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Thursday, 14 March 2013

Big Plans for the World - Exclusive Interview with Beki Hemingway and Randy Kerkman

It's an absolute joy to be able to bring you this exclusive interview with Beki Hemingway and Randy Kerkman. They are based in Denver, Colorado and have been on a musical journey for many years now. Last year they released a beautiful little EP called 'I Have Big Plans for the World', recorded in their home studio over a period of time due to work commitments etc (of which they will tell us about later).

If you want a wee taster of the music of Beki Hemingway then please Click Here to get a 6 track free sampler.

S4L: Your musical journey, when it did it all begin for you? Was it an artist, an album or song that inspired you to become part of the musical masses?

Beki: My parents were great music fans--my mom loved classical, and my dad loved Bob Dylan and non-traditional female voices like Mary (of Peter, Paul, and...) and Sylvia (of Ian and...), so there was always music playing in the house. I wrote poetry when I was really little and when I was 5, a musician going through a tough divorce moved in with us an I lost my "writing space" to him. I had to share a room my sister, so my deal with him was that he taught me all his new songs first, and he put a couple of my poems to music. I was kind of hooked right then. Up til then, everyone told me I was a genius. He told me I was going sharp, and that made me mad at first, but then I just started working a little harder. By the time I was 6, if you asked me what I wanted to be it was "a singer like Linda Ronstadt," and though I went back and forth with several other ideas like fireman and computer programmer, at about age 15, my friend Charla told me that I should just figure out that I was a singer already. I knew she was right. I started a band the next school year at 16 and did not waver after that.

Randy:  As a guitarist, I have to be honest and confess that 'Kiss Alive' was a big part of me taking up the guitar. I used to listen to it as a 12-14 year old and just think that Kiss made me want to play guitar.

S4L: Can you still remember your first ever live performance? Disaster or standing ovations all around?

Beki: My first solo was in church choir and it was a punishment for talking too much during rehearsal. I don't remember how it went over but I remember thinking I sounded alright, and that it didn't feel like punishment at all.

Randy: Somewhere in between. It was at a Church in front of about 100 people. But it felt like it was a packed house at Madison Square Garden!

S4L: You have traveled around a lot in your days, are you now settled in Denver as your main base of musical operations?

Beki: Denver definitely feels like home. I grew up in Colorado and when we came back here eight years ago, it didn't take long to feel like home and reconnect with some long time friends we'd fallen out of touch with during my Chicago-based touring years. Being in the middle of the States, it's not a practical base of musical operations despite really cool stuff coming out of this town lately (the Lumineers, Churchill, the Fray), but it's where we are settled and have our jobs and lives, and our dining room is set up as a pretty decent studio, so yes, we'll be here a while. 

Randy: It seems that way. We haven't discussed staying here for the rest of our lives, but we also don't have any plans to move. We love Denver (except for their lame football team!).* 
- *(Editors Note: Randy is a huge fan of the Chicago Bears whilst I am a huge fan of the Denver Broncos!)

S4L: You've put out a number of musical projects over the years, what one has given you the greatest satisfaction?

Beki: The newest always feels like the best, so my favorite right now is IHBPFTW. I think it's a good one to roll the windows down to and it was such a long time coming. It just feels so good to have it turn out so well (imho).
Beyond that, I think WFLFW (WORDS FOR LOSS FOR WORDS) is a good accomplishment. So much of it was written right after my father's death, and for me, it is a huge accomplishment to have finished it at all. Randy really had to pull me out of myself and push me to finish the lyrics on that one. In the end, it seems to be the one that speaks to others the most, and I find that the most satisfying thing of all as a songwriter. 

Randy: The last two are tied for me ('Words for Loss For Words' and 'I Have Big Plans For The World'). WFLFW was big for us as we'd been touring like crazy for years and it felt like we were on top of our game. I think it represented us well. The new one is satisfying to me because it was 95% done in our living room by ourselves.

Click Here to Watch Beki and Randy Perform 'Floating Away' (from the 'Words For Loss For Words' album) live in Glasgow.

S4L: Do you both collaborate on the crafting of the songs or does one do the lyrics and the other bringing life to the songs by creating the best tune?

Beki: Every combination has happened. I tend to write more lyrics and Randy tends to write more music, but there is no hard and fast rule except for these: Whoever starts the song has veto power. Sometimes writing at the same time in the same room is a bad idea for married people.

Randy: It's a little bit of every combination. My fav formula for songs is Beki putting lyrics to music that I've written.

S4L: You both work full time jobs so how hard is it fulfilling the musical dream? Would you like to be in a postion where you could do it on a full time basis or is that something that you feel is way beyond what you see yourselves as?

Beki: To some extent, we have had many of our musical dreams fulfilled. We made a living at it for 7-8 years, and we saw most of the US, and we've gotten the opportunity to play in Ireland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. I sometimes think I got into music as much for the travel as for the music. I feel pretty grateful for all of that. I'm too old to be a rock star now, but in a perfect world, a young artist would cover one of our songs and make us rich! Funny how your dreams can change with time.
Our jobs have given us a stability and some things we really lacked on the road like a regular church life, the ability to have a dog, a house, and health insurance. (I have chronic severe migraines that act up a lot if not constantly managed.) Simple things that a lot of people take for granted. We do not. Still, I miss the road and I'd go back to living on the road in a heartbeat if it were feasible and artistically rewarding. I can live very simply and I thrive on travel, but these days I'd be really insistent on contributing to a retirement fund each month and having good health insurance. 

Randy: Well, we were full-time touring musicians for about 8-9 years. Some days I long for that life again. Other days I'm thankful for the stability. I don't think it's way beyond what we see ourselves as, but it might be beyond what we're willing to sacrifice now, especially considering that it seems more unsual for people to pay for music all the time.

S4L: Beki, you were once a backing singer for Larry Norman, did that give you some insight into what the road ahead could be for you? And did that spur you on to look for ways to get your own music out there?

 (With Larry Norman. Picture courtesy of Beki Hemingway)

Beki: By the time Larry hired me, I already knew that I wanted to be a singer. I had met Larry when I was 16 and I had so much fun singing with him. It was a good open door and a way for me to learn without being the center of attention, but I was very shy about business when I sang with Larry and I probably wasn't looking as hard as I should have been for other opportunities. I was very focused at the time on the Denver band I was singing with, and I probably missed some opportunities being young and short-sighted at the time.

S4L: What inspires you to write your songs? Do you sit down with purpose to write or are you one of those folks that words to songs come to whilst you are doing your everyday business?

Beki: Writing is the hardest thing. Reading helps. Whenever I'm reading the a good book, concepts begin swirling around and it gets my brain thinking in that way. The Bible is great for that because it's full of big concepts and wild stories. It may not always translate in obvious ways in a song but it primes the brain to be thinking in both big and small details. Travel helps. Being out of my rut makes me notice everything, gives perspective on my everyday life, and I write the most right after a trip...or maybe I just watch less tv.
Usually, something comes to me in the car, and if it sticks with me, I figure it's good enough to work out when I get home. The songs on our CD are usually inspired by a feeling, something I have learned, or a close friend evoking a strong emotion. I like good alliteration and odd connections. 

Mark Robertson is a person I learned a lot about songwriting from. Prior to being in This Train, I was writing a lot vague (what I thought were artsy) lyrics and Mark taught me by example how to keep it simple and say what I mean. You can hear the lesson take effect between our first ep rinse. repeat. and Too Much Plenty.  

(Click Here to Listen to 'Sinsick' from the album 'Too Much Plenty')

Randy: For me, it's usually something that I hear 2nd hand, either from the news or a story about a friend of a friend. For some reason it is easier for me to see the story/song in someone else's life than my own. I usually get further when I hear something and think that's a great line for a song, then sit down and work on it than I do if I sit down and randomly try to write something.

S4L:Who are the artists that really inspire you?

Beki: Lately, I'm having a hard time keeping up enough to find them...but early on the obvious ones are Maria McKee, Sam Phillips, Patty Griffin. Mark Heard in the 80's was so brilliant both lyrically and musically. In the past few years I have been in love with Justin Currie's songs, and way back when, I really loved 10cc and the Commodores.
I have no idea if it ever makes its way into our songs, but as you know, I am a huge fan of the Alarm, and was always big on those bands like the Call, Big Country, Simple Minds, and U2--bands with something important to say. Hmmm. 

Randy: Aimee Mann, Tom Petty, Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall II.

S4L: Your latest EP 'I Have Big Plans For the World' was a long time coming, is that due to the complexities of your working schedules, or was it the fact that you did all the work on it yourselves and so had a lot to learn about the way you record?

Beki: It is all down to writer's block and work schedules. Randy is very confident in the studio and was very patient waiting for me to come around to being ready. As soon as things started picking up in the "ready" department, my business starting picking up and it became harder to schedule times where we were both home and able to work on it. 

Randy: It was mainly that we were burned out and it took a number of years before we both wanted to do another record. I think our differing work schedules played a part in getting ready to do another, but once we decided to move forward with it, it was just a matter of scheduling. We were definetely familar with the process.

S4L: Your website says that you are taking on "the great experiment of life after 40 as an indie musician" - how difficult is?

Beki: I'm not sure yet. We have some success and some failure like anyone else.
As for the age--on one hand, I'm routinely 10 years older than the others on any given bill at a venue in Denver, but at the same time, we have wonderful friends who never stopped doing music and are aging gracefully into it, and there seems to be a house concert scene really growing amongst people in our age group that is more artistically rewarding and financially feasible than a lot of the gigs we did when we were younger. A lot of it is attitude. I put that phrase up as a bit of a joke but also because I don't want to hide my age or try to act like I'm still in my 20's. I'm not, and I think there are benefits to being where I am, and I intend to look for them and savor them.

Randy: I have trouble differentiating between the "Life after 40" part and the reality that touring and really working the record isn't feasible like it used to be. Either way, it is daunting.

S4L: You are a frequent visitor to Wales and got the opportunity to sing with Joe Silva and I believe that you were also doing some tunes in a Welsh pub earlier in the day. How much fun was that?

 (with Joe Silva at The Gathering 21, Wales 2013. Picture courtesy of Beki Hemingway)

(Singing it loud and proud in Wales. Picture courtesy of Beki Hemingway) 

Beki: MOST. FUN. EVER. Joe was so nice to invite me to sing with him, and everyone was just so nice. Isn't that just the Gathering for you though? A true thrill.

S4L: If the Beki and Randy of now could go back in time and happen to bump into the Beki and Randy of the younger days when you were just starting what advice or piece of wisdom would you pass on to them?

Beki: Loosen up. Go for it more. Say yes to more things instead of worrying about messing them up or doing them just right. Above all: Miss the flight. STAY IN IRELAND--do NOT go to Tennessee!!!

Randy: To be honest, I'd say be more Goal-Orientated and a little more Career-Centric. We were so happy just being able to tour and do our music full time that we never really obsessed over being signed to major record labels or getting on mag covers.

S4L: Final question. Soundtrack4Life always likes to find out about the music that people listen to or have been inspired by, can you name 5 songs (or Albums) that have been a vital part in your own musical journey and would still be a part of your very own soundtrack4life.

Beki: Save the hardest question for last, huh? Here are a few that came along at pivotal times and changed my attitude, got memorized and will never leave my ipod, ever. They are in no particular order, and by no means a complete list. 

1. Maria McKee - You Gotta Sin to Get Saved
2. Annie Lennox - Bare
3. The Donnas - Spend the Night
4. The Alarm - Declaration
5. Patty Griffin - Living with Ghosts

1. Aimee Mann - Bachelor #2
2. The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street
3. U2 - October
4. Cheap Trick - Heaven Tonight
5. Wilco - AM

To check out more about Beki Hemingway please visit her website by CLICKING HERE. Or go over and like her Musician Page at Facebook by CLICKING HERE.
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