IAN MCLAGAN: To be honest with you I didn’t choose Austin so much as I was choosing not to be in Los Angeles any longer. My wife and I had been there sixteen years and I was on the road a lot of the time and she was stuck there while I was on the road and she didn’t like it any more than I did, but I was hardly there as much as she was. One day she called me, I was on the road, it was a Sunday, and she said, “I just heard gun shots and I could smell the gun powder.” I said, “That’s no good.” And then the earthquake in ’94 happened and they said that was the big one that we had all been waiting for to relieve the pressure. And the next day they said that wasn’t the big one. And we just said, “That’s it.” We left the next month to come here. And you ask why here? Well it has to be a music town and LA really wasn’t a music town. It’s good for recording but not for live music. There’s no overall friendly music scene. New York: too expensive; music scene, but too expensive, Chicago: too cold, Boston: much too cold, Seattle: music scene but English weather, San Francisco: earthquakes. Nashville? No f**king way. No music scene; no restaurants. Memphis: great city but you know. Miami: no f**king way. No music scene; temperature, all the same. So it was obviously Austin.
It had to be Austin. No regrets.
AD: It just grabbed you.
IM: I’ve heard it said more than once: It’s a friendly town.
AD: How did the Bump Band come together?
IM: Well I had a BUMP band in LA since about 1980. I made an album called Bump in the Night-it’s from an old college prayer,
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
So that’s the title of the album and I thought, Oh it’s the Bump Band. And Bonnie Raitt came into the studio to check out the studio and we were recording and she liked the band. So she asked if we would play a couple of tracks and if we would record with her and see if she liked us still. She did so we played her album, Green Light. And then we went on the road with her as Bonnie Raitt and the Bump Band. So I just kept the name. Those were different players: Ricky Fataar who is playing drums with her now and Ray Ohara, a Japanese bass player. When I moved here I toured with Bonnie in Japan and we came and rehearsed here and then went off to Japan. And Don Harvey was his drummer-he had the Austin Rehearsal Complex (ARC) then. He and Wayne Nagel owned the rehearsal complex. I called Harvey and said, “Do you still play the drums?” And he said, “Yeah.” I said, “You’re my drummer. Now I need a guitarist and a bass player.” So he found me Scrappy. They’ve been with me almost 13 years. And Mark Andes joined three and a half years ago.
AD: What is special about an Austin audience?
IM: Well the thing about an Austin audience is that they come out to see you. I’ve had residencies in LA. I played Monday night at the Mint for ages and we got a decent crowd, but here it just clicked. People come out and they tell their friends. People support the music. People seem to really appreciate it. There are so many different kinds of music here. In LA, they have a band because they are trying to get a record deal. I’m not trying to get a record deal-not that I would get one even if I tried. It’s not important-the thing is to play. Everybody in LA it seems is a recording musician who has a band because it’s something to do with his evenings. But you can’t get people to come out.
AD: What are your thoughts when you hear Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World”?
IM: I laugh. I call it the “Live Music Capital of Starving Musicians of the World.” The great thing is it’s true there are a lot of great musicians here but the musicians kind of figure they are going to just make music. Like, also, “keep Austin weird.” Leave it alone. You don’t have to keep it weird or make it weird-it has its own qualities. The variety is what makes it. I noticed that when I first moved here. You’d find a car body shop next to a church next to a café next to a bar next to a house. There’s no plan, it seems. That’s kind of good in some ways.
When I moved here people were coming here less for awhile there because a lot of the people that were moving into Austin were computer people maybe from Korea, Japan, India-anywhere-and they weren’t particularly music fans. I remember playing with Steven Bruton at Antone’s for awhile and we played to five or six people and they were computer geeks. “What is this?” But I think it’s gotten better. I mean the fact is, I was in Musicmakers ten years ago or so and this guy was talking to the guy across the counter and I said, “Where are you from?” And he said, “Finland.” And I said, “What are you doing here?” And he said, “Antone’s.” And I told Susan Antone that recently, actually just after Clifford Antone died, we were having lunch. It’s a fabulous thing that someone would come from Finland just to be here. They don’t come to Dallas or Waco. They come to Austin. To Antone’s. It’s important.
AD: Tell us your thoughts on SXSW.
IM: I think it’s a great thing but I just think there’s too many bands. Basically, limit it to bands that aren’t signed and let talent surface. Each year it’s more. The best year I had my truck broke down after playing the Lucky Lounge on a Thursday night. I’m outside on this beautiful night and I’m embarrassed. I’m thinking, look at me, and everyone’s walking past. But then I had more conversations that night than I’ve ever had. I saw Ian Hunter. I just stood still and they all came past me and I’m thinking I’m going to break down every year.
AD: You’ve played with everyone. Who has been the most fun?
IM: I won’t play a gig unless it’s going to be fun. I’ve turned down work because I don’t like the music or I don’t like the person. But the most fun at the moment: Patty Griffin. Very much fun.
AD: Who is the most difficult to work with?
IM: Least fun, Lenny Kravitz. I just did two quick shows with him and quit-I just knew I wasn’t going to like it.
AD: What makes a really good show for you?
IM: With my band? I attempt to have a good show every night. I work towards a show the whole day. My first waking thought is, show tonight. It’s like butterflies. I have every intention of making every show as much fun as possible because that’s my chance to have the fun. I don’t play for money. Every night is an attempt to have as much fun as possible.
AD: What advice would you offer a musician just starting out?
IM: Don’t sign anything until you get a lawyer to check it out. Understand your contracts, I never did. At the same time, I probably wouldn’t have made it if I had looked at my contracts. Sometimes it’s good that you don’t know and you get ripped off but you get that kick start. If you’re good, if you’re part of a really good band you’re probably going to get ripped off a bit anyway. Someone’s going to get behind you and think there’s money in this and they will make money and you may not make the money-they will-but you’ll get a kick start. Advice? Make sure it’s fun. Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do anything for the money because you’ll be disappointed, you won’t get the money probably, and you’ll have nothing. The music’s got to be what drives you. I’ve heard guys say, “I started the music because of the girls.” Girls are incidental. I got the girls later. I loved the music.
AD: Are there any new recordings coming?
IM: Yes. I have an album that’s about two-thirds finished; the tracks are two-thirds done. I had the idea when I decided to make an album called Spiritual Boy, which is a Ronnie Lane song. And then once I decided that-it was February last year-I thought it would be great to have it finished by his 60th birthday which would have been April the 1st. Then I realized it would have to be finished by the beginning of March. And then I thought it is March. Oh my God! And I put my songs to one side. And then when I went back to it, I thought, this song could be better, this song sucks, this song is really, really good. So now I have six songs instead of eleven. We do this one; we write that one. If you leave it long enough you’ll hate them all. So we are finishing that album now and it will be out sometime this summer.