Music Writer - Madison Badger-Herald
Jody Stephens Interview
Adam: As A&R director at Ardent Records, what exactly is your job? Jody: I'm basically a talent scout; finding artists for the label, developing them, overseeing the recordings and production of the albums, and being somewhat of a part of the marketing process. A: What company distributes Ardent right now? J: Well, we have two companies. We're offering a new product (God, I hate that word). We have a new offering. It's called the Audio-Vision CD, and it's basically an interactive CD. It's music first, but if you happen to have a Macintosh interactive CD player, you can also acess visual information like music videos and interviews with the band. The Polygram distribution group is distributing that as well as Philipps [inventors of the compact disc audio format]. We have a network of indies for Alex Chilton's releases and a new relase called Spot. A: Alex Chilton's new one, "A Man Called Destruction" has been getting a bit of press on the west coast. J: The press response has been pretty amazing. I just got a copy of the Chicago Tribune, their Arts and Leisure section is in the Sunday paper, and there's about a three page review of Alex's performance in Chicago. A: What led the Radio City/Big Star Third lineup to break up? J: Wow. Maybe, to start from the beginning... The first album we had Chris [Bell] in the band, and we were a four-piece, with Chris Bell and Andy Hummel and Alex and myself. Chris had a major part in producing that particular record [#1 Record]. When it was released, most of the spotlight was on Alex, and Chris just thought he would always be overshadowed by Alex. This is speculation, but he thought he'd always be overshadowed by Alex, and I think that's probably why Chris left the band after the first album. Andy Hummel [the bass player] left after the second just because things weren't panning out like he wanted, and he wanted to go back to school. He wasn't seeing any sucess [financial] for his efforts. A: Andy Hummel's songs were quite interesting, like "The India Song" and "Way Out West". J: Well, I think so too. He wasn't seeing any financial sucess. We had a lot of good press, and a lot of people supporting. A: What about that rock writer's convention [Big Star's first reformation of sorts.]? When was that gig? J: It was in between the first two albums. A: Probably late '72 or early '73? J: Possibly. That's really what got us back together. The band essentially broke up after the first album and at John Keane's suggestion, we got back together to do a one-off show for this rock writers' convention. We had such a good time doing that and we actually saw that we were getting some support from the music press so we thought we'd give it another shot. We got back together to do Radio City. A: What songs did Chris Bell have to do with on Radio City? [Bell worked with the band in the early stages of songwriting, but pulled out, and denied credit for any of the album.] J: I know he had something to do with "Back of a Car." A: One thing I noticed about that album was that the drumming was totally free and unrestricted. The whole thing sounded just rawer. When you compare "O My Soul" to "Ballad of El Goodo", the rhythm section just sounds like they were able to let loose [Stephens and Hummel]. What was behind that creative change? As a drummer on the album, what was different for you? J: I think I just got a little better as a drummer. I was stretching out a bit. I don't think I was feeling quite inhibited as I was on the first album. I think the performances were appropriate for the first album. On the second record, the material and Alex's performances changed and were a bit freer and a bit wilder. So, the drumming got a bit freer and wilder. A: At times, it almost reminded me of Mitch Mitchell [of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.] J: God, that's a compliment. I'm a big fan of Mitch Mitchell. This is something that a lot of people don't know, and that is, a guy named Richard Roseborough [Chris Bell's sideman on I Am The Cosmos] played drums on "What's Going Ahn", "She's a Mover" and "Mod Lang". He played drums on all those. A: Wow. I didn't know that! J: He's a great drummer. A: On "Life Is White", Big Star use a great composition style. There are so many hooks, and none of them are overused. I think that was part of the genius of the band. What do you think was Big Star's forté? J: I think our forté was Alex, writing great songs and great melody lines and delivering them in a way that they connected with people. The band provided a vehicle for him to do that. The parts and the performances were keeping with what Alex was imparting lyrically. A: Is there any possibility of new songs being written by you and Alex? Joint compositions? J: I don't think so. I would never say never. At this point, I don't see it happening. Alex has his new album out and is touring in support of that and I've got my work here at Ardent? A: What about Andy Hummel? Where's he? J: Andy's living in Fort Worth, Texas, and is working for General Dynamics. He has a family and he has a good job and a paycheck... A: So, he's settled down? J: I'm sure his employer wouldn't be sympathetic to him taking time off to play music again. While my employer, Ardent Records [Big Star's original record company], John and Kim Jenkins have been really accomadating in regard to my doing Big Star gigs. It behooves Ardent to let me do these Big Star gigs because it just creates a higher profile for Alex, and maybe even sell some more Big Star records. A: What bands do you see today, using Big Star's influence in a way that makes you proud, making beautiful, important music? J: Oh, sure. Bands that have named us as an influence - The Replacements, R.E.M., Greg Dooley and The Afghan Whigs. The Gigolo Aunts are a great band. There are some wonderful bands out there. Even people that we seemingly didn't influence musically, they mention the band. For example, Bobby Gillespie and Primal Scream. A: Primal Scream have a sort of Memphis soul vein bond with Big Star. How much did that influence Big Star? The songwriting seemed British in many ways also. J: The most immediate songwriting influence was the British Invasion influence. For me in particular, it was the Beatles. I was in a soul band for about 3 years, and we did a lot of Stax standards, like "Shop Around" and "Tobacco Road". This was in the late '60s. It was great having to play through those Al Jackson [drummer for Booker T and the MGs] parts. A: Didn't [MGs guitarist and Blues Brother] Steve Cropper play on the last Big Star album? J: He did. he played on "Femme Fatale". A: Was Big Star really influenced by the Velvet Underground? J: I think Alex was. I know Alex was a big fan. We used to do "Sweet Jane" and "Perfect Day". I guess "Perfect Day" was a Lou Reed tune. I know Lou Reed in particular; Alex is a big fan of his. A: Any upcoming shows? J: The only thing we've even talked about recently is doing a New Year's Eve gig in New York City. I haven't talked to Alex or anybody about it yet though. The venue there holds 1000 people, it's like a theatre or something. A: Any releases on Ardent we should be looking for? J: Yeah. Look for Spot. They're a 3-piece band out of Dallas. Great lyrics and melody lines and nice guitar riffs, really great songs. Keep your ears peeled. Here's a description of Spot that somebody else came up with. "It's an intense combination of seductive pop hooks, avant-garde alternative influences and scathing punk anger. That sounds like a publicist, but it's true. Looks like ol' Jody's just doing his job. Now, he's a businessman too. When he plays drums, he rocks. When writes songs, he rolls. His vocals can even be heard on two songs on Big Star's 1993 reunion show, Columbia (Zoo).