BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Banking on way more than just the third time being the charm, Jason Heath & the Greedy Souls have gone all in on their third record, A Season Undone, the first release on Wayne Kramer’s (MC5) recently restarted Industrial Amusement label. This 11 song cycle serves as a roadmap to redemption in that each tune, in one way or another, tracks Heath’s road to recovery from drug and alcohol dependency, while at the same time pointing the way towards a new path of spiritual awakening.
Just as The Byrds so aptly attested to back in 1965; “To everything, turn, turn, turn/there is a season, turn, turn, turn/and a time to every purpose under Heaven,” so to Heath writes about change being inevitable, unavoidable and in many cases invaluable. “In the simplest terms, out with the old, in with the new,” Heath says of the overriding lyrical thread that holds A Season Undone together. But of course there is so much more to the record than that, as Heath explained during our recent conversation in which we tackled myriad subjects, from giving in to temptation to giving back, and being in other people’s lives for a reason and not just a season. That, and lots and lots of moving music.
Jason, thanks for the call, thanks for the time today. Let me begin by quoting a lyric from the title track of your forthcoming CD, A Season Undone: “We’re all looking for reason, we’re all searching for the sun/welcome to a season undone.” Let me ask you to explain what the phrase “a season undone” means, and then talk about the writing of the title track.
Sure. Well to me, a season undone references when we’re starting new, or building fresh or when we have those times in our life when we’re starting over. It’s often because we’ve had to destroy everything else – or everything else has been destroyed previously to that new beginning point. But sometimes that season of undoing can be intense; it can seem like we’re not gonna make it through. And in fact some people don’t make it through. I seem to have, myself, gone through numerous undone seasons.
The way you describe it I think most of us have.
I think it’s just part of our evolutionary process, physically and spiritually. So that’s it in a nutshell.
So how did all this eventually spark the writing of the song?
I guess just going through the experiences. For me, I only write about things that I know about [like] not having a lot of huge success in the last few years. I guess the process started, for me, maybe about nine years ago I began my coming out of my wilderness of despair and I got sober. I had some issues with drugs and alcohol as so many artists often do, and I had to get sober. Either that or die. So I chose to live. About that time I also knew for me personally I was gonna have to not just stop drinking, but I needed to have a spiritual regeneration. Without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I [had to] just start over again.
You had to break it down to build it up again.
Yeah. That’s where I began to write that song. I have a lot of songs in my head all the time [and] my process is if they stay there for a while and they want to get written, they’ll work themselves out. And if they don’t then they fall by the wayside. And that was one that stuck around for a long time and I thought that could be a good title track and I put it first so when I play it live I can say “this is the first song off our new album” like [Cheap Trick’s] At Budokan (laughs). It’s always been a dream of mine because that was one of the first records I ever owned (laughs).
Sonically, the title track starts with the acoustic guitar followed by a sweet Hammond B3 organ and then the tasty electric guitar comes in. I don’t think I’m the first to note this, Jason, but that’s a recipe reminiscent of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, among others…
(Laughs) Yeah, we get that quite a bit. Tom Petty – that’s high praise.
Yeah. It was certainly meant as a compliment. Let’s talk about a couple of other tracks. “We Came To Work” certainly works on so many levels, for me: rootsy, rollicking, rock and roll, with more than just a hint of barrelhouse piano. Introduce us to the Greedy Souls.
On the piano is Chris Joyner (Ray LaMontagne, Heart, Tom Morello), on organ, accordion and backup vocals is Jason Federici (son of late E Street Band member Danny Federici), on guitar we have Justin Salmons, Tobin Dale on pedal steel, on bass we have Jose Esquivel, on drums we have Abraham Etz and now touring with us Casey Johnson and on fiddle we have Ysanne Spevack (Smashing Pumpkins,Elton John) and backup singing on this album we have Farayi Dominique and Laura Key.
Cool. Now Jason, I promise I’m not gonna ask you about every song on the record, though I could because they’re all pretty damn good…
I appreciate that. Thank you.
Wow, my earliest memories of listening to the radio was when I was probably seven years old. I’m dating myself but at that time the airwaves were ruled by two schools of music, one being rock and roll and the other being disco. But at seven years old, I didn’t know the difference (laughs). I didn’t know one was cool and one wasn’t. I remember my mother joining the Columbia House Record Club where you could get like 20 records for a penny. She wanted like one record; she wanted that woman who sang “I am woman hear me roar.” Who was that woman? Oh, I forget…
So she would get that record and then say to me, Hey, I got 14 other records here. You want ‘em? I was listening to Cheap Trick at Budokan, Van Halen II and in the same breath I got Peaches & Herb, Village People and The Bee Gees. I was cool with that. I loved the dance/disco thing as well. That was my earliest memory, but later on I used to listen to a guy hear in Los Angeles, his name was Rodney on the ROQ (KROQ legend Rodney Bingenheimer), who you’ve probably heard of.
Then you know “The Mayor of Sunset Strip.” So when I was a kid – maybe 12 – I used to listen to his show because he was the only person…playing stuff like the Dead Kennedys…but he was also the only person playing like Grandmaster Flash and Whodini, so we got to hear the hip-hop that nobody was playing. But I always loved the classic rock. I remember around that same time listening to a station here in L.A. – besides KLOS – that was KMET. I listened to all of those equally. And once I found Dylan that was the pinnacle of the songwriting. Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Petty and John Fogerty.
So with all this music around, did you have the proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment? By that I mean at some point did you say to yourself, I wanna do that?
Yeah, I think I did, and I think at the time the band that did that for me was U2. I was just a huge fan and I remember one day listening to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and I was like, I wanna do that. I’d been fooling around with music, tried to learn horns when I was younger but my music teacher told me I didn’t have any talent…so I put the horn down. And then I had an acoustic guitar that got broke. But then I finally decided after having that moment listening to that U2 album to pick up the broken guitar. But I was still listening to Dylan, and if it wasn’t for The Ramones I don’t think I would have believed I could write a song. The Ramones and Creedence are who I honed my writing skills on.
I can hear that. And man, U2! Beatles aside, U2 is my all-time favorite band.
And that was actually my first real big concert, was U2 on The Unforgettable Fire tour here in Los Angeles at the Sports Arena. I never saw anybody really top that until I saw Springsteen for the first time.
Those two are in a league of their own, for sure. Getting back to your record, A Season Undone, it is the inaugural release on Wayne Kramer of MC5 fame’s label Industrial Amusement. Tell us the quick story of how you guys first met and why did you think his label was the best home for your record?
I meant Wayne maybe nine years ago. I was doing a show at The Hotel Café here in Los Angeles. Or I was supposed to do a show…and later do an all-star jam…with Wayne Kramer and he was always a huge influence on me. But because of my drinking problem at the time I drank myself into the hospital and had to miss doing the show. I had to drop off the bill. But I went to the show, and that was sorta kinda my moment when I realized, wow, I gotta do something about this drinking cuz here I am at the show and I would be on the stage with one of my heroes, and I’m not. So anyway, cut to me sitting with this counselor who was asking me about when I had my moment when I realized that I had to get sober and I’m telling him that same story I just told you. So while I’m telling him this story, he reaches over and grabs his phone and tells me to keep talking, and I’m thinking to myself, how rude (laughs). I’m bearing my soul to him and he’s making a phone call. So he says [into his phone], “Hey, Wayne, I got one for you.” (Laughs) So he was Wayne Kramer’s sponsor and Wayne became my sponsor. So that’s how Wayne and I became friends. And so when he started his label back up, it was a no-brainer.
Another outstanding tune on the record is “Everything But a Man” which I describe as heartbreaking and heartening at the same time. Was there something in particular that sparked the writing of that track?
In my mind, it’s a series of vignettes that have happened, or I’ve witnessed happen. And I guess it’s just about being in that place of being torn down. You’re not giving yourself the respect you deserve and so therefore you’re not perceiving that respect from anyone on the outside, either, and that’s what it’s about. You’re being treated like everything but a man. In the refrain at the end you realize that maybe you’re not the man that people expect, but you’re a man; you’re just not their man. And that’s the moment of redemption, or the realization that it’s time to crawl out of the bottom of the bottle or the hole you’ve been in.
Outside of your music, what are some issues – social, political or otherwise – that are close to your heart? [I know] Jail Guitar Doors is one, so let me set you up for talking about them.
Sure. Jail Guitar Doors is a charity that was actually started in England by [UK singer-songwriter] Billy Bragg and Mick Jones of The Clash. It’s a B-side single by The Clash called “Jail Guitar Doors” and the first verse of that song is actually about Wayne. Wayne spent some time in federal prison on drug charges. So Wayne said [to me] that it was something that was really close to his heart and he wanted to start the U.S. Jail Guitar Doors, and so he did. We’re in about 60 prisons across the U.S., and expanding, and what we do is we get instruments donated and we take them to prisons to start a music program, because there’s no money. And what we do basically is we provide these guys an opportunity to learn how to express themselves in a positive way, outside of the gang bulls**t or the prison bulls**t. It sounds like a small thing, but I’ve seen with my own eyes [how] it transforms guys’ lives.
That’s very cool. The power of music.
Yeah, yeah. And the power of expression. It’s powerful stuff.
Well that’s very cool. Good for you. Now we touched on this earlier in the conversation, but I want to expand on this and then ask you a question with a little bit of a twist. Your sound has been compared to a great group of standout artists that include Petty, who I mentioned earlier, you mentioned Bruce Springsteen as an influence and I’ll throw in some Wilco, and you’ve heard all of this before. So my question to you is this; are you flattered by those comparisons and/or are they cumbersome platitudes that you’d rather not be burdened with?
You know, I’m not as high-and-mighty as all that (laughs). If someone wants to compare me to guys of that caliber I’m nothing but humbled and grateful, for sure. It’s an honor. You know, somebody tried to trash our last record and kept comparing the songs to [John] Mellencamp. He was using it like it was an insult and I kept thinking, well thanks, what’s wrong with that (laughs)? I love Mellencamp. I’ve seen him live so many times and Scarecrow is probably one of the best American records ever made.
Let me ask you one more question here. This has been great and a lot of fun and I appreciate the time. The line “your enemy is still your brother” from “Evolution Now” is a lyrical lightning bolt that hit me hard, and it stuck with me, obviously. How can the power of music heal hearts and build these bridges in these troubled times? Talk about this song.
The “Evolution Now” obviously is a play on “revolution now.” Growing up with punk music, and at an early age, growing up under Reagan and all that stuff, I was always drawn to things like [Dead Kennedys member] Jello Biafra politically and [writer/activist] Noam Chomsky. At a young age I was really a gung ho, revolutionary, anarchist type of guy. As I got older I started to see that those kind of ideas are great…but things aren’t always so black and white: the grey areas are bigger. And I don’t say that to justify the haves against the have nots cuz the one percent and that whole thing is pretty cut-and-dry what’s going on. I have a lot of friends that are communists and anarchists and sometime we sit around and discuss things [like] will you be ready for a violent revolution, and as I’ve grown spiritually in my life as I’ve gotten older, it’s not something that I’m prepared to do. I’m drawn more towards non-violence, even though I consider myself someone who has very left-leaning political ideas, but I’m not down with violence and that’s sort of what that evolution [is]. To me, unless there’s a spiritual evolution we’re really not gonna be able to rise above some of the messes we’re in, and we gotta start with ourselves.
(Laughs) Yeah, to quote Michael Jackson, right?
It’s a great track.
It is. And it’s absolutely true.
Well Jason it’s been a blast talking to you.
Thanks a lot, Jim. I really appreciate it.
**To hear more audio of my extensive conversation with Jason Heath, please “LIKE” Facebook.com/CurrentClassics and look for a link to an upcoming episode of my weekly Current Classics podcast. Listen HERE.