By Georg Forchhammer & Henrik Koch
“Not a lot of people dig our kind of music, but those who do, dig the shit out of it” – Bill Champlin.
We are sitting here in Amager Bio in Copenhagen prior to the concert featuring Bill and Tamara Champlin, Joseph Williams, Peter Friestedt, Herman Matthews, Per Mathisen and Stefan Gunnarsson. We’d like to focus in the album “Williams/Friestedt that you released last year. How did you two meet?
PF: We met at Bill Champlin’s house like 12 years ago, when I was doing my first album. And Bill called Joseph to do a song that we were working on in the studio. Joe did the lead vocal.
Compared to the two L.A. project album, which featured a lot of different artists, your new album is more a kind of a duo project. Which expectations do you have for the new album, considering the inevitable fact that people might compare it with TOTO?
JW: I suppose people would compare it. But I’m not really thinking about that. You know, it’s a sort of a west coast style album like TOTO. Actually, the new album we are recording now is featuring Bill Champlin as well, and his presence alone will make it sound different than TOTO. Now, it has become a trio.
Talking about you, Joseph, and Bill Champlin as vocalists together, I think the first time I heard you to working close together as background vocalists, was on Eric Tagg’s album “Through My Eyes”. One thing I’ve noticed is that the background vocals are very characteristic in the same way as work Richard Page and Steve George made a lot of in the early 80’ies. How would you define the special sound Bill’s and your voices make together?
JW: First of all, Bill and I as people have a great chemistry together. We always have had that. It’s almost a brotherly kind of a thing, and I think the chemistry of our personalities has something to do with it – we make each other laugh, and we are very good friends. And the obvious answer to your question is that he is a baritone and I’m a high tenor, and he is excellent at being able to make his voice sound different if he needs to, and I’m also pretty good at that, so when we started to work together, we just found an area where we worked together well and sounded good.
PF: I’d like to say that Joseph and Bill have made so many sessions together that they really know each other. It just blends every time. And they are good at coaching each other in a very creative way.
Compared to the 2 L.A. Project albums, it must have been much easier to plan the recordings of the Williams/Friestedt album considering the much less musicians. Looking at the 2 L.A. Project albums, Joseph it featured more on the 2nd album.
PF: I think the songs we did on L.A. Project II with Jospeh were some of the most popular on the album, so it was a natural evolvement to ask Joseph to make the Williams/Friestedt album.
JW: For me, it was also really about coming over and play live.
Actually, Joseph, we saw you last year in Copenhagen with TOTO, and I must say that I have never heard your voice as strong as now.
JW: Thank you!
I mean, just before you described yourself as a high tenor, but on your 2 latest solo albums, “Tears” and “Smiles”, you also sing a lot in the lower keys.
JW: Well, my range is big, but there was a period of time were I was afraid to sing high, because I hurt my voice so bad in the early days. And I thought maybe I’m not supposed to be a singer. Maybe I should do something else, and I went into television as a composer. I worked for many years doing that. And coming back to singing, I started doing low stuff and gradually getting stronger.
We’d like to talk a bit about the songs on the Williams/Friestedt album. The song “Where to touch you” kind of defines the west coast and TOTO sound with the unison bass and bass drum and distorted guitar on the same beats. What is special about this sound for you?
PF: Well, we’ve been playing that song the whole week on this tour but unfortunately we’re not doing it tonight. But it’s been real fun playing it live. What comes together so nice in that song is both rock and west coast and intelligent harmonies in the bridge.
Compared to the first L.A. Project album, the musical style on the Williams Friestedt is more straight forward pop rock.
PF: I think I listen more to that kind of music these days, so that’s probably why. On the new album we’re recording, we are more back to a R’n’B / west coast feeling.
You also recorded a song by Jay Graydon and Randy Goodrum, “Sometimes you win”. Both are great icons in the west coast music, and for you, Joseph, Jay has meant a lot, especially when your career wasn’t going as smooth as now.
JW: I was working a regular job, and I just got married, had no money. Everything I made in TOTO was stolen from me by a business manager who was dishonest. And I didn’t feel good about my voice, so I went and got a job at a hotel for 6 months, and actually, I loved it. Anyway, Jay Graydon heard about it, and we didn’t really know each other that well, but for some reason it pissed him off, so he called and said, “You need to come over here, we’re gonna write some new songs and make an album, and I’d love to have you sing on it!” and that was it – I quit the job, we went out on the road with the All Star Band.
Talking about Jay Graydon, the song “Stay With Me” on your album features a wonderful “tribute to Graydon” guitar solo. Was that intended?
PF: yeah, that solo was very much inspired by Jay. I wrote the song together with Robert Säll (from the band Work of Art). He’s a great song writer, and we come from a similar background in terms of what kind of music we like, and of course Jay Graydon is one of the guys we really like.
Joseph, we talked earlier about your vocal range. On a few songs on the new album, “Say Goodbye” and “Letter to God” you have added a “rusty” sound on your voice, which is unlike earlier recordings.
JW: well, I’m older and I smoked for almost 30 years. Actually, I try to avoid that rusty sound. It’s very damaging for my voice. However, I love it – it’s fun, but I wouldn’t be able to do it every night on the road.
PF: We were touring when we recorded some of the final songs, so it was hard for Joseph, but I loved what came out.
Do you see any difference in the audience in the countries you toured in – Denmark, Sweden, Japan a.s.o.
JW: In general, the European audience is more fun. They are great fans, and that makes my jobs a whole lot easier. When you’ve got a crowd that’s responding to you, there’s nothing better in the world. Japanese audience is very polite. They love you just as much, but they have a different behavior.
PF: But it’s different for us to play here. People comes just to hear us and they know all our songs, and it’s great fun.
The funny thing about west coast music is that a lot of think that it’s big in Los Angeles, but actually it’s in the non-English countries like Scandinavia, Italy, Spain and Japan the music is most popular.
JW: The idea of what we call west coast music is starting to come around again. I’m finding that my kids and their friends are starting to find TOTO records, Bill Champlin records a.s.o. and they’re loving it.
Are you only playing your own stuff at the concerts or do you also do TOTO and Chicago stuff which people might expect?
PF: Well, definitely we have to do some hits.
Is the audience responding as well to your own songs as to the hits?
PF: I wouldn’t say that they respond as well, but they really like our songs!
Peter, why did you end up playing and writing west coast music?
PF: I don’t know if you are aware of these books in Sweden called “Slick Books”. I got those from a neighbor of mine who was a music student in Malmö. And I just started learning all those tunes and changes, and that’s how I started writing songs. So I have been a fan of west coast music since I was 13 or 14 years old. I have also played a lot of gospel music, but I really love west coast music.
As west coast nerds, we love the great musicians, and west coast music is synonymous with these guys. One thing that sticks out is that there is only a live drummer on 2-3 tracks on the W/F album. How come?
PF: I think we wanted to have a programmed feel to some of the songs, and it’s also a financial question. This record is made on a very low budget. We made it ourselves, Joseph and I, and some friends participated on a few things.
There are great drummers in Sweden, e.g. Per Lindvall…
PF: Of course, and actually Per is playing all over the new record. That’s one thing we made sure for the new album. We wanted live drums.
One last question, we’d liked to asked Joseph (he just left to warm up his voice for the concert). How does he feel the difference between being on big stages with TOTO and small intimate ones with your setup?
PF: In the beginning when we toured, I think he felt the stages were small, but I think this tour is quite perfect for him.
One could have imagined that he even might be a bit nervous having the audience so close.
PF: Maybe, but I think both Bill and Joseph are really enjoying this tour. They rehearsed for 2-3 weeks before they came over. Bill, Joseph and Tamara are really great together – I really hope you’re gonna enjoy the concert!
Photos: Carsten Weide