Performers (singers, actors, etc)

Michael Eisenstein

yeah

I love guitarists.

I love Eddie Van Halen and I love Ace Frehley and I love Jeff Beck and I love Jimmy Page and I love Slash and I love Tommy Shaw. My all-time favorite group (well, duo) is Hall and Oates—and I’m the one guy who thinks Oates is the heart and soul of the outfit.

Again, I love guitarists.

They’re just … cool. And, generally, understated. They’re not the lead singer (bright spotlight), but they’re not the drummer (darkness). Without them, the show doesn’t go on. And yet … one might think the show could go on.

I’m babbling. Today’s Quaz features the exceptional Michael Eisenstein, best known as the former Letters to Cleo guitarist, now working as both Melissa Etheridge’s lead guitarist and as one of two men leading the Reigning Monarchs, a group that performs, in his words, “surf-ska punkabilly to gothic modern loungecore.” Here, Michael talks licks and musical survival; the impact drug addiction has on a family and the impact great music has made on his life.

One can follow Michael on Twitter here, and find the Reigning Monarchs’ website here.

Michael Eisenstein, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Mike, I was going through some old clips, and I found an article about Letters to Cleo in the July 9, 1995 Boston Globe. In it was a sentence that read, “Aurora Gory Alice,” the band’s 1993 album, has sold more than 116,000 copies, fueled by the peppy single “Here and Now,” which got invaluable exposure on the soundtrack of TV’s “Melrose Place.” And I thought to myself—Jesus Christ, that’s such nonsense. Meaning, you had this great song on this great album, and it took a stupid, inane, dumb-ass, disposable TV show to give you the boost you needed. I guess I’m wondering: How have you put up with this crap for so many years? Working in a business (music) that’s so fickle and awkward and often rewarding of surface nonsense over genuine substance? Or, ahem, am I just way off on this one? 

MICHAEL EISENSTEIN: It’s not a job for the faint of heart. You pay a ton of dues and hopefully are good enough to end up in the position to end up on a soundtrack like that. Our song wasn’t randomly picked to the the single, it was good. The question becomes, “Can you parlay that break into a career?” Some bands go on to have multiple hits, a few have a series of huge records. In our case, we released a few more singles that didn’t do as well as the one before and we eventually got dropped and broke up. But we spent a lot of time touring and recording at a fairly high level from 1992 to 1999, and everyone came out of that band knowing what they were doing. As a result, four out of the five members of what I consider the “classic lineup” have cool, multifaceted careers in the music business today.

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 5.56.33 PMJ.P.: I know you’re from Wayne, N.J. I know you were in Cleo. I know you’re a killer guitarist. But what was your life path from there to here? What led you to music? When did you realize this was what you wanted to do?

M.E.: My mother was a classical pianist as a child and teen (whose career ended with a hand injury) and as a result I grew up with a Steinway in the house. I loved playing that thing until I started taking lessons at age 9. My older brother was a drummer and I used to mess around on his drums a little and liked that but then I started playing the electric guitars his bandmates were leaving in our basement and I got hooked. I was 13 and got my own guitar for my 14th birthday. My next-door neighbor happened to be one of the best guitarists in town and I started taking lessons from him and got serious right away. Within two years, I was dedicated and working toward a career in music.

J.P.: I loved Letters to Cleo. I truly did. But, while your band was certainly big compared to most, it never supersonic blew up, in the way of a No Doubt or Pearl Jam or Nirvana or … whoever. I often ask good-but-not-legendary baseball players to explain the differences between themselves and, say, Ken Griffey, Jr. But I’ve never asked a musician. So, Mike, what’s the difference between Letters to Cleo and—for the sake of comparison—a No Doubt? Why did they explode, and you guys merely popped?

M.E.: There were some business mistakes and turnover at the label, which are typical problems. The main thing was we had a lead singer who not only didn’t want to be a star, but more or less viewed commercial success as selling out. The band has to want it.

J.P.: As you know, Quaz No. 121 featured Kay Hanley, your Cleo bandmate and ex-wife. I absolutely loved Kay’s honesty, especially about addiction and family/career/friend loss. However, I do think too often the focus is solely on the addict, and not on those impacted. Mike, you were/are with Kay for more than two decades. You have two children. What is it like watching someone you love fall prey to addiction? How did it impact you?

M.E.: It’s the worst. It’s not so much about “watching the person you love fall prey”—it’s about how you get dragged into their addiction and its behaviors and become part of it. You might not be an alcoholic/addict, but that’s the world you find yourself living in. Their downward spiral doesn’t exist in a vacuum, they’re grabbing onto anything close and dragging it down with them, at least in my case. The biggest impact was that I very suddenly found myself a single parent of two and having to come to grips with the fact that that might be the scenario for a very long time. Losing your best friend sucks, too.

J.P.: You tour with Melissa Etheridge. Which is amazing and cool and sweet and impressive. I’m wondering what it’s like to be part of “the band.” Meaning, you get introduced once per night, but generally fade into the background—an essential musician, but not the guy the audience came to see. Was that ever something you had to adjust to? Is it ideal? Neither? Both?

M.E.: Well, this isn’t a new role for me. From 1998-2001, as Cleo was petering out, I recorded and toured with Nina Gordon from Veruca Salt. Even though she was also from a rock band background, I got comfortable with being a “hired gun” pretty quickly. And most of my gigs since, whether touring or local, have been sideman jobs. Learn the parts that someone else played, match the guitar sounds to the record, show up and play. It’s rewarding in a different way and a lot less pressure.

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 5.56.08 PMJ.P.: So you and Greg Behrendt are the front guys of the Reigning Monarchs, a group that performs, in your words, “surf-ska punkabilly to gothic modern loungecore.” I listened to a bunch of your songs, and really dug it. Kinda reminded me of a mix between 1960s beach movies and Cake. Question is—why? You’re 40-something years old. You have a sweet gig. Is the goal to make lots of money? To be played on pop radio? To tour and become famous? Just for funky kicks? What’s the motivation?

M.E.: It began as a production job, then became a fun but infrequent local gig with friends but evolved into my primary creative outlet. I love to play the guitar, I love arranging songs and producing records. I’m in the fortunate position that my career and hobby overlap a lot. The band breaks even now and hopefully with this record we’ll see some profits but it’s not meant to be a career for either of us. If the goal was to make money or get on the radio, instrumental rock would not be my vehicle.  Of course, in the unlikely event that it became a moneymaker I would be thrilled and happy to focus on that as my job.

J.P.: Like you, I have two kids. I travel for work every so often—perhaps one week away every three months. As a touring musician, you must be away all the time. How do you manage? Do you ever feel guilty, like your kids might be missing out, or you might be missing out? What are the complications that accompany being a dad guitar player?

M.E.: When the kids were little, it was really hard. Especially right after Henry (my younger) was born. He got very sick as an infant and at one point I had to leave town to go on the road while he was still in the hospital. It was shortly thereafter that we moved to L.A. with the goal of getting off the road and doing more writing and producing. Now that they’re older, it’s been nice to get back out there. We miss each other but we have a lot of technology that makes it easier.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Absolute lowest?

M.E.: I’d have to say the greatest moment was when I walked out of my day job and started an unlikely run as a professional musician. The lowest is hard to say. There have been a few periods where things dried up for a while and I wasn’t playing or writing and I tend to get depressed when that happens. If you’re looking for an anecdote, a couple years ago I played with Katharine McPhee at the Greek Theatre here in L.A. I had to pack up my gear and leave right away to get to a poorly booked Reigning Monarchs show at this little dump on the Sunset Strip. There was a lot of bad information and I arrived to find out that we were only getting a 10-minute set. It almost broke Reigning Monarchsup the band. That stands out for going from the high to the low within a couple of hours.

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 5.56.24 PMJ.P.: You recently Tweeted, “Every now and then I dislike a song so much i Shazam it just to know who is responsible. Congratulations, 30 Seconds to Mars.” This might sound dumb, but I’m always reluctant to slam the abilities of other authors, because I know how friggin’ hard and torturous this can be. Do you not feel that way with music? What, specifically, makes you hear a song and think/say, “Jesus Christ, that fucking blows?”

M.E.: The negative tweet is something that I rarely do and am not big on. I even contemplated deleting that tweet but it got quite a lot of likes, favorites and re-tweets so I left it up. I would never do it to an up and coming artist but I think you get a little leeway with millionaire celebrities.

J.P.: What’s the difference between a good guitarist and a great friggin’ guitarist? What are the attributes that make exceptional? And, along those lines, how would you rank yourself?

M.E.: A good guitarist can be someone who writes and plays great parts within a band, has mastered one specific genre but maybe doesn’t have a particularly unique sound or voice, or a solid ‘jack of all trades’ guy who can play just about anything pretty well. And just to clarify, by “good” I’m talking about very, very good professionals. Guys whom most people would call amazing. The greats are the guys you can recognize instantly. Stylists who bring their own thing to the instrument. Sometimes it’s an innovator like Hendrix, a virtuoso like Pat Metheny or just a unique combination of influences and approach like Joey Santiago or Andy Summers. I rank myself as good.

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 12.08.02 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH MICHAEL EISENSTEIN:

A couple of years ago Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley allowed guys not named Ace Frehley and Peter Criss to wear Ace Frehley and Peter Criss makeup. Good business decision, or disloyal greedy bullshit?: I don’t like Kiss, at all. If someone cares which guy is wearing which makeup, I’m not the guy to complain to.

• Five greatest guitarists of your lifetime?: I’ll just list my favorites: John Scofield, Mike Campbell, Eddie Van Halen, Bill Frisell, George Harrison.

• Best joke you know?: Q: What’s the difference between a drummer and a pepperoni pizza? A: A pepperoni pizza can feed a family of four.

• One question you’d ask Ed Jurak were he here right now?: Did you ever beat up Mike Watt in High School?

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chico Walker, placemats, pottery making, Dodger Stadium, UB40, Boston Phoenix, Matt Dillon, Orange is the New Black, Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn, Craigslist, Vin Diesel, Tanya Tucker: Dodger Stadium, Orange is the New Black, Boston Phoenix, Craigslist, UB40, Pottery, Wrath of Kahn, Matt Dillon, Chico Walker, Placemats, Tanya Tucker (does anyone else remember a band called Canya Fucker?) Vin Diesel.

• How many times a year do you listen to a Letters to Cleo song?: Some years zero, sometime a bunch if we’re going to play. I might revisit something, usually for reference once or twice in a year. I like it, though.

• Best and worst musical venues in America?: My favorite is The Fillmore in San Francisco and least favorite was this place in Baltimore called Fletcher’s that is no longer around. Any musician who ever loaded into that place can tell you why.

• Why does a singer screaming, “Hello [Fill in a town name]!” make such an impact on people?: Because people like acknowledgement and most people like where they live.

• Would you rather tour with Ashley Simpson for five-straight years or slice off one of your nipples?: I’ll take Ashley “best nosejob in the history of plastic surgery” Simpson.

This is my all-time favorite song. Give me your breakdown, please: Vocals are so loud I can’t hear the guitars very well. It all seems kind of noodle-y, I’m over a minute in and I haven’t latched on to a theme in the music or lyrics. And here comes the radical dynamic shift, full band entry. Good drummer. Not sure I’ll remember much about that later today.

Lenny Marcus

izod

I’ve always been riveted by comedians.

It’s a weird sort of profession, in that you’re expected to be funny, and—if you’re not funny—something’s wrong. Yet you’re also expected to be hiding something. Sadness. Nervousness. Pain. There have been myriad explanations of the comic’s psyche, and they all (right or wrong) point to an inner something that makes one need the attention … the fame … the laughs.

Again, I’m by no means saying this is true. Just saying the perception exists.

That’s why I’m thrilled to have Lenny Marcus as today’s Quaz Q&A. A veteran of the stage, Marcus has appeared on (among others) The Late Show With David Letterman, Live at Gotham and Friday Night. He’s roamed the nation, standing before audiences in, literally, hundreds upon hundreds of cities.

One can visit Lenny’s website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Lenny Marcus, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Lenny, every so often a reader e-mails me a Quaz candidate, and that’s how you came to my attention. Specifically, a reader wrote: “My wife and I first saw Lenny perform on a Carnival Cruise ship comedy club two years ago and enjoyed him greatly. A few months ago, I stumbled upon him on Letterman and last month, we went to go see him headline the Foxwoods comedy club, a place were many of the heavy-hitters in the industry are featured. The stand-up comedy field is a brutal one to break into and it was pretty cool to see someone you saw on a boat make the jump to Letterman.”

Lenny, how true is the guy’s take on the high-low-high-low career of a comedian? Because it really does seem like a unique field, in that one can be on Letterman one night, standing before 23 people inside an Ada, Oklahoma club the next.

LENNY MARCUS: Well, yes, that’s the job. Letterman is kind of the reward for working on your act in Ada, Oklahoma, so to the outside world it’s weird maybe seeing someone on TV in their town or ship but it’s not weird not to comedians. Plus, I’m assuming that they are paying me decently for coming to /performing in Ada, so I don’t look at it as high-low. Then again, what does my hotel room look like …

J.P.: Of comedians, I’ve been told that—more often than not—behind the jokes there’s a sadness; a pain; an … emptiness; that those experiences and emotions serve as a sort of fuel. Would you say that’s, generally, true? Bullshit? And does it hold true to you?

L.M.: Personally, I think everyone has pain and sadness at some point. It’s not like comedians have cornered the market on it. We just have outlet to deal with it. And a fun one!

For example, pretty much everyone has gone through a breakup at some point. Everyone knows that pain. It’s not just the comedian. So if over time you turned the breakup pain into jokes about aspects of that relationship, this could a) Be very cathartic, b) help your act.

I often wonder how people who don’t have an outlet to make light of a difficult situation or some tragedy or a topic that bugs them deals with it. Therapy? Drinking? Drugs? If I don’t like something I try and joke about it. I’ve known people who can’t joke about stuff that troubles them and they have ulcers, shrinks, and cry a lot.

J.P.: I’ve heard this question asked before, but I’ve never heard a great answer—would love one here: What’s it like to always have people expecting you to be funny? That seems like a pretty pressure-packed existence, no?

L.M.: I really do believe this, the “expectations” are off. I tell people who expect me to be funny that I’m actually serious. I complain about stuff and then people think the way I complain is funny. Pressure-packed, nope. Anyone who walks up to you and says “Do something funny”, is kind of a nut. (But when in doubt dropping your pants in a crowd straight faced seems to work in that scenario).

J.P.: Here’s what I know of your background: You’re from Oceanside, N.Y. and, uh, well, that’s about it. So, Lenny, how did you become a comedian? Like, what inspired you? When did you first realize it was something you could do? When did you know you were truly funny?

L.M.: My acting teacher once said to me that I thought everyone is an idiot. Pretty much. I’ve just never taken the world or people very seriously. I would always make my classmates/friends laugh. I loved making my parents laugh. They loved when I came home and told them things that I thought were funny at school. We used to go up to the Catskills and I’d sneak in and watch the comedians. It was always a singer and a comedian or vise versa. I was miserable when the singer went first because I sometimes fell asleep. But I always was fascinated by comedy. As a family we always watched comedies on TV. Carol Burnett. Bob Newhart. Then when they had Evening at the Improv, comedy looked so cool. When I went to college my roommate also was a big comedy fan. He had all comedy albums! We decided that when we graduated we had to try it at least once. But we knew it was going to be hard. So of course we both went to work in Corporate America. Let’s just say Corporate America was not for me. People in suits can very verrry serious. Can you believe that your boss from the backwoods of West Virgina doesn’t appreciate sarcasm related to other office workers, the company policies or his toupee? Sheesh.  I decided to try an open mic. It took a couple of years of hard work but I got a different career going. You know you’re funny when they start paying you to do your act—lol.

With the Dice Man, Andrew Clay.

With the Dice Man, Andrew Clay.

J.P.: I’ve asked singers and athletes and writers about “The Process,” but never a comedian. Lenny, how do you develop your material? Where does it come from? How do you know if a joke works or not?

L.M.: My material comes from a passionate like/dislike of something/someone/some situation. Something I deem stupid or annoying. Something I deem unjust. Someone’s behavior I don’t like. Then I twist it into what I think is a funny way of making my case and see if a random group of people agrees. The audience will tell you if the joke is funny. For example, today’s topic I realized I’d like to write about is recycling. There’s nothing really funny about the act of recycling bottles. Until I actually started thinking about how friggin’ long I’ve been doing it, why am I doing, and how it annoys me. Seriously, what’s in it for me?

J.P.: What’s your greatest on-stage moment? Your absolute lowest?

L.M.: Well, easily the greatest was Letterman. My best friends were there but more importantly, my father was there—the last show before Father’s Day. Too cool. The lowest? I think when I started somebody yelled, “Jew, get off”. That wasn’t a good day.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 3.42.10 PMJ.P.: Do you feel, at this point in your career, you understand the heckler? I’m being serious—there are people out there (as you’ve surely seen) who take delight in heckling people performing on a stage—be they ballplayers, singers, politicians, comedians. I’ve never understood it. Why do these people behave in such a manner?

L.M.: Well there are many types of hecklers. If someone really wants to ruin a show, they will unless someone removes them. Most of them want to be heard. They want to be the center of attention. They want to be the comedian but don’t have the guts to get up on stage themselves. Cowardice, alcohol, bad upbringing, social ineptitude, general clueless-ness are all heckler backstories. Basically, for whatever reason, they’re dickheads and don’t even know it.

J.P.: I can think of few things more terrifying than walking onto the stage to perform Letterman before millions of viewers. What was it like for you, the first time? How do you not just throw up and hide?

L.M.: I loved it! I worked my whole career to get that show and it was my top goal. Believe it or not I was waaay more excited than nervous. I couldn’t wait to get out there. If you’re really that ready, you won’t be nervous. The audience is 100 percent warmed up and on your side, in a perfectly laid out venue for comedy. I would do it once a week if they let me!

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 3.42.27 PMJ.P.: You’ve probably never been asked this, but while watching your routine I started thinking about transitional moments in comedy—like, that three-second pause when you shift from one topic to another. Is there an important way to transition? Is there thought put into it? A way to do it well or do it poorly?

L.M.: I love segues. When it’s done well, it’s seamless. I work on it a lot.  Some guys don’t have that style, and just pause. When I headline, I try and stay as seamless as possible. Plus, if one thing leads right to the next thing, I remember my act better!

J.P.: I recently heard an interview where Jay-Z talked about the difficulty of a rapper maintaining his A-material with success. It’s easy to rap about slinging drugs, fighting gangs, etc. But what can you say when you’re living in a mansion, making millions. Do you think, as comedians age and attain success, it becomes harder to stay funny?

L.M.: It’s probably true but there are other factors involved. I think people mellow with age and things annoy you less so that could affect your act. You could have a family pulling your writing time away from you. Plus if you have money or success, things bother you way less, or you perform less, or you care a little less. Sometimes after 20 years, a lot of guys are sick of struggling through new material and would rather stick to what works and then their act gets dated. If I had $10 million and someone said lets go play golf, I think it would be hard to say, “Can’t golf on this beautiful day, I need to do a spot at the Comic Strip.” Then again, Seinfeld and Chris Rock still show up at the Comedy Cellar and work on stuff. It’s inspiring.

josiahQUAZ EXPRESS WITH LENNY MARCUS:

• Five greatest comedians of your lifetime?: It’s so hard to choose. My favorites: Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Allen, Brian Regan, Dave Attell and Richard Pryor.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall of the experience?: Yep. Aspen Comedy Festival. Ten-seat plane in a blizzard. I called my sister on my cell phone to tell her I love her (My parents didn’t answer the phone). I remember gripping the seat like a vice until we landed. And then I wrote a whole bit about it.

• In 2013, are gay jokes (by a straight comedian) off the table?: Nothing is off the table if you do it right.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Richard Pryor, New Kids on the Block, April 17, Matt Lauer, Matt Harvey, Snoop Dogg, George W. Bush, tuxedos, iced coffee, Blurred Lines: Pryor, Harvey, Blurred Lines, then who cares.

• In 30 words or less, your thoughts on the movie Punchline?: Well, Hanks was great (I like Sally Field, too). Some of the things were accurate and then some, well … as a kid, I thought I guess that’s how it is.

• The one question you’d ask Dan Zanes were he here right now?: Um … I guess I would sort of ask him or the guy next to him, “Who is Dan Zanes?”

• Why do so many Jews become comedians? (I’m Jewish—so I can ask): Jews like funny and have laughed through tragedy throughout time. It’s their way of dealing. Laughter really is the best medicine.

• What’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen?: Tim Burton’s version of Willy Wonka. The original is one of my favorite movies and this remake was the worst idea ever.

• Do you think Albert Pujols can bounce back in 2014?: I had plantar fasciitis. Very painful. He’ll be back and be pretty solid in 2014.

• I’m taught my class on Rosh Hashanah this year. On a scale of 1 to 10, how guilty should I feel?: A 10. Guilty. Come on man, who raised you? What’s next, a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur?

Mike Zwiener

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 12.05.19 AM

Every so often, a Quaz makes no real sense.

This is one of those weeks.

Which isn’t to say Mike Zwiener, Quaz No. 117, isn’t worthy. Hell, he’s more than paid his dues, having A. Played the immortal “Rudy Zolteck” (aka: requisite loud fat kid) in the 1994 film, Little Giants.; B. Worked at Target; C. Spent his life as a White Sox fan.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.45.41 PMIn many ways, Zwiener is actually the ideal Quaz. He’s self-deprecating, he has his own IMBD page, he spent 15 minutes in the Hollywood sun and—best of all—he’s cool as hell. These days, 12 years removed from his last theatrical role, Zwiener works as an operations supervisor at FedEx Freight and lives in the thriving metropolis of Midlothian, Illinois. Here, he talks “Little Giants,” crappy Hollywood and why the hell he owns a Jermaine Dye T-shirt.

Mike Zwiener, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Mike, I had a reader practically beg me to do a Michael Zwiener Quaz. And here we are. You were a child actor who played “Rudy Zolteck” in “Little Giants,” and then you sorta vanished from the public eye. Easy/tough first question: What happened? Was it by choice? And, now working as an operations supervisor for FedEx Freight, are you happy? Content? Or do you think, “Dang, I could have been Tom Cruise …”

MIKE ZWIENER: Acting wasn’t something I actually wanted to do. I didn’t grow up thinking that I wanted to be an actor, or anything along those lines. I didn’t even want to go to the audition for Little Giants. The audition was in the middle of one of Chicago’s 17-feet-of-snow blizzards (OK, maybe it was just three feet), but when your grandmother says, “You’re going to this!” you go. And it worked out pretty well. It was my first audition, and I didn’t even have an agent, but it worked out pretty well for me.

But when it was over, it was over. Being an actor still wasn’t one of my life goals, so it kind of went by the wayside. My parents got me an agent, I had some auditions, but being the know-it-all 10-year old, it didn’t seem that interesting. So it kind of just stopped. The people I work with now who know (I don’t tell a lot of people about it—it makes me feel like an arrogant prick) wonder why I don’t keep at it. I wonder about it sometimes, then I look at what that town has done to people, and think that, apart from the money, I have a better life than Lindsay Lohan. So I’m OK where I am.

LITTLE GIANTS, Matthew McCurley (second from left), Danny Pritchett, Michael Zwiener, 1994,

Matthew McCurley (second from left), Danny Pritchett & Michael Zwiener in Little Giants.

J.P.: There have been dozens of movies about a ragtag gang of kids, and the gang always includes the requisite chubby (no disrespect whatsoever) one who’s always snacking. That was you. While it provided some exposure and movie credits, it also seems to be sort of a mean way to cast a kid. “Hey you, you’re the fat one!” Am I off on this? Were you bothered? Hurt? Or just thrilled to land gigs?

M.Z.: I was 9 and 10 when Little Giants happened, and I really didn’t care if I was typecast. I didn’t even know what that word meant back then. When you look back at it, yeah, it was probably a shitty thing to do, but it happens. Nobody holds a gun to anyone’s head when they offer them a role, as far as I’m aware.

J.P.: You were 10 when Little Giants came out. A. How did you land the part? B. What do you remember from the actual experience? Was it fun? Fulfilling? Boring?

M.Z.: I landed the part  after going to an open casting call in Chicago that my grandmother made me go to. Chicago blizzards are awesome to be driven around in by your grandmother. Four callbacks and a trip to California later, the role was mine.

And it was fun—and boring. I cant remember what I was doing on St. Patrick’s Day last year, but I remember a good deal of the actual experience. It was fun because everyone told me this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I guess that stuck in my head. But there was a ton of sitting around. A ton. But looking back at it, I figure making a movie with a bunch of kids could be a bit of a nightmare.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 12.03.24 AMJ.P.: We sports writers tend to talk about the great sports films as if they’re works of God. You know, Hoosiers, Major League, Chariots of Fire, Bull Durham, etc. Now that you’re an adult and out of the biz, how would you gauge “Little Giants”? Class film, OK, crap? What’s your take?

M.Z.: I figure it’s an OK movie, but the Internet sometimes says otherwise. I’ve probably only watched it five times in my life. Watching myself makes me remarkably uncomfortable.

J.P.: After “Little Giants,” according to IMDB, you landed three more gigs—your last in 2001? Was this frustrating, or by choice? Did you feel typecast and trapped as “chunky kid who eats a lot?” Did you ever really have a chance to flex any acting muscles?

M.Z.: I don’t have any acting muscles to flex, unless we’re sitting around shooting the shit. Apparently I have the ability to convince people I feel one way when I don’t. I guess I should become a professional liar, maybe public office is my next job.

J.P.: I see many pro athletes who struggle when their careers in the spotlight end. They’re sorta lost, floating around, not sure what to do. Did you go through this as an actor? Is it hard to move on when, at age 15, the well runs sort of dry?

M.Z.: Not at all. When it was over, it was over. But I also didn’t make a career out of it. I wasn’t running around tackling people on Sundays for five years, then have to transition back into the real world, I never left it, so it was easy.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 12.07.18 AMJ.P.: I found a WHATEVER HAPPENED TO piece on the Little Giants cast, and it says you spent some time working at Target. My wife friggin’ loves Target, but it always seems like everyone who works there wants to stab themselves with a rusty steak knife. Good place, bad place? Any memorable moments?

M.Z.: You know, I loved working at Target. I was in high school, and money was awesome. But I was also cool with my bosses, so that made it great to work there. I walked in there one weeknight, bored out of my mind, to see my friend who also worked there, and 20 minutes later we were walking out to go cause trouble because I convinced our boss to let him go.

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

M.Z.: Greatest moment … Jesus, that is hard to answer. I’m fortunate enough to have some amazing moments in my life, like standing up in my best friend’s weddings, being there for the birth of one of their children … I could go on and on.

Lowest moment? Probably the day I looked in the mirror, realized I was 24, I didn’t finish college, and I wasn’t on a career path that made me happy. And if that’s my low point, I really can’t bitch about life.

J.P.: On your Facebook page there are lots of photos of you in White Sox garb (ain’t too many people out there in Jermaine Dye T-shirts), and you played football in a flick. So what’s your athletic background? Are you good at sports? Ever have a grand moment on a field?

M.Z.: I’m not athletic at all (insert fat joke here). I played some football before high school, but never really played an organized sport. And don’t knock J.D.—you can only go to so many White Sox games seeing Konerko jerseys before you feel like a sheep. Not that there is anything wrong with Konerko!

J.P.: Is Hollywood bullshit? Like, does it all seem more glamorous and amazing than it really is? Or is it a land of gold and honey and big breasts?

M.Z.: Eh, I wasn’t there long enough at an age where I could figure that out, but if I had to put money on it, I’d put $20 on it being bullshit.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 12.06.25 AMQUAZ EXPRESS WITH MIKE ZWIENER:

• Celine Dion offers you $3 million to play “Rudy Zolteck” in her nightly Las Vegas show, “Celine Vs. Little Giants.” The catch is—it’s 362 days a year, you’re completely naked and you have to sing Hall & Oates’ full catalogue of material. You in?: Nope. I’m sure I can command a bigger payday to keep my clothes on.

• Five all-time favorite Chicago sports figures?: Dude, I dont live in Oklahoma City. Chicago is the wrong city to only have five. So you’re going to have to crop this list if you only want five. 1. Mike Ditka; 2. Mike Singletary/Walter Payton; 4. Michael Jordan; 5. A.J. Pierzynski—Yeah, he’s not in Chicago anymore, but he’s still a favorite of mine. We’re the same kind of asshole; 6. Carlton Fisk; 7. Dustin Byfuglian. Also not in Chicago anymore. When a friend got me into hockey I think the actual words out of my mouth when we were watching a game were “Who’s the big jackass shitting on the other team’s hopes and dreams?” Liked him since then. Too bad he’s in Winnipeg.

• In 1996 you played “Young Fang” in something called “Big Bully.” Please explain …: That was a role to play a young Tom Arnold in a movie that did not do well … at all. Not much screen time—probably 15 minutes total. But it was three months in Vancouver, so it was still fun.

• Five reasons for one to make Tinley Park, Illinois his/her next vacation destination: It’s 24 minutes from Chicago; It’s 24 minutes from Chicago; It’s 24 minutes from Chicago; It’s 24 minutes from Chicago; It’s 24 minutes from Chicago.

• The kids from “Little Giants” play the kids from “The Sandlot” in a tug-o-war. What’s the outcome?: Little Giants win. Try and move me.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? Please elaborate, if so: I can’t say I have, but I do have a re-occuring nightmare about being blown up in an airport.

• Can a really, really, really hot woman still be sexy midway through a loud fart?: Yes. Mila Kunis can be sexy while ripping the head off a kitten.

• Best joke you know: The best jokes I know will get me fired, or arrested.

• Rank in order, favorite to least: carnations, James Taylor, Facebook, Paul Konerko, MTV, Walmart, warts, Remember the Titans, Paul Newman, Cindy Crawford, clown fish, Angry Birds, Helen Keller: Paul Konerko, James Taylor, Cindy Crawford, clown fish, Remember the Titans, Paul Newman, Angry Birds, Facebook, Walmart, Helen Keller, carnations, Walmart, warts, MTV.

• If you could ask Shawon Dunston one question, what would it be?: “Who the hell are you?” I had to Google the name, saw he was a Cubs player, then instantly closed that tab in my browser.

Rachel Miller

miller
So a couple of weeks ago the wife and I hit the Jones Beach Amphitheatre for a rare night without the kids. We were there to attend a pretty sweet concert—Gavin DeGraw, The Script and Train (admittedly, this doesn’t exactly help my Tupac-esque thug rep. But, hey, no one’s perfect).
Anyhow, before the show began we were walking through the concourse when I spotted a young woman with bright red hail, jamming away on a small stage near the bathroom. She wore glasses, held a guitar and had a r-e-a-l-l-y big voice. As I stood there, listening with 20 or so other folks, I thought to myself, “If this woman were headlining tonight, I’d be psyched.” Then, of course, I followed that thought with, “Quaz material.”
As it turns out, Rachel Miller is the perfect Quaz. Why? Well, A) I’m 100 percent convinced she’s gonna be a star, and stars generally agree to Quazes only when they’re not quite stars yet (or stars of long ago); B) She’s incredibly intelligent and articulate; C) I genuinely love her music; D) You won’t believe how old she is (read more to find out).
Here, Rachel talks about the rocky road to musical stardom; what it feels like to play an Elk’s Lodge and why—dear God—she can’t name a single Hall & Oates song [Jeff’s note: WTF?]. You can follow Rachel on Twitter here and Facebook here, and can visit her YouTube page here. Oh, and this is her website.
Rachel Miller, when you’re selling out Madison Square Garden, remember your special as the 115th Quaz (and hook a Jewish brotha up with some tickets) …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Rachel—I first learned of you while walking through the concourse of the Jones Beach Amphitheatre. Inside the arena, people were packing the place for Gavin DeGraw, The Script and Train. Outside, you were playing solo on a small stage, surrounded by, oh, 20 listeners. People were sorta talking over the music, buying $8 sodas and $40 T-shirts. I watched you and wondered, “Is she happy or sad? Is this a good gig or a shit gig? Does this make someone want to chase her musical dream even harder, or even less?” So, Rachel, do tell …
RACHEL MILLER: Honestly, I really don’t believe there’s such a thing as a shit gig. Even gigs that don’t go incredibly well are valuable learning experiences (even though they’re frustrating as hell). From the second I found out that Sofia (my drummer) and I had landed the gig at Jones Beach, I was completely floored. (As an aside, when I saw that the stage was located between the food court and the restrooms, I was even more excited. I knew that people would be rushing to eat and use the restrooms before the show inside the arena began, and so they were hearing my set whether or not they intended to.) I’ve had so many incredible memories as an audience member at Jones Beach and similar arenas, and the thought of attending such a place as a performer—regardless of my stage’s location—still amazes and inspires me as I’m typing this.
For an aspiring musician such as myself, any opportunity to have access to a guitar, a microphone, and enough people to fill an arena is an absolute blessing. Although only a fraction of the people attending the concert stopped and remained for my set, I was simply excited to be there. I was ecstatic to connect with my audience, and I was grateful beyond words to have the opportunity to be heard by thousands of ears. Even better, my family made up a portion of those people watching me perform. Seeing their faces as I engaged a group of music lovers I had never before met at the venue of my dreams, I felt as though I had just won the lottery. So that was an incredible gig for me, and my desire to eventually hit the stage inside of the arena has increased exponentially since.
J.P.: There’s a line on your website that I just love, because it speaks to the plight of the up-and-coming singer fighting for legitimacy: “In November 2011, Rachel played her first solo set when a friend’s band asked her to perform at the local Knights of Columbus Hall with them.” I’ve been to the local Knights of Columbus Hall—and there’s usually a moose head hanging above a fireplace and 15 old guys complaining about black kids and their hippity-hop music. Tell me about the gig, and why—in your story—it matters.
R.M.: I’m laughing so hard! That’s both accurate and pathetically hilarious.
Before I can properly explain the significance of that gig, I’m gonna have to provide a bit of background. I had formed a band with some friends during my freshman year of high school, and we played together for about a year. Around the time of the Knights of Columbus gig, I was a sophomore in high school. Right before that—a week before my 16th birthday—both the band and a relationship ended, which was pretty rough. Lots of rejection, lots of confusion. A few weeks after that, I was approached in the waiting room at the orthodontist by the father of some friends (they played in a band that my band had often performed with). He told me that they had landed a gig at the Knights of Columbus Hall and that I should play with them. I informed him that, because my band had broken up, I would not be able to do so. He replied by saying that I could perform alone—that I didn’t need to rely on them to play music. Although I had played music independently for years prior to forming the band, for some reason, this information took me by surprise. I had forgotten how to be an artist, and had lost myself while trying to appease my bandmates while we were together.
So, putting myself out there by myself was a huge step. All of my friends and family attended in support and were just as surprised as I was at how natural the set felt. It felt as though I should have been performing that way all along. It was a huge turning point for me. It was my first paid gig (I received $50 that my mom wanted to frame). That night—even though a good percentage of the crowd consisted of the irritable elderly men you mentioned—was one of the most important nights of my life. I was finally set on the path that I still am trudging down today, and I intend to stay on this path for the rest of my life.
 Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 11.19.28 PM
J.P.: So I know very little about you. Your website bio is pretty vague. Rachel, where are you from? What do your parents do? How, exactly, did they push you into music? And when did you know this was what you wanted to do for a career?
R.M.: I grew up—and still reside—in an apartment in a New Jersey suburb about half an hour west of New York City. My parents were always extremely hands-on. Mom was class mom every single year in grade school. She’d show up with cupcakes, cookies—you name it and she had probably made it for my super small group of peers. (I attended a Catholic elementary/middle school for eight years in a grade with the same 32 kids.) Dad had been heavily involved in the music business for decades. He began working as a recording engineer in the 1980s, and had his hands in projects by Miles Davis, Mariah Carey, the White Stripes, and countless other musicians. He would always play tracks that he was working on or just noodle around on the guitar at home, and my mom was always humming along to records by The Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Queen. Growing up, music was all I really knew. I received a little keyboard for my first birthday, and my dad used it to teach me notes. As soon as I knew what words were, I was singing. Guitar lessons by Dad came along when I was 3, and by 7, I was writing music. I started performing at school talent shows when I was ten (I was very shy about it beforehand), and eventually got involved in the choir. In fact, I was so involved that my teachers let me help them direct the school choir when I was 13. I would arrange music for my peers, accompany them on the guitar, and belt out whatever harmonies or leads were necessary. I sang so strongly that I was still the loudest voice heard when they would put the other soloists right in front of the microphone and position me all the way against the chapel’s back wall.
As a kid, when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, although I would throw in other fun things like “astronaut” or “karate instructor,” I always included something involved with music. Instinctively, from the very beginning, I knew that music was my life. My growth as a human being has always been paralleled by my growth as a musician. It’s always been my core.
Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 11.19.46 PM
J.P.: It seems, oftentimes, when a young singer is on a stage, all people want to hear are covers. And, when said singer utters the words, “Here’s a song I wrote about …” myriad folks bolt for the bathrooms. How do you handle this? Is it hard not merely leaning on covers? Hard to establish yourself as legit?
R.M.: One of the hardest things to overcome as a new artist is the public’s natural disinterest in you and your art. There are hundreds of thousands of musicians who have “made it,” and their music and performances are extremely accessible. Why should people waste time listening to amateurs when they could be entertained by the real deal? And then, those who do decide to lend an ear certainly prefer to hear songs that they are familiar with. They wonder what young, inexperienced musicians could possibly have to say that’s valuable and why they should even care. It’s a difficult truth that both myself and my peers are constantly confronted with. From the very beginning of my performance experiences, I’ve refused to rely on covers. After all, what good is it to keep them listening if you’re not going to say anything new? Even if you can keep them interested with covers, at the end of the day, they’re going to remember you as “that singer that impersonated Adele” or “the Paramore cover band”—not as an individual, unique musician with a voice of his/her own. It’s simply counterproductive.
And so, there are a few things that I always do to both appeal to the public’s natural desire for the familiar and to introduce my own voice in the small amount of time I’m given to do so. I always open sets with my song “Johnny.” It’s a very peculiar song that is propelled by extremely descriptive storytelling—similar to that of a film. Even if people have absolutely no interest in listening to me, “Johnny” shocks them and compels them to hear more. People are fascinated by bizarre characters and stories, and so I make sure to lure them in by giving them just that. Then, after perhaps another original or two, I engage them with a cover (usually Maroon 5’s “This Love” or Neon Trees’ “Animal”) that involves singing simple call-and-response lines, clapping, or waving arms. This is to make them feel as though their participation in the show is as important as mine.
My theory is this—people can stay at home and listen to high-quality recordings of music for free. Why would they spend their valuable time and money listening to live music (that, in most cases, doesn’t even sound as good as the recordings)? It’s because they want an experience. They want to be a part of the music. They want to be involved. They want to connect. So I use covers to get people comfortable enough to initiate that connection with me, and to maintain their attention in slower spots throughout the set. If you’re a good enough songwriter, covers should simply be a device with which to connect with your audience on a familiar plane—not to carry your set. And, if you’re a good enough songwriter, establishing yourself as “legit” should be a simple task once you get people to listen. It’s frustrating at times when people don’t want to give you the chance to make that connection with them or to hear your voice, but closed-mindedness is a frustrating bump in the road for people of all careers—not just musicians.
J.P.: Let’s talk songwriting. I was just listening to “Johnny,” which is a really fucking brilliant little tune. Soup to nuts, how’d you write it? Where’d the idea come from? Where do you put it down on paper? When do you know a song works? Or doesn’t?
R.M.: Thank you so much! Writing “Johnny” was probably one of the most unique writing experiences I’ve ever had. Right after the Knights of Columbus show, I entered The Break Contest, which was a large Battle of the Bands (there were about 500 bands and five solo artists) to perform at Bamboozle. (Bamboozle was this huge annual music festival in New Jersey. The year that I performed—2012—headliners included Bon Jovi, Foo Fighters, My Chemical Romance and Jimmy Eat World.) At each round of the competition, it was mandatory to perform mostly original songs, and since I had just recently gone solo, I didn’t really have many in my repertoire. So I went on this crazy writing binge, but most of the songs were way too personal.
One night, my dad walked into my room. Sensing my frustration at my lack of songwriting success, he suggested that I write about one of my favorite movies. He told me to close my eyes, imagine the opening scene of The Dark Knight (with the Joker’s henchmen), and to write a whole song about one of those unnamed, faceless characters. And so I did. And I named him Johnny. “Johnny” was written on a piece of tattered loose-leaf paper on the little shelf above my keyboard over the course of about 45 minutes. The interesting thing about songwriting is that some songs happen very quickly and some songs need months—even years—to properly take shape. From my experience, the pathway from one good song to another requires at least two or three shitty songs. When you can’t get your own song out of your head, that’s when you know it works. If you can’t remember the melodies after a day or so, or if you just aren’t feeling it with your whole heart and soul, that’s when you know that it’s simply another stop on the road to another song.
Not entirely sure how to explain this one—Rachel with, ahem, Aaron Carter.

Not entirely sure how to explain this one—Rachel with, ahem, Aaron Carter.

J.P.: In an earlier Quaz I interviewed the drummer from Blind Melon, the group that hit big with “No Rain” in the early 1990s. He told me, back then, record deals were flying left and right; that they were shockingly easy to land. It seems, Rachel, that you’re coming along during a truly … confusing time for new artists. Is it even about landing a record deal? Is it about getting YouTube hits and Twitter followers? Like, what is success?
R.M.: It truly is a confusing time to be pursuing music. Technology has completely turned the industry upside down. The negative side of it is that CD sales have completely plummeted, and people can pirate music more easily than ever. However, the positive side is that anyone can have access to materials with which to make an album and to people who will hear/purchase that album simply with the click of a mouse. It’s incredible. Both of these affects of technology have taken insane amounts of power away from record labels. They don’t necessarily have the power they used to. Credibility and artist development are the only things that record labels provide that are still particularly difficult to be obtained independently. That being said, if you can build up that credibility and really take time to hone your abilities as an artist, you may not need a label to be “successful” anymore. The people that really dictate your career are no longer record label execs – they’re your listeners. And so devices such as YouTube and Twitter and Facebook are extremely important to keep your listeners engaged and involved in the process. If you have enough loyal listeners, “success” is realistically obtainable. However, “success” in the music industry is a very vague term. I personally define musical “success” as the ability to support a family without desperately needing to get another job. If a musician can do that, regardless of whether or not they’re still confined to obscurity, I think they’ve really “made it”. Anything beyond that – fame, fortune, etc. – is just icing on the cake.
J.P.: Greatest moment of your musical career? Lowest moment?
R.M.: Oh man, this is tough. I’ve been blessed with so many incredible experiences so far. This may have to be a “top three” kind of thing. Picking one memory is way too difficult.. (I’m probably going to sound like a sappy asshole for this answer, just a warning.) The moment I found out that I was playing Bamboozle was indescribably amazing. I got the email during school. I was a sophomore, and if I remember correctly, it was during a geometry lesson. The whole class celebrated with me until the bell rang. It was pretty awesome. And then when I found out that My Chem (who had been one of the most influential artists in my life) was added to that same lineup, I actually cried. Then there was the first time I had a line at my merch table for autographs and pictures. Knowing that people appreciate what I do that much means a lot. One time, I was performing at a little venue in Boonton, N.J., and the crowd was singing along to one of my songs so loudly, I could barely hear myself, which I believe is a dream of any songwriter. I’ve had some low moments, but music has usually carried me through them. It’s never really caused them. I mean, there are frustrating times when I start to question my path, but there’s never been anything particularly horrible (except for one time when I uploaded a single onto iTunes realized that there was a typo in the album art, but that was more annoying than traumatic) … but as grateful and excited I am about all of these things, I like to think that my greatest moment is yet to come.
Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 11.16.03 PM
J.P.: I’m gonna ask you an odd question, and I demand an honest answer. It has nothing to do with music, which makes these Q&As fun. You seem to be in your early 20s. I’m 41. When you hear “41” do you think, “Jesus Christ, that’s old?” Because, when I was in my early 20s, I’m pretty sure I thought, “Jesus Christ, that’s old” about 41. Yet I don’t feel old, sitting here, typing. Thoughts?
R.M.: I was actually just thinking about the meaning of “old.” I think it’s merely a relative term. This will probably sound a bit ridiculous, but with my eighteenth birthday coming up, I’m feeling quite a bit old. However, I’m not feeling old because of the number 18—I’m feeling old because I’m in a transitional phase. The difference between a child and an adult is very dramatic, and the transition between the two can be shocking for some. If you’re used to wasting time and not having a care in the world, suddenly being struck with responsibilities and robbed of the time that you once thought was infinite can make you feel quite old. I also don’t think there’s a certain age defined as “old.” I believe that it’s more of a gradual gradient between “young” and “old” with loads of shades of gray instead of a specific age when you just suddenly become an “old person”. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that 41 isn’t old to me, although it might have been to your 20-something-year-old self. (And I’m sure you’re probably surprised to read that I’m 17, which is something I should probably address. I’m usually thought to be at least 21. I constantly get offers to play at bars that I’m way too young to play at, and when I tell people how old I am, they usually look at me like I have 997 heads and tentacles instead of eyeballs. It’s pretty amusing.)
J.P.: I’m fascinated to know your thoughts on American Idol and The Voice and shows like those. Have you auditioned? Would you? Do you watch them? Do you at all consider them cheating, or shortcuts to the big time?
R.M.: I do occasionally watch them. When I was a kid, I kept a countdown that marked how many years I had to wait until I was old enough to audition for American Idol. I do have a lot of respect for The Voice. In fact, I recently auditioned for the upcoming season. Although I can’t really say anything about the process, I can say that it was a great experience and due to a certain participant quota, I didn’t advance very far. However, the feedback that I received from producers provided validation that I’m on the right path, which is extremely important. I think that the show is a shortcut, but I don’t mean that negatively at all. Basically, the exposure provided by the airtime artists get on The Voice is a nice, quick way to gain access to listeners. Those listeners could support you throughout your career regardless of how far you get on the show, and that’s far more valuable than any grand prize such a show could provide.
J.P.: Do you have a non-music job? Or, put differently, what do you do when you’re not being musical?
R.M.: Yes I do! I book shows for a local venue. I also am an art student at a local technical high school (which, despite the reputation of technical schools, is an intensively academic institution). When I’m not booking bands, studying, or doing something music-related, I’m usually either drawing, writing, baking cookies (terribly), reading comic books, watching stupid cartoons, or playing games with friends and relatives.
Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 11.19.04 PM
••QUAZ EXPRESS WITH RACHEL MILLER:
 •
• Five greatest songwriters of your lifetime?: Christina Perri, Billie Joe Armstrong, Jason Mraz, Paul McCartney, Gerard Way.
• Do you think Alex Rodriguez deserved the 211-game suspension?: I’m completely oblivious to all things involving sports. My friends have tried to teach me the rules of football at least three times … I know Alex Rodriguez is in the middle of some kind of drug controversy, but I’m not really educated enough on the topic to form a valid opinion.
• Your hair—last I checked—was dyed fruit punch red. Why?: Brown just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was 15, I wanted a hair color that suited my personality, and my mom didn’t say no. Thank god my hair stylist is adventurous.
• Why do so many singers smoke cigarettes when it’s bad for your voice and lethal?: Bad habits are tempting to form and hard to break. It’s a matter of personal preference and addictive tolerance, I guess.
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Syracuse University, The Bitter End, Twitter, Victor Cruz, Carly Rae Jepsen, “The Hangover II,” Paul Rudd, Jim Furyk, acid reflux, apple chicken sausage, Popular Mechanics, pink eye, the screaming baby one row back on the airplane, Chris Christie: Um … Twitter, The Bitter End (made my NYC debut there! Much love for that venue.), Paul Rudd, the screaming baby one row back on the airplane (as a new aunt, I’m currently in love with all babies, regardless of volume), Popular Mechanics, Syracuse University, Carly Rae Jepsen, apple chicken sausage, Chris Christie, Victor Cruz, Jim Furyk, “The Hangover II” (what was the point of that movie?), pink eye, acid reflux.
This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: I can dig it.
What are you more concerned about—climate change or your set list?: Although I really am concerned about the environment (and I’m not just saying that to avoid looking like an asshole), I spend way more time thinking about set lists than climate change.
What one question would you ask José Bordonada Collazo were you given the chance?: I actually just took about five minutes trying to figure out who he is on Google and I still have no idea what I would want to ask him.
I’m a die-hard Hall & Oates fan. Without cheating (Google, asking a friend, etc), list as many songs by the duo as you can: Damn, I’m drawing a blank, and my mom was literally just talking about their music an hour ago.
I just stepped barefoot on an enormous slug tonight, and no matter how hard I scrub, I can’t get the goo off my foot. Any advice?: Purell is a magical thing, my friend. If that doesn’t work, I recommend wearing socks … forever.

Jonatha Brooke

Back in the lord’s year of 1989, I had an enormous crush on Theresa McClure, keyboardist/singer in Illusion, Mahopac High School’s rock band.

Why? I’m not entirely certain. Theresa was cute, but not drop-dead gorgeous. Theresa was friendly, but not perky. Theresa was polite, but, ahem, ignored my advances. I suppose—when I really think about it—what did it for me was Theresa’s voice. It reminded me of wind chimes and bells; peaceful, soft, soothing, happy.

I get this same feeling listening to Jonatha Brooke.

For those who don’t know, Jonatha is one of the most unique and accomplished female singer/songwriters of our era. She gained initial notoriety performing in the duo, The Story, and has since released nine solo discs. Her cover of the Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye In the Sky” happens to be one of my favorite songs—ever.

As we speak, Jonatha’s first musical play, “My Mother Has Four Noses,” is readying for its June 29 debut at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, Connecticut. It is inspired by her late mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. And one can help Jonatha get her next release off the ground by visiting her Pledge Music page.

Jonatha Brooke, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jonatha, I’m gonna start with a weird one. I’ve listened to a bunch of your interviews from the past years, and you often talk about crafting a song, the feel of an album, how what you’re going through in life impacts the music, etc … etc. I’m wondering, though, do music buyers care? I DON’T mean this rudely AT ALL. I can appreciate what one goes through putting herself out there via song. But, come day’s end, do most people just wanna be entertained while listening to the radio on the drive to work? Do you ever wonder whether all the heart and pain and oomph you surely put into your music is rightly received by the masses?

JONATHA BROOKE: I love this question. It’s everything. All of the above. People don’t give a shit, but then they care beyond belief. They want to be entertained, and then … luckily for me, they crave something that moves them deeply. To dance, to weep, to thrash around. So far I’ve done OK without the masses! The heart, pain and oomph are received in precisely the right way by the ones who receive it!

When I heard Charlie Winston’s “Boxes” I almost drove off the road in Manchester, England. When I heard Lianne La Havas at a fundraiser for WXPN in Philly, I just cried, she was so good. Dark, moody, broken.

But I’ll also be the first one dancing whenever “Teenage Dream” comes on … I know it might not be considered deep, but it is … just different deep. And I just love her, that Katy Perry.

I’m always amazed, and I think it’s so funny that the dudes in the audience that I might type-cast as … dudes—they are always the ones that want to hear “Inconsolable” (my saddest song ever!). People that I would never ever peg for softies, are the ones that get all mushy over the tiny song “I’ll Try” that I wrote for a Disney movie. And then the waif-like pushover in the back wants my gnarlier ones—“How Deep is Your Love” or “Careful What You Wish For!”

This is why I will never stop doing what I do. People take whatever it is they need at the time from music. OK, albums may not be selling like they used to and that sucks. But people are consuming music as voraciously as ever on more platforms than ever. There’s something for everyone. And luckily, I’m just as happy crafting a ridiculous trashy pop treacle as a suicidal dirge. I just love writing songs.

J.P.: So I first came to know of your music via your cover of “Eye In the Sky.” I consider it to be one of the best covers of all time—A. Because it’s gorgeous; B. Because it’s so … improbable. I mean, the Alan Parsons Project? Where the heck did that come from? How did you choose that song to cover? And how, when one covers a song, does an artist walk the fine line of singing a familiar song without simply karaoke-ing it?

J.B.: I think it was my husband’s idea. I’d always avoided covers mostly because any song I truly adored … is too sacred to me and I would never want to mess it up. This one snuck up on me. The original production is so cold and square, that I wasn’t precious about it. And once I actually listened to the lyrics it was a no-brainer to take it in a completely acoustic, dark direction. I kind of read into it like that song, “I’m Not in Love.” Creepy and sad.

I think that’s the only way to cover a song. You must make it completely your own. Change the production, the harmonic approach, even the time signature! Otherwise why bother?

J.P.: Here’s what I know of your roots: You graduated from the Commonwealth School in Boston, you moved on to Amherst College. But how did you REALLY get into music? What pushed you? Drove you? When did you first realize you were good? And when did you decide, “This is the career I want?”

J.B.: I really got into music when I started writing. That’s when I had an inkling that I was good. Not necessarily as a singer yet, but that I had something really unique in how I heard things and wanted to express them. It was sophomore year of college at Amherst. David Reck, a professor in the music department, had us write songs in his composition class. The assignment was to choose any e.e. cummings poem and set it to music. I got an A. “love is more thicker than forget”—it’s on the first Story album.

The next semester he gave me an independent study for a full course credit to write songs for a concert. A full evening. Jennifer Kimball and I (we later became “The Story”) put on the show and got another A.

The rest is a little circuitous. I had always been a dancer although I was in bands, and sang and played. Dancing was my first love, so after college I moved back to Boston, then New York to dance professionally … Jennifer and I were gigging on the weekends, and getting a little bit of a following around Boston. But I was juggling weird jobs just to stay afloat and and dancing with three different modern companies when … we got a record deal.

It was a tough transition, going from dancing six hours a day to, cold turkey, getting on a tour bus. But I’ve never regretted it. I am so lucky to do what I do. I truly love my job. And I think I’m still getting better at it.

I miss dancing once in a while. But I just had to get a new hip because of all that ballet—imagine how much gimpier I’d be if I hadn’t stopped!

J.P.: As you just mentioned, you and Jennifer Kimball joined together to perform as The Story. You guys put out some fantastic music. I’m wondering whether, ultimately, being part of a duo is more joy or pain? I mean, Hall and Oates have spoken pretty openly over their semi-dislike for one another; most duos don’t last long; etc. What are the complications that come with being part of a musical team? What are the rewards? And why did you break up?

J.B.: We only made two records together. And our friendship definitely suffered for the musical partnership. But we were also totally different people. I was driven and writing constantly. Jennifer was not as fond of the road as I, and not really writing, and feeling less and less a creative part of the process. It was inevitable. I think we were smart to call it when we did. Actually Jennifer was the braver of the two of us, and realized she couldn’t do it and said so first.

I was feeling trapped by the preciousness of the duo sound. And the pressure of having to write for two voices. The songs I started writing after the second “Story” record were so singular. It would have been miserable for both of us to try to force the old sound on the songs on “Plumb.”

Jennifer’s made two beautiful records since the Story days. She’s stayed closer to home, had a kid, and another career in landscaping. I didn’t want kids, and still have that road wanderlust. I think it all worked out for the best.

J.P.: You’ve discussed the crap moment when—mid-tour for 10 Cent Wings—you were dumped by MCA, but continued to play. What was that like, finding out your record company was letting you go? How did you take the news? And I’m sorta curious, now that the record industry is getting thumped across the skull by the confusing digital age, whether you feel any sweet taste of revenge?

J.B.: I suppose there have been flashes of the sweet-tasting of revenge, but the confusing digital age has given us all a skull-thumping run for our money.

Burning any bridges at all is a really dumb idea. Every person you ever work with in my world will keep turning up in new and interesting places. So you button your lip and take the high road!!

That said, it totally sucked getting dropped when “Secrets and Lies” was just beginning to chart at Triple A radio … MCA actually called the stations that were playing me and told them to stop.

I decided (OK, after moping for a week and a half) to throw a party. Meshell N’Degeocello came over  … Wendy and Lisa … and we had a grand old time, and lots of good wine commiserating, yes, and then making plans. We’d all been dropped at least twice from major labels. It became our badge of honor. We were that special!! 😉

That’s when I decided to start my own label, BAD DOG RECORDS. I finished my tour, released a live record of it, and tested the indie waters. Haven’t looked back since.

J.P.: What, in your mind, separates a great song from just a meh song? I mean, is there a factual thing as a “great” song? Are the Beatles factually great, for example, or can someone legitimately make the case they suck? Do you feel like you’re a, factually, great singer?

J.B.: I have many theories! Some of them have to do with actual keys and chord progressions … so “Great” may not apply. I whisper about the particular training of the American ear … but mostly, a great song is a subjective and personal thing. Again, it’s all about emotion for me. I got that from my mother. A “great” song is one that moves me. The Beatles move me. Rachmaninoff moves me. Eminem and Katy Perry, too! The Brazilians—though I don’t understand a word—write great songs!

Factually, I don’t consider myself a “great singer.” I am, indeed, the product of my own limitations. But I will venture that it’s a good thing. No one else has my particular limitations! So I’m great at my songs. And I sing in a very particular way that is unique, to me. Sometimes I think that’s why very few people have covered my songs, even though so many profess to love them. They’re actually really hard to sing unless you’re … me!

J.P.: This might sound like I’m kissing up—I assure you, I’m not. I think your stuff is brilliant. I really do. Great voice, great songwriting. Just fantastic. You’ve had a terrific career, but not a superstar, everyone-in-the-world-knows-your-songs career, a la a Justin Bieber or One Direction or stuff like that. Do you care? Did you ever seek that? Want that? Was it ever a goal, simply, to be famous via music? And is fame overrated?

J.B.: I’d by a total liar if I said I didn’t have that little flicker in my belly every time I put out an album—the hope, certainty I dare say that it might connect in some more major way. That the “masses” would finally “get” a song like “Because I Told you So”—even “Careful What You Wish For!” (which I thought was a SMASH!). Then year after year I see the roadkill. And I am so very grateful for my slow steady career. I love my anonymity. I love my husband—the life we’ve built. I love the respect I’ve garnered from my peers, and strangely and most awesomely, from some major playahs ….

Luckily, I’ve done this long enough to see that fame is way overrated—too many people learn the hard priorities after such excruciating lessons. I’m grateful to have figured out a few things early.

I still have great expectations and hope for every single thing I do. I’m still a dreamer. And I’ll always be ambitious, competitive. But if anything major really happens? I’ll be so ready, and a grain of salt will be first and foremost in my mind.

J.P.: How do you go about writing a song? Soup to nuts? Does the music come first? The lyrics? Where do the ideas begin? Etc … etc.

J.B.: On a good day? It’s magic. It descends. All I can do is get out of the way. Write it down quick. Find the chords. Don’t blow it. Thank God, those gifts keep coming.

On other days it is needle in a haystack work. I chip away at a melody, the chords. I’ve got the first line, the rest is shit. So I go make toast, I do the laundry. Re-organize the closets. Knit. Any idle busy work to suspend the “I suck” factor.

In the musical play I wrote and am performing now (“My Mother Has Four Noses”) I reference a poem of my mother’s called “Words to a Writer.” She talks about poetry in the same way. It’s like a wild animal, you must coax it, leave crumbs, never get too close. Wait. And “Start again, more than you ever dreamed you could.”

I stole that line for the chorus of a song in the play and on the new record. It’s called, “Scars.”

J.P.: You’re approaching your 50th birthday. I’ve heard musicians take two stances on aging. Jay-Z has noted that it becomes increasingly harder to write lyrics, because you’re not as hungry and driven as you once were. John Oates, however, told me he thinks he’s much more worldly than he once was, and therefore a superior songwriter. How about you? How has aging impacted your music? Your lyrics?

J.B.: LOVE the Hall and the Oates!!!!

Fifty years? I’m still 12! I get hungrier. To get it right. I’m hungrier and hungrier, because it gets harder. Nothing is certain. No groceries for granted.

I am driven because I have to be. I am more worldly. But I’m also more cautious of bullshit. That’s why in some ways, it’s better I didn’t have kids. I hate to say it, but I feel like some people lose their edge when they start having kids. Everyone has to write a friggin’ “mommy” song—and it just kills me. I just want to make it better deeper richer, more literate, more elliptical. Harder is better. It just forces the issue. ( I hope I don’t get in trouble for that!)

J.P.: I have to ask—and I’ll be the 8,000,000th to do so? Where’s the N? And what’s the story behind it?

J.B.: It’s such a bummer that my parents didn’t come up with a better story. They borrowed the name from friends that feminized the “Jonathan” from the Bible. Apparently he was a peacemaker. Blah, blah, blah.

I met the original Jonatha at a gig in Santa Barbara. Luckily she was very cool. But since then I’ve learned that there are two or three more. I am a peacemaker. And I did like being the only one of us I knew … until just four years ago.

But no, my parents didn’t want a boy—I have two older brothers. And no, my dad’s name wasn’t Jonathan. It was Robert. So that’s all I’ve got. Peacemaker.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JONATHA BROOKE:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes. I felt strangely good, that I’d done plenty, was happy with my life, and was ready. (Weird, because I’d never felt that way before that very moment. I’d always thought I would be super fearful).

• Does KISS belong in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame? Why or why not?: Yes. Because they’re KISS for chrissakes. No one else thought that shit up.

• Five greatest songwriters of your lifetime?: Not fair. It changes week to week. This week? Billy Joel. Joe Sample. Billy Strayhorn. Antonio Carlos Jobim, hmmmmmm. Rickie Lee Jones. Joni Mitchell … Stevie Wonder etc …

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Mark Sanchez, Back in the Circus, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Richard Gere, Dixie Chicks, fried chicken, Twitter, the Wall Street Journal, Liz Cheney, the number 18, bottled water, Hawaii, Public Enemy, Oreo Cookies, wedding toasts: Back in the Circus, Lethal Weapon III, Hawaii, (alas, never been there) bottled water (I know, not cool), Richard Gere, Public Enemy, the number 18, Liz Cheney, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Dixie Chicks, wedding toasts, Oreo Cookies, The Wall Street Journal, fried chicken, Mark Sanchez, Twitter

• On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you worry about death?: 8. Since I was six. I think about it all the time. It’s always there. That’s why it was so weird when I actually truly thought I was dying, that I was so OK with it! What the hell? I was at peace!

Tupac hologram—cool or cheesy?: WAAAAAAY cheesy!

• Celine Dion offers your $4 million annually to move to Las Vegas and join her new show, “Celine and Jonatha Sing Motley Crue Naked While Eating Raisins.” You in?: ABSOLUTELY!  What a great idea!

• Three songs that you’d absolutely love to cover?: “I Touch Myself” (Chrissy just died, so I’d do it in her honor); “Nights on Broadway” (Bee Gees); “Where’s the Orchestra?” (Billy Joel)

• Best piece of advice you’d give a young aspiring singer?: Go back to school! Are you crazy?

• What does it feel like, standing before an audience and forgetting the lyrics?: Terrible and then awesome, because they love it. They love that you are human and hopefully cracking up with them at your own shortcomings!!

JB

Erin Cronican

There’s busy.

There’s really busy.

There’s crazy busy.

There’s insanely busy.

And then, lastly, there’s Erin Cronican busy.

Erin is a New York City-based actress. And singer. And writer. And teacher. And blogger. Rumor has it she also finds time to eat, sleep and, on occasion, go to the bathroom. Throughout her career, she has appeared in myriad films, plays and TV programs, ranging from One Life to Live and Veronica Mars to Writer’s Block and Peace Aqua. She also runs The Actors’ Enterprise, a coaching service for actors.

Here, in the 101st Quaz (welcome to the new century), Erin talks about making herself cry and making herself great; what it’s like to attend an audition and what it’s like to fart on stage. One can follow Erin on Twitter here, and visit her website here.

Erin Cronican, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Are you a great actor? (I love this question, because it’s weird and awkward and, possibly, uncomfortable). So, really, Erin, are you a great actor? Great, in the way we think of Dustin Hoffman and Merrill Streep and a select others?  Why or why not?

ERIN CRONICAN: Wow. You did it. You’ve managed to make me nervous right out of the gate. I’ll answer anyway, because I think it’s a pretty awesome question.

Yes, I think I am a great actor. And here’s why: Not because I’m better than anyone else—there are lots and lots of actors are are more compelling, more bankable, more confident, less neurotic, less sensitive, etc … etc … etc. But, because a great actor is always learning, growing and changing. A great actor makes lots of mistakes, and forgives him/herself while making them. A great actor shows others what it means to be human, and reflects life back to them in a way they can relate to. That is something that I excel at.

J.P.: I’ve never asked this of an actor, so I will now. How hard is it to make yourself cry? What’s the secret? And can anyone, with practice, do it?

E.C.: If you don’t feel like crying, it’s impossible to cry on demand. Even if you want to cry, it doesn’t always work the way you want it to. Conversely, I want to cry all the time when I’m not supposed to. Call it the Murphy’s Law of Acting.

As an actor, you have to create circumstances in a scene that will make crying possible without requiring it to be there. Right now I’m doing a production of “Love Song,” and at the end of the play I have to say a sad goodbye. Usually, all I have to do if I want to cry is relax my body (which will let the tears come, if they’re there), and focus on what my character’s wants and needs are in the scene. If I actively try to get what I want (to stay with my lover), and if my scene partner is also going after what he wants (to let me go), I’ll have a real difficulty getting and it will become a sad situation.

Or, you know, staring into a very bright light or the sun will do it. Or chopping up an onion and getting reeeeaaaaal close to it. 🙂

J.P.: You have your own company, The Actors Enterprise, which helps actors develop their careers. A. How and why did this happen? B. (And I don’t mean this even remotely insultingly) What makes you qualified?

E.C.: How DARE you! (pushes over table)

Right out of college (Pepperdine), I moved back to my home town of San Diego and started working for an entrepreneur who was passionate about owning advertising publications (he owned franchises of the Auto Trader and Business Locator magazines, and a territory for Money Mailer coupons, to name a few.) I cut my teeth on advertising, sales and marketing by teaching small businesses how to use our publications to get the word out about their products/services. This turned out to be exactly what we do as actors.

When I got my Actors’ Equity card (union for theater actors) I decided to leave the corporate world to focus on acting. I started my first business as a audition/career coach for high school kids who were prepping for college. Pretty soon thereafter I realized that I didn’t really like working with kids as much as the job required (eek), so shortly thereafter I took a part time job at a small non-profit service organization called the Actors Alliance of San Diego, as the director of communications and member services. This helped me to serve the entire acting community rather than focusing on people individually, and also taught me how to run a business.

I moved to New York in 2005 and spent 1 1/2 years figuring out how my skills could be of service to New York actors. I found that what was missing was personalized career coaching that was affordable by an actor who was still in the thick of things. I suffer the same ills as other actors, but I’m also a producer so I can speak from both sides of the table. I started The Actors’ Enterprise in 2007 and have, since, coached nearly 300 actors in the areas of marketing, business management, audition/interview technique and design.

J.P.: Through the years I’ve had a bunch of meetings with Hollywood types in regards to turning some of my books into movies. I’m generally struck by the bullshit nonsense of it all. Everyone loves everything; everything is definitely gonna happen; so-and-so will call you tomorrow. Then—nothing. Nada. Am I wrong in thinking much of your profession is vapid nonsense put on by vapid people?

E.C.: No, you’re not wrong—a lot of people are like that. But I also think that the industry is built on dreamers—people who talk a big game but don’t have the power, persistence or moxie to make that dream happen. A actor friend of mine used to joke that he’s never been in a show that wasn’t going to Broadway, and yet he’s never been on Broadway. Meaning, everyone talks a big game and it rarely ever happens. I have a small hope that by being an accountable, genuine person I can do my part to combat that issue. Wanna help me with that? 🙂

J.P.: You’re from San Diego, you went to Pepperdine. Got it. But how did you start acting? Like, literally, what got you into it? When did you discover the love? And what was your first break? Your first big break?

E.C.: My first break? Playing The Gander in “Charlotte’s Web” in fifth grade at our local youth theater. I was just so excited to be applauded for being able to memorize things. My first big break would probably be considered a speaking role on TV, which was “Veronica Mars.” But probably my biggest acclaim, where people started to take real notice of me, was this past summer when I starred in an Off-Broadway production of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.”

The love of creating art first came in seventh grade, when my school choir did a scaled-down production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” in which we incorporated the music that Mendelssohn wrote to Shakespeare’s lyrics. I think it was the first time I saw art combined to created something completely new, and I was hooked.

J.P.: What’s it like when you know you’re involved in a shit project? Like, you’re getting paid, you’re happy to be there—but, odds are, the ultimate show/movie/play will suck? And how do you deal?

E.C.: When that happens, I just want to get through it as quickly as possible, with the least amount of effort needed to do a good, professional job. I also do my best to make some friends, because you need to have some levity and support on a project like that. And usually, the connections made are deeper than other projects because you have to bond together to make things bearable.

J.P.: You were “Palace Maid No. 1,” “Maid” and “Social Worker” on One Life to Live. I’m not a huge soaps guy, but they fascinate me nonetheless. How did that come about? What’s it like working on a soap? And is there a certain wink-wink, nudge-nudge among the actors? Like, a realization and acknowledgement that it’s all a bit silly?

E.C.: Don’t forget, I also played “Stylist.” 🙂

It’s funny—one day, an actor asked the casting director from “One Life to Live” if they would consider casting actors in a bigger role in they played a smaller one in previous episodes. She said, “Ummm… we have storylines where people come back from the dead, and go back in time. I think that re-using an actor is probably going to be fine.”

I got the first gig, which was three days of work as “Palace Maid #1”, by phone call. I had met the casting director in a class she taught about three months before that. They were looking for Aryan-looking types who could play palace servants in a fictitious European country. She made the offer over the phone. What she did not mention was that I would have to come up with a non-identifiable European accent that sort of sounds German/Slavic/Nordic.

For your viewing pleasure, I combined together some clips from my stint on the show.

J.P.: What does it feel like to absolutely, positively fuck up on stage? I’m REALLY fascinated by this. Surely, you have a story—freezing, forgetting lines, etc. Please tell. And, really, what is it like in the moment?

E.C.: It feels like death that will never end. Seriously. One time, during our production of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” we got so lost in a scene that I just knelt down by my scene partner and whispered, “Help!” There was nothing in my brain except this vacuous silence. Those moments are terrifying, especially when there are reviewers in the audience and you’re doing a well known play—you’re mostly worried about getting a terrible write-up because of missing key dialogue.

What’s fascinating is that the audience rarely knows that the fuck up has happened. Usually, I know the situation of the play (or film) well enough that if I royally fuck up, I can make something up until I get back to where the lines are. In my theater company, we work a lot with “physical activities”—making sure we know our environment and what we would normally be doing in that environment on any given day. That way, if a line goes out of our heads, we’re still living in the moment and can live out the scene physically until the lines come back.

J.P.: Why do you think we humans go soooooo crazy for actors and actresses? What I mean is—I probably saw 10 firemen in New York City today. These guys, literally, climb through flames to rescue people. I’d never think of asking for an autograph. However, if I see, say, Backdraft star Kurt Russell, I get excited—even though he had a stunt double. Why do we care? What’s the big deal?

E.C.: I think this is because they see celebrities live on stage or screen and feel like they know them. They’re relatable, kind of like a long lost friend. Add to that the celebrity—the fact that everyone knows who they are—and it becomes fashionable to meet them. Add to that the beauty and wealth of these famous people—it’s USA’s royalty.

And the celebrities feed that fire. Because if someone has a huge fan base, that translates into sales at the box office which translates to higher salaries. So celebrities eat up the rabid fandom.

J.P.: What does it feel like to go on an audition? Are you nervous? Excited? Do you assume you have no shot? Do you assume you’re gonna nail it?

E.C.: It depends on how far along in the audition process that I’m in. In the early rounds I’m rarely nervous, but the closer I get to booking the job the more nervous I get. Nerves are especially problematic when auditioning for musicals, because nerves create all kinds of physical problems in the singing voice. The throat gets all tense, and then everything is 10 times more difficult to do. And then you feel like an asshole because you sounded so much better in your living room.

I pretty much assume that I have no shot for the particular job I’m auditioning for—there are too many things that go into casting that an actor has no control over. However, I strongly believe that I have a shot at getting cast in a future project off the current audition. If I bring an authentic performance with strong choices and a point of view (as in, this is the story I want to tell with this character, and is what you can expect from me in performance) then I’ll have created a bond with the casting director that should have a lasting effect.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ERIN CRONICAN:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a place crash? If so, what do you recall?: Not really—but I get pretty scared when flying sometimes, so I always have visions of mangled bodies hitting the ground. And then I order a drink.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Elton Brand, Dee Lite, Budweiser, Garry Templeton, Idaho State University, Peggy Sue Got Married, the Footloose remake, PaperMate pens, Corn Flakes, Keanu Reeves, six-day-old snow, The Gap, Santana Moss, Cuban Missile Crisis, Paul Tsongas: Dee Lite, Garry Templeton, Papermate pens, Corn Flakes, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Gap, Keanu Reeves, Paul Tsongas, six-day-old snow, the Footloose remake,  Budweiser, Cuban Missile Crisis … and then the ones I don’t know well enough without looking them up are Idaho State University, Elton Brand, Santana Moss.

• Three greatest actresses of your lifetime?: Cate Blanchett, Audra McDonald, Melissa Leo.

• How many times would you say—just guessing—you’ve broken wind while acting or singing in front of an audience?: Singing it’s a little tricky (disrupts control of your abdomen!), but plenty of times as an actor.

• Would you be willing to spend 30 minutes licking a random New York City sidewalk if it meant landing a key role in an upcoming Harrison Ford film?: No way. I’ll make my own way, thank you.

• What’s the most common mistake made by young actors?: Believing that if you have talent, that’s enough.

• What movie have you watched the most in your life? What’s your favorite line from it?: “Spaceballs.”  My god, a favorite line? Too many to list. The first that came into my head was, “I am your father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s former roommate.” “So what’s that make us?” “Nothing, which is what you are about to become. Prepare to die.”  … which leads to a favorite moment in the movie when a film crew member gets slashed by Dark Helmet’s light saber.

• Well, you’re friends with Will Ohman, who you met while y’all were at Pepperdine. How about a Will Ohman story?: Would you believe this? Some random person entered that onto IMDB. I don’t actually know Will—but I thought it was cool enough to keep it up there anyway.

• If everyone describes themselves as “award winning,” does “award winning” mean anything?: Good point. I never really thought of it that way. I would guess most of us, even if only as children, have won something. I won the Invention Convention in sixth grade after inventing a parent-child morality/ethics game called, “It’s Never Too Late To Learn.” Maybe I should call myself an award-winning inventor.

• Celine Dion calls. She wants you to play “Little Celine” in her Las Vegas production of “I Sing the Song of Midgets.” You’ll get paid $3 million over two years, but you have to perform 360 nights per year, on your knees, in a Canadian accent while being kicked in the head by Herman, her per goat. You in?: If Herman is wearing soft shoes, I’m in.

Jenn Sterger

As I write this, I am sitting in a Starbucks, waiting for Dave Fleming.

Back in the summer of 1992, Fleming—who grew up about 1/4 mile away from my house in Mahopac, N.Y.—won 17 games as a rookie for the Seattle Mariners. It was THE news in town; a guy from our little nowhere haven making it to the big time.

So why, two decades later, am I here? Because I’m eternally fascinated with the Whatever Happened To; with finding out where people go after they’ve exploded onto the scene. Nearly everyone, ultimately, settles into the real world. When that happens, it’s a riveting adjustment.

Eight years ago, thanks in part to a horny Brent Musburger, Jenn Sterger burst onto the scene. At the time, she was merely yet another pretty, scantily dressed Florida State student student attending a football game between the Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes. Then the cameras (and Musburger) noticed her, and—BAM!—this happened.

What ensued was, well, odd craziness. Sterger—beautiful face, glowing smile, large breasts—emerged as a national sex symbol. She did photo shoots for Maxim and Playboy; served as a spokesperson for Dr. Pepper and Sprint; was featured on the E! Network’s Byte Me: 20 Hottest Women of the Web; worked for Sports Illustrated and the New York Jets’ “gameday host.” She went along for the ride, enjoyed the fame and perks …

Until October 2010.

That’s when the world learned that a certain geriatric quarterback had allegedly Texted her photos of his, eh, junk. The story exploded on Deadspin, then exploded everywhere else. Brett Favre became a national laughingstock. Jenn Sterger, regrettably, was dragged along for the ride.

And here we are. The year is 2013. Sterger now lives in Los Angeles, where she is—like so many—a struggling actress working her tail off. The breast implants are gone. So is the cowboy hat. She is a person; one whose past lingers, but doesn’t seem to overwhelm what, at age 29, she has become.

One can follow Jenn on Twitter here, and visit her entertaining website here.

Jenn Sterger, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Jenn, I found the recent New York Times piece on you fascinating, in that I sort of thought of your breast implants in the way Lance Armstrong described PED. On other words, he basically said, “I wouldn’t have won seven Tours without drugs” and you—I think—kinda admitted, “Had I not had implants at 19, you’re not talking to me right now.” A. Is that sorta correct? B. Does that make your career at all, well, less than it seems? Fraudulent? Or—to hell with it—if people want to open doors for someone because she has large breasts (real or implanted), why not walk through it? (I ask this with all due respect, Jenn)

JENN STERGER: Funny, because whenever I say “with all due respect” it means I’m about to respond with something really f*cked up, so I’m pre-apologizing for it. But no, I’m not delusional to think that any of this would have happened had it not been for my implants, or dressing like an idiot in public. When I had the large implants I used to always liken them to wearing a superhero costume. I felt invincible. I think we all feel that when something gives us a boost of confidence. You get caught up in the extra attention (and, in my case, the spotlight) and I don’t think I was ready for the responsibility that came from that. I think it was 2008 when I realized that as much as they had served their purpose in my discovery, my implants really were more of a hindrance than a help. They were a distraction of the worst kind and brought the wrong kind of attention. Believe me when I say, there is such a thing. However, I think the Lance Armstrong comparison is a bit flawed. His success depended on PEDs. Without them, he would’ve been just another guy stuck in the middle of the middle of the race. I didn’t go through my whole career using my boobs as a crutch over being talented. In fact, the reason I got rid of them was to forward my career in the direction I wanted. It was a gamble, and it worked. Two months after I removed them I booked my show on Versus.

I liken them more to Mark McGwire … there was more to his career than steroids. Not that many people remember it. It’s proof that society will take a person’s entire career, all of your success and chalk it up to … some saltwater-filled bags? Psh. I don’t think so. They were the VIP pass that got me in the door to this crazy industry, but they’re not why I’m here. I took them out, thanked them for their loyal service and said, “We can handle it from here, girls.” And much like McGwire … “I’m not here to talk about the past.” (In fact, last year at spring training, I randomly sat down next to McGwire on a picnic bench in between my shoots (not that he would have the slightest clue who I was). I debated whether or not I should Instagram it but thought better of it. I was afraid the interwebs sports commentary sections would explode. I don’t like feeding the trolls, unless it’s milk.)

J.P.: 2005—Florida-State vs Miami. Your odyssey begins when Brent Musburger says, “1,500 red-blooded Americans just decided to apply to Florida State.” I’m wondering—when you first hear about this … about his words … are you psyched? Embarrassed? Creeped out? And when did you first realize the impact those words would have?

J.S.: I was flattered. Honestly. I knew I had been on TV, but I didn’t know the extent of it or what had been said. I just knew that they had gone to our live shot because almost immediately I started getting texts from people back home … telling me to “put my clothes back on” because it was so unlike me to be dressed that way.  If you have never been to Florida in August, you try sitting on some aluminum bleachers with no breeze and 90 percent humidity. Then we’ll talk.

I never really thought about what impact those words had. I’m not even sure what you mean by “impact.” Do I think it actually impacted enrollment? Pshhhhfft. FSU is an amazing institution with a stellar law program, among other things. If anything is bringing the boys to the yard it’s that … or our kick-ass athletics program. I just think Musburger is brilliant at his job and he happens to be quick and clever when it comes to his commentary. So thanks for the tagline, Brent.

J.P.: Jenn, I know you’re 29, I know you were born and Miami and attended Florida State. But how, exactly, did you get here? Like, what was your path to Florida State? Why did you go there? And were you always known as one of “the pretty girls” in junior high? High school? Etc …

J.S.: Whew. Thank you for not posting my parents’ address. That would have gotten awkward. You’ve definitely done your research. Growing up I was never considered one of the prettier girls. Hell, it took me 29 years to grow into my ears (Well played, God. Well played.). I was the kid getting shoved into lockers and eating lunch in the classroom to avoid being bullied. The only place I ever found any sanctuary was with music. I was drum major of my marching band for two years. I play flute, piccolo, guitar, piano. You name it. I gave up marching band in college because the practice hours are so time-consuming and I think I was just scared about having to start at the bottom of the pecking order again. That, and, if I had been in the Marching Chiefs then maybe none of this craziness would’ve even happened, unless Brent had a thing for freshman flute players in polyester uniforms. I was a total Gleek before Gleek was even in pop culture vocabulary, and certainly way before it was publicly acceptable to admit it. Hell, I was doing the LeBron James chalk toss before most people had even heard of LeBron James … only I was in band. And the chalk was glitter. Whatever. I see you, LeBron!

I actually went to USF for my first two years of college. My parents didn’t want me to get swallowed up by the whole college party scene, so I agreed to stay close to home and have free room and board at their house. I worked part time at a boutique optical shop as an optician’s assistant and nannied part time for a boy who had some early learning disabilities. My life was very normal. I didn’t go out or even party much, until I started seeing this one guy, who would become my college sweetheart. About a year or so into my relationship with him I made the decision to transfer to Florida State. And anyone that has ever relocated for young love will tell you how that one worked out. A year after transferring I was single, alone and very lost because my identity at FSU had been so wrapped up in him, and my social circle was nearly all of his friends.

So after about a month or so of drowning my sorrows (and my recently removed tonsils) in Ben and Jerry’s and the entire Star Wars collection, including the crappy Jar Jar Binks ones … I was ready to go back to school. I was incredibly susceptible to peer pressure, and really wanted to fit in—and in doing so I definitely got mixed up with the wrong crowd of people. While college is a confusing time for anyone, I think it is even more so when you feel like you’re perpetually in an identity crisis. I was a real life Goonie. I’d morph to fit in with whatever surroundings/groups I needed to, even when that meant making bad decisions. Which is really unfortunate, but not necessarily regrettable. Because as I am finding out in Hollywood, your past experiences really mold you into who you are and who you are meant to become, so you can’t look back and judge them too harshly.

J.P.: It seems, in 2013, everyone wants to be famous. Is fame overrated? Why? Why not?

J.S.: We all have dreams about what we want to be when we “grow up.” I’ve always wanted to be a performer. I didn’t care what it was—music, acting, singing. You name it. I think I’m a “glitch” honestly. I really don’t know how any of this happened.

As far as I see it, fame is incredibly overrated.  It’s human nature to want to be recognized for something. Hell, once people told me I would “never make it in the entertainment industry,” I was crushed. Because I thought that was the only way I could make a difference. It’s always been my belief that when you’re presented with a platform, it’s your civic duty to use it for the good of others. Whether using it to raise awareness or help those in need or just by setting a positive example, you just do your part. I’m not sure that at 21 I was ready for that kind of responsibility or even knew where to begin. I was just caught up in the moment of it all. But I think with age and experience I’ve learned there is a lot more I can do to help people than just attending fancy charity dinners and red carpets. I feel much more productive working among the people I’m trying to help. I hardly Tweet about it or publicize it, just because I don’t feel the need to pat myself on the back over things that were my social responsibility in the first place.

When I was younger, people would ask me “What do you want to do with your life?” I would just respond, “I want to matter.”  When you spend the first 20 years of your life feeling relatively invisible, you just want to know you’re here for a purpose. I think that’s probably why I haven’t succumbed to reality TV even though I had several offers. I don’t want to see my name in lights unless I have done something to achieve it. And I’m certainly not going to toot my own horn about it. Simply selling out my personal life and subjecting the people in my life to that kind of scrutiny is not something I am interested in. And I think certain events over the last few years have really taught me the importance of privacy.

J.P.: You’re living in Los Angeles, working to become an actress. How is that going? How hard is it? Do you have a side job as a waitress or bartender or runner? Do you use your background—Playboy, Maxim, etc—as a part of your resume? And, being serious, do you have to explain your physical changes when you audition? Are you asked?

J.S.: I moved to Los Angeles to get away from the nonstop media circus. While California may have more tabloid nonsense going on, they have real celebrities to worry about. New York, for as big of a city as it is, is incredibly too small, especially in the industry I worked in. I think it was definitely easier to get work there. Why? I’m not quite sure. My guess is the pool was marginally smaller, and I had a fairly recognizable name if you read any of the New York papers. But I couldn’t help feeling like every time I walked into an audition room, I walked in with my invisible pet elephant on a leash. And I hated picking up his big imaginary shit. So I needed a breather.

L.A. has been an … adjustment. But I hear most people say that. I’m a Southern girl with a big heart, and a New York-infused attitude. And that is often misunderstood out here. I don’t have a second job because I’ve been fairly responsible over the years with my finances. That’s all part of the game with this industry. It can be nerve-racking at times, because we get paid like Rocky—big sums, but they only last so long if you’re going out and buying Adrienne two fur coats and a Rolex and her own zoo. So I live a fairly minimalist lifestyle with the exception of my car. It was the first car I ever bought for myself so she has a lot of sentimental value. But even she is on her way out simply because I can’t take her to the grocery store without hitting every pothole and steep-ass driveway imaginable. It’s just not practical. So if anyone wants her, she’s looking for a good home.

When I go into auditions now, I feel like I’m back in high school auditioning for the school play. Only now, the stakes always feel high because I’m an unknown just like everyone else. Sometimes people may think I look familiar, but the majority of them can never place me. I’ve never had to explain my physical changes, just because I have so much more anonymity out here. That, and I’m much more self-aware than I used to be, be that a good or bad thing. I know how to play down my boobs, play up my face, tweak my make up … really become whatever the role I am auditioning for. Because, as I have learned out here, I’m not in the business of “acting.” My job is strictly auditioning. Getting the role is the sweet payoff.

J.P.: I always, always, always tell teenagers—DO NOT get tattoos at your age. You had implants at 19. Why? How did your family feel about it? Were you nervous? And did you ever regret it? And why did you decide, in 2009, to have them removed?

J.S.: I honestly can’t commit to tattoos. I’ve had laser hair removal, which is similar to a tattoo removal process. And anyone who that tells you it is relatively painless is full of crap. Having experienced that, there’s not one thing I could think would have the lasting power that I would want it on my body the rest of my life. What? Pick something out of a coloring book that everyone else has at some place along Venice Beach where I risk getting some crazy kind of infection. No. I am a pansy when it comes to needles. And if I can’t justify the pain long term, I just won’t do it.

Breast implants were something I always thought I wanted. I saw other girls around me getting them, and told myself that they would make me more desirable. At the time I was young and while far from dumb, I think in college I wanted so desperately to reinvent myself that I just went with what society dictated was “sexy.”

Fast forward five years, and a capsular contracture/replacement later, I was in a totally different place in life. The one piece of advice that really resonated with me was that no matter how talented I may be, the cleavage was just too distracting and no one would ever take me seriously unless I was auditioning for Girls Next Door. So I decided to have them removed that summer after I finished filming an Indie film I was working on. The results were less than desirable, but that’s the gamble you get with breast reductions. It really messed with my head for a long time afterward. It’s tough going from a Playmate to the Phantom of the Opera boobs. I was like the guy that got in the swimming pool with his shirt on—or just avoided those situations all together. Nowadays, I can still MacGyver them up with some scotch tape, fishing line and a coat hanger and make them look just as obnoxious as before. But it’s really not the look I’m going for. I’m much more of a jock than I used to be, so I find the placement of women’s breasts in general to be a nuisance.  Have you ever tried wearing a seatbelt across 32DDs? Try that … and get back to me.

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

J.S.: I don’t think the greatest moment has happened yet … but when it does I’ll let you know. I think the worst is fairly Googleable. I don’t like reiterating its crappiness, because when you talk about something over and over again … it certainly doesn’t help people see you differently. Moving along here …

J.P.: Being serious, I thought you were quite excellent on TV, yet also (public perception-wise) never fully able to escape the “She’s the Florida State hottie” shadow. Did you enjoy working in television? Why or why not? And am I wrong about the perception shadow?

J.S.: A lot of people in the limelight end up with a “shadow.” The real you gets eclipsed by the media-created caricature.  I saw the “Cowgirl” persona as the SheRa to my Princess Aurora. She was an alter ego, and definitely nothing to be taken seriously. And now, that role just doesn’t seem to fit in with my life’s goals. In the last year or so, I don’t think I was really aware of mine until I was literally asked by an executive to “shut the f*ck up” while I was on camera. That, “I knew why I was hired, I had accomplished what they wanted, and now to just be a good Barbie and take orders and smile.” I think that’s the exact moment it hit me.

Look, there were a lot of things I was asked to do on certain shows that I was not on board with. One was to take a personal jab at another female television personality. And having previously been read the riot act about what my “role” was, and having been told that non-compliance would mean I wasn’t a “team player”… well, I did it. I’m incredibly ashamed I wasn’t strong enough or savvy enough to know better, or to understand the repercussions. Unfortunately I may never get to apologize to her, but I would sincerely like to.

All bullshit aside, I love TV. I love film. I love being able to creatively express myself. And I’m sure one day I will find the perfect outlet for me to do so.

J.P.: I’m sure you don’t want to delve into the whole Favre affair, and neither, to be honest, do I. I am wondering, however, how embarrassing it was to be in the spotlight for such a thing, especially when you did nothing wrong. Did you have to, like, explain it to your folks? Did you go into hiding? I genuinely felt awful for you, as a person.

J.S.: I was given about 24 hours notice my life was going to turn to crap. I guess that is what some people would call courtesy. I’ve said all I want to say on this subject, and people can find various clips of it on ABC’s website if they’d like to rehash it. But I don’t want to keep talking about it. I understand it’s an obligatory question I’ll be asked until I do something that overshadows it, and I really look forward to the day that happens. I’m tired of being asked to talk about it. And, quite frankly, I think most people are sick of hearing about it.

As far as dealing with the personal aspect of it, that isn’t something I have told many people about. When everything went down, and once my show was cancelled, I actually left New York for a month or so and just went back to Florida. I spent as much time as I could there, in between flying back up to cooperate with the NFL as they requested. It really didn’t hit me hard, I don’t think, until the holidays. My pet elephant apparently fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of me, because he went everywhere I did. And he brought tons of undue stress on a lot of relationships in my life, namely my family. Luckily the guy I was seeing was an amazing support system and seemed relatively unfazed by it all. So when I vacated my bunker in Florida, he and his family welcomed me with open arms in B.F.E. Pennsylvania. I only remember falling asleep while leaving LaGuardia and waking up next to a horse and buggy among the Mennonites of Lancaster. (I cannot make these types of things up.) Look, when you are going through a PR nightmare … the best piece to find peace is where people don’t use the Internet. Life suddenly becomes much simpler. The rest of the time I actually spent in Happy Valley, which is ironic considering the clusterf*ck they were secretly enveloped in. But at Penn State I could go jogging on campus, go out to dinner, pretty much resume a form of normalcy. And most kids just thought I was a college student.

While the obvious takeaway would be to be careful of those we trust, I think the bigger lesson I learned was that I have some amazing people in my life who have stood by me through everything.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you feel like so many people are actively rooting for you to fail. People can’t help that sense of Schadenfreude. But I’d like to think my life is a eucatastrophe in the works. I realize my dork is showing but it’s the idea that what seems like the worst possible situation is actually necessary for good things to happen … victory. All but hope is required to be lost … for good stuff to happen. People can call it a miracle, they can think it’s a law of the universe, whatever fits their belief system. For me, it all comes down to faith … not religion. Because believe me, those are two very different things. I have the utmost of faith that my dreams were given to me for a reason. God is not done working in my life yet. And I trust that no matter how bad things can seem at times, something truly amazing will come from it.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JENN STERGER:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details: Uh. Not going there. (Holds cross necklace tightly.)

Rank in order (favorite to least): Charlie Ward, Bill Simmons, Malcolm X, Kentucky, Starbucks, “Wayne’s World II,” wrinkles, Brent Musburger, Ellen, Joe Biden, Wayne Chrebet, Toyota Prius, fresh bagels: God, Bill Simmons, Malcolm X, Wayne’s World II, Ellen, Prius, Charlie Ward, Brent Mus berger, Wayne Chrebet, Joe Biden, Kentucky, Fresh bagels, wrinkles, Starbucks.

I’m pretty sure that was a personality test … and I just outed myself as a liberal Christian lesbian who hates coffee and loves Botox. I fixed the option you left out. 🙂

• Celine Dion calls—she’ll pay you $3 million annually to star as “Jenn Sterger, football fan” in her new Las Vegas production of “Celine Loves Football.” However, you have to work 362 nights per year, hop on one foot and repeatedly bark the line, “Does anyone here know the way to Santa Fe in the spring?”: My response: “With all due respect … f@#$ you, Canada.”

• Three pieces of advice you give to Katherine Webb: 1) Love every minute of it; 2) The block button: learn it. Love it. Own it; 3) Butter is not a carb.

• Five all-time favorite athletes you’ve dealt with: Ryan Grant, C.J. Wilson, Jason Babin, Frank Mir, Kris Jenkins. Honorable Mention: John Cena. (That counts right?)

• Five things always in your purse: a plastic pig, lip plumping lipgloss, every loyalty card I’ve ever been given, a toothbrush, Xanax (see your first rapid fire question)

• Worst pickup line you’ve ever heard: “So is mine bigger than… You know…”

Me: ::: stares blankly ::: sips drink ::: walks away.

• If, one day, your 19-year-old daughter says, “I’m getting implants,” you say …: “Hi everyone! My name is Jennifer and I’m an alcoholic.”

“Hiiiiiiiii Jennnnnnnn…”

• Favorite off-the-top-of-your-head joke: If you haven’t heard from me in a while its because I’m in the NFL witness Protection Program.

Or Brett Ernst’s bit on rollerskating.

• Who would you rather spend the day with: Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds or a random inmate from the nearby prison?: Don’t talk about my boyfriend like that, Jeff. You don’t know me!!!!!!

Bruce Kulick

Way back when I started doing The Quaz, I thought Bruce Kulick—former KISS guitarist and one of the true greats of the medium—would make an excellent interview. Yet, for some reason, I waited and waited and waited and waited. Kulick, after all, is a busy man. Not only is he the lead guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad, but he regularly works on (and releases) his own material. There always seems to be this project or that event or this gig.

And yet, when I finally reached out, Bruce was gracious and, ultimately, fantastic. Best known for his dynamic 12-year run with KISS, Kulick also toured with Meat Loaf, formed a band with (gasp!) pre-cheese Michael Bolton and rolls with Grand Funk.

Here, he talks about life with KISS, what makes a great guitarist, how it felt to lose Eric Carr (his KISS bandmate) and why he’d gladly strap on a dress and join Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show.

One can visit Bruce’s website here, and follow him on Twitter here. His albums and merchandise are available here.

Bruce, I hear you calling. Welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Bruce, I’m gonna start with a weird question, but one I’ve always wondered about. When I see boy bands performing, I always think, “There’s no way in hell the members actually like this music.” I mean, I suppose maybe—maybe—Jordan Knight liked “Please Don’t Go Girl” when he and the New Kids on the Block were 16. But, at age 40, I have to think he feels like vomiting.

You’re an insanely gifted guitarist with a remarkable skill set. When you were with KISS, were you ever—ever—like, “Dear God, if I have to play the solo from Plaster Caster again I’m going to rip my head off? What I mean is, did you even like KISS’ music? Were you hot and cold on it? Mixed? Thrilled? Or, ultimately, is a gig a gig?

BRUCE KULICK: Obviously, bands that perform hits … at every show it can be uninspiring to perform. But keep in mind that being on stage for people requires you to be connected to the crowd (at least that is something I believe in), and no matter how many times I played “Rock N Roll All Night” with KISS, for example, or “We’re An American Band” with Grand Funk, the crowd wants to hear it.

So the adrenaline—and the crowd—keeps it fresh and fun. At least for me. I kind of believe that playing guitar on stage beats some other factory job, you know …

J.P.: Much has been written about your career, almost nothing of your background. Bruce, I know you were born in 1953, somewhere in Brooklyn. But, well, that’s pretty much it. So, Bruce, how did you develop your love for music? Where did that come from? Did you have a musical family? How about an “ah-ha, I’m really good!” moment?

B.K.: It’s funny that recently I have been hearing from one of my grade-school classmates That is crazy! Brooklyn was a wonderful place to grow up. I moved to Queens when I was 10, and I met many good musicians there as I got older. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan did it for me. My brother was always fooling around on the guitar with help from some of the folk artists around, and, man, did the Fab Four change the world as we know it. I am still an avid fan—I collect many Beatle items. The British Invasion of music that followed the Beatles kept me very happy and busy.

I do have family members with talent. Cousins, uncles and my mom sang, and my dad played trumpet—so something in the genes for sure was happening. The “ah-ha moment” was when I was about 16 in Queens, and I could play some Beatle songs well, and the girls were coming around hanging outside my parents’ place. My friends encouraged me to play on, and I did!

J.P.: From 1979-80 you were the guitarist in Blackjack, with a lead singer named Michael Bolton. This strikes me as really, really … odd, because I picture Bolton with the long flowing hair and the covers. Were you guys good? And is Michael Bolton, at heart, a rock and roll guy?

B.K.: We were molded after a Bad Company kind of band—strong singer playing blues rock music. Michael became famous when he switched up and became your mother’s favorite singer—but he rocks at heart and I learned a lot working with him in Blackjack. I made many contacts that would help me later in my career. I still keep in touch with Michael sometimes.

J.P.: What’s the difference between a good guitarist and a great guitarist? Like, schmucks like myself attend concerts, listen to, oh, Eddie Van Halen play a solo and say, “He’s friggin’ awesome!” But, really, I’m just guessing. I mean, are John Oates and Tommy Shaw awesome? Is Bruce Kulick awesome? Was Ace awesome? I just don’t know, because it all sounds good to me. So, Bruce, what’s good vs. great? How can one tell?

B.K.: It is really relative. If Eddie Van Halen were in KISS, he wouldn’t fit. Ace would mess up Van Halen. You know, it’s not important who is good vs. who is great. It’s about moving people with your talent and performance. So what Ace might lack technically means nothing in context with KISS. He wouldn’t do what the right things for my era of KISS were, but I have to kind of capture his essence in KISS and interpret the solos. So there’s nothing to stress about and no reason to compare greatness—simply put, guitars are fun to play. And being the best is overrated.

J.P.: You were with KISS when you were in your 30s and the band was still awfully big. You’re currently the lead guitarist in Grand Funk Railroad, and you’re almost 60. I’m wondering, as a musician ages do expectations change? Do the things that give you satisfaction and fulfillment change? Is a state fair now as good as an area was then? And, while we’re on it, does skill change? Are guitarists like baseball players, where certain things get harder and harder to do over time?

B.K.: Unlike athletes, I feel that musicians are very fortunate. And although I am aware of some famous singers dropping the keys of the songs, so they can no longer reach the same notes, the music of McCartney, The Stones, The Who and many others are still kicking some serious ass.

I hope to rock till I drop, and these heritage artists that keep going make me smile. So come see me in my 80s!

J.P.: I’m excited to ask you something that’s long irked me: When KISS released the “Psycho Circus” album with the reunited band, I was—admittedly—excited. There’s just something about nostalgia and reunions that people dig. Well, as you know, I later find out that Ace and Peter barely played on the thing—that you did much guitar, etc … etc. This strikes me, in a way, as a bait and switch—telling fans one thing when it’s not reality. Am I wrong? And does it even matter?

B.K.: Well, honestly, although I wasn’t in the band, I was aware of some politics with that album. Gene and Paul didn’t really feel it was in their best interest to have Ace and Peter on all the performances. I was even brought in to play some bass! (Because Paul likes me playing bass and didn’t want Gene to stomp over his song. So forget reality. Remember when you heard that Paul took the solo on Taxman? A George song! Get it? [Jeff’s note: Honestly, not really].

J.P.: In 1977 you first tasted the big spotlight by touring with Meat Loaf on the “Bat Out of Hell” tour. I’m riveted by this. Was it fun? Weird? Did you dig the music? What do you recall from the experience, Bruce?

B.K.: I did think that album had great songs and themes. The concept of him and everything Meatloaf and Steinman created was very over the top, but different. I was happy to have that gig with my brother, but it was grueling. Great to learn how to go from being booed off stage to selling out arenas in two short years!  So much travel and so many shows. Meat was a mess after that long tour. But hey, I was on SNL back in the Belushi-Radner days! How cool is that …

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Absolute lowest?

B.K.: The greatest would be jamming for the Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp with Jack Bruce from Cream—two Cream songs, and we were improvising. I watched that video that night from my camera and cried. I jammed with one of my heroes and he dug me! Awesome!

Lowest, I guess, was the KISS reunion tour, but I took it as a challenge for me to get out there and create music.

J.P.: You’ve released three solo albums, and your work has been widely praised. And yet, it’s never been enormously commercially successful. I’m wondering—do you give a shit? What I mean is, are you releasing albums to make money? To draw new fans? Or, perhaps, for love of the music? What’s the motivation?

B.K.: I am very pleased at what I have done. The music moves my fans, and surprises the skeptics. The music business for someone like myself is not only about numbers. Find out what a solo disc from Mick Jagger sold. Or even Joe Perry. But they come from something way huge.  For me, I have profited from the discs, but it’s always been about sharing my talent with my fans.

J.P.: You were with KISS when Eric Carr died of cancer. I’ve been around teams when they’ve lost players, but never a band losing a member. What was that like? How did you cope? And what can you tell us about Eric beyond the standard “He was a hekuva guy …” clichés?

B.K.: It was like losing a family member. I was the closest in the group with him. It was surreal and horrible. But I had no way to save him. That was his fate. Eric loved the fans, and he was the kindest to them. He used to write back the fan letters. He would even call them and thank them. Yet, he was emotionally tortured by KISS as well and didn’t always understand the politics of being in a huge band. He will always be missed.

Eric Carr & Bruce Kulick.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRUCE KULICK:

• Five greatest guitarists of your lifetime: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Brian May. We already talked about Eddie Van Halen, but add him as the sixth.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I thought about how blessed my life has been playing guitar.

• Hall & Oates—Rock & Roll Hall of Fame worthy, or no?: Yes! Amazing songs and performances.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Faith No More, The Godfather II, Eric B and Rakim, microwaved popcorn, Valentine’s Day, Nashville, Roberto Alomar, Emeril Lagasse, Randy (Macho Man) Savage, canned peas, camping trips: Valentine’s Day, Godfather II, Faith No More, Nashville, Emeril Lagasse, Randy Savage, Roberto Alomar, popcorn, Eric B and Rakim, canned peas, camping trips. Camping trips really stink.

• You and Tommy Thayer in 10 rounds of boxing. Who wins, and by what?: His head is huge. He might beat me, but I think I have a wild side. So maybe I win on points.

• The one KISS song you never, ever, ever need to hear/play again is …: Love Gun.

• Number of times in your life you’ve applied KISS makeup to your face (if ever): Never. I wore an Ace rubber mask for two minutes once and my friends nearly peed their pants.

• Why do so many musicians smoke cigarettes?: They think it’s Keith Richards cool. I hate them.

• Celine Dion calls—offers you $3 million annually to be the lead guitarist in her Vegas show. However, you have to work 360 days per year and dress in a pink evening gown. You in?: Could it be a purple one? If so, I’m in.

AJ

Eric Hutchinson

A couple of years ago I was watching my favorite web TV show, “Live From Daryl’s House.” The program, if you don’t know, features the otherworldly Daryl Hall—owner of one of the best voices in pop history—singing with artists not named Oates. On this particular episode, his guest was a young, sorta obscure singer named Eric Hutchinson

… who absolutely blew me away.

Eric’s pipes are great. But, for me, it’s about the songs. The texture. The detail. In an era where too many radio stations are overwhelmed by manufactured, paint-by-number pop bullshit, Eric is a craftsman; a genuine singer/songwriter/musician who puts thought and care into his projects. He has released four albums (his latest of which, “Moving Up Living Down,” came out in 2012), and tours regularly.

Here, Eric talks KISS, songwriting, opening for Kelly Clarkson and why he’d rather lose part of his body than join Celine Dion’s upcoming ode to Tesla. You can visit Eric’s website here and follow him on Twitter here.

Eric Hutchinson, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Eric, because this is the Quaz, and the Quaz is all about weird nonsense, I’m gonna start with an irrational, oddball question that I’ve long wanted to ask a musician. So, in 1998 KISS released an album, “Psycho Circus.” It was their 18th studio album, but their first with the four original band members since, I believe, 1980. Because they were back together and in makeup and all that, I bought the album—and liked it. It felt cool that they were reunited, etc … etc. Anyhow, long question short—it turns out Peter Criss and Ace Frehley barely played on the album. Hell, Criss played drums on, literally, one song. Yet, when this was ultimately revealed, nobody seemed to care. Gene and Paul were like, “Uh, yeah.” Fans bought the album, painted their faces, etc. To me, however, it really felt like a bait and switch; like a complete and total bullshit lie to fans. Eric, I ask you, does it matter? Like, does it matter who plays drums? Who’s playing guitar? Should a fan care?

ERIC HUTCHINSON: I can see being upset that it wasn’t a “full band” album, but really it comes down to if the songs were good. Flexibility and inventiveness usually make the best records and sometimes having different guys on a recording lends that energy. That being said, I’m not a huge Kiss fan so you may be asking the wrong guy.

J.P.: Five years ago you were a pretty obscure singer-songwriter when—of all people—Perez Hilton wrote a Sept. 5, 2007 endorsement of your self-released album, “Sounds Like This.” Then—BOOM!—you’re in the Top 10 of iTunes, peaking at No. 5. I’m sure you’ve been asked about this a gazllion times, so I apologize. But I’m genuinely fascinated—when was the moment you first felt the impact of this? When were you like, “Holy shit! This guy just put me on a whole new map?”

E.H.: It was one of the best days of my life! I went to sleep in Los Angeles and woke up the next morning, with my voicemail maxed out and my email blowing up. I had lots of people come out of the woodwork who I hadn’t heard from in a while. The best part was seeing people respond to the music. I had a show that night and it felt very electric at the club. I’m still friends with Perez and I’ll always be grateful he shined a light on my music when I needed it most.

J.P.: Your plight is a relatively familiar one in the record biz, in that you were a young artist signed to a record deal (Maverick), then were dumped in 2006 when the label collapsed. You recovered, obviously, but how awful is the music business as a grand entity? It just strikes me as, well, sorta evil and awful and soul-sucking? Not the artistry, but the business itself.

E.H.: The labels are made of amazing people. Seriously, everyone you meet got into the music business because they love music and used to study the liner notes and music videos just like we did. Sometimes, the label as an entity has to act in its best self-interest, which I’ve learned not to take personally. But to me, the music business is getting to write, record and perform songs for a living. Which is pretty amazing!

J.P.: I love “Rock and Roll.” Just a joyful, upbeat song that I can listen to repeatedly. But I’m wondering—you first released the song in 2003. That means 10 years of playing it over and over and over and over. I know singers are required to say, “Oh, I find new meaning every time I play a song” or something along those lines, but are you ever like, “Dear, God, can I please never play this again?”

E.H.: Ha ha. It’s definitely one of my older songs, although I just put “Breakdown More” on my new album which is even older. I like to think of songs like pieces of clothing. Sometimes you try that old sweatshirt on and it still fits great and you love wearing it. Sometimes you put those jeans on from college and think … “What what I thinking!?” I love playing “Rock & Roll” every night. I never get tired of watching a group of people light up to a song I wrote.

J.P.: In 2008 you performed on Leno, Craig Ferguson and Conan. I’ve never asked an artist this, so I’m glad you’re here: In performing a song on TV, for a studio audience, fun or torture? Obviously, no one’s standing up, screaming, clapping, dancing. So it would strike me as semi-stilted, and contained. And yet, it is national television …

E.H.: The late night shows are some of the best days for me. They feel like what I dreamed the job would be like when I was a kid. I love hanging around set and watching dress rehearsals and meeting the other guests. As a musician, you arrive at 8 am, do a soundcheck, a camera run-through, break for lunch, do a second camera run-through, get dressed and then suddenly you hear David Letterman say your name and you’re singing and then its over. It’s a rush and before you know it, you’re packed up and outside in a car going home.

J.P.: After I wrote a few books, I had some people tell me how I must be financially set because, hey, books published. And I was like, ‘Uh … you have no idea.” Do people assume, because of radio play, late-night appearances, etc, that you’ve “made it” and live on easy street?

E.H.: I’ve got a lot of friends who are TV writers, filmmakers and comedians, so they understand the business and its ups and downs. Because I’ve got long hair and am wearing jeans and not working on a Tuesday afternoon, people probably just assume I’m out of college and looking for a job.

J.P.: You’re 32, which strikes me as an odd age for a musician. I remember hearing Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks once say, “When you’re 30, pop radio starts having nothing to do with you. You’re an adult.” Do you think the age of the performer impacts audience, radio play, marketability, tour venues, etc?

E.H.: I feel like I’m writing my best songs now. Paul Simon made “Graceland” when he was 40 which gives me eternal inspiration. I’m gonna make the music that resonates with me and hopefully it speaks to other people, too.

J.P.: You were raised in Takoma Park, Maryland, attended Emerson College. I read the bio. But I’m fascinated—where did the love for music come from? When did you first develop a genuine passion, and when did you realize, “This is what I plan on doing for my career?”

E.H.: Music was very important in my family. My grandmother was a concert viola player and paid for my piano lessons when I was a kid. My parents loved show-tunes and rock and roll. The Beatles were gods in my house. My dad used to play the records and my mom would quiz me on which Beatle was singing which song. I always liked listening to music and as a kid, the next logical thing in my brain was starting to just make up songs. Then I taught myself guitar in high school and never looked back really.

J.P.: In 2009 and 2010, you opened for Kelly Clarkson. I’ve always been fascinated by opening acts, because they’re there and present and important, but not really the reason one attends a show. Do you like opening? Is it exciting or taxing? And can playing an arena be even remotely as gratifying and fulfilling as playing an intimate club?

E.H.: I spent many years opening for anyone and everyone I could. I always enjoy the challenge of going out onstage as a stranger and trying to win over a crowd and leave with them as fans. I’ve also learned a ton from being around all different kinds of artists and seeing how they run their tours and shows. Venue size doesn’t matter as much as the energy of the people attending. I’ve had awesome shows in front of 10,000 people and awesome shows in front of 40 people. I don’t think audiences ever truly realize how much better they can make a show. Like home-field advantage in sports.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ERIC HUTCHINSON:

• Five things you can tell us about appearing on Daryl Hall’s web TV program: 1) His house was amazing. 2) His band was killer. 3) We had a big Thanksgiving-type dinner afterwards with the whole band and crew. 4) Daryl was super nice. 5) For the rest of my life, I get to tell people I sang “Private Eyes” with Daryl Hall.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please explain …: I’m usually sleeping on planes.

• Five all-time favorite singers: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Louis Prima, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel.

• Would you rather spend the next eight years playing keyboard in Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show, “Celine Presents the Music of Tesla,” or slice off two toes on your left foot with a rusty saw?: Two toes. And it’s not close.

• Given the chance, one question you would ask Daniel Inouye?: Who are you?

• Five reasons to make Takoma Park one’s next vacation destination?: You love hippies, lesbians, Washington DC, small towns and your parents live there.

This is my all-time favorite song. Would love to know what you think: I toured with Blind Melon a few years ago, when they had gotten a new lead singer. I have a hard time listening to them since then.

• I’ve never understood how The Thing possibly goes to the bathroom. Any insights?: Adult diapers.

Skee-Lo

Back in the mid-1990s, I worked as a writer in the features department of The (Nashville) Tennessean. At the end of every year, we’d hold a party at Tom Roland’s home. Tom was the newspaper’s excellent music critic, and as part of the festivities he’d let us sort through all the unwanted CDs he’d received over the previous 12 months.

This was my introduction to Skee-Lo.

The CD I received was a single of his soon-to-be hit song, “I Wish.” I don’t recall the first time I played the tune, but it was listened to over and over and over and over again. For weeks, the music refused to escape my head; for weeks, I was trying to figure out what the hell “a rabbit in a hat with a bat” was. Hell, still don’t know.

Because of that experience, I’ve always had a soft-spot for Skee-Lo. Even though his time in the mainstream didn’t last especially long, he’s continued to tour and create new music through the years. Here, he talks about being labeled a one-hit wonder; about Tupac’s influence and why being short (he’s 5-foot-4) is no worse than being tall. One can listen to Skee-Lo’s new release, “Fresh Ideas,” here, follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here. Oh, and “I Wish” was recently featured in two of Toyota’s Super Bowl commercials. Heck, take a look …

Skee-Lo, your wishes have finally come true. You’ve been Quazed …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Antoine, I’m gonna start with a question that I really hope doesn’t offend you, because you’ve had an 8,000-times better music career than almost anyone reading this. But, well, where’d you go? In 1995, at age 23, you had an enormous, fantastic hit with “I Wish”—a song I absolutely love. You were nominated for two Grammy awards, worked as an MTV VJ … then you pretty much vanished. Now you have a new CD that just came out—and it’s absolutely fantastic. But … what happened? Did you lose interest in hip-hop? Did you lose the magic touch? Does the music business suck? I’d love to know.

SKEE-LO: Well Jeff, yes! I made history! But to answer your question, “The music business sucks!” I’m probably one of few artists who, at the height of his career, willingly retired. You see, I produced the “I Wish” album from scratch but—due to all of the unethical business that was going on (allegedly) with my former record label, Sunshine Records—I decided to go. I didn’t make any announcements about it, I just left. I had to regroup and plan for the future. I had to wait for the Internet to catch up to my ideas. And now, here we are!

My new album, “Fresh Ideas,” was released last November by God’s permission—and thank you! I am glad you like it! You can buy it on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Spotify. Also, I started my own record label “Skeelo Musik,” now distributed by Sony “Red Music” & WhatevaOk Ent. I never lost my touch. I just had to diversify and apply my skills in other areas.

J.P.: Your real name is Antoine Roundtree, you were born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., your father Archie was in the Air Force and you were raised in Chicago and Riverside. That’s pretty much what I know of your background. So, how did you get into hip-hop? How did you find your voice? And when did you first realize, “Damn, I’m awfully good at this”?

SKEE: Correction; my real name is Antoine X. My father’s name is Eugene (Chico), my stepfather is Archie and yes, he was in the military. I was born in Chicago on the south side in the Robert Taylor Homes. I later moved to the projects of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where I lived for several years. And that’s where I learned hip-hop. At the time it was groups like Kurtis Blow, UTFO, Whodini, Afrika Bambaataa, KRS-1 and more. I fell in love with the culture and that was that. Then I moved to Moreno Valley, California and—shortly thereafter—Los Angeles. I’ve been there ever since. I’ve lived in Los Angeles longer than any place I’ve ever been. I still visit Chicago and New York every year but I’m a Cali kid no doubt! Kinda like 2Pac is originally from New York and, Kurrupt is originally from Philly but are still West Coast emcees. I am very proud of my history and my Chicago roots because that’s where I got my soul. And New York is where I got my hip-hop. Los Angeles is where I refined my art and grew into an adult. I love L.A.

I first realized, “Damn! I’m awfully good at this,” just before the release of “I Wish.” As far as finding my voice, that was easy. I come from an era in hip-hop where “keeping it real” actually meant “keeping it real.” All of the artists were different and had their own voices back then. That’s the culture! Remember 2Pac, Biggie, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang, Ice Cube, Bone Thugz—all different.

J.P.: I was recently having a discussion with a friend whose son is in elementary school and very short. My friend is worried how this will impact his life. You’re 5-foot-4. How has being short impacted your life? Growing up, how hard was it? And what would you advise my friend?

SKEE: Don’t focus on his attributes as if they’re a defect. Instead, make him do everything you think he can’t do. So he will always know nothing is impossible. You ever see Chicken Little? You heard of “Derek Fisher”? Even I played football in high school. I played basketball, too. And can’t y’all tell I got taller!? You’re looking with the wrong eyes. Treat him like a champion.

J.P.: “I Wish” was awesome, and still is awesome. I mean it—a great, wonderful, joyful song. How did you come up with the theme? The lyrics? The ideas? And when did you first know it would be more than just another tune?

SKEE: I’m just living life, man, and rapping about my experiences. I was really going through some things when I wrote “I Wish.” The words just came out and, oddly enough, I had not produced the music yet. It made me feel good and others the same. It’s like I’ve been doing this so long … when I produce a track or another producer plays a track for me that I like, the music will tell me what to say and how to say it. I can hear in my mind the words, the hook, the rhythms, concepts, etc. As if the song already exists in the universe and, I just kinda tune-in and turn-up. You know what? I first knew “I Wish” was a hit record the second I wrote it.

J.P.: Back in the ’90s you sent your demo tape to a Los Angeles radio show, “Five Minutes of Fame,” and they played it on the air. You were just a young guy coming up. What did that feel like? Do you remember the exact moment … first time hearing your work live?

SKEE: That was a lot of fun! You see, at the time I was trying to get a record deal for the “I Wish” album. I had rejection letters from every major recording house, including the record label I later signed with. So good looking out to that radio show “Five Minutes of Fame!”

The experience got me a record deal for “I Wish,” but it wasn’t the first time I’d been on the radio. In 1990 I had a single in the Inland Empire called “Living For The Weekends.” It got rotation on local radio. I had a deal with a sub-label of Jive/RCA and I was opening shows for C&C Music Factory, Kid Frost, Vanilla Ice, Mellow Man Ace and Lighter Shade of Brown. I’ve been doing this professionally for 23 years now.

J.P.: When did you find out that Toyota wanted to use “I Wish” in a commercial? How did you feel about it? As an artist, are you 100% comfortable having your music used in commercials? And are there limits? Like, would you do a beer commercial? Cigarette commercial? Etc? Do you have to think about it? Etc … etc.

SKEE: I found out in early January that Toyota wanted to license “I Wish” so, as majority owner of the “I Wish” publishing/copyrights for U.S. territories and, the exclusive owner of “I Wish” in overseas territories—wish granted! Also, I thought it was a cool way to celebrate the song’s 18-year anniversary, and announce the release of my new album “Fresh Ideas.”

The commercial’s use of the song helped Toyota generate 11 million-plus views before game day and, it also re-introduced the song to a new generation. Billboard says: “Skee-Lo was the #6 most Tweeted artist during the Super Bowl”

Overall, It was a good look for hip-hop, Toyota, and Skee-Lo fans. Big ups to my publishing administrators at Modern Works for closing that deal. I don’t mind having my music in commercials, but there are limits. No alcohol, cigarettes, etc.

J.P.: I’ve been reading a bunch of articles from the mid-90s, and the universal take from writers seemed to be, “Wow! There’s this rapper, and he’s not talking about killing people in drive bys.” I’m wondering if, at the time, you found this somewhat offensive; as if, if you were a black kid rapping, it had to be about bitches and blunts and Glocks?

SKEE: The way I remember it, the record labels weren’t really signing anything else. Gangster rap was very popular in the ’90s. I figured there was nothing wrong with that but … that’s not me. It didn’t offend me what journalists said because I knew, as a black man living in America, we share the same experience. I’m just being myself, and not who others say I am.

J.P.: Hip-hop is a weird musical phenomenon, in that older artists can still be mainstream. What I mean is, Jay-Z, Snoop, Dr. Dre, Nelly, Eminem—all charting in their late 30s/early 40s. Meanwhile, once pop singers hit their 30s they all but vanish from radio. Why do you think this is? And, as a 37-year-old man, does this give you hope that your new release can draw interest?

SKEE: Regarding artists who vanish from radio, ask yourself this: Did the great/legendary artists of the 1980s & ’90s all disappear? Or are we just programmed to believe so? Because the real emcees/pop singers just get better with time. The entertainment industry sets the rules on age and trends and, therefore, that becomes the popular norm. But never let anyone tell you that you’re too old for something. And as long as I have something to say, I will say it. My new album “Fresh Ideas” is a work of art. It is by far the most honest, sincerest body of work I’ve ever done. As far as drawing interest, people can judge for themselves if they like it or not. You can listen to the Full length album at www.freshideasmusic.com.

J.P.: There’s a scene in Up In the Air, the George Clooney film, where Young MC performs Bust A Move for a room filled with middle-aged convention goers. It’s both funny and sorta sad, in that I’m guessing this isn’t what Marvin Young imagined he’d be doing 20 years after “Bust a Move.” But is it, ultimately, OK being known as a one-hit wonder? And do you, personally, accept that label?

SKEE: First of all, Young MC is a genius! He also helped pave the way for a lot of emcees—and never forget the good times we had partying to his music. He is at least in a George Clooney film, right? Not too many people can pull that off. Did you say middle age convention goers? Ohhhhh … you mean—fans. Or are the younger of these the only ones who count? The funny thing to me is, it just so happens that a Marvin Young record is playing right now on a “Pay-Day” candy-bar commercial. Even as I answer this very question. So good for him!

Let’s see—one-hit wonder, and does it bother me? No. I know who I am. I admit “I Wish” the single was a smash hit success for me. But so was “I Wish” the album. I got a Grammy nomination for that. (Best Rap Album—1996) Also, “Top of The Stairs” in the Money Train movie soundtrack, “Holding On,” Come Back To Me” in the Big Bully movie soundtrack, “Mr. Morton” (School House Rock Project), “I’ll be Your Everything” which I co-wrote with the group “Youngstown” for the Inspector Gadget movie theme song. These were all world-wide, multiplatinum success stories for me. In some countries I have three and four single releases. Praise be to Allah! Today these records are still spinnin’ on radio stations around the world. And you can also find “I Wish” in movies like American Pie and TV commercials like Toyota’s new Super Bowl ad.

And these were the Grammy nominees of 1996. I competed with…

Best rap solo performance:

“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio

“Keep Their Heads Ringin'” by Dr. Dre

“Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G.

“I Wish” by Skee-Lo

“Dear Mama” by 2Pac.

Best Rap album:

“E.1999 Eternal” by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony

“Poverty’s Paradise” by Naughty by Nature

“Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard

“I Wish” by Skee-Lo

“Me Against the World” by 2Pac.

J.P.: This might be a dumb question, but your new single is called “I Love LA.” As you know, Randy Newman has a song of the same name that’s pretty iconic. Were you concerned at all about this? Did you consider, maybe, “LA is a nice place—yeah” or something along those lines?

SKEE: Randy Newman never crossed my mind. I just love LA—that’s all …

J.P.: I’m an enormous Tupac fan, and I’m also pissed off at him. Insane talent, gifted beyond gifted, wealthy, successful. And yet, for some reason, he felt compelled to live this nonsense gangsta lifestyle, go with the thug life image, carry guns—and now he’s dead. Is my anger misplaced? Or am I right?

SKEE: No, 2Pac is the truth that many people don’t want to hear about. He’s someone who the hip-hop community identifies with. I agree with one thing—you should be pissed off, but not at 2Pac. Some gangsters wear suits, badges, uniforms and robes. They don’t go to jail for the evil they do; but they are gangsters. I Wish 2Pac were still here.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SKEE-LO:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Steve Sax, the 405 at rush hour, Staples Center, Silence of the Lambs, strawberry scented candles, Beach, Hall & Oates, House Party II, Domino’s Pizza, pigeons, pottery classes, RGIII, Menudo: Beach, Staples Center, Domino’s Pizza, House Party II, RGIII, Steve Sax, Hall & Oates, Silence of the Lambs, pigeons, strawberry scented candles, pottery, Menudo, the 405 at rush hour.

• Strangest venue you’ve ever performed: It was actually an event in Seattle and, the stage was built on a cliff… it felt like Woodstock, though.

• Your wife Stacy Tweeted: “I married my best friend … a humble man who loves GOD more than anything!” How did you propose to her?: That’s my Queen & my BF so, with all respect, we have to keep something for ourselves you know? I will say this—it was very special. Follow my wife Stacy on: www.Twitter.com/ambroseonstage she might tell you …

• Celine Dion offers you $5 million to spend the next year rapping “I Wish” in Dutch four times per night in her Las Vegas show while hopping on one foot. You in?: Placing my order for Rosetta Stone right now!

Do you think the hip-hop world is fully ready to embrace an openly gay rapper?: Well, I can’t speak for the entire hip-hop world but, personally, what does sexual preference have to do with the song in your heart? And what if the hip-hop community does not embrace an openly gay rapper? Does that mean they hate gays? Does that mean they want to hurt gays and mistreat them? Or is it just they simply disagree? I hope we don’t start attacking people who disagree with our views. Because forcing your views upon others as if they have to agree with you (or else) is another form of control/programming …

• My friend is a rapper named MC White Owl. He did a song for my last book. What do you think?: He’s really dope; I love it … It’s hip-hop!

• Do you think it’s wrong for KISS to let guys who aren’t original members wear Peter Criss and Ace Frehely makeup?: No. A band is also a business, a corporation and a brand. If you love Kiss, support them. Look at The Temptations. They have also changed their members over the years.

• Best joke you know off the top of your head …: What did the Leprechaun say to his Therapist? “Irish I Was A Lil Bit Taller,” “Irish I Was A Baller,” “Irish I Had A Girl Who look good I would Call her”…