Source: Huffington Post
With: Mike Ragogna
Mike Ragogna: William Shatner! May I call you Bill?
William Shatner: Yeah, can I call you Mikey?
MR: Uh… Bill! How are you doing, man?
WS: I’m really good, thank you. Yourself?
MR: Very well, thanks. So William Shatner’s no stranger to making albums, but this album seems to be a very prog-rocky, introspective album. So, this was the musical backdrop that was able to bring out the introspection you needed within your lyrics.
WS: Exactly, it’s an extraordinary marriage between a music prodigy, Billy Sherwood and myself, who has been struggling to write something usable all my life.
MR: What began the process?
WS: The label, Cleopatra, for whom I did a previous album called Seeking Major Tom, asked me to do another album and I’m in love with making music like my puppies are in love with pillows, which they tear up. I just tear things up musically and wonder what I’ve done. I jumped at the chance to make another album and when he asked me what would I do, I had a creative surge and said, “I’ll write about a guy on a beach who’s in despair and it’s an hour before sunset and through the progression of time and light, he understands the beauty of the world around him and regains his joy.” Although, you the listener of the album might not understand, what I’ve done for me, it gave me a scenario, if you will, to write these scenes, which became songs.
MR: And it isn’t just having snapshots of this character along the way, this character goes through an evolution by the end.
WS: That’s exactly right. That’s what I’m saying. He evolves, as we all have at one time or another, from looking around and saying, “What the f**k are the polititians doing? Why are we destroying the world? What’s going to happen when the seas rise? What’s going to happen when I die?” If we’re conscious, we’re all varying between optimism and pessimism all the time. That’s what’s happening here and I was able to write about it poetically and have a genius like Billy Sherwood put my words to music.
MR: Nice. Within every writer is his characters, so did you find yourself identifying with what you were writing about?
WS: Absolutely. All of that comes from my heart, absolutely.
MR: How heavy of a hand did you have as far as helping to mold what was going on with these tracks and guest artists?
WS: I had very little to do with the guests artists. The guest artists were contacted, sent the work that existed musically, what Billy had laid out as a bed to play off and many of them jumped at the chance to be on it. We heard musicians say, “I want to play on Shatner’s album.”
MR: What was your reaction to their performances in the end?
WS: Well, Steve Vai’s guitar solo brings tears to my eyes. The evocative soulfulness of Dave Koz’s saxophone solos just melt you. The music that these guys brought have characterized each song. I thought we needed variation and these guys brought that variation. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for Billy Sherwood. The musicians were spectacular and it’s a confluence of this enormous talent that I feel humbled by in being on this album. Their contribution is so musical and so wonderful I’m in awe.
MR: And you acutlaly have friendships with some of these musicians, for instance, Vince Gill.
WS: Exactly! And Al Di Meola and I have never met but we have a mutual thing going on where I feel close to him.
MR: Yeah, and you may have one of the last official recordings of George Duke.
WS: I think it is his last recording.
MR: And the irony of him playing on “Where Does Time Go” is almost poetic.
WS: Exactly, the irony of it and the beauty of it.
MR: When you look at this project, now that it’s a finished album, does it make you want to run and do the sequel? What does this do to ignite your music career further?
WS: I’ll tell you, that’s a really fascinating question and again, the people at the labels said, “Would you be interested in doing another album?” I thought, “What would I like to do? Would I like to write love songs? Would I like to do rock? I’m not sure what is the best expression within the context of what I can do.” The beauty of what exists now in Ponder The Mystery was Billy Sherwood’s ability to dovetail my words into music and the music into words so that everything is a cohesive whole. I had this thing I’d been doing for a long, long time, longer than most people realize, taking lyrics and making them into words, into literature. In fact, on my first album, I attempted to do literature into song and song into literature but nobody quite got it because it was off to a bad start. But there are some tracks there that are very interesting on The Transformed Man. But I’ve been evolving this thing where I believe language is musical and music is language for a long time. This is the highest level I’ve reached with this technique, if you will, this attitude in mind.
MR: And there are your other albums.
WS: Well, first level is the one I did with Ben Folds called Has Been. That album, I was very proud of. He, too, is a genius. I just lucked out with Ben Folds. He took my words and he made different songs. He had that magical creative thing that it is musically where he just created different songs, a different genre, western country, a patter, even one country song, which did very well. So I’m at another level now. Where the next level is, I’ve got to think about that. I’ve got to talk to people, anybody who knows more about music than I do, about where that would lead me. I’m hot on the trail. I’m pushing the envelope on this one and I don’t want to go too far and beyond my own limits. What those limits are, I don’t know, but there’s a real sense of exploration here. I also wanted to mention that sense of exploration of being the lead singer in a well-known group of some fine musicians. I’ll be playing in the Los Angeles area, The Saint Rocke, The Caribbean Club and The Coach House the 23rd, 24th, and 24th of October. We’re rehearsing right now; I’m spending eight hours a day rehearsing our gig.
MR: And you had a chart hit with Joe Jackson.
WS: That’s right! That’s the cover song I was talking about; I had a hit with Joe Jackson. And come on, we’re both screaming at each other! It’s incredible.
MR: Apparently, you need to be writing, writing, writing. Does writing literature help fuel your writing lyrics for songs?
WS: I think so. A friend of mine wanted a blurb for a novel that he’s collaborated on, so I’m trying to find a poetic way–do you know how to spell coelacanth? I’m trying to find the right words to say how unusal these two guys, Ehrlich and Tobias are. “More rare than coelacanths embracing” is what I came up. That’s how rare the meeting of these two guys is in this book. I’m searching for that poetical expression all the time. “What is the best way to show you how rare something is?” Now, you’ve got to go look up coelacanths, which will educate you because it’s a primitive fish that was discovered like twenty, thirty, forty years ago.
MR: Well, you’ve definitely enlightened me further on coelacanths. Hey, what music are you listening to right now?
WS: Late one night, I was shooting a film so I had to stay up. I took this iPod with four thousand songs that I’d never heard before, somebody else’s musical soul, and I put in earphones and I played The Beatles’ white album, which I had never heard before, and suddenly I got The Beatles. This is like ten years ago. I suddenly got The Beatles. That’s how ignorant I am. Now, the adendum to that story is last week I sang “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” with Paul McCartney.
MR: [laughs] Oh my God.
WS: Does that blow your mind?
MR: Mind is blown.
WS: On stage!
MR: Where was that, oh by the way?
WS: The Shakespeare reading that Tom Hanks puts on every year. Pablo, as I call him, he has shared that he would do the segues between scenes of Two Gentlemen Of Verona. So I met Paul, who had heard my rendition of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and we did it alongside the Shakespeare stuff I was doing. It was a showstopper. It was incredible.
MR: Maybe Bill Shatner should record a full Beatles album. Maybe the white album!
WS: [laughs] Now, do I want to do cover songs, or do I want to write something else…
MR: What does the future look like for Bill Shatner?
WS: Well, I’m going to die.
MR: Yeah, we all die.
WS: But not for a while. And as soon as I put the phone down, I’m getting on a private plane that’s been sent for me, and my whole family’s being sent to Oregon to a vineyard for a wine tasting and then a meal and then we’ll all fly back. I’ll go home, pet my dogs, remember my horses, pick up my wife, get my kids, get on the plane–which somebody else is paying for, which is really the best part of it–and fly to Oregon.
MR: [laughs] Bill, what advice do you have for new artists?
WS: Musical artists? I can’t be so callow as to think I could offer advice for a musical artist, but I may be able to say to any artist, it’s very difficult, following your dream is very rare, so make the best of it.
MR: Did you follow your dream?
WS: I certainly did.
MR: So what do you think of that dream so far?
WS: Well, I managed to pull it off, but there are thousands of other people that haven’t, and that’s the tragedy. You try to follow a dream and it gradually pales and then you wake up and the rent is due and you don’t have the funds to pay it.
MR: On the other hand, iconic people like you who have contributed to the culture help a lot of people’s happiness to get through that. Bill Shatner, I believe, has made an amazing contribution to pop culture. I think your voice, your image, and all of the characters you have played–especially James T. Kirk–is an amazing thing. I think a lot of people have found a little light at the end of their tunnels based on being able to identify with your characters, your works, and you.
WS: Well thank you very much, that’s an extraordinary compliment and I appreciate it.
MR: By the way, I’m calling from Iowa. I’ve said too much.
WS: No kidding. I loved Iowa, but you know what I did there, right? [laughs] They still talk about it. But I’ve got to go, now.
MR: I know, thank you so much for your time, Bill.
WS: It was a pleasure, Mike, take care.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
10/23/13 – Saint Rocke – Hermosa Beach, CA
10/24/13 – The Canyon Club – Agoura, CA
10/25/13 – Coach House – San Juan Capistrano, CA
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