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Rock On Interview Print-ready version

Richard Stanley talks with Joni Mitchell

BBC 1 Radio
November 6, 1982

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Richard Stanley: Joni, it's been about a dozen albums that you've recorded. Does it get any easier now as it goes on?

Joni Mitchell: Easier... Well, I've spent more time on this album than I ever spent on an album. I guess you could say, on one level, this was a more difficult album. I guess it was because I was searching for a sound that would carry through the jazz aspects of my music, and incorporate some of the folk ideas. There's a couple of things on this that are reminiscent of folkier things and rock and roll. Now to find personnel that can play both jazz and rock and roll was really a search. I met a man on a film project in Canada and he asked me how my project was going at that time, and I began to tell him, and he suddenly stopped me, and he said, "Joan, Joan," he said, "Keep up the divine dissatisfaction, but don't worry."

Well, I still do worry, but a lot of the dissatisfaction is healthy and drives you on to improve the thing, and I've been fretting a lot over this project, but every little bit of fretting finally does stabilize itself. If I'm dissatisfied with the version, we recut it. We try different personnel. Towards the end of this project, I found the right chemistry, the right players who enjoyed each others' playing, and we just all worked very well together.

RS: How long have you been working on it?

JM: About a year now. It's the longest I've ever worked on an album.

RS: You've written parts of it, I gather, all over the world: in Jamaica, and presumably when you're at home in Canada, as well as here in England. You carried it around in your head a lot of different places.

JM: Yeah, it's a portable job...

RS: Does it have a theme, if you like? Like, a constant thing that runs through the whole album?

JM: The theme is the reoccurring dream in a way. Again, it's kind of an exploration of why people... what love is. There's one song called "Love," which is from Corinthians. The whole album is, again, a discourse on love, like, why people run from it, why people are drawn to it. Some of it is very present tense. "Yes, I do, I love you". You know, it's very present tense. Just a statement, and a lot of it is skirting around the perimeters of why love is such a difficult and evasive thing, even though we're obsessed with it.

RS: That's been a thing, too, in a lot of your other albums.

JM: Oh yeah, this is my theme. We only get one song.

RS: But is there one aspect too, do you think, which is different, say, from "Hissing of Summer Lawns" or "Don Juan" or any of the other albums in the more recent past?

JM: I think it's more balanced in a way. I think I'm more balanced.

RS: Do you think your fans who recoiled a little at the jazz influences of recent albums will be pleased that it isn't as pervasive in this one?

JM: Well, there still is jazz present but, even the way I have presented the jazz, it's less abstract than the "Mingus" album, certainly, because I've reestablished the rhythm track. With the "Mingus" album, at that point, I was so down on four beats to the bar, the measuring, the digital counting of it, that I instructed the players to avoid the beat, almost, so we were all just kind of flying and the structure was very nebulous. It was total improvisation, whereas here, I think this is the easier to comprehend, even the jazz.

RS: You consistently seem to be changing and developing your voice. Going right back to the first album there's all sorts of... incredible range and change that's taken place. Is this something, do you think, that's going to continue in the immediate future?

JM: The more I smoke, the more the high end will go and the more the low end will increase. [laughs] You know, it changes, the phrasing changes, just maturing chronologically changes voices. Although, when I sing in a certain range, I still sound like I'm about 17 and I'm on helium.

RS: But your voice, and the tone and the sense of what you've been singing over the years is very much reflected what's been happening in the outside world, hasn't it?

JM: I know that, during the apathy of a certain period of the 70s I can hear that fatigue in my own singing. You do catch the feel... I'm a very sensitive, thin-skinned person, so I'm kind of like an antenna. If there is a prevailing feeling around me, then certainly I reflect that.

RS: There's a very strong, up feeling to it in comparison to some of the earlier works.

JM: The Nordic melancholy is still winding its way through but, yeah, there's a lot more joy, I think, in this album than... Some of the earlier albums had that feeling. I think I'm going into my second childhood now.

RS: Any particular track would amplify that?

JM: [sings] "Yes, I do, I love ya." "Underneath the Streetlight" for sure. That is really fun to sing. "You're so square, baby. I don't care." From "Rock Around the Clock". That's got a lot of fun to it. The cool is like, coolly fun. It's kind of, how would you call it, tongue-in-cheek, I guess. The stiff upper lip formula.

RS: The English would like that one.

JM: The English would like this one. Be cool. It's the American equivalent of that. There's a song you didn't hear yet called "Chinese Café", which is a bit of nostalgia. It's like the reflection back to the days when you would hang around a certain café and drop your dimes in the jukebox and put on something schmaltzy and dream into your Coca Cola.

RS: Nowadays you just dream into your coke.

JM: Let's see what else is on there. There's one called, "You dream flat tires".

RS: Intriguing title.

JM: It's fun. It's like a rock shuffle.

RS: Where did it come from?

JM: "You dream flat tires"? That's too personal [laughs]. No, it's just a story about a character who is traumatized by the very existence of the real thing. [sings] "It's the real thing." Searching, searching, searching for the real thing and coming up across it, goes into catatonia. He has a kind of a dream. He puts on the brakes. Actually, he just blows a tire. He just can't handle it. So, that's basically what that's about. Fear of loving. A lot of the album has that as a reoccurring theme. What love is, what love isn't. My favourite themes: what is it? what isn't it? I think it's inexhaustible, isn't it? You could beat around that one for many lifetimes.

RS: Well, let's hope she continues to do just that. The remarkable Joni Mitchell, who was talking to me in Los Angeles at the time of making the album, "Wild Things Run Fast". I hope you enjoyed the interview and that also you're interested in a special competition organized by CBS Records. If you can answer the following six questions correctly, you've got a chance to win as a first prize a personally signed copy of Joni's album "Wild Things Run Fast" plus a personally signed fine-art print of the original artwork to the sleeve of that album.

And, even if you don't win the first prize, you've got a chance to win one of a hundred copies of those fine-art prints, also personally signed.

And the questions are as follows:

Question 1: What is Joni Mitchell's nationality?

Question 2: What's the title of Joni's only British chart single to date?

Question 3 Joni Mitchell appeared in England in front of 72,000 fans at Wembley with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Was that in 1970, 1972, or in 1974?

Question 4: Who had the original hit single, "Baby, I don't care"?

Question 5: As the composer of "Both Sides Now", Joni's had many other artists cover that song, but which artists had the biggest chart success with it in Britain?

And finally, question 6: Which famous singer of soul classics such as "Three Times a Lady" and "Truly" can be heard on Joni's new album WTRF on backup vocals?

Send your answers to EPA Marketing Department, CBS Records, 17-19 Soho Square, London W1V 6HE. Clearly mark them "Joni Mitchell competition".

Good luck to you! And remember that closing date, the 30th of April.

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