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Zaslišanje: Michael Weiskopf

Zaslišanje: Michael Weiskopf

I don’t know if you ever heard of Michael Weiskopf. He’s a really cool dude coming from the States. How he came here? Because of his friend Paul Ickovic, a well known photographer who moved in Ljubljana because of love. Paul connected with our podcaster Izak Košir and here we go; a series of concerts two weeks ago started. Michael is a guy who got really attached to music and songwriting when he first heard Bob Dylan. That was quite some time ago in the 60s. He actively started composing about 10 years ago and produced four albums till now, all telling stories. When some people obsessed about Eurovision, we sat down in Prulček and talked more or less about everything. First he gave me two CD’s and asked me to take them home, sit down and listen to them before I decide if I like his music or not. I did by the way and I really do like it. But let’s return to the interview. He’s talking without pulling his punches, don’t care if he says a word or two over Trump and shows his disagreement with the USA situation. He finds Slovenia very calm and cultured and is overall satisfied about the visit. He filled up three concerts in a row, all by himself and his music and of course his tributing to Bob Dylan. As my memory of this interview would have lost its feeling through the translation, I’m writing in english.  

AM: Hello, how are you? How you feel here?

MW: I’ve been here for four days, I’m just over my jetlag today. I’m in Slovenia for the first time and it’s a lovely place here, very calm, cultured. Plus Donald Trump is not here (laugh). So this is all good.  


AM: Thankfully, even though it’s Melania’s country.  (laugh)

MW: Poor woman, what can I say.


AM: How come you came here?

MW: Gentleman sitting here (showing at Paul Ickovic) is a very well known photographer, I’ve known him from the States, known here for many years and he moved here because he’s in a relationship with Natalija. We stayed in touch and he happened to be Izak’s next door neighbour so he played my CD’s for him, Izak said “this guy is pretty good” … thank you! … “so let’s ring him over here.”

I spent winter recording new record in Miami and in summer I’m returning to the States, busy all summer. I’m in a Bob Dylan tribute band there and we start working June, July and will be working all summer till October. And then I’ll start working on another new album of original material. So I’ve been recording all winter long and not performing and I have to get back into a mindset of dealing with an audience and how to present my work I’ve been doing all winter.


AM: Actually, that is my next question? Would you mind presenting it shortly?

No, I’d love to.

AM: So what it is about?

MW: You know, I’m an old school kind of artist in the sense that the music I grew up on required that people actively listen to it. And I realised we’re now in a very different world, now  people attention spans are very short, music is a kinda disposable background for most people, they’re doing something else like driving, it’s not like you go to a record store, buy an album and go home. You don’t read the book, look at the personnel and read the lyrics and actually spend time with it. I don’t care about any of that in sense that I still make my records in themes, so this is my fourth CD and every CD has a theme to it.

My last one is a breakup record about relationships, everybody goes through with it I guess but there’s always some elements of politics or cultural observation in what I do. But in this  particular record is all about that. I call the record Lost in Amerika, spelt with the K because it is an homage to Franz Kafka who wrote the book Amerika and the spelling of the word takes all the meaning. The subtitle of the record is nine and a half stories because with each song I tried to tell a story. Some of the are my own personal stories, some of them are made up and some of them are what I observed at other people.

But that’s the theme of the record so what I ask from people is to take a record home and give it a three listens and then decide whether they like it or not. Just actively listen to it. People don’t do that anymore.


AM: That’s true, we all listen it in the car or on the way somewhere.

MW: Yeah, they want something that’s accessible. You know what I mean, it’s about the repetitive melody or the beat that it comes up like Ed Sheeran. Who can argue with his succes. I can argue with the quality of his work but I can’t argue with his success and this is that he’s giving people something like fast food for their mind and my record … takes a long time to cook this and takes a while to save it … one of my heroes is John Prine.. I don’t know if you know John Prine.


AM: I do

MW: So I saw him recently in New Orleans, John is 71 years old and he’s had three cancer operations and he looks, hm, physically he’s old and you can see the scars of what he’s been through and yet he’s totally without banner and he performed for two and a half hours and it was a beautiful thing but even somebody of his caliber … well known as he is, he just came out with a  new record, and I had to buy his record and I had to sit and listen to it three or four times to give it a chance to see what he’s saying, what songs are good, which are marginale and that’s what you need to do but people just don’t want to do that anymore.

People just don’t have the time to do that unless is very established artist and you’re fan for a long time, for example  Bob Dylan. They can release a new record,they have half a million people on the planet no matter what they put out, they’re gonna go, they’re gonna buy it and they’re gonna sit down and listen to it, give it a chance.

For the new artist to demand 45 minutes of somebody’s time..haha, it’s a challenge but it’s what I do.


AM: But I think even though all new music is coming through this way is definitely coming back especially long plays? You can’t just random listen to them.

MW: You mean the vinlys, right? Yeah, but I think, I didn’t mean to paint such a negative  picture because I’m sort of optimistic about future of all this. Even if you look into statistic, there are mostly established artists that are selling,  so the unknown band, the young kids that are starting out today are still at it. You don’t have a built fan base it’s a struggle.You first have to build a fan base and then I’ll give  you a shot .. I+ve seen very big acts, you know the Eagles concert you’ve must have seen it almost exactly like record, that what people expect they would play only hits, they don’t want to introduce new hits they don’t want to make your ear upset, they wanna give your ear what it came for. This is one of the reasons I love Bob Dylan’s work. Because he’s never done that in his entire life, he’s never given the audience what they expected, what they wanted, he’s always changing ears.


AM: Yeah I agree, when I was on Bob Dylan’s concert it was nothing I expected but it was still so good.

MW: Yeah, right?

And people momentarily get angry with him, he’s been doing it for 60 years but ultimately you go listen to his records and first you maybe don’t like it, after you always find something on them even it is the third time you hear the record. And I hope people feel that way about what I do. I mean, at this point I don’t even take it personally if somebody doesn’t respond the way I do. There are 7 billion people on the planet what are the odds that in rooms like this with maybe 50 people that everybody’s gonna like what I do. So yeah, I don’t take it personally. I just try to write a good song which has something to say.


AM:  Is this also the reason that you chose Bob Dylan as someone you will tribute to?

MW: I hate … the term tribute … I know there’s no better explanation .. but no one calls the Royal Shakespear Company a tribute theater.. they’re work is so good.

They are so many people now who are trying to revive their careers just by covering Bob Dylan, Joan Osborne just put out the record, she’s only been performing Bob Dylan for the past three years. Everybody’s got Dylan tribute records because the material is that good and that worth of the interpretation. When people come to see our band so many people think that I’m trying to be him, that I’m imitating him, well I don’t do that, it’s the music, it’s all about his words, his presentation, the arrangements of the songs. You’ll see, half of the material I’ll do tonight is by Dylan, the rest will be my original stuff, but I don’t do Dylan the way Dylan does Dylan, I do it the way I do it. In a sense of someone doing Macbeth today, they can do a businessman on a Wall Street and the wife behind but because the work is so good is just the matter of interpretation.


AM: I don’t know,how you’ll like this question but there were quite some polemics about Dylan getting a Nobel literature prize. What’s your aspect of his lyrics, because I personally very much refer to his lyrics and I definitely agree with him getting the Nobel prize because He’s definitely one hell-of a poet himself. What is your opinion about it?

My opinion is that the long time’s coming. The fact that he’s the only songwriter ever getting the Prize and people say that is not literature but they qualified the prize for American songwriter and is there a bigger, more prolific, outstanding creator of contemporary music then Bob Dylan?  So he totally deserved the prize, I would give him the Nobel peace prize if I could. (laugh)


AM: Today, you’re gonna play completely alone, what do you prefer, this kind of concerts or bigger band concerts?

MW: I like that  question. The answer is yes, this is challenging as I think, solo guitar player no matter how good they are – I’m not a great guitar player – but a solo musician to hold an audience for two hours is something I’m afraid of and it’s challenging so I need to confront my fears and enjoy this. On the other hand, there’s nothing better then comerady of bandmates. I’ve been playing with the same ensemble for the past 12 years and we know each other very well and when we make mistakes we go into same direction and that’s the thing about the collaboration that I love. This record I just made has some incredible musicians on it that I was rocking with to attract them to my project and collaborating is more attracting for the audience. This is a challenge and I like challenges


AM: Definitely is. I hope you confront it very well today.

MW: So do I, hahah, thank you.


AM: I have this standard question, if you could play with anyone who would that be?

That’s a great question.

Hm, anyone alive, Hendrix doesn’t count?


AM: Counts as well.

MW: I think it would be great to be in a presence of that mentality, alright, if I think of the people that admire the thing that I do, I don’t wanna play with him, I’d like him to be in the audience and hearing me playing. So I … hmm, Muddy Waters would be alright (Muddy Waters playing on the radio in the back.) I mean, he is in the room right now so if you’d like me to join him I would be happy.


AM: You’ve been talking about you’re writing a lot, so how everything started, how did you start playing music?

MW: You mean in general or for this record?


AM:  In general.

MW: I’ve always tried to write. The first time I heard Bob Dylan it changed my life. I mean that’s going back to 1961 or 62 because I’ve never heard anything like that. I grew up on rhythm and blues, Motown, Chuck Berry … I mean I had a lot of fun listening to it and I always wanted to play a guitar but when I heard what Dylan was doing it just blew my mind and  I thought “I could that.”; and I’m still saying that. Well I kinda came close but … so I started writing songs at very young age but the thing that’s outstanding of a talent like Dylan is that he had a wisdom. There’s a song that I’m gonna sing tonight, he wrote it when he was 21 and having that perspective about relationships and life and friendships at that age … well I didn’t have that. I have it now but it took a lot of years of living to get that perspective. I think that the problem of most of young songwriters is they’re pretty shallow, they don’t have the life experience yet. So the time I got to the point when I could actually devote my full time to write songs was 10 years ago. I think I’ve come up with some things that I have something to say and the culture that we live in and most kids just don’t know the history.. And they don’t know who that is. (Muddy Waters still playing on the radio) Most of the singers and songwriters that are starting out, they don’t know …


AM: I think that’s sad.

MW: Well that’ve been true of my generation too but I don’t really think so. I think we digged deep into the roots, we wanted to know where this have come from.  We knew where country music came from, what was before that stuff.

… after some observations from my side he continued …

MW: Well, I don’t think everyone is like that, there are still young musician that know the past and know what they do.

He’s  talking about some small concerts he’s seen in the past few years in USA and making a point that the music is as important as lyrics even though he’s making very much story-ish albums.  


AM: So what do you prefer, performing through lyrics or music?

MW: The answer is yes, this is my fourth record and by now I know my way around the block and I had a great producer on this record so I was able to musically reflex my muscles in the way I didn’t on the records before. Because I know what I’m doing now in the studio. I like that part of it but it also only works with a song – if you don’t have a good song – you can’t put lipstick on a pig and making it look pretty it’s still gonna be a pig. Sometimes I find when I’m writing a song, there are three or four songs here that I said they’re not good enough but we kept messing with them since my producer sometimes says to me:  “No, just try it in a different way” I really like that collaborative process so there’s almost like a beat jazz chord on here. What I mean it’s not accessible. I don’t expect anyone to like it. But It was so interesting to work on it and it was a sonic combo of all this different textures. Also nobody was told what to do by the time we got done with it. I love the outcome. But that’s maybe because I’m so close to it. There’s another song, the song I wrote right after the elections, the day after the election, and I knew that has to be my theme for the project. Life after Trump.


AM: That’s an interesting project.

MW: Well I hope there is a life after Trump.


AM: Any message for our radio?

Well, thank you for listening and I hope I hear more about it.  


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