With the release of the excellent "American Ride" album I thought it would be a great time to talk to Willie Nile to get the low down on the album as well as asking about his connections with The Alarm...and a certain song about "One Guitar". As Willie has been extremely busy touring in America in support of the album some of the questions about the release are a bit dated but are included here for your interest any way. "American Ride" is now available, that's the important thing and it's brilliant!
If you haven't heard it or bought it then you can get it from (among others)...
Special thanks go out for helping to make this interview happen (and contributing to the questions) to Nigel Adams, to Kathleen Marhold in the Nile camp for facilitating....and of course to the one and only Willie Nile!
We went to Pledge Music to get fan support to help pay for the recording and promotion of the album simply because the expenses were more than I could cover myself and we didn’t have a label behind us at the time so it was all on me.
Did the reaction and support of your fans surprise you – you received your target funding number within 4 days of it going up on Pledge.
Yes it was a big surprise. The fans and friends who stepped up from all over the world were so great. All of us were shocked. It’s deeply gratifying to me and humbling as well that people would send their hard earned money to help us with this project. I think the last couple of albums and all the live concerts we’ve been doing are resonating with people and they believe in it and feel a part of it. And indeed they are. Bless their rock n roll hearts.
Is there still time for fans to order the album?
Yes, I think people can still go there and order CD’s. The money helps to support the things we’re trying to do to get the word out there about the new album.
Will there be a physical release outside of Pledge Music?
Yes. Since we did so well with the Pledge Music Campaign, it got the attention of some record labels, Loud & Proud, in North America, and Blue Rose, out of Germany, who stepped up to license and distribute it and now we have their support as well. There are CD’s available in North America and in Europe and in Europe there are LP’s available as well.
How did you decide what to offer pledgers and what was the most lavish pledge that you offered?
We just offered what we thought people might like. My manager and I sat down and looked at what others were offering and what we might like to offer and came up with a list. I think the most lavish offering was either to be Executive Producer of the album, or to fly anywhere in the world, either solo or full band, for a private concert at your home or venue of choice. We did get an Executive Producer. The offer to fly anywhere and play a full band show or a solo show is still available.
What can you tell us about the album?
It’s pretty rockin’ overall, but there are some left turns and right turns along the way. There are songs about the rights of man, songs about freedom, songs about love and hate, songs about loss, songs about God and the absence of God, and songs about standing up for your fellow man. It’s upbeat and full of life. I’m thrilled with how it came out.
Mike contributed to the title track, how did this come about and can you tell us any more about his contribution?
Yes, I’m so happy about that. I had written the song and had a finished version in NYC and a couple months later, when I was on tour with The Alarm in the UK, I showed it to Mike, as we had been talking about writing something together. My original version was kind of a Chuck Berry thing. He said he had an idea about it and went off to a room with his guitar. When he came back 20 minutes later he had put the title of the song in at the end of each verse, as I didn’t have the title in the lyric at that point. He also added a couple of chords. He was thinking of it as kind of a Ramones-style song, pretty rockin’. I really liked the chords he added and the more I played it I thought it might have more resonance if it was more mid-tempo so I reworked the feel and that’s how it came to be what it is now. Thank you Mike, for your brilliance and heart. He knew right away it could be something special as soon as he heard it. I remember his reaction was immediate. Sometimes some songs can hit you that way. It hit me that way when I first started writing it in NY and it hit Mike the same way.
In “American Ride” you name check Elvis and Al Green and have talked in the past about Woody Guthrie, which artists have been the main influences on your music?
I’d say Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Kinks, The Who. I loved all the diversity that radio had when I was growing up.
-Over what period of time was the new album written?
Most of it was written over the last two years. A couple things are a bit older.
Where do you get your lyrical inspiration from?
Just everyday life. I don’t sit down to attempt to write. I just write when something strikes me, whether it’s some social injustice, or a love song, or a song of passage, it doesn’t matter.
On “American Ride” you have included a cover of the Jim Carroll track “Friends That Died” what was it that attracted you to it?
I always loved that song. The first time I heard it on the radio it knocked me out. It’s one of the hidden classics of rock n roll. Great lyrics, deep and real. And it rocks the house. I sang it at a St. Patty’s day event and they were honouring artists that died that year and Jim was one of them. It was so much fun to sing I started playing it at my shows. I recorded it to honour my brother, John, who died a few years ago, and Jim, for writing that masterpiece. My band played the hell out of it. We just did 3 takes and the 3rd take was it. And I sang it twice and that was it. That it came together so quickly is a tribute to how great the song is. I thank Jim for writing it.
Why did you decide to tour prior to the release of the album or will we see a tour later in the year to support it?
I tour because that’s how I make my living and it’s great fun to play. Yes we’re working on putting a tour together now and hopefully will be announcing it shortly.
How did the new material go down on the tour?
Really well. The songs are a blast to play live and the audience reaction is all you could ask for.
“The Innocent Ones” gained great reviews and also contained the classic “One Guitar” and should have been your international break through album. Did it perform as well as you expected it to?
Thanks for saying that. We just got “Rock Album of the Year” a week or so ago for that album from the Independent Music Awards and also the Social Action Award for “One Guitar.” Maybe there’s life in that one yet. I’m very happy with how it was received. I never have any idea how an album is going to do. My job is to write songs that are meaningful to me and record them as best I can. Hopefully they’ll be meaningful and resonate with people who hear it. I’m thrilled with how it came out, as I am with the new one “American Ride.” That comes first. Did it make me stinking rich? Not yet. Still working on that.
Most Alarm fans will know you from The Alarm’s cover of “One Guitar”, what do you think of their version of the song?
I loved their version of it. A great thrill for me to have Mike and the band record that. Mike is a rare bird in rock n roll in that he cares as much as he does about people and the issues of the day as much as he does. When he sings a song you know it’s coming from his heart and he gives everything he’s got. You can’t ask more from a singer or an artist. He’s got one of the great voices in rock n roll and it’s a real joy to hear him when he sings it. It always comes across as real. The band kicks ass on it. I love it. God bless Mike Peters. They don’t make them like that anymore. He’s a one-man living peace train.
You have joined the band to perform it live on different occasions, how did you find your reception from The Alarm fans?
I had such a great time touring with the Alarm and love their fans. They’re as good and dedicated a group of fans as you’re going to find. Here I am walking on stage with an acoustic guitar and most don’t have any idea who I am. They listened and gave me a chance and their response was really heartening. They dug it and let me know it and I loved playing for them. You feel you’re in a room with people who love music and share a passion for it when it’s honest and real. You can’t ask for more than that.
The UK tour you played in support of “The Innocent Ones” featured James Stevenson on guitar, what was it like working with him?
It was really great. James is a consummate pro, a dear friend, a true rocker, and a great player and mate. The band and I loved having him play with us. We laughed, shared stories, and rocked together every night on stage. James is a class act. He’s seen it and done it all before and to have him be as passionate as he was and is about the music means a lot to me. He knows his rock n roll and to have his blessing and the enthusiasm he plays with every night meant the world to me.
You have an amazing energy on stage, do you have a specific fitness regime?
Not really. I try to take good care of myself. I do a little yoga and some exercises every day when I can. I think the energy comes from the music. Even if I’m tired or not feeling 100%, once the music starts it wakes me up and it’s off to the races. When you’re doing something you care about and your heart is in it for all you’ve got, it seems to make all the difference in the world. I love the songs and playing them for people. If it didn’t mean the world to me I wouldn’t step up on a stage or walk into a recording studio. I don’t want to waste my time or anyone’s time. As long as I’m feeling it I’ll keep doing it. I’m deeply grateful to the people who come out and are so supportive of the music. It’s meaningful to me. They give me all they’ve got and the band and I do the same. It’s working.
When can we expect to see more UK dates?
My managers are working on some dates in Nov. I’m waiting for confirmation. There will be an announcement soon.
Do you have a favourite venue to play when in the UK?
That’s hard to say. Every place has its own character. I just love playing in the UK because the fans are so well versed in the history of rock and I was a British Invasion loving kid growing up. It’s an honour to be playing in this country that has given the world so much incredible music.
When you are on tour do you normally get much down time and if so what do you like to do?
There’s not much down time. When there is I like to have a good meal at a good restaurant and visit the local sites. I love history and there’s so much of it here.
Your first real break through must surely have been when you toured as special guest with The Who, what are your memories of the tour?
It was incredible. I had only just begun playing live shows with a band a few weeks before and when we played a show in LA at the Roxy The Who’s management came out to see it. They dug it and asked us if we wanted to open the tour they were just beginning. I had only done a handful of live shows with a band in my life at that point and here we were opening shows in 20,000 seat arenas across the U.S. opening for The Who. It was an amazing experience. They were all really good to us and made us feel welcome. To see them play night after night was something I will never forget. Every night they gave everything they had and the crowds went crazy. I’ve never seen a band play with such power and finesse night after night. It was stunning to see. I will always be grateful to Bill Curbishley, their manager, and to Pete and Roger and John, for how kind they were to us back in those early days.
Bono and Bruce Springsteen both champion your music is this unbelievable pressure or an amazing gift?
It’s an amazing gift. I’m a very lucky guy to have Bono and Bruce be so generous in their support of my work. Bruce has invited me on stage to play with him many times and has joined me and my band on stage as well. And Bono gave me that great quote to help get the word out about my new album “American Ride”. “It’s a ride alright. On foot, on horseback, with the occasional roller coaster thrown in. There are a number of America’s here to discover. The mythic, the magic, the very real. One of the great guides to unravelling the mystery that is the troubled beauty of America.” They are both very busy guys and for them to take the time to give their support and champion another artist in this way is both humbling and a great honour. I don’t feel any pressure at all from it. It actually is heartening and gives me more strength and faith to carry on. Bless both of their huge hearts.
What was it like playing alongside Bruce and the E Street Band?
It’s like standing next to an exploding volcano with the amps turned up to 20. It’s beyond fun. Bruce still has the passion of a young kid achin’ to rattle the walls and shake the heavens. And he indeed does that every time. He plays with the fire and passion of a real artist who’s doing it for the first time. There’s not a phony bone up there when he’s singing his songs. And the band is a powerhouse full of thunder. The sound on stage is unbelievable. It’s loud and sounds so pure and right. All of this going on while the crowd is going crazy and it all adds up to a glorious time that I wish everyone could experience.
You have had a few unavoidable long gaps between your album releases do you think this has hindered your career or given you time to grow?
I think It’s done both. I walked away from the business in 1981 after becoming fed up with the hustlers and gold diggers in the business. It was turning into more time spent on business and less time spent on making music and that’s not why I went to NYC in the first place so I said “Screw this” and moved back to Buffalo. It took 10 years to get back on track and yes it definitely hindered my career. On the other hand it certainly did allow me to grow as an artist away from the cameras and that turned out to be a really good thing. I think I’m better off as a result of walking away from all the bullshit and just focusing on my work.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013?
I will continue writing songs and touring to support “American Ride” both here and abroad.
Will you continue to use Pledge Music for your future releases?
I don’t know. It depends on how much money I have and if I can afford to record or not. The fans and friends have been so supportive and helpful to me it’s really hard to believe. They’ve enabled me to make this album and to help get the word out and promote it. If I need to do it again I will but only if it’s necessary. I don’t want to ask too much of them. They’ve been so great.
Any last words?
It’s better to give than to receive. Follow your heart. And give everything you’ve got.
Willie Nile thank you VERY much!
My pleasure. Hope to see you on the trail soon.