While the music business can be a brutal meat grinder, it can also be a source of comfort and a means of personal and creative rebirth. The Billy Falcon who released his latest CD, Songs About Girls,
in early 2003 is a different man than when his first album, Burning Rose, hit turntables in 1978, or even from when his latest CD, Letters From a Paper Ship, dropped in 1994.
Falcon, a long-time figure along the New Jersey shore music scene, suffered through the tragic loss of his wife to a two-year battle with cancer in 1989. Faced with raising his young daughter alone, the weight of this ultimate responsibility, Falcon's songwriting became a means to work through this difficult period, although his career was largely stalled.
Though a mutual friend, Jon Bon Jovi, a fan of Falcon's work, learned that Billy was still in the business, and asked to hear some of his latest music. A tape eventually made its way to Bon Jovi's lead singer, and led to his securing a record deal for Falcon on Mercury Records. The resulting album, 1991's Pretty Blue World, with Bon Jovi providing guitar support, led to a minor hit with "Power
Windows" and a collaboration with Sayreville's favorite son that continues to this day.
A second album for Mercury, Letters From a Paper Ship, followed three years later, with a more confident and relaxed style, and should have marked Falcon's return to regular releases of new music. But, it didn't.
As Falcon discussed in his recent interview with Chorus and Verse, a third album for Mercury was recorded after Paper Ship, but never released. Eventually, he was able to get the rights to the recording back, and broke away from the label. He shifted his focus to songwriting collaborations with Bon Jovi, and a dedication to the burgeoning music career of his daughter, Rose.
Rose Falcon discovered her own interest in music during long car rides with her dad, and began developing into a beautiful and talented singer and songwriter in her own right. Becoming the second member of the family to work with a major, Rose has signed with Columbia Records, and is currently promoting her self-titled debut album, released in March 2003, with hit singles "Fun" and "Up, Up, Up".
Billy Falcon's fans wanted his own new music, though. Fans on the Internet began to contact him, and he discovered a wealth of interest in his work. One of those fans set up a website, now the official outlet for keeping track of Falcon's career and he began working with a new producer, Michael Spears. Add the support of his brother, John Falcone, to help promote and distribute his music, and the seeds
were planted for a new album.
That disc, Songs About Girls, has twelve tracks that keep true to Falcon's style and energy, while presenting a more intimate feel than earlier recordings in his career. It represents a family affair, with Rose contributing guest vocals, and is a testament to a performer who has achieved a balance in his life and a relationship with his fans and his music that should help the latest phase of
his career to be a successful one.
It was almost ten years between your last album, Letters From a Paper Ship, and Songs About Girls. In your liner notes, you mentioned that it took a while because "it just didn't feel right." What finally clicked to help bring this record into reality? Are the songs on the album tracks written over that entire decade-long time period, or did you have a recent burst
Right after the Paper Ship record, I went in and recorded another record because of things that happened at the record label. With the help of Jon Bon Jovi, I was able to get the record back from the label before they released it. I knew at the time that the record company was in no position to dedicate the kind of resources I would have needed in order for that record to ever see the light of day, and have the slightest chance.
I am presently in the process of going through the masters to see how the record holds up. When I broke away from Mercury Records it kind of stung a little bit; I never tried to place that unreleased record with a label. I just kept writing songs for myself and for other people, and I guess in the last five years I've had the pleasure of collaborating with my daughter, Rose.
This has been a true labor of love. Her first record, self-titled Rose Falcon, was released in March on Columbia Records.
Now, let me answer your question. No, these songs are not the product of a sudden burst of creativity; I always write songs, it's something I have to do. All of a sudden, a bunch of elements just came together; suddenly there was a website that was put together by a fan who continues to be the webmaster and the art director on my new CD.
In the same way that happened, Michael Spears, my co-producer, came into my life; he was introduced to me by a friend. We started to write together for his record; he offered his services to help record me.
Basically, this record has come about because suddenly there were people going to a website that I had nothing to do with putting up. They were writing me posts about how much the music meant to them. This after not having released anything commercially after a period of nine years. This record kind of forced itself out.
How did creating Song About Girls differ from your last two Mercury albums? It is liberating to create an album without record company involvement, or does it cause you to worry that you might be making a disc that no one will be able the hear?
The differences between Songs About Girls and the records I've made from major labels over the last 20 years is that my expectation while making this record was for the most part purely artistic. I wasn't worried about becoming a rock star.
In writing songs, I feel like I paint pictures and in making a record I get to hang them on the wall so people can see them.
You give a lot of credit to Michael Spears, who helped produce the album, as well as took care of bass duties and some guitar work. What was Michael’s influence on the album, and how did working with him change the creative process on this record from your previous work?
Working with Michael was different. In our approach, we finished one song at a time. Michael has an uncanny ability as a producer to get these songs feeling pretty much the way they sound as when I wrote them and play them by myself. The whole process started with me laying down a guitar vocal and we built the rest of the track around that.
How was the album recorded? Do you like to just go into the studio, and run tape until you come up with something you like, or do each individual track on its own and work things out in the mix?
Like I said before, we did one song at a time, from beginning to end. The only thing left when we had them all done was little mix tweaks and mastering.
Run through some of your favorite equipment. What’s your primary guitar, and do you like to use any sorts of effects or special tricks in the studio? Are you the type with lots of guitars and gear, or do you stick to a few instruments that you prefer to use?
No, no, there is nothing technical about what I do. I have a couple of Martins, a D18 and a Triple 016, and, believe it or not, the guitar I use the most is a Takamine. It was given to me the first day of the Stevie Nicks tour 10 years ago. It now has a big hole in in from where my fingers hit it so many times.
In terms of studio tricks, I like things pretty simple. I like the vocals to sound like I'm in the room singing, but I'm not opposed to experimentation.
Talk about the CD cover art a little bit. Is there a story behind the photo of the little boy and girl on the front cover, or the other older photos on the back of CD?
The CD package was put together by Jeff Giles at Grabbag.com. Like I said before, Jeff's my webmaster. I sent him the picture on the front which I found in my attic.
I'm kind of in the middle of writing a book also called, at least for now, "Songs About Girls." The picture is of me and my cousin Linda. You could see by the look on my face, I didn't want to be standing there holding a girl's hand. I'm wearing the baseball uniform I wore every day of my life in those days. The back cover is pictures of my mom when she was a young girl, Rose and her mom, my wife, Myla, and Michael Spears' daughter, Sophie, because she walked into the room while we were taking pictures, like she often did while we were doing vocals.
Having Michael's kids bursting into the room in the middle of recording kept us from taking this whole process and ourselves too seriously.
You used to be pretty regular face around the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, as part of the Jersey Shore rock scene. What are some of your memories of the club and the scene around that time? Do you remember the first time you ever played there?
Being that it was 20 years ago, I don't really remember the first time I was there, but I do remember being there a lot. It was such a cool scene at the time, the whole Jersey Shore thing. Being from New York, I felt like a little bit of an outcast, but Butch and his staff at the Pony always made us feel comfortable, we had a lot of fun playing there.
I remember one night we did a show at the Pony after playing at the Garden Arts Center with Stevie Nicks. This was at the height of the success of my song "Power Windows". Jon Bon Jovi came up on the stage and we did the song together, that was a lot of fun.
Have you kept up with the recent redevelopment in Asbury Park, and the revitalization of the Pony over the past couple of years? Do you still feel a connection to that area? Any plans to play live gigs around there any time soon?
I feel connected to that area because I still have friends there. A couple of times a year I go to Jon Bon Jovi's house to write. I always love being down there.
I was down there two weeks ago at the beach with Jon and his family. Me and his oldest son went down to take a swim, and there I was going underwater and flipping around in the ocean as was Jon's kid. I look up and there's Jon on the shoreline saying, "Billy, come in out of the water." I thought to myself, what is this guy my father? I got out of the water; Jon told me that the beach was closed due to the blackout in NYC and me and his son Jesse had been backstroking in raw sewage. Then we went spitting and cursing, walking back to the beach so we could take showers. I really was the only one cursing.
Yeah, I would really love to do a show at the Pony as soon as possible. I don't know if they do writer's nights; these days I'm traveling solo, or with my daughter, Rose.
Jon Bon Jovi was a fan of your early work, and helped produce and provided some guitar tracks on “Pretty Blue World” in 1991. How much did Jon’s support mean to you at the time, and it is fair to say that he helped to give your career renewed energy?
Absolutely, it's more than fair. I look at the way I came to know Jon kinda as a series of miracles. There were just too many coincidences.
Can you talk about some of the songs that you wrote with Jon? Have you continued to keep in touch with him, and do think that you’ll collaborate in the future?
Writing with Jon is fun, we work real hard when we get together. We're usually pretty quick, I was just there a couple of weeks ago to help write for his next record.
I could tell you my favorite song I've written with Jon for Bon Jovi is "Just Older." We wrote that sitting at my dining room table, I think that's kinda cool. It's really a thrill for me to go to his shows to turn around and see ten thousand people singing the words to a song we wrote in my dining room.
You make it no secret how proud you are of your daughter, Rose, and her own music career. Be a proud father, and share your feelings about watching her sign with Sony and gain so much positive attention for her music.
Seeing Rosie sign with a label that I always wanted to be on was pretty cool. But what really thrills me is the fact that in the modern-day world of create a pop star, wind them up, let them go, and
see if he sells, Rose is a real artist; she's a songwriter with a gift that I see growing everyday.
As cool as all that is, what I'm really proud of is her beautiful heart. She really loves people and wants what she's doing to somehow make a difference.
Raising a young daughter alone is an awesome responsibility, not a trait that many rock musicians pride themselves on. How do you feel that your role as a father changed your attitude towards music and songwriting? Do you feel that you write from a different perspective being in that role, rather than living the more carefree rock lifestyle?
If I was still living the carefree rock style, at 49 years old, I'd want someone to come and shoot me. Not that I ever really did live that way. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to writing songs, with my wife passing away, and raising Rose, I almost feel like all the songs I wrote before that point in my life were pretty much trivia.
When it comes to songs and songwriting, I just think that writers tend to take themselves too seriously. That's kinda what the title track, "Songs About Girls," is about.
Has there been any advice about the business that you’ve given to Rose based on your own experiences? Are there ever times when you find yourself wanting to become over-protective when Rose is making decisions about her career?
There are a lot of times that I give Rose advice. I try really hard to do that and at the same time not smother her, it's a balancing act. But Rose is already smarter than I ever was about a lot of this stuff.
Rose provided vocals on one track, "Wish," on "Songs About Girls." What were your emotions being able to work with her in the studios, and was that the first time you’ve recorded together?
I would like to say that the recording of "Wish" was this huge emotional experience, but, actually, Rose was being a pain in the ass that day. She was in a hurry to go meet her friends somewhere, something
that she doesn't get to do much these days, so I understood.
But what the recording of "Wish" is, is just me and Rose doing what we do almost everyday of our lives. We started doing these house concerts together, what people see when they see us is real life, a father and a daughter hanging out, singing songs that they wrote together, and Rose giving me dirty looks when I play a wrong chord.
How has the reaction been to the record, and what sort of support are you getting for promoting it? What is your goal for the record and your music at this point in your career,
and what would you like to see come next?
It's still early, but the initial reaction to the record had been really gratifying. It's so good to hear that people like these songs that I've lived with for the last five or six years. These days it's amazing what you can do yourself with the help of family, friends, and fans. That's what this whole project has been, and will continue to be. We have people reaching out from all over the world via
the Internet, saying they are fans, telling me how much the music has meant to them, and offering to help promote it in any way they can. This is the main difference between this and what I have done in the past.
[ Website: www.billyfalcon.com ]