Innerviews, music without borders

Happy Rhodes
Promoting dreaming
by Anil Prasad
Copyright © 2018 Anil Prasad. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives license.

Happy Rhodes

Defying expectations is something that comes naturally to Happy Rhodes. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is responsible for 10 eclectic studio albums that have inspired a passionate, global audience that has stuck with her through thick and thin.

Rhodes’ music explores the edges of rock and pop. Her songs are infused with inventive arrangements that include treated instruments, electronics, ambient textures, and pulsing, elastic rhythms. They also sometimes feature multiple vocal styles that explore her four-octave range.

Rhodes’ career path is as unconventional as her music. After a recording career that ran from 1986 to 2007, she went on hiatus, nearly completely disappearing from public view. She simply didn’t feel inspired to create new music and focused on a new career working for Dangerous Music, building pro audio gear.

It’s a testament to Rhodes’ enduring appeal that her fans never gave up hope on a reemergence. Web sites and social media forums devoted to her work continued apace during her absence. Rhodes surprised them in 2016 when it was announced she was becoming the frontwoman for Security Project, a group that reimagines music from Peter Gabriel’s experimental first four albums. The band, also featuring Trey Gunn, Jerry Marotta, Michael Cozzi, and David Jameson, has released an album titled Contact and an EP named Five with Rhodes to date.

The reactivation of her career was furthered with the 2018 release of Ectotrophia, a compilation on the Numero Group label. The retrospective focuses on Rhodes’ earliest recordings from the mid-‘80s from which her first four albums were compiled. Its songs are engagingly spartan, combining her vocals with acoustic guitar, synthesizers and electronics. They also capture her early ambitions which hint at the impressive heights she would later hit with her subsequent, full-production albums.

Rhodes explores her entire back catalog, the creative instinct, her decision to step back into the spotlight, and future possibilities for new solo output in this immersive conversation.

We’re living in complex and challenging times. How do you feel music contributes to making the world a better place in this era?

It connects people and we’re at a point in which we couldn’t be more disconnected and compartmentalized from each other. We’re separated in a huge way. Music doesn’t do that. All of the arts have the ability to bring people together. The arts also have the ability to ease pain and promote dreaming. We all need hope for the future. And we need to be able to dream in order to create that future.

Happy Rhodes

Relate that to the idea of making people happy by playing Peter Gabriel’s music as part of Security Project.

The music is very moving for me, personally. Obviously it moves a lot of people. When I’m on stage and look out in the audience as we break into “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” I can see how important the music is to them. I can see it in their faces. I can tell we’re taking them back to a different time in their lives, and it was obviously a good time, because they’re very happy. I think the most satisfying thing for us is knowing that we’re bringing people joy when they come see us.

I was late coming to Gabriel in terms of him as a musical influence, but so much of his music is incredibly moving. It has got me through some dark times. I remember when I was riding on a bus to a waitressing job, I’d listen to “Mercy Street” or “San Jacinto” and it would make my world a hell of a lot better at the job. Music tends to do that for people. So, to be able to be up there singing his stuff is amazing.

It’s also great for me to sing anyone else’s stuff, to be honest. I’ve mostly sung my own songs previously. It’s a lot more fun than performing my own material. I say that because doing Gabriel’s music is freeing. I don’t have to play an instrument and I can put all my attention into singing. It’s so much fun working with the guys in the band. Every night, somebody plays something different. Everyone is always upping their game, which keeps things fresh and wonderful. It’s a blast. Everyone is so talented.

How did you get involved with the band?

My husband Bob Muller was once Trey Gunn’s drummer. So, I knew Trey through Bob going back to 1995. That’s when I was recording my Building the Colossus album, which included Jerry Marotta playing drums on a couple of songs. He also played on my 1998 album Many Worlds Are Born Tonight. Both Jerry and I lived in Woodstock at the time. Security Project were going to be in town in December 2015 and Bob and I decided “We know Trey and Jerry, so let’s go see the show. It’ll be cool.” Bob and I stayed after the show and said hi to Trey and Jerry and went on our merry way.

Six months after the Woodstock show, I got a call from Trey. He said “I’m not offering anything here, but I want you to think about what you would say if I asked you to maybe be the lead singer for Security Project.” [laughs] That was the most out of the blue, weirdest thing that could have ever possibly happened to me. That’s especially true given the fact that I had been semi-retired for at least 10 years. I had a completely uncharacteristic kneejerk reaction and said “Yep, I’d do it, no problem.” I had absolutely no confidence I could do it, but there was something about the timing that made me know I should do it. Then Trey got serious, asked me for real, and I said yes.

Given your last live performance was in 2007, what made you immediately jump on this opportunity?

I don’t know. Live performance is probably my least favorite aspect of my entire career. I like to create music, but performing live is something I feel I must do. Once something is created, you can let it go have a life of its own, but you do have to support it. So, I’ve done that. It’s odd that straight out of the gate I said I wanted to do this. I think I had got to the point where I was looking for the next stretch of growth for myself. I can go pretty long periods of time without growing, apparently. [laughs] I like being alone. I like my solitude. I like nature, being quiet and not having to go places, see people or do things. But I did arrive at the point where I said to myself “Yeah, I need to get a little more definition in my life again.” I had no idea what that meant. Things were getting a little blurry around the edges for me. Numero Group called me about wanting to do a compilation and that was a blast of energy for me. Then Trey called about Security Project. I thought “This is good.” If you put out a personal need into the universe, the universe usually responds, one way or another. I made a point of realizing that these two things were the universe saying “here are your answers.”

Why did you stop pursuing your career as a musician in 2007 until Security Project emerged?

I am not driven like most people who create are. I’ve never been driven by fame or fortune. Probably one of the things the members of Security Project would change in me is my desire to be self-promotional. I have no desire to do it and never have. Nowadays, in which record labels don’t exist like they used to, you can only self-promote. But I don’t like pushing myself onto people. If there are people that like what I do, that’s great. I realize it sounds absurd to say these things because I know you don’t get anywhere unless you do this.

I’ve been lucky in that through the kindness of strangers, there are people who will push for me out there. And like I said, I don’t happen to really enjoy performing live. There have been the smallest moments when I’ve performed live where I’ve felt “That was a magical moment that made it all worth it.” There might be one of those moments in every show. I’m the only one perceiving that moment in which everything gels and it makes all the other garbage that goes along with touring worth it. And believe me, there’s a lot of garbage.

As for why I haven’t recorded music in that span of time, it goes back to not being creatively driven. I’m not constantly writing or humming tunes in my head. I don’t ever write anything until I sit down in front of the computer and start hearing sounds. I don’t know why, but I’m not inspired until I set out to make something happen. I realize all of this sounds strange, but it’s why I was able to go so long without writing a song or putting out an album.

What were you focusing on during your time away from recording and performing?

I’ve been working in an electronics shop for Dangerous Music in upstate New York. It’s a cool thing I enjoy doing. I’ve been building pro audio gear and it’s fun. What’s not to love about that? I also love nature, so I spend a lot of time outside. I like to garden, as mundane as that sounds. I’m in a position where I don’t have to work my ass off to push my music and keep producing recordings to support myself. That’s a good place for me to be. I know so many musicians who can’t say that, so I’m very fortunate.

Happy Rhodes

Tell me about the challenge of being a woman singing Gabriel’s repertoire.

Before I joined the band, I think a great deal of fans wanted to hear the music done the way Gabriel did it. Brian Cummins, who sang in the band before me, was so wonderful in that context. He really delivered that. Obviously, there was no way I was going to deliver that. I was lucky in that there were so many people that were open to the idea of me singing the material.

The truth is, when I first approached the idea of Security Project, I had no idea how I could pull off this material. I do have the advantage of being able to sound like a man when I need to, so there is that. What I did was set up a system at home and played the music without any lead vocals. I sung to it day in and day out. There were so many times when I’d hit stop and pull my hair out as I said “This isn’t going to happen. I sound ridiculous doing this music.” It was such a weird thing for me to do.

There are so many things we play in Security Project that are so not made for my voice, it’s not funny, like “Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.” I tried to push not to do that song, because I can’t figure out how to make my voice work in it. I keep asking myself “How do I interpret this? How do I make it impactful?” But I keep working on it really hard, trying to figure out who I am in the song. It’s coming along.

One thing I’ve had to do is strengthen my voice. I can’t sing as high in my natural register as most tenors can. I had to retrain my voice to be able to sing higher without going into falsetto or a head voice. I’m still learning how to do that. Security Project is making me become a better singer. I like the fact that the music allows me to perform with every part of my vocal register. That’s a cool thing.

Since you joined the band, it added Kate Bush’s “Mother Stands for Comfort” to the set list. Talk about the decision to incorporate that into the repertoire.

Kate Bush has influenced me. Adding a Kate song is a logical thing to do in Security Project because of her participation in the early Gabriel music, and also because I happen to be able to sound like her—remotely, anyway. Kate is brilliant. I think her music fits in the same genre. People who love Gabriel usually like Kate, too. There are a whole bunch of people who fit into that category.

You’ve appeared on two Security Project recordings to date, Contact and Five. What are your thoughts on how well they capture the concert experience?

When I listen to my own performances on them, I feel I have a long way to go. It weirds me out to listen to myself singing Gabriel’s music. It’s because I’m singing someone else’s material. I can listen to my own records any day of the week. I don’t have that reaction to them. I think my performances are fine, but I want to get some more dirt and grit into them as we move forward. I’m still too Karen Carpenter smooth on some of the material. I think I bring accuracy to the music, but I sometimes think I need to work on the feeling more. My hope is that the door is also open for us to write original music together for future recordings, too. I would like that to happen. Fans have said they feel the same way.

You got to perform with Security Project in Japan in 2017. What was that experience like for you?

It was great. I’m a fish out of water, generally speaking, much less in an unfamiliar country. It was still the most amazing experience. The people are very different. The whole culture is fascinating. Being on stage is a completely different thing. The audiences sit quietly and are very polite. If I start clapping, people in the audience start clapping along. If I stop clapping, they stop clapping, because they won’t do it on their own. They don’t have permission. Jerry would get up and do his hilarious “Back in the day when the Earth was still cooling, I worked with Peter Gabriel” dialog and he’d get no reaction whatsoever. Eventually, he said “Hey, this is really funny stuff up here. If you spoke English you’d realize how funny it is.” [laughs]

How did the Ectotrophia compilation come about?

I had absolutely nothing to do with it happening other than putting energy out into the universe as I mentioned earlier. I got a call from a guy named Adam Luksetich who said “We would like to do this compilation. This is who we are. I’d like to send you some material and stuff we’ve done in the past. Tell us if you’re interested.” It came at the same perfect timing as Security Project. I said “Fine, sure. What the hell else have I got to do?” The songs were chosen by them, not me. It was a compilation they wanted to do and I wanted to let them do it. I didn’t want to micromanage it. I thought “Let them run with it.”

What was their impetus to focus on the first four albums for it?

I wish I had more insight. What I can say is I don’t think Adam was a long-time fan. He’s a young man. I’m unsure how he stumbled upon me. I think he retroactively learned about me and my career, and thought I would be a good candidate for the type of thing they do. The door is open for more releases if we all decide to do that. But to start with, they wanted to focus on the very early me.

I think it’s as good as a track listing as anything someone could come up with. “Oh the Drears,” the song they chose to start the album with, is a song I would never, ever, ever have chosen to open an album with in a million years. [laughs] But what does it matter? They have an objective take on the whole thing and I think that’s great. They chose all the songs. Some of them are among my favorite songs and some are my least favorite songs. So, I think it’s perfect in that sense. That they did this at all is a huge deal. The idea that they think I’m worthy is something I’m honored by—more than I can possibly say.

Happy Rhodes

During the 1984-1986 period that yielded the first four albums and material on Ectotrophia, you were in hyper-productivity mode, recording at Cathedral Sound Studios in Rensselaer, New York. Provide some insight into those years.

The first four albums weren’t done as albums. I was a kid writing songs on guitar. A couple of years later, I incorporated synthesizer and sequencers into the songs. I was writing rudimentarily, and yes, prolifically. I really wanted to get this stuff recorded but I had no money and there was no way I was going to get any. So, I thought to myself “What if I went to a recording studio and asked if I can apprentice as an engineer?" I thought I could get someone to let me learn the ropes and that it would be a good way to get my foot in the door of the music industry.

Cathedral Sound was the first place I went. Pat Tessitore, the head engineer and owner said “Okay, so you want to learn how to record. Since you’re a musician and songwriter, why don’t we stick you in the booth. We’ll record you doing a song and I’ll show you how the process works.” So, I did that. The first song I recorded was “The Chase.” When I came back out of the booth, Pat looked at me and said “You’re not going to be a recording engineer. You’re going to be a songwriter.” So, that was that.

Pat then asked “Do you have more material?” I said I did and he responded “Let’s get it on tape. Whenever I have a free afternoon, I’ll give you a call, you come in and we’ll record.” I said “Great!”

Pat would call me and say “I’ve got an hour. Do you want to come in and lay something down?” I’d say “Yep, I’m there.” Pat did this for years with me so I could get everything done. We’re talking three songs in an afternoon. I would throw them down on tape. I would sing them and then that same afternoon, he would quickly mix them, give me a cassette, and send me on my merry way. He did this completely for free during his free hours.

The material from the first four albums were done this way. Nothing was planned, and boy you can tell. These are the crudest, most rudimentary banging out of songs I can personally imagine me doing. But it was great. There was something wonderful about that.

I didn’t consider I would ever be releasing them at the time. It wasn’t until I met Kevin Bartlett through Cathedral Sound that the idea came out. He was there recording things as well and heard what I was doing. He said “Why don’t you release those on my label Aural Gratification? We’ll put them out on cassette and sell them at trade shows and craft shows. Let’s get them out there.” I said “Okay, that sounds great.” We arbitrarily put the songs in a sequence, put a little space between each one and put them out for people to hear. And here I am now, 53 years-old and those recordings constitute my first four albums.

How did your creative process evolve after those initial recordings?

Even though I recorded the early work very quickly, it wasn’t completely without a plan. The first four albums, for the most part, comprise musical ideas more than finished, formulated songs. I would get them written to a point, really latch onto a musical idea, and decide what I wanted to convey. Then I would get the call from Pat to record and I’d have it on tape. And that was good enough for me. I didn’t know eventually that I would get to create more well-crafted songs. There was just something in me that I had to find and define.

Once people started hearing the music and I had enough encouragement, I decided this is what I should actually be doing with my time and energy. Also, MIDI and sequencing were coming into play as the years went on after those early albums. Those really made my world possible, Without them, I could never have been able to create the kind of stuff I wanted to because I didn’t have the money to hire a full band, programmers and producers. But I did have the new technology and I was able to move forward and open up an entire universe of musical ideas. Things just started happening more naturally.

Believe me, I didn’t become a master song-crafter after that. That still hasn’t happened. [laughs] But I learned and grew. It was inevitable that I would take more time to craft everything once I had the opportunity and could say “Now, I’m going to make an album.” I was able to start working on songs until they were finished and then go “Let’s set it aside and do the next one.” It was a natural evolution.

Your arrangements are very unique and unconventional. How does the art of arrangement manifest itself for you?

I’ve never had a formula, that’s for sure. It all comes down to segments of musical ideas and whether or not I feel they work together. That’s what forms arrangements for me. I spend so much time by myself. I haven’t been exposed to a whole lot of songwriters, so I don’t really know how other people work. But in my case, things are very much spur of the moment. Nothing comes to me until I sit down to do it. I’ll hear a sound and something snaps and I go “Oh, that’s it. That’s what I’m running with right now.” And then a whole section of music would just somehow dictate itself to me.

Happy Rhodes

You’re capable of a great deal of vocal flexibility with your multi-octave abilities. How do you determine the vocal approach you apply to a song during the creative process?

You might be surprised to learn vocals are secondary to me. I don’t write lyrics ahead of time. Typically, if you’re a vocalist, you usually have lyrics ready. But I absolutely detest having to write lyrics. They’re not part of the initial picture for me. If I want to use my voice, then lyrics go hand in hand with that. But I don’t write poetry. I don’t write in a journal. Those things don’t drive my music and they never have. It’s always about melody, sounds and rhythm.

I’d be very okay doing albums with no vocals whatsoever, but I’m also inspired by vocalists and went through the trouble of learning how to sing. I guess I wound up incorporating vocals into the big picture. I use my voice as another instrument. And if I’m going to use my voice, I better be sure my voice is making the music better. I don’t want to sing because I think “Oh, I’m a singer and must sing over this music.” There are so many people out there who sing well, but I feel what they do with their voices doesn’t make the music better. It’s just wrong. Whether or not they can carry a tune is beside the point. If you’re not making the piece better, don’t sing on it. But that’s not the way things work, usually. I want to make the music 100 percent the best it can be and that includes the vocals. If my vocals aren’t enhancing the melodies and helping paint a beautiful, big picture, I don’t want to do it. I’m not saying I achieve that all the time, but that’s my philosophy.

Is arriving at that point of knowledge that your music is the best it can be at that moment in time the biggest creative challenge you face?

Probably. I don’t want to do anything unless it’s good and worth doing. Similarly, I don’t want applause or praise unless I’ve done something to deserve it. I feel weird about receiving accolades for something I did a long time ago. I see the merit in a body of work that people appreciate 10-20 years down the road. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I wouldn’t want to walk into a room and have people applaud me just because I’m Happy Rhodes who made a particular album so long ago. I’d rather have done something to deserve that in this moment in time.

Let’s go through your subsequent discography and have you tell me anything that comes to mind about the albums, starting with Warpaint from 1991.

Warpaint has a big soft, fuzzy place in my heart. I love the album and it’s not because it isn’t flawed. I love it because it reflects a time in my life when I was able to make my first album that was intended to be an album. I was allowed to write for it and it was just great and fun. It was a really playful album. It has political statements I made that were extremely youthful and arrogant. I wouldn’t do that again. But it was a good time.

Next up is Equipoise from 1993.

Equipoise means a balance and that’s why the cover is half monster and half me. I feel we’re all light and dark as we walk this earth. We’re all capable of great and horrible things. It’s a matter of balance and happiness. I believe happiness is something we all want, but achieving it doesn’t mean you have to feel happy all the time. That to me isn’t happiness. Happiness is balance. Even if you have to do things you don’t want to do, offset those with things you do want to do. Make sure you’re always following a dream. I sound like Oprah here, don’t I? [laughs]

Equipoise is a lot like Warpaint for me in that it has a very soft place in my heart. I love a lot of the songwriting and singing on it. I was starting to learn more about singing on that album. I do feel there’s too much reverb on the album. Production-wise, I was going a little crazy. But I was learning. Given my age at the time, I cut myself a little slack where that’s concerned.

Equipoise’s “Out Like a Lamb” is one of my favorite pieces of yours. It has an intricate arrangement and adventurous multiple vocal approaches. What are your thoughts on it?

I really love that piece too. I think it’s because it’s pretty much exactly what I meant to do. That’s pretty difficult to say about all of my albums, but “Out Like a Lamb” is what I intended. It’s about my father, which makes it very fulfilling to me. Vocally, I do think I nailed it in terms of what I wanted to achieve. It’s strange, melodic and all the things I want a song to be.

Both Warpaint and Equipoise saw you working with other musicians for the first time in a substantial way. Tell me about that shift.

It was great. I had been on an island all my life in that way and I realized that wasn’t the best place to be. Other people make us better. That’s something I had to learn how to open myself up to. Warpaint had wonderful musicians like Martha Waterman on keyboards and Bob Van Detta on bass. Equipoise had a great fretless bass player named Ray Jung on it. The process started slowly and by the time I got to Find Me, the process was much more about the other musicians.

How do you look back at 1994’s Building the Colossus?

That’s my absolute least favorite album. You couldn’t pay me to listen to it. Having said that, it has some of my favorite songs on it. I don’t think the writing was necessarily bad, but I just don’t like the way the album sounds at all. It’s electronic pop in the way I personally don’t like electronic pop. I like electronics to sound like electronics. I don’t like it when they’re used to emulate real instruments. Why bother? I think the album sounds more like that.

I didn’t produce that album, but I personally take the blame for it sounding that way. It’s not the way I wanted it to sound. It was the first time I let somebody else co-produce a record. I was trying to be laid back about the production, so that’s what happened. It might be some other people’s favorite record.

David Torn played on that album. Was that a ray of light during the sessions?

It sure was. It was a joy to play with David. You don’t tell him what to play. You have David on a record because he’s David. He does what he does and it’s so magical. There are other moments of magic on the album. The way I feel about it has nothing to do with the people who played on it. But it all went downhill when it came time to mix it.

Happy Rhodes

Your 1998 album Many Worlds Are Born Tonight was pegged as a potential breakthrough, given it was your first on a larger label. How do you look back at it?

It’s my favorite album and there won’t ever be another one like it for me. That was when I said “Okay, now I’ve done that other thing of letting other people take control. Now, I’m going to just do what I want to do. I’m not going to care about form, function or arrangement. I just want to hear things I want to hear and see what happens.” And that’s what I did. I loved writing about things like science fiction and movies that have inspired me. The album was less about “Oh, I'm so sad because my heart is breaking” and more “Wow, aren’t quantum mechanics cool?” [laughs]

I was just following my heart from the get go. The first song on the album, “100 Years,” was inspired by a computer game I loved playing then called Timelapse. One aspect of the storyline was that there was a sentient robot who had been left behind on a world to make sure things kept functioning. The robot was the caretaker of the world. Biological life could no longer exist on the world. The biological life forms left and the robot remained there, alone. The robot would wonder where his creators went and if they were ever coming back for him. I thought that was a desperately lonely, horrible thing. There’s another song on it called “Roy (Back From the Offworld)” which was inspired by Blade Runner, my favorite movie of all time. There’s another song called “Looking Over Cliffs” inspired by Last of the Mohicans. I went nuts with songs about movies on the album.

Tell me what transpired in terms of the business end of that album.

The album was written and recorded before I signed to the Samson Music label. They heard the finished album and said “Oh, we’ll release that for you.” I thought that sounded good. I would have released it regardless. As I said, the only path I planned to follow was my heart. But it didn’t end well. The record company folded after they had spent a lot of money on me that they then said I owed them—which didn’t go anywhere.

The label was started by Norm Waitt, Jr. whose family was responsible for the Gateway Computer company. They were very wealthy and the label was a pet project of Norm’s. He really wanted a record label, so he started one. They were based out of Nebraska and they were the nicest bunch of people.

I don’t entirely remember how they found me, but David Crosby was associated with them somehow. His wife appreciated my music. I’m not sure that had anything to do with it. At any rate, they did find me and one song on the album titled “The Chariot” sold them on the project. They heard the rest of the album and we made a deal.

But this was a brand new record company with no experience. They had a lot of people working for it with some experience to varying degrees. The truth is they had no idea what to do with me. They spent money to no avail because they had no cohesive plan. They didn’t know how to market me and I can’t fault them for that. They had other artists with similar problems.

The label folded, but not completely, in that it turned into Gold Circle Entertainment, which puts out movies and still does to this day. So, they’re a movie house now. They just didn’t know what to do for my career and basically dropped the album. I’m not sad that I did it. I’m glad I had that experience and they were very nice.

What were the key lessons you took away?

I can tell you there was absolutely no bone in my body that yearned for another record deal. [laughs] I’ve been as clear as the nose on my face that I’ve always been a difficult sell. I’ve never made it easy for anyone to put me in any kind of niche and that’s necessary to really push something. I’m really all over the place and I’m not willing to change that. I’ve never been willing to reinvent myself into something that could be sellable. That doesn’t motivate me. What can I expect any record label to do when I have that attitude?

I’m a woman. Am I singer-songwriter? I don't know. Sometimes you can hear me playing acoustic guitar. But other times, there’s all this weird electronic stuff. I also do some very strange vocal electronic music. When I’m interviewed, I don’t say “Well, my heart was broken. I fell in love. And my mother died and this is how I felt about all of that.” I’m more likely to talk about science fiction or space exploration. So, that just confuses people.

Tell me more about your deep interest in science fiction.

I’m so geeky. I’m a huge fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. When new science fiction comes out, I won’t go see it, though. I’ll buy it on DVD. I love Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve. Anything they do I just buy outright. I love, love, love things that make you look forward, make you think and make you go outside of yourself and help you realize how big the universe is.

When Leonard Nimoy died, I probably cried more than when my father died. I’ve always been more Star Trek than Star Wars. People tend to gravitate to one more than the other. I love the new interpretation of Star Trek. I think they did it right. I’m waiting for someone to revisit Dune. I’d like to see that done as an epic, correctly. The first one is so amazing to look at, but there were too many goofy things about it that were hard to get past. It’s still a masterpiece, but I think it can be done better.

Happy Rhodes

Your last solo album, Find Me, was released in 2007, but was put together across a six-year period. Tell me the story behind it.

It was produced by my husband Bob. It was live musician-focused with a lot of programming as well. I’ve never done an album that way. I recorded it that way because I was at the mercy of the schedule at Dangerous Music recording studios, which Bob owned. I also recorded a lot of stuff at home. When people came in to play parts for the album, it was at Dangerous Music, which meant the album could only be worked on when someone else wasn’t using the studio. So, that was problematic and a bit frustrating. I wouldn’t want to do it that way again.

I was able to record a great deal of it in my own home apartment studio at the time. I wrote the majority of the material well before it ever got recorded and released, but it took forever to get it all to tape and put it out. Most of it had been sitting in the can over a long period of time. What I would do is write all the parts, and Bob would bring in musicians to play those parts.

Musically, I think it’s great and different. It was a good thing to do after Many Worlds Are Born Tonight. It was a nice departure and I like it very much. I think my singing improved by the time I did it too. There’s a lot of vocal work on it that I’m pretty darn proud of, like on the track “Charlie.” “She Won’t Go” is a very caustic, almost abrasive-sounding song. I’m not sure I personally would want to listen to that song. I don’t even know how it happened. However, it has some of the most difficult vocal accuracy singing on it that I’ve ever had to do.

What made you stop recording albums after Find Me?

I didn’t consciously make a decision to stop. I just never did another one. It wasn’t a decision at all. There was never a question of “Am I going to do another one?” But now, I’ve decided I am going to do another album. There was a big stretch of time during which I was really dealing with things in my life—normal, everyday stuff. I didn’t feel any need to express myself musically during that time. That’s something that doesn’t really happen with me. There was a strange lack of motivation and I wondered from time to time “If I sit down tomorrow and forced myself to write an album, would I have anything to say, musically or otherwise? Do I have anything left to say?” I could never honestly say “Hell yeah!” I just didn’t know. I felt if I had something musical to say, I would have done it. I just didn’t feel compelled. It hasn’t been up until now that I’ve felt compelled.

What shape might your next solo album take?

I think about that a lot. I feel like I should have some sort of idea and a plan. I should be asking “What do I want to write about? What do I want to convey at this stage in my life?” I’m a different person now. I’m middle-aged. I also wonder who I’m speaking to anymore with what I’ll do. So, I can’t really answer the question. I’ll have to sit down and see what comes out to be able to answer that.

I’ve been playing with things in my head. I’ve thought to myself “Wouldn’t it be interesting to take old songs I’ve done and reinterpret them? Wouldn’t it be a fun exercise to see how I would do them now?” Other times I think “I’ve always wanted to write the saddest song ever written.” I don’t know why that is, but I’ve always wanted to. How can I really, really capture whatever it is that makes sad songs so sad? I want to master that someday. So, I think about things in those terms, like “Let’s have the album include all the saddest stuff I could possibly come up with.” And not because I feel sad—I don’t. Rather, because it’s just a great motivator for music.

I do feel something brewing right now, but I don’t really care when it comes out. I’m absolutely sure all of this is because of Security Project. I’m sure it’s because I forced myself to say yes to something I had absolutely no idea how I’d make happen or how good it was going to be. And I did it and have been doing it for a while now. After every show, I stay behind with the rest of the band and talk to people. They’ll come up and say things like “I started listening to you 20 years ago” and I’ll cringe. [laughs] I grimace when I say “That’s so sweet.” It’s because I can’t believe it has been so long. All of that has lit a fire underneath me to say “Well, now’s the time. If you’re ever going to do anything else, just do it. Get it done. Ten years from now, you’re going to be 63 and that’s probably not going to go over so well. Let’s do something.”

Earlier, you mentioned your lack of interest in the promotional side of being a musician. You have a passionate, devoted fan base that has played a major role in getting your music out there. Tell me about your relationship with your listeners.

They have played the role in getting my music out there. I mean that literally. One person in particular, Vickie Williams, has always seen to it that I have a career, simply by spreading my music. She has always been enthusiastic. Her efforts, and those of people like her, have made me what I am today. It hasn’t been because of any record labels or anything I’ve done for myself. I couldn’t be more fortunate and grateful to them all. How do I thank them? It’s just incredible. It’s mind-blowing and humbling when I think about it.

You’re one of a handful of musicians that is entirely absent from social media. Talk about your perspective on that.

Social media is all about self-promotion—and I’m talking about regular human beings. It’s all about “Look at me. Look at what I’m doing. I know you want to know what I did this afternoon, so there you go. I’m volunteering all this information to you.” I’m not saying everyone is shallow or an egomaniac. But I’m an extremely private person. These platforms are based on people having the idea of “I’m so interesting that I’m going to share my entire life with anyone that wants to see it.” I also think it’s very addictive, harmful and distracting. It’s often just noise. I don’t share things with people. I share them with myself. I think things over by myself. That’s how it is for me and I’m not promoting this as a way of life. I don’t think everybody is capable of doing that. It’s a byproduct of my childhood. I had to do that as a coping mechanism and it worked for me. When it doesn’t work for me, I try to change that. But for the most part, it does work for me. I know it mystifies people. Sometimes they’re beside themselves and think “She’s like a hermit, Why doesn’t she do social media? Why doesn’t she go out and tour on her own sometimes?” But that’s why. When I do another album, I’ll release it and let people know it’s out. I’m sure Vickie will be all over it and do what she does.

Is there a spiritual element to your music?

There definitely is, but I despise organized religion. I have nothing against people who have that as a big part of their lives. We all need what we need to get through life. But personally, I feel organized religion is at the core of everything that’s rotten in this world. I don't believe in it. What I do believe is we we’re all connected on some level that we can’t possibly understand. I feel it on a daily basis. I feel a lot of love and hope. I think these things connect and drive us. There have been so many things I’ve experienced in my life that I feel have to come from somewhere else. There’s something else going on. You could call it quantum mechanics if you wanted to. I feel all things exist at once. I believe time is simultaneous and non-linear. I also don’t believe that our bodies die and then that’s the end of us. I believe there are other things that happen, but I can’t put my finger on any of it. I don’t think we’re here to suffer like so many religions would have us believe. I believe we are here to be happy. That’s my spiritual take on the world.

Websites:
Happy Rhodes
Happy Rhodes at Numero Group
Happy Rhodes on Bandcamp
Security Project