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By: Michael D. Vogel

© September 2, 1997. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved.  

Published in:

Venice magazineOctober 1997

 

Over the course of the last 20 years, Ric Ocasek has been one of alternative rock’s most revered pioneers. His work with the Cars, the various side and solo projects, and even his poetry have kept him front and center in the music world–even when he’s not writing or producing. He’s had enormous triumphs as well as a few falls. If he has an opinion on a particular subject, he speaks his mind freely, directing pointed barbs at any detractors, rarely apologizing for anything.

Through it all, amazingly, he has for the most part remained unscathed. His status as one of rock music’s most creative geniuses is as revered as it has ever been!

Today, he is the same soft-spoken man that put raw emotion and angst into rock music more then a decade before anyone even imagined the “Alternative Movement.” The only difference between then and now is that he no longer uses a “band” as his musical vehicle of expression. In fact, he looks back on much of his younger times with the Cars as something that was an expression of difference yet also symptomatic of the decadence of the times. “I certainly was seeking out things that were left of center and somewhat decadent.” After more then a decade removed from the band, he still remains very insightful about life, music and an eloquent observer of the world around him. “It always interests me how far people are willing to go. But, for the most part, I feel we’ve become a lot more decadent now then we were ten years ago!”

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with one of the original “New Wave” engineers, tucked away in the quite confines of his Los Angeles hotel room followed by a rare personal meeting, in the hallowed halls of the Album Network. Ric Ocasek is back out on the road getting both radio and retail reacquainted with the man that brought us “Candy-O,” while also promoting his new album, Troublizing the first in four years. Any hints of a rebellious youth are long gone, fashionably attired in a conservative T-shirt and sports coat, jeans and his trademark dark sunglasses. His only concession to a more formal attire were his shoes–fine Italian loafers–of course! Ric never broke form: During our phone conversation he was very deliberate in his replies, often taking long pauses, mulling over the appropriate reply to a question. In person, the only difference was that he was a bit quieter and more introspective.

Meet the new Ric, same as the old Ric. “I’m just a general skeptic from evolution on up, more than anything, but I also feel that I do hold some sense of humor about life as well. I’m certainly optimistic as opposed to being pessimistic as a person too.”

Like pieces of a rather ill fitting pie chart, Ric Ocasek’s life seems to be broken into odd slices that all center around music. “Life is for living in all ways and all forms. After all the craziness of the Cars and now as a solo artist, I have dabbled in all kinds of artistic expressions–from writing books and poetry to photography. Throughout it all, music has always been a very important part of my life.” In his writings, similar to his music, he’s apt to sketch an idea and then let his audience fill in the details. Consequently, he feels little or no pressure to define Troublizing, to delineate the generation and development of its songs. “As far as music is concerned, I don’t think I’ve had any different opinions since I initially began making music. It’s still about being confused regarding your place in society and trying to be something that you are not.”

Judging by the quality of his work on the new album, Ocasek has assembled one of the strongest works of his illustrious career. It is a stunning collection of material that echoes his past with the Cars as much as it reflects the wide spectrum of his current musical endeavors. And so, Troublizing comes to us without an instruction manual, and that means you can ultimately take its endearing blend of rock forthrightness and pop catchiness off on your own personal tangent.

Clearly, Ocasek hasn’t abandoned his strong beliefs that made both he and the Cars famous, but he does harbor some doubts about music as an effective vehicle for spreading complex ideas. “When I first started making records, I loved all the equipment and technology. I loved the whole process of making an album. But things have progressed a lot since then.” Although he’s not sure about technology and the information age as a vector for social change; he is, however, certain about the affects it will have on individuals and society. “I do fear for the future of our children and people in general. I see things getting more information oriented; information that we don’t necessarily need, as well as people being confused about their position in life” he says. But then he pauses and qualifies the statement, “I feel sorry for the children who have to be motivated to live on. Although, with a little attention to what is going on around you and a firm conviction to do something about it, things can always get better!”

As a vocalist and a lyricist, Ocasek’s gift has always been an ability for breathing personal intensity into the music. “My music comes straight from the heart because I care–I’m not doing this for any other reason.” This holds true for his view on poetry and how it relates to music. “People who write good, insightful lyrics have in some way been influenced by some lines of poetry. When people think of songs, they think in terms of verses. At its root, that is what poetry is all about. The only difference, I would imagine, is that music tends to be more thematic whereas poetry doesn’t.” Certainly, a great rhythm guitar and a strong beat contribute to any songs effectiveness, but Ocasek has a knack for charging street-wise sentiments with vitality. As an excellent songwriter, he is also able to communicate the inarticulate. “I think you can learn a lot from the way people express themselves, whether it is what they say or do.”

But, where others wade in a sea of indecisiveness, Ric Ocasek has always been sure about one thing–himself. “It is my firm belief that you are the person you are and therefore there is no reason to try and be someone else.” Holding true to his convictions about the power of music and, ultimately, the role it plays in the politics of style, he adds, “Not all records are huge popular success stories.” And, “with the short attention spans we cultivate in today’s societies, if you haven’t recently been in the forefront of the publics eye, you tend to be forgotten. But when you are suddenly reintroduced to the mainstream, you are then labeled with the term ‘come back.’ I’m sure there is a multitude of people who have forgotten about me or never really paid that much attention in the first place. Overall, I don’t look at this record as any kind of comeback at all! It is just the next record in line.” 

Although it is sometimes hard to tell whether he’s being provocative or honest, Ocasek’s populist sentiments are a refreshing antidote to the prevailing reign of rock seriousness. “One of the biggest things I learned from the onslaught of success, as an artist, is to relax and wait until the very last minute before delving into the pressures of creating music.” There is a certain level of irony here though. He adds, “when it comes to writing music, I am definitely obsessed. I think about it all them time. It’s like having that other kind of love, one that is not shared with another living being. It shows that there is, in general, something different in life.” But in regards to the topic of recreating what has already been done, Ric was very quick to reply “It’s hard to get away from writing the same type of song even though you might make it better.” He continues, “I like to think philosophically that we all have a dream, one that is so great, but unfortunately will never come true.” He is definitely a free spirit who can attract others based on the style and content of the message.

Ric Ocasek is also one of those rare behind-the-boards talents who remain a vital force in the industry even as you trace the history of rock & roll through his credits. His image, similar to other rock visionaries like David Bowie, is synonymous with what is ‘cool’ and up-and-coming in music.

In its various forms, the rock genre has always been the musical halfway house between the eclectic singer/song-writer and the angst-ridden, distortion and feedback guitar bands. “It is very important to have control over the recording process, so that all possible options can be viewed and equally discussed.” In this fashion, Ocasek has functioned as a musical conduit, delivering alternative sounds into the waiting arms of a rock & roll melody. This coupled with the fact that “Modern Rock” has become the central focus of the rock genre explains why he is even in more demand now then ever before.

Musical growth has consistently been the modus operandi for Ocasek since he helped take the Cars through the musical evolution of the early 80s. Throughout the bands career, the Cars were known for his arrangement style, which thrived on subtle dynamics and precise production–something that has prompted other artists to request his assistance.

Ric Ocasek’s growing appeal as a producer among the new breed of alternative/punk rock bands, with such high profile artists like Hole, Weezer, Bad Religion, Iggy Pop and D Generation (to name a few), is not so surprising. He is sympathetic to young recording artists as well as having an understanding of the unprecedented pressures they must persevere. “The most important thing is a passion for what you are doing. Generally, if you are content with you situation, along with a little hard work and dedication, you ultimately will be a success at what you do.”

He has built his reputation on being a persistent, hard-working master of details, gauging time and an artist’s temperament and how to best combine them to create that indefinable magic. “I look for the things that are different then what I do. They might be examples of things I would like to do. Bad Brains and Suicide, two bands that are quite different in themselves, are examples of bands that are at the opposite ends of the musical spectrum. On the other hand, I think working with other pop bands, similar to the Cars, or similar to something I might be working on, wouldn’t be as interesting at all.” Yet he claims, that despite commons threads, his approach must vary depending on what he and the artist feel should be contributed to the project. ” I might even choose to produce a band in order to have them explore areas that they never intended or imagined before.” Once those elements are in place, he sees his basic job as simply helping the artist reach their maximum potential. “Although the role of the producer is to add another personality into the mix, the main focus is to accentuate the positives of the artist.”

But this is also a musician, who attributes his cool exterior to the very word that commands only one description–perfectionist. That is especially true when it comes to defining his work ethic in the studio, especially for his own material. “Right from the start, I knew I wanted a musician to produce this record. The reason I chose Billy [Corgan] was because he is just as obsessive about music as I am. From all the material I had read about him, he really presented himself as his own person, one with individual ideas and the way things should be done. He believes 100% in what he is doing.” He further adds, “The Smashing Pumpkins have covered “You’re All I Got Tonight”, so I was already aware of what they could do with a Cars song, but I was most curious about how he would take the songs that I had written and do them. I knew he would be very much in control of that and that is what I wanted.” These are important qualities to Ric, who was quick to differentiate between the two, [an artist and a producer]. “First of all, Billy is a songwriter, something you don’t get in a producer. You also don’t get members of bands who know what the politics of the game are all about. What I really wanted was someone who would really live the making of the record. I felt the best place to look for that was the people that actually make the music–the artist themselves. In this case, Billy Corgan more then fit the bill.” In fact, that diversity is the magic in Ric Ocasek’s universe.

Troublizing is the end result–an album that is as powerful in simplicity, as it is majestic in its textured blend of musical styles. The veteran singer/songwriter has come up with the most versatile and wide-ranging collection of sounds and songs of his eclectic career. At the same time, he has also come up with a very accessible approach that more than mirrors his past successes. “If someone is in control of their own folly, the end result is usually something positive. Maybe you just need to be obsessed with something and then follow that obsession to fruition. We all do things in order to obtain a certain goal–the difference between success and failure is just a matter of being in love with what you are doing.” ^m^

 

Origin:

Originally from Australia, the band has now relocated to London, England

Line-Up:                                                                                    

Ric Ocasek – Vocals, Guitars & Keys                             Ira Elliot – Drums          

Brian Baker – Guitar                                                             Melissa Auf der Maur – Bass

Billy Corgan – Guitar                                                            Greg Hawkes – Keys

Matt Walker – Drums

About The Current CD:

Troublizing is the fifth solo album from the former leader of The Cars, featuring co-production, guitars, keyboards and backing vocals by Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.

Discography:

Troublizing (Columbia, 1997)                              

Quick Change World (Reprise, 1993)      

Fireball Zone (Reprise, 1990)

This Side Of Paradise (Geffen, 1986)

Beatitude (Geffen, 1982)    

Produced By:

Ric Ocasek & Billy Corgan

Label:

Columbia

Website:

www.ricocasek.com

 

© September 2, 1997. Michael D. Vogel.  All Rights Reserved. This originally appeared on the Vogelism blog at http://www.vogelism.com authored by Michael D. Vogel. This article may be shared or reprinted as long as the entire copyright message, including the source location of this article, accompanies it.

 

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