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The Weekender
Novel Approach: Music's Inner Stories
By Michael Lello
August 17, 2010

Interviews are an almost unavoidable part of a professional musician’s routine, and many artists see them as an annoying yet necessary evil. For the music press, however, interviews are the lifeblood.

That said, it seems rare that a journalist is able to pierce to the core of an artist’s existence with an incisive interview and a resulting enlightening article.

Anil Prasad is an exception. Innerviews, a collection of Prasad’s interviews with musicians like Björk, McCoy Tyner, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco, and Michael Hedges, is a remarkable read, full of illuminating facts and insights from some of the music world’s most compelling characters.

Prasad has included 24 in-depth conversations, mostly conducted exclusively for the book. His Web site, also called Innerviews, is the Web’s longest-running magazine which he founded in 1994.

What he has come up with here is golden. Like jazz bassist Stanley Clarke talking about how he met Miles Davis, and why he turned down Davis’ offer, deciding instead to remain with Chick Corea’s band. Or Chuck D of Public Enemy’s opinion that “95 percent of rap and hip-hop performances are terrible.”

“The standards started disappearing around 15 years ago,” Chuck D tells Prasad. “The rap industry figured out the DNA of selling a record is getting the video on BET or MTV and not worrying about tour support or getting the artist out there performing. We’ve had 15 years of that and every five years, we’ve had another drop-off in talent and another diminishing return.”

Björk, meanwhile, compares her inspiration to write to “a thunderstorm building up inside me...almost a survival mechanism.”

The comments about the record-releasing system made by jazz drummer Bill Bruford, who came to prominence in the ’60s and early ’70s with Yes and then King Crimson, might stir some controversy, although his points are cogent. Calling the musical landscape “constipated,” he explains that “there’s too much stuff. I think we need to redistribute some of the royalties from Phil Collins and Mariah Carey into other forms of music,” Bruford says. “You will have to subsidize that music if you don’t want it to die.”

With just enough exposition in the introductions to each interview—he manages to summarize his subject’s career as well as put the artist’s relevance and influence into perspective with remarkably economic prose—Prasad is wise enough to get out of his own way and use his interviews as a method for the musicians to open up. The subjects he chose are iconoclastic and outspoken, so the decision to let them do the heavy lifting pays off.

Prasad also deserves credit for not getting bogged down in musician-speak. This is a book recommended to serious music fans, or fans of serious music, but not just people with songwriting or instrumental ability. Prasad’s approach to his readers might be compared to jazz pianist Tyner’s relationship with his audience.

“They paid their money to come hear you play,” the Philadelphia native tells Prasad. “You don’t have to diminish the quality of what you do, but it’s good to be aware that the public is there to receive your gift. The person doesn’t have to be a musician to appreciate music.”

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars