Angela: The first thing I wanted to ask you was, at Swananoa, Bob Franke does song writing classes. He is famous for asking "Tell me the kind of song you really have trouble writing" and then he makes you write a song like that. If you were taking his class what would be your assignment.
(As we speak, a waitress brings me an orange juice which slides under a fern leaf from the centerpiece.)
John: Oh Oh. I'm trying to get the fern out of your orange juice.
Angela: Oh thanks. What would you tell him would be your assignment.
John: Writing songs about ferns dipped in orange juice have got to be one of the most difficult categories that I have. No, that's not....I'm trying to think. I'd probably have trouble intentionally writing a song that I know how it is going to end. Or to take a song idea and know how it is going to turn out. As I write the song I kind of discover how which way it is going to go. So I think Id have trouble knowing what the song is going to be before I write it. If that answers your question.
Angela: In other words, when you start a song, you have a piece of an idea and it starts to evolve and it almost takes you ...
John: Yeah, in a lot of ways, I try to get out of the way, because I've realized that the song that you may want to write may not be the song that's in you. That leads to a lot of trouble if you try to force song and try to force it into being something that it is not.
Angela: Like you are fighting the song.
John: Yeah so I try to get out of the way.
Angela: Ooh, then I have a question. I want to know what piece of a song you have going - and you aren't sure where it is going yet...you have a phrase or a melody line...
John: Yeah there's a couple...
Angela: and you heard it first on WJFF....
John: But I'm afraid if I talk about it Id jinx it, but I have a song about picking up pennies ...I see a penny and I pick it up, that idea. I'm not really sure where its gonna...
Angela: So you take a thought like that and it sits with you for a while...
John: Yeah, and it's like it has a special ring to it, or it
may be a phrase that you have used or heard a hundred times, but for some
reason it evokes something more and begins to take on something more..
the sound of the language of songs.
It is kinda funny. Its like there are sparks that I try to follow, to make a song, little sparks or flashes...if I turn a phrase and it seems like it is going somewhere I get an emotional response- if that makes sense
Angela: Almost like the song is in charge, you are not?
John: Yeah, I found that it is better to let the song go where it wants to go than try to mess with it, because I've found I've done more harm than good in trying to steer a song in a ny particular direction. It bothers me. I have to just go with the lines that feel right.
Angela: Passive song writing.
John: I work at it, but it's almost like if I work too hard than I realize that I'm probably doing it wrong for that particular song..
Angela: I guess that is true for a lot of things. If they don't flow easily there is something wrong, you gotta stop and start again.
John: Yeah, that's true for putting things together or trying to fix things I found that to be true. It's like I probably have the wrong tool.
Angela: And the waitress is here taking your beer away.
John: No that's not mine..thats not yours?
Angela: Well here's a great editing chance....
John: (Laughing) I think you should leave that in, cuz it's a little realism.
Angela: (laughter dies)
Who do you listen to?
John: I listen to Frank Sinatra a lot.
John: Yeah, that is somebody I listen to. My boy Joseph, he will be 2 next month, he calls him 'Frank' you know
Angela: Put 'Frank' on.
John: Put Frank on.
Angela: We use Frank at school to punish the bad kids, we put them in a room...
John: (laughing) That's funny.....
Under discussion: Frank Sinatra - "I Can't Stop Loving You"
John: Frank Sinatra is somebody I go back to a lot, just for the classic songs and great arrangements, and great singing. So he is one I go back to a lot. There are so many people. Im trying to think. I listen to blues and gospel stuff and the radio. I've been listening lately to try to figure out...isolate a particular instrument like the drummer and try to figure out what he is doing. I listen to what the bass player is doing and how all the musicians work together.
Angela: Did you have a lot to do with that on your last recording?
John: It was the most involved I've been on a recording. We actually started with the drum parts. We did them remotely. I sent Andy Sochinsky, he is a drummer, I sent him a vocal and guitar demo of 14 songs on a dat and he sent me back on a multitrack tape, the drum parts to 8 songs. Some were loops and some were played straight through, but what was amazing was that it was really easy to play to. You can bring in different parts and everything was done to a click track and it was all done in time. When I got them back I played them and it was really easy to play to. I didn't have to alter anything, he just left the space for me. I don't know how he did it, but he did it.
(In comes drumming and...)
John Gorka- Cypress Tree - After Yesterday - Red House
John: So we built everything onto those eight songs. I never worked that way before
Angela: Piece meal?
John: Yeah, piece by piece. We did 2 days in a regular studio. Those came in the mail and then I did my vocal and guitar: real guitar parts but kind of ghost vocals. We did the upright bass at home with John Jennings who is an amazing musician and producer. Then we did two days of overdubs with Peter Ostrusko, Dean McGraw and Michael Mannering and John and they all played together at once. So there was interaction that way. Also we saved a lot of first passes of things. So it doesn't sound like a meticulously overdubbed record. it sounds like everybody is in the same room playing.
Angela: Yeah, it does.
John: ...I think it was because of that keeping the first passes even when the musicians weren't sure of what they were playing. Several of the songs I had sent demos to Peter, Dean and Michael and I had recorded them in different keys. They had to think fast. What they came up with was great. One of the things I learned when I did the guitar parts separately this time, we used almost all the first passes. I knew with singing that if you sand a song too many times it would lose it's juice but I didn't know that was true of instrumental playing as well. That is something I really learned on that one, we used a lot of the first passes on my guitar parts.
John Gorka - St. Caffeine - After Yesterday - Red House
Angela: Where are some of your favorite rooms to play?
John: Lets see, Godfrey Daniels is one of those places. I like ...I just played this place in Bolder called the "Chataquah" which was a great place. It was an old 100 year old building. There are so many places...the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco I like a lot. Those are a few that come to mind.
Angela: What do you wish you were asked in an interview and nobody ever asked you?
John: Lets see.....Have I lost weight.
Angela: John you look like you've lost weight, have you lost weight?
John: Am I getting younger?
Laughing dies down.
Angela: I want to give you a chance to say something to or about your wife and son..
John: My wife is a writer, a really good writer. She works freelance for different environmental organizations. She writes grants to preserve open space. She does a lot of good and important work. She is also a very good poet too. A really good person. I try to stay home and take care of the boy while she...
Angela: Is creative..
John: does her work - yeah.
Angela: So since you both write, are you very individual about it and it is territorial, or do you collaborate a bit?
John: Well, if she asks me or if I ask her. Otherwise we work separately. There is not a lot of unasked for criticism. There is not a lot of unasked for criticism.
Angela: When the invitation is there then...
John: When the invitation is there yes...
Angela: You'd cross the line.
John: Right, otherwise no.. She is a good editor..
Angela: I wondered if there is somebody you thought should be more famous than they are, you are constantly at folk festivals...
John: The people that I have been seeing that I think are great are getting out there pretty well. I love Garnet Rogers new record. I don't know if you've heard that...
John: Sparrow's Wing. It is one of those ones that really haunts me, I hear it playing in my head when I am away from home. There is something about that record that I think he is including the kind of music he made with his brother Stan again. I think he kind of denied that part of himself and that part of his music in order to carve out an identity for himself. That is the record that I find most compelling lately.
Angela: His humanness comes through. He can't help but be. He did our WJFF Spring Benefit last year and we had a great time with him, he is such a person on stage and off.
John: Right he is like a larger than life guy, he's... like they've plucked him from a Norse myth or something you know, some sort of that they conjured him out of some kind of mythic, epic story but he is just a....thats the record that I think has done the most for me lately. Cuz I am so moved by and inspired by Stan's... Stan Roger's music and to hear Garnet play that kind of music , I felt like....it just really moves me. I think the first ..it starts out I think with an instrumental and then the first song it he says farewell to the harbor and farewell to the fields. What he is saying there is....he can't write songs like that, like that was Stan's world...
Angela: A shame...
John: Yeah but what I find great about that is that he is saying bye to that in the song but he is using the song...
Angela: Yeah, right (laughing)
John: Yeah, he is singing a song about it so in the same time he's...
A; An oxymoron
John: he's letting that back into his music and I find that amazing.
Garnet Rogers - Next Turn of the Wheel -Sparrow's Wing
John: I really love that record
Angela: Yeah. Well thanks. Anything else you'd like to say to WJFF listeners.
John: Thanks for listening!
After his concert I asked him another question because I noticed that he was wearing black shoes before he played and that he changed into similar looking black shoes just before he sang...
Angela: John, I have to ask you. What's with the shoes.
John: What's with the shoes?
Angela: I mean, you had shoes very similar to that on right before you went on and then...
John: Well these are my show shoes. I feel like a performer when I wear these shoes...
Angela: OK There's no place...
John: NO matter what has happened in the day, if I put the shoes on then I feel like, OK, I can be a performer now.