Duane Jarvis – Let’s make some music; I’m not looking at my watch
ND: There was also a brief stint playing with Gene Clark and Carla Olson.
DJ: That was just a cool thing, because I knew Carla and saw her manager/husband, and they were looking to do more work with Gene and so, somehow, I got the phone call. We were working up a lot of songs and doing a few shows. One of the shows got taped at McCabe’s, which is a cool guitar store and listening room out there in Santa Monica. [This show eventually surfaced on Demon Records a Silhouetted In Light: Live in 1991.] What we were doing was working toward making a studio record with Gene and Carla. You know, I was in heaven: “Wow, Gene Clark.” He was so great, he was really great to be around. But he passed on before we could even get to that studio record, and it was really devastating. It really took the wind out of everybody’s sails.
ND: Probably an unfair question, or at least a tough question, but what qualities of yours do you think led all of these folks to bring you on board?
DJ: I’m still wondering. [Big laugh] I don’t know. I hope this is one of the attributes: I think I’m a good listener. I hope I listen to their song and play around it and support it, rather than overpower. I love a good song, and I’ve been so amazingly fortunate to work with some of my real heroes, real favorites. So I’m hoping maybe that’s what it is. I don’t know.
I guess, too, I’ve always considered myself a real good team player. That might sound corny, but I love the ensemble, I like the group. I really like making a group happen. I’ve never looked at myself as a sideman in that respect. I’ve always looked at myself as a member of the group. You know, let’s make some music, I’m not looking at my watch.
II. I’M ALWAYS GOING, “OK, WHO DID THAT?”
ND: Freedy Johnston once described his feelings on co-writing this way: “The only analogy I can make is I don’t know any painters who co-paint.” You do quite a bit of co-writing, with folks such as Peter Case, and Tim Carroll, and it sure seems to work for you. How does the process work?
DJ: I love it. I like to write on my own too; I probably should spend some more time on that. I always have written a lot by myself, but being here I’m always tempted to co-paint. [Laughs] For me, it’s a lot of work, but it’s real fun just to have that interaction.
Again, it goes back to that collaboration thing I was talking about in bands. I like interacting with people — like, someone will come in with just a title, and we’ll see what comes from that. I like sparring, you know, throwing ideas around. Sometimes, and this is interesting to me, other people will stop you from throwing away what you think is a bad line. Things like that. And they’ll also help you throw away that crappy line. The feedback is really good.
ND: Speaking of Tim Carroll, you guys teamed up on a song that seems to have a lot of legs. Tell me about all of the places that “A Girl That’s Hip” has shown up.
DJ: It’s kind of crazy. That was one of the first songs we wrote. I just started playing it right away as soon as we wrote it, and Tim was playing it with his band. Then Victor Mecyssne started playing it, and it was the leadoff track for his Hush Money record. A totally cool version, totally great version. Then Tim’s version ended up in that Drop Dead Gorgeous film. That was a real buzz, waiting around for the end credits and hearing that. I always watch credits, you know, I’m a real credit junkie. I’m always going, “OK, who did that?” And that’s just a huge feeling. Actually, we wrote another song that’s on Far From Perfect, “You Met Your Match”, and that’s going to be in another film called It Is What It Is. We just found out.
ND: The song-by-song commentary in the Combo Platter liner notes was kind of a do-it-yourself songwriter-in-the-round session for the listener. In that same spirit, can you share the stories behind a couple of songs on Certified Miracle? How about “My Brush Is Dry”?
DJ: Oh yeah. Boy, that song can be taken different ways, that’s for sure. Like Amy Rigby, when she heard it, I think she said that it must be a song about losing your inspiration or not having anything to write about. I said that I guess it could be, to me it was more about just being horny [laughs], but trying to put it another way. I was listening to all these New Orleans kind of swamp-pop records on this great tape that David Wykoff made me. And they’re just making me laugh and they’re just so funny. Just great grooves. Like “Working In A Coal Mine” and really obscure shit, not just hits like that. That phrase just came into my mind, and I was driving from Nashville to Austin. I wrote a lot of that song on an envelope on I-40 going west as I was driving. I was singing it over and over and over, and just getting pieces down on the envelope. I finished it in a hotel room in Texarakana. It’s a simple but fun little song about wanting to get into it.
III. IT’S ALMOST LIKE A FEEDBACK THING
ND: I understand that your first rock ‘n’ roll show featured Little Richard and Bo Diddley. That’s setting the bar pretty darn high from the start.
DJ: It really is. I remember really distinctly that it was one of those shows in the round. It was at a place that used to be called Melodyland, outside of Los Angeles. Anaheim, actually. Little Richard was amazing. He’d stop the band periodically, and he’d throw his head back. His eyes would roll back, and he’d go “Shaddup! I’d rather do it myself.” [Laughs] Just shock and blow everybody away, and then blow back into the song.
It was amazing. It was the first time that I’d seen anybody that outrageous or that flamboyant, his hair all stacked up, you know, eyeliner. It was fantastic. I didn’t know what to think of it. I remember his bass player was really tall, and his leg was broken and he had a full-leg cast, from hip to foot. He was leaning on this upright piano that Richard was playing. It was an amazing visual. Bo Diddley was great too. Kind of planted and looking through those Coke-bottle lenses.
ND: I’ve always liked the quote from the gentleman you refer to as your “big brother,” the late Donald Lindley, about roots music: “Our roots extend across the ocean.” How do those across-the-ocean roots surface in your music?
DJ: To me, it’s almost like a feedback thing, where all the English ballads and all that came over here, and the Americans absorbed it and turned it into rock ‘n’ roll and blues and jazz and so many different elements. And then it comes back through the Stones to us. But to really answer your question, I dig a lot of the British Invasion bands. They’re great songwriters: Ray Davies, Lennon/McCartney of course, Jagger/Richards.
ND: I’ll hit you with another quote, this one from the LA Reader: “Jarvis understands that ‘rock,’ ‘soul’ and ‘country’ aren’t mutually exclusive concepts.” I second that.
DJ: Oh, thanks. That guy Dan Epstein is a cool writer. I like that he said that because I’ve always really embraced soul music and rock ‘n’ roll and country. To me, it all connects up. I mean, to me, that really is my favorite music, music that has all those elements. I’d never consider myself “a rock ‘n’ roller” or “a blues musician.” It’s all about what you do with those influences, and keeping it soulful.