A Talk With Boy Meets Girl
For my latest interview, I'm talking to one of the best songwriting duos in retro history.
(George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam back in the 80s)
George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam are two very accomplished songwriters. Together and apart, they've written songs for artists as diverse at Whitney Houston, Bette Midler and Sheena Easton. They've also had success together as pop duo Boy Meets Girl, who bought us such 80s favorites as "Bring Down The Moon" and the famed "Waiting For A Star To Fall", both of which came from their 1988 album "Reel Life".
I had chatted with them several times back in 2004, but I had lost the e-mails when our computer underwent an overhaul a few years back. I recently started talking to them again and I asked if they would be interested in doing an interview. The both of them agreed.
Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to ask them as many questions as I've asked my previous interview subjects. Instead, I asked them 7 questions, and they offered up in-depth answers.
I hope you enjoy the interview. Just one thing: I had to remove some of the puncuation marks due to the fact that when I previewed the article, that those strange characters showed up where the marks should be.
And now, the RetroJunk Interview with Boy Meets Girl begins with 5 questions for Shannon Rubicam.
(Shannon in 2004)
Caps: How did you break into the music industry and how do you feel its' changed from then to
Shannon: George and I spent a number of years playing in clubs in Seattle, our home town, and writing songs that we recorded in the back bedroom at home. We eventually reached what felt like a dead end, so decided to move to Los Angeles, where we recorded a few new songs, some in the studio with a friend and some at home on our four track tape deck, a piece of now archaic equipment, and set about mailing tapes to various record companies. We were working as jingle singers to pay the rent, getting acquainted with LA, making new friends, and enough time passed that wed forgotten about sending out the tapes. One day we received a call from Aaron Jacoves who worked in A&R for A&M at the time. Hed actually listened to our tape and wanted us to meet with Lance Freed at Almo/Irving Publishing. Lance thought we would fit in well with their stable of songwriters, and although the whole notion of publishing was new to us at the time, we signed a publishing deal, followed by a record deal with A&M. It was through Lance Freed and Brenda Andrews at Almo Irving that we wrote and placed How Will I Know with Whitney Houston for her first album, and later I Wanna Dance With Somebody, so publishing definitely served us well over the long haul.
I think that both record and publishing companies are more difficult to gain access to now, and there is less overall largesse to spread around. They often will not even consider unsolicited music, so you need to be creative in contacting them by phone, and if you do manage to persuade them to give you a listen you need to be well armed with a professional sounding demo, or at least an ass kicking strong set of songs to send them. It seems that today the best points of entry are playing live in clubs to create a buzz, and following the DIY networking trail to generate your own following before a record company will consider you worth the financial outlay for distribution and promotion. It appears record companies are more about the sales end than the artist development process these days, and seem content to follow a trend into the ground rather than take a risk to present new music. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but in general I think the most promising music is being made and promoted independently through various online sites. Were all very fortunate to have the internet availability of distribution formats for the opportunity not only to be heard, but to hear other adventuresome music as well. The process of discovery is then up to the listener, and I know many people spend a significant mount of time searching out new music and loading it onto their iTunes, sharing and generating their own buzz for bands they like. It may not bring in the motherlode of income that bands experienced in the mega glutted old days, but I dont see that stopping the flow of creativity, and perhaps it even enhances a broader exploration into individual expression. That would be the best outcome, given the current monopoly of major labels that tends to narrow the musical selection output presented to the public. Even with its drawbacks, the internet provides new content and contenders everywhere you look, something I think we can all appreciate.
Caps: What are your feelings regarding YouTube and usage of your songs? For example, in my YouTube
favorites list, I have a video somebody created that set "Waiting For A Star To Fall" to clips from the
1983 movie "Local Hero". Here's a link to that video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9paFOyWpuA.
What are your feelings on things like that?
Shannon: Frankly, I like the exposure our music has had on YouTube, and the egalitarian, open invitation nature of YouTube in general. For us it has clearly translated into interest in our Boy Meets Girl music, as evidenced in our royalty statements and online website sales. I would guess other creators of content feel the same, unless of course entire songs or movies are downloaded for free. But people who really want high quality versions of such content are quite often willing to pay for it through sanctioned distribution sources, so there is benefit to the originators. Legislating copyrights has proven to be a logistical and legal tangle, and the lack of it has certainly cut in to income for all of us, but has not entirely erased profit. I mention this because it has been a much discussed issue for songwriters and filmmakers alike. Yes we create for the sheer joy of it, but we do need to pay the bills and be supported in our endeavors. Venues like YouTube stimulate an ongoing morphing revue for the public imagination, an arena where anyone is welcome to participate, and that proves after all that all of lifes a stage.
Caps: You've written several songs for Whitney Houston. How do you react to how the media has portrayed
Shannon: I dont know Whitney personally, but like to think she is in the process of redefining and re-presenting herself. She is immensely talented, and whenever I go back and listen to her sing Im still blown away. She more than holds her own with singers like Christina Aguilera and would be a refreshing force on the scene should she choose to return with some solid music. Lets hope for her sake this is what happens. Media loves to get in on the celebrity dirt, and Whitney has been in involved in her fair share, but I wish for better than that for her. I hope she shows up and knocks us all off our feet again.
Caps: You and George are a very peace-loving duo, so how do you react when songs you've written are
used as the backdrop for violent scenes in movies and TV shows? I find myself thinking of the theatrical
trailer for the 1986 movie "Legal Eagles", which utilized "How Will I Know?" and set it alongside scenes
of explosions and gunfire.
Shannon: Hmmmm, its a free world with as many viewpoints as there are individuals on the planet, and I prefer to maintain my curiosity about what marriage of sound and visuals others may envision. Clearly there could be instances of uncalled for gratuitous ultra violence that neither George nor I would agree to have our songs associated with, but to our knowledge that boundary has yet to be breached. In most commercial usages our approval is required, so its unlikely something untoward would be released with our consent.
Caps: If you could work with 5 artists you've never worked with before, who would they be and why?
Shannon: Don Henley for his sheer musical and lyrical excellence. Think Boys of Summer, or End of The Innocence, simply brilliant.
Id love to write a song with Yo Yo Ma. Cello and pop music combine beautifully, and Id be curious what melodies and unexpected turns would happen because of the low tones, the rough textures, his depth of knowledge and experience.
Theres a CD called The Prayer Cycle by Jonathan Elias, in which he writes music and lyrics that are sung by a world array of singers. Its an unusual concept gorgeously delivered, and I would love to be a part of such a musical tapestry.
It would be fun to write lyrics with someone like Fatboy Slim on something in the Song For Shelter vein, where there is a sort of stream of consciousness chant woven through an unlikely melodic musical groove. I enjoy that kind of juxtaposition ~ the song makes me want to dance freeform.
In my dreams Im the rhythm guitar player on The Frays All At Once or Coldplays Fix You, for the pure joy of thrashing away like a rock star!!!
P.S. #6/ Oh and could I please, in my next lifetime, write and sing a ballad with Neil Young? Or write a song for the velvet voiced Annie Lennox?
The answer to this question would undoubtedly change on any given day, due to mood or the weather or where in the world I am.
The next 5 questions were for George Merrill.
(George Merrill in 2004)
Caps: What was the one event that inspired you to become a songwriter?
George: I was 11 in 1967; that was an awesome year for pop music, and it would be too easy to leave it at emulating the Beatles. There was a feeling in the air that music was a big part of life, love and politics; and it stretched beyond America's borders. Suddenly there was pop music from the UK playing alongside The Doors, Marvin Gaye and Peter, Paul and Mary. So to answer your question, I would say 1967 inspired me! Here is a link to the top 100 songs of 1967, that will make it clear: http://www.maguireonline.com/1967a.php
Caps: You wrote the song "Simply Meant To Be" for the 1987 movie "Blind Date". Were you hoping for an Oscar nomination for that song, and how did you react when you didn't get one?
George: Honestly, to be able to write with one of my heroes Henry Mancini, and to see his writing room where he wrote Moon River, that was enough. It was a B movie, Blind Date, and I don't recall what songs were nominated that year. I'm sure they were supporting better movies; I do think Henry was disappointed.
Caps: If someone offered you money to use the song "How Will I Know" in a shampoo commercial, would you accept the offer or turn him down? In other words, what are your feelings on how popular songs of the past are utilized in commercials and movies?
George: Well, I think advertising is part of the fun of a market economy, and like anything in life has its saturation points and periods of excess! As long as I can remember, adverts on TV and radio were creative, funny little temptations for every product imaginable. Though who'd ever have guessed that wed find ourselves singing ZZ Tops Viva Las Vegas to the Viva Viagra spot? (Yikes-example of excess) I like the bit of a song that Coke used for the roller skaters at Zuma Beach, it was effective (though overdone) to use Led Zeppelin for Cadillac, the remixes that Target uses are light and airy...! I am a fan of pop culture and its ebbs and flows.
Caps: If I were to look at your CD collection, what 5 CDs would I be most surprised to find, and why do you like those musicians?
George: System Of A Down- I am a fan of Serg Tankian, I am still learning from him, I have a long way to go.
Pete Seeger- bought it to study, and just happened to catch him on David Letterman a few weeks back, really clever rhythms and melodies and stories.
Grammy Nominees 2008- to learn what was the popular music last year, hear the production trappings that enshroud any song, simple or dense.
Joni Mitchell, Shine- always checking in on one of my all-time faves.
Compilation, various- daughter Hilary makes me these wonderful mix CDs of her faves, and I hear all manner of world music and obscure artists I'm not familiar with, great fun!
Caps: Some people say grunge music (Nirvana and Pearl Jam and artists along those lines) changed music forever, while others say that rappers like Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G changed music forever. Which do you think was more influential?
George: Quite a diverse group there- all of them have left their mark with us forever as artists. Rather than choosing, I would say what changed the business side of music forever was a backlash against greedy record and touring companies, and the music reflected disillusionment with the culture of (that word again) excess. And it all tumbled down; and now we find ourselves 15 years after, with a deeper understanding of what those record companies were doing for us, as we now do the footwork they once did. It's an exciting time, great music being made; that said, it's a hard time for young writers to live from earnings in music. For now!
(George and Shannon in 2008)
To cap off the interview, I asked 2 questions that I wanted each of them to answer.
Here's that brief Q&A.
Caps: I dont like either of the words, but what are your feelings on words like "cheesy" and "corny"?
George: I'm fond of cheese; they use corn for ethanol and for serious drinking, don't they? Ahem... I've lived with those words to describe most of BoyMeetsGirl Music's recordings, and will freely admit- I love chick flicks and Mike Myer's last movie "Love Guru" that was so roundly panned (good cover of Steve Miller's 'Space Cowboy' in that one!)
Shannon: Well unless were talking food, like any self-respecting person I hope theyre not being used to describe me or my creative output, but Im guessing they have been or you wouldnt be referencing them!! So ya takes yer lumps.
Caps: 80s culture has become popular again in recent years. How do you react to that?
Shannon: No shoulder pads pleaseI am forever chagrinned to have been a part of such a horrendous fashion fad! Im not really big on retro excursions, although I do take a resonant side trip now and then, and have had great fun communicating with our exceptionally wonderful Boy Meets Girl fans through our website. But as far as 80s music goes, one has to appreciate the over the top layers of recording, abundant echo and reverb, mega harmonies, indulgent instrumental solo features, brash egos, and extroverted party atmosphere amid splashes of bright neon color for the vivid sonic experimentations they are, for the supersized expansive musical vision, and as an absolutely fractured mirror ball reflection of the social and economic madness of the era. We were amping up like a ride on the Viper, a steep crazy creep to the windblown tip top before the scream inducing loop de loop freefall. No regrets, only a smile of gratitude.
George: Woohoo! That'd be us. I'll get out my styling mousse, Shannon grab the crimping iron!!
And so, my interview with Boy Meets Girl ends. If you want more information on them and their career, I encourage you to visit their official website at boymeetsgirlmusic.com.
Thank you for reading. Until the next article, this is Caps 2.0 writing...Er, signing off.
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