Michael Nesmith talks about his solo tour and inspirationsMarch 28, 2013
By Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES – Once pegged as “the smart Monkee,” singer, songwriter and guitarist Michael Nesmith has embarked on his first U.S. solo tour in more than two decades.
Nesmith shot to fame after “The Monkees” series premiered in 1966, and though he recently reunited with the band for a tour, it’s now his turn to hit the road solo. The 70-year-old artist and his backing band are focusing on the deep trove of country, folk and rock music he made after leaving the Monkees in 1970.
Q. What have you got in mind for this tour?
A. The songs I’ll play are a touch chronological and a touch thematic. I picked my favorites to play, the ones I have come to love over the years, and the ones that are most requested by fans of my solo work.
Q. Given the round of Monkees reunion shows you did with Peter (Tork) and Micky (Dolenz) last year, how do you see that balancing with your solo interests – is there a sense of having the best of both worlds?
A. It gives me a great sense of being able to do it all. Because I enjoy playing with the Monkees. It’s a great good time but it’s a completely different thing. With the Monkees, I’m a passenger on the bus; on my own shows I’m the creative fire and the center of it.
Q. It’s been seven years since your most recent studio album, “Rays” – what are the prospects for new music from you?
A. I’m actually recording a little all the time. I have four new songs in the can now. And a whole stack more. I’m glad I waited to record these latest ones because this band is one of the best I have ever worked with. I am excited to take them in the studio.
Q. In addition to your music, you’ve written a couple of novels, created pioneering music videos, produced films – why go back to the concert trail at this point?
A. There is nothing like playing music live. Even when it’s wrong, it’s right, and when it’s right it is celestial. I’ve got the songs built in a cinema setting, like they live in my mind, and so the arrangements are tight. Playing in front of this band is one of the best experiences I have had musically. … Live music requires a focus that puts one in the ever present – the “only now” – and holds one there for every song.
Q. Who are your artistic models and what have they done to inspire you?
A. Cole Porter. Beautiful melodies, poignant and sincere, and wonderful lyric turns of phrase. “Suddenly turn and see your fabulous face” is one of my most enduring touchstones. Johnny Mercer – same reasons – lyric master and deep sentiments and meanings: “Accentuate the Positive.” Mancini “Days of Wine and Roses.” Morricone and Fellini’s “8 1/2.” Nino Rota’s score for “Amarcord” touches me. Truffaut’s movies, especially Day for Night. Winston Churchill’s oration / poetry of war. And Bo Diddley — all rock starts and stops with him for me.
Q. What’s the last performance you went to that took your breath away?
A. Jerry Lee Lewis back in the ’60s. Saw him at the Pal (the Palomino Club in North Hollywood) and never saw anything before or since that touched that. Of course, I saw Hendrix and all the great bands of the ’60s and ’70s and loved them all — whole different level of playing by the time they came along. Most recently I saw Leon Russell and Elton John in that tour they did together. Important. Historic. Too little recognition.
Q. Which artists today excite you?
A. Excite? Mmmm — maybe not excite, but I am enjoying Mumford & Sons and Bruno Mars.
Q. You are also using one of the recorded steel guitar parts from your longtime collaborator, the late O.J. “Red” Rhodes, in the song “Thanx For the Ride” — how does that feel playing with someone who is no longer around?
A. There are a lot of people I’ve known that are invisible now to me, so I just have to wave to them. When Red starts playing that solo, it’s hard for me to finish the song. The first time we did it (last fall) in Glasgow, I choked in the last verse. I couldn’t make it through.