Tal in the saddle
Sunday May 9, 1999
Bachman Jr. launches his own music career - with just a little help from his dad
By KIERAN GRANT
"Go ahead, ask me about my dad."
Tal Bachman doesn't sound threatening as he settles in for an interview at a downtown hotel recently. He doesn't come across as rude. He just sounds like a guy who's been answering a lot of questions lately. Not about his new self-titled debut album, but of what it means to have an album and be the son of Canadian rock icon Randy Bachman.
For the record, my first question isn't about Bachman Sr. But since Bachman the younger has done me the favour of raising the issue, why not?
"If you have a prominent parent, it's often tough to conceive of yourself as distinct from that parent," the 29-year-old Bachman says matter-of-factly. "If you couple that with a similar interest, it becomes doubly difficult to think, 'I am my own man.' "
He adds: "I don't really want to be my dad, and if I'm a musician, I'm really going to be scrutinized for that."
And scrutinized for it Bachman has been. Fortunately, he has an effective antidote: His album.
Spearheaded by the current radio hit She's So High, the 12-song disc, which came out last month on Columbia Records, will likely disappoint those looking for another Guess Who or Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Clean, sugary pop melodies and glossy arrangements reach into an altogether different musical direction. Nick Lowe and Queen alternately come to mind. Bachman himself professes a love for The Smiths, Radiohead and E.L.O. -- "No one ever talks about E.L.O. anymore," he enthuses. "It was sheer genius."
While critical response to Bachman's big, middle-of-the-road sound has been mixed, there's no doubting who's man he is -- his own.
He's frank, pleasant without being overly polite, and outspoken. At one point, talking about his role as a Canadian musician signed to an American label, he offers unblinkingly: "I got passed on by Canadian labels, it's not like they didn't get an avalanche of demos. (Americans) want to discover a hidden gem, or think that they have.
They don't care where I'm from. They don't know anything. They can't pick out their own state on a map."
He laughingly calls the advent of Canadian children-of-baby-boomer songwriters like himself, Rufus Wainwright, and Adam Cohen "the rash of second-generation musicians -- well, maybe rash is the wrong word."
You get the feeling that Bachman has some pretty unflinching opinions about pop music, too.
Born the same year his dad quit The Guess Who to form B.T.O., he was raised just outside of Vancouver in predictably musical surroundings. He spent high school as "basically a zombie, listening to Led Zeppelin, playing guitar and skipping classes."
But, by the time he attended university in Utah in the early '90s to study philosophy, Bachman had hung up his guitar and thrown any musical aspirations to the wind. "I knew that I had musical talent," he says. "I knew that music could come more easily to me than to anyone that I had known.
But in college you want to make your mark on the world, you have all these grand ideas and you think of our opinions as being important.
"Then suddenly it all made sense. I'd had this crash course in classical education and I felt that chapter of my life was now closed." His ambition restored, Bachman went home to B.C. and got to work on the pop career he was determined to have.
"I wasn't thinking, 'Gee what 12 songs am I going to pick when I get into a studio,' " he says. "But I was totally focused on writing. No TV, no reading. No personal recreation unless absolutely necessary -- like, right when I got out there the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup finals.
"I'm not exaggerating. Every spare moment was spent listening to CDs, trying to figure out what made a good song a good song, writing and rewriting in my dad's demo studio.
"I had a goal in mind: Get a record deal. I would be successful when I could write good stuff."
Bachman owns up readily to his early use of nepotism. Yet even with his father acting as sounding-board and middle-man between his son and various record companies, he wasn't going to get by on his name alone.
"We got passed on by everybody," the singer says. "I sort of knew that I didn't have the killer songs. My dad would send stuff out and get all these rejection forms back: 'You suck, Sincerely ...' No. It wasn't like that.
"But my dad would say things like, 'Your kind of songs are not in style right now.' Depressed, tormented Ritalin addicts on the verge of suicide, with distortion boxes, were in style.
"There were times where he said, 'Just do a two-chord song and scream.' I was like, 'I just don't like that kind of music, Dad.' You know, it's like that scene in that Monty Python movie, 'I just want to sing, father.' "Torment is not the ruling idea of my life. I like music-based music. I don't like attitude first. It's not me. I don't want to win that way. I want to win my way."
Finally, Bachman says, he took a creative leap and got it right. "And it wasn't rocket science. I don't want to make this sound crass, but I don't want it to sound like it's the writer as oracle, either. It just comes out of a certain amount of discipline and experience. When you get that spark of inspiration, you can make it into something.
"There's a difference between having a good day and writing a great poem and being Yeats. Anyone can have a good day."
The BACHMAN File
A Random Sampling Of Two Generations Of Bachmen:
"Jagged thorns and pretty petals/ Butterflies and stinging nettles/
Sunny days and nights of blackness/ But where's the joy to cure my sadness." Tal Bachman, 1999
"Goodbye/ I lied/ Don't cry/ Let it ride," Randy Bachman, 1974
"She's blood, flesh and bone/ No tucks or silicone/ She's touch, smell, sight, taste and sound." Tal, 1999
"There's a whistle up above/ An' people pushin' people shovin'/ And the girls who try to look pretty." Randy,
"Cynics sneer at fairy tales/ They mock love and all its details/
But we've got something magical/ Those fools will never see." Tal, 1999
"She said that any love was good lovin'/ So I took what I could get/
And she looked at me with those big brown eyes and said/You ain't seen nothin' yet." Randy. 1974