TUNES — Interview with Marshall Crenshaw

More people should listen to “Television Light” from 1999’s phenomenal #447 and understand the sadness of a Monday evening in November and bitter tears spilt.

Listening to his backlog, it is pretty obvious that one of the great songwriters of the past four decades just hasn’t been properly recognized by the public. Sure, there was his debut, which had a pretty big hit with the incredible “Someday, Someway” in 1981, but after that Top 40 stations have failed to play songs like “Cynical Girl” and “Someone Told Me” on a regular enough basis to keep this little record store geek satisfied.

You can bet your bippy that I was pretty excited to talk to Crenshaw, especially since I’ve been a fan since childhood.

Emily Votaw: I want to know: what was it like to play with the MC5 a couple years back?

Marshall Crenshaw: That was a really memorable experience. I saw them around Detroit when I was a kid, you know, in my mid-teens. That’s a real impressionable age, so they really had an effect on me. I just really dug them and was a huge fan. Then, sometime in the early 1980s I met Wayne Kramer in New York and got to be good friends with him and so that’s how I happened to go on tour with them. We’re kind of mutual fans of each other, Wayne and I, I guess. But it’s great, their body of work, it’s pretty top-notch, I would say. It was really fun. It was different though; it was kind of peculiar, being in somebody else’s movie like that. And be in somebody else’s band, so that was really strange. But I really did love playing that music.

EV: That’s incredible! And speaking of incredible music, you host a radio show on WFUV.

MC: Correct.

EV: Yeah, what’s that like?

MC: Well, it’s just something I started doing in 2005. I haven’t done it continuously since then I did it for about a year in 2005-2006 and then stopped, and then started again at the start of 2010, and we just got on WFUV – a year ago June. I just play stuff from my personal record collection.

EV: Oh cool!

MC: Yeah, my record collection is not massively large in terms of quantity, but it’s wide-ranging. And I have a lot of enthusiasm for the stuff, and I have a lot of knowledge about it. I just get a kick out of running my mouth and playing my records on the radio.

EV: I know that I am bouncing around a lot, but I know that you have done some acting throughout your career, and you certainly have done a lot of recording music. Which one do you enjoy more? And how are they different?

MC: Hmmm. Well, the acting is not terribly significant. It’s just like a little side trip that I’ve taken a couple of times. And it’s always been about being a guitar player, and record making is the other thing that I’m obsessed with, that I really love. So that’s really the basis of it, being a musician and a record-maker. So I guess that’s the answer to that. If I had to only choose one thing and only do that, I would choose playing guitar and making recordings.

EV: Speaking of records, what do you think makes a really great record, versus one that is only sub-par?

MC: Well, it’s pretty hard to define in words. But I guess a good record just needs to grab your attention and take you on some kind of trip, you know? Engage your emotions. And, uh, I guess that’s it.

EV: That’s cool! Has your approach to making a record changed over the years?

MC: I don’t know if it’s changed, unless I’ve grown. I have gathered more knowledge over time, and I have better equipment than when I started. Then again, when I first started making recordings of my songs, I had the worst equipment. I had battery-powered stomp boxes, a couple mics, but I had a great tape machine. It was a 4 track, reel to reel machine, so it was pretty decent. The good tape machine and the fact that I knew what I was doing, as far as getting sounds, saved me, and resulted in a good sound even with the bad equipment.


EV: Wow, speaking of recording, when can fans look forward to new material? What are you working on right now?

MC: Ah, alright, well, I’ve got this kind of unorthodox recording project going on. It’s a subscription situation with vinyl and downloads. The idea is to put out a brand new three-song vinyl EP every four months over the course of the next two years. These are going to be ten inch, 45 rpm records so they’re going to sound really powerful. And I have my first one finished, it actually dropped, let’s say, in November. People can go to my website and find out more about it. But eventually this stuff will be available in record store and online, but, anyway, that’s the story with that. I’m not going to be doing any albums in the foreseeable future, but I am going to try this new approach.

EV: That sounds really cool! When you go on stage, a lot of people in the audience are probably hoping for a lot of your early material, how do you deal with that? Because you have a lot of cool stuff from later on, too.

MC: Yeah, well, I just try to fill it out and present it best I can. When people come to one of my shows, it’s about fifty-fifty of back catalog stuff and newer stuff. And the key is to strike the right balance so that no one loses interest.

EV: Absolutely. I was at your show at the Beachland Ballroom, and you played a couple of really cool covers, how do you decide which covers you want to play?

MC: I don’t put a lot of thought into that. We started playing that Jimi Hendrix tune during our set during this last little go around. And it was just a little idea that popped into my head. It was just a funny idea – ‘why don’t we play Manic Depression?’ as a funny sort of a curveball. Do something they wouldn’t expect us to. The other thing is I really love that song and I wanted to try it and see if I could do a decent job of it. Also, these days, we don’t do a lot of covers. We do “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” because I sang that in La Bamba, and it’s on all my compilation CDs. And then we do that Richard Thompson tune because I recorded it, and it is a good tune to play live. But I go easy on the cover tunes anymore because I like to concentrate on playing my own stuff.

EV: Wow, I think that those are all my questions – anything else you’d like to add?

MC: No, I think we covered it all. That was nice, short and sweet.

EV: Yeah, thank you so much for everything, I’m a really big fan and it was a really big deal to talk to you today.

MC: Alright, very nice, bye.

 Interview by Emily Votaw


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