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28 Sep 2016

Can't Quit You: Josh Haden, Promoting the Newest Record by Spain, Says Music Is in His DNA

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Spain. Spain.

In the 1990s, the band Spain enjoyed a taste of mainstream success.

However, as the music industry began its massive shift after the dawn of the new millennium, frontman Josh Haden felt creatively spent, which led to a hiatus. However, Spain was not done: Haden would later revive the band, with all new members but himself. The group is now promoting its latest album, Carolina.

Spain will be playing at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Thursday, Oct. 6.

During a recent phone interview, Haden explained the hiatus.

“People ask me that question, and I’m never really sure how to answer it,” Haden said. “I think that music is supposed to put the listener into either a different state of mind, or a state of mind that brings them closer to the truth of something—the truth about themselves, the meaning of life, or even the temporary escape from day-to-day issues that everyone has. I feel like when the business side of music—which is a reality of musicians, and not so much for people who aren’t musicians—has money involved in it, it takes the listener away from the joy or the value that music has.”

Haden said the nature of the music industry played a large part in the hiatus.

“Back in the ’90s, major labels were giving indie artists hundreds of thousands of dollars without batting an eye,” he said. “These days, I don’t think young people realize what it was like in the ’90s when artists like me, who had very little following and a lot of hype, could get a million-dollar record deal. The cost of that kind of corporate one-upmanship—where the people who are in charge of the major labels don’t even care about the art anymore—it’s not about music, and it’s not about value to a human’s life. It’s about dollars.

“It’s much smaller in 2016 than it was in the ’90s. … The economy back then was like a free-for-all. You take away regulations, and all of a sudden, all the people with money feel like they can make more money and not have a conscience about it. When a musician accepts a lot of money as an advance from a record label, he’s controlled by that label, and that artist is going to have to reconcile and be controlled by everyone else. In 2001, I quit, and I said, ‘If I can’t do things the way I want and not make the music I want, I’m just going to not make music.’”

When Spain released its debut album, The Blue Moods of Spain in 1995, the song “Spiritual” became an indie hit, and has been covered by many, including Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss, Johnny Cash, and even Haden’s father, the late legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. However, sales didn’t necessarily follow the artistic success of the song.

“It wasn’t about money, because I would hear the underlings and staff at the companies, and they would be saying, ‘I can’t believe all of this commotion is being made about this band Spain that doesn’t sell a lot of records,’” Haden said. “I think that there’s a devoted following and respect for the music in circles of listeners, but the sales never matched the admiration.”

The making of Carolina, released earlier this year, marked a departure for Haden, he said.

“I recorded this album in (producer) Kenny Lyon’s one-room apartment using very minimal gear—using one great vintage compressor and limiter, and one really great microphone called a Soyuz microphone, which is a Russian microphone that’s very good and very affordable,” Haden said. “… We’re at a time in history when musicians can make great records for $1,000 to $2,000. That was one thing that was different, and I had never done before. … I’m always trying to evolve my songwriting and be a better songwriter, and I thought that for different reasons, this was a good opportunity, for the new record, to write songs more as a storyteller, as if I was writing a short story. With the exception of one song, all the songs have a story, and I never had really done that before, for some reason.”

Haden’s father was a professional jazz musician, and his mother and triplet sisters are musicians. (His sisters perform under the name The Haden Triplets.)

“I grew up thinking every kid had a musical family,” Haden said. “When I realized that wasn’t the case, it was a big shock to me. My dad was a professional musician, and he was on the road a lot and recording a lot. That was his life. There would be musicians and artists of all kinds coming through our apartment in New York where I grew up. I was exposed to not just jazz, but rock, classical, blues and gospel. By the time I was 5 years old, I was writing my own songs. … It’s in my DNA. What can I do? I tried to be a lawyer, and that didn’t work. I tried to get into academia and get a Ph.D. and teach, but I couldn’t do it. Music just kept calling me.”

Haden has never played at Pappy and Harriet’s before, and he said he’s excited to finally have the opportunity.

“It’s a legendary venue in a very legendary location. It’s part of California history,” he said. “I’ve never played there before and have always wanted to, and never knew who to talk to, or it just came down to timing. Our drummer lives part-time in Joshua Tree and knows the people who own Pappy and Harriet’s. He told me to write to them, and that was my in. I think it’s good for the record, too, because we recorded the drums on Carolina in Joshua Tree. Part of the DNA in the recorded music is in Joshua Tree.”

Spain will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

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