Venice: ‘Sometimes we wonder if we should have been born 15 years earlier’
15th March 2014
Interview. If you like The Eagles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, you will love Venice. Venice will sing at Le Divan du Monde in Paris, on 5 April 2014. Michael Lennon, founding member of the band has been kind enough to answer to my questions.
Venice seems to follow the footsteps of the great musicians from Laurel Canyon in the 60’s. What are your musical influences?
The band has many influences. Each of us 4 Lennons have our own record collections but we share a common ground.
Pat and Kipp definitely lean more towards the folk, acoustic vibe as their background, while Mark and I bring in a little more of the Soul, R&B vibe.
In addition to the folk and soul influences, I was also a big fan and student of Jeff Beck, Dave Mason, The Doobie Brothers and the Allman Brothers, which add the guitar driven Rock vibe to Venice but I also admired the Lindsey Buckinghams, Stephen Stills and other more “fingerstyle” or “finger picking” artists.
I think we all share and appreciate the artists of Laurel Canyon……sometimes we wonder if we should have been born 15 years earlier. ;)
How was life for a musician in L.A. in the 70’s? Was it as exciting as it is often said?
Well we didn’t really get started with live performing and having a real band until the late 70’s……like 1977. It wasn’t until 1980 that all 4 Lennons were part of Venice and we began infusing 4 part harmonies in our songs.
That said, we did frequent Sunset blvd and play all the legendary venues, The Roxy, The Troubadour, The Whiskey, Gazzarris. It was funny because in the beginning, my brother Mark was only 14 so he couldn’t be in the club until we were on stage. It’s amazing to think that we would play 3 nights a weekend and be out until 2 a.m. in the morning….sometimes on a school night. Looking back on it, our parents were pretty laid back about it all.
L.A. at the end of the 60s was a very artistic town sometimes compared to Vienna or Paris at the beginning of the XXth century. Do you think that L.A. was the heart of an artistic movement?
Definitely. The cultural diversity and the communal social environment allowed artists of all types to experience each others work and share ideas. It didn’t seem to be as much of a competition back then. People were just hanging out, getting high and expressing themselves with their art. Most artists put in an environment like that will thrive. I’m not saying any artist that does drugs, but any artist that is around all that creativity will thrive. I think the drugs and the experimental times had a big influence on the music and art and also allowed some people to open up more than they might have socially and artistically, had they been sober. However, with the drugs comes trouble and people going too far….Hendrix, Joplin, etc. and the drugs and party atmosphere also brought the people that were just there to get loaded and hang out…and sometimes make trouble….the “Hanger-on’ers”.
You started recording at the end of the 80’s with a very anachronistic sound in a period when the keyboards and the drum machines were omnipresent. Did it negatively or positively affect your career?
We seemed to be caught right in the middle of Keyboard/Drum machines on one side, and Hard Rock, Big Hair bands on the other side.
We looked more like a band out of the 70s than the 80’s or 90’s.
It was hard to get on radio because our style fit best with the Classic Rock stations, but they were all playing established artists and their classic hits. They didn’t play new music.
We don’t have any regrets about who we were back then we just regret that the timing of our release of our first album made it hard to get airplay.
It kind of affected our career in two ways. It might be the reason we didn’t become big stars in the states, but it also connected us with an audience that wanted something different than everything else that was out there. And that audience has stayed with us and is still there for us today. They’re extremely loyal and supportive and they’ve allowed us to make a living playing music. It hasn’t always been easy but we have no reason to complain.
You recently toured with Roger Waters. The music of Roger Waters seems very far from Venice’s music. How did this happen?
Well if you listen to The Wall album, you’ll notice there are Beach Boy type harmonies on a lot of the songs. This was something Roger wanted to have on that album. The original background singers on that album were a combination of studio session singers from LA and also Bruce Johnston (Beach Boys) and even Toni Tennille (The Captain & Tennille).
When Roger decided to take the Wall on the road again, he contacted Jon Joyce, one of the original LA session singers who contracted the Wall sessions and asked if he could put together a group of singers that could handle this job. Knowing that many of the original singers were now retired or living outside of LA, Jon, who is a big fan of Venice, told Roger, “I got just the guys!”
So we were in Holland on tour and we get an email from Jon saying, can you guys send me some recordings of your harmonies to send to Roger Waters? There is a chance he might want you to tour the Wall with him.
Well luckily we had a live recording of us doing a beach boys medley, acoustic. We started by sending that and then when we got home from our tour, he asked us to go back in the studio and record over some of the original Pink Floyd tracks from the Wall album. So there we are in a studio in Hollywood, overdubbing our vocals on the original wall album, at times hearing the solo’d vocals of Roger and David Gilmore…..it was surreal!
After all of the auditioning and recordings, Roger flew to LA and came to MY house to meet us and we sang “Goodbye Blue Skies” for him in my living room. He was very nice and even showed us never before seen footage from the original tour. Roger loved the voices but felt they were missing a true bass singer, which was Jon’s original role on the album.
In the end, I was replaced by Jon who joined the other 3 Lennons but I have no regrets. The guys cut me into the deal of their earnings and I was able to share my talents as a producer, engineer and musician with 3 other artists, by making 3 different albums while the guys were on the road. 2 of the 3 artists were related to me….keeping it in the family.
You also toured with David Crosby. What memories do you have of this experience? And what kind of man is David Crosby?
Well, I’m honored to say that we are friends of Davids. He came to see us in the 90’s at a small club in Santa Monica and was an instant fan. We played Guenevere that night but we do it with 4 part harmony and 2 guitars.
We’ve done many shows with David, usually at benefit concerts, where we back him up with our band and of course our vocals. We haven’t actually toured with him but we have recorded with him and he’s been a big supporter of the band.
And to answer your question, “what kind of man is David Crosby?”… He can be very guarded and to himself, if he is unsure of who someone is that is approaching him in public, but if he gets to know you and likes you, he is one of the sweetest men I know. For instance: He had a signature “David Crosby Model” Martin Guitar made in his honor… and only 250 were made. To let you know how lucky we are, and how generous he is, he gave Graham Nash #1 of 250, his son James Raymond #2 of 250, Pat Lennon #3 of 250 and I got #4 of 250. Pretty amazing!
Your new album What Summer Brings is a double album. What is the reason for that prolificity?
It had been 7 years since our last studio album and we had a lot of unfinished ideas saved up.
The Wall tour started in 2010 and was on and off until summer of 2013. This made it difficult to get into a groove, writing wise, but it also breathed new life into the band and reminded us how lucky we are to have our own band and our own music. The Wall tour was an amazing opportunity and experience, but it wasn’t our art, it was someone elses and we were only mimicking something that was already created. The guys really looked forward to doing Venice gigs when they returned home.
Once we settled in to writing again and finishing the ideas that had been saved up, a bunch of new ideas started pouring out and we ended up with what we considered 20 great songs.
We are extremely proud of this album and we feel it is one of our best albums to date.
Which countries are the more sensible to your music?
Well, right now, Holland and the US are where we make our living, but we know that every country has a good amount of people that love West Coast music, vocal harmonies, etc. We just need the chance to let them know about us.
We are excited to be getting that chance in Paris, France.
Your next tour will include a date at the Divan du Monde in Paris on 5 April 2014. Could you tell us more about this gig and the setlist?
The gig came about by French people that learned about Venice from the Wall tour. 3 of the Venice guys did a live radio interview and musical performance with some of the Wall musicians as support….and I sent over my solo’d guitar tracks for them to play to. The exposure got some people interested in bringing Venice to Paris so a couple French guys who are Venice fans came to see our show during our Dutch tour and they flipped out.
We are hoping this will be the first of many trips to France.
The setlist will be what we consider the best of Venice…..ranging from 4 part harmony acoustic songs to full band rocking songs…..and probably some surprises of songs that are not our own but songs that the French people will definitley know.
We have to keep some of it a secret…..you’ll have to just wait and see!