Jonathan Richman: Interview

The word hero is banded around an awful lot in the music industry, although Jonathan Richman is definitely one of them. From his work with The Modern Lovers through to a celebrated solo career, he’s always managed to inspire. We caught up with the man via US mail before he sets out on the road to play at Pickathon Festival in Portland.

What was the first memory that sparked your love for music?

I remember asking my mother what the music was on the radio because I liked it. It happened twice when I was about two or three or so. The two pieces were ‘Carmen’ by Bizet and the ‘Aida’ by Verdi. Then when I was five or six, I started hearing stuff like Little Richard and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and I loved all that stuff right away, too.

The Modern Lovers will forever be regarded as a legendary band. Their influence is unquestionable. Did you ever dream that the outfit would reach these heights?

I’m not sure what “heights” we reached, but I loved being in the band ‘til I started hearing something different for music ideas.

When ‘The Modern Lovers’ self titled debut was released in 1976, how did your life change thereafter? What was the dynamic/relationship like working with John Cale as the producer on particular tracks?

No real change as I remember. It was just old music to me. I was on to my new sound already.

Is it true that you crashed on the couch of a certain Mr. Steve Sesnick, manager of the Velvet Underground?

Sure I crashed on the couch. Very nice of them too- I must have stunk.

You have a pretty impressive back catalogue, ranging from The Modern Lovers to your solo material, what are the main themes or topics for most of your songs?

No themes, no topics; I just sing how I feel really, that’s about all. Topics are for songwriters. I’m not one – I’m a singer. I sing lots of stuff by other people, I only care if I feel it.

What influences impacted your songwriting for the latest release ‘Ishkode! Ishkode!’, what records were you listening to during that period?

I would say going to Birchbark Books in Minneapolis and coming home with language books in basic Ojibwe influenced the record; very musical language -”Ishkode, Ishkode omaa biizhan. Ishkode, Ishkode, ganaa waaban daan.”

What can we expect from your set at Pickathon festival?

What can we expect? Good stuff, I hope!

As for the future, what projects have you got in store? Any European tours in the pipeline?

The future: Tours of the U.S. and Canada….another LP before long.

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