Michael Landau is a renowned session guitarist working with Boz Scaggs, Joni Mitchell and many other equally respected musicians over the years. A lover of jazz and blues, Landau often plays with The Gadd band (who he is doing stint with at Ronnie Scott's in March) and he's got a tour planned with James Taylor later this year, but for his current solo project, he has gone to rockier pastures. Photogroupie caught up with Michael to find out more about his new album, Rock Bottom.
PG (Photogroupie): WHAT PROMPTED THE MOVE AWAY FROM INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC FOR THIS ALBUM?
ML (Michael Landau): I'd been playing so much instrumental music these last ten years and I grew up on vocal music like The Beatles and all the good stuff. I just wanted to make a tougher vocal record.
PG: THE NEW ALBUM IS ENTITLED 'ROCK BOTTOM' IS THERE ANY SIGNIFICANCE IN THE TITLE?
ML: It's a bit of a play on words. I just wanted to let people know that it's definitely not a jazzy instrumental record. The world today is a little bit rock bottom too. It's supposed to be a little bit funny.
PG: THERE'S A BIG JAZZ INFLUENCE ON THE ALBUM, HOW DID THAT STYLE DEVELOP IN YOUR MUSIC.
ML: It was in my later teens. When you're a teenager you go one way or the other and I definitely put rock music away and became this jazz snob and thought that all rock music was silly. It began with hearing artists like Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and I became a big fan of the early fusion music like Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report too. I spent five or six years only listening to that and then in my early twenties I came back around to the rock.
PG: THERE'S A BIG HENDRIX VIBE THERE TOO?
ML: It's a given that Hendrix stuff. Axis: Bold of love all that stuff.
PG: YOU'VE COME BACK TO ROCK FOR THIS ALBUM TOO.
ML: There's a psychedelic feel to it and there's the blues in there of course. It's a combination of everything I've grown up on and played over the years and I like all styles of music, so I put all of them in there. It is rockier, but when I was with David Frazee in Burning Water and then The Raging Honkies with Abe Laboriel Jr. and my brother in the 90s those bands definitely had a harder rock edge too.
PG: HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO MAKE THE ALBUM?
ML: We did these basic track's a couple of years ago because I wanted to record onto tape again. So I called Alan Hertz the drummer and my brother and we spent a few days together and recorded about eight or nine tracks. Some of those I had pre-written and others were riffs or jams that turned into songs. It just sat there for a year or so and then I reunited with [vocalist] David Frazee and we started writing lyrics and melodies to a couple of these. We worked for a couple of months on overdubs. I took my time with it and getting the vocals right, just the way we wanted them. I spent a lot of time layering the guitars and making sure I wasn't screwing it up and putting too much stuff on there. I like to push it up to the limit so you hear different things each time you listen and I didn't want to have this massive compressed wall of sound either. I'm proud of this one, we worked hard on it.
PG: YOUR BROTHER, TEDDY, IS ALSO A MUSICIAN, WAS THERE ANY RIVALRY GROWIN UP BETWEEN YOU?
ML: No, we are six years apart. Brothers notoriously fight, but he's quite a bit younger, so there wasn't too much trouble.
PG: YOU'VE PLAYED WITH SOME GREAT PEOPLE DURING YOUR CAREER, IS THERE ANY MOMENTS THAT STAND OUT?
ML: I've been very lucky to play with some amazing people. The tour (1983 Refuge World Tour) with Joni Mitchell was a really fun time. I was about 23 or 24 and it was a big long world tour. It was a great band, Vinnie Colaiuta was the drummer, Larry Klein on bass, Russell Ferrante – Keyboards. They [Kline and Mitchell] were newlyweds at they were all happy. It was just a good fun time. We travelled a lot and she liked to party and hang out and be one of the guys; the five of us were always together and it was just a blast. She's quite the storyteller as you can imagine, it was a fun time.
PG: STEVE LUKATHER SPEAKS VERY HIGHLY OF YOUR PLAYING, AND YOU'VE KNOWN HIM A LONG TIME. HOW DID YOU BECOME FRIENDS?
ML: I've known him since I was 12. We played in high school bands together. We went to the same high school and that's where we met all the Porcaro brothers. We had this top 40 band and Steve Pocaro was the band leader. We rehearsed and played constantly and it was a great learning time for me. We were always helping each other, Lukather started doing sessions really early on and when Toto took off he stopped doing them and I stepped in. It was one of those perfect timing moments. We both had newer sounds that we were bringing to sessions that no one was really doing back then, so it was good timing.
PG: ANY PLANS TO WORK WITH HIM?
ML: We're hoping to do something together, I'd love to make a little record with him. We've talked about going to Japan and playing some instrumental music. I hope so, he's very busy and always doing stuff, and me with James Taylor, that's my day job as I like to call it. I hope so, he's a dear friend, we talk a lot, I can't remember one single fight or argument I've been in with the guy.
PG: HOW DO YOUR OWN PROJECTS DIFFER FROM YOUR SESSION WORK?
ML: I love playing live, I do love creating. There's a lot of impro in our show, even with the rock and roll stuff. I just like that ability to go into a room with a group of people and create something and make something happen that's unique for that moment. I never thought I'd be on the road this much at my age, but it's ok, I'm playing music that I love so it's working out.