be said, arc you emotionally from here at the beginning, to hear at the end and, once you've reached that climax, to guild the lily would start to damage all of what you'd managed to build up...
Some songs take longer to reach that arc and so these might need another bridge or another lead break. Long Goodbye on Trailer Park Angel, for example, benefited from the addition of a second lead guitar solo by Rick Richards that is so searing and emotional, the song would not have been as impactful without it. So, now you have a song that hits five minutes, but only because the best ride on that song takes five minutes to get though, considering the players on that track. But Think I'm in Love Again does its business, beats you about the head and chest, and then quickly walks away leaving you to writhe in the alley. To stretch that song any longer would have served no good purpose.
CST: Tell us about some of your musical heroes and biggest influences from outside the musical world.
MW: I guess my heroes both in music and outside of music seem to have similar traits: they speak truthfully, they express care and concern for the underdog, they may be their own worst enemy, and they have no problem telling the rest of the world to shove it if it doesn't accept or respect their individuality. So in music, it's clear that I'm hardwired to be a huge fan of John Lennon, Neil Young, Keith Richard, Ray Davies, Jeff Tweedy, Paul Westerberg, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, The Sex Pistols, Ryan Adams (first two solo records and last Whiskeytown record), Steve Earle, Tom Waits, The Band/Robbie Robertson, Dylan, The New York Dolls, etc...
Outside of the music world, I think that my heroes follow similar personality traits as do my music heroes: Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Bobby Kennedy, David Letterman, Humphrey Bogart, Montgomery Clift, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman, George Carlin, Richard Pryor...and my Mom. Fearless, honest to a fault, perhaps self-destructive/self loathing, and not afraid to tell you where to stick it. Living life on their terms, not yours.
CST: What was it like working with Terry Anderson & The Olympic Ass-Kickin Team, North Carolina's answer to Rockpile?
MW: The recording sessions with them were about as much fun as you'd think it would be. It was like a bunch of buddies having a football tailgate party: good red wine (which I supplied), dips, chips, laughs, smiles. It was like, "Well, since we're all here waiting for kick-off, and we all play the hell out of our instruments and have some good songs and recording equipment's fired up, whaddya say we make a rock and roll record?" It was thrilling for me because for once in my life, I got a chance to play with a really good band! In Florida, where I come from, players like this rarely exist and if they do, they don't care about playing your songs. It was a thrill to play with someone like Terry Anderson, who is the best drummer in America and completely understands the style of Keith Richard-infused guitar that I play.
As was said in Risky Business, "Time of your life, huh kid?"
More info on Monty Warren