Performers (singers, actors, etc)

Brittanie Weaver

 

I’ve never much cared for models.

I don’t mean to sound especially casual or indifferent to beauty. It’s just that, well, ever since escorting one to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit party 12 or 13 years ago, I’ve been turned off by the industry. I mean, I still vividly remember the scene—a bunch of stuck-up, long-necked, 98-pound giraffes smoking one cigarette after another while desperately trying to ignore the brownies. Yuck.

Luckily, Brittanie Weaver—fashion model extraordinaire—is no Camel-smoking giraffe. Yes, she’s tall. And thin. But not ridiculously so. She’s beautiful but healthy-looking; knows how to walk a runway, but also recognizes the oddness and quirks of her profession. Her resume is long and impressive, with work as a spokesperson and/or model for dozens of companies ranging from Swiss Watch and Reckless Rebel Bikinis to Spree Girl and Charlie M clothing.

Here, Brittanie talks about the highs and lows of the modeling biz; what it takes to make it and why too many models don’t use their brains. She also willingly answers the one questions I’ve always wanted to ask a model—but never before have.

You can visit Brittanie’s site here, and follow her on Twitter here.

Brittanie Weaver, welcome to The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Brittanie, there is a facial expression that all models seem required to perfect and utilize, I call it the, “I want to have sex on the table with you right now” look. Lips pursed, eyes intent. You know what I mean, right? Yet, here’s the thing: I’m married, two kids—so I’ve certainly had sex. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever, ever, ever had a woman make “that face” to me. Uh … what is that? Is it a real look? Because, truth be told, it’s sorta the face I make when I’m constipated and trying to poop …

BRITTANIE WEAVER: You mean the Zoolander blue steel face? There isn’t a set of faces but the whole point is usually to be very fierce and intense. When you push out your lips a bit it accentuates your jaw line and for the eyes. Most don’t know but the model actually thinks of what they are trying to express. For example: sexy, I would imagine myself feeling absolutely sexy and sensual. To come off sweet, you soften your eyes and think/feel about sweet things like puppies. It is fascinating to me how just a thought can clearly be expressed with solely the eyes. I have to admit I did the face you described and I definitely felt constipated as well. In real life and sexual experiences I avoid any forced faces to appear as sexy and even in modeling I try to use my natural expressions and faces. Are you sure you weren’t looking at images on a fetish site?

J.P.: Here’s what I know—you were born in San Diego, started acting at age 8, landed multiple commercials, etc. But, specifically, how did you get into acting and modeling? Was there something about performing that did it for you from Day 1? Were your parents stage veterans? In short, how did this happen?

B.W.: I’m assuming you read my bio? That gets updated once a year … boy, are you behind! I grew up a total ham putting on plays for my parents and staring in my first ballet recital at age 2. My parents were from a small town called Julian with no stage experience. My mom was urged by people to get me into the business and my brother and I started with Screen Children’s Agency. We lived in Rancho Cucamonga so my parents would take turns driving me at 4 am to my call times in Los Angeles. My brother actually booked way more work than me. I remember the best part was being able to go on extended home studies and would take off for weeks to film a commercial and come back as Miss Hollywood.

J.P.: You’re 5-foot-8 and you weigh 106 pounds. I always find it funny how, often, models were not the “hot” girls in junior high; high school; that they were often the tall, gangly, uncomfortable kids who the jocks ignored in favor of the perky cheerleader with the big breasts. Am I onto something here? Was that you? And when did you start to understand and appreciate your own physical beauty?

B.W.: I was always a pretty girl but I was very much a tom boy. I switched high schools my freshman year and lived with my dad and three brothers for a change. In short, I didn’t have my mother walking me out the door and helping me with hair and makeup so I didn’t wear any. A typical day was a pony tail, jeans, tennis shoes and eager to get home to ride my dirtbike or horse. I always had boys around but not the way one would probably imagine if they saw me now. I also had three big brothers so dating me usually wasn’t worth the risk. The jocks called me “flat ass” because I apparently had a “flat ass.” It’s not flat now. I used to wish I was short because I was usually taller than the boys at that age.

J.P.: Years ago I escorted a model to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit party, and I was amazed/disgusted by how many of these healthy-looking women smoked like chimneys. Simple question—why do so many models smoke?

B.W.: Why does anyone smoke? I actually do not come across many smokers. When you are shooting it isn’t the easiest to get away to go toke on cancer sticks. I find it disgusting and if anyone does it around me I tell them I have asthma (I don’t) and usually they stop. I find most of the smokers are in fashion actually and I think that’s part of their fashion statement. You were also at a party and people find smoking a social thing. They will not look healthy in a couple years if they keep it up! Give me a cover, I promise not to smoke. YUCK YUCK YUCK!

J.P.: I just went to your IMDB page, and in 1999 you were “Neighbor” on “Frank Leaves for the Orient.” Uh … explain, please. 🙂

B.W.: I was cast with my brother as a regular on a series on Comedy Central. The lead overdosed and died. The show never aired. Everything happens for a reason, right?! My IMDB also needs a lot of updating … feeling so guilty right now.

J.P.: What are you thinking—literally–as you prepare to walk a runway, then walk a runway? Are you nervous? Calm? Is there a “don’t trip … don’t trip … don’t trip …” string going through your mind? Seriously—how does your modeling mind work?

B.W.: I am naturally an over-thinker so, yes, I explore every fear before I can remotely think of the positives. I find just “going for it” usually works out best in anyones favor. My modeling mind is seriously natural. I will do the most outrageous poses and come up with the craziest ideas all in the moment. Most do not understand all of the thought, effort and creation that goes into a single ad.

J.P.: This might sound like an odd question—but do people expect models to be stupid and flighty? You’re obviously intelligent and educated. But I’m wondering if you’ve found that your job comes with unflattering expectations.

B.W.: Totally—you have already dropped about five of them. Haha. Every job has stigmas. Here are some common phrases:

• “Wait, you are sooooo normal… not for just a model… but like a human…. Whoa.”

• “I have to ask, you are so intelligent … why resort to modeling? You’re so much better than that”

• “But models are supposed to be stupid.”

I think a lot of people are “stupid” and 80 percent of people I work with prefer showing up and being a blank, lost stare. The job is primarily to be a clothes hangar and even the pros have given up using their brains. My brain is mainly a flaw because people do not usually want to even hear a model open her mouth, let alone share creative vision or opinion. I fear the day someone doesn’t let me use my brain. My success has been strictly thanks to my intelligence and I am just getting started masterminding my way through the system.

J.P.: Brittanie, I have a 9-year-old daughter. She’s tall, she’s blonde, and I’ve been asked 1,000 times whether she models. To be 100% blunt, I always say the same thing—“Lord no!” Brittanie, I don’t want her being judged for her looks; I don’t want her feeling pressure to weigh 70 pounds; don’t want her resorting to a diet of cigarettes and Diet Coca-Cola. So tell me—why am I wrong? What am I missing about your profession?

B.W.: Jeff, First off I completely understand you not wanting your daughter to have a profession based off of her looks, but I must say congrats on having a beautiful daughter. I think the important thing here is what your daughter wants to do and also to see the positive aspects of the career. I love the visual but instead of Diet Coke I prefer original Coca Cola and instead of a cigarette I have my dog in my hands.

I cannot speak for all models as we know your visual has reason behind it but I will speak for myself. Modeling can be a very damaging career for many reasons and it takes a very strong individual to actually succeed at it. You get told you are too skinny, too fat, too short and too tall in the same day and you need to have a backbone strong enough to know that everyone has a preference and to move along. It has taught me wonderful life skills on how to laugh things off and to never give up. In fact you get told no more than you get told yes and it is that formula that makes me addicted to wanting to excel at it. You see, I don’t want anything in life that comes easy. I can compare it to sports—you have the athletes that use enhancers and chew tobacco and the ones that are all natural. Same with modeling. You have the models who are so damaged and mentally ill  … starving themselves to be something they aren’t. And you have the models who love the art, playing dress up, and do it the healthy way. These models are all in competition and the ones who are mentally sound (or have the super teams behind them) make the solid careers. People like to listen to beautiful people—it’s a fact—and I plan on being a role model for girls like your daughter. You can express yourself and make a wonderful living off of your God-given talents. It is not all beauty—because it takes some serious brains to know the difference.

I’m a very competitive person and no two jobs are the same. Each booking is a high that I chase. I like to win and there are not many professions that offer the same roller coaster. It’s not easy to wake up and go to five different castings and sell yourself just to find our that you didn’t book one. Most people wouldn’t be able to handle the rejection, inconsistency and no promise of a paycheck. I actually turn down more jobs than I accept. Whether its not paying the fair amount on using your exposure or if it isn’t right for your long-term vision. No paycheck is better than a nationwide company trying to lure you in with popularity rather than the legit usage fees, residuals, and paycheck. I could call some “monsters” out of their caves but I won’t. I am a workaholic and have a very hard time not being in front of a camera so that’s one thing in 2013 I want to work on. I don’t even fully comprehend how some models pay their rent knowing the rates they accept and it lowers the standards for all of the professionals holding out for what’s fair. Not all models take pics in hopes their beauty will lure a gazallionare and that’s what sets apart the pros from the rookies. It is important not to stereotype anyone because I’m building an empire out of my brand and currently beauty is what I am selling. But I know I won’t be a size zero forever so I’m seeking long-term value and I know that shows in what I project.

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

B.W.: Greatest moment of my career has truly been having my family’s support through all of my decisions. I am super family-oriented to the point where other models have suggested I post more bikini photos and less pics of my family on my IG to update my follower count. You have to have a foundation in this industry and I am blessed to have sane, beautiful people behind me congratulating my success.

Lowest moment of my career would have to be when my family was questioning my choice of modeling and critiquing my life and schooling. The only opinions that can emotionally impact me are those of my family members, and I am so beyond thrilled to share each of my accomplishments with them.

J.P.: Your official bio cites your “body doubling for Julia Stiles.” A. What does this actually mean? B. What does it entail? C. Is it even remotely enjoyable?

B.W.: My bio chronicles some of my accomplishments and I worked with the producer of The Black Swan as her body double. Body doubles work alongside an actor filming all the stuff they pretty much don’t get paid to stand around and do. Shots of backs, hands, etc. It is not a dream job, but in this industry you work your way up. Of course, I would have rather been the lead but it will be a while before I can work with people of that caliber in a lead position. You make relationships with amazing producers and directors and it follows the “It’s not what you know but who you know” train of thought. I ended off 2012 with a nationwide campaign for PNC Bank and a global campaign for Philips Electronics.

J.P.: I’m going to ask you a truly inappropriate question—but one I’ve ALWAYS wanted to ask a model or extremely attractive celebrity. I mean zero disrespect. Literally, zero. Brittanie, you are a fashion model who appears in sexy clothing, skimpy clothing, etc. It is a near certainty that men (and women) have, well, pleasured themselves to your image. Does that weird you out at all? Is it a compliment? An insult? Something better left un-thought?

B.W.: Ha! I actually have never really thought about it. I am not one of the models who goes out looking for attention sexually, and I think that shows in my personal posts. However, I do have a lot of sexy pics and, well, call me naïve, I guess I look at it one-sided and that’s that everything I do is super professional and tasteful so it doesn’t come off as something someone would pleasure himself to. I have been told that someone Google searched me to do that and it kind of creeped me out. I appreciate honesty and even though I am a complete pervert its not something that I want to hear or visualize. I want to be desired and people are entitled to do that in whatever way they please. I guess … thanks, but no thanks?

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH BRITTANIE WEAVER:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details, please: Yep, flying United. Landing gear didn’t come down into John Wayne airport from a spokesmodel tour. Captain told us “to prepare for a water landing, thank you for flying United” as we plummeted down toward the ground and then shot up like a rocket. The plane twisted and turned for five minutes and I was hysterical. Finally the plane leveled again and went back to land safely. When we landed no one said a peep and we all did a walk of shame off of the plane. We later were told about the landing gear and the maneuvers were to shake it down. In the moment I believed I truly was going to die. I thought, “No, not me, not like this. God, this is happening, isn’t it” I have never felt so helpless. I was so shaken up I could barely make the drive back to L.A.

• Five greatest fashion models of your lifetime: My faves are Kate Moss, Marisa Miller, Candice Swanepoel, Cindy Crawford and Heidi Klum.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Tyra Banks, mac and cheese, Ed Ott, Christina Aguilera, Kansas City Royals, iPhone 5, granola, Miami, The Fray, Les Miserables, Sunglass Hut, flip-flops, Chris Christie: iPhone 5, mac and cheese, flip flops, granola, Miami, Tyra Banks, Kansas City Royals, Sunglass Hut, The Fray, Ed Ott, Chris Christie, Les Miserables, Christina Aguilera—yuck.

• Biggest myth about models: They don’t eat.

• Top-of-the-head joke you can tell me: Q. What’s the difference between tampons and cowboy hats? A. Cowboy hats are for assholes.

 • Celine Dion calls, she wants you to play a one-armed dentist named Bob in the off-Broadway adaptation of “Celine: My Life.” You in?: I never turn down a good time.

• With so much free on the web, why does the SI Swimsuit Issue still matter? Or does it?: It totally matters!! The Swimsuit Issue is the god of all magazines. I think people actually enjoy purchasing it as a nostalgic act. Someday soon, I am coming for you …

• Five reasons to make Los Angeles one’s next vacation destination: People watch. Mountains, beach, desert within an hour. I live here. The food. I live here.

• Bigger turnoff on a date—tuna fish breath or incredibly thick uni-brow?: They can both be fixed … but the tuna might make me throw up. Smells like you washed your vagina with a dirtier vagina! Jeez, who set up this flop?

• I’m worried about Mark Sanchez ever being a competent NFL QB again. Thoughts?: Google—first link: “NY Jets stuck with Mark Sanchez, and Rex Ryan should be accountable for quarterback’s collapse” No. Seems his break-up with Eva Longoria really has him in a funk.

Dirk Blocker

This is a story about the magic of the Internet.

Yesterday morning, at around eight o’clock, my daughter was watching an episode of Little House of the Prairie. The story revolved around Mrs. Ingalls, who briefly took over as the schoolhouse teacher. One of her students was a big kid named Abel Makay—nice boy, sort of quiet, couldn’t read. As Casey and I watched, I wondered, aloud, “What ever happened to that guy?”

Moments later, I Googled “Little House” and “Abel Makay.” The name Dirk Blocker popped up. I then typed “Dirk Blocker” into Facebook, and—Bam!—there he was. I fired off a message, he responded a couple of hours later and, hey, here we are.

The Quaz.

Turns out Dirk is a fascinating guy—not merely a fictional illiterate mountain boy, but a seasoned and accomplished character actor whose father, the late Dan Blocker, starred as “Hoss Cartwright” on Bonanza. Here, Dirk talks about working with Michael Landon; about joyfully jumping from show to show; about the highs and lows of acting and what it feels like to be called “one ugly motherfucker.”

Dirk Blocker—to hell with friggin’ Mrs. Oleson. Welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Dirk, before I get into your life and career, I’ll start with the reason you’re here: Earlier today the kids were watching the Little House on the Prairie episode where Caroline teaches school. There’s an illiterate older student named Abel Makay who learns to read under her guidance. Namely—you.

Dirk, I know this aired nearly 40 years ago, but what do you recall of your Little House experience? How did you land the part? What was it like? How big was it for you as a young actor?

DIRK BLOCKER: I’d just begun acting professionally—I had worked for director Leo Penn, who recommended me to Michael Landon when he heard they were trying to cast this role.

It was both a great joy—Michael’s company consisted of top pros—and a tad painful, as many of the crew were from Bonanza. My dad had only been gone for a few years.

The publicity associated with my working with Michael, coupled with the show’s strong ratings certainly opened many doors for me … kind of announced my entry into the biz.

Mrs. Oleson, evil as always, looms behind kind, innocent, illiterate Abel Makay.

J.P.: I’ve mainly covered sports in my career, and always find journeymen ballplayers (guys who jump from one team to another) fascinating. In a way, you’ve been a journeyman actor—lots of work through the years on tons upon tons of different shows. Has this been a good thing? A bad thing? Has there long been a desire for stability, or do you prefer the myriad experiences?

D.B.: I’ve used this very analogy many times. Being a guest performer, or taking on a small character role in a film, is akin (I imagine) to being a utility player/pinch hitter. You’ve got to be ready when called.

Growing up with a famous father stripped me of any desire for fame—my pop could hardly go anywhere without being mobbed by fans. So the life of a character actor/supporting player has always appealed to me. I’ve done a couple of series but neither of them lasted very long. No regrets—many fine things have happened in my life that would not have had the shows become successful.

J.P.: Your father is the late Dan Blocker, who famously played Hoss Cartwright in Bonanza before dying, at age 43, of a pulmonary embolism. I’m wondering two things: Dirk, you were only 14 when your dad passed. I’m wondering what you remember about him—not as an actor, but as a father and a person. How did losing him at such a young age impact your life? And are you an actor because he, too, was one?

D.B.: I’ve had many years to ponder this loss. It was overwhelming. I did a pretty good job of denying the impact his death had on me. The reality of his passing was just too much. So I led a pretty wild and untamed private life, avoiding pain as much as possible, and carried on a professional demeanor in public, avoiding reality through the world of make believe/acting.

My dad was my closest ally in the world. I loved him dearly. Over the years I’ve come to see him as a man of complexity. He cared ardently for the underrepresented in society, was liberal, generous, lived large in many ways and loved to laugh. On the other hand, he did not suffer fools and his temper could get the better of him in an instant. But he was quick to offer meaningful apologies when it became apparent that he’d crossed a line or misjudged a situation. Accepting responsibility for one’s actions, and aiming for living the golden rule, were the biggest traits I carry from him.

I suppose I was bitten by the acting bug at an early age while going to work with my dad. His schedule was such that this was one of the only ways to spend a lot of time with him. As a result, I’d watch as he and his cohorts would be chatting amiably about current events one minute, and then watch them transform themselves into someone else when called to the set—a kind of learning through osmosis. That, and that he enjoyed his work so much likely carried over for me.

J.P.: You made your television debut in 1974, acting in an episode of “Marcus Welby, M.D.” What do you recall from the experience? What was it like, seeing yourself on TV for the very first time?

D.B.: I was scared shitless. James Brolin’s doctor character was supposed to be giving me a shot and the gag was that I, a large teenager, was afraid of needles —so my nervousness worked for me. As we prepared to shoot the scene Brolin, holding my arm and able to feel my pulse pound, announced: “We’d better hurry up and shoot this before this kid has a heart attack.”

I’ve never enjoyed watching myself, particularly in my earliest years. When my work has felt authentic I can stomach watching, but I tend to get caught up seeing all that’s wrong with it.

J.P.:  What’s your abolsute greatest moment as an actor? Your absolute lowest?

D.B.: That’s a tough one. It’s all about the moments. Usually when a director I admire takes me aside and thanks me, or puts an arm around me to let me know my work’s appreciated. But I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many excellent people that to choose one moment seems impossible.

I’ve been very lucky here too with few low points compared with the challenges most working folk have to endure. The business has been kind to me in large part, I suspect, because my father was very well liked, but I do recall a producer at an audition once saying that they needed someone good looking for the part, and, “No offense kid, but you’re one ugly motherfucker.” I laughed until I saw that he was absolutely serious, if, perhaps a bit too straight-forward … Ironically, he looked like a troll himself.

Blocker (far right), starring alongside Jeff Mills (far left) and Tom, Hinshaw (middle) in “The Pillowman” at Center Stage Theater in 2008.

J.P.: In 1982 you played “Jeff Shaw” in the film Poltergeist. This is probably going to sound stupid, but, well, I’ve heard it mentioned a million times before—so I’ll ask. Was there a Poltergeist curse? The film’s star Heather O’Rourke, died tragically young. Dominique Dunne, another actor in the film, was strangled by her boyfriend in 1982, and Julian Beck, the grim preacher in Poltergeist II, died of cancer shortly after filming. Is this just really horrible coincidence? Is it something you ever thought of?

D.B.: I’m not superstitious, so no. Though tragic, I don’t believe in a curse.

J.P.: You graduated from Santa Monica High in 1975—then received a BA from Antioch University in 2010. Why the long wait? What was it that made you go back to school after so many years?

D.B.: It was from a seed planted by my father when I was young. He was big on education (had been working on his dissertation for his PhD in Theatre Arts at UCLA when he landed Bonanza) and he often said, ‘I don’t care what you do with your life, but you owe it to yourself to, at the very least, get a degree in liberal arts.’

My career took off once I’d graduated from SamoHigh, and I never looked back—until I approached the age my father had been when he passed. Any psych major could have predicted that someone with a background light on self-awareness and reflection like myself might develop the need for deeper introspection when facing such a milestone, and that’s what happened to me. I felt the need to take a closer look at myself—how uncomfortable quietude was for me, how and why my successes had come so easily, and was I beginning to take them for granted? Etc., etc. So I removed myself from the business, unplugged the phone, and with the support and patience of my wife, Danielle, began retracing the years since my dad’s passing. At one point she challenged me to follow up on this long-held regret she’d heard me describe about never having gone to college. My arguments about my age and the impossibility of my passing math requirements fell on deaf ears and I enrolled and once again took myself out of the business. Her support was one of the greater gifts, in a long line of them, she has bestowed upon me.

J.P.: What comes with being the son of a famous actor? What I mean is—it it great, because it opens doors? Is it awful, because his career loomed/looms over yours? Are there unfair expectations? Do you seek comparison, or shun it?

D.B.: It definitely opened doors—not just due to his fame but also, I believe, because he was so well-liked. I am very grateful for the kindnesses this tough business has shown me.

There have been times when comparisons were hard to bear. If I had a nickel for every meeting I walked into only to hear—“Sorry, we thought you were big like your father”—I’d have quite a few nickels. I used to shun comparisons—wanting desperately to earn approval based on my own merits, but I’ve softened. People wanted to keep his memory alive and on some level I’ve served that purpose. It has helped over time that some directors/producers have come to me after we commenced working together to tell me what a surprise it was to learn who my dad was, or more recently to ask about my dad since they were too young to know much about him.

J.P.: According to IMDB, your last TV credit came in 2009, as “Trent” on “Criminal Minds.” Are you done acting, or looking for gigs? And I’m wondering—as one gets older, does work become significantly harder to find? Is it a struggle now, where once it was relatively easy?

D.B.: I’ve begun accepting work again. “Criminal Minds” came about when the actor cast in the role was hospitalized the night before shooting began and they needed a replacement. It felt good to know I could deliver on such short notice. In my time away from work I never lost my love of acting. I worked out with my coach, mentor and friend, Harry Mastrogeorge, until time requirements from school took precedence. It’s akin to riding a bike—the first day of rehearsal might feel a little wobbly, but soon enough experience and instincts take over and I’m like a kid returning to baseball in the spring.

Dirk Blocker, right, with Jeff MacKay & James Whitmore, Jr. on “Black Sheep Sqaudron” in 1976. He played 1st. Lt. Jerry Bragg.

J.P.: We always hear people like Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts talk about “getting into character.” Generally, though, their characters are fully developed individuals—stars of the show. You’ve been, among other things, a bartender on Beverly Hills 90210, “Mayor Gilmore” on X-Files, “Airport Security Man” on Larger Than Life. Dirk, do character actors have to also “get into the character”? Is there a process to becoming someone without myriad dimensions; someone in the background? Or do you just show up, put on a costume, memorize some lines and go?

D.B.: Actors have different ways of saying, ultimately, the same thing. To me, it’s about making sure that the circumstances, no matter how outrageous, or limited in scope, are real to you so that you behave intuitively. In many ways a smaller role can be challenging in that the writer hasn’t fully fleshed the role out leaving much open to interpretation, and, hopefully, collaboration with the director. On the other hand, being free to simply improvise a situation without too much dialogue (as with Bill Murray and Christopher Darga in Larger Than Life) can be tons of fun. Either way, I never just show up without some preparation—the more time I have the better. On set there’s little to no time for homework, and quite often not even time to rehearse, so you must show up ready, yet open to adjustment.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DIRK BLOCKER:

• Five greatest actors you’ve ever worked with?: Jack Nicholson, John Larroquette, Brian Kerwin, Jean Smart, Ben Johnson.

• Celine Dion calls and offers for $250,000 annually to move to Las Vegas and reprise your role of “Abel Makay” in her new nightly musical, “Celine Does Little House.” The only conditions are you have to wear a diaper and deliver all your lines in Korean. You in?: Wow —sounds like porn. I guess it would have to be for a paycheck like that. If you’ll write it—I’m in. (Could I smoke a cigar? I always wanted to play a cigar smoking diaper wearer.)

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? Details, please: Yes—flight to Dallas-Ft. Worth … thunderstorms and high winds. Pilot “parked” the bucking jet over New Mexico (literally  nose up into headwinds—lights on ground below barely moving) for a good 45 minutes waiting for tornadoes in DFW area to disperse. Worst part—it was night and I had to drive upon arrival so no cocktails “on the house” that the crew was dispensing, and probably imbibing in as well.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Pat Haden, Good & Plenty, Coca Cola, Kwanza, Robert Redford, Red Foxx, patio sets, “Silver Spoons,” Huey Lewis and the News, 1987, dental floss: 1987 (my wife and I moved to our 1st and only home together), Red Foxx (funnnnnny man), Robert Redford, dental floss (a heavy hitter like me needs good tools), patio sets, Kwanza, Huey Lewis and the News, Good & Plenty, Pat Haden (no offense —know little about him), and a tie between Coke (not even with bourbon) and “Silver Spoons”

• In 1993 you were “Jerry” on “Doogie Hower, M.D.” Three things you can tell us about the experience: 1) Joan Tewkesbury directed —what a pleasure. She’s an under appreciated/underutilized craftswoman; 2) Co-starred with James Pickens, Jr.—loved working with him; 3. Neal Patrick Harris was just a kid—a very nice and incredibly polished one at that.

• More extensive gun control—Fan or foe?: Fan, absolutely.

• Would you rather be abducted by aliens and taken to Planet Zeebor or be forced to watched, for one year, an endless reel of the 21 Jump Street episode you appeared on?: Beam me up, Scottie.

• Three best television shows of all time?: The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Sopranos and Strangers With Candy

• Does KISS belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?: Seriously? Even I never got so stoned that they sounded good.

• Are you more concerned about cell phones causing cancer or emissions causing climate change?: We’d better start becoming concerned about climate change or cancer, whatever its cause, won’t matter much.

MC White Owl

Seven or eight years ago I was at a neighbor’s house when I was introduced to his brother in law, some dude named Aaron Handelman. I liked the guy immediately. He was smart and expressive and passionate, and he knew absolutely, positively everything about rap and hip-hop. Toward the end of our conversation he said, without a morsel of cockiness, “I was in a group that got some MTV play a while back. It’s on YouTube.”

I was skeptical until, moments later, we hit the nearby computer and (dang!) there was Aaron, starring in Bad Ronald’s “Let’s Begin” video, rising out of a garbage can with a load of marijuana smoke, then dancing around with a bunch of hot girls in diapers (I can’t make this up).

Over the ensuing months, weeks and years, Aaron (aka MC White Owl) have developed a wonderful friendship, and even a working relationship. He agreed to do a Walter Payton rap for the release of Sweetness—and it was phenomenal. He also did a piece to celebrate the ’86 Mets–equally kick-ass. Best of all, he has a pretty amazing story to tell: A musical dream fulfilled, then lost in the aftermath of 9.11; an undying love of hip-hop and for making music; a devotion to weed and a pursuit of the perfect song.

Here, in Quaz No. 76, MC White Owl discusses what it takes to make it in the music business; why Bad Ronald didn’t last and why, for him, writing a song is equal to creating a child. Oh, and he thinks aliens might exist.

One can listen to White Owl’s latest songs here, and follow him on Twitter here. You can download—for free—much of his work here.

MC White Owl, kick it …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so I love your saga, because it’s so crazy. In 2000, you hit the musical jackpot, signing a record deal with Warner. You’re not Bad Ronald yet. It’s just you and a pal from Long Island named Doug Ray. Lame phrasing for a first question, but please tell the story … what happened to make Bad Ronald

MC WHITE OWL: First of all, thanks you so much for interviewing me. My name is Aaron Handelman, from Greenburgh, NY. My stage names are DJ WhiteOwl1, aka DJ Sweat, aka MC WhiteOwl aka MC DiggumSmax, and together with Mr. Bruno Beatz, we are 1State Hip Hop. 1State Hip Hop is a music and movie production company that we started this past January, so that we can produce hip-hop, r&b, soul and reggae—from A to Z.

I have worked as a DJ and as an MC, in some capacity, from age 11. I DJed at BBQs, school dances, backyard and house parties, and anywhere that would have me. I started rapping in the lunchroom at school, and on the playground. I had always written music in my mind, but in fifth grade I started to write down the lyrics and actually spin vinyl that my parents had.

I fell in love with hip-hop on 98.7 Kiss FM, and on 107.5 WBLS FM. This was before Yo! MTV Raps, and the radio meant everything.

DJ Red Alert and DJ Chuck Chillout were my idols. If they played a song, more than 50 percent of the time I loved it. I stayed up late at night to record cassettes of them mixing music live on the airwaves. FM radio was fun, accessible, and I was a native New Yorker, ahead of the curve.

I first realized the possibilities of home production when I realized that some of my parents’ funk and rock records had drum solos. Now I realized that I could sample the same music and make hit records. I continued DJing and MCing throughout my years at Woodlands High School in Greenburgh N.Y. I spent my senior year doing an internship for the “WISE,”  aka Woodlands Senior Individual Experience, which was a program at Woodlands High School. I worked at Wild Pitch Records. Many greats MCs and DJs were signed to the label, including Main Source, Lord Finesse, DJ Mike Smooth, N-Tyce, Ultramagnetic M.C.s, The U.M.C.’s, Gang Starr, Large Professor and THE COUP.

At SUNY Binghamton I DJed on the radio station, WHRW. My demos began to receive attention. My first Hip-Hop mix CD was in the store named Burkina, on Houston and Orchard, in the Lower East Side. I have the original tapes.

I had several hip-hop and reggae mixes, and being paid to do what you love is empowering.

In 1997, Dale Blackwood, my program director at WHRW at SUNY, took me on an all-expenses-paid journey to the Gavin Radio Convention in Atlanta . I met many famous DJs and MCs, and I felt right at home. I drove down to Atlanta and we had a great trip. I got to hang out with my favorite Brooklyn MC at the time, Buckshot of Black Moon and Boot Camp Click. He said that I could make it if I gave it my all. He heard me freestyle and said I was talented. I was in heaven. I met Lauryn Hill, and we talked for a quick 10 minutes after she performed with the Fugees. She was sweet and kind and gave me some great advice.

When I graduated Binghamton in 1998, I got a job at a music studio named Sacred Noise. They produced music for TV, movies and commercials. Michael Montes and Jeff Rosner, the owners, saw that I had talent. They let me scratch records on some TV spots. I did a song with Robert Dukes for a movie named “Whipped.” One of the Producers there, Ravi Krishnaswami, sent my demo into a production team, who had an ad in the Village Voice.

I went to Pop Roxxx Recordings in early 2000, and I met the producers who assembled Bad Ronald. Kaz Gamble was a singer who worked for Pop Roxxx. He was also our engineer. DJ Deetalx was a DJ from Minnesota, who went to NYU. I was one year out of college, 23. Strike Foul was the second MC, from Long Island.

However, after one month of work Strike Foul was called to the armed forces. Pop Roxxx believed we needed two MC’s one singer and one DJ. So I invited my friend’s little brother into the group. He was also from Greenburgh. His name was Doug Ray.

J.P.: You had a song, Let’s Begin, that was all over MTV, and can be heard in the backdrop of a dozen or so TV shows and movies. When I play it for people, they always know it, even if they can’t ID the name of the song or the group. How did Let’s Begin come to be? Who wrote it? How long did it take? And now, a decade later, do you see value in it? Do you like the song?

OWL: I see the value, but I do not like the forced-for-radio rock/rap combo.

At the time I was 24, underpaid at my 9-to-7, working 10-hour days … and I needed to rhyme. I used to do open mics at least 2 times a week in New York City. I DJed for the Concrete Jungle at Wetlands. I DJed all over Brooklyn. I was a young man, loose in New York City, with my mind wide open to the possibilities of the world and the universe at large. I was living  with my future wife, we were both gainfully employed, and The Dream was to have a hit record, and go on tour, not to work in an office.

I was a huge herb smoker, and I wanted to help legalize medicinal marijuana, and Warner Brothers/Reprise gave me a chance to have my voice heard. “Let’s Begin”  was our first written and recorded song as Bad Ronald. The song was supposed to make a simple statement—relax and have fun.

I wrote half of the chorus and my verse, Kaz wrote his verse, and Doug wrote half the chorus and his verse. I think Kaz and Doug made the beat. When Warner put the song on the radio in July of 2001, the public response was good enough to warrant a $400,000 digital video concept and direction by Marc Klasfield. We were on TRL for a short time, and movies and TV shows picked up the song.

That said, it felt very cold and businesslike. The guys in the group did not get along well, and traveling in a bus with five guys is not cool. I prefer a jet or a Coach Liner.

(left to right): Bad Ronald, circa 2001, featuring DJ White Owl,    Doug Ray, Kaz Gamble, DJ Deetalx.

J.P.: You have a recurring theme in your songs—marijuana smoking, and lots of marijuana smoking. I’m wondering, as the father of two young children, do you worry about this? Like, at some point they’re gonna listen to your songs and it’s gonna snap—“Dad says it’s awesome to get high … all the time.”

OWL: I am not worried. Herb doesn’t change your personality. It amplifies aspects, but I am a happy person, and I love my children forever. I’d take a bullet for them no problem.

I do not smoke around them. Not in the house. I smoke when I meditate in private. In Hebrew, Kaneh-Bosm is Cannabis. Ancient sources identify this with the sweet calmus. The scent of the Kings. Marijuana was buried with King Solomon, and many other important leaders throughout time and space. It is a plant. The late, great Bob Marley said “The more herb is burned, the more Babylon shall fall.” Herb frees the mind of society’s mental shackles.

Albert Einstein on cannabis: “The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.”

Personally, marijuana frees my soul. I feel relaxed when smoking and closer to God. The herb is here for us. The seeds are nourishment, hemp oil is clean and good for you, and the U.S. encouraged farmers to grow hemp during the Civil War and World War I.  Hemp is a fantastic fiber and food and a life-sustaining plant. It’s a seed-bearing herb. Marijuana helps cancer patients during chemotherapy, causing them to stomach solid foods that they normally could not eat. It is good for glaucoma, relieving pressure on the eyes. It is good for many mood disorders, like anxiety and bi-polar.

J.P.: September 11, 2001, obviously, caused a LOT more harm than destroying a hip-hop group’s musical journey. But it did destroy your journey, didn’t it? And, if so, how?

OWL: It did not destroy my journey or my vision. I love hip-hop and all music, and I make music as a therapy for myself. Music as Medicine!

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I traveled to Tower Records in Union Square NYC, and at 9:38 am, I took pictures in front of my album cover, which was blown up inside the store window. I still have the Bad Ronald CD I bought, and the original receipt.

The album had an American flag on the cover, which was from the Easy Rider “Stars and Stripes” motorcycle helmet. Warner put it there, we did not choose the art. Kaz had the helmet, and someone from the label photographed it. Anyway, my wife took pictures, and I kissed her goodbye. She headed downtown to Hudson and Spring Street.

I went home to 34th and Third, and went to the roof of my building to smoke herb. I saw one of the twin towers get hit. I ran down stairs, and I still haven’t come to terms with what happened.

My cousin Greg called me and said it was an attack. I feared what I had since I was little—World War III.

Bad Ronald went on tour for October and November of 2001, but there was no energy. We did not get along. We did not see eye to eye.

I got a studio in Hell’s Kitchen for six months and made my own songs. The Pop Roxxx guys tried to get us to make another album. I thought they were joking. I decided that for my sophomore album, I would do it right. When the time was right! When I had my own money and didn’t have to take orders from pop music fans.

Of course, 9/11/01 crushed me, and I still am not fully accepting that it happened. It is a deep wound in the soul of every New Yorker, and every American. It was a heinous act by psychopaths. However, I believe that love is the only solution. All nations must group together to find solutions. Peaceful solutions. How does the United States stockpile weapons, and expect other countries to not follow the leader?

J.P.: After Bad Ronald went belly up, you sort of distanced yourself from hip-hop. Got married, got jobs, etc. Why? And did you miss it?

OWL: I actually did not distance myself. I just stopped dealing with the Pop Roxxx camp. I went back to my roots.

I stayed out four nights a week in New York City, from 2002 to 2008, rhyming, writing, DJing, and generally causing a fucking ruckus. I was always greeted with open arms. New York has shown me a ton of love, and New York City is the ultimate muse. I’ve crossed paths with many famous MC’s and DJ’s. I’ve battled many rappers, and I always hold my own. In 2004 and 2005, Manny DeCastillo, a promoter in New York City, got me a bunch of amazing DJ jobs. I also wrote and wrote and wrote, and thanks to my great friend Chip Love, who has put out three albums, I continued honing my skills in the studio.

J.P.: I hate asking the clichéd white rapper question, but here it is. Do you think your path was harder or easier via pigmentation? Did it make you more unique (ie: was Warner looking for white kids), or more suspect? And do you think, in 2012, skin color no longer matters?

OWL: I believe that I am a great MC and DJ because of the love I have for the art. My path was harder in middle school and high school, because I was surrounded by great MCs and DJs. Towns like Greenburgh, White Plains, Hartsdale, Irvington, Tarrytown, Peekskill, New Rochelle, Mt. Vernon, Yonkers and Port Chester have deep talent. My friends always teased me, until they realized I was a great DJ and good MC.

I got a record deal because I was a white MC. However, I would have gotten a record deal one way or another, no matter what. Right place, right time, every time. The universe makes no mistakes.

J.P.: You’re on something of a comeback movement. Here you are, approaching 40, no label deal since the early 2000s, a suburban dad and husband. A. Why? B. How has the industry changed since you last had a deal? C. What are the goals?

OWL: I am 36-years young. I am in peak physical shape. Lift weights five days a week, and bike six days. I am a true MC. I write and write and freestyle and DJ and produce. I write intelligent music and lyrics for intelligent people.

If you listen to my word play, you have to think about what is being said. I speak what is on my mind. I make very catchy beats, and I use samples and original work. I know how to make people relax and enjoy life.

J.P.: What do you say to people who make comments like, “I hate rap. The violence, the sexism, the horrible messages. I just hate it.”

OWL: You are listening to the wrong hip-hop. Record companies and advertising agencies have used hip-hop music to advance their own greedy agendas. Real hip-hop is about peace, love, unity, respect and love for your neighbor. Real hip-hop doesn’t encourage violence or drug use. Go buy some KRS ONE, BDP, 3xDope, Public Enemy, X-Clan, PRT, Tribe Called Quest, Native Tongues, D.I.T.C. and of course anything from the Mighty Zulu Nation. There are hundreds of positive MCs and DJs who do not encourage violence. Violence is never the answer.

J.P.: Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you think aliens populated the earth at one time …

OWL: Honestly, I am not sure how to answer this. I believe “We are what we have been waiting for.” I believe that DNA is the code for all life in the entire universe. It is possible that intelligent life is everywhere, and it might resemble us. It might not.

With the quantum physics and quantum mechanics, breakthroughs are now happening, and anything is possible. I believe we all create our own reality. There are particles that move faster than the speed of light. Our brains are super computers.

Time travel is possible during certain psychedelic use. Perhaps we are of this planet earth, perhaps we are not. Maybe the twelve Tribes of Israel were twelve ships that landed on earth 5,773 years ago and populated areas. Perhaps we are all made in the spirit of the one unifying energy known as G-D?

Who knows?

I’m not committed to an answer. Anything is possible.

J.P.: How do you write a song? Literally, what’s the process like, from beginning to end? How does your mind work?

OWL: Songs are like children. Some come easy, and quick, no struggle, as if you’re subconscious wanted the material to be delivered ASAP. “The Secret” is a song I wrote in two hours. The beat took one day. It is a sample of the reggae group The Twinkle Brothers. After the beat was done, I wrote to it.

If I write on a subject like the 1986 Mets or Walter Payton, I research and attempt to illuminate the best features and qualities of the subject at hand. I write the lyrics first, or freestyle them and record them, and then make several beats to fit.

With word play and battle raps, the writing process for one verse could be three hours.  It is a loving process. I do it all for fun and love of music.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH DJ WHITE OWL:

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall: Yes, the bumps were wicked and the plane was shaking and I figured that it was all over. Seemed like it was going to break apart in the air. I was on the way home from Florida , with my dad, from visiting my 93-year-old grandma. I said my peace to G-d, prayed for my family and children.

• Here’s the 20-second challenge: Write a quick rap that incorporates Fig Newtons, Eli Manning, Starbucks and the number 2,543: I’ve eaten two thousand, five hundred, and 43 fig newtons / Starbucks extra grandes before debating Rasputin / Eli Manning is the man, number 10 on his back / I’m big enough to hit him, and create a mass attack / My flow is never wack, you should play the back / Or the skin on your cheek, might get a slap.

• Rank in order (favorite the least): Phil Simms, tuna salad, 2008 Ford Focus, Celine Dion, Kid n Play, tile, pot brownies, Chinese takeout, your left foot, Big Pun, Paul Ryan, Emmitt Smith, Toy Story 3, Angry Birds, iPhone 5, Cracker Barrel: 1. Chinese takeout; 2. Kid n Play; 3. Big Pun; 4. Pot brownies (I’d rather vaporize my herb or bong hit it); 5. My left foot; 6. Phil Simms; 7. Toy Story 3; 8. Angry Birds; 9. Iphone 5; 10. Emmitt Smith; 11. 2008 Ford Focus; 12. Cracker Barrel; 14. Celine Dion; 14. Paul Ryan.

• 10 Greatest Hip-hop albums of all time: 1. Eric B. and Rakim—Follow the Leader; 2. De La Soul—3 Feet High and Rising; 3. Nas—Illmatic; 4. 3 X Dope—Original Stylin; 5. Nice & Smooth—Nice and Smooth; 6. A Tribe Called Quest—People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm; 7. Eric B and Rakim—Paid in Full; 8. EPmD—Strictly Business; 9. Redman—Whut The Album; 10. Cypress Hill—Cypress Hill.

• You recently did a song that morphed hip-hop and Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone.” Why?: I loved the concept that the She’s Gone chorus helped me say “She Never left.” Hall and Oates are sampled saying “Hip-hop is gone,” and I’m screaming back to the music, “No, she’s with us!” Hip-hop is not gone, she’s being cared for by thugs and hippies and a lot of humans, worldwide. But New York City has the best hip-hop at all times, always. Trust I.

• If you had to guess, what three scents do you think Andy Griffith smelled like?: Whiskey, cigars, herbs.

• Would you rather eat the carcass of a 30-day-old rotting slab of salmon, or go on a three-week vacation with Doug Ray?: Eat the fish—can’t do vacations with ex-band members.

• Why do you think the Wonder Twins never got their due?: Who are they? Not sure to be honest.

• Celine Dion calls, wants you to go on tour with her for a year to do hip-hop versions of all her hits. She’ll pay $5 million, but ever show ends with you running across the stage in a chicken suit, screaming, “Celine and I are Egg-zactly alike?” You in?: Yes. All in. Balls to the wall or until somebody falls. I might run around naked. I’ve done it before in front if a big crowd. That’s my word. Or with a mink and no boxers.

• Finish the joke: “Flavor Flav walks into a bar …”: And he drinks for free, forever. I love you, Flav. You the Mandingo, my G.

John Wesley Harding

Back in 1990, I arrived as a freshman at the University of Delaware with very little music knowledge. Oh, I loved Hall & Oates, Public Enemy, Billy Joel, Kiss and Run DMC. But that was all standard fare. Were there any high schools kids in the late-1980s who didn’t share those tastes, to at least some degree?

Thanks goodness for Scott Capro.

Cappie lived across the hall in Russell A. He was a pretty quiet kid, often locked up in his room with his girlfriend. As we became friendly (and, ultimately, close friends), Scott opened up. Primarily, via music.

His tastes were all over the map, and mostly groups I’d never known or styles I’d avoided. There was this Seattle band, Pearl Jam. There was this Memphis quartet, Human Radio. Have you heard Elvis Costello’s new classical CD? And, most important, there was a British acoustic artist, John Wesley Harding, and his debut disc, It Happened One Night.

Man, did I loooooove that CD. It was live and up close and personal. Listening to it, I could smell the cigarette smoke clinging to my shirt; I could hear the drinks being poured; the glasses rattling. Mostly, I could hear one of the most unique and gifted singers I’d ever encountered. One song, July 13th 1985, remains an all-time, all-time, all-time favorite.

I digress. Wes (his real name is Wesley Stace) has had a brilliant career, both as a singer and an author. His three novels—Misfortune, by George and Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, have all been praised as remarkable work. Here, in the 75th Quaz, Wes talks about the ties between writing music and writing book; about cynicism in music and whether pop tarts are doomed to a life of failure. He always thinks he’s about to die in a plane crash, loves Kate Bush and has no real interest in meeting Hosken Powell. You can visit his website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

John Wesley Harding/Wesley Stace—on November 7, 2012, the Quaz is yours …

JEFF PEARLMAN: I’m going to start you with a really obscure question about a really obscure song (this is the beauty of having my own site with my own questions). I love July 13th 1985. Like, absolutely, positively love it. Brilliant social commentary; brilliant, pointed takedown of the corporate musical love-fest that was Live Aid (fuck, and I loved Live Aid). My question is: What inspired you to destroy an event so many people embraced, did you ever get any feedback from participants and, were you asked to play that song right now, could you?

JOHN WESLEY HARDING: I could play the song now, but I tend not to because the hard edge of the satire, given the 25 intervening years, has diminished somewhat. The same song could be written about almost any charity event. Though the drug-taking part of the song was not necessarily part of the experience of July 13, 1985 (we were too poor!), the rest of the lyrics were a sampling of my thoughts as the long day wore on. I felt it was a sentiment that hadn’t been expressed and should be. The song was, in fact, expressly written for some kind of (theatrical) revue I was involved in, various sketches about what we in The West thought of what we then called “the third world.” And seen in that context, it makes total sense. The song was my calling card for some time. It changed a lot as I played it.

J.P.: You’ve had a remarkably unique career in two endeavors—singer/songwriter and novelist. I hope this doesn’t sound overly lame, but is there much crossover between the two mediums? As is, does knowing how to write a song mean a higher probably of one knowing how to write a novel? Are they at all related?

J.W.H.: Songwriting certainly freed my mind up for novel-writing (and I had no fiction-training at school or anything) since it meant that I could trust in the words a little more. I think there’s a lot of crossover (though songs can be written on napkins in trains, whereas novels mean sitting down at a desk, and they’re totally different disciplines. But it’s the same addiction to getting it right, or getting it less wrong, that makes you continue. Songs are pared down; novels (at least, the ones I write) need to have characters with motivation. As professions, one is social and fun, the other is solitary and a drag. So they complement each other very well indeed in that sense. I’m lucky.

J.P.: Sorta lame question—but one I’ve often wondered: Why didn’t you just use Wesley Stace—your real name—from the start of your musical career? I mean, I know all about “John Wesley Harding”—but Wesley Stace seems awfully nice, too.

J.W.H.: I didn’t use it because I was at university, and didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing, assuming it would go wrong very quickly. But it didn’t and by then it had stuck. John Wesley Harding was amusing at the time because it meant people could just keep calling me Wes.

J.P.: Many, many, many of your songs seem to be lathered in cynicism—which is a reason I so enjoy your music (There’s a Starbucks (Where The Starbucks Used to Be) is a perfect example). Yet I wonder if you’ve ever felt—or cared—that the same cynicism that empowers your takes also has prevented you from having massive commercial success. I mean, I’d argue there’s a very thin line (I mean this as a compliment) between your music and that of, say, an Elvis Costello. Yet you express much more agitation toward the world. Do people have a limited appetite for that? Small doses sort of thing?

J.W.H.: I’ve never really felt that. Randy Newman, Warren Zevon and Tom Lehrer are (or were) extremely cynical writers. I wouldn’t think it would prevent commercial success: what’s cynical is having success with things that you don’t believe in, dumbed down for the audience—and that tactic finds success all the time! But by the same token. I’m not sure I express that much agitation. I think my view of the world is affectionate. I remember a lot of Elvis Costello songs leaving a very bitter taste—they were meant to—and I’d be surprised if people felt that way after listening to one of my songs. Particularly Starbucks. I mean that song isn’t even anti-Starbucks, though it uses Starbucks as a symbol for a problem. I like to look at life with a smile; and I feel a laugh is more likely to affect people in a positive way than agitated finger-pointing.

J.P.: Totally off topic—you’re 47-years old. I just turned 40, and I’m genuinely confused how I got here. How does aging impact you? Are you someone who says, “Holy fuck, I’m halfway to 94?” Does the looming eternalness of death concern you? Consume you? Do you look in the mirror, see gray hair and moan?

J.W.H.: I’ve been grey for a long time so I’m not worried about that at all. (I’m growing my hair long. Perhaps it’s a last hurrah.) Aging doesn’t really impact me very much and I’m not worried about it. I’ve been dealing with a bad back for about 20 years. I like having young children, though I could have probably been a more active wrestler for them twenty years ago. I’d rather not die until it wouldn’t affect my kids so much but other than that I don’t worry about those things at all.

J.P.: In 2005, you published your first novel, Misfortune. The Washington Post named it one of its Books of the Year—and that was merely one of many accolades. In brief, it’s the saga of a man, Lord Geoffroy Loveall, who finds an abandoned baby, brings her in, names her Rose—then, ultimately learns she’s a boy. I’ve never written fiction, but have long aspired to. How did you come up with the idea for the story? How did you write it? Literally, how long did it take? Where’d you do it? How torturous was it? And did it, ultimately, give the same feeling of reward as a completed album?

J.W.H.: The idea for the story was developed from the song of nearly the same name on Awake, and I’m not quite sure where that idea came from, though one spark was definitely the rhyme of ‘world’ and ‘girl’. Misfortune took about seven years. I wrote it first in Seattle on Vashon Island, then Ballard, and then finished it in Brooklyn. It was a lengthy lengthy process—only completed because it was ambitious beyond anything I’d previously attempted. Doing gigs at the time (for a living) didn’t help! It was far more satisfying than a completed album. No doubt about that. I felt it really reflected me, and that’s why I published it under my own name.

J.P.: Do you think it’s OK for artists to openly acknowledge shit work? For example, Eminem has repeatedly said his “Rehab” CD wasn’t so hot. Well, I know many people who loved that album, only to learn the guy who released it wasn’t so high on it. To you, does it show commendable honesty, or are some things meant to remain quiet? And, along those lines, are there songs or albums that you wish you could have back—or bury?

J.W.H.: Interesting question. I find It Happened One Night to be completely unlistenable (I don’t like my singing on it at all, but then I’d only just started) but I don’t shout about it. And also I’d note that I don’t listen to any of my music ever: do any artists? I know a lot of people who love that record, because (among other reasons) it was the first time that they were exposed to me, and of course that’s a meaningful moment. However, it wouldn’t put me off if an artist said they didn’t think one of their work was any good. But I don’t feel negative enough about It Happened One Night to want it back. I got much better, is all. It’s just a shame that artists are given so much attention at the start of their careers. Almost everyone improves over time. But that’s the way the business works.

J.P.: How did you get here? I mean, I know you’re British, attended boarding school, blah, blah. But how did you discover your voice? When was the first time you picked up an instrument and said, “Yes! Yes! I can do this! Yes!” When did you know?

J.W.H.: Miming to The Beach Boys 20 Greatest Hits with a tennis racket. I didn’t even need a guitar! The scene is in my next novel in fact. Or a version of it. Heaven knows when I discovered my voice. Probably by adapting Phil Ochs songs into anti-Thatcher language for student demos at Cambridge. Someone had to do it. Or I thought they did, and I was uniquely placed.

J.P.: You do reviews for the Times Literary Supplement. Personally, I loathe writing book reviews, because I know how painful it feels to get a shitty one, and I also have an understanding of how much effort goes into a book project. Does reviewing not bother you in such a way? And how about writing negative ones?

J.W.H.: I write for the TLS (and occasionally for other people) because they give me long, long deadlines, excellent editorial attention and expect the writer to explain the topic in question before approaching the book. I love writing for them and, so far, they’ve had me write on Dylan (the book in question was awful), Patti Smith, Bowie and now Prince—all things I’m really enthusiastic about. In other words, I really WANT to write about these things—and then it’s interesting to see how well or badly the book in question does its work. I’ve had to write one really bad one; you’re not exactly proud of it, but it’s a good logical puzzle to work out how something succeeds or fails on its own terms. I only ever reviewed one novel (for the New York Times) and I’m not really interested in doing that again: it didn’t seem a fun way to pass the time. I ended up being more polite than I wanted to be, which was kind (at least) but not what a reviewer should do.

J.P.: Is there hope for the Justin Biebers and Selena Gomezes and One Directions of the world? Or are they simply doomed to be gobbled up by the Giant Corporate Pop machine, make millions, blow millions and ultimately end up either giving hand jobs on a Los Angeles side street or crying on some reality TV rehab show?

J.W.H.: I have no idea about these people. I have never even heard of One Direction or Selena Gomez. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard Justin Bieber sing, though I realize he’s everywhere (I just don’t know why he’s there.) Pop has always been full of ephemeral stars (and it’s one of the glories of Pop that it is), one-hit wonder type people, if that’s the question. Just because they’re not doing work of lasting value, or they’re manufactured to be Pop Idols, doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be damned to a bad career. Nowadays it seems reality TV and that rehab culture might be part of the career trajectory. It’s a tough life, music, and showbusiness generally. I wish them all luck and hope they’re happy what they’re doing, whatever it is.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOHN WESLEY HARDING:

• Five greatest singers of your lifetime: Robert Wyatt, Colin Blunstone, Duncan Browne, Kate Bush, Bob Dylan.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Every time I fly. I predict a plane crash which makes me feel fairly certain it won’t happen. But only fairly certain.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Punky Brewster, Hall & Oates, UCLA, Ryan Howard, vegemite, Justin Timberlake, kitchen tables, Dynablob 4, Bob Dylan, Mitt Romney, nasal hair, American Airlines, chicken soup, the smell of ginger: They all seem equally awful when you put it like that.

• Can music really heal the world? Or is that just bullshit?: Music Therapy can certainly help people with real difficulties, so in that sense: yes.

• If a person should hear one John Wesley Harding Song, it is …: Making Love to Bob Dylan.

• Any thoughts on how to lower the unemployment rate?: Stick with Barack Obama.

• Celine Dion offers you $3 million to play guitar on her next tour—but you have to do so in a bunny suit. You in?: Absolutely. I can’t see a downside to that at all. And the bunny suit would preserve my dignity.

• Are farts still funny at 47?: I would hate to smell a fart that was 47 years old.

• Best joke you know?: Most recently—Angela Merkel goes to France. Immigration asks her three question. Name? Angela Merkel. Nationality? German. Occupation? No, just here for the weekend.

• One question you’d ask Hosken Powell were he in front of you right now?: I have no idea who that is, I’m afraid. So: “Who are you?” Or perhaps: “Are you any relation to Michael Powell, the filmmaker?”

Nathan Osmond

Of all the world’s famously named goateed Mormon country singers, Nathan Osmond is, hands down, my favorite. The nephew of Donnie and Marie Osmond and the son of Alan Osmond, from a young age Nathan had seemingly little choice but to enter the family business.

The results have been excellent.

A couple of weeks ago Nathan’s patriotic anthem, “Stars & Stripes,” reached No. 7 on the Independent Country Chart, giving him a fourth tune to make the list over the past year. His new album, Climbing Fences, is available in Target and via iTunes, and Nathan is currently touring across the United States. Although I’m not exactly a country type of guy, the man has an absolutely beautiful voice.

Here, the Mormon City Mad Man talks about climbing the ranks of the country charts; about what it takes to write a patriotic jam and why he’d be the perfect dude to slather on the kabuki makeup and fill in for Paul Stanley if KISS is in need. You can follow his Tweets here.

Nathan Osmond, here’s the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Nathan, first I want to thank you for doing this. You clearly have a beautiful voice, and I can certainly see how you’ll go far in country music. That said, as a former music writer for The Tennessean, I have a question about your song, “Stars & Stripes.” Namely, I always hear country singers offering up similar odes to patriotism and military service—certainly two worthy causes. But isn’t that also extremely surface themes? I mean, we’ve been recently engaged in two wars that, at best, were questionable engagements. Iraq wasn’t fighting for our freedoms—it was a ludicrous response to 9/11 against a nation that had nothing to do with it. And Afghanistan—well, who knows how long we’ll have troops bogged down there. We’ve watched as our men and women have been sacrificed in the name of politics and re-elections and power, and it sucks. Isn’t there a song in that? In how maybe our troops aren’t dying for our freedoms, but because they’ve too often turned into pieces on a sadistic chess board?

NATHAN OSMOND: First of all, I wish to start off by saying thank you for featuring me here on your blog. I’m very excited to be able to share my music with the masses. “Stars & Stripes” is moving up the Independent Country charts and is currently in the Top 20 this week! It is not about any specific war rather about the many sacrifices that our troops and their families have made and continue to make to help keep our enemies at bay. I think it’s fair to say that without the countless sacrifices of our troops and their families, you and I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation right now, nor would your followers be allowed to read it. God bless our troops and their families. I pray for their safety and peace in the world in which we live.

J.P.: You’re an Osmond. Your dad, Alan Osmond, was the lead singer in the original Osmonds. I hate to ask a lame question—but I’m genuinely fascinated. What was it like growing up in a musical world with 800 cousins and uncles and aunts and siblings? Did you know music would be your path? Was there a moment when you knew—absolutely knew—this is what you wanted to do.

N.O.: The older I get, the more I realize that my life has been anything but normal. As a kid, I thought everyone had a television studio. Growing up on the set of the Donny & Marie show, I was surrounded by music, production, etc. I don’t think there was ever a time that I didn’t want to follow in my father’s footsteps. It looked like so much fun. I’m glad that my father Alan taught me how to work hard for each of my personal successes. I also enjoyed the fact that we’ve been fortunate enough to work as a family all these years. There are 57 grandkids on the Osmond’s side and we are all very close. I even have seven brothers; no sisters.

J.P.: I am bewildered by religious certainty. Like, I’m Jewish, but lord knows I’m not 100% certain what happens when one dies, or even if there’s a God. Yet you seem pretty darn sure you’re on the right religious path. How is this possible—especially if you haven’t tried the world’s other 865 religions to see what they offer?

N.O.: I consider myself a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. The Mormon Church). I am a Christian and I have had the rare privilege of traveling the world. I have both researched and respect all people’s beliefs. I don’t waste my time trying to tear down other peoples beliefs in a supreme being. Rather, I look for what we have in common. We may call him by other names, but at the end of the day, He is our Father. I believe that we are all children of loving Heavenly Father who loves us and who has a plan for each of us. I encourage you and all who desire to come to know Him to visit www.Mormon.Org and ask your questions there on a live chat with our missionaries. They can help you come to know who you are, why you are here and where you are going after this life. The source of all my happiness and joy stems from my belief in my Savior, Jesus Christ, His plan for me and my family and I wish to share it with world.

J.P.: Both your father and your brother, David, suffer from multiple sclerosis. I think, generally, people know the disease, but are unfamiliar with the impact it has on people … on families. What has dealing with M.S. been like for you and yours? And have you ever felt, I don’t know … angry about two family members having it?

N.O.: Believe it or not, both my father and my brother David say that having M.S. is the greatest thing that has ever happened to them. They don’t take a single step for granted. From day one, my father’s slogan has been, “I may have M.S., but M.S. does not have me!” I believe that each of us are tested in different ways in this life. It is how we deal with our challenges that we grow. You can choose to get bitter or you can choose to get better. Attitude in this life is everything. I don’t blame God, nor am I angry because of my family’s challenges. I am rather inspired by my family members. My father Alan said on the Larry King Show, “It’s not the disease or the condition that gets you … it’s the lack of hope.” You can’t have faith with out hope first. My father has inspired so many in dealing with their physical challenges. He is one of the most positive influences I have in my life.

J.P.: It seems like having a famous showbiz name can be blessing and curse. On the one hand, it surely opens doors. On the other hand, “Osmond” carries connotations—squeaky clean, a certain look, a certain wholesome genre of music. Do you ever feel burdened by the name? Has it helped you? Do people jump to unfair assumptions?

N.O.: Osmond is a two-edge sword and to be honest, I almost didn’t use it. Not because I’m ashamed of my name, but rather, because I want a fair shot at my own successes. “Osmond” on the other hand is a brand and is known for more than 100 million albums sold! We are the longest-running family in show business and even recently sold out Wembley Arena in the U.K. twice in ten minutes. Something is working. I think the name helps to get a foot in the door, but then you’ve got to have the goods. I think having a name that people recognize brings certain expectations and yes, people tend to prejudge my music prior to listening to it. It almost makes it harder to be taken seriously. By the way, my music isn’t like anything “Osmond” you’ve ever heard. One thing I love about country music is how honest it is. I considered going under the name of Nathan George (my middle name is George). I knew that “Osmond” would eventually come out and I didn’t want people thinking that I was trying to hide something or that was ashamed of my family. Quite the contrary. I just decided to be who I am. take me or leave me world! I am proud of my surname and what it stands for. I didn’t even tell my family I was going after a solo career. I think I gained their respect even more by doing that.

J.P.: You’re a devout Mormon. Right now, obviously, a Mormon is running for president, and much is being discussed about the religion. Do you like, or dislike, the way the dialogue is going? Do you feel as if people misunderstand Mormonism? And, if so, what is it we don’t get?

N.O.: I saw the coolest poster today! It said, “Mormons—The most secretive church that knocks on your door to tell you all about it.” If you want to know what “Mormons” believe, ask a Mormon: www.Mormon.org.

J.P.: You endorse freeze-dried energy food products. You write, “With an ever-changing economy and uncertainty in the job markets, I’m convinced that one of the smartest things any family can do is have plenty of food storage.” I say this with not once ounce of snarkiness: What the heck are you talking about?”

N.O.: With events like Hurricane Isaac, job loss, hyper inflation on the rise, the economic issues in Greece and Europe, it makes a lot of sense to plan ahead. One of my favorite books says, “If you are prepared, ye shall not fear.” My family and I have always stored food for various reasons. Not only has it helped us in times of uncertainty, but we have been able to bless others with it. If things get rough, and they very well could, I believe it is extremely important to have plenty of food storage. Gold may be a good investment, but you can’t eat gold!

J.P.: It strikes me that you’re at an interesting—and perhaps frustrating—point in a musical career. You’re clearly trying to break through, get consistent play, strike a cord with listeners, achieve greater name recognition. You opened for the Beach Boys and Scott McCreary, which is great. I’m wondering—how hard is it? To break in? To break through? To go from “That’s what I want …” to “I’m achieved it.”

N.O.: I’m having a blast! I try to make each day count and plan on being in the business a long time. I’ve always been amazed at how long it takes to become an overnight success! Nothing good just happens; you’ve got to work at it. I am starting to experience great moments in my career. I have recently opened for Carrie Underwood, Chris Young, Clay Walker and others. I’ve had three No. 1 consecutive hits and was even nominated as New Artist of the Year and Male Artist of the Year by the New Music Awards in Los Angeles. Most of all, my kids think I’m a rock star! At the end of the day, I am just so blessed to be able to do what I love for a living. I am thrilled that people are starting to take notice of my music as a solo artist. Heck, I’m even being interviewed by you, Jeff! I believe that we all define what “success” means to us. I am enjoying the journey and don’t associate success with plaques or trophies on the wall. I love what Ralph Waldo  Emerson said, “Success: To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

J.P.: You made your first national television appearance in 1986 when Bob Hope invited The Osmonds 2nd Generation to appear on his Christmas show. What do you recall about the experience? How nervous were you? And did Bob Hope smell like cranberry? I’ve always pictured him smelling like cranberry.

N.O.: I will always cherish my time working with one of the classiest men in show business; the late Bob Hope! He always made us all feel so special and was a true friend to our family. I don’t ever recall being nervous around him. Not only was I on his show as a kid with my brothers (The Osmond Boys), but we were also invited to his home where we sat around the pool with both him and his wife, Delores. Even in his frail years, he made an exclusive visit to our theater in Branson, Missouri to wish all of the Veterans a Happy Veteran’s day. That was the last time I ever saw him. I don’t think we will ever see another Bob Hope in our lifetimes.

Oh, I don’t ever remember any cranberry smells! Sorry! 😉

J.P.: How do you go about writing a song? From soup to nuts—what’s the process for you? How do you come up with a theme? Where do the lyrics emerge from? Are there people you consult with?

N.O.: I have been writing songs since I was about 13-years old. I love collaborating with others and have even been doing a lot of songwriting via Skype! I even co-wrote my recent single, “Stars & Stripes” with a hit-songwriter in Scottland named Marwenna Diame. I was in Utah and she was across the pond. We have written a ton of songs for my new up-coming album, “Climbing Fences” via Skype. I love technology! Sometime the melody comes first. Other times I start with a title and it just goes from there. Marwenna and I even recently wrote a song about Alzheimers, because of her mother and a dear friend of mine who have it. She was having a hard day and we decided to write about it. I love to write about all sorts of topics.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NATHAN OSBORNE:

• Snoop Dogg calls and he wants to do a duet with you. You in?: I’d love to work with Snoop Dogg! The song has to be the right song for both of us!

• Ever think you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please elaborate: I’ve been on a few scary flights. The de-icing machine stopped working and we were forced to turn around and land in Cincinnati. We were also about to land in Tucson, Arizona when the pilot hurried and aborted the landing. I hung on thinking we were being hijacked. After about three minutes, the pilot got on the PA system and said, “We apologize about the interruption in our landing … we came pretty close to hitting another aircraft.” Those are words that stay with you.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): baked beans, Tanya Tucker, Wiz Khalifa, Dusty Baker, iPhones, Coke Zero, the banjo, the state of Kansas, Hall and Oates, Michael Phelps, origami, Marriott points, Kim Kardashian, American Idol, the number 11: Wow … random! I have to admit … I had to Google some of these. iPhone, Marriott points, American Idol, Michael Phelps, Hall and Oates, Tanya Tucker, the number 11, the State of Kansas, the banjo, baked beans, origami, Dusty Baker, Coke Zero (never tried it!), Kim Kardashian, Wiz Kalifa.

• Do you believe that climate change is caused by man?: I believe there are many factors that lead to climate change. Man is responsible for many of the world’s problems, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame it all on man. How about those cow flatulence?

• What happens when we die?: Get your answers at www.Mormon.org

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match—you or Vanilla Ice? How many rounds?: Me, for sure! Maybe three rounds … if he’s lucky! I’d be like, “Check out my hook punch while the DJ revolves it!”

• Five greatest country singers of your lifetime: Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Collin Raye, Ronnie Dunn, Carrie Underwood.

• Book of Mormon: The Musical—offended, intrigued or both?: I personally have not seen it. It has been quoted as being “blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak.” I wouldn’t go there looking to find pure doctrine. From the few scenes I have seen on the Tony Awards, it does paint our people in a very sincere, pure, clean-cut light for which we have no apologies. I hope that it intrigues people enough to the point that they take a serious look into what it is that I believe, which has brought so much happiness and joy into my life.

• Favorite phrase: “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” — Winston Churchill

• KISS calls and they need you to fill in for Paul Stanley—makeup and all—for a couple of weeks. You in?: That would rock! I am, however, a little bit rock n’ roll.

Steve James

This is going to sound simple and somewhat inane, but I love great Quazes. I know … I know—of course I love great Quazes. Hell, they’re on my website. What I mean is that, well, all Quazes are not created equal. Some of these interviews have been absolutely fantastic. Others, mmm, not so much. It’s a little bit hit or miss, depending on the subject and his/her willingness to devote some time.

Today’s Quaz kicks ass.

Steve James has a common name, which means you might mistakingly think he’s this guy or that guy. This Steve James, however, is one of America’s great documentarians. His films include two all-time classics, Hoop Dreams and Stevie. He also directed one of my personal favorite motion pictures, Prefontaine, on the life of American distance runner Steve Prefontaine. James’ newest film, Head Games, premieres this Friday in New York and Los Angeles, and will be immediately available via VOD (on iTunes). The documentary tackles (no pun intended) the silent concussion issue in American sports, combining heartbreaking interviews with jarring imagery. If James’ track record is any indicator, it will have an impact.

In today’s Quaz, Steve James talks about the country’s concussion issue. He looks back at the magic of Hoop Dreams and the pride and joy of his debut work, “Stop Substance Abuse.” James tells us the highs and lows of filmmaking; why he’s never felt scared in an airplane and his immediate remorse over agreeing to this interview. You can follow Steve’s new film here. Steve James, enter The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Steve, I’m gonna start with this: It strikes me that sports fans—and even athletes—talk a good game about concussions and head injuries, but generally stop at words. It’s sorta like climate change: “This is terrible … we need to do something!” while driving off in our Escalades, blasting our ACs, etc. Same here: “Man, the NFL needs to address concussions … holy shit! Did you see that hit Ed Reed put on Victor Cruz! That was awesome!” Do you think the nation is genuinely concerned—or do people merely talk the talk?

STEVE JAMES: I think both are true. Its hard to watch football as a fan and keep reminding yourself that the players on the field may be doing irreparable harm to themselves. I think all of us fans engage in willful ignorance or otherwise, we’d turn off the TV and go spend more time with loved ones. (Who wants to do that?) But in making this film, we found that the contradictions go deeper. We met parents who are genuinely concerned about their kids who play contact sports, who clearly want to make their sure they’re safe… And yet, despite repeated concussions they can’t bring themselves to bar their kids from playing these contact sports. I think it has to do with how ingrained these sports are in our culture and what we have come to believe are the great benefits of participation in them. And I think deep down, we all are hoping that the more we learn about concussions, that we’ll find that we’ve overreacted to this crisis. J.P.: “Head Games” addresses the concussion crisis in sports. Is it genuinely a crisis, or is it just a fact that, hey, you play sports, you might suffer a concussion? Are things getting worse, in your opinion, because of some increased physicality with youth sports? How big of a problem is this?

S.J.: I think it qualifies as a crisis because up until a few years ago, we paid virtually no attention to it and now its impossible not to. Most everyone connected to contact sports is legitimately scared because the research to date doesn’t give a lot of comfort. But on the other hand, we are barely off the starting block in terms of our knowledge and so its possible that we will look back on this time in ten years and say we overreacted. But we also might look back and say, how could we have been so naïve all those years? It’s as much about what we don’t know that requires us to not take this too lightly. J.P.: You’ve had a tremendous career in film. Your resume is loaded and thick and insanely impressive. Question: How did you get here? I mean, I know you attended Southern Illinois and, ahem, little else. What was your path from there to here?

S.J.: Mine was the path of a lot of filmmakers. You get out of school, you work shit jobs or grab on to the lowest rung on the film food chain (to mix a bunch of metaphors) and find a way to make a living while you pursue your own films. Films that no one – at least for a while – believes in enough to support. Making Hoop Dreams kept me sane all those years I was doing work as the oldest most educated production assistant in Chicago. Then I was lucky enough to have that film truly launch my career and now I just try not to fuck it up.

J.P.: According to Wikipedia, your first film was “Stop Substance Abuse in 1986.” A. Is this true? B. What the hell is “Stop Substance Abuse”?

S.J.: All these years and interviews and no one’s asked me that question! Finally, I get to sing its praises. Well, actually, I’ve been trying to expunge that from IMDB for years. It was a sponsored film from then Illinois Secretary of State George Ryan (now imprisoned) to have prominent pro athletes in Chicago speak out against the perils of drugs. Our featured star was then-Bull Orlando Woolridge, who two years later was arrested for cocaine abuse. But hey, it was a paycheck that also allowed me to interview Walter Payton and Michael Jordan. But it didn’t launch my career: a week after I finished it, I was back unloading an Ace Hardware film set on Water Street. J.P.: Your breakthrough was clearly “Hoop Dreams,” which blew up into a phenomenon. I’ve probably seen the film, oh, five times, and absolutely love it. I know you’ve been asked 8,001 “Hoop Dreams” questions—so let me ask 8,002. Namely, during the whole long process, weren’t you ever concerned that, fuck, this might not work out? I mean, to devote THAT much time and energy to a process … without a definable ending? And, along those lines, was there ever a point when you thought, “This is gonna be huge?” Or did you just not know until it happened?

S.J.: I did worry at a certain point whether other people would be as compelled (read: obsessed) by it. But because I (along with my partners Peter Gilbert And Frederick Marx) was such a hoop head who’d grown up playing the game, I don’t think I really cared. Every day we shot brought new revelation and surprise, like we were living inside a Dickens novel or something. But I would have been insane to think a three hour documentary on two young basketball players no ever heard of would ever be “huge.” Still, late in the post process, I do recall coming home at like 4 AM after a graveyard editing shift and just sitting in my car unexpectedly crying because I knew I’d been privileged to bear witness to something rare and wonderful.

J.P.: Back in the mid-2000s I was working on a biography on Barry Bonds when I learned that someone else was also working on a biography of Barry Bonds. My thought: Crap! You wrote “Prefontane,” the 1997 film about the life and death of the legendary runner, Steve Prefontane. At the same time, Warner Brothers was working on “Without Limits,” another Pre film. I’m wondering: How aware were you? How nervous were you? Was there a rush to get it out first? And is it strange to have your film compared with a rival picture?

S.J.: I knew all about the other film because they happened at the same time. So it definitely made me nervous to realize that at exactly the same time I was writing my film in my basement office, 2000 miles away in Hollywood, legendary screenwriter Robert Towne was his. Gulp. And from a budget standpoint our version was the PT Boat to their aircraft carrier. Because we were small we beat them coming out, but both films failed at the box office. For years when somebody said they liked my Pre movie, I dutifully quizzed them to make sure they were talking about mine (Jared Leto) and not theirs (Billy Crudup). Nowadays, I just say thank you very much.

J.P.: What are the great highs and the great lows that come with working in documentary film? I mean, it strikes me as a fascinating profession, but one that must surely bring immense frustration and uncertainty? Am I off here?

S.J.: The uncertainty about funding and piecing together making a living is a drag. But I’ve managed to be my own boss now for about 27 years, even though at times that’s like saying I’m “self-unemployed.” But the uncertainty of where a story takes you creatively is one of the most exciting things about making documentaries. Each one is an act of discovery.

J.P.: You did an ESPN 30 for 30 on Allen Iverson. A. Why? B. I’ve always found Iverson top be both a sympathetic and devilish character. Smart, but oft-unsympathetic; gritty, yet selfish. What’s your take on AI?

S.J.: My take is basically the same as yours, which I tried to show in the film. Here was a troubled kid, troubled background, who got into serious trouble as a teenager. He was both a victim and possibly a victimizer. And trouble has followed him since. I came to believe that AI is like a Rorschach on our complicated history and feelings about race in America. Its all in the film. Check it out!

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

S.J.: I’ve had many great moments for me personally. None better than watching Hoop Dreams at the New York Film Festival from the VIP box with the families we followed at Avery Fischer Hall with a sea of 2400 viewers below us. The worse had to be when the drunken owner of a dinky shooting stage in Chicago told me he had no reason to speak to me because I was just some guy who unloads sets for a living. At the time I believed he was right.

J.P.: I imagine working on The War Tapes must have absolutely infuriated you: RE: the role of government bullshit upon the war in Iraq; the use of patriotism as a weapon to get kids to sign up; etc. How did you maintain balance during the process; is it important for someone in your position to hold back from strong positions during the process; to let the material speak for itself?

S.J.: I’m a person with strong opinions about most things – just ask my poor wife. But I’ve never been a polemical filmmaker. So actually making The War Tapes was immensely satisfying because we were able to tell the stories of a pretty conservative soldier, a liberal one, and one who considered himself apolitical. By showing their experiences – by turns poignant, searing, and funny as hell – and hearing their own sometimes contradictory feelings and views, the film encourages the audience to reflect on their own views. I think the film is plainly critical of the war, but you don’t have to agree with me to enjoy and learn something from the film. For me, my favorite documentaries do that: express a point while embracing complexity, and not pulling punches. QUAZ EXPRESS WITH STEVE JAMES:

• Biggest career regret: Consenting to long internet interviews.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, please elaborate: Never have.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Arthur Agee, Gene Simmons, Moses Malone, Tampa, Bob Dole, oak tables, Amy Grant, Cosi’s bread, Morgan Freeman voice-overs, The Cable Guy, Eminem, candy apples, toenails, the toilets at minimarts: Seriously? I want to know how you came up with this list. Toenails and Toilets make me a little concerned about you.

• Five greatest actors of your lifetime: Sorry, my brain’s fading at this point. Can’t you tell?

• What happens when we die?: No one’s ever lived to tell the tale.

• How concerned you are, scale of 1 to 10, over what happens when we die: Okay, now I’m seriously worried about you. Do we need to send the police over to bust down your door?

• Best joke you know: The “existential joke”: A priest, a rabbi and a preacher walk into a bar.

• Is Michael Moore a great documentarian?: He’s one of our most ardent and passionate voices. I see him more as a kind of documentary essayist rather than a documentarian. And his impact on film and the public has been big.

• Celine Dion offers you $10 million to do a documentary about her left ear. You in?: Why not? I’ve got hungry mouths to feed and I’m sure there’s a story there. For $10 million, I’ll find a story.

• You have a really boring name. If you could change it to anything, what would you go with?: How about James Stevens? Seems classier somehow.

John Oates

If you know me, and you’ve known me for more than, oh, six weeks, you’re aware of my love for (aka: infatuation with) Daryl Hall and John Oates. It began when I was 10, and I bought my brother David the Hall & Oates album, H2O. All told, David probably listened to the thing, oh, four times.

I probably listened 400.

There was just something about the sound that … moved me. Cliche dictates I’m supposed to discuss two white guys performing so-called “black” music (aka: the art of blue-eyed soul). But that’s not it. What did it (and still does it) for me about Daryl and John was the merging sounds and textures and melodies. Their voices are nothing alike. I mean, not even close. Neither are their styles—Daryl is flamboyant (sometimes annoyingly so), John is understated (sometimes to his detriment). Yet the combination has clearly worked: Hall & Oates has compiled six No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 (“Rich Girl“, “Kiss on My List“, “Private Eyes“, “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)“, “Maneater,” and “Out of Touch“) and 34 total singles have charted. Billboard Magazine dubbed them the most successful duo of the rock era—and, if one thinks about it, the competition isn’t even close.

For me, however, it’s never been about the hits and the cheese videos and the fame. If you wanna get to the heart of Hall & Oates, I’d suggest two albums you almost certainly don’t have: Whole Oates (their debut) and Change of Season (from the early 1990s). Neither one contains many hits, but the products are, well, dazzling.

I digress. Hall & Oates still tour, and still pump out new music. Both men, however, seem more focussed on their solo projects. Daryl hosts an excellent monthly show, Live From Daryl’s House, while John records and tours on his own, and with his John Oates Band.

Here, John Oates discusses the secret to musical longevity, why he and Daryl have nary a single thing in common, why Justin Bieber should soak it all in and what it’s like to play Maneater for the 893,322,345th time. John Tweets here, and one can visit his website here.

John Oates, welcome to the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You’ve sold millions of albums, you’ve toured the world, you’ve won tons of awards. Yet when I read your bio, and watch/read different interviews, you seem significantly happier now than you were in, say, 1983. You have a wife, a son, you ski and bike and live in Aspen and Nashville. And you play music you love, without commercial pressure. Am I wrong here?

JOHN OATES.: You’re not off at all. You’re exactly right. I wouldn’t trade going back in time, regardless of the success and the notoriety, for anything in the world. I’m a completely different human being, and those days were very heady, and without those days, quite in fact, I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. so all the parts of the puzzle work together. But, really, if I had to go back and start all over again, I definitely would not be as happy. I was driven, I was pushed, I was pulled, I was part of a big machine. That was just on this incredible roll that you just couldn’t stop. and it was … I wouldn’t say … I’m very thrilled that it happened, but when Daryl and I slowed down in the early 90s, I got a chance to re-evaluate my life. I moved to Colorado, I got re-married, I had a kid, I built a house. I started living like a human being. Really getting off the hamster wheel. And everything changed. Now my current revitalization of my love for music is all because I have this incredible artistic freedom that was earned through the success of Hall and Oates. But now I don’t want to take it for granted or waste a second of it. So I’m doing all sorts of eclectic things. Colaberating with people who I never would have dreamed of working with; spreading my wings in a lot of different styles of music that I always loved but never had the opportunity to be a part of. Making new friends, moving to Nashville, having a whole new set of calibrators and experiences. It’s been fantastic.

J.P.: I just read a Justin Beiber Rolling Stone story. He’s an 18-year-old kid with a swag coach, and he can’t go anywhere, and he’s singing prefab music. Is there any part of you that sees anyone like that and wants to say, “Run! Run away!”

J.O.: I would never say that to him. I would say, suck it in and use it up and enjoy every minute of it, because when it’s done … hopefully for him it’ll be like what happened to me. It may provide him with a platform to do many, many things in his life that he could have never achieved or dreamed of without what’s going on today. So, no, I think he’s probably living large. He’s partying and he’s got the chicks and he’s on tour and on TV … you know, he’s doing it all. And good for him. There’s a time in your life where if you’re lucky enough to have that opportunity, you definitely take it. No doubt about it.

J.P.: One of my favorite songs that you did together is one very few people know outside of die-hard fans. Can’t Stop the Music (He Played it Much Too Long)—which is a brilliant tune. I was thinking how it’s about an aging singer who’s left performing for a small room of people. You were in your early 20s when you wrote it.

Fast forward a year and a half ago—the wife and I saw you play on Long Island, with Mutlu, and it was a relatively small room with about 200 people there. You played some old stuff, some new stuff … you’re 62. And I imagine back when you wrote the song, 62 would have sounded ancient. But you seemed really happy and into the experience and the smallness of the occasion. When you wrote that song, could you have envisioned performing at this age—and embracing it?

J.O.: That’s a very interesting take on that. Of course, when I was in my 20s writing that song, I had no idea … obviously I was projecting something there. What I was really talking about there, and what really gave me the inspiration for that song, was the fact that … the treadmill was starting to … this musical-pop success treadmill was starting in the 70s, it was like I couldn’t stop the music; it felt like something was greater than me and it was going to take over. I guess I was projecting. And the odd thing (in the song) … you sing the song so many times, and yet you can’t remember the words. That was where the original inspiration came.

But, no, I could never envision myself doing this at this time in this way. There’s no way. I knew, inherently, I would always be a musician, because it’s the only thing I’ve ever done in my whole life. So it wouldn’t have surprised me if someone said to me back in that day, “Hey, when you’re in your mid-60s do you think you’ll still be a musician?” I’d say, “Yeah, probably, but how, and at what level and what style, I could have never imagined. It all goes back to the foundation of success of Hall and Oates that has given me this incredible platform to just do all these things.”

J.P.: My father has spent his year in executive search, and he started his career with a business partner, and it lasted about five years. And it seems that’s pretty normal … partnerships just don’t last. And you and Daryl have something very unusual, be it sports or politics or business, and I’m wondering whether it transcends music … the longevity. What is the secret to staying together for so many years?

J.O.: Well, Daryl and I have a very unique relationship. We’re very unique individuals. And it’s a very, very complicated and huge question you just asked. You know, it has to do with our personalities; it has to do with our personalities, that they don’t conflict with each other but they somehow compliment each other. He has what I lack, I have what he lacks. And together, we make almost one complete person—in a weird way. And at the same time we are smart enough to respect each other’s individuality and independence and not put any restrictions on each other. One thing Daryl and I have never done, even from the very beginning—we never put any restrictions on each other in terms of what we were going to do and how we were gonna do it. When he wanted to make solo albums, even early on in our Hall and Oates career, I was perfectly fine with it. In fact, it gave me opportunities to do other things. So I looked at it in a positive way. A lot of people would say, “Oh, Daryl’s making solo albums, how come you aren’t?” Because I’m doing other things. I’m learning how to fly airplanes and racing cars and trying to enjoy myself when I’m not on the road. So I had a different agenda. When I started making solo albums, I did it at a time in my life when it felt like it was the right time for me to do it. And he had no problem with it. So, you know, I think the fact we have that kind of open relationship, creatively, that’s a huge thing. And also, we don’t really have anything in common at all, other than music. We don’t live the same type of lives, we don’t have the same desires and dreams. We’re very, very different as people. But yet on a musical level we have this incredible bond that comes from, basically, growing up with a person. It’s almost like a brotherhood, really.

J.P.: I’ve heard you use “brotherhood” before.” I think people are genuinely fascinated by the relationship, because I’m guessing if you guys were best friends you wouldn’t have lasted three years.

J.O.: I agree. I mean, we really are completely independent people. We don’t live anywhere near each other, we don’t socialize, we don’t even talk to each other, really. We don’t really have to. Six months, eight months have gone by—haven’t even seen him or talked to him. We get on stage and it’s like nothing has changed; it’s like time has stopped. And it’s very weird, actually. But cool. We get on stage and I can read his mind. He can read my mind. It’s very odd, actually, when you try and analyze. To tell you the truth, I don’t question anything. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

J.P.: I’m eternally fascinated by veteran singers performing a song for the 8,765,432nd time. For example, you play Maneater always. You’ve played it repeatedly and repeatedly and repeatedly. How do you get geared up for it? Is there any motivation anymore? Or is it just sorta going through the motions now?

J.O.: Well, you know what, there’s a number of answers to that question. First of all, when I play it with Daryl and we play the classic Hall and Oates rendition of Maneater, uh, I feel like it’s part of my legacy, part of my life, part of my history. And it’s something that the audience appreciates and wants to hear, and I’m happy to do it. I wouldn’t say I’m going through the motions, because I never really go through the motions. I’m always putting something into it. But you know what, I appreciate what it is and where it came from and what it’s about. And interestingly enough, when I play my solo shows I play a completely different version of it. I’ve played three or four different versions of it. I’ve played a reggae version, which is actually the way the song was originally written. It started out as a reggae song. I’ve done it reggae style, I’ve played a blues version with my blues band, I’ve played a rockabilly version of it. I’ve played the song so many ways which only goes to show the actual substance and the actual quality of the raw composition. Above and beyond the production. I think people don’t make the distinction between the record and the song. What I do is I look at the song itself. And the song is not the record that I made with Daryl. That’s the record Hall and Oates made of that song. And that’s how I look at that song. That’s why it’s interesting to me, and that’s why I keep playing it. Because to me the song still has an inherent substance to it. And inherent meaning. And when I play my solo shows I tell the song of where that song comes from. It’s crazy, people have heard that song a million times, as you said, but nobody knows what it was about or why it was written or how it was written. And I think people find that fascinating.

J.P.: Uh, at the risk of being lame—how was it written? What’s the story?

J.O.: I was sitting at a bar/restaurant that we used to hang out in in the West Village. It was a cool hangout in the 80s for everyone. Models, actors, musicians, whatever. Uh, and I’m sitting with a group of friends at a table and this gal came into the room and she was absolutely the most gorgeous creature that ever walked the earth. And she sat down at the table across from me and she began to talk. And she had the foulest vocabulary. She was absolutely the crudest, foulest mouth I had ever heard on a human being. It was such extreme contract to her great beauty, and it shocked me, in a way, and scared me and excited me at the same time. And I looked at her and in her mind I thought, “Man, she would chew you up and spit you out.” And it just … my songwriting antennae just popped up and the word “man-eater.” just popped into my head. Then I went home and I started writing the chorus.

J.P.: Do you still have that same songwriter instinct? They always say, just like in sports, a singer’s creative peak comes in 20s and 30s. Do you feel you are as good as you were as a songwriter back then?

J.O.: Oh, I think my songwriting is lightyears above what I’ve done in the past. In fact, I’m on a ridiculous songwriting jag right now. I’m writing like crazy. I’m collaborating with a lot of people, I’m writing by myself, I’m on a roll that I’ve never had in my life. I think the songs that I’m writing right now are the best songs I’ve ever written in my life. I’m not saying that from an ego point of view. I actually played a singer/songwriter show a few days ago and I played a bunch of the old hits, and then I said, “Listen, I hope you guys will indulge me, but I’d like to play some of the stuff I’ve just written. And across the board at the end of the evening everyone just said, “Wow, we love the old songs. But I can’t believe what you’re writing now. Your writing has gone to a whole other place.” And I feel the same way. So I’m completely stoked and excited about my songwriting right at this moment.

J.P.: You wrote for Margo Rey, right?

J.O.: Oh, she’s great.

J.P.: I agree. And she has a hit with a song you co-wrote. Does that give you the same juice as singing a big song yourself?

J.O.: Oh, yeah. Because she’s such an amazing singer and such a great human being. Just writing with her and having her perform the song—it’s thrilling. Because I know what she can bring to a song; what her voice alone can do to a song and take it to a whole other place. Which to me is fantastic.

J.P.: I find it ludicrous that you’re not in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. You and KISS—it makes no sense.

J.O.: You know what? It’s a political thing. There’s a cadre of people who vote and they don’t find us worthy for whatever reason. I don’t really care about it. If it happens, it’ll be fun. If not, it won’t change my life one iota. So I really don’t care.

J.P.: You really don’t care? At all?

J.O.: I really don’t care. You know what I was really excited about? And to this day I’m still extremely proud. To win a BMI Icon Award among all the amazing songwriters in the history of BMI. And also to be inducted into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame. To me, that was much more important than the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.

J.P.: Man, what does a brotha have to do to get in the Hall …

J.O.: Well, some things I can’t talk about on the phone.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOHN OATES:

Regrettably, John is the first of 66 Quaz candidates to fail to answer his Quaz Express questions. Because I ran out of time on the phone, I sent the questions to John’s representative. However, he was quite taken aback by them. I followed up with some altered questions but, alas, received no reply. I’m not mad. It just stinks. Oh, well.

 

Shannon Bex

Back in 2004-05, millions of television viewers tuned to MTV every week to watch Making the Band 3, the P. Diddy-centered reality show where a bunch of young, pretty, talented musical hopefuls would battle to, ultimately, form a group. On the Nov. 15, 2005 season finale, the network set a new viewership record as Diddy selected five women to form (the entity that would ultimately be known as) Danity Kane.

One of those women was Shannon Bex.

Quite often, reality TV winners come and go like the Foxboro wind. Where, for example, is Evan Marriott? How about Ruthie Alcaide? Uh, Omarosa, anybody? Danity Kane, however, had a very legit run. The group’s first single, Show Stopper, was absolutely huge, and the debut album topped the Billboard chart. Then, a second CD, Welcome to the Dollhouse, landed at No. 1, too. It was a pretty phenomenal showing, and even though the group broke up after five years, one can’t argue with the success.

Bex, a 32-year-old Oregonian, always came off as the mature member of Danity. She was the oldest, as well as the only one who was married. While she certainly sang the songs with gusto and flair, she never quite seemed to be, well, the squeeze-into-the-tightest-pants-possible type. A guitar, some jeans—that was Bex.

Anyhow, nowadays Shannon is recording a solo album that leans significantly more toward country than pop. She raised dough for the project via Pledge Music, and seems quite happy with the organic nature of her work. Shannon’s website is here, and she Tweets frequently (and interestingly). Here, she chats about life in Danity, life with Diddy, why the music business can mess with a person’s head and what life was like as a Portland Trailblazer dancer. She digs high heels, loathes immitation crab meat and has never heard of Dwight Gooden.

Shannon Bex, we’re in the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Shannon. Off the bat, thanks for doing this. Truly appreciated. First thing I want to ask you is a question I’ve often thought about when it comes to singers initially known from reality shows: Once one becomes famous from a Making of the Band-esque endeavor, how hard is it to move past that? I mean, certainly women like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are now just as known (if not more so) than their catalogue of work than American Idol. But for most, it seems very, very difficult to shed the label, “Reality show creation.” Has this been difficult for you? Or am I inventing something that doesn’t exist?

SHANNON BEX: When reality shows first came about, I believe stepping into a legitimate role as a true artist was difficult. However, it has become such a popular path of discovery that the industry and fans are much more accepting.

J.P.: I’m gonna ask you a very blunt, very unconventional question: Was Danity Kane a good group? What I mean is, well, you all had talent, obviously; good voices, etc. But, looking back, what were the strengths and what were the weaknesses? And is it truly realistic to take a bunch of total strangers and think they can become a cohesive, long-lasting group? Or is that just ludicrous?

S.B.: Yes, Danity Kane was a well-rounded talented group of women, from singing to dancing and performance quality. I believe our biggest weakness was the side of our business. It is the music business and if you can’t agree on decisions it affects the brand. It’s just like starting or owning your own business, whatever it might be. You typically would choose to work with those who think the same and bring other strengths you do not have. But I’ve always said that, considering we were a group that was put together through a competition, well, I think we truly held our own for five years.

J.P.: I know you’re from Gresham, Oregon. I know you started dancing at age 6, and I know you went to high school in Bend, Oregon. But what was your path from there to here? In other words, how did you become a singer? Who most influenced the career choice? And what were the big moments along the way that influenced who you are?

S.B.: I’ve always loved singing but was very shy. I didn’t start until I was a freshman in high school in choir. Then I started singing at pep assemblies around town for events and the anthem for horse shows. You couldn’t stop me. After I graduated I auditioned for the NBA and joined the Portland Trail Blazers’ Dance Team. My coach heard me sing and got me on the court with a mic at a Western Conference game against Los Angeles. I was 20 at the time. The whirlwind started there. I sang the anthem at games along with other time out performances. Then I joined a cover band. At the age of 22 I auditioned for Fame on NBC with Debbie Allen. I was the runner-up, then signed to WEG Entertainment. I waited at home a year and got my first taste of this industry. The reality that nobody was going to do it for me really sank in. I watched the first season of Making the Band, then when Diddy announced the next round of auditions I was on a plane to San Francisco to stand in line for seven hours. You know the rest.

J.P.: You spent five seasons as a Portland Trail Blazers dancer. I’ve watched many NBA dance troops over the years, and I always think, “Hmm … this must get really boring for the dancers.” What was the experience like for you? And what are the pressures and complications that come with being an NBA dancer?

S.B.: I had the best time being an NBA dancer. My coach was amazing, as were the women I was on the team with each season. I have made lifelong friends through that experience. I can’t say every NBA team is the same way. What we had was unique to our situation, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. I almost didn’t try out due to the stereotypes of the NBA dancers, but I had the opportunity to take a camp from the girls before I tried out and it changed my mind.

J.P.: My wife loves reality TV. I sorta think much of it is bullshit. I’m wondering—what do you think? How true to real was Making the Band? Was drama manufactured? Were character traits exaggerated so we’d have “good” vs “bad” storylines? And how has that experience changed the way you view the reality genre?

S.B.: No doubt reality shows enhance the personalities, so the audience can relate to one character or another. However, I always say they can’t use what you don’t give them. I can’t speak for other reality shows, but as far as Making the Band goes, everything that you saw go down really happened.

J.P.: In 2003 you were the runner-up to Harlemm Lee on the TV series, Fame. What do you recall from the experience? And, although everyone smiles and claps when the come in second in front of the cameras, how did you really feel?

S.B.: I truly was thrilled for him. I thought he was/is incredibly talented. Truthfully, I had never been around a performer so captivating. Plus I was getting married two weeks after the show. I knew that the winner was leaving for New York the next day, hitting the media circuit. I thought this thing could blow up fast. So I have to be honest—I was a little relieved I could go through with the wedding plans.

J.P.: You’ve obviously worked insanely hard. What did it feel like when Show Stopper blew up and was being played everywhere? When did you first realize Danity Kane could be pretty big? And what was your highest moment during that run?

S.B.: From the moment Puff picked the  five of us I was like … wow, this could be big! When we hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts the first day we released it confirmed that we were on the right path. Although I knew there were no guarantees. It wasn’t until our second album hitting No. 1 that I thought this thing could be huge, but now it was up to the team around us to take it further. We truly did all we could. At some point no matter how successful you become you need that manager … that mentor to come alongside and help open those doors, endorsements, opportunities that will help cement your longevity.

J.P.: You’re the second singer I’ve interviewed who was in a Sean Combs-affiliated group. From this viewpoint, it seems like he’s great when he needs you—then quick and sorta heartless when it comes to cutting strings. Am I off on this? And what was it like to work with a man you refer to as “infamous”?

S.B.: He and I always had a respect for one another. Around the time we recorded “Dollhouse” he mentioned how he trusted what I had to say, and in the end he said I was a pleasure to work with. I came in focused, worked hard and never gave him grief. We only got into one argument during the “Damaged” video, regarding my costume for the dance sequence. The pants were way too tight for me to move in, however, he wanted me to wear them so I did. I didn’t have a choice, but all in all he was right. They looked good and I told him.

As far as him being heartless, personally I didn’t experience that. Is he hard to work with? Sometimes—especially if he wants things to be a certain way. However, I had a few conversations with him, where I felt he was listening and he took to heart what I had to say.

J.P.: As we speak you are using PLEDGE MUSIC to try and raise money to record your solo LP. For $180 one gets to hang in the studio, for $2,000 one gets a private acoustic performance. I don’t want to sound rude or crude, because lord knows I’ve pimped my books in myriad ways (including handing out postcards in a stadium parking lot). But is there a feeling of, well, vulnerability, doing it this way? I mean, the dream is to be discovered by some label, which throws millions of dollars at you so you can live in the studio. Does this suck? Is it organic? Does it suck and is it organic? And what happens if you fail to raise the sum?

S.B.: It’s a great question! Not rude at all! Honestly, right now I’m not looking for a label. I’ve been signed to two in my career and they are very difficult to maneuver with and get out of when the time comes. It took a year and a half to get out of the Danity Kane contract. I couldn’t do anything during that time. Labels have a lot of control and I’m happy for what I’ve been a part of but for me, personally in my career, this is the right step at this time. To me it’s about connecting straight to the fans and communicating. Understanding what they like and what they are wanting. Though I can’t please everyone I can be personable vs. just looking at facts and numbers.

Working with Pledge Music is only helping my process. Reconnecting me with fans, gaining new ones. I see it as organic, and difficult. There is a lot of work that goes into self-promotion, but also a lot of creative control.

J.P.: Does the music business suck as much as I think it does? I mean, from my viewpoint it seems image rules over substance; mediocre talent+big boobs outweighs fat woman with a great voice; willingness to sell out takes one very, very far. Am I wrong? And how does it not drive you insane?

S.B.: The music business/entertainment business in general is very driven on marketability vs. the root of true talent. Though I feel in the last few years people are speaking out more about it and are trying to change that focus. It will be interesting to see where things go in the next 10 years. Especially since the fans/audience have more control than they ever did before in helping careers. In a way they’ve become the label.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SHANNON BEX:

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you remember?: No but Aubrey [Writer’s note: Former Danity Kane member Aubrey O’Day] thought she was going to—every plane we took! Haha … I stopped sitting next to her for fear she’d break my hand squeezing it so tight.

• Five reasons one should make Bend, Oregon his/her next vacation destination?: 1. It’s the high desert so the weather is a hot dry but not too hot. Typically there is a perfect breeze to cool you off; 2. If you love the outdoors there are plenty of activities. Floating down the river or on the lake, kayaking, riding bikes all around a quaint town, hiking, horseback riding, etc; 3. Bend is always hosting some type of event almost every night in the summer. There’s always good food and good music and a very reasonable price; 4. Winters are perfect! The snow is powder and the mountain is only a 25-minute drive [Writer’s note: Shannon only offered four. Which shouldn’t be taken as an indictment of a great town].

• What the hell does “All the boys tryin’ taste our candy ride” mean?: Haha! I don’t really know… it’s fun to say. We didn’t write it, we probably asked but I forgot.

• I consider this song, Blind Melon’s “Soup,” to be one of the most underrated tunes of all time. A. Have you ever heard it? B. What’s your take?: I had never heard it before. Though it’s typically not the style of music I listen to I can appreciate all genres. Watching the performance there is a complete honesty and connection for the singer and the lyrics, something that lacks now days with some artists. I had to look up the words to understand them all. It’s poetic and probably underrated since many people want to be entertained with bells and whistles. What it should be about is listening and understanding a song like you would a painting or any other work of art.

• Five greatest singers of your lifetime?: Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Brandy.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Celine Dion, pink lemonade, Dwight Gooden, Los Angeles, Yung Joc, Kenny Rogers, high heels, Disney World, imitation crab meat, April Fools Day, J. Giles Band, your cell phone, hamsters, the number 14: 1. High Heels; 2. Hamsters (so cute); 3. Pink Lemonade; 4. Celine Dion (Come on—she can sing!); 5. Yung Joc (He was on my first single and a label-mate has to be Top 5); 6. Los Angeles (traffic+Lakers=no thanks); 7. Kenny Rogers (know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em); 8 J. Gils Band (Centerfold gets stuck in my head); 9. Dwight Gooden (didn’t know who he was); 10. Number 14; 11. Disney World (too much to see, I get overwhelmed); 12. April Fools Day ( I don’t like being teased); 13. Imitation Crab Meat (yuck!).

• Why do you think KISS has yet to make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?: I truly don’t know. I think there are a lot of musicians and bands who have made an impact on music and a generation who have yet to be recognized.

• Is fame overrated or underrated? (Not the movie, the act of being famous …): Overrated! I don’t understand why society thinks so highly of fame and works so hard to be famous. It’s a dangerous road if you’re on it for the wrong reasons.

• Would you rather go on a two-week vacation with J.R. Rider or spend five months starring in a Mandy Moore cover band?: Mandy Moore cover band. I could have fun singing, dancing and get paid for it!

• Names you thought would be better than “Danity Kane”?: I didn’t think anything else was better then Danity Kane. It took a while to grow on me, but everything we or Diddy came up with fell short—i.e. Courage, Trust, Her-story (History), Queen 5. Yikes, I can only imagine!

 

Wayne Wilentz

Back in the mid-to-late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a New York-based funk bank named Skyy.

If you are of a certain age, and loved George Clinton-esque music, Skyy was for you. The group’s 1981 hit, Call Me, was absolutely everywhere, and a string of R&B hits followed. If you watched Soul Train or American Bandstand, you knew Skyy.

And here’s the quirky thing—Skyy was an unambiguously “black” group, in the way things were categorized back in the day. It featured three female singers (sisters Denise, Delores, and Bonne Dunning—all black), a male singer/guitarist (Solomon Roberts, Jr.—black), a guitarist/keyboardist (Anibal Anthony Sierra—black), a bass player (Gerald Lebon—black),  a drummer (Tommy McConnell—black) and a keyboardist, Wayne Wilentz, who was, ahem, white.

Nowadays, race has taken a backseat in music. Rappers are white, country singers are black. There’s crossover and randomness and, thankfully, nobody gives a damn. But when Wilentz was part of Skyy, well, he received more than a few crooked looks. But, come day’s end, he could also jam. And that trumped all.

Nowadays Wayne, who lives near Washington D.C. and is married to Lisa Winston, one of America’s great baseball writers, has turned his focus toward jazz. He has recorded multiple albums, and fronts the Wayne Wilentz Quartet. His resume is a dazzling one. Music has been his life.

Here, Wayne talks about life in Skyy and why jazz gets him going; why KISS belongs nowhere near the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and what it was like to meet Marvin Hagler.

Wayne Wilentz, the Quaz is yours …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Wayne, I’m gonna start with something blunt, and I mean no disrespect: I hate jazz. I really do. I mean, I like the idea of jazz., Smoky club, stiff drink, soulful sounds, etc. But I just can’t get into the music. I listen, and I just sorta get, well bored. Question for you: What am I doing wrong? Is there something I should be listening for? Someone I should be listening to? Because, right now, if you asked me to pick a night of Justin Bieber or jazz club, I might—dear God—go with the Biebs.

WAYNE WILENTZ: Bieber? Really, Jeff? Say it ain’t so! Are you the kind of guy who’d rather see “Transformers 6: Rise of the Legos” more than “Rashomon”?

OK—so you are not “doing” anything wrong. I get this from a lot of very intelligent, educated people (including my wife), and it’s exactly as you say. They like the idea of jazz, but the actual music seems self-indulgent, or just unintelligible. Sometimes we forget that jazz was at one time the popular music of this country. In many ways familiarity breeds contempt, but with music it actually breeds comfort and joy. Of course there are good tunes that if played too much (“Hey-Ya” for instance) will get on your nerves. What I am saying is that music is a language, and if someone starts chattering in your ear in Urdu and won’t shut up while you are having dinner or a drink, it will not be a pleasant experience. My parent’s generation grew up on jazz, and to them it sounded very normal and familiar. For musicians, it represents the greatest freedom and connectivity possible with other musicians. This is why it won’t die, no matter how unpopular it may be with the masses.

Listening ideas: Late in the evening—no TV on, no looking at your phone or IPad, just a nice glass of Malbec or a Martini. Put on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” Don’t turn it off until it’s over—45 minutes out of your life. Then the next night do the same thing, only no liquor. Just listen to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” If you aren’t convinced that there is great art going on here, then I give.

J.P.: This is totally and completely out of nowhere, and I’m only asking it because, as I write this, I’m in a coffee shop, and Strawberry Fields is playing. Wayne, how do you explain the greatness of the Beatles? What I mean is, it seems in music we often think like sheep—one person says, “Bruce is amazing in concert!”—then we all are required to say “Bruce is amazing in concert!”—whether amazing is the right adjective or not. Well, everyone loves the Beatles, and they’re the 100 out of 100 pick as the greatest and most influential band ever. So, Wayne, why? Why is it true? What did they do, musically, that was so groundbreaking and different? If anything at all?

W.W.: The Beatles are derivative trash and they sucked.

Kidding! I am a huge fan, and always have been. What made them so special? Start with the fact that you’ve got two of the greatest songwriters in the history of music in the same band! Not to mention a third guy who was no slouch either. And—they could sing their asses off! It seems that every generation since their inception has grown to love the Beatles, which is a testament to their genius. Here’s another thing: they could write in different genres and make brilliant lasting contributions to each—Blues: “Oh Darling,” Rock: “I Feel Fine,” Ballad: “Because,” Folk: “Julia,” Country: “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” Protest: “All You Need is Love.”

J.P.: Wayne, here’s what I know: You’re married to one of my all-time favorites; you were born in New York City, moved to Washington in 1989, have a BS in speech from Northwestern, was a keyboardest for SKYY and now do tons of jazz. But what, exactly, has been your musical journey? How’d you first get into playing music? What was your path?

W.W.: Whew … here goes. Just one thing—an appreciation of my wife, who has stuck with me and my insane career choice for 28 years. She is the greatest, and I am a very lucky man.

My parents divorced when I was 6, and we moved from suburban normality to urban abnormality at that time. I turned to the piano to deal with the upheaval, and my mother (who at one time had been a professional singer and dancer) made sure I got lessons. The problem was, I had a very strong ear, and could already play songs I heard on the radio, but my teacher used a strict classical method. I grew bored, and asked my mom if I could stop lessons. She was fine with this, since she wanted me to be a lawyer like my entire paternal family. Yet I turned to the piano for solace, and spent a lot of my free time there. My older sister sang quite well, and she constantly encouraged me to play, and gave me stuff well beyond my years to listen to.

I started a band at 12, and stayed in rock/blues bands through high school. At 15, I heard The John Coltrane Quartet on New York’s WLIB FM (it became WBLS), and was transformed. I continued playing rock, soul and blues, but jazz called me. I went to Northwestern University with the intention of learning how to write scores for movies (I am a huge film fanatic—check out my blog). It turned out that they had no such program, so I stuck with film and radio, and got my music education in the clubs in Chicago. I got to play with some greats of blues, and worked with a nice jazz quartet too.

When I returned to NYC after college, I fully intended to start a career as a jazz pianist. What I didn’t really understand is that nobody starts their career in jazz in New York. That’s where you go when you have perfected your art, and want to compete with the big boys. I was far from ready. So I played cocktails around town, and did some rock cover band work, along with the occasional jazz gig here and there. Through connections with my cover band, I got a chance to audition for Skyy, and got the gig thanks to 1) Prepping very hard for the audition, and 2) Being white and resembling the guy who’s place I was taking. We don’t look alike at all, but there’s that white, Jewish deal. We toured for a year (1982) opening for Kool and the Gang and played some amazing venues, including the Schlitz Soul Festival at the Cotton Bowl.

When Skyy was not on the road, I got to play locally with the Coasters, and for a while at my stepfather’s restaurant in Manhattan, where I started getting my jazz chops back.

After eight years with Skyy, I was feeling marginalized in my creative role with the band thanks to sequencers and the like. Lisa needed to relocate to try her hand as a baseball beat reporter, so the Minors were the way for her. That meant that I had to find a place where there were both minor league teams and a decent thriving music community. DC turned out to be the answer. I quit the band, and we moved to DC, with the intention of going back to jazz. I love it here, and have had a great career playing jazz, in particular Brazilian Jazz, which I adore.

J.P.: You were the keyboardest for SKYY between 1981-89, and appeared on Soul Train three times. I am beyond fascinated by this. A. Because Skyy’s music seems so far from what you do now; B. Because, bluntly, I think most people think of Skyy as a “black” group—and you were the white keyboardist. I’m actually fascinated by the racial makeup of the group. This was before a lot of breakthroughs in race relations in the US; before people felt more comfortable breaking barriers. What was it like for SKYY? Were you guys all family, race be damned? Were you the quirky white guy? Was it awkward? Cool? Did idiot white people you know ever say, “What the fuck?”

W.W.: As I said in the previous answer, I didn’t blaze this trail, Larry Greenberg was in the band before me. He was the guy who wore the cowboy clothes I had to fit in.

Skyy rehearsed in East New York in Brooklyn, and I had some interesting experiences there. Most people in the neighborhood assumed that the only white guy crazy enough to be in that neighborhood would be an undercover cop. I often had people run up to me on my walk from the subway yelling “Officer, Officer! We need help over here!” I also remember one Mother’s Day when a huge guy jumped from behind a dumpster to block my path. Before I evacuated my bowels he yelled, “Happy Muthuh’s Day”, and walked away.

No white people ever questioned what I was doing, incidentally. The only time I got that vibe was when Skyy went back to Jefferson High (where most of them went to school) for a Q&A, and a student asked me what I was doing with the band. I think she meant it in a curious manner, so I didn’t take umbrage.

By the way, when I met Lisa (who was the PR person assigned to Skyy) she assumed I was the band manager!

J.P.: People often talk of the legacy of disco, of hiphop, of early country. I feel like they never speak of the legacy of funk. So, uh, does funk have a legacy? Is there an importance to the music? Or will it go down as Alf does to 80s sitcoms—there, but sorta just, well, there?

W.W.: I feel that funk has more of a legacy than the other styles you list above. James Brown, Sly and The Family Stone, AWB, Tower of Power, Gap Band, Rufus, Aretha, Stevie, Kool and the Gang, Parliament. You don’t think that’s a legacy? Please!

By the way, without funk, hiphop would have nothing. Can you imagine rapping to “The Candyman”?

J.P.: You earned a Gold Record for the “Skyy Line” album. I always watch the Grammys and Academy Awards and inevitably think, “This is such bullshit.” What I mean is, why do artistic endeavors need awards and citations? Isn’t it just about the music, and putting out the most unique and impactful sound possible? Or do notations and commendations matter?

W.W.: Gold Records commemorate sales, don’t forget. They are not an award for achievement in the arts, but an award for achievement in commerce. As for the other stuff, I like it when my peers appreciate what I have done. That being said, the awards shows are dreadful unless somebody has a freak out on stage, or pulls a Sacheen Littlefeather stunt.

J.P.: Please explain this.

W.W.: That’s not me. That’s Larry. No wonder he wanted to dress like a cowboy! The band had this weird backstory that they were from another planet, Enzalea or something else that sounded like a skin disease. They dressed like that for the first recordings, then for the one that was out when I joined they had more of a city slicker get-up. Compared to what they are wearing in this picture, the cowboy routine looks like GQ.

J.P.: What is it like to record an album? For example, you recorded four of your albums at Backstreet Studio. What is the process like for you? Maddening? Euphoric? How long does it take to nail a song that’s good enough and perfect enough to appear on an album?

W.W.: I love the recording process, and in jazz it’s a bit different than it is with pop. With a jazz record, you like to get the best overall group performance, without doing too much overdubbing and punching in over mistakes. With pop, perfection is usually the goal, and you painstakingly get everything right. It’s incredibly time-consuming, and unless I am being paid by the hour as producer/engineer, I try not to do that.

I do find that I can concentrate harder on playing if I am not doing the recording at my studio, but it’s a nice deal for artists who come in here to my studio to get keyboardist and engineer for one low, low price.

Recording is neither maddening (unless you have computer problems) nor euphoric. It is always fun and educational. At least it is for me!

J.P.: One day, the earth will become too hot, it’ll explode and we’ll all be dead—as if humanity never even existed. So why is music important?

W.W.: I once heard that music is embracing someone without touching. So it has value right away; you get a hug without having to worry about catching a disease.

Seriously, it’s a question that can apply to almost anything. Why is it so important to keep Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame? What difference will it make that he took steroids after the world is a cinder?

Music gets people through some very hard times, because there is an emotional connection there. I know it made my not very happy childhood tolerable. Music can also have political and social ramifications, to which those of my generation can attest. It can make people go to battle, it can make them want peace, it can help them understand the plight of others.

As for Justin Bieber, well I can’t help you there.

J.P.: What is the absolute greatest moment of your musical career? The absolute lowest?

W.W.: When I released my CD of all original Jazz/Brazilian/R&B songs (“Break of Dawn”) in 2004, with many of my favorite singers and musicians, we had a party in Adams Morgan in DC. It was so great—a packed house, and a great live show. The club was filled with musicians, fans and friends, and it was all about my music.

Also playing at Radio City Music Hall with Skyy was a thrill that I will never forget.

That Cotton Bowl gig was amazing—the line-up (in this order of appearance); Skyy, Lakeside, Luther Vandross, The Commodores, Kool and the Gang, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder. I got to meet them all! I also got to meet Preston Pearson and Ed “Too Tall” Jones who were working the event as celebrity security. Where the hell were phone cameras when you needed them?!

As for the lowest point, two come to mind: Right after moving to DC, I was making ends meet playing with a cover band in some roadhouse club in Virginia. The place smelled like an ashtray, and the clientele was straight out of “My Name is Earl”. A patron got very drunk, and got kicked out of the club. Sadly for us, they kicked him out the back door where all of our cars were parked. On the break we went outside to find all of our windshields smashed with a cinderblock.

I also remember being with a funk cover band in New York during the ‘70’s. We got a gig for the weekend in Poughkeepsie, and rented a truck to bring all our gear. When we got to the venue, it was a luncheonette, and nobody there knew anything about a live band being there that weekend.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH WAYNE WILENTZ:

• Do Hall and Oates belong in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame? How about KISS?: I like Hall and Oates very much. I don’t think of them as trailblazers, but they wrote some great tunes and Darryl Hall is a tremendous vocalist—the original blue-eyed soul man. So OK—put them in the hall of fame. With Barry Bonds.

KISS? God no.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Christina Aguilera, Mario Soto, homemade apple sauce, Giligan’s Island, fingernails, Dan Quayle, Time Magazine, flying in first class, George Clinton, Snoop Dogg, Shea Stadium, the harp: 1) Shea (yeah it was a dump, but it was OUR dump!; 2)   Flying First Class (what’s not to love?); 3) George Clinton (Somehow he made great music higher than K2); 4) Mario Soto (Anyone who attacked Don Zimmer is alright with me); 5) Gilligan (For Mary Anne alone, worth watching); 6) Apple sauce (Pectin, anybody?); 7) The Harp (Can be funky. Check out DC home-girl Rashida Jolley); 8) Time ( I’m more of a “Food and Wine” guy; 9) Xtina (She’s got talent. The music is ehhh); 10) Fingernails (As a pianist, I’d be better off without them); 11) Snoop (He’s the best of the rappers. And Moe is the smartest Stooge, too); 12) Quayle (Can I rank him below this?)

• Are you psyched for the Danity Kane comeback album?: Oh yeah, I’m a huge fan. May I just say, “Who the fuck?”

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details: This is my greatest fear, and I have a lot of phobias, so that’s saying something. I have had countless nightmares about this. Thank God I’ve never been close. One time we were landing at O’Hare, and right before touchdown, the pilot noticed a Piper Cub on the runway and pulled back up. Scared the shit out of me.

• Many musicians I know consider American Idol to be utter bullshit; a shortcut to stardom. Agree? Disagree? Why?: Why does there have to be a longcut? Pop stardom isn’t about talent and creativity as much as it’s about appeal and marketing. As for Idol, I am happy they make anybody sing live nowadays. Almost all of the live performances you see are auto-tuned and computer generated so the light shows and effects sync up. There is no spontaneity in live pop shows. So it’s nice to hear these kids singing their asses off with not much electronic help. I admit I am getting tired of the cute indy guys winning who aren’t half as good as their competition, thanks to tween text voting.

• Who wins in a fight between Emmanuel Lewis and Celine Dion?: Celine looks like a tough cookie. I wouldn’t cross her, that’s for certain. What I want to know is, after she kicks Lewis’ butt, does she move up in class and face Shania Twain? Or will the mob make her take a dive so she can finally face Crystal Waters for the belt?

• Five most famous people you’ve ever met?: Other than the people listed in my Cotton Bowl gig story: Dizzy Gillespie, Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Namath, Marvin Hagler, Bob Dylan.

Dizzy at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, where I interviewed him for our College radio station. Wilt on Park Avenue in New York right after his trade to the Lakers. Namath at the Club level at Shea, Hagler at a club I was playing in in Greenwich Village, Dylan backstage at a Coasters gig in Connecticut. Word was he was trying to hit on the girls in The Crystals. True story.

• Your wife is a longtime baseball writer. What are your thoughts on Sean Burroughs?: Loved him in Little League. I also love that his nickname in San Diego was “The Bachelor” because all he could hit were singles.

• Most embarrassing moment of your life?: This might be it. Or, when I was a child, my parents took me to see the show “Enter Laughing” by Carl Reiner. I remember being really scared for the protagonist (I don’t remember why), and screaming “Oh No!” really loudly, and the entire theater cracked up, including the actors.

• Is there such a thing as cool? Or is it garbage?: If you have to ask, then you are not cool.

Ashley Poole

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, an all-girl pop group named Dream owned the planet.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. No planet was actually owned. But Dream was big. REALLY big. In the spring of 2001, one could not listen to the radio for more than an hour without hearing He Loves U Not, Dream’s debut single. The song was peppy and catchy, and the girls—all teenagers, all Californians—were cute and bubbly and eminently likable. They traveled the country, appeared on late-night TV shows, opened for Destiny’s Child and Nelly, did autograph appearances and meet and greets and reduced teens to tears. Hell, they were on Puffy’s Bad Boy label. Life was grand.

Of course, pop music (especially that of the teenaged variety) is something of a mirage. It comes, it explodes, it vanishes. Names are forgotten. Songs fade. You get old and are, to a certain degree, replaced. Donny Osmond becomes Bobby Brown. Bobby Brown becomes Justin Timberlake. Justin Timberlake becomes Justin Bieber. On and on and on …

Ashley Poole was a member of Dream. She sang, she danced, she embraced the gleeful life of a pop star. Then, when the industry no longer needed Dream, she kind of vanished into the abyss. She spent about five years working as a cocktail waitress, and now works out of her home, doing property management. She also trains and writes for aspiring artists. You can follow her Tweets here.

Here, Ashley talks about the highs and lows of a career in pop music and why she ultimately decided against a comeback. Ashley loves Snoop Dogg and Twilight, but has no real use for Ross Perot.

Ashley Poole, dreams do come true … the Quaz is yours …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Ashley, so back in 2001 I was driving across Florida, covering Spring Training for Sports Illustrated, logging hundreds upon hundreds of miles … and “He Loves U Not” is being played non-stop. Literally, I can’t escape it. And here’s the odd thing—I was a 29-year-old guy, and digging it. I genuinely liked the song. Which leads me to my (somewhat lame) opener:

What is it like, being 16 and having your music played everywhere, all the time? How did that feel? How did it hit you? Did you have a singular moment when you were like, “Holy crap, we’re big?” 

ASHLEY POOLE: Honestly—it rocked. It never got old to hear our songs on the radio! We’d turn it up and blast it every time it came on! The feeling, more than anything, was pride. Just pure awesomeness. It smacked me right across the face, and I enjoyed that. As for a singular moment—there were many. Your first tour bus, your first time on TRL, the first time you make your tour manager go get you tampons in the middle of the night “cuz you can!” Hanson at my Sweet 16 birthday party—and then it was aired on MTV News. Jay Leno, fans knowing my dogs’ name. But the one that sticks out the most is when we premiered “This is Me” in the middle of Time Square  and no one had done that before. It was epic.

J.P.: There are about 800 different stories online about the formulation of Dream, and zero about your specific plight. So, Ashley, who the hell are you? What I mean is—I know you’re from Cali, I know you were in a pop group, I know you have a great voice. But what was your path? 

A.P.: My path was to sing, I guess. Not sure how to answer that one. When I was 6 I did a talent show and everyone cried. I decided then to do music until the day I die. I knew that God gave me a gift, because it didn’t exactly come from my parents. I was inspired by God. Not in the cheesy way it sounds. I’ve always felt super connected with God and I have been able to hear Him, and I just feel so empowered when I sing. It was His gift to me. It inspires me to use it because as a nerd, who wanted to fit in, the only thing that people respected about me was my vocal ability. They couldn’t deny it or do it themselves. I was always annoying and in-your-face honest, trying to prove I was brave but it only worked when I sang.

J.P.: A piece from MTV.com says you joined Dream via a call to 1-800-BE-A-STAR. I’m guessing there’s much more to this than that.

A.P.: This is true. I’m from a small town and I didn’t know shit about the “biz.” There was a commercial that said “If you wanna be a star call this number …” And, being the ballsy and wonderfully naive kid I was, I called it. It was a talent placement agency, which is basically a BS place where they take your money and sell you a dream. They wanted to sign me and we had to pay like $2,000 or some craziness and during that time there was an audition for a girl group from this manager who didn’t know a thing about music (she came from the modeling management world). The Owners of the agency said “Go ahead and audition”—not thinking I would get it, because it was 1,000 girls. Well, I got it doing a jazz dance and singing “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion. Yup.

J.P.: Pop bands are a strange thing, because they’re built to be temporary. I mean, even the biggest pop bands around (New Edition, New Kids, Backstreet, etc) eventually fade off. But I’m wondering, when one is 15 … 16, does she realize this? At the time Dream was blowin’ up did you think, “Man, this is gonna last forever!” Or did you have the awareness to know that musical taste is fickle and pop songs generally fade quickly and kids grow up and move on to Zeppelin and Joplin?  

A.P.: No. I had no freaking’ clue. I thought Dream would last forever. And don’t you worry—10 … 20 years down the line people will be singing Britney and Backstreet. Not just Joplin. Its how it goes. It’s kind how parents hated rap when it came out and thought it was a phase that we’d never love later. I bump “California Love” and old-school Snoop because to me it’s the good shizzz! Just as epic as Zeppelin.

J.P.: I watched a handful of videos before typing this up, and it never looks especially fun doing live pop performances. What I mean is, it seems more like a tightly choreographed aerobics class, where you have to be 800-times more concerned with arm placement than vocals. Am I wrong? And is it even possible to sing well while also dancing 674 moves per second (I’m assuming, maybe wrongly, you guys often had a backtrack)? 

A.P.: Good questions. We are the military of pop. We did eight-hour dance rehearsals for three months straight, while incorporating school. You learn the moves so ridiculously well that it’s second nature. Every finger, every toe. It’s hard-ass work—seriously. Especially for a double left footed dweeb white girl like me. Ha! But once it’s second nature and you don’t have to think about it—then the fun begins. You get to “feel” it. It’s invigorating. You stop thinking and just respond the music, the crowd, your body … it’s beautiful. I loved it. I used to jump off stage to hug or sing to fan because I felt it—or I would just stop and stare at the crowd and hear them roar … amazing. Truly amazing. We left our blood, sweat and tears on that stage.

As for the singing/dancing, it’s hard—I won’t lie, but we always sang live. We sounded like shit sometimes but hey, it is what it is. You do also have a backtrack because it’s produced pop and when you record a pop song you record four of the main not four of the low harmony, four of the top harmony, four of any other harmony or in-betweeners. Basically four girls can’t sing 80 tracks and make it sound like the record. The leads were always naked and live. But we each sang our background notes above the track. *Nsync was the same.

J.P.: Y’all were originally formed by a talent scout named Judith Fontaine in 1998. Then you were signed by Bad Boy (and Diddy), and Fontaine sued you—making you the 800th pop band to be sued by some disgruntled former employee of some sort. From afar, it seems like perhaps the woman had a case—“I bring y’all together … and this is how you thank me!?”  Am I way off? 

A.P.: A bit off. Judith Fontaine is the modeling manger I spoke of before. She did discover us, except for Diana. She formed a group and we did the cheesiest songs that would have never put us on the map, and somehow she got us a meeting with manager Kenny Burns and producer Vincent Herbert. They laughed at us because we were white girls on Planet Cheesy. But then they listened to us individually and closed their eyes and apparently had a vision. Shortly after that we fired Judith Fontaine and started to make an album with Vincent. Kenny came up with the name “Dream” (before that we were the God-awful name “First Warning” that Judy came up with). They wanted us to be urban white girls so they came up with the whole baggy clothing, Timberland boots, bandanas image and they started shopping us shortly after. Kenny knew Diddy and got that meeting and Diddy signed us on the spot. So Judith Fontaine did nothing but introduce us. She basically deserved a finders fee.

J.P.: Your first album sold very well, then Bad Boy clearly tried to sex you guys up with the single “Krazy,” off a second album that wasn’t released. You weren’t even 18 when this happened, which must have been disconcerting.  And you guys just look really uncomfortable in the video (correct me if I’m wrong, please). 

A.P.: I was 18 and I was really comfortable. I was living in that video, honey! I can’t speak for the other girls but I do think a few of them were uncomfortable with all the sexy stuff. But, you see, I had looked like a little boy all of my teen years and when Mel left (who was our sexy at the time) I jumped right into that space. I wanted to feel like a beautiful, sexy woman. My hair grew out, my body was banging’—I was like, let’s do this!

J.P.: I’m wondering if this is when you truly came to realize that music, ultimately, is a business, and one in which you have little control.  

A.P.: It is a business and we hated Krazy! Diddy was wrong to put that record on us. Our fans we’re pop not R&B or hiphop. Our second album “Reality” was so insanely amzeballz, we were basically the female *Nsync. “Krazy” was not us. But Puff made a call and there was nothing we could do.

J.P.: Four years ago you formed a new band, Little Phoenix, with Melissa and, later, Diana. I saw the web announcement, but then, well, nothing. What happened? 

A.P.: Mel and I have always stayed good. Never did we hate each other—so we hooked up one day and both of us had it on our minds to get Dream back together for a reality show. We flew up to San Francisco to visit Holly with Diana and tried to romance them back into the group. LOL, it didn’t work. Mel and I kept it moving and decided to create a new group. A year later Diana decided to give it a go since it was in the jazzy area that she liked, and we named ourselves Lady Phoenix (because we were rising from the ashes). It wasn’t my fav but whatever. Me and my girls were back! For me and Mel it had been three years and nothing was happening, but we were having fun still. Then I was in church one day and I heard God say “I don’t want you in Lady Phoenix right now.” So I got out. It was confusing and hard and I went through some much-needed learning after that. God stripped me down to see the ugly things that were going on in my heart and the broken pieces happening in my life were revealed. But then I grew stronger and healed and the girls and I grew from that. We all love each other very much.

J.P.: Mandy Moore was a pop contemporary of yours, and her song “Candy” was pretty similar to “He Loves U Not.” She’s about the same age you are, and she now does a lot of acoustic, Joni Mitchell-type music … really good stuff. She also seems to have fun mocking “Candy” as crap fluff. She sings it with spoof emotion, makes fun of the words, etc. I was wondering if now, as a woman in her mid-20s, you feel the same way about Dream’s songs.  Do you look back and think, “that was excellent?” Do you look back and think, “Soulless pop drivel?” Are you somewhere in the middle? 

A.P.: First off, “Candy” is nothing like “He Loves U Not.” It wasn’t authentic for her. For us, or any girl, getting angry at some slut trying to take your man but you rock confidence instead or beefing it out … that’s something most of us have been through, or could understand. Its such a bad-ass message and beat and sexy with attitude … even you, a grown man, liked it. Which, by the way, we heard a lot from grown men. Weird. He Love’s U Not 4 Life Bitches!

J.P.: I saw a video of you singing the National Anthem at Citi Field, and it was terrific. You’re a mom, a wife, possessor of a gorgeous voice. What is your life like today? 

A.P.: LOL—um, I’m not a mom unless you count my two pooches, Xena The Warrior Princess and Olive Oil. Thanks for the compliment. I love singing the National Anthem. But my life is calm and family-oriented. I missed out on so many birthdays, holidays, family reunions while being in Dream, so I take full advantage of those moments now. I am a wife—not the Betty Crocker kind, but my man loves him some Ashley. Crazy, loud, obnoxious, sexy, nerdy, fight til 2 am—ME! LOL. So my life is just family fun basically. And always music—writing, singing, recording, teaching, etc.

J.P.: What are your goals? Do you want fame? And how big of a priority is music?

A.P.: My goals … that’s a hard question. To sing and make a living. And singing is definitely below God and family. But other than that it’s at the top. I just don’t feel worth anything unless I’m doing music.

J.P.: What’s been the absolute greatest moment of your music career? The lowest?

A.P.: The highest—just living it with three other amazing girls. They can make my world and break my heart anytime they choose. To have that kind of relationship is just special and only the five of us get it (including my sister-in-law Kasey who was the new girl in Dream).  The absolute lowest? The day Holly quit. I am the emotional one so I took it pretty hard. When Mel tried to quit the first time, I threw a Doc Martin shoe at her. Those things are heavy. LOL. But she stayed for a while after that … I should’ve thrown a shoe at Holly! Kidding … kidding.

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ASHLEY POOLE

• Five things in your purse: Lip gloss, credit card, deodorant, fifty shades of grey, tampons.

• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, details …: LOL!! LMFAO! Yes. Dream was heading to Chicago on a red eye for our first on-air performance on the Jenny Jones Show and lightning hit our plane (I guess it happens all the time but I freaked out). I got up in the middle of the plane and screamed “DOES EVERYONE HERE KNOW JESUS!” No joke. My manager peed his pants laughing so hard.

• What the heck does “You’re the kind of girl that’s always up for do or dare” actually mean?: She’s up to do your man.

• Rank in order (fave to least), Andre Ethier, Star Trek IV, Ross Perot, Twilight, Taco Bell, your cell phone, people named John, the designated hitter rule, Justin Timberlake, strawberry milk, Celine Dion, Men Without Hats, purple, Campbell’s Soup: Twilight, cell phone, Taco Bell, people named John, Justin Timberlake, Celine Dion, strawberry milk, purple, Men Without Hats, Star Trek IV, Campbell’s Soup, I don’t know know Ross Perot and Andre Ethier are. Oh, and the DH rule. Who cares? If they wanna get hit, go for it, my friend.

• Would you rather watch an endless, 24-hour-a-day spool of the Krazy video for two straight weeks or shave your head bald for six months?: Are you kidding me? I’d love to watch myself weighing 12 pounds for 24 hours! Bring the popcorn and beer!

•  Five all-time favorite musical acts?: Besides us—Lady Gaga, Foo Fighters, Snoop Dogg, Tim McGraw, and the late, great Michael Jackson.

• What happens when we die?: In my opinion—Heaven or Hell.

• The winner of the 2012 presidential election will be …: Stressful.

• American Idol—great for music, or one giant step toward hell?: Ummmmm Carrie Underwood! blah!

• I’m not so sure about calling up Bryce Harper this early. Thoughts?: No.

• You’re driving alone in the car and a Dream song comes on the radio. Do you: A. Turn the station; B. Listen joyfully; C. Listen joyfully and sing along?: C