Performers (singers, actors, etc)

Genny Sokoli

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So this is sorta weird, but when I initially sent Genny Sokoli these questions, I figured she was, oh, 25, 26. Maybe even 30.

She’s eh, 16.

Which again, might sound weird. Like, why is a 43-year-old writer Quazing a 16-year-old kid. But this only means you need to hear her voice, and some of the songs she’s written. Because, age be damned, Genny Sokoli—the latest Quaz musical discovery—can straight up bring it. Hell, take a listen here. And here. And here. Big voice, fantastic poise, potentially huge future. Lord knows when she’s opening for Taylor Swift two years from now she won’t have time to do a Q&A with an old sportswriter. So … why not now?

Plus, there’s the story: Imagine being a parent, having a 16-year-old kid, and letting her move to Nashville to follow her dream—without you. How would you feel? Could you even fathom such a scenario?

Anyhow, you can follow our 219th Quaz on Twitter here and Instagram here. You can visit her website here.

Genny Sokoli, congrats on being the youngest Quaz. Remember us when you blow up …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Genny, if you happened to read any of the other Quazes, you’ll know I lean toward the unconventional. So here I go: In your bio, you (or someone) write: “A little girl with a big dream is what they said…today, it is a young woman with a big responsibility. A responsibility? Yeah. Dreams are great and all, but it is our duty to run them to the ends of the universe to be the best we can be.” So … I’m not entirely sure what this means. Millions of kids dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees; of singing a duet with Taylor Swift; of becoming an astronaut—and 99 percent fall short. So does this mean they have failed their duty? What are you trying to say?

GENNY SOKOLI: When I was a little girl all I ever wanted to do was become an artist; I didn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I don’t think that people who fall short in making their dreams a reality are failing; I think that people who do not try are. I am a firm believer that we are obliged to not just give our dreams a shot, but rather truly try to make them a reality. You look at young kids and so many of them have this vision perfectly planned in their heads of what they want to do with their lives. Somewhere along the road, many young people lose that imagination and youthful eagerness.

I never let myself believe that I couldn’t be everything I wanted to be and more. I want to set an example for people, especially my generation, that it is not merely a dream … it is a responsibility to live your talents and passions to your fullest ability. If that kid wants to be a shortstop on the Yankees he better be on that field every single day fighting to be that shortstop. If a young girl or boy wants to be an astronaut, they better study hard to be one. Don’t let society or life get in the way of your heart. I was given an amazing opportunity to pursue my dream at a young age; it would have been very irresponsible had I not taken it. That’s why I listed it as my responsibility.

J.P.: So I’m no singer, which might make this question sound naïve. But I just watched a video of you singing Florida Georgia Line’s “Never Let Her Go,” (beautifully, I must say), and your facial expressions and body/hand gestures suggest you’re truly feeling something as you sing; feeling the emotions of the song. But are you? Is it sort of feeling, sort of acting? Neither? Both? And how—especially if you didn’t write a song—can one feel emotion from another’s lyrics?

G.S.: Thank you very much! That song is absolutely one of my favorites. Being only 16, many people have been curious about how I can relate to a lot of the songs that I write and sing. I always tell them that I feel them. The art is not in the sound or the words; it is in the communication. I am a very, very empathetic person. I write and sing about that. I never had my husband of 20 years leave me out of the blue. I never had someone close to me die. I never had to choose between two men who I loved. I’m 16; I can’t say I went through any of that. What I can say, though, is that I have seen people go through it. I have felt their pain; I stayed up nights crying for them … with them. So yes, it is my emotions that you were seeing, but I had to “become” that person in order to find them.

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J.P.: So you recently moved to Nashville to pursue your dreams. Which is what many singers do. So, Genny, how do you go about this from here? Like, you’re one of thousands blessed with a great voice and pretty looks to try and make it in the music world. But how does one do it? What’s your plan?

G.S.: Coming to Nashville was the best decision my family ever let me make. This town is filled with phenomenally talented artists, musicians and writers. I have seen a lot of people get discouraged by knowing that. I am not. I welcome the challenge to better my craft. I can sing, I can write, I can dance, etc. … but none of that means anything unless I constantly better myself for the people who believe in me. That is what I am working on, the art. My main goal right now is to get to my fans, and I don’t mean just physically. I mean really get to them. If my song or my message can help one person cry through a breakup listening to a song on her phone, or get over a dilemma by coming out to a show, than I am the happiest I can be.  Right now, I am taking it person by person, song by song and feeling by feeling. The goal is to be able to reach the masses, but you have to start one by one.

J.P.: OK, so I know you were born in New York and raised in Michigan; I know you moved 13 times. But what’s been your life path? Like, when did you first know you wanted to sing? What was your first performance? Your first WOW! moment?

G.S.: My life path has certainly been interesting in these short 16 years. My mother and father always chased opportunities to better our lives, and I truly was blessed even though things got tough sometimes. Moving so many times, within such a short amount of time, was really stressful, but it was a blessing in disguise. Every time I would go to a new town and a new school I had to build a new life. New friends, new culture, new experiences. Doing this has helped me so much in connecting with people. I know how to relate to a whole lot of them! My mom and dad are still out in New York City; my brother is going to college in three weeks, and me and my 21-year-old sister, Ilirjana, are taking on Nashville!

My mom and dad are both artists, so art has been a huge part in our lives. My father was a professional musician so we would always be around music, and the “behind the scenes” stuff that would go on, and my mother always instilled in us this passionate love for music. Music is all I ever wanted to do. My mom jokes around all the time, that I came into this world singing. I have a million home videos being in a “band” with my siblings and cousins, starting when I was as young as two. It’s great! My first performance was when I was eight in front of about 1,200 people whp were at a party my father threw for New Year’s Eve. It was the craziest! My absolute most memorable moment so far was when I sang to two of my favorite artists, Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson (Love and Theft). My sister took me out to their show in New York City and I got the opportunity to sing in front of DJ Du, his family and his team. Then I got up and performed to their fans after the show as they were waiting for a meet and greet. I can’t explain the feeling, but it was crazy hearing everyone quiet down to listen to me, and that wasn’t even the highlight of the night! We ended up meeting the guys, and I sang to them as well. Their reactions were priceless to me. Since moving here, I’ve gotten a chance to talk to them, and they truly are some of the greatest people. My sister tells me that night was the night she decided to move us down to Nashville. It was that special.

J.P.: How, at 16, was the decision made that you’d move with your sister away from home? How do your folks feel? What about high school? Friends? Etc?

G.S.: Moving away at 16 was probably the hardest decision my parents ever had to make, but in a way the decision was pretty simple. I had an amazing opportunity to work with some awesome people in this town. Once we got the ball rolling it was apparent that the only way to really do it was move here. Unfortunately my dad couldn’t leave his job, and my brother was finishing his senior year of high school so no one else could come down with us. My folks are extremely supportive, but I can only imagine the hurt. My sister is probably the most responsible person ever so they really trust her. And my mom is actually visiting for a little bit now.

The biggest challenge moving here was high school. I have such a busy and unconventional schedule that I have to be home schooled. Ilirjana is home schooling me for now! She rocks as a teacher, but, I’m not going to lie, she is a lot tougher than a lot of my other teachers. She doesn’t miss the opportunity to teach me everything and anything. It’s all critical thinking, too. For example, when we were on the lesson of the Constitution, she wouldn’t move on from the lesson until she could give me any modern law and I had to trace it back to the Constitution; explaining its significance in an essay. At school, you had some multiple choice questions and it was done. I love learning, so it truly has been great. Not being able to have a regular high school experience isn’t always easy. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I miss it, but nothing worth having comes easily.

I have a ton of friends here. Most of them are significantly older, but I feel like I learn so much from all of them. Moving here has been a huge sacrifice for everyone in my family, but it’s been such an amazing ride so far and it isn’t even the beginning. I am very blessed.

J.P.: I actually started my career in Nashville, as a Tennessean music writer. The year was 1994, and the goal for all artists was to land a record deal. There was no YouTube, no Twitter, no instant fame via the Internet. It was record deal or bust. You, however, are in the midst of a business now sorta guided by social media. So how can you use all the different web mediums to carve out a career? To make it big? Or are you, like those singers in 1994, itching for the record deal route, too?

G.S.: Ah I love this question so much! I am not at all rushing to get a record deal, or any deal for that matter. Right now I am chasing opportunities to connect to people. Social media is a big part of that. I know that in some ways it has made society less social, but at the same time we are more connected than ever. I love going on Instagram and making someone’s day by saying they are beautiful, or acknowledging them … even if they are 1,000 miles away. I love having a platform that I can share my love, music, and message out to so many people instantaneously. I love being able to connect with peers and you, Jeff! Social media is a great way to get to fans, listen to them and learn from them. They are the reason any artist is who they are; it is a blessing to be able to connect to them more personally at any time.

When Genny was a tyke ... waaaaaay back in 2005

When Genny was a tyke … waaaaaay back in 2005

J.P.: My wife and I have a pretty good debate going. Her all-time favorite singer is Elton John, who wrote very few of the lyrics to his own songs. My all-time favorite singer is Daryl Hall, who wrote most of the lyrics his own songs. Genny, do you think it takes anything away from an artist if he/she never writes the words to a song? Does it add something if he/she writes all her own material?

G.S.: That debate is certainly an eternal one. I have to agree with both you and your wife, Jeff. I don’t think it takes away from an artist if they do not write their own material; writing and performing are different arts. As an artist you have this message you want to give out to your fans, you know what it is and your heart can feel it. How you get that across shouldn’t be judged as wrong or right. If you want to write it, sing it, play it, draw it, sculpt, or paint it. Whether or not an artist is connecting to his/her fans is where the debate should lie. To me, writing my material adds a more personal note to my music. Personally, I want to connect with people using both platforms—writing and performing.

J.P.: Lowest moment of your career thus far? Highest?:

G.S.: Oh boy. Well the lowest point in my career was working with someone who didn’t capture my ideas, and losing quite a bit of money in the process. The height of my career so far has been people and other artists around town taking me seriously. I’m not some 16-year-old kid trying to get an easy break to the top. With the support of our family, my sister and I have worked very hard for every opportunity we have gotten. It’s so nice having your peers respect that.

J.P.: You write that you’re working with Malcolm Springer, who produced bands like Collective Soul, Matchbox 20, Fear Factory, Full Devil Jacket, and Greenwheel. So … how did this happen? How’d you hook up? What’s he like to work with? Is it intimidating? Hard? Cool? And what are you, specifically, working on?

G.S.: Oh Malcolm Springer—he is a musical genius, and a good friend of mine. About two years ago, my sister bought me my first little USB Microphone from the Guitar Center in Paramus, N.J. The guy who sold it to her was an engineer who worked with Mal in the past. He loved my voice, and really believed in me. We got connected through him. Knowing Mal worked with some huge rock bands was kind of intimidating at first, but that feeling went away real quick and got replaced with awe. The first place I ever recorded was at the House of Blues Studios in Nashville, the same studio Elvis, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles sang in. I still get butterflies in my stomach thinking about it. My experience working with Malcolm has been a very educational one. Right now we aren’t working on any project together.

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J.P.: Your sister is your manager. I say this with all due respect, but is that the best idea? It seems like the roads are littered with family management interests gone bad. What does your sis know about the business? Why her? Is it hard keeping business divided from personal?

G.S.: I really like this question, too. My sister has always been the brains behind me since day one. I have heard many disaster stories about familial conflicts as well, but our relationship is a bit different. When it comes to business, she is all logic. When it comes to me, she is my big sister and best friend. We are a package deal. We even write songs together. The music industry is like the Wild West—there are no rules. We are building them together, creating our own normal. She teaches me every day about art, love, business, communicating and even modeling for pictures. The way I was raised made the relationships with my siblings so concrete; it’s us against the world. No career, no money, no conflict ever gets between that. Ilirjana was the one who made my dream my responsibility. She was going to school full time, and working full time at an awesome job in finance in Manhattan. She dropped it all for this. It’s our career, not my career. There is no Genny Sokoli without her.

J.P.: When I was your age, and I saw other writers having huge success, I was certainly jealous. I’m not saying I wished them bad, but, well, I probably sorta did. What about you? Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, etc … etc. Do you ever hear singers with a gazillion downloads and think, “Crap, I’m better than her” or “Why is it so easy for her, and harder for me?”

G.S.: I absolutely understand where you are coming from. I don’t think its jealousy. Envy, jealousy and hatred are all very negative words to let into my head about other artists. I do hear other artists sometimes and go, “How in the world did they get there”—but not in a jealous way. I am in awe of it. I use that as fuel; a healthy dose of competitiveness is needed to be successful in anything.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH GENNY SOKOLI:

• The world needs to know—what’s so great about the Tin Roof?: The world absolutely needs to know that the Tin Roof on Demonbreun Street is one of the best places in Nashville. I have met so many friends there; they have the best chicken tenders, the best sweet tea and the most awesome staff ever.

• You haven’t written a blog post since Dec. 30, 2014. Why?: I was slacking on blog posts! I have a few I am working on now.

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  REO Speedwagon, Nicki Minaj, Slim Jim, Alan Jackson, Brett Favre, dental floss, Avatar, deer hunting, Frosty the Snowman, Sam Brownback: Alan Jackson, REO Speedwagon, Slim Jim, Frosty the Snowman, Avatar, Nicki Minaj, dental floss, deer hunting, Sam Brownback, Brett Favre

• Who are the five greatest country artists of your lifetime?: Johnny Cash, George Jones, Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire , Alan Jackson.

• In exactly 16 words, why does/does not Barry Bonds belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?: He doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame until he clears that he didn’t use steroids.

• One question you would ask Aaron Carter were he here right now?: Aaron, are you really all about me?

• Would you let your kids play tackle football? Why or why not?: If that is what they love, then I absolutely will! I wouldn’t stop my kids from following their passions, or learning some lessons. I would be a stickler for safety precautions, though.

• Why are you named Genny with a G?: My parents thought they would get creative. Just kidding. They thought Jenny was spelled with a G.

• How do you feel country music will respond to openly gay performers?: It honestly could go either way. People could be absolutely fascinated by idea of it, or they will absolutely not agree at all. It would be a game changer either way.

• Three memories from your first date: I actually haven’t been on an official first date! I do remember my first kiss being in the back of my sister’s car after a show. The guy was actually taken, and I didn’t know. Needless to say, he’s the topic of a few songs. Haha.

Kim Carnes

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 1.32.32 PMI have a soft spot in my heart from Kim Carnes.

Now just because she’s a lovely human, a beautiful singer, an outstanding Quaz.

Nope, my soft spot comes from a moment that took place on the second date I ever had with my wife, Catherine. We were walking through Manhattan, and the topic of “We Are The World” came up. I know that song as well as I know Dave Fleming’s Seattle Mariner statistics (very well), and I told her this. She insisted that she, too, had the song down. So I started going line by line, naming the accompanying singers. When I reached “When weeeeee, stand together as one …” I said, “OK, who is it?”

Nary a pause: Kim Carnes.

I knew I found my match.

Carnes, of course, is much more than a trivia answer. She’s a Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter whose biggest smash, “Bette Davis Eyes,” was the biggest song of 1981. Carnes has written three No. 1 country tunes, and famously wrote and sang “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer” alongside the great Kenny Rogers. She still performs regularly across the globe, and can be found on the web here.

Kim Carnes, you are the 215th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kim, these interviews tend to veer toward quirky, so I’m gonna veer toward quirky. For some reason I’ve been in a “We Are The World” phase the past few days. Played it a bunch of times, showed it to my kids. And I believe—truly—that the highest moment of the song comes when you, Huey Lewis and Cindy Lauper sing together. I wound up finding this, which gave some behind-the-moment access. I’m wondering—what do you remember from the “We Are The World” experience? Was it fun? Awful? Did you mind only having two words (“When we …”) to yourself? Did you like the song?

KIM CARNES: We arrived at A&M studios to a sign that read, “Leave your ego at the door.” I think the song was perfect. From standing next to Michael Jackson to meeting Bob Dylan for the first time … it was all just too cool. I wasn’t counting solo lines. Heck, I was just glad to be a part of this magical event. The best part was everyone signing one another’s sheet music.

J.P.: You’ve had an amazing career. Absolutely amazing. Hit songs. Grammy Awards. I wonder, as you approach 70, what matters to you, and what doesn’t? Like, do you care more about a hit record, or a song that goes ignored but kicks ass? Do the awards matter? Can you play for a crowd of 20 and be satisfied? Do you need a huge audience? Do you care if people recognize you? Does signing an autograph give you a lift?

K.C.: I don’t do numbers. I just jumped after reading your question. In my head I am a 17-year-old surfer, now and forever!

I am most proud of my last album, “Chasin Wild Trains.” I produced it and wrote or co-wrote with my incredibly talented pals. There was no one to say “no” and  no compromises. Not thinking about radio was so freeing. It made the project a true labor of love.  As a result, that album charted in several countries on the Americana charts and I did an amazing European tour in support of the CD.

I have the awards. I just want my peers to get what I do and to be moved. I play festivals for 15,000 people, benefit house concerts for a smaller group, and “in-the-round” songwriter shows at the Bluebird Café here in Nashville for 150 people.  I love it all. I am blown away that I get to do what I do.

J.P.: You’ve been married to your husband, David Ellingson, since 1967. Let me write that again: Since 1967. I feel like 98 percent of celebrities get married and divorced within a span of three years. How has your marriage lasted? And, since we’re on the subject, how did you meet?

K.C.: Dave and I met on the road. Marriage ain’t easy, but we’re both in the music business, which is a good thing. He understands how crazy it all is. Dave runs our publishing companies, plays percussion and sings background vocals in our shows. All our best friends are in the entertainment business and so we consider them family. Plus, we are crazy about our kids. Our motto has always been “Laugh a lot.”

J.P.: How do you write a song? Soup to nuts—what’s the process? How long does it take? Do you ever think it’s amazing, then realize it’s bad. Do you even think it’s bad, and everyone loves it? Do you have a space for writing?

K.C.: Writing by myself I write on keyboards and write the music and lyrics at the same time.  I have a restored 1930 Boston made “Mason & Hamlin” Baby grand piano.  I have played the same piano for 35 years.  I still love the sonics of a real acoustic piano.  It can take an hour or in some cases a year to finish a song.  Co-writing is usually done in a shorter amount of time.  I have a small, handful of writers that I love to work with.  The best co-writes are the songs that feel like they were written by one person.

J.P.: You turned “Bette Davis Eyes” into the biggest hit of 1981. I mean, it was enormous huge gigantic … and it’s one of the few songs you didn’t actually write. Two questions—A. Some 33 years later, do you ever get sick of singing the song (I’m assuming it’s a requisite part of the set list)?; B. Did it take away any feeling of accomplishment having not written it? Or does that not even matter?

K.C.: As a songwriter, I know a great song when I hear it. The original demo was very different.  My band, along with the producer (Val Garay) and I rehearsed “Bette Davis Eyes” for three days. The demo was light and bouncy, and we changed it to a dark and minor key. That lyric—“nailed me”—was absolute brilliance from Donna and Jackie. Yes, I sing it in every show. That record opened up the rest of the world for me.

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J.P.: I write mainly about athletes, and the line goes, “An athlete dies two deaths—when he retires, then when he dies.” What about singers? Is there an adjustment one has to make, as she/he ages, when she/he needs to accept, “OK, pop radio is done with me as a singer?” or, “I spent X years in arenas, and now it’s gonna be concert halls”? Does one have to adjust ego expectations?

K.C.: I just keep writing songs and doing shows and I really think that I am better at it now.  I never look back, always look forward to the next song, next show. One of my favorite lines is, “there is no future in the past.”

J.P.: Your dad was an attorney, your mom a hospital administrator. Music wasn’t a big part of their world. But here you are. So … Kim. How did this happen? When did you absolutely know you wanted to sing for your life? And what was the key moment (or moments) that made it a reality?

K.C.: I’ve gotta say that I knew from the age of 4 that I was going to write songs and sing them for people—much to my parents’ disapproval. Every day I came home from school and went straight to the piano to write and sing. I guess a key moment was when I signed my first publishing deal and actually got paid to write songs.  Producer Jimmy Bowen had a small company. His other writers were Glen Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther (pre-Eagles). Hanging out and sharing demo time with them just blew me away because they were so incredibly great.

J.P.: I just watched a clip of you on American Bandstand, and I have a question I’ve always wanted to ask: Does lip-synching your own songs suck as much as I imagine it sucks? It looks really uncomfortable and sorta nerve-wracking? And, in the 1980s, when those types of shows reigned, do you feel like it was known by viewers? Did it even matter?

K.C.: It’s much better to sing live. I don’t think it mattered to viewers back then, and it was not nerve-wracking. I so loved Dick Clark.

Arm in arm with Paul Simon, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross while singing "We Are The World."

Arm in arm with Paul Simon, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross while singing “We Are The World.”

J.P.: I’ll have moments when people say, “Yeah, so, eh, I really didn’t like your last book.” Or, “So … that article wasn’t as good as I expect from you.” I think they think they’re doing me a favor, but it infuriates me. Do you have that as a musician? And how do you take criticism? Not from writers or singers, but dudes on the street?

K.C.: Ya’ gotta have a thick skin. Right? Writers and musicians know better.

J.P.: What do you think of the music scene: 2014? What I mean is—albums don’t really exist, downloads are becoming obsolete, nobody sells millions of copies of anything—but Miley Cyrus will get 100,000,000 views on YouTube. Where are we going here?

K.C.: I miss the album. As an artist I agonize over the sequence. It matters to somebody. You have to dig to hear the good shit—but it’s out there.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KIM CARNES:

• I’ve often argued that Daryl Hall is the best male vocalist of the last 30 years. People say I’m ludicrous. Is it a battle I can even possibly win?: Music is so subjective. Daryl Hall is a great singer, but there is no battle here, because it is about personal taste.  Right now, I wanna be Pharrell Williams and Sam Smith’s baby. Can you imagine the voice?

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Only when the toilets backed up on an over-night flight to Amsterdam.

• Five keys for a singer to keep her voice sharp?: Drink Drambuie (it coats the throat and adds a great show buzz. Have five shots).

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Connecticut, tater tots, Smokey Robinson, vodka, Rodney Peete, Robert’s Western World, challah, Taylor Swift, meatballs, Arnold Palmer, plastic containers, your bathroom: 1. Smokey Robinson, 2. Rodney Peete, 3. Vodka, 4. My bathroom, 5.—I just can’t finish this one. Too hard.

• How did your husband propose?: Quote:  “This is not a proposal, but I do plan to marry you”      Hmmmmmmmmm . . . . . . . . .

• What’s your all-time favorite item of clothing?: A pair of super-faded old red Converse high-tops!  (chlorine and salt-water)

• I beg of you to do a cover of this song. How about it?: I love the chorus.

• In exactly 13 words, what do you think of fried chicken?: “It tastes just like chicken.”

• One question you would ask Dwight Gooden were he here right now?: What’s up, Doc?

• How much would I have to pay for Kim Carnes to record my answering machine message?: How much you got?

Becca Brown

 

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Two seconds ago, when I identified Quaz No. 209 to the wife, she looked at me and said, “Don’t you ever get tired of that sort of thing?”

By “that sort of thing,” she wasn’t referring to actresses or comedians or Chicago residents or people who play bass. Nope, she was referring to my penchant for tracking down actors and actresses from films I enjoyed, then turning them into Q&As.

And, to answer her question: No, I don’t.

Hence, I bring you the lovely, talented, cool Becca Brown, actress, musician and “Katie,” the bass-playing child rocker in the fantastic 2003 flick, “School of Rock.” I actually thought of Becca as a Quaz possibility a few months ago, when I introduced my kids to the movie—which they loved. I starting Googling cast members, and there sat Becca, chillin’ on Twitter. Ah, the magic of social media.

Anyhow, Becca Brown can be found on Twitter and YouTube, sending out some really fun, really raw material. She has an impressive improv and theatre resume, but still lists the School of Rock experience as her best ever.

Until now. Becca Brown, you’re the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Becca, so about 20 minutes ago my kids watched School of Rock for the first time—and loved it. I’m sort of curious what it’s like to have been in a movie that everyone loved, but that came out 12 years ago. What I mean is, are your thoughts all fond? With time, do you get tired of being reminded of it? Of people (like me) seeking you out? Does it ever seem like it never happened? Like it’s a blur from childhood?

BECCA BROWN: Honestly, it’s the most fun I’ve had in my entire life and the first thing I ever did, so when people ask me questions about it I don’t get annoyed. I definitely don’t bring it up in conversation before someone else does, though. And sometimes, if I get recognized during a busy brunch shift at Revolution BrewPub (where I work), I get kind of annoyed and also self conscious, like “These people are gonna think I’m such a loser for being a lowly hostess at a bar 12 years later.” I have a very vivid memory of some parts of the filming process, some on set, most off. But a lot of it is one big happy blur.

J.P.: I know you’re a singer and actress, I know you had a pretty major role in School of Rock. But what’s your life path? Like, birth to now, how did it happen? How did you first get into music and acting? And what is it about performing that does it for you?

B.B.: When I was 2-years old, my parents put me in a music class that was mostly percussion and dancing and clapping, and when I was 4 I was old enough to start taking lessons. I had to pick between piano, violin, cello, flute and guitar. I chose guitar and took private weekly lessons in classical guitar. When I was 9 I was on this radio show called From the Top, which is where the casting directors of SoR found both me and Robert Tsai.

I had never acted before (which may have to do with why I had so few lines in the movie) but after filming was over I immediately got an agent and started auditioning for commercials and other movies and pilots and whatnot. I was really close to being Hannah Montana, but you know, nepotism. After several rejections from film auditions, I started doing more theatre and really loving singing I was a huuuuge choir/musical theatre nerd in high school. I majored in straight theatre at University of Illinois at Chicago, got bit by the improv/comedy bug, graduated from UIC, Second City,and iO all within 2014, and now I’m doing comedy shows all over the city—including sketch, improv, improvised musicals and a fellowship at Second City. Also, I just got cast in a musical that will be locally produced in Chicago this fall. When I’m steadily performing and busy with rehearsals and shows and classes, I’m never bored and I don’t have time to complain or feel shitty about life. That’s what keeps me performing.

J.P.: I’ve covered different TV shows and movies being filmed, and it can be euphoric and dull. So what was the School of Rock experience like for you? Like, what stands out? What was Jack Black like? Did it change your life, or was it just a cool experience? And do you keep in touch with any of the people?

B.B.: Filming was kind of a blur, like I mentioned before. JB is the coolest. He and Mike White and Richard Linklater would always prefer to hang with us kids rather than the bigwig producer people, which was really awesome. Everyone on set really loved us and took care of us. We all felt like rock stars. I think, considering the fact that in grade school I was bullied immensely for being a dork, that this was the first time I’d ever felt cool and that I was getting the good kind of attention for my skills/talents/barfbarfbarf. It totally changed my life because I learned the confidence, rock-star attitude, and a lot of the qualities I carry with me on stage today, in improv, in stand up sets, in auditions, in concerts, on dates. Kevin Clark lives in Chicago so I see him on occasion, not enough though. I still talk to Angelo a lot, because he was my on-set crush and still to this day my real-life crush. And really, that’s about it. The reunion in 2013 was insane. Probably the happiest day of my life, actually. We all met up in Austin for a screening of the film and a photo shoot with Entertainment Weekly and then got hammered with Jack, Rick and Mike at the St. Cecilia Hotel and went swimming at 4 am. It was ridiculous. Everyone got so cute over the last 12 years—not that we weren’t adorable already or anything.

J.P.: So this might be a weird question, but you’re 20 years younger than I am. You’ve been brought up with a cell phone, with Facebook, with Instagram. And it seems like—especially your generation—everyone wants to be seen; to be famous; to be known; to matter. Or maybe I’m reading this wrong. Thoughts?

B.B.: I was probably one of the last kids in my class to get a cell phone. In eighth grade, pretty much all the kids in my class had those Sidekicks and texting and I had to call people from my house phone. I got a shitty Nokia going into high school and didn’t have texting or Facebook until maybe my junior year of high school, and my parents heavily monitored both of those things because I constantly fucked up. Now that I have a pretty good following, on Twitter, on Instagram, etc. I feel pretty indifferent to being known, being famous, to mattering. I Tweet shit I think is funny, usually when I’m drunk or sleep deprived, and I take a ridiculous amount of selfies, and I don’t really care who sees it or likes the posts or retweets it. I post that shit for my own enjoyment.

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J.P.: Your IMDB page lists you as an actress in two things—School of Rock and a short called “Cool Nerds.” Um, what the hell is “Cool Nerds”? And how did you land it?

B.B.: Cool Nerds! Ahhh. Cool Nerds was an online sketch video I did with some friends from iO. This is the link.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your life in entertainment? Lowest?

B.B.: The School of Rock reunion concert was badass. Definitely in my top three, but my sketch group, The Cupid Players, did a little show in Austin this past August and packed the house with people we didn’t know at all, and s-l-a-y-e-d. Probably my lowest point was when I tripped onstage at the Toronto Film Festival in front of the Olsen twins.

J.P.: What’s the different between a great bass player and a so-so one? I mean, I feel like I can’t tell. Van Halen replaced Michael Anthony—arguably one of the most accomplished rock bass players of all time—with Eddie Van Halen’s teenage son, and nobody seemed to notice. Is it just me?

B.B.: I’d consider myself to be so-so. I’m a guitarist who happens to know how to play bass. I don’t even know how to read bass clef. Flea is great. Entwistle (duh) is great. Mike Dirnt is great. Paul McCartney and I might be on the same-ish level. Very basic. Nothing ridiculous, no bass solos. I’m keeping the rhythm.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 10.07.20 PMJ.P.: What’s it feel like, on stage, when everything is going right? Like, what’s the emotion? What flows through you?

B.B.: Pure bliss. I’ve found that a great show feels way better than a great burger or a great nap or a great orgasm.

J.P.: Jack Black calls, he wants to get the gang back for School of Rock II: Rocking Even Harder. What do they need to offer you to be in?

B.B.: A bass solo, and a Costco sized box of Cheez-its.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BECCA BROWN:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I only fly drunk, so I don’t recall.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Nacho Libre, Sammy Hagar, Nickelback, wood tables, Spongebob, John Cusack, Shane Mosley, 10 feet of snow, scissors, Sammy Sosa: Spongebob, scissors, wood tables, Nacho Libre, John Cusack, Shane Mosley, Sammy Hagar, Sammy Sosa, 10 feet of snow, Nickelback.

• Tell us one thing about School of Rock very few people know.: I don’t actually know how to play cello. I’m just a great fucking actor.

• Five greatest bass players of your lifetime: Kim Gordon. D’Arcy Wretzky. Melissa Auf der Maur. Aimee Mann. Paz Lenchantin.

• The next president will be …: My girl Hillary.

• Five reasons one should make Chicago his/her next vacation destination: Food, comedy, bars, Lollapalooza, I live here.

• Who do you consider to be the sexiest celebrity alive?: Tough one, but definitely Melissa McCarthy.

• In 26 words, make the case for Lady Gaga: Okay, sure her Oscars performance was good. But have you heard her unreleased shit? Do yourself a favor, please listen to Sexy Ugly. Also, meat dress.

• Without looking it up, list every Hall & Oates song you know: Kiss on My List, Rich Girl, You Make My Dreams Come True, Maneater. All the basic ones—I hate myself.

• What are the odds there’s intelligent life on other planets?: Totes could be a thing.

Natalia Cordova

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McFarland USA is the best movie I’ve seen this year.

I know … I know—it’s a flick that’s only grossed $29 million. It’s a flick produced by Disney. It’s a flick that will never generate any real Oscar buzz, and has been sort of lumped in with all of the other feel-good sports flicks of recent times.

Well, I don’t care.

McFarland USA is the true story of a California-based high school cross country team that, somehow, rises from nothingness to one state title after another. It stars Kevin Costner in one of his best performances in decades, and was directed by the excellent Niki Caro. For me, though, the performance that jumped off the screen belonged to Natalia Cordova, a 32-year-old Mexican actress who played the role of “Señora Valles”—poor abused wife and mother. There’s something about Cordova that leaps from the screen; an ability to emote sans words and express emotions without having to slam the audience over the head. Just like the movie, she was terrific.

Cordova also happens to be the 197th Quaz—which is terrific, because along with being an on-the-rise American film presence, she can shed light on Derek Jeter’s retirement and rank Gary Coleman ahead of Willis Reed. One can visit Natalia’s website here, and follow her on Twitter here.

Natalia Cordova, congratulations. You’ve joined the Quaz cast …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Natalia, this past weekend I took the family to see McFarland USA—and we truly loved it. I’d like to hear, soup to nuts, how you landed the part. When did you first find out about it? When did you audition? What did it feel like when you were officially hired?

NATALIA CORDOVA.: Jeff, I am so happy to hear that you connected with the film. Thank you for supporting it! I had been auditioning for a couple of months in Los Angeles when my representation heard about the project and submitted me and I got the audition. I did some research on the background of the story and fell in love with it. I received a call back with the director, Niki Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) and we seemed to have a connection in the room. Three weeks later, I heard I got the part. It was an incredibly exciting moment for me as an actress, since it was the first feature film I had booked in the United States.

J.P.: How can an actor tell if the film she’s in is actually, well, good? I mean, scenes are usually shot out of sequence, there’ll be 1,001 things cut, inserted, moved around, etc. So how do you know? Or do you? And can you tell if a film is crap?

N.C.: From my perspective, I try to not judge a film as bad or good, per se. The first and most important factor is the script and whether it moves me or not. Certainly, in the case of McFarland, it did. The true story was inspirational, heartwarming and something I wanted to be a part of. It’s completely out of my control what the finished product will be. All that I can do is be at my best and give to that project what it needs from me. Nothing more and nothing else.

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J.P.: Your film-and-TV resume is filled with Spanish titles … until Flight and McFarland. Which makes me wonder whether it’s hard to break out of what people expect? For example, I’m known as a sports writer. I’ve only written sports books. If I wanna do, say, an FDR bio, it might be rough. Is it the same for you? Is it hard to get attention in English-language films, even though you’ve spent much/most of your life in the U.S.?

N.C.: I think it absolutely is a difficult transition, however, I do believe wholeheartedly that an actor should be able to play at any level, work with any medium. That being said I don’t think everyone sees it that way. And there is a lot of boxing people into stereotypes being done in this industry. It’s not that it’s hard to get attention from English-speaking films as much as it’s hard making others believe you can play anything and ultimately that’s the job of an actor. To transform. To be a chameleon of some sort.

I’ve always enjoyed a hard challenge, and what attracted me most to making the jump to English-language films was two fold: the fact that it would be such an amazing challenge and also that, right now, America is creating such exciting work—both television and film. Work that is daring and obstacle-laden. To be frank, that is what I am after as an artist. To attack projects that will allow me to explore stories that I would never normally be allowed to journey through. Also, it was very interesting to attempt to root emotion into a second language, which proves to be quite scary at first when that particular tongue is not grounded in you. For me to work on my accent and be able to manipulate it so I could play a wider variety of characters was of utmost importance. People can expect one thing from you or put you in a limited box but it’s up to you to open their minds. And that is my job for now.

J.P.: So I know you were born in Mexico City, know you attended high school in North Carolina, know young grandfather is the actor Francisco Cordova. But how did this happen? Like, when did you know you wanted to act? When did you realize you were good at it?

N.C.: I started dancing when I was 4-years old. I took it very seriously until I was 16. It was dance that led me to acting. I would constantly hear from ballet directors that I was over expressing the part I was dancing. Because classical ballet can be so strict and straight I started to feel restricted in my expression. An acting teacher saw me dance once and came up to me and suggested I take acting classes and so I did. I fell in love with it immediately.

My grandfather was an incredible actor and artist. His story is truly beautiful. He studied to be a chemist and it wasn’t until he was around his mid-30s that he started acting. He achieved great success (artistically) through an enormous amount of passion and hard work. I didn’t get to know him well because he was already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease by the time I was very young. I got to know him through his work. I know he is a big reason why I am who I am. I can constantly feel him vibrating inside me. Every single moment I get to perform or create is dedicated to him. When I was a dancer I would kneel down before entering the stage and say “Abuelo, voy contigo”, which means “Grandpa, I’m on my way to you.” It’s a line from a movie called El niño y la estrella (The boy and the star) in which he plays a loving grandfather. This is the way I chose to built my own relationship with my grandfather.

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J.P.: Weird question, but why do you think we’re so enamored by actors and actresses? I mean, a firefighter walks by, or a pilot, and we barely notice. Yet someone whose job is to pretend is often mobbed by autograph hounds and fans. Why do you think that is?

N.C.: Not a weird question at all. The first reason I think would be because actors and actresses work with their faces; we constantly see those faces and get to know them so well that we can recognize anywhere. So I would assume that is largely responsible for why they are so enamored by the public. Secondly, I believe that when people watch films or TV, there is the possibility that they will immediately gain a personal relationship with an individual storyline that perhaps can be a missing puzzle piece for whatever might be going on in their lives at that moment. They empathize with the characters they watch and thereby connect with the performer. When those performers are seen in public, people tend to want to describe and be grateful for being given that gift of emotionality and association. I myself could say the same for many artists. Were I to meet them, my first instinct would be to gush about how their artistry has moved or changed me. I think it’s got to do with connection, which ultimately is, I believe, our most primal and deepest desire in life as emotional beings. To connect with each other on a deeper spiritual level, and that can only be achieved through how we make each other feel. All that said, firefighters, doctors and teachers are terrifically underpaid and should be as admired as artists who have the world’s eye. If we could ever compensate them for what they are truly worth, I would hope, that depending on the quality we give others, we would find ourselves equal on financial scale.

J.P.: In McFarland USA you play the mom of one of the runners. Your husband is abusive, and you’re the woman who sort of has to take it. How do you prepare for such a role? Is there research? Studying? And, when you’re acting, what do you think of? Are you aware you’re acting, or do you throw yourself completely into the moment?

N.C.: Research and studying is something I absolutely treasure as an essential part of being an actor. I’ve always loved learning and investigating. As a child I was incredibly curious. My all-time favorite word was (and in some ways still is) “Why.” I can confidently say I’ve annoyed the living hell out of people with my enormous desire to know every why. I’ve just always loved finding out the reasons behind anything and everything.

So to answer your questions, Yes! No matter how big or small the role, preparing, studying and researching is not only crucial to the creation of the character but something I crave like I crave few things.

As for Señora Valles of McFarland, USA. I read up on the real story as much a possible. I was not able to meet the real Señora Valles, but I felt like I knew her. I personally know women who have crossed over to the U.S. with nothing but their name. Women who have put everything they are and have in danger to find a better life, not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. I also know the strain that that constant uphill puts on a marriage and family. The poverty. The hardships. The loneliness. I have dear friends who have personally fought this fight and I could not admire and respect them more than I do. Being close to these people and hearing their stories definitely helped me not only have a deeper sense of the character but also fuel my desire to tell this story.

I don’t know how to act any other way than to throw myself completely into the moment. After all the research, and the emotional and physical studying is done (if it can ever be done), I try to not think much more and just allow this new being to drive the vehicle. I don’t like to look at takes, or judge how I look or if I did well or not. I prefer to leave that in the hands of the director. I choose not to be aware of the actor behind the character. I love to leave Natalia behind. And that I think is a big reason why I am in love with my craft. It’s a privilege to me, to be able to escape this reality and go live another. It’s an incredibly freeing sensation.

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J.P.: In 2013 you played a ballerina in Flight. You list yourself as a dancer, but what goes into actually playing a ballerina?

N.C.: You ask, what goes into playing a ballerina? Well, what goes is the same amount of hard work as it takes to play anything else. I played a modern dancer in my first lead in a feature film Ventanas al mar. It was and indie film so I had to prepare on my own. I lost weight. I went back to dance class for two months. I took long walks and tried to do physical activities as the character. I went every week to a dance company and watched dancers just be. I did everything I could to immerse myself into that world and create something from it.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

N.C.: I don’t have just one. I value immensely every time I get to do what I love to do most. Those are the highs. The moments I get to work on what gives me flight next to people that are as passionate as I am about this endeavor. The lows are the opposite of that. The low moments are when I have to do all that that is required of an actor and has nothing to do with creating or acting. But I am aware that that’s the price we pay for flying.

J.P.: What’s the difference between great acting and so-so acting? Like, what makes someone like Meryl Streep different than 99 percent of folks out there? And do you have that? Do you aspire to have that? Is it attainable?

N.C.: I think the difference between anything being great or not has a lot to do with the eye of the beholder. We all have different tastes. But I do believe very strongly in quality. I think we can sense quality when it’s in front of us. And the majority of the time its because of the way we feel in its presence. I can also tell you that hard work has a lot to do with something achieving its best.

Speaking about Meryl Streep, I remember hearing a story Julia Roberts told in an interview about working with Meryl Streep. She said it was a privilege to watch Meryl work so hard to be great and that that was of great comfort. Look, I am not a believer that we are all created equal in abilities and talents. But I do believe in hard work and the payoff of it. Do I aspire to be Meryl or anyone else for that matter? No. They are unique beings never to be repeated again. Do I aspire to work as hard as her? Yes. And with that hard work accomplish as much as her? I certainly hope so.

I also believe we have to stop defining success in a general manner and start defining our own success on an individual level. What is the definition of your own success? And when you find that answer, make certain to work very hard to accomplish that individual definition of success.

Under the watchful eye (and camera) of cinematographer Juan Jose Saravia during the filming of Ventanas al Mar.

Under the watchful eye (and camera) of cinematographer Juan Jose Saravia during the filming of Ventanas al Mar.

J.P.: What’s the worst auditioning story of your career?

N.C.: Auditioning is an art on its own. Embarrassment is definitely a given when it comes to auditions. I’ve been embarrassed plenty of times. But I have to say that it’s not embarrassment or making a fool of yourself that’s the most painful. That’s just part of playing the game. The worst for me is when I find the other side of the room trying to fit me into a box or stereotype. When I witness a lack of imagination and an abundance of close mindedness or fear of risk.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NATALIA CORDOVA:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Patricia Arquette, Willis Reed, Napa, Old Navy sweatshirts, your left big toe, Xbox 360, Gary Coleman, MSNBC, Kraft American singles: Left big toe, Patricia Arquette, Napa, Gary Coleman, Willis Reed, Kraft American singles, Old Navy sweatshirts, MSNBC, Xbox 360,

• You played Olga in the TV series Bienes raices. Three memories from the experience?: 1. Working with director Javier Solar for the second time. I’ve worked with him three times. He gave me my first job (Simuladores) upon arriving in Mexico City after CAL-ARTS; 2. The story between my character and her mother. Personally it was very moving to me; 3. Waiting for hours in a motor home listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Both sides, now”.

• Five greatest actresses of your lifetime?: “Greatest” is a big word. There are soooooo many. I’ll name the first five bad-ass women actors who come to my head: 1. Emma Thompson; 2. Cate Blanchett; 3. Frances McDormand; 4. Naomi Watts; 5. Viola Davis.

• You’re married to Brian Buckley, the musician. How did he propose?: He proposed in the most personal, intimate and magical way a man could ever propose to me. That’s when I knew I was with the man who best knew me.

• What does it feel like to see yourself in a movie for the first time?: It’s a thousand emotions all coming at you at once. It’s a feeling that is nerve-racking, surreal, incredibly weird, lovely, passionate, prideful and above all a feeling of gratitude for being able to do what you feel you are meant to do.

• Why do so many people seem to dislike beets?: Because they taste like dirt or soil and we have grown accustomed to preferring the taste of plastic or cans than that of our earth? I really don’t know. I love beets.

• The world needs to know—what does Kevin Costner smell like?: Didn’t get close enough to really get a good whiff, but if he smells as he looks I am guessing it’s pretty good.

• Do you think Derek Jeter will reconsider his retirement?: I have absolutely no idea. I know nothing about baseball. But I grew up with the biggest NFL fan (my older brother). So next time ask me about football.

The Cable Guy is my all-time favorite movie. Thoughts?: Too weird for a lot of people. Perfectly fun and odd and delicious for me. Love that film.

• What’s the nicest thing someone has ever said to you?: “I see you!”

Melissa Manchester

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I love legends.

This sounds weird because, really, who doesn’t love legends? But I love them differently. For me, legends aren’t interesting because of their accomplishments and resumes. No, they’re interesting because of the peaks and valleys, highs and lows. To be a legend means you rose from somewhere. To be a legend also means, with rare exception, that with age comes renewed expectations of what’s important and what matters. Maybe, at 25, George Gervin only cared about finger rolls. Maybe, at 25, Joan Jett only cared about limos and bubbly. Maybe, at 25, Bill Clinton only cared about getting laid.

Wait. Wrong turn.

Melissa Manchester in a bona fide legend. If you don’t know who she is, you almost certainly know her songs. From “Midnight Blue” to “Whenever I Call You Friend” to  “Through the Eyes of Love” to “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” Manchester is responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 1970s and 80s. But (as they say in midnight infomercials for cheese socks), that’s not all! Manchester also starred in Blossom, appeared on the Muppet Show, performed in myriad musicals and now teaches at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. Oh, most exciting of all, today her new album, You Gotta Love the Life, drops. I’ve had a chance to listen, and it’s absolutely wonderful. One can visit Melissa’s website here, and follow her on Twitter her.

Anyhow, Melissa Manchester, here’s something new to sing about. You’re the 193rd Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: In your bio it says you’re celebrating both 40 years as a Grammy-winning performer and songwriter, but also a “renewed independence and vitality.” I’m 42, and feel my vitality draining every day. So what does this mean, exactly?

MELISSA MANCHESTER: First of all 42 sounds just about right for the first wave of the depletion of vitality. But that’s OK. You’ll bounce back. Because I teach at USC, my students have opened my eyes to a new world. To the current world of the music industry. Because the music industry is going through the industrial revolution. And literally the wheel is being reinvented, and I’m not entirely sure it will end up the same type of round that we’re used to. And what that means is they taught me about crowd funding and how to get my music out without the conventional agreement between artist and record company. And it was my students who not only explained to me how one can do this, but one became my project manager. So I’m seeing something fascinating. And it really was an adventure I did not want to miss, regardless of the outcome. And so with my tour manager Susan Holder and a bunch of friends and fans that wanted to be a part of this … I had no idea whether they’d want to or not. But they did. And the process of creating and recording music became sort of a living experience. So now I just want to keep the adventure going, because it’s so spiritually refreshing and beautiful that it feels like it validates my creative hunger. I always had it, but it was corroded because of politics and conventions that were just wearying and losing their luster to me.

J.P.: I’ve interviewed a lot of artists who, maybe they had their greatest hits in the 1980s or 90s, and they are frustrated and sort of confused by the modern music mechanisms. I mean, if you get a million YouTube views of your song, you’re a success—even though you’re not making money off of it. Do you feel like it’s better now than it was back in the you-need-to-have-a-record-deal days?

M.M.: I don’t know. It’s different. You know, based on where I am on my adventure, I’ll let you know when I find out. What is different is I’m not subscribing to the same old paradigms, which is I sign with a great big record company which essentially bankrolls my project. Which is great. And they put their energy behind it, which is great. But even after I make them back their money and we’re both in the black, they keep my work. They own my work. That’s the component that’s different.

The truth about being an independent artist is you have to do four times the work you ever did before, but at least you’re actually seeing how the mechanism works from the inside. As opposed to being sort of dismissed by people saying, “Oh, you’re just the artist. Just do your art and let us do the grownup work.” So all of this is different, and a lesson I wanted to learn to see how far I could take this.”

J.P.: I interviewed John Oates for this series, and he released an album that was excellent. He’s about your age, and we talked about how the odds are your album won’t appear on pop radio, it likely won’t chart, Ryan Seacrest won’t be talking about it. So … what is the motivation? You release an album, is there a goal? Sell X number of copies?

M.M.: I can’t speak for anybody else. I have to work and I have to express my art. That’s what I do. And my hunger needs to be vented and find a way out. So the thought that I should wait for somebody to approve of me and try to gain momentum and energy through that … through radio play … it’s not for me in this moment. I wish I had a crystal ball that works. I don’t.

That said, even pop radio isn’t necessarily the only way to get music out these days. The truth is, the beauty of being part of this industrial revolution is there are plenty of artists who never get played on the radio who are huge stars. So it’s just being a part of this moment and seeing how it turns out.

Your question to Mr. Oates is framed in an old paradigm. And that’s fine, but that’s pretending him not being played on Ryan Seacrest means it won’t be successful. There’s evidence it very well might be successful, just with a different definition of success. And that’s what’s interesting. There’s just no one path. And will you sell millions of records? Well, I don’t know. But the fact that fans can be brought closer to the process and actually be a part of the process is so unexpected. That’s one of the things I realized—even though you lift the veil a little bit so they can actually see the process and, by participating in crowd funding, they can actually peak into the components of production … it doesn’t diminish what they’re hearing in the end. It doesn’t diminish their delight if they like it. It doesn’t diminish their delight if you’ve written a song that helped shape their life or save a marriage or clarify an issue with a kid or something. Because the purpose of the song will do those things, regardless of the apparatus used to get it out.

J.P.: It’s just such a different world …

M.M.: It’s a different way of putting out music. And I didn’t want to be sitting in a corner complaining about something when I was being shown a light on an unexpected path when all I had to do was say yes to the adventure and try it. And that’s the deal.

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J.P.: Most singers have their greater commercial success in their 20s and 30s, probably because it’s a visual medium. Are you a better songwriter now than when you were 25? Does age impact an ability to write a song?

M.M.: I think as you hone your craft your sense of discernment … your ability to sculpt language and melody becomes more refined. On the other hand, in the early days, because my writing was coming out of that initial writer’s voice gush, there were songs that I was so free to write because I had no deep editorial muzzle in place yet. I don’t think I could write some of those songs now.

On the other hand, I’m delighted that there was an innate wisdom in some of those songs, and an innate depth of wisdom, that not only allowed me to write those songs in my 20s, but allowed those songs to grow and deepen with my experience.

Also, the statement that music is a visual medium … with all due respect, when I started music was not a visual medium at all unless you were on a television show. Listening to music was the medium. Listening to music was the apparatus. Listening to music was the way you got music. You weren’t looking at music unless you were on television. It was a different event, and the event—releasing an album—was the event. I’m releasing this album, which a lot of people aren’t doing anymore. But that’s my platform. One of the liberating aspects of getting deeper into my career is I no longer look too much to the right and left over my shoulder to see what other people are doing or how they’re doing it. The part of my career that won’t be changing much is that the album is the platform. It’s the body of work. It allows the listener to pick and choose from a big variety of songs. And, at the end, I hope the songs service them in some way, because that’s what I’ve been told over 40-plus years that my songs do.

J.P.: You’re Melissa Manchester. You’ve had a great career. How do you get Stevie Wonder to sing on your album?

M.M.: Well, the people who are guests on the album are people I’ve either toured with or have loved and I have made my love and admiration for them clear since I was 15-years-old. On my third album, which was my first album on Arista, I wrote a song with Carole Sager about Stevie Wonder called Stevie’s Wonder, and he never forgot. And when I see him to this day, he sings that song. I used to do that in my early career—I’d write odes to people I just loved. I wrote an ode to Paul Simon. I wrote a song about Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell because these were my soulful guides on my early journey. They were changing the shape of American popular song. It’s hard to know what that meant, historically, but prior to the 1970s even early rock n roll was based on a very conventional form, language-wise. It was based on a very simple, conventional format. It was great, because it was singable and humable and danceable, and even when rhythm was starting to be the pinnacle of the song rather than the song itself, still the compositions were very basic. And when I started writing, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder and the Beatles and Sly and the Family Stone and Joni Mitchell were really changing the shape of what constituted the song lyric and melody. And so those are the heroes I grew up with. Some of them became colleagues, which was a real blessing. That’s how I attracted some of them to say yes and come on the album.

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J.P.: Is it still a thrill to sing with people like that?

M.M.: I’ll tell you, the deeper I get into my career, the more precious this all becomes to me. Not only does the shared journey of my colleagues become more precious, but the actual song form becomes more precious. Because, to me, songs are what I call soul currency. And something like a song, which most of us take for granted—we listen to a song, we pass by it—and every once in a while you write things where you do not know what the effect will be on the world. You just sit down and hope for the best. And when people tell you the effect of your song, that holds such a deepening gravitas as you get older. As you get deeper into your consciousness and you get deeper into your life’s walk, and I am truly grateful for that and take nothing for granted.

J.P.: You studied songwriting with Paul Simon at NYU. I read that, then went back. What exactly does that mean—studying songwriting with Paul Simon at NYU? And did you learn anything from the man?

M.M.: Haha. Well, he felt like teaching for six months. I don’t know why he was in one place for so long. But Bridge Over Troubled Water was number one all over the world at the time. And he auditioned everybody that was applying for his class. And he auditioned me. And asked me to play a song, then he asked me to play another song. And then he asked me to play one more song. This was for the audition. And he said, ‘Have you been listening to Laura Nyro a lot?’ And I said, ‘Oh my God, she’s my muse, she’s my queen, I listen to her all the time, day and night.’ And he said, ‘You need to stop now.’

There were 10 students in the class, very interesting disparate group of students. Some wanted to write the great American musical, some wanted to do folk. But the basic assignment in the class was everybody had to show up with a new song every week and perform it. And we would analyze it and talk about it. But he also came in with things he was working on. Which was really fascinating, because you saw his process. Which was so scholarly and so in the trenches. For instance, once he was talking about Bridge Over Troubles Water. And he was talking about the composition writing of it. And he said, ‘You know the bridge—Sail on, silver girl.’ He said, ‘It actually has nothing to do with the song. I had a girlfriend who was going prematurely gray and I thought it sounded good.’ I thought that was the most fantastic thing I heard. That’s the thing about songwriting—you have so little time to create a world that what he said in essence was, ‘All of the stories have been told. It is the way that you tell the story which is your stamp of authenticity.’ And it’s true. You have so little time in a song to keep the listener engaged. The thing about songs is that simple is not easy. And a lot of people dismiss simple. They just don’t understand the soul of it. And that’s why people are frequently why the American Songbook lives on. When I’m teaching at Thornton School, I’m teaching pop writers, and I’m always finding them songs by Gershwin and Porter and Berlin to learn. And it blows their mind. They can’t figure it out, how these people could pack so much into these tiny little songs. I said, ‘Because they weren’t worrying about rhythm too much. They’re worried about melody and the content of the lyric. You’re just not used to that aesthetic, because it’s not the aesthetic of your day. The aesthetic of today is rhythm. And that creates a challenge to develop lyrical and musical ideas.’ Anyhow, that’s a long, circuitous answer.”

It was Paul Simon in an article of the New York Times magazine section, oh, 25 years ago. He said what would happen to the aesthetic of American popular song. He said it will lose its melody-driven bridge and it will become rhythm driven. He was right.

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J.P.: There’s a song on the radio called “Timber” by Ke$ha and Pitbull. And I read an interview where someone asked Pitbull what it was like working with Ke$ha. And he said something along the lines of, ‘We’ve actually never met.’ I was thinking how weird that is—she recorded her parts one place, he recorded his elsewhere. You said in your bio that you have students who never before saw music being created by actual human beings, because you recorded your album at a studio at Citrus College. Is there a disadvantage to Ke$ha and Pitbull recording in different places? Does it matter?

M.M.: Well, I had that experience when I recorded a song called Lover’s After All with Peabo Bryson. He was in Atlanta and I was in California just because our schedules weren’t working out. But I knew his voice, and I knew he’d be perfect on the song. And he knew me. We had done some Christmas tours together. And because his voice was so similar to Donny Hathaway, who I absolutely loved and who had just died, it worked out OK.

But the second part of your question, which was really interesting to watch, these students down at Citrus College where I recorded the album, had such reverence for what was going on. The actual collaborative spirit. It’s not working in a box of a studio in somebody’s garage with tracks. This is actually having discussions about how to approach original songs to bring the songs to life. To find the inner life of the songs. Songs to me are not piles of words. They’re expressions. So what I need the musicians for is to bring that voice to life so the audience can feel it. And these students who were studying to be young musicians and young engineers, and my engineer, Tim Checkett, who was also a musician and also the professor of sound there at Citrus, he had trained them so well to really understand what they were listening … he’d tell them someone like Stevie Wonder or Al Jarreau was coming in, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or even the caliber of my musicians. Lenny Castro, John Pruett—these were insane musicians. Insane. And to have them all looking over charts, all discussing ‘Is this what you want? What are you looking for?’ Or allowing me to change the approach because a deeper idea came up … it was always very respectful. Because it was all about the conversation trying to come to a radiant end. They could see process, they could so the articulation of ideas. As opposed to people throwing stuff out there. There was such a deep mature musical conversation going on, and hopefully that gave them at least a sense of what could be in a creative space. Perhaps they don’t have the chops to do that at this moment in their very early 20s and late teens, but perhaps they can see it. You know, we’re the elders. And we have experience and wisdom to share. It’s ancient stuff, really. And for them to be in the presence of seasoned creative forces, it’s beautiful. It was my feeling with Paul Simon. Someone isn’t coming at you from theory. They’re coming at you from the trenches. And that allows you a peek into what it looks like. It’s deep stuff. It’s fantastic.

kaypay

J.P.: Man, I wanna take your class. And I have no musical skill …

M.M.: Come on down.

J.P.: The wife and I consider Whenever I Call You Friend to be an all-time great song. You co-wrote it with Kenny Loggins, then he scored a huge hit with Stevie Nicks. What do you remember about writing that song? When you’re a singer and songwriter, does it at all suck when someone else succeeds with your material and people think of the work as someone else’s?

M.M.: Kenny chose Stevie, I guess because of her cool factor. Which is fine. Clive Davis, when I presented that song to him, he passed on it. He didn’t get it. I said, ‘Really? Even the Kenny Loggins element doesn’t do much for you?’ That kind of stuff happens.

Honestly, I’m honored when other artists want to sing my song. Again, I came from the school where songs are written for artists. I mean, Sinatra didn’t write his own songs. And so, there are a whole top tier of writers who wrote for the top-tier artists. So I was honored Nicks sang with Kenny. And the process of the song was interesting. It’s quite a while ago, but Kenny is a formidable writer for sure, and he had this idea and it was just sort of in pieces. And the pieces were not making sense. We finished it and glued it together and made it better and stronger and clearer and all that stuff.

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J.P.: You’re driving in your car and that songs come on. Do you …

M.M.: I’m delighted. Of course, I’m delighted. I don’t get it when people get irked by other people singing their songs. I don’t get it when songwriters get irked hearing their songs. I just don’t get it. What’s the problem? That’s the universal wallpaper nodding in your direction. I’d just shut up and say thank you.

J.P.: If it’s on the radio, do you sing along?

M.M.: Sometimes. (Laughter). Sometimes.

J.P.: In 1982 you won a Grammy with your biggest hit, You Should Hear How She Talks About You. Do awards matter? Someone says, ‘This is the best song of the year!’ Are you with it? Why? What do you recall of that win? And where’s the Grammy?

M.M.: Well, awards are nice, because they create an instant energy field of more people wanting to see you. It creates that energy field of attraction. It’s really astounding when people recognize a song you’ve either written or performed. It’s amazing. Because it’s not that they recognize the song—they recognize the first two notes of the introduction. Which means you established a world that didn’t exist prior to this song. And you’ve made a pathway for people to project whatever needs they have for the song, that helps clarify and restore and shake loose something for them. It’s unbelievable. It’s only  3 ½ or four minutes. Or it can galvanize a nation. It’s just unbelievable. So in answer to your question, yes, of course awards are lovely. But the truth is the record industry is about what have you done lately. But it’s lovely to know I was acknowledged by my peers.

J.P.: Where are the awards?

M.M.: In my living room, in front of a sunny window.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

M.M.: Oh my God. What’s the greatest moment? One of the greatest moment of my career was doing a Memorex commercial many years ago with Ella Fitzgerald, who was one of the shining lights of my youth. Her voice was more than a voice. It was a light. And the worst moment of my life was that, because I was so busy in that early period of my life, I kept neglecting to sing her a song that she requested. And she died.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MELISSA MANCHESTER:

• I had this debate with my friend Malcom, and he said I should ask Melissa Manchester. You drop $250 sunglasses into a public toilet. What do you do?: HA! I pick them up. Ha.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? What do you recall?: Yes. I was flying into New Jersey many, many years ago in April or March, and it was a terrible fear, and I just started praying. I’m a big prayer person. And I just kept saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you for this life. Thank you, thank you, thank you.’

• Three memories from appearing on Blossom?: Ha ha ha. Well, one was being introduced to the great, late Bill Bixby, who was the fantastic director. At the time he was quite ill, but he was still directing. He was very jolly. Everyone knew he was in pain, but he was still jolly. And he said, ‘I want you to be very comfortable and feel free to make suggestions. This is an open dialogue between me and the cast.’ I thanked him, and I made a suggestion and he said, ‘That’s a bad idea’ and moved on. Ha ha. Two, going to Paris for the filming of Blossom was really, really a beautiful adventure. The kids were fantastic. Mayim Bialik was unbelievable. I mean, this woman is so brilliant. She could be president of the nation. She was really raised well, and she had this confidence about her as a teenage girl where she just did not get flustered. She just walked through and created this bond. All the kids were raised really well. It was a wonderful, beautiful experience.

• What do you consider the best and worst songs that you’ve released of your career?: Ha ha ha. I don’t know about the best. There’s a song … if I have a chance to write with the Bergmans again. I was very overwhelmed and intimidating. They’re magnificent friends, and couldn’t be more loving and kind, but at the time I just wasn’t used to writing a melody first, and then have somebody set lyrics to it. And that’s how they were used to writing. I tried to do that. The song was called Tears of Joy. It’s just a hodgepodge of a melody. Their lyrics were lovely, but my nervousness shows. I don’t have one best. I think a lot of my best is on this album. I think the song, You’ve Gotta Love the Life really captures my life and the life of the artist. I also love the song Feelin’ for You with Keb Mo—and the way he produced it.

• Who wins in a karaoke battle between you, Celine Dion and Madonna?: Hahahahaha. Well, it’s between me and Celine.

• You composed and recorded the score to the direct-to-video Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure. In 30 words of less, can you tell me the movie’s plot?: Um, it’s about Tramp’s son and Lady’s son—a puppy who takes after his father. He’s a little rebellious and wants to be free and gets in trouble with a gang of dogs. And then he realized the error of his ways and he realizes he needs his family. That his family was really solid.

• Why aren’t you Tweeting more?: Should I? Is that what I should do? I do Facebook quite a bit. I like Facebook.

• Would you ever consider recording an adult contemporary versions of Snoop Dogg’s 10 greatest hits?: Ha ha ha. I really have to sit with them. I really have to sit with them and listen to what it is he’s trying to say. My first impulse is to say no. But I’ll give everything a listen and listen to it as far as I can.

• Five greatest pure vocalists of your lifetime?: Well, pure vocalists—that’s good. Very good. Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra and … hmm … number five, that s a tossup. I would say Tony Bennett.

Kyle Brandt

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So this is sorta weird, but today’s Quaz features a man who—until a month or two ago—I never considered for this space.

Oh, I’ve known Kyle Brandt for quite a while now. For the past three years I’ve been a semi-regular panelist on Jim Rome’s CBS Sports Network show. Kyle is Jim’s (radio and television) producer, so whenever I arrive at the studio, I’m greeted by a guy who has three important virtues: A. Genuinely nice. B. Genuinely funny. C. Respects Hall & Oates.

That magical trifecta, however valuable, isn’t enough to be invited into the selective and dignified Land of Quaz. Then, a few months ago, something happened. I was speaking with Jim after a day’s taping, and Kyle’s name was brought up. “It’s funny going out with him,” Jim said, “because people still recognize the guy from The Real World.”

Um, what?

“You didn’t know Kyle was on The Real World?”

I did not. So I returned to my abode and operated the magical Google. And I immediately remembered Kyle—the wife and I used to be regular Real World viewers. But that wasn’t all. Kyle played halfback at Princeton. Kyle spent three years as a Days of Our Lives cast member. Kyle appeared in a really weird commercial featuring Randy Johnson. Kyle was the object of affection for a website designed in 1982. Kyle, um, judged a Miss Teen USA pageant alongside an ogling Nick Lachey.

In short, the 188th Quaz is the quintessential Quaz.

One can follow Kyle on Twitter here, and view his IMDB page here.

Kyle Brandt, shirtless dunker, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Kyle, you’ve had a truly fascinating career. So I have to start with what must be considered the defining moment: In 2003 you were a judge at the Miss Teen USA pageant. Um … what? Details, please. Details …

KYLE BRANDT: First thing’s first. It’s creepy to judge a teenage beauty pageant. There’s a bikini category. They’re minors. You’re judging their bodies. More on that in a second.

Nick Lachey was a fellow judge. His wife Jessica Simpson was performing during the show. (So was Justin Goddamn Guarani. That breaks the #2003 scale).  Anyway, another judge was Vanessa Manillo. I remember thinking it was odd that Lachey was flirting with her. Because not only was he married to Jessica, but they had just premiered their reality show … which is all about them being married. Guess what happened eight years later? He marred Vanessa Manillo!  Also—Cobi Jones was also a judge, he was the only American soccer player I had ever heard of, and he was a cool dude.

Back to judging teenage girls’ bodies. There was a lot of coaching from the producers about that category. They kept telling us we were looking for “symmetry of form.” Which, is just some bullshit term to cover their asses. So, as it turned out, there was exactly one moment in the live broadcast when I spoke on camera. They went to commercial after the bikini category. The producer tells me that Mario Lopez, the host, is going to go to me with a question when we come back. For whatever reason, probably ego, I was expecting the question to be something about myself.

Two minutes later … they’re counting us back: “5….4….3…. (2)….(1) ..  WELCOME BACK TO THE 2003 MISS TEEN USA PAGEANT. I’M HERE WITH KYLE BRANDT FROM DAYS OF OUR LIVES … KYLE WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THAT SWIMWEAR CATEGORY?”

I was caught totally off guard. Had no idea what to say to AC Slater. So for some reason, I went full pervert: “Whew! Man! I’m still trying to recover from it!”

I’ve never felt more Megan’s Law in my life. I’m still trying to recover from it. From ogling those high school girls? Barf. I should have been maced. Or arrested. Even Slater, who is a renowned Casanova, responded with an awkward laugh and didn’t ask a second question. He shouldn’t have asked me a first.

I should have just said, “These girls are looking really symmetrical out there tonight, Mario.”

Kyle, left, as part of a dream panel along with Manillo, Jones and Lachey.

Kyle, left, as part of a dream panel along with Manillo, Jones and Lachey.

J.P.: Until recently, I only knew you as Kyle, the cool executive producer for Jim Rome. Then, while on the set one day, Jim mentioned that people still recognize you from The Real World. And I thought, “Um … what?” Then I Googled, nodded—wife and I watched that season, I just never made the connection. So, to get this out of the way: Real World Chicago—how? Why? Good experience? Bad experience? And how much of your career can you credit to that experience in one way or another?

K.B.: Dude, you can’t imagine how many times I’ve been talking to someone at a bar, or a party, and they’ve said to me, “So, I just have to ask …” It happened last night. That show is a life tattoo. I got it when I was a second semester senior in college. They came to campus and did an open casting call. My friends and I got drunk and went to it for shits. This is way back before the term “reality show” existed. This is when The Real World was must-see TV. Naked Ruthie in Hawaii. Stephen slapping that girl with lyme disease in Seattle. So we went to the open call.

I remember the late Mary-Ellis Bunim asked me how I would feel about a gay man telling me I was attractive. Odd question, but I said, “Well, it’s already happened twice today and I appreciated it both times.” She laughed. Four months later she casted me and I did that show in my hometown of Chicago, two weeks after graduating from college.

I’ll rattle off the answers to the Kyle Brandt Real World FAQ:

• Yes, we got paid. About $5,000 for a four-month shoot. You sign away everything, you get nothing, and if you don’t like it—they’ll just find another fratboy to take the position. I had no problem with that.

• No, I don’t regret doing it. Great life experience. Don’t get me wrong, I wish I’d done things differently. I was so nervous and uptight the whole time. I so worried about looking like a douche, that I ended up looking like a douche.

• And of course, “Is The Real World REAL?” People think they’re going to blow your mind with this question. Like, wow. Incredible stuff, Mike Wallace! It was pretty real. They didn’t create scenarios. But they edit it to create characters. I have a huge problem with anyone who goes on a  reality show and complains how they were portrayed. Of course you look terrible. That’s what those shows are for—to put your face on a dartboard so the country can make fun of you. Shut up.

Kyle with Jim Rome

Kyle with Jim Rome

J.P.: You spent three years, I believe, playing Philip Kiriakis on Days of Our Lives. Soaps have always fascinated me, because they’re both corny and riveting; widely watched and widely panned. How did you land that gig? Did you enjoy it? And why did you stop playing Philip?

K.B.: Awesome time in my life. So fun. I was an ordinary auditioning actor in Los Angeles back in 2003, albeit with some notoriety from MTV. When I went in for the part of Philip, I remember thinking it would be cool because Philip’s dad Victor is played by John Aniston, soap legend and father of Jennifer. I had this whole plan that I was going to befriend him, meet her, hang with Brad Pitt and become a movie star. But first I had to land the part.

My agent advised me to wear a really tight shirt because they were going to want to see what my body looked like. “For those shows, they need to see the goods.”  She also said I should be tan. So I spray tanned for the first time in my life … then I went to Banana Republic and bought the smallest T-shirt they had. It was a light blue Extra Small Lycra cotton T-shirt. It honestly looked like baby clothes. I looked like such an orange dipshit. Exactly what they were looking for. It worked.

I loved that job. So many bizarre experiences. My character was a Marine who loses his leg at war, so I did a scene with Paul McCartney’s then-wife and real-life amputee Heather Mills.  My character then became a NASCAR driver (with one leg!) so I got to meet Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. and all those guys. Regarding how cheesy soaps are—of course! That’s why they work. And we absolutely knew it at the time. I remember dozen of times standing on the set saying, “There’s no way I’m saying this. I can’t stay this without laughing.” We would laugh through half the scenes. You honesty think we didn’t know how bad/funny this scene was?

But the best part of that time were the gigs you’d go to on the weekends. They’d send you to a department store in Tuscaloosa, or a hardware store in Birmingham. You’d get a really nice check to sit at a table for two hours and sign head shots for housewives. Sometimes they’d wait in line for two hours. I’m serious. And let me assure you … when a big soap opera fan waits that long to meet Philip, they’re going to get their money’s worth. Big hugs. Hand holding. Butt grabbing. Last-minute cheek kisses before the camera click. You name it. The picture below this answer has become infamous on the radio show. It was taken on the dance floor at an event I was paid to attend in Greenville, S.C. in 2004. It’s known as the Southern Sandwich. After that weekend, I went on my blog and referred to the event as a “Grope Fest.” The people got pissed and didn’t invite me back. Most of the soap fans were really nice. Some of them were really grabby. Most of them were clean. Some of them smelled like old ham. For people who loved soaps, they didn’t seem to love soap.

I only stopped playing Philip because at some point you have to leave college and get a real job. That’s how it felt. Unfortunately for me, that job was not becoming a movie star and The Aniston Plan never panned out. Plus, soap operas are a dying genre. I thought I’d have a better future in the fresh, emerging market of sports radio.

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The Southern Sandwich in all its glory.

J.P.: So I know you’re from Hinsdale, Illinois, I know you played football at Princeton, I know you’ve acted and Rome. But how did this happen? Birth to now? When did you decide this was the sort of career you wanted? Why did you stop acting? What are you trying to accomplish?

K.B.: My career path has been so strange. I remember during my first-ever meeting with Jim, I said to him: My background’s pretty odd, man, and I’m not sure you’re going to like it. But he loved it, because it’s so different. Football … acting … sports media.  I used to want to be Walter Payton. (except for that weird nitrous thing). Then I wanted to be Matt Damon. Then I wanted to do what Jim does. I stopped acting because I wasn’t going to be 40-years old, living in a one-bedroom apartment, and praying that I get a callback for some shitty TV show. That’s the life. These Channing Tatums, Chris Hemsworths? They’re lottery winners. They’re holding the giant check and the balloons. The are the 1 percent. Less than that, really. The other 50,000 hunky white dudes who want those parts? They’re going to eventually get their real estate licenses or become a personal trainer. I wasn’t going to risk that. You have to be an extremely good actor or incredibly lucky. I was neither.

J.P.: In a 2010 interview with Princeton’s alumni publication, you said, “If you appear on a reality show, be prepared to answer questions about it for the rest of your life.” I can hear you groaning with that reply. How true it is? How annoying does it get? Is there any possible escape?

K.B.: When The Real World season was airing in 2002, I was 23. My friends and I used to play a game when we’d go out and people would approach me. We’d rank the interactions from one to 10. Getting a one meant you were the most obnoxious asshole ever. Like someone who walks right up to your table and starts berating you for the way you treated somebody on the show. A 10 was somebody just saying, “Hey man, saw you on that show. Good luck.” There were almost no 10s. Lots of twos and threes. A few ones. I think the biggest lesson I learned from that dynamic is that when you see a public figure out somewhere, and you think they don’t notice that you’re talking about them or talking a picture of them—you’re wrong. They do. They always do. You’re not being nearly as subtle as you think you are. I saw Jenna Jameson at a restaurant a few months back. It’s odd seeing a ’90s porn star in person because you feel like you’re running into an ex-girlfriend. But I tried to take a picture of her and act like I wasn’t. She knew exactly what I was doing. Sighed and turned away from me in her seat. So busted. I’m sure she gave me a one. I deserved it.

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J.P.: As a former Delaware Blue Hen, I’m a big I-AA football guy (I still call it I-AA). You were a really good running back at Princeton. I’ve always wondered if there’s something special or unique about playing sports in the Ivy. Do you think it’s any different than being a Blue Hen or New Hampshire Wildcat? Does it come with expectations? Standards? And why’d you go to Princeton?

K.B.: A lot of the time playing sports in the Ivy League means you are a enough student to get in, but not a good enough athlete to play at a big-time program. Unless you play squash or lacrosse. For me, when I was getting recruited out of high school, my options were this: 1. Play running back at some place like Western Michigan or Toledo, maybe get on the field as an upperclassman. 2. Walk on somewhere like Northwestern or Purdue. Maybe cover kicks some day. 3. Be a three-year starter and get the best possible degree at Princeton.

It was so easy.

I can’t speak to being a Blue Hen or playing for New Hampshire, but I don’t think the actual experience of being an Ivy League athlete is that different. Not on the field. There are the same idiots talking the same kind of moronic trash talk in a Princeton-Harvard game as I’m sure there is in Alabama-Auburn. It’s not like everybody insults each other after a tackle with enlightened insults or sonnets. I remember being a little disappointed that everyone didn’t seem like a genius or something. It was the same cast of characters you’d see on any football team. Dirtbags. Idiots who forget their assignments. Cheapshotters. The two-to-three guys who can barely stay eligible, and the one guy who gets kicked off the team for plagiarism.

Another thing about being an Ivy League athlete? Nobody goes to the games. Princeton built a brand-new stadium that debuted in 1998. My first game as a starter. The place was packed. The governor was there, more than 30,000 fans. Electric. And then the final score was Princeton 6, Cornell 0. About 70 percent of those in the stadium left at halftime. I don’t blame them. They probably went to a squash match. We blew it.

J.P.: You’ve been with Jim Rome for a long time. When I inevitably tell people how great Jim is, I get a lot of, “Really? He seems so [Fill in the blank]. What’s it like working with Jim? And what do you think people are misunderstanding? And why?

K.B.: Of course you think Jim is great. You’ve actually met him. And you’ve worked with him. Ask any journalist or author to fill in that blank and they’ll glow about the guy. Because he’s totally professional and respectful of what they do. It’s like Howard Stern with comedians. They love him because he makes them look great. Anyone with something negative to say about Jim falls into one of three categories. 1. Other people in the industry jealous of his career. 2. Die-hard sports fan types who don’t like him because he laid out their team. 3. Mouth breathers still cackling about the Jim Everett thing back in the fucking 1990s. So who the hell cares what those people think? He has great friends in his personal life. And great respect from those who have worked with him in his professional life. Most of all me. It sounds like I’m kissing my boss’s ass. I get it. But I’ve worked with him for seven years because I like it. The worst bosses are the ones who are unfair, or who send mixed messages. There’s no bullshit working for Jim. Get up early. Know what the hell you’re talking about. Work your balls off. Get to the weekend and do whatever the hell you want.

People ask me what he’s like, too. I think they can’t grasp that when the show’s over … he doesn’t just stand around spitting fire about the Lakers or dropping “manual buzzers” on people in conversation. He’s a fun hang. He loves alt rock. He has great stories He’s funny when he drinks. He hates himself after he eats a bunch of Halloween candy late at night. Like a normal dude. Better than that. An awesome dude.

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J.P.: Greatest moment of your professional career? Lowest?

K.B.: I haven’t had my greatest moment yet. But my proudest moment thus far went down the first time I hosted The Jim Rome Show in 2012.  Just me. No co-host. No wacky sidekick. Three hours of radio to 250-plus affiliates. In fact, I talked so fast that I think I actually delivered eight hours worth of content that day. I’ve never done cocaine. But I imagine if I did, that first show is how I would sound.

The low point? About five years ago, I met Bo Jackson. He lives the same Chicago Suburb as my Dad. The idols of my adolescence were Jordan, The Ultimate Warrior, and Bo. I had all his posters. I had his cross trainers. I had 13 touchdowns in one game with Bo in Tecmo Bowl. And then as a 31-year old I had a chance to meet him.

I was so nervous, that I shook his hand and said, “It’s great to meet you. I’m Bo.”

I said the wrong name. He goes ,”Oh yeah? There aren’t a lot of us.” Understand, I work around athletes for a living. It’s no big deal. I never get nervous. But for some reason, Bo reduced me to that kid in the Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial. Only way less clutch.  So what to do? How to salvage the encounter?  At that point, I had two options. Either I could double back and say, “Wait. Actually, my name’s Kyle”—and look like a total asshat. Or I could just play along and pretend my name is actually Bo. Guess what I did.? You already know. If I ever run into him again, and I probably will,  I will do it as “Bo Brandt.” Bo knows.

J.P.: Is acting hard or easy? Being serious—do you feel like it’s a craft that needs to be perfected? Pretending? Do we overrate the ability? Underrate? And how would you rate yourself?

K.B.: Of course it’s hard, Pearlman. Let’s see you get up and do a dramatic monologue or read some lines from The Mentalist. It’s funny, because when you’re auditioning for a part, you try so hard to really a-c-t. Like get into the role, think about your character’s past, all that shit. And then when it comes to being on camera, it’s about doing as little as possible. Every acting coach I ever had would preach about “stillness” and “subtlety.”  Basically—they would teach us to just do nothing.

I think it’s very hard to do good acting. It’s like rapping. Anyone can do it badly. Just come up with some stupid rhymes and talk with your hands. But to rap and actually look cool? There are like, 20 people on the planet who can do it. I feel that way about acting. Daniel-Day Lewis becomes Abraham Lincoln like it’s no big deal. Liam Neeson could have probably done it. Kevin Spacey. But imagine the rest of the population in a top hat trying to do that voice. We’d all look like imbeciles. Because acting is goddamn hard.

By the time I was done, I think I could hold my own. Not great. Maybe not good. But strongly passable. Somewhere between Van Damme and Van Der Beek.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KYLE BRANDT:

  You were the president of Beta Theta Pi while at Princeton. I’ve long stereotyped frats as asshole plantations. Tell me why I’m the asshole here: You’re not. And as president I was the asshole plantation owner.  True story: One night in 1997, our fraternity rented out this little Chinese restaurant for the night. I was a pledge at the time. And the rest of the pledges and I were forced to chug Jim Beam until we puked. No big deal. I was game. But the brothers wanted to dial up the entertainment factor. So there was this giant window across the front of the restaurant looking out on the parking lot. They made each one of us go outside,  press our faces against the window and barf all over the glass.  We all did it.

Assholes? We were savages. Just wildly disrespectful to the poor people who ran the place. I think about it all the time. Like—it wasn’t enough that this pack of jackals puked in rice bowls and flower pots all over their restaurant. No, they had to desecrate the exterior too. Look at this poor place. Of course they’re closed down now. I feel terrible. So I guess you’re sort of wrong. We weren’t a plantation. We were more efficient. We were an asshole factory. Looking back, I wish the Tri-Lambs had shown up with their sweet jheri curls and kicked our asses.

• You’ve never appeared on an MTV spinoff show. It sorta seems like free money for little work. So why not?: Jeff. Have you seen the promos for those things? If I ever got an itch to do one … and I started to think it might be a fun little gig like you’re saying … all I need to do is see one promo for whatever Challenge is airing and I’ll say, “Hell No.” It’s always a montage of people crying, screaming, getting injured, having sex on night vision, and getting sucker punched by six-packers in bandanas. I’m not doing that shit. Not to win a surfboard, or a Saturn, or whatever they give to the winners. Pass.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): General Hospital, Tonya Cooley, Westminster, Eddie the Eagle, Kyle Korver, Shannon Hoon, Blackish, Eric Dickerson, Felipe Lopez, Yahoo, corn on the cob, Ben Stiller, podcasts: 1. Podcasts. I just finished Serial. I can’t listen to one second without thinking that Sarah Koenig is totally in love with Adnan. The episode where he says she doesn’t really know him? It felt like a seventh grade break up; 2. Kyle Korver. Pure gunner. Good dude. But one time I was out on a date with this PR rep, and she kept texting with Kyle Korver and bragging about it. What a blocker. But the ladies like that guy. Have to tip the cap. 3. Eric Dickerson. Two things I loved about him as a player. His upright style was just begging tacklers to take his head off, back in a time when it was actually allowed. His career shouldn’t have lasted one week. He played 11 years. And the other reason? The Rec Specs. I wore them as a kid. He and Horace Grant helped me avoid getting bullied for it. Respect the Specs; 4. Corn on the Cob. If you’re the kind of person who uses a knife to cut the corn off the cob … you’re a serial killer. Stop doing that; 5. Ben Stiller. To this day, the two hardest laughs I’ve ever had  in a movie theater were #1) There’s Something About Mary when his nuts are caught in the zipper.  #2) There’s Something About Mary when he opens the door with the load on his ear; 6. Westminster. The dog show? Makes me think of Fred Willard doing shi tzuh jokes. The Abbey? Never been, sounds boring.  Westminster CA? Top notch donuts, great vietnamese food, and that’s it; 7. Yahoo.  Remember when we used to “Yahoo” things? It’s like the MySpace of search engines. I don’t like their obnoxious hillbilly jingle. I bet the guy who recorded that jingle is on a yacht right now. Screw Yoooooo-ooooo-huuuue!! 8. General Hospital. It’s like the Spurs of soaps. Long running, respected, can’t be killed. Susan Lucci is Tim Duncan; 9. Eddie The Eagle? Hold on. Let me Google. … A British skier? I was thinking this was going to be some Division I-AA mascot from a school that you like, Pearlman.  But then, you would never include something just because you’re really into it. Oh wait a second … 10. Shannon Hoon.  FINALLY. How the hell did we get this far without a mention of The Melon? My life can be broken into two halves.  The first half, when I thought the only Blind Melon song that anyone knew was “No Rain.” And the second half, when I met Jeff Pearlman. Maybe I sell the band short? Maybe I should spend more time with their music? I don’t know . All I can say is that my life is pretty plain; 11. Felipe Lopez. Back to Google. No, wait. I’m going to “Yahoo” Felipe Lopez … St. John’s hoops. Got the SI cover. Played through 1998. Dude, all i remember about the 97-98 season was watching from the stands as Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and the Tarheels came to Princeton University and dunked all over some 6-foot-1 Economics major; 12. Tonya Cooley.  I actually know someone who has done soft core porn. That’s pretty cool. Yahoo that. In fact, I LIVED with someone who has done soft core porn. That’s pretty cool; 13. Black-ish. I like Anthony Anderson. I love that they convinced ABC to let them call the show this. I will never watch it. I think almost all scripted comedies are Crap-ish

• The world needs to know—what was it like working with Kristian Alfonso?: She’s disarmingly nice. And she is a modern master of crying on camera. I once heard a legend about Kristian … that she can shed a tear down her left cheek, or right cheek, depending on which makes for a better shot.  An ambidextrous crier.  When I’d have emotional scenes, I’d just squint my eyes really hard and think about my family dying. I ended up looking like I was lifting something really heavy.

• We give Kyle Brandt, circa 2000, 20 carries for the New York Giants against the Dallas Cowboys. What’s your stat line?: To hell with that. If we’re making up magic football games, I’m not running behind the Giants. I want to run behind the Cowboys. But let me clarity. 2000-Me with the 2000-Cowboys? They were horrible. Emmitt barely averaged four yards per carry. I think I might get injured before the 20 carries.

But put 2000-Me behind that old Jeff Pearlman Boys Will Be Boys offensive line? Now you’ve got something. If 2000-Me was running behind 1992 Larry Allen and Mark Tuinei? I’ll get you 104 yards and a Touchdown. That’s 18 fantasy points. Then again, 2015-Me could probably get 80 yards behind that line.

Of course, all of this is contingent upon me not getting stabbed with scissors by The Playmaker during my pregame haircut.

• Three memories from appearing in a 2003 Right Guard commercial?: 1. It was my first paid acting job. I played the part of “odor.” I got hired because I went the extra mile. For my part, they were looking for an arrogant jock douchebag, like a 2003 version of William Zabka. For the audition we were supposed to stare right into the camera and look like a  dick. I decided to ad-lib and say, “Yeah I called you a little bitch. What are you going to do about it? That’s what I thought.” They loved that. I went full Zabka; 2. The director of that commercial, Rawson Marshall Thurber. Not only does he have one hell of a name, but he went on to direct the Ben Stiller Dodgeball movie. So he is the go-to Hollywood director for all dodgeball-based projects; 3. Jim Breuer was awesome. He walked around the gym the entire time singing Metallica songs in a perfect James Hetfield impression. I loved him; 4. (bonus)  Randy Johnson. We were told before he arrived on set not to talk to him, not to ask for autographs or whatever. As if I had brought my Diamonbacks cap with me to the shoot.  He was also the worst actor you could possibly imagine. Remember how I said acting was hard? Well, 71-year old Robert De Niro would have more success as a starting pitcher right now than The Big Unit would have as an actor. By far. He actually had a line. After he pegs the shit out of us with dodgeballs, Jim Breuer goes, “Well that was fun.” And then Randy was supposed to say, “I had a ball!” Get it? Really clever little play on words. But he couldn’t handle it. They gave him 15 takes. With coaching and directing between each one. It was as if he was doing like a bizarre James Earl Jones impression. Drunk Darth Vader. It was so bad, so stiff, that they cut it completely from the commercial. I can’t even imagine how much money they paid him, and he doesn’t even speak.

• I will trade you my (nonexistent) head of hair, $200,000 and my entire Hall & Oates catalogue for your head of hair. You in?: Hell no. First of all, I already have the H&O catalogue. It makes my dreams come true. My wife and I listen to Darry and John all the time. Not even kidding. It’s pop perfection. But all I’d be getting from you is whatever average B-sides and pretentious vinyl you’ve collected. I love those dudes, Jeff. But I don’t want an autographed copy of “Whole Oats” and I don’t need “Private Eyes” on cassette.  Another key factor—I have a massive head. You know bald is supposed to be cool now? Like, shave your  head and you’re Jason Statham? Not me. My head size is bigger than some men’s waist size. No sale.

• Celine Dion will pay you $20 million for one night of romance. You also have to wear a leash and call her, “Mistress Bobby Bonilla.” You in?: Are you shitting me? For 20 million? Of course. My heart will go on. Dude, for 40 million … I’d have a night of romance with Bobby Bonilla and call him Mister Celine Dion. I’m in. (Important Note! I would not have relations with anyone other than my wife, for all the money in the world.)

• What happens after we die?: Not a damn thing. I’m so jealous of people who believe in Heaven. I would love to believe I’m going to drop dead … open my eyes … and I’m 13-years old again. Christie Brinkley from Vacation wants to go play Nintendo with me while I eat deep dish and drink root beer. That would be Heaven. But I think everything just goes to black and we start to rot.

• Five reasons one should make Hinsdale his/her next vacation destination?: Easy. 1. Jim Thome; 2. Bobby Thigpen; 3. Dizzy Reed; 4. Bill Rancic; 5. Morris the Cat. All born in Hinsdale. That’s more than 600 home runs, more than 200 saves, the sixth most important Guns N Roses member, an Apprentice winner, and a cat food mascot. Scoreboard.

Jennifer Hanson

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This is sort of weird to admit, but a couple of months ago I found myself obsessed by Leave the Pieces, the seven-year-old country song performed by The Wreckers.

I originally heard the tune on Pandora, and it stuck. I bought it on iTunes and played it and played it and played it. Hells, I played it so often that I reached out to both members of The Wreckers—Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp—to be Quazed.

Sadly, neither responded.

Then I took it to the next level. “Leave the Pieces” was written by Jennifer Hanson, a singer/songwriter with her own website. I contacted her, and immediately heard back.

Good news: Yes, she’d love to be Quazed.

Bad news: She wasn’t that Jennifer Hanson.

Why, this Jennifer Hanson didn’t even know “Leave the Pieces.”  But then, in the strange way life often works, this Jennifer Hanson turned out to be (I’m guessing) better than that Jennifer Hanson. She’s a singer and a songwriter. She’s Canadian. She has an amazing voice, she appreciates Tupac, she’s a jazz singer who doesn’t love Miles Davis, she croons in 1,001 languages, Simon Le Bon didn’t impress her, she danced (badly) for Pete Townsend.

One can visit Jennifer’s website here.

Jennifer Hanson (not to be confused with Jennifer Hanson), welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Jennifer, I’ve done more than 185 of these Q&As, and this is a first. I e-mailed you because I thought you were the songwriter Jennifer Hanson who wrote “Leave the Pieces.” Instead, you’re the songwriter who didn’t write “Leave the Pieces.” Which makes me want to start with these two questions: 1. How often is this mistake made? 2. What do you think of the song “Leave the Pieces”? 3. Have you ever met your name sister, Jennifer Hanson?

JENNIFER HANSON: This mistake is made every few days, I sell approximately 20 CDs/downloads a month, then get e-mails telling me they made a mistake but like my music. Truth is, I’ve never heard the song, “Leave the Pieces.” Should I?

As for the other Jennifer, I have never met her, but I’ve tried to get her people to sort out all the websites where we are mistaken for one another. I am mentioned on Wikipedia, however, on her page where it says not to be confused with the Canadian jazz singer of the same name!

 

J.P.: You’re a jazz singer. I’m gonna be totally honest—I’ve never loved jazz, in the way I’ve never loved wine. People will say, “Just try this glass of so-and-so! It’s from 1943 and the flavor just …” And it never works. People will say, “Just listen to Miles Davis on this track …” And it never works. Jennifer, what am I missing? And what do you love about jazz?

J.H.: I’m not really into Miles Davis either, I keep wondering, where’s the singing? I’m not actually a jazz singer, it’s just part of my job. I also pretend to like wine. I think what I like is great singers singing great songs. Frank Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon,” Julie London singing “Cry Me a River,” Chet Baker singing “Embraceable You,” and Johnny Hartman singing “Lush Life.” Most people consider those songs jazz in the same way they consider me a jazz singer. It’s really just the popular music of that time … the top 40, if you will. Jazz instrumental music is a fairly small audience that I do occasionally like, but I’m a lover of music with lyrics.

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J.P.: This, from your bio: “Jennifer is one of the few singers in the Southeast who sings extensively in French and also in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. She also knows the anthems of at least 10 countries, just in case.” Um … I’ve gotta ask. How, and why?

J.H.: Well, to answer in order: 1. I make more money, because most people won’t take the time it takes to learn a few songs in other languages; 2. I come from Flin Flon, Manitoba, where hockey is what holds the community together. We’ve had many different countries play hockey there, and my sister and I sang the anthems which included whatever country happened to be playing; 3. Getting out of one’s comfort zone and putting yourself out there is what singers do. Learning the songs from other countries is definitely out of the comfort zone and a way to broaden horizons, even if it’s for the two people in the audience who might speak Portuguese and know who Antonio Carlos Jobim is.

J.P.: What’s your journey? Like, womb to now, how did you know you’d become a singer? Where’s the love of music from? How did it develop? When did you say, ‘This is what I’ll do with my life?’

J.H.: I come from a huge family that did two things—read books and play music. We still sing whenever we get together. My older sister Susan was the first one in our family to become a professional singer, and I wanted to be just like her. I never had an “Ah ha!” moment, I have always just been a singer. I don’t think we always make a choice, it happens by osmosis. I was immersed in music from birth and I hate getting up early. A no-brainer was to live the music life.

J.P.: Your debut CD came out in 1999, and you won a Prairie Music Award (Canada) for best jazz recording. I’m a writer, and I’ve always felt writing awards are kinda bullshit. I mean, who’s to say one story is better than another. I feel that way about music, too. Agree? Disagree? And where is your Prairie as we speak?

J.H.: It would be even more embarrassing since I think I wrote half of three songs on the album. It was for jazz recording, and it was a very small category, and I really think the other guys should have won. I hate awards of any kind because music, like writing, is personal, and different kinds appeal to different people. And Britney Spears has won how many Grammy Awards? [Answer: Just one] Is that really a club I need to be a part of? My prairie is Manitoba which is a beautiful, haunting, cold and culturally totally awesome place.

J.P.: When I was a teenager, all I wanted to do was have sex with a singer. There’s just something soooo appealing about that particular talent. However, I don’t have that particular talent. So I wonder—do you get it? And, as a singer, do you look at other singers and feel that tug? That pull? That ping in the heart?

J.H.: Having dated other singers, I can say that there’s no pixie dust that rubs off on you like you think. We have huge egos and criminally low self esteem, so you’re taking the chance that the experience will be all about them. I like to think I’m more well adjusted than that, but I haven’t always been. Singers (and any proficient musicians) make music very sexual, and yes, singers feel that, which is why we’re able to translate it to the audience. It makes us feel exactly the way you think it would. I met David Bowie one time and I have to say, he had some serious mojo magic around him—a tangible aura. I also met Simon Le Bon, who was clearly famous and looked great, but didn’t have it so much.

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J.P.: You’ve sang the national anthem at many NHL games. What are the vocal complexities of anthem singing? Is it an easy gig? Scary? And have you ever messed one up?

J.H.: The American anthem is the hardest, it has a huge range which is why it’s almost never sung live in the really big games. It’s too easy to fuck it up. It’s terrifying being in front of 20,000 people with no band to hide behind. Some singers can handle it, others cannot. I sang for the Winnipeg Jets from 1989-96, and I enjoyed it because I truly loved the team. I also was young enough to take the stress. The hockey club also treated me very well and I was there when we lost the team, so I was totally invested. Those things make the difference between a passionate anthem, and someone singing as many notes as they can get into one phrase just to show off.

J.P.: You’ve clearly had a great career. But you’re not a household name, a la Katy Perry or Lady Gaga. Did you ever crave fame? Do you crave fame? Does it at all bother you how so many musical lightweights become superstars, and so many true talents linger in the shadows a bit?

J.H.: I’ve had a great career because I’ve always made a living playing music. I thought I wanted fame, because it’s what you’re supposed to want. I went though a period in my late 30s when I kind of mourned that I wouldn’t have a bigger career, and then I got over it. It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, because one thing shouldn’t define us, even if we’re really good at it.  Also, when I met my husband and had kids, I didn’t want to be the kind of mother who kept going on tour. I took my kids a few times then realized I couldn’t do both. So I made the choice to be with my family and bloom where I was planted.

Does it bother me when lightweights make it? It used to, when jealousy played into my low self esteem. I don’t watch music reality TV or award shows because it doesn’t mean anything to me, and the really good singers on American Idol haven’t had the opportunity to spend thousands of hours learning good stage presence. So their shows are very planned and staged so that there’s no worry of dead space or a joke that failed or any real intimacy with the crowd. If you’ve ever watched the Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop you can understand how most artists feel about art and shit that’s marketed to the masses tarted up as art.

J.P.: I love hip-hop. Love, love, love it. You sing jazz and standards from the 1930s and 40s, among other things. I wonder, do you get rap? Can you appreciate a Tupac song? A Jay-Z tune? Do you even consider it music?

J.H.: What I like about rap is that it’s roots are really and truly organic, people will make music in whatever way they can. In the case of rap and hip hop, I think it came out of the absolute lack of arts in the schools and communities, so people just used what they had—their rhythm, their muscle memory of generations of music, their turntables, which became instruments. How frickin’ cool is that?

I heard the Eminem song with Rhianna, and he sounded like a pissed off white guy, so I don’t really get that. But Tupac, he was speaking for a generation, I appreciate him as an artist. I don’t listen to a lot of rap-right now—it just seems like it’s a contest of who can be the baddest motherfucker  and be the hippest (Is that even a word anymore?) representation of their generation. Now my kids are talking about trap, which I keep calling tarp just to piss them off. But I do get it.

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J.P.: I would love to hear the stories of your greatest on-stage moment and your lowest. Please …

J.H.: My greatest stage moment has not been the tours of Europe with the pop groups or the big audiences, but two moments. My second favorite is when I sang with my church choir at a contest called, “How Sweet the Sound”—which was a national contest. We did not win, and we were probably the only white choir and I bitched for weeks about it because I was worried that we would have our butts handed to us on a plate. From the moment we started the song, “Oh Happy Day,” the crowd went nuts and I was the soloist and the judges were famous gospel singers and I pulled out my best gospel chops, and it was so much fun. Everyone was  really accepting and joyful. And I was reminded once again that it’s just about the music. It’s always got to be about the music.

My favorite moment was a party I played at with my family rock band, The Hanson Sisters, about six years ago. We were playing in our hometown and it was a party for a hockey tournament and there were a bunch of ex-NHL players there from our hometown—Bobby Clarke, Gerry Hart, Jordy Douglas, etc. And there were probably 1,000 people there, and we could just feel the love and the joy that the audience had for this great weekend, and the fact that we love our community, and hockey, and the energy coming from the audience just about blew us off stage. It was a tangible energy that hopefully every musician gets to experience in his/her career.

The worst one is not really singing. I tried out for the musical Tommy. Pete Townsend was there and liked my voice so I was told he wanted to hear me one more time. I showed up to really give it my all and then they told me I had to dance for him.

Think Elaine in Seinfeld. Dancing for Pete Townsend.

He made excuses for me to the choreographer because he liked my singing. It was excruciating to have to dance for one of the most famous rock stars in the world. I got the part but was told I had to move the next week so they could teach me how to dance. I didn’t take it. I hate dancing.

I have dozens of embarrassing moments by the way—this one still haunts me. I was singing the anthem in Atlanta for the Thrashers because the Canadiens were in town and I thought I would sing the Canadian anthem in both French and English. I started in French and then just forgot the words, so I inserted the words, “Pepe Le peu,” into the phrase and then went into the English part. I actually hoped the ice would open and I could just disappear into Valhalla or wherever it is that mortified singers go … at least the non-French speaking people didn’t know.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JENNIFER HANSON:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Debbie Gibson, Jonas Salk, Nick Jonas, Davey Lopes, mango salad, Venice Beach, Ikea, Richard Dawson, Toronto, the knuckleball, your left foot, Diet Sprite: You’re weird. But here I go … My left foot (my hi hat foot—I play drums), Toronto (the band not the city), Mango salad, Venice Beach, IKEA, Jonas Salk, the knuckleball, Richard Dawson (only for The Running Man), Davey Lopes (baseball?), Debbie Gibson, Nick Jonas, Diet Sprite

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, I recall thinking (it was a small plane with an open cockpit), “Why is the pilot flipping madly through the manual? This can’t be good. Please Jesus, don’t let this really smelly man sitting beside me crush me to death.”

• One question you would ask Doug Flutie were he here right now?: Can we be in a band together?

• The inside of your car smells like …: Something piney from Yankee candle or some crap like that with a soupçon of old coffee.

• You’re offered $200,000 to take all of Snoop Dogg’s songs and adapt them to jazz. You in?: Absolutely, could I do what I like with the other $180,000? Would I have to swear?  Isn’t he called snoop lion or something now?

• In exactly 26 words, please offer your take on the band Hanson: I have no idea what they do now but I think we may be related. They are blond and Scandinavian. I am sometimes blond and Scandinavian.

• Why do you believe prayer does/doesn’t work?: Of course prayer works. Not for winning games, but for joy and everyday peace.

• I’m Jewish. The other day I accidentally ate some bacon bits. Now I feel awful. What should I do to atone?: What would Jesus do? (He was Jewish)

• I know some people who think Mike Trout is better than Rickey Henderson in his prime. I consider that ludicrous. Your thoughts?: Rickey Henderson was more handsome and charming. Those are my only requirements for professional baseball players.

• Five greatest female vocalists of your lifetime?: Mahalia Jackson. Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Julie London, my sister Susan.

Matthew Laurance

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I don’t like to brag about stuff, but you’re about to read an awesome Quaz.

Absolutely awesome.

Matthew Laurance is a name you might know, or a name you might not know. For Kentucky basketball and football fans, he’s the host of UK Game Day on on WLXG in Lexington. But that’s, like, his 564,432nd claim to fame.

Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, Matthew appeared in, oh, every movie and TV show you can imagine. Hell, here’s a quick and random listing: Beverly Hills, 90210, Matlock, thirtysomething, Eddie and the Cruisers, My Sister Sam … on and on and on. He enjoyed the highs of Hollywood (fame, big pay) and the lows of Hollywood (egos, idiots, aging). Lived the life of a star without ever thinking of himself as a star.

These days, you can follow Matthew on Twitter here, and check out his impressive IMDB page here.

Matthew Laurance, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So you have one of the most unique resumes I’ve EVER seen. I mean that—e-v-e-r. WNBA commentary. Sideline analyst for Duke men’s basketball. A key role in 90201. St. Elmo’s Fire. Thirtysomething. On and on and on. Just amazing. But I wanna ask you about something specific. In 1989 you reprised your role of Sal Amato in Eddie in the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! I’m always riveted by sequels, especially sequels of big, iconic period films. So, Matthew, what do you remember about doing the sequel? Did you want to? Did the script hold up? Was it a good film?

MATTHEW LAURANCE: I was working on my series Duet for Fox. My agent called and said that they were doing the sequel, and would I be interested in doing it. I asked all the right questions—who is doing it, director, where is it shooting, what about the series I was doing … they told me that the record company The Scotti Brothers were producing, and that Tony Scotti specifically wanted me from the first one, that nobody except Michael Pare and I were coming back. I found out that  my scenes were shooting in Montreal, and I would need two weeks off from my series. When I told the Duet producers, they graciously agreed to write me out of one episode to go back to back  with our normal week off. All good so far. My agent said, “Let’s ask for a lot of money.” I said “Yippee!”

Then I got the script.

Underwhelmed, to say the least. I felt that we had a built in audience, and that we had a chance to do something special. The good news was that all my scenes were with Michael, and I felt like we could make them work because of our history together. And two weeks in Montreal? I’m in.

Well, I don’t like the movie at all. The whole premise is that this huge rock star is hiding from the world. Doing construction. And the music comes back, and his picture is everywhere, and he has a little mustache and nobody knows it’s him. Like Clark Kent put on glasses and no one knew he was Superman. Ridiculous. But I think my scenes with Michael are really good, and I had a wonderful time doing it [Jeff’s note: To his credit, Matthew scored a hot date to the premier].

90210 gold ...

90210 gold …

J.P.: In 1980-81, you were a cast member of Saturday Night Live, where your twin brother Mitchell has been an assistant director. What was the SNL experience like back then? I’m picturing craziness, drugs, wildness, drinking, etc. But … am I off? And why’d you leave after just one season? Do you at all regret that?

M.L.: There was a lot of that, granted. But not only on SNL. Everywhere, by everybody. It was both a great year and very difficult at the same time. We replaced the most popular cast in the world. Icons. Lorne Michaels left in a dispute with NBC, I think, and they hired Jean Doumanian to replace him. She was the talent coordinator for Lorne. I had been doing Off-Broadway theater and studying, and working as a waiter for a looooong time, trying to get an agent. Most of the people in the cast were comedians. Everyone fought for their place in sketches. There was a lot of jealousy and backstabbing by certain people. But the opportunity to be live in front of all those people every week was incredible. Big time rush.

And there were people I loved working with- Charlie Rocket, Gail Mathius, Denny Dillon … Eddie Murphy, before anyone knew him. And I left when I wasn’t asked back. They changed regimes again and that was that. I was fine with it. Within a few months I was on my way to LA to work with Steve Martin and Carl Reiner on a movie, and that was that.

Matthew, along with actresses Alison La Placa and Mary Page Keller, at a 1987 press conference.

Matthew, along with actresses Alison La Placa and Mary Page Keller, at a 1987 press conference.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, I know you’re a twin, know you’re from Hewlett, N.Y., know you attended Tufts. But why acting? When acting? And when did you realize this was something you could make a career out of?

M.L.: My first role was in eighth grade. I played Hugo in Bye Bye Birdie. And then Curly, the lead in Oklahoma, in ninth grade. And I loved being on stage. A lot of it has to do with being an identical twin, I think. You want to be different than your sibling, and you develop a personality that kind of says, “Hey, look at me!” At least I think that’s what I did. We were both really good athletes, and on basketball and football and baseball teams, but I loved being on stage in front of people. Kept doing plays through high school, and at Tufts.

I was going to be a lawyer. And Mitchy—my name for my brother—was going to be a doctor. My dad was very poor growing up, and never wanted to worry about us. It was just always understood—law school, med school.

My senior year at Tufts, I went to take my law boards at Harvard. As I sat looking at people whose life seemingly depended on that test, I realized I was doing it for my father. I randomly filled in the rest of the answers and left. When I went home for Christmas break, Dad asked if I had sent my applications in to law schools. They were sitting on my desk at school. I hadn’t filled them out. When I said no, he asked when I planned on sending them. I replied, “Never. I don’t want to be a lawyer.”

“Really? What are you going to do?”

“I think I want to be an actor.”

He got up from the table and walked into the living room. I looked at Mom, and she said, “Leave him alone for awhile. This is a shock to him.” I went to bed, almost ready to say I’d go to law school. I loved him so much, and knew that if I became an actor, he’d be in for many years of worrying. The next morning, he came in and sat on my bed and woke me up. He said (I get tears in my eyes even now thinking about this), “If that’s what you want to do, I’ll do everything I can to help you.”

We were incredibly blessed to have parents as supportive as ours. He passed away before I got my first real job.

Probably not as popular as Brian Austin Green during the 90210 years. But much better dressed

Probably not as popular as Brian Austin Green during the 90210 years. But at least he doesn’t have to explain the sweater …

J.P.: You had a run of being in everything. I mean, seriously, you owned the 1980s and 90s. Now, it seems, work isn’t what it was. And I wonder if that’s by your choice, or just what happens when actors age? Is it harder to land gigs at 64 than it was at 34? Or 44? Do you still want gigs?

M.L.: I had been in LA for about 18 years. The business had changed. Everything was about youth. With everything I had done, I was still having to work to get roles, as most actors do. One day my agent called and said, “Just so you know what’s going on, I submitted you for a sitcom pilot for NBC. The casting director (who was about 25) asked me if you could do comedy.” I had my own sitcom on Fox for three years. Had guest starred on a ton of great sitcoms. SNL for a year. And this kid didn’t even bother to look at my tape. He just knew me from my years on 90210. That’s when I made the decision to leave.

I miss it. I have people say to me that I could work now if I wanted to. But I have a family now, and my only job in life is to make sure they’re all OK. I know how unstable and eractic acting again might be. But I miss the creative part of it. I miss being on the set—the crew were always my peeps.

Helen Schneider and Laurance on the set of Eddie And The Cruisers

Helen Schneider and Matthew making rock faces and jamming away on the set of Eddie And The Cruisers

J.P.: Serious question—how do you explain so many actors having such huge egos? Being serious. They save no lives, they win no legal cases. The job, literally, is to make big bucks pretending to be a different person. So why the ego? And did you ever have an enormous one that ran away from you?

M.L.: I never did. Upbringing, my man. People who become famous have problems like everyone else. If you weren’t brought up to respect people and be kind to others, the more people give you, the bigger your ego gets. I was always grateful to be working and making money and traveling and meeting incredible people.

I was also very lucky. My first job, the one that got my career started in earnest, was a film called Prince of the City. It was directed by one of the great directors of all time, Sidney Lumet. My first day ever on a movie set, I arrived early (we were shooting in Great Neck!) and when I finished getting my makeup on, the assistant director told me it would be a while. “Why don’t you go in to the trailer over there,” he said. “Some of the guys are playing cards. It’s quite a game.” I went in, and some of the actors were playing poker. One of them was Jerry Orbach, a legend to all of us who grew up in New York. I was incredibly nervous—it was my first day on my first job. Jerry was the nicest, funniest man in the world. He dispensed words of wisdom to me for about an hour.

I left and Sidney came over. I mentioned what a great guy Jerry was, and he said—and I never forgot this- —Always remember something, Matthew. You’re gonna do a lot in this business. And the bigger you get, the nicer you should be to everyone.”

And I never forgot that. I hated people with out-of-control egos. Still do.

Alongside Father Evil.

Alongside Father Evil.

J.P.: You played “Steve” in two episodes of “My Sister Sam,” a show from the mid-1980s that pretty much ended with the real-life murder of one of the stars, Rebecca Schaeffer. I’ve always been sorta riveted by the show, and Schaeffer, and what happened. I’m wondering if you have any memories of your “My Sister Sam” experience, and any memories of Schaeffer? Or was it just one of many gigs?

M.L.: It was one of my favorite jobs. That set was so much fun to be on every day. Wonderful wonderful people—Pam Dawber, Joel Brooks, David Naughton (who remains a friend) … and Rebecca. Laughter all the time. They were all so talented, and treated me as if I were a real part of the cast. Pam and I worked on Do You Know the Muffin Man?—which I’ll discuss later. One of the best people in the business. Definitely not just another gig. Special.

Rebecca was one of the brightest, sweetest people I’ve ever known, anywhere. She was so young to have the kind of mind she did. She was just a beautiful, wondrous human being. I was as sad and horrified about her murder as I can remember being. Just a shocking event that left a real void for everyone who knew her …

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J.P.: Back in the 1980s Eddie Murphy was gold, gold, gold. Every movie did well, every movie seemed to be praised–save for Best Defense, which, ahem, you were in. Did you know the movie sucked at the time (if you believe it sucked)? Do you recall anything from the experience?

M.L.: I recall everything about it. Eddie and I had done SNL, and when I went in to meet the writer/director/producers, the Huycks, I was nervous as hell. They were big time at the time. They wrote the screenplay for American Graffiti and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The movie had Eddie and one of my idols, Dudley Moore, as the stars. And my part was being shot in Israel. I had been there before, had friends there, but this was a dream—they would be paying me to go. Salary, per diem, ISRAEL!

It was awesome. They picked us up every morning at about 5 o’clock at the hotel and drove us out to the desert outside Jericho. If you’ve never seen the sun rise over the desert, well, it was spectacular. We’d get to the set and there would be tanks and Bedouins and camels. C’mon. I’d get some coffee and just sit by myself on a tank and think, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world right now.”

When you read a script, most of the time you have a feeling about it. I thought it would be very funny, and with Dudley and Eddie, sure to be a hit. Not. I remember watching it and thinking, “Uh oh, this sucks, please be gone quickly.” So much of the finished product is the editing, music—all post production things you have no control over. So conversely, things you think could suck turn out to be great …

J.P.: What separates a great film from an awful film? I mean, it seems like it might be a thinner line that folks think, where one or two or three decisions takes a promising project to a higher level, or into the shithole.

M.L.: It’s all a crap shoot, for the most part. Although I think the great films all have that potential from the start. And it starts, obviously, with a great script. My favorite movie of all time is “The Godfather.” That includes Part II. I know every line from both—I’m not kidding. Then perfect casting, photography, production design, great director. Boom, masterpiece. Great films I think are great from the beginning, but major gaffes along the way could screw up the equation.

 Matthew, far left, shooting an SNL skit in 1981 with Gilbert Gottfried, Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Gail Matthius and Ann Risley.

Matthew, far left, shooting an SNL skit in 1981 with Gilbert Gottfried, Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon and Gail Matthius.

J.P.: You’ve done a lot of sports work of late. How did that happen? Why the transition from acting? And the WNBA? How’d that happen, and what’d you think of the experience?

M.L.: Ah! The transition! As I said before, by 1999 I was done with LA. Over the years, thanks to Mitchy, I had become an avid golfer. I began to get invited to play in celebrity golf tournaments all over the country. And one of the first ones I played in was the Duke Children’s Classic. In the early 1990s, I went out to dinner with my good friend P.J. Carlesimo at that tournament, and we were with his friends Jim Boeheim, and Mike and Mickie Krzyzewski. I sat next to Mike all night, and we talked about acting and the business. We developed a friendship, and I started going to Duke games. He has three daughters, and they were huge 90210 fans. I would send them scripts, and call them and tell them what was going to happen on shows so they had the jump on their friends.

So when I went to play there in June of 1999, I went out to dinner with Mike and told him how unhappy I was in LA. I said I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I wasn’t long for Hollywood anymore. He said, “You should be doing sports. You know as much as any of them, you’ve been on camera for years, you’d be great.”

I went back to LA, and thought about what he’d said. I decided to go for it. I called my friend Nancy Lieberman, who was the head coach and GM of the Detroit Shock in the WNBA. She knew everyone in sports. I asked her to put the word out that I wanted to do sports, and she said, “Can you make me a tape of you talking about the Shock? I think I can get you the job as analyst on Fox for our games.”

“Huh?” I said. “Uh, sure.”

Bingo, I spent the summer in Detroit. I had a great time doing it, living with Nancy and her husband Tim and learning on the fly. A couple months later I called Coach K and asked if he’d put in a good word with the peeps at ESPN for me. Then came the words that changed my life: ”Why don’t you come here and work with me?”

“Huh?” I said.

“I’ve been thinking about something for awhile,” he said, “and I think you’d be great. Just call me when you get here and we’ll talk.”

I sold all my furniture, got my mom to fly out to LA, and we drove cross country together. I wasn’t married, no family, so I just threw my trust in K into the car and went for it. When I got to Durham, he told me he wanted me to do radio for the basketball team, but in a way that hadn’t been done before. He wanted me to sit behind the bench and get in the huddles with them. He said it would give the fans a greater perspective. Of course, I had looked at the schedule, and Duke was going to Maui that year. I asked him if I would travel with the team. “Of course,” he said. “You’re part of the broadcast team.”

“I’m in,” I said.

And for 10 of the best years of my life, I was a part of the Duke family. Biggest blessing of my life, next to my family.

Five years ago, I was playing in a tournament in Lexington, Kentucky that I’d been coming to for 26 years. I met my wife at that tournament, and had many friends in Lexington. I played with a man who owns the ESPN radio station here, and when he offered me a job, I accepted. Shannon and I had two young boys, and I wanted them to be closer to her family. And here I am. I’m on our drive-time show every day, and I do the pre- and post-game shows for Kentucky football and basketball. And a golf show, of course.

If your film's not good, at least score a hot date to the premiere. Matthew and actress Melissa Morgan attend the Eddie II opening

If your film’s not good, at least score a hot date to the premiere. Matthew and actress Melissa Morgan attend the Eddie II opening.

J.P.: You played Brian Austin Green’s dad on Beverly Hills, 90210, a show that lasted forever and a day. How do you explain the staying power?

M.L.: Timing. At that time there really weren’t any shows for teenaged kids on. The first year of the show, it was the lowest-rated show on TV. Fox was still fairly new, there were still parts of the country that weren’t really able to get Fox yet. I had never seen the show. When my agent called and said they wanted to meet me to play one of the kids’ dad I said, “No way.” I thought it was pretty bad. He said “You’ve never played a dad, it would be good for you to do it.” I went to meet with them, and they told me I would be Brian’s dad. For one episode. I agreed to do it for Brian. When he was about 13, we did Circus of the Stars together. That’s right—I walked the high wire. I’m a stud. Anyway, I spent about five weeks with Brian doing the Circus show, rehearsing and just hanging out. I loved him. And then 90210 turned into a nine-year gig.

Fox did something that hadn’t  been done. The summer before I started, they showed new episodes while everyone else was in re-runs. Not only teenagers watched. Their parents watched with them. There were some things on the show that hadn’t been talked about before, and parents wanted to see what their kids were watching. And once the publicity machine cranked up … bingo. It’s been amazing. There wasn’t much creativity in my part—I loved Brian, and just reacted to everything. But a couple years into it, I was in Germany, and a crowd of Swedish tourists mobbed me. That’s how big it had gotten.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH MATTHEW LAURANCE:

My mother-in-law is named Laura Stoll. She attended high school with you. Do you remember her?: Unfortunately, not really. She was a year behind me and Mitchy. Her name is familiar, but I can’t picture her. That’s not saying much—I can’t remember where I live half the time. But I bet if I saw her picture I’d remember her in a second.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chevy Chase, Ode to Joy, Maurice SendakBrian Austin Green, Brian Bonsall, hashtags, Oakland, Christian Laettner, UCLA, Willie Upshaw, Nicki Minaj, Tony Blair, Mercury: Brian Austin Green—my boy. Maurice Sendak—I have an autographed copy of “Where the Wild Things Are.” Christian Laettner. Hashtags. UCLA. Willie Upshaw. Ode to Joy. Mercury (Morris? The car?). Chevy Chase. Brian Bonsall. Oakland. Tony Blair. Nicki Minaj.

• One question you would ask Captain Lou Albano were he here right now?: How do you get your hair to look like that?

• Five reasons one should make the south shore of Long Island his/her next vacation destination?: Beautiful beaches, great food (pizza), close to New York City, great golf courses, the Long Island Railroad

• Best and worst movies you ever acted in?: Hmmm. Three way tie for best—St. Elmo’s Fire, Eddie and the Cruisers (Sal is the favorite character of my career), Prince of the City. Worst—hands down, Best Defense.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Brando, John Cazale, James Spader, Daniel Day Lewis, Henry Fonda

• Three memories from your role of Assistant D.A. Connelly in Matlock?: I only have one—Andy Griffith was not a nice man.

• Why do so many child actors end up addicted to crack?: They get used to having people treating them like big shots, never learn to relate in the real world, and when there’s no more work and no one cares, they hit the pipe.

• You were in the TV movie, Do You Know the Muffin Man? about child molestation. When one works on a film with such a heavy topic, do the days … feel heavy? Or can the director scream cut and people start farting?: That was the toughest role for me. Being on that set was hard. I sat with prosecutors from the DA’s office and watched actual tapes of some trials involving those cases, and I had trouble sleeping for a while. You try to keep it light but it was very hard for me. No one farted during the making of that movie … that I know of.

• In exactly 18 words, tell the world what it was like working with Stephen Dorff: He was great, incredibly talented for one so young, and I loved being around him him him him.

Laurie Berkner

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Back when my kids were little, Laurie Berkner haunted my soul.

I say that with much love and admiration. Berkner has had an absolutely amazing career as a singer/songwriter for kid-oriented music. She’s sold millions of albums; has released 10 CDs; has been all over Nickelodeon; has appeared on The Today Show and a gazillion other programs.

Put bluntly: She is the greatest Kindie rock singer of our generation. Maybe of all time.

And yet …

We went through a phase where it seemed like Victor Vito was played oh, 200 times per day. In the morning. At night. In my dreams, gnawing at my innards. These two guys, Victor and Vito, just wanted to eat and eat. They had a burrito. And rice. And beans. And collared greens. And … um … yeah. MUST DESTROY! MUST DESTROY! HAT IN MY MUSTARD! DOG EATING CUBA GOODING! CANNED CHICKEN! CANNED CHICKEN! MUST DESTR—

Deep breaths. Deep, soothing breaths.

Here’s the thing: Victor Vito is a great friggin’ song. It’s catchy and bouncy and absorbing, and children dig it. Which is the brilliance of Laurie Berkner: She understands her clientele perfectly. Hence, her success and longevity. Hence, her illustrious status as the 178th Quaz.

One can visit Laurie’s website here, follow her on Twitter here and Facebook here. Her music can be found right here.

Laurie Berkner, straight off the streets of, um, Princeton, New Jersey—welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Laurie, my kids are 11 and 8, and they spent several of their big growing-up years listening to your music. So I say to you, with much love, if I hear “Victor Vito” one more time, I might stab my eyeballs out. I’m wondering—do you get that? Like, do you understand adults running far far far away from kids music? And do you ever feel that way, too?

LAURIE BERKNER: Ha!  I totally get it.  As the one person who has probably sung “Victor Vito” even more times than you have listened to it, I definitely get it.  Though I must admit that for me, singing a song hundreds of times is better than listening to it hundreds of times, because I get to make it a little different every time I sing it.  I also get it as a parent (one song I really remember listening to that way was Justin Roberts’ “Pop Fly”),  and I got it as a music teacher.  I had to listen to a lot of kids’ music over and over to learn it, and then teach it.   That’s one of the reasons I started writing my own songs.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by your career, because you tapped into something big and ran with it. What intrigues me is the process. How, at age 45, do you still know what a child wants to hear? How can you be an adult while thinking like a kid?  

L.B.: Because I am still a kid. (Who told you I was 45?) Or maybe it’s because I skipped kindergarten, and I’m spending my adult life making up for it … or, or, I don’t know!  Stop asking me or I’ll tell my mom!

J.P.: I know you grew up in Princeton, attended Rutgers, sang a lot as a kid, worked as a music teacher. But, womb to now, what’s your path? Like, how did you become this superstar kids singer? How did it happen?

L.B.: Womb to now? Like was I singing in my mom’s womb? Probably. One of my earliest memories is of marching around my room singing “Do Re Mi.” I remember the first time I sang in chorus in school, in third grade, with the sounds of all the kids singing together all around me. It was one of the most amazing things I’d ever felt. When I was an awkward 10-year old at camp, it felt like all of that changed when I sang. (I even had a counselor who used to end our swim lessons early, and then ask me to sing to her from the pool.)  When I went to parties in my 20s and brought my guitar, I had a way of sharing something deeper than just small talk.  When I finally started to tap into how to use the connection I feel with music, to connect with young kids, it became really clear to me that I had found something I could do well that made both myself, and other people, feel really good.

To answer your question from a more practical angle, I got a job as a pre-school music teacher one year after I graduated from college. In between playing gigs at coffeehouses, starting my own band and performing till all hours of the morning with an all-female cover band, I started realizing that I needed certain kinds of songs in order to really do a good job in my new role. I spent hours and hours poring over songs at the library and listening to enormous amounts of kids’  music, but it was very hard to find songs that were crafted to follow the rhythm of a child under 6-years old. They need to move, and they need to express themselves, and they also need to have a safe space in which to do it, and then be able to come back to themselves and bring the energy back down. If a song leads them though all of that in a way that invites them in through their imagination, then it can really work in the classroom. Eventually, I realized that if I wanted a lot of those songs, I would need to write them myself, and I started by asking the kids what they wanted to sing about. That’s exactly how We Are The Dinosaurs was born.

J.P.: So I’ve gotta think there have been (and still are) times when you’re singing your heart out and, oh, the obnoxious kid in the front row keeps screaming, “Fart Breath! Fart Breath!” How do you maintain composure singing for individuals lacking fully formed human craniums? And please gimme your worst story related to this. Pretty please …

L.B.: The kids I sing to at concerts aren’t usually quite up to “fart breath” yet. More often I get older kids who sit in the front row and just stare at me. Which can be unnerving. Even though I know they chose to come to the show and are probably just shy, as a performer I feel a constant desire for everyone in the audience to have a great time.  For the whole show.  Not too much to ask, right?

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J.P.: I used to be a music writer in Nashville, and there were a large number of contemporary Christian singers who were there, first and foremost, because they fell flat as mainstream performers. Did this at all happen to you? Do you see it as a common reason for the existence of so many children-oriented singers?

L.B.: Hmm. Well I think you’d have to ask the people who used to come see me play adult gigs if I fell flat as a mainstream performer!  But I really chose kids’ music because that was what was working for me, and that made it much more fun than the adult gigs. I had my own rock band that played my original music (Red Onion), and we had a small but incredibly loyal fan base.  Unfortunately, when I lost my drummer, the band kind of fell apart and honestly, it was really hard to make ends meet by playing in a rock band in clubs on the Lower East Side. So to keep playing music and actually make some money, I joined an all-female cover band called Lois Lane. We were actually pretty successful, but the work was exhausting, and I got pretty tired of hearing drunk guys yelling “Freebird!” at me at 1 am.

Around the same time I had started playing more and more parties for kids, and they wanted me to actually sing songs I had written.  It was an amazing feeling to watch parents and kids singing the words to my songs and see them having so much fun when I performed them. One day when I had come home from a Lois Lane gig at 6 in the morning and then went right to a party at Battery Park at 10 am, I noticed that even in my exhausted state, I had so much more fun playing “Victor Vito” for those families than I did singing “Play That Funky Music White Boy” for the 100th time, and I decided to quit the band and really devote my energies to kids’ music.  Eventually I made the same choice between working as a music teacher and becoming a full-time performer. After 10 years I felt burned out teaching music and decided to build my record label. For me they were both choices of following what worked and how I wanted to spend my time.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? 

L.B.: Playing to 15,000 people in Central Park on Earth Day.

J.P.: Lowest?

L.B.: When I thought my career was finally going to take off because I got into People Magazine for the first time with a big headline—and then they misspelled my name.

From People Magazine.

From People Magazine.

J.P.: Your husband, Brian Mueller, was also your guitarist until he left the band in 2006 to keep your personal and professional lives separate. How hard is it to have a spouse also as a band member? What were the complications that came with this?

L.B.: It was great and it was hard. I love playing music with Brian. He’s so responsive, talented and ready to put his whole self into whatever he’s playing. But being in my band was not reflective of our real relationship. I was the band leader and business owner when we were working, and when we were at home, we were a married couple, working as a team. Playing together made many things simpler like finances, scheduling and communication. But it also meant that when I was having conflict with my bassist, I was also having conflict with my husband. And we found ourselves talking about very little other than gigging and the Two Tomatoes business. Finally, once our daughter Lucy was born, the little time there was for anything else became filled with talking about her. That really was what made it clear that we needed a change. Also, Brian is a great musician (better than I am in a lot of ways), but he wasn’t doing what he loved.  Kids’ music was my thing, and he really wanted to be doing his thing. His thing turned out to be psychology—he’s almost finished with his PhD now—and he is so much happier.

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J.P.: Serious question I ask all singers. I get singing a song the first time, the 10th time, the 100th time. But how do you still get up for a live show in Bethesda on a gray Monday, singing a song for the 543,322nd time? Are you ever like, “Nah, not today. Let’s stay in bed …” 

L.B.: Sure. I feel that way a lot when I first wake up, no matter what I have planned!  (Who doesn’t like to go back to bed?! Especially if, like me, you tend to be sleep deprived.) I actually think that the “nah” factor for me comes more from always being a little nervous before each show. It never stops being challenging to make myself vulnerable in front of an audience because I’m asking them to share this music with me that I created. That’s much scarier than just having to sing the songs again, which oddly, so far has not gotten boring for me. For me, the unavoidable nature of performing live is that it’s different every time. Each time I sing a song, I’ve changed, the way I feel has changed, the way I present the music changes and the audience changes, and I love that. But I only truly remember how much fun it is once I actually start singing.

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J.P.: You recently went to Kickstarter to raise money for a lullaby album. A. Um … a lullaby album? B. Is it weird or uncomfortable, asking for money? And how did you do it and—apparently—do it well?

L.B.: I did do that, and as it turned out, we did do it well! I feel quite grateful for all the help I had running the campaign and in turn all the support the campaign generated.  I’m not sure what the first part of your question is exactly … does it seem weird to put out a lullaby album? Is it maybe weird to think of me putting a lullaby album? I can’t actually remember a time when parents were not asking me to make one. If calming music hits your kids in the right way, it’s like a magic wand at bedtime. That was something that I didn’t fully understand until I became a parent myself. I also used to think that a lullaby album was really for the parents, and that was less appealing to me than creating something for kids (in fact I felt like I would be betraying the kids somewhat by making it), but then I realized that I could make an album of lullabies where sometimes I take the role of the adult and sometimes—like most of my music—I’m singing from the child’s point of view. I also kind of liked this new way of talking directly to the kids, especially during such an intimate time as falling asleep. I just wanted to make sure I did it in a way that would feel warm and comforting to them, and not condescending.

J.P.: Straight question—what’s the difference between a great children’s song and a mediocre one?

L.B.: I think that there are a lot of songs that will get kids to respond to them. But a great one is one that the parents want to sing, too. It’s also a song that comes to mind throughout the day in such a way that it feels more like part of a movie soundtrack to life and less like just another catchy song. It’s also a song that has multiple layers of meanings but is still really easy to learn and sing—without feeling like you’ve already heard it a hundred times before.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH LAURIE BERKNER:

• I have an amazing idea—NWA Kiddie. An NWA album with kid rappers. Thoughts?: Yes, but you find them—because now we’re entering into territory that is more you than me.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I’m not sure if I’ve ever really felt that, but Brian and Lucy know that whenever we land in a plane, I have to be holding their hands. In case anything actually happened, I want that to be the last thing I do.

• Favorite Facts of Life girl, and why?: Tootie—best name. Wait, no, Natalie. Best attitude.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Gladys Knight, Fidel Castro, Carney Lansford, RoboCop, Dixie Chicks, cucumber water, Clubber Lang, Megadeth, eggplant parm, Minneapolis, shaving cream: What is Clubber Lang? Never saw RoboCop. Who is Carney Lansford? I like coconut water a lot more than cucumber water. I don’t use shaving cream.  I’ve never listened to Megadeth, and I rarely eat eggplant parm. I like Gladys Knight, the Dixie Chicks, and Minneapolis is a cool city.  It has a twin. I’m not a fan of Fidel Castro. Have you lost all respect for me yet?

• Who would win in a 12-round boxing match between you and Dan Zanes? What’s the outcome?: I think we’d probably just decide to ditch the boxing gloves and go have a hot beverage where we discuss hair products.

• I would like to throw a large rock at my neighbor’s dog. Is that OK with you?: Sure, you can want to do it. I’m all for that. But if you actually threw the rock, we couldn’t be friends anymore.

• Five all-time favorite songs: Hardest. Question. Ever. Here are some that would be up there: Ulili E: Dennis Kamakahi version; Big Yellow Taxi:  Joni Mitchell; Love and Affection: Joan Armatrading; All of Me: Joe Williams and Louis Armstrong versions; Hey-Ya: by OutKast

• Most embarrassing moment of your life?: Trying to get the boy I liked when I was 10-years old to ask me to go bowling with him—while his friend listened on the other end of the phone.

• Why haven’t you been more outspoken about the designated hitter in baseball?: The what?

This is one of my all-time favorite songs. Would love your take: I’ve never heard it before, but I love that it’s a way of saying “I forgive you” and “I love you” and “I want you in my life no matter what.”  It’s a very moving song, especially at the end.

Andrew Stratman

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Three months ago, I was sitting in a tiny coffee shop in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. There were probably, oh, five or six people in the joint. I had my laptop, my cup of coffee, my notepad. Happy guy, happy place.

I was told the live music would begin in 40 minutes.

“Crap,” I thought. “Last thing I need right now …”

Then Andrew Stratman began to sing. And I was mesmerized.

I mean that—mesmerized. Yeah, the guy has a terrific voice, and a kind demeanor. But it was more than that. Stratman wore his pain. Actually, lemme rephrase that: Wore his fucking pain. You could feel it in the music, in the words, in the way he stood there, shoulders slumped, beard seven or eight days old, the scent of cigarette clinging to his T-shirt. I’d never met Andrew before that night, but his presence and demeanor and music screamed, “I’ve seen some shit …”

And, indeed, he has.

I blogged about Andrew that night, and we’ve become Facebook pals since. I don’t say this about many up-and-coming performers, but I really believe this dude has stardom in his future. Maybe it’s talent plus desire plus drive, but … yeah. He’s got it.

Anyhow, you can follow Andrew on Facebook here, on Twitter here. He’s a terrific person worth pulling for and, certainly, worth seeing.

Andrew Stratman, your truck has more than 250,000 miles on the odometer. But you’ve made it to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Andrew, these questions tend to be unorthodox and sometimes annoying. So I’m gonna start with unorthodox and annoying. When I heard you sing I thought, “Man, this guy had it!” Then, during break, I saw you smoke a cigarette and I also thought, “Man, why would he do that?” Which leads to the question, Andrew—why the hell do soooo many singers smoke? I mean, your vocal chords are absolutely everything to you. It’d be like me pouring soda on my laptop, no?

ANDREW STRATMAN: I started smoking when I was young. At the time I suppose I thought it was to be “cool” or to fit in with everyone I was running around with. Like most adults who started smoking at an early age I regret ever picking the habit up. But, sadly, I really enjoy smoking. I recently realized it is yet another thing that I love and enjoy that I am going to have to give up soon. One of my favorite things to do on stage is to take a few drags off my cigarette and then stick it in the headstock of my guitar between the strings and let it smoke while I play. Then I pick it up and finish it off after the song is done. But like I said, I know I have to give it up soon.

J.P.: There are a lot of crap singers who make it big thanks to looks, thanks to style, thanks to equipment making their voices sound good. And you’re a guy with a remarkable voice and style, sometimes playing before 3 … 4 … 5 people. Does that at all irk you? Frustrate you? Why or why not? 

A.S.: Obviously it’s frustrating to see people get things handed to them—not only in the music business but just in regular day-to-day life. I have worked since I was a young boy, and worked hard for everything I have. I believe that makes you appreciate everything more if you have earned it. Now, I’ll admit, I’ve had my fair share of moments that involve just being in the right place at the right time … there are lucky opportunities that have definitely made my life and journey easier. But having worked so hard and for so long to make it in the music business makes me appreciate everything—lucky, accidental, whatever—more than most.

 J.P.: How do you write a song? Literally, what’s your process?

A.S.: I use my songwriting as therapy. So, for me, songwriting has always been an outlet for my emotion. Honestly, I will have an idea or a verse or a hook come to me and then, while I’m scrambling for my guitar and a pen and paper, I am just letting that idea or verse flow. Then I’ll pick up my guitar and try to put my words to music. Sometimes I will write a verse and let it sit for weeks before coming back to it. Sometimes I can write a whole song in 10 minutes—almost as if it’s just pouring out of me. Those are the ones that mean the most and that I am more proud of. It’s in-the-moment emotion that comes out of my mind and my heart and comes alive in a song that I can sing to one person or 1,000 people. As a songwriter and performer, you really hope that someone out there may be able to relate to the music and that, perhaps, it can help someone through his own struggles. Some of my songs are very personal and not everyone can relate. But for those who can relate, I hope they can relate very deeply and find peace in it. It’s a very cool feeling to see someone relate to your song.

 J.P.: You’re from Missouri, I know that. And you first got a guitar as a Christmas gift when you were 13. But how did this happen? When did you know—really know—singing is my thing, and this is what I’m gonna try to do with my career?

A.S.: I got my first real guitar when I was 13. I remember an old home video of me when I was 5 or 6 in a red cowboy hat with a toy guitar and microphone singing a song I’d written about my grandpa’s turkey farm. Hopefully someone has destroyed that video before TMZ gets a hold of it. I played guitar and sang all through high school but never thought of it as something that was possible to do forever—and surely not for a living. But when I was 20 I was in a contest, Missouri Idol, and I sang a song I had written for my little brother, who had watched me grow up drinking and partying with my friends. As he got older he started following my path, and it scared me so bad. I remembered back to all of my close calls both with death and the law and I was so scared for him. The worst thing was, how could I tell him not to do as I did when he actually saw me do it all? So I wrote him a song. The chorus is: I don’t wanna see your name in writing/I don’t want to see your name in stone/I don’t want to see our mama crying/And I don’t ever want to be big brother all alone.

When I sang that song on stage that night I knew my friends and family were there supporting me, but I didn’t think about my best friend Tommy, who had lost his younger brother to an automobile accident at age 15. Drinking was involved. I was on stage singing, and I watched as tears rolled down my friend’s face in the audience. I realized in that moment what it meant to connect with someone—musically—on a level that personal. I knew at that moment that this is what I was born to do. Since that day that same scenario—touching someone, reaching someone, impacting someone—has happened hundreds of times and each time it is reassuring and humbling.

When I decided to give it my all I had just come out of a three-year relationship that ended horribly. Dealing with the pain of that, I couldn’t focus on anything but music. I didn’t feel like myself anywhere but on the stage. I decided to take all the love and heart that I was giving to my relationship and put it into my music. Once I started letting people see my hurt and see my pain, well, things just took off. There were little signs reassuring me that I had made the right decision … people messaging me to say that my songs had changed a life or that my version of a song had touched them in some way. Soon people began to offer things through sponsorships—speakers, gear, clothes, tires for my truck … anything to help get me on the road. To this day I have my doubts, but then I look back at all that’s happened in my career and I know I’m where I need to be, doing what I need to be doing.

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J.P.: I saw you perform at a coffee house in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. I believe there were 10 of us there. How do you get motivated to play tiny crowds? Is it hard? Do you ever think, “I should just go home?” And what’s the smaller crowd/venue you’ve ever played?

A.S.: I enjoy performing for people. Some of my best crowds have been three or four people who really listen. I would rather play a show for a few people who listen than to 1,000 people with only three or four paying attention. But I do enjoy entertaining a crowd, getting people into my music and getting them going. Obviously they are two very different types of shows with very different content and material but I enjoy both very much. At the end of the day I’m playing my music for me and as long as I am happy with what I’m doing I can live with that. There have been a few occasions where no one is listening and I am literally playing to myself. In those moments, I’d rather go outside and finish the show for myself than to keep interrupting the crowd’s ball game or NASCAR race. But usually there is at least one person paying close attention, and as long as there is that one person enjoying what I am doing, well, I feel like I’ve done my job.

J.P.: I know a couple of guys from Blind Melon, and back in the 1990s they were together, like, six weeks before getting a record deal. It seems painfully hard to get one nowadays. Is that even still the goal? And what are the obstacles you’ve encountered? 

A.S.: I’ve heard of several cases like that, and that is awesome. A record deal isn’t impossible to accomplish. But a productive, successful, profitable record deal … that’s a tough one. Obviously, your chances of success improve when you have more people working behind you, promoting you and supporting you and booking you and and believing in you. I’m touring by myself, playing almost every gig I can get my hands just so I have enough money to keep me traveling down the highway, slowly putting money back for a recording. I want a record that I can sell and be proud of. Money is an is issue in everyone’s day-to-day life. I don’t need much, as I have been sleeping on friends’ and family’s couches and floors for the last year of my life. But equipment needs updating, instruments need maintenance, vehicles need maintenance. I drive a 1998 Dodge 1500 pickup 5spd 4wd, and behind it I pull a 12-foot enclosed trailer with all my equipment. My truck has 250,000 miles on it. There is no telling when that old truck is going to leave me stranded 500 miles away from a gig. But I just keep driving it because I have no choice. We are always looking for investors and sponsors to help financially, because they believe I have what it takes to “make it” (by “make it,” I don’t mean “rich and famous.” I mean making myself a profitable business investment).

With Bubba Sparxxx in Nashville earlier this year.

With Bubba Sparxxx in Nashville earlier this year.

 J.P.: Serious question—how can you afford to do this? How do you make ends meet?

A.S.: Sometimes I can’t afford to do it … or just barely can. I literally live off of tips and gig pay. That is for gas, food, room and lodging, and maintenance on all of my equipment. My truck included. Sometimes it gets pretty hairy. Last week, for example, I had half a tank of gas in my truck. I hadn’t eaten all day and I left the coast and drove to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for a gig that had been on my calendar for seven weeks. I got there and the owner of the club told me I wasn’t playing. He had no reasoning. He just kept saying, “It’s not going to happen. We didn’t have a contract. I don’t owe you shit.” To which I replied, “I don’t understand, but you have a great day sir. Go fuck yourself!” When I got back inside my truck my low fuel light was on, my wallet was empty, and I had 100 miles to drive to get to where I was staying that night. I drove to a gas station and played my guitar for about 1 ½ hours and sold a few T-shirts. That got me enough money so I could put gas in the truck and make it to the next night’s show. And that ended up being a huge success. You just never know, but I cannot give up. I have come too far to give up.

 J.P.: You’re 27—young dude. You’ve worked as a carpenter. How long do you give yourself chasing the dream? Like, do you have an idea in your head? Could there be a point when you say,”Fuck it, this isn’t worth it?”

A.S.: I’ve always told myself that if I’m not supporting myself comfortably by age 35 that I will find a career. I’m hopeful that, if that’s the case, I will at least have made enough connections via music that I can find work for a decent salary, doing something I don’t hate. But, to be completely honest, I can never give up. It’s in my heart to play music. I will never be completely happy if I’m not playing music to people. But I’m very confident that a greater power is at work for me and that I will be successful.

I’m already doing things bigger than I had ever dreamed. Sometimes I do get discouraged and down but then I look back at the last year of my life. If you had told me then that I would be here now, well, I would have said you were crazy. The names and people that I communicate with—via e-mail, text, Messenger or phone—on a daily basis is very impressive even to me. Like yourself, Mr. Jeff Pearlman. I would have never believed that I would be interviewed by you or someone of your caliber. I am very blessed and grateful for where I am and what I have accomplished and the fans and folks who I have behind me who believe in me. With a support system like I have, failure is not an option.

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J.P.: When you see “Make it Big Right Now!” shows like American Idol and The Voice, are you a fan or turned off? Like, are you OK with the instant success while you’re busting ass? Is it legit? OK? Or bullshit? 

A.S.: I have mixed emotions on the reality TV shows. I have actually tried out for The Voice several times, and have gotten nowhere. It is very hard to show people what you’re made of with one verse and one chorus of a song acapella. They have heard thousands of people in these auditoriums—it’s like cattle. And they put them in a room with 10 other people to sing one verse and one chorus. I understand that it is a TV show and it does have to be entertaining and so a few jokesters get by to keep it entertaining. I believe that the actual judges and the judging process are genuine and legitimate. And, honestly, those shows are just a fast track of what real life consists of. To beat out thousands of contestants to make it to the top 10 or 20 that make the show … you’ve got to be good. But, at the same time, if you have a bad morning in audition, you don’t make the show. And maybe you’re amazing—you just had a bad morning.

 J.P.: I’ve heard a lot of rappers talk about pain driving their music—the pain of the ghetto, the pain of seeing friends killed, the pain of selling rock on a corner. Do you understand that, too? Does pain drive country music? Your music? Or is it something different?

A.S.: I absolutely can relate to pain driving me. I’d say 90 percent of my drive and determination is thriving off the pain I feel from the things I’ve done, the people who have hurt me, the people I’ve hurt.  Pain is real and people can relate to pain much easier than they can relate to happiness. You’ve heard my show and I’m sure you could feel the pain from my songs and the hurt in my eyes when I sang them. It’s real.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ANDREW STRATMAN:

• What smells worse—your socks at the end of a long gig or moldy ice cream?: I’m going to have to go with ice cream on this one. I play barefoot pretty much whenever I can. Allows the foot to ventilate.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Nelson Cruz, caramelized onions, Guns n Roses, The Godfather, Big Daddy Kane, J.C. Chasez, Kindles, the color green, San Diego, BP, ostriches: Guns n Roses, green, caramelized onions, San Diego, The Godfather, Kindles, Big Daddy Kane, Nelson Cruz, J.C. Chasez, BP, ostriches (ostriches freak me out—bad)

• How certain are you that there’s life after death?: I believe in some form of life after death.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I have never thought that would happen.

• Someone offers you $200,000 to record, “Stratman does the Songs of Tupac: Country Style.” You in?: “Hey, Andrew, do you want to record Tupac’s greatest hits in your style? And we’ll hand you $200,000?” Answer: Fuck yeah!!!

• Would you rather father Celine Dion’s love child or fight Mike Tyson for 2 minutes?: That’s a pretty loaded question. Would Celine and I be in love, too? And just for the fun of it I’d take a hit from Mike Tyson. But only if I can pee in his pool.

• Derek Jeter has retired. What should we give him as a present?: I’ve always been fond of fruit baskets for retirement presents.

I absolutely love this song. Your thoughts?: Great song. Love the video, too. It makes you think.

• Your five all-time favorite singers/bands …: Hank Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Randy Rogers, Jamey Johnson.