Innocent Words Blog Series – Celebrates 15 Years: Favorite Interviews Of All Time

In honor of Innocent Words Magazine’s 15th Anniversary, I will be blogging a new favorites list once a month for the rest of the year. This month I present to you, our faithful blog readers, my 15 Years of Innocent Words Favorite Interviews of all Time list (in alphabetical order).

In my 15 years of doing Innocent Words I’ve interviewed over 230 musicians. After 15 years and all those interviews I still, to this day, get a bit nervous when I am about to pick up the phone and make the call for a scheduled time.

I’ve never blown off an interview EVER! Nor have I ever been late when I am the one to call or show up, and I am proud of that. I don’t know why that is, it just is.

Growing up, basically worshipping music, I never dreamed I’d be doing what I do. It sounds cliché, but I am the luckiest guy I know. To be able to interview all these people making music is pretty incredible. And to think I’ve been able to interview some of my rock icons is even more unfathomable.

I always try to be different with my questions; I never follow a format of the same questions. What’s the point of that? One of the best compliments I can ever get is when I ask a musician a question and they say something to the effect of, “that’s a that’s a good question, no one has ever asked me that.” I like to keep them on their toes.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 15 of my favorite interviews. These artists aren’t the most well-known of the artists I’ve interviewed, but these are some of the ones I had the most fun doing. And to everyone I have interviewed over the years, thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

Carlene Carter

It’s no secret Johnny Cash is my hero and I knew Carlene Carter was his step-daughter. I also knew Carlene had a checkered past and was a long-time girlfriend of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein. And all that was just skimming the surface of her amazing life. Musically, I didn’t discover Carter until 2008 when she released the phenomenal album ‘Stronger.’ When she came back with one of the best records of 2014, ‘Cater Girl,’ I was lucky enough to interview Carlene. With her slow country accent, I immediately fell in love with this woman. She was brutally honest and hysterically funny without even trying to be and made me feel like I was a part of her family. She is from the South after all. We talked for nearly 90 minutes and she told me stories about Johnny Cash and her mother June Carter Cash and stories about her legendary grandmother, Mother Maybelle, and Carl Perkins. It was one of the greatest times in my career at Innocent Words. I would compliment her and she was say in her accent, “I like you, I’m gonna keep you around.” Anytime someone uses the term “Southern Belle” it makes me think of Carlene Carter.

Phil Collen
(Def Leppard, Delta Deep, Manraze, Girl)

You know that clichéd phrase, something about don’t meet your heroes because they won’t live up to your expectations? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to guitarist Phil Collen. Phil, along with Steve Clark, was one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar when I was in the sixth grade after seeing the video for “Photograph.” For years, even decades, after that I was and continue to love Phil and Def Leppard. So when I got to interview him, I was a bit nervous. But it turns out, he is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever talked to. What’s even better than that, he’s still a music fan/geek. We talked about Hendrix and Howlin Wolf and you could hear in his voice the excitement he still felt for those guitar players. Then when he told me about seeing his hero, Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, live and actually touching Blackmore’s hand, he was still excited about it even though it happened almost 30 years ago. Phil is a true gentleman and diehard lover of music, not to mention one hell of a guitar player.

Tanya Donelly
(Throwing Muses, Belly)

I feel a little guilty about Tanya Donelly because I was late to the Throwing Muses and Belly game. I knew of them and liked what I heard, but it was Tanya’s solo albums I truly loved in the beginning.

The first time I interviewed Tanya she talked to me like I was an old friend, yet I had never talked to her before in my life. It was really comforting. She is always charming, very friendly, and thought provoking with her intelligence. I’ve interviewed Tanya a few times since that first time and she always remembers me and asks me questions to catch up like old friends. So many musicians could learn a lot from this. A little kindness stretches for miles. I have a great admiration for Tanya.

Jack Endino
(Producer, Skin Yard, Endino’s Earthworm, Upwell, Kandi Coded)

Though he is best known for producing Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ album, Jack is so much more than that. He’s recorded hundreds of albums from bands all over the globe. He’s also a talented musician playing in the legendary Seattle group Skin Yard (among others). He’s also put out solo albums.

I was kind of intimidated to interview Jack because he seemed so serious in the interviews I’d seen him do. In reality he is a pretty laid back guy with stories as big as the trees of the Pacific Northwest. At one point I felt a bit sad for Jack because at the time we talked it was coming close to the fifth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death and he was dreading all the press and hype. People forget that Jack, who has made some of the best rock records in history, lost a lot of friends along the way. However, he keeps going, producing fantastic records, and making solid music of his own. I see a little bit of myself in Jack because he is in it for the love of the music and doesn’t bother anyone in the process. He is quiet, humble, and a damn good guy; I am lucky to have become his friend.

Billy Gibbons
(ZZ Top)

What do you say to a music legend who has been asked everything under the sun about his band and music? I had no idea. But getting the chance to interview one of my favorite guitarists was a no-brainer I just couldn’t pass up. Billy has a language all his own. I don’t know where he gets it or if it just comes with age and experience in music. But it was a fun conversation indeed. He called his guitar a “plank” (as in a plank of wood). He told me stories about opening for Jimi Hendrix and he explained that classic ZZ Top sound he gets with his guitar, which is relatively simple. I have interviewed a lot of musicians in my life, but none as unique as Mr. Gibbons.

Stone Gossard
(Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, Mother Love Bone, Green River)

Technically, I didn’t interview Stone Gossard for Innocent Words. I interviewed him pre-Innocent Words for a magazine I was writing for called The Pulse. But if you think I was going to leave him off the list, you’d be crazy.

The year was 2001 and Stone was releasing his solo debut album ‘Bayleaf.’ I was supposed to interview Stone on or around September 11, but for obvious reasons, it was rescheduled. If memory serves correctly, I think he was stuck in New York at the time. Anyway, the day finally came and Stone was too call me at 1 p.m. The phone rang…

Stone: Hello is this Tony?

Me: Umm, no this is Troy, but if you are calling about the interview that’s me.

Stone: You’re Tony?

Me: No, I am Troy, the one doing the interview.

Stone: Oh, ok, what happened to Tony?

Me: There was never a Tony. I just think you got the names confused. You can call me Tony if you want.

Stone: No, no, I must have written down wrong. What’s your name again?

The interview went really well, and it actually taught me a lot about doing interviews—mostly that you are only allotted so much time with bigger rock stars because they cram all their interviews into one day. Also, make your name clear when you schedule an interview.

Stone, was nice, funny, and kind of quirky, just like you’d expect him to be. I remember asking him about Andrew Wood and he told me he thinks of Andy every day. He also told me about the “soft sell,” which was kind of funny to me since he was a globally known musician.

I’ve gotten to talk to Stone a couple times since and honestly I don’t think he remembers that interview, but that’s perfectly alright with me. I will never forget it; I have it framed on my office wall.

Ed Hamell
(Hamell on Trial)

Ed Hamell isn’t widely known, but he should be. This New Yorker is one funny guy with a punk rock attitude. He plays a 1930s Gibson acoustic and has more balls than most punk bands with the full gear.

Ed is a native New Yorker and is everything you’d expect. He talks fast, has 1,000 stories, and has more energy and passion than kids half his age. Ed is intelligent, opinionated, and full of compassion. He’s done everything from playing in a struggling punk band to bartending at a dive bar in New York where drug deals were common practice. If the music industry was a perfect place everyone would know who Ed Hamell is, but somehow I don’t think he’d like that very much.

I’ve interviewed Ed a half a dozen times and he always asks how my health is doing. He is a class act and never fails to make me laugh and educate me at the same time. Ed is partially the reason I am here doing what I do.Thanks buddy.

Kristin Hersh
(Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave)

I was relatively late to the game when it came to Kristin Hersh’s music, her main band Throwing Muses, and her side band 50 Foot Wave. However, once I did finally listen to the music, I got it. The music was so enthralling, unconventional, and powerful. I first interviewed Kristin back in 2011 and that first time I was overwhelmed with so many questions I wanted to ask her, but I didn’t want to come off like a douche uber fan, so I limited myself. Luckily I have interviewed Kristin four or five times since that first time and she answers just about anything I ask and I am proud to call her a friend. She is always engaging, a little bit quirky, and a whole lot of fun.

Lydia Lunch
(Big Sexy Noise, 8-Eyed Spy, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks)

There is no easy way to say this so here it is: Lydia Lunch scares the shit out of me and I like it.

I didn’t know who Lydia was until the compilation ‘Home Alive: Art of Self Defense’ was released in 1996. As a writer and fan of spoken word, I was drawn to Lydia’s brutally honest and graphic performances about men, women, rape, and the government. Looking deeper into Lydia’s career, I was blown away that she was a musician, author, poet, and actress who was influential to the famed New York No Wave scene.

When I interviewed Lydia she was living overseas because she couldn’t stand living in America during the Bush era. That’s how serious she is. She had just released her umpteenth album ‘Smoke in the Shadows’ (2004) and was currently working on new projects. That was Lydia, she was ALWAYS working on something, but she took the time to talk with me from across the globe and even personally sent me a care package of her CDs with a thank you note… Maybe she’s not so scary after all.

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Johnette Napolitano
(Concrete Blonde)

I’ve been a fan of Johnette and Concrete Blonde since I heard “God Is a Bullet” around 1989. Around the time Innocent Words was launched, Concrete Blonde had gotten back together.

I tried not once or twice but three times to set up an interview and it always fell through, so I chalked it up as not meant to be. Then a fourth chance came along and it was set. We had a date and time. Johnette called me, “Hello” and I heard her faint voice over the static. Her cell phone was cutting out. She’d call back and it happened again and again and again. We gave up.

We set up a new time and it finally worked. I got to talk to Johnette while she was on break from the animal shelter she was volunteering at. She was very friendly, modest, and had great stories. She’s Italian and liked to talk and talk and talk some more. Sometimes I couldn’t get a word in, but it was a blast. Johnette was the longest interview I ever had. We talked for nearly two hours.

Terri Nunn
(Berlin)

A horny teenage boy in the 1980s, I had a mad crush on Terri Nunn from the band Berlin. Their videos for “The Metro” and “No More Words” were erotic fodder for me. And even better, the songs were fantastic. So, when I got to interview Nunn for Berlin’s breakout, comeback album ‘Animal’ in 2013, I couldn’t help but to regress back to my teen years. I am not one to keep a secret and I talk a lot when I get nervous so I did tell her about my teen boy crush and she thought it was cute and funny. The funny thing about interviewing Terri is she is like the girl next door and we rarely have that typical musician/writer interview. We usually talk about anything and everything from her home to her kids and once she even sang the theme to “Green Acres” for me on a whim, which is something I will never forget.

Utah Phillips

I became aware of Utah Phillips through the two albums he recorded with Ani DiFranco– ‘Past Didn’t Go Anywhere’ (1996) and ‘Fellow Workers’ (1999).

Born Bruce U. “Utah” Phillips, he was called “the golden voice of the great American Southwest.” A folkie by trade and an anarchist at heart, Utah stood up to all that was wrong in America to the day he died at age 73.

Utah reminded me a lot of my grandfather as he told me stories of touring the United States by train and I don’t mean Amtrak. At one time he was a “hobo” and he also rode the famous Wabash Cannonball. He went on to run for political office and record some of the best stories you’ve ever heard. He toured until just a couple years before his death of a bad heart, which is ironic considering he had one of the biggest hearts you could imagine.

Doug Pinnick
(King’s X, KMX, Tres Mts, Grinder Blues)

Growing up in a small Midwestern town I had a lot of free time—hence my love for music. Back in 1988 my Saturday nights would involve staying up and watching “Headbangers Ball” on MTV, dreaming I’d be the next great guitarist.

One night they played a video by a band called King’s X. It was the strangest band I’d ever a seen. A three piece playing Beatles-funk-inspired rock. Their lead singer was a black man with a big Mohawk and he was playing bass left handed. If there was ever an oxymoron in rock, it was this guy.

I went down to my local indie music store and bought King’s X’ debut ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ and was blown away. It was like nothing my ears had ever heard before. I followed the band and their frontman Doug Pinnick for years. He became one of my favorites, one of my rock icons.

During the early years of Innocent Words, I had the chance to interview Doug, but it almost didn’t happen because of some email confusion. Once the interview did happen, it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had. I was trying to be professional, but it didn’t matter with Doug. To this day, even after interviewing Doug more than anyone else, I still find it hard to believe one of my rock heroes is now a good friend.

Dave Pirner
(Soul Asylum)

Although Dave Pirner got his start in the bitter cold winters of Minneapolis, he spent the majority of his later years in New Orleans, and if any city embodied a musician, it was New Orleans for Dave. Like the city itself, Dave is so laid back, down to earth, and full of diversity and open mindedness. He is a very thoughtful guy and really thinks about his answers after you ask him a question. He comes off very humble, very loyal, and like a guy you’d hang out with or buy a beer down at the local bar.

Louis Posen
(owner of Hopeless/Sub City Records)

I can’t really tell you when I interviewed Louis Posen but every day since he has a profound effect on my life. Louis, along with a friend, started Hopeless Records literally out of a closet and he has turned it into one of the biggest punk labels in America.

Louis is a genuine guy who is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He also battles macular degeneration, which has taken nearly all of his sight. He only can see light and dark shadows and still manages life better than most people with perfect vision.

I only talk to Louis a few times a year (he always remembers to call on my birthday), but when we do talk it’s like no time has gone by. Not only is Louis a friend, he’s a mentor and great inspiration for me personally and professionally.

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