Interview: Rich Pagano – Sideman to Solo

SB: At the end of the show, I picked up the sampler from the Merch booth and I really dug it. Can you take me through the timeline of how this project came together?

RP: Well, I’ve always been a songwriter or co-writing with people. I was in this band called Marry Me Jane back in the mid to late ’90s and I think that just beyond that my wife and I had a child and the Fab Faux started and those two things kinda pulled me away from my past life of being a drummer, a songwriter and going into the studio and recording and playing in the studio. It just seemed like it was time. The Fab Faux is wonderful, but it kinda keeps me from other opportunities because we have contracts with theaters and I get calls for tours or records and if it falls on a week when I’m out of town I can’t do it and it’s usually because of the Fab Faux.

But I just felt it was time to get back to it. My son was old enough to spend the day in school. It’s funny, as your kids become more independent you go back to the world you were in before you had a child. Now I’m spending more time in my studio and I started writing music again. I’ve been compiling some lyrical notes over the years and some melodic ideas, but I wasn’t able to finish anything for at least five years.

Last year I just decided to just take a listen to some of the melodies I had sung into my answering machine and some of the diary notes I was making in observation of myself and people around me and they just started coming out. And then friends started coming around saying “you’re writing again? Count me in!”

We’ve had a lot of bartering going on. Now my studio is in midtown and I do a lot of drum sessions here. What I’d do is people would rent my studio and if they were someone I knew and respected I’d say “listen, how about I charge you next to nothing and you play on my tracks?” And it was always the right person for the song. Ian Hunter was in here for a bit and Trey Anastasio was rehearsing with the Fab Faux in here, David Johansen was rehearsing right next door. In his case I said “I’ve got a track, do you want to play on it?” And he said yeah. I had always heard a bluesy harp on that tune, I didn’t just add him because of who he is.

At this point all of the music is done on the album, but I still plan to add a few vocals. I have another couple of guest vocalists, and I can’t say who they are right now as I want it to be a surprise, but I’m waiting for them to sort of get off the road. It really is important to me to have certain people on there who maybe inspired the song or I’ve always wanted to share a vocal with.

SB: When the full album finally does come out, how do you plan to promote it?

RP: Believe it or not, one thing that pushed me to get back to this was because of the amount of fans that I and we have in the Fab Faux and this other thing that I do with Jimmy called Prisoners of 2nd Avenue. Not a gig goes by where people aren’t asking me “we like your voice and we like what you bring to the band any chance of you releasing something?” I initially felt that if I can sell this to my fans, I’m happy with that because we’ve have such a wonderful fanbase. But ever since I released this EP, I’ve gotten such a great response from some journalists and from people who aren’t Fab Faux fans.

But right now I’m in the process of sending it out to college and indie radio stations like WFUV. I’ll have a better picture on whether it can become part of their playlist over the next few weeks.

SB: Do the other members of the Fab Faux play on the record?

RP: Every member of the Fab Faux plays on there.

SB: Would you say more cameo-type appearances or regular players?

RP: They’re sort of sidemen on this. Jack Petruzzelli’s on a lot of tracks. He’s a great meat and potatoes guitarist like Jimmy [Vivino], but he’s also a great eclectic and strange guitarist. Jack’s doing a lot of atmospheric and landscape sounding stuff. I have Frank [Agnello] playing banjo-uke and Frank’s great with that. Will [Lee] plays bass and I can also say that Jimmy’s almost a core player on this CD. Jimmy plays a lot of lead, he’s one of my most favorite lead guitarists so I gave him just about every lead on the CD. And there are guitar solos. I’m bringing back guitar solos.

SB: Speaking of good guitar solos, our site was started by a bunch of Phish fans. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how Trey Anastasio came into this project and your experience playing with him in the Faux at the Jammys.

RP: I was called by the promoter of the Jammys who asked The Fab Faux to be a backup band for one of the Jammy stars and a bunch of names came up. When Trey’s name came up we thought that would be a perfect fit. Plus, they were the first guys to attempt the White Album from start to finish. When I saw that they had done it, I went to the band and said if Phish is doing it we should do it.

When his name came up I went to the band. Jimmy’s a fan of Trey’s and said “I’d love to trade solos with him.” Trey came here to rehearse at my studio and after the rehearsal we sat in my control room for a bit and just talked about recording and the kinda stuff I’m doing here and how he likes to record. I called him after that and I said I’m finishing up one of my songs and it has a lot of Jimmy on it. I’d like to give Jimmy the first solo and give you the second solo to have you guys play off each other.

The song was influenced by The Band, because the vocal has got a Levon Helm as well as the James Gang tilt. Sorta like The Band meets the James Gang. Trey called me back and told me he’d love to do it. He came in and played on the track and we ran down the whole track about five times. I was slightly specific on certain parts but for the most part just let him go. He cranked the amp up I had in the room and it sounded great.

He used this guitar sound I had never heard him use before, it was so on the edge. It reminded me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. We just laughed all afternoon. If something was really working we just looked at each other and laughed. We’d love to do more together. We’re planning to do a couple of other things. I’d love to use him in my arsenal of guitarists I use for singer/songwriters who rent my studio. He’s a great classic-rock guitarist. He’s a real happy guy too, always smiling.

SB: How did 9/11 effect the album?

RP: I think it brought out my political angle a bit more in the lyrics and mainly it made me say – even though that was many years ago – why am I not doing everything I ever wanted to do? I think a lot of people in NYC felt that way. Why am I not telling my wife I love her everyday? Why am I not home more at nights with my kid? Why am I not finishing these songs that I started and recording my music again? That’s something I did for many years before I was married, before 9/11.

You find yourself saying “well I’m kinda busy with this, I can’t change a diaper.” I was single for a longtime. I got married real late. 9/11 made me say, “where’s that list I need to check off in my mind.” Getting back to my own music was first and foremost. It was a few years later that I actually sat down and hit the record button, but it did help to bring it to the forefront.

I did write a few songs at the time about 9/11 and about the planes. One song was called Learning to Fly, But Not to Land. But when I looked back at those demos, it seemed a bit dated. Maybe too many songs have been written in that way, that I decided not to add to that list of songs about 9/11. There’s one song on the record, the last song, it’s called Peace and Tranquility and it’s about the separation of church and state. It has a lot to do with keeping religion out of it. Religion’s fine, but let’s keep it away from politics and let’s not judge someone by their religion.

SB: My favorite track on the EP is Everything’s Alright. How did that tune come together?

RP: That’s the one song on the record that was written a long time ago. That was written when I was living in Greenwich Village and I was a fan of Bill Clinton. I wasn’t happy with something that he did. He seemed to have gone against his grain. It was during the Monica Lewinsky scandal when he decided to bomb Iraq. I thought it was a total publicity stunt to get the emphasis away from the blowjob. I was writing a lot of politically-fueled lyrics back then.

So, Dan Petty is a co-writer on that. He had a partial verse melody and I just took his melody and finished it. I wrote the lyrics on that one. It was written during the Clinton administration and out of all the demos from back then that’s the only one I decided to run with.

SB: On the Fab Faux’s website it says you are currently producing an album of original music from the Faux. Is that still happening?

RP: That needs to be updated. We’ve aborted that. One song that came out of that is a song called Goodbye Anna that Frank and I wrote for the Fab Faux. I went to Frank and said “listen, we all seem to be way too busy to finish this album anytime soon.” I’m not saying that we’re not gonna finish it, a lot of it is recorded already, but it’s such a busy schedule with this band that getting us all in a room to something else is almost impossible. But I went to Frank and said “I’d like to bring this song over and record it in my own way for my own record.” So that’s the only song we’ve salvaged from those sessions. It’s a beautiful song. It’s very John Lennon Walls and Bridges period.

SB: With Conan moving out west for the Tonight Show will that effect the Faux?

RP: No. Jimmy’s going to be bi-coastal so he’ll be coming back east for shows.

SB: From listening to the songs, it sounds like some of the lyrics are about substance abuse. Are they about your struggles with addiction?

RP: It’s not only about my abuse, it’s about people around me that are either drinking too much or a bit too into some levels of escapism. To speak personally, when I found that I was carrying a flask onstage every night with me, I knew that I needed to cut down. I had a short lived period of being a little excessive.

I had a medical procedure a few years ago and got a little too into the pain killers post-op. That was a wake up call for me, because I have that personality that might get a little too into it. I want to go on record and say I hardly drink now and I enjoy a half a valium on long flights.

But I’m surrounded by people who I work with that drink too much. There’s one song that’s called Whiskey, Pills, Pornography and it’s about society for the most part. It’s about our need, now more than ever, for escapism. Be it narcotics, alcohol or internet porn. This song just touches on that. That’s a song that Ian Hunter sings on with me.

Quick story for you that you might find interesting. Andy York, who is someone I work with fairly often. He’s played with the Fab Faux and he’s John Mellencamp’s lead guitarist. I asked him to play guitar on some songs on this record, so you can consider him a core member of this band. There’s this one song in particular that I wrote in the vein of Ian Hunter. Now, I produced Ian’s record about eight years ago called Rant, or I should say I co-produced it with Andy. It was an amazing education in that Ian’s just such a great poet and he’s so on top of the fundamentals of rock and roll. He really is the real deal and I felt it was the closest thing to working with someone on the level of John Lennon. Just the way he would sculpt his lyrics and his arrangements and his vocal approach. It was a big influence on me and it changed my life. We’ve remained good friends.

So I called Andy in to play guitar on this song that was influenced by his songwriting process. Andy quickly said to me “why don’t you ask him to sing on it?” So I called Ian and told him “I’m going to send you a song, no strings attached. If you don’t feel the song no worries.” He emailed me right back and said “I like the song, I’ll sing on it.” We did that a few weeks ago and he elevated the song, because he has such a great voice. It was just a thrill that he liked the song.

SB: Do you plan to hit the road at all with the core players in support of the album?

RP: If time permits we’re gonna book some shows. Right now I just want to get it out there. I’d like to get it out there to all the fans who are asking about it and then we’ll make a decision. Radio City was the debut and I just checked with our merch person and she said easily a thousand copies went out. So a lot of people have it now and I’m getting a lot of great responses. I no longer have a desire to solicit for a record deal, as much as I’d love to play it live, I’d love to see it used in movies and just get it everywhere.

Thanks to Rich for speaking with us. A three song sampler of Rich’s new album will be available for free at all Faux shows through March and at Rich’s website. Be sure to check out the Faux when they come to your town…

10/25/2008 – The Keswick Theatre – Glenside, Pennsylvania, US
The Beatles (THE WHITE ALBUM) With ERIN HILL and ANDY YORK, and the HOGSHEAD HORNS and CREME TANGERINE STRINGS.

10/26/2008 The Keswick Theatre Glenside, Pennsylvania, US
4 p.m. – The Fab Faux are back with a rare opportunity to see the fab five core band members perform the rock ‘n roll music of the Beatles from the early days at the Cavern Club to their very last show on the rooftop. This special Sunday matinee performance will be great for the entire family.

11/1/2008- State Theatre – New Brunswick, NJ, US
TWO BIG SHOWS – 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Featuring the CREME TANGERINE STRINGS and the HOGSHEAD HORNS – program details to follow. Tickets on sale now!

11/8/2008 – TWO THEMES IN ONE SHOW – Colden Center, Queens College – Flushing, NY, US
THE BEST of PSYCHEDELIA and SOLO YEARS (with special guests) Saturday, November 8th 8PM The Kupferberg/Colden Auditorium at Queens College. For those who could not make the sold-out Radio City Music Hall show or have been asking for a return of the Solo Years show, this concert is for you! The Fab Faux will perform an annexed version (best of) of the Radio City Psychedelic Show and an annexed version (best of) of the Solo Years. Along with The Hogshead Horns, Creme Tangerine Strings, The Weeping Atlas Singers, Erin Hill and Glen Burtnik, the Fabs are proud to announce that former McCartney bandmates – ‘Ram’ guitarist Hugh McCracken and Wings drummer Steve Holley will join the Solo Years part of the evening, helping to create a ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ type atmosphere. Truly historic! To purchase tickets, please call 718 423 – 8394 Mon – Sun 9:00 AM – 10:00pm. No handling charges are assessed when purchasing in this manner. If you prefer ordering online (will include handling charges)

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11 thoughts on “Interview: Rich Pagano – Sideman to Solo

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  4. Rupert Reply

    Great interview guys.

  5. Pingback: Interview: Rich Pagano - Sideman to Solo |

  6. DS, The Weight Reply

    Very nice. Pagano has been one of my favorite musicians to watch perform over the past few years. I seem to recall him doing a sick rendition of “Mr. Moonlight” years ago w/ Fab Faux at Bowery Ballroom. Been hooked on Fab Faux and Prisoners ever since…Can’t wait to hear the new album.

    DS,
    Weightstaff

  7. John Crowley Reply

    An interesting and well written piece, Scott. Rich is a huge talent and I predict his CD will do very well indeed.

  8. Ray Johnson Reply

    Great article.Rich Pagano is quite simply the finest beatles drummer/vocalist ever.I should know have worked with thousands of them.

  9. Pingback: Hidden Track » Update: Gossip On Rich Pagano’s New LP |

  10. Pingback: Hidden Track » Coventry To Hampton: Trey Anastasio |

  11. Pingback: Hidden Track » AfterNews: Lotus/Pearl Jam/Pagano |

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