Pat Travers: Can Do!

By Mellaney Moore

“ ‘Allo music lovers! From the streets of Toronto to the streets of London,” legendary Canadian singer, guitarist and keyboardist Pat Travers has been rockin’ since the mid-1970s…and according to Travers, he isn’t done yet.

In the following interview, Travers discusses his inspiration, his new hat as an accomplished slide guitar player and his time in the studio recording the new album Can Do, which effectively and excitingly culminates almost 40 years of musical experience.

Long-time Travers fans who have heard his various moods over the years will not be disappointed with the classic Travers sound accompanied by something new. Flanked by Guitarist Kirk McKim, Bassist Rodney O’Quinn and Drummer Sandy Gennaro, Can Do” pushes the Pat Travers Band into the future.

So now, here to show the world what he Can Do in 2013, the Pat Travers Band!

Mellaney: First of all, I would like to thank you for taking the time to talk with me about the new album.

Pat: Oh well really, I thank you. I appreciate you having me and giving me the chance to talk about my new album, which I think is really good and I want everyone to know about it.

Mellaney: How did the new album come about?

Pat: I’ve made a couple different types of albums over the years. People always say they like my first four or five or six albums, but they were made a different way. We had a lot more time concentrated on just working on the albums in the form of rehearsal and actual studio time. Several of the albums were made over a period of five or six months, as we would go and play some shows as well. I would get the chance to get away from it and instead of working on 12 songs all at once, work on two or three at a time and really be happy with what I was doing. Frontiers Records allowed me that. They didn’t give any major date to hand it in. The album was supposed to be done last September, but I didn’t hand it in until the end of December, so there you go.

They did request if I could make an album in the style of my first four or five albums. I said I could, but I didn’t really know how I could do that. I had a really creative period at the beginning of last year. I wrote what I think are some really good songs and then we just had great performances and a wonderful production. That all added up to something really nice.

Mellaney: I think so. You mentioned that you handed in the album in December. When did you start recording it?

Pat: Last year I did another album as well before I started to work on Can Do. It was an interesting project. Cleopatra Records asked me if I could record songs from the 1920s. I had to do a lot of research and listen to a lot of really old recordings. The song writing was different then. I think that inspired me. By the time I started the new album in May I had already done this other album and was writing a lot of songs. It freed me up in a way because they had a different way of doing things 100 years ago.

Mellaney: Was that part of the creative period you mentioned?

Pat: I think so. I have to be honest; some of the best songs seem to come out of thin air. It is really awesome when that happens. They almost appear fully formed and you think, “Gosh, this is so easy!” As I got closer to the end of the project and needed a few more songs, it started to get more difficult. I just wasn’t happy with the content of the lyric or something and started to ask why it wasn’t easy again like it was four months ago. It is a little elusive, but I was fortunate to be in the studio while all that was going on. I’m sure I’ll have another creative burst at some point, but it never seems to be there all the time.

Mellaney: Where does most of your inspiration come from?

Pat: I’d say right now everything on this new album is a culmination of all the experiences in my life. I’ve been making and playing music all of my life- since I was a young teenager- about 14. I got my first record deal when we were still in the golden era of rock n’ roll and recording and bands and stuff, like the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. That was a peak period for me.

The thing is, now after a lifetime of being in music and being around the world and reflecting on the way the world is today, things have not turned out the way I thought they would have 30 years ago. There have been a lot of weird surprises. I think I was able to reflect on that and put some of that into my songs. I think it feels familiar to people. It’s a curious world that we live in, but yet we are all still pushing forward and trying to do what we can- at least that’s my attitude.

Mellaney: You’ve had some different sounds through the years from rock to blues. Tell me about this album and the sound you were looking to create. Did you go into the studio with an idea of what style you wanted? I thought I heard a little bit of everything!

Pat: I think each song you instinctively play a certain style. Some songs might require more of a bluesy feel. I have Kirk McKim play a lot of leads on the rock stuff because he can play really high speed and make it sound like its just rockin’. The thing with Kirk and I is we don’t have to have a discussion about anything, really; it just kind of falls into place. I know when it’s going to be better for him to play the stuff on top and I know when I absolutely want to play the lead guitar. It’s an instinctive thing.

Mellaney: I was so impressed when I was listening to the album. I thought, “How does he wear so many hats?” There are so many styles incorporated.

Pat: (laughs) The thing is, over my career, I have played and listened to and enjoyed so many different kinds of music and players. Doing that old blues record with the songs from the ‘20s had a big influence on me because their song writing style was so different than what we are used to today.

All the songs were really driven by the vocal. They didn’t have any drums, they didn’t have any bass drum and snare drum going: “bum, bum, shh! Bum, bum, shh!” The vocal dragged the song around and the players sped up or slowed down when the vocalist did and not so much when the drummer said it was time to change…because there was no drummer. That freed me up to write songs, I think, and even though some of the songs don’t sound bluesy in any way, shape or form,  for me, there are some little bits of structure that I probably would not have done previously if I didn’t have that experience.

Mellaney: So it is a culmination of your experience…

Pat: Exactly. I would say that’s it. Sometimes everything falls into place- that’s what you’re hoping for. It’s not like you’re not trying, but there are some mysterious things that just happen. When they’re happening, you just try roll with it and get as much out of it as you can.

Mellaney: The album sounds like the great Pat Travers that we know while still sounding new.

Pat: Thank you. Well I think the production that Sean Shannon did, even though it’s pretty subtle, is very appealing. It has an obvious contemporary and modern sound to it that I think people come to expect, while still sounding like an old LP in the fact that it’s warm and it feels good. The album has a lot of tone to it.

Mellaney: So heading into this album, you said that the record company was asking for an album like your first four or five. How did you approach that?

Pat: Of course I guaranteed them and said that yes, I could make an album like that, but I really didn’t think I could. There were a lot of reasons why those albums sounded the way they did, not the least of which was that I was 23 years old in London, England. The only thing I had to worry about was writing, rehearsing and recording music- I had no other mission in life. It was a lot easier, in a way, because there were fewer distractions. As you get through life you become more encumbered with things, so there are a lot more distractions. I just need the time to think about things and not be rushed. It took me about eight months to finish, but I wasn’t in the studio for eight months. I would go in two or three days and then come back a week or so later for another few days. I ended up doing 10 days a month, if that, over that period of eight months from May to December.

Mellaney: Where did you record the album? Was it all in the same studio?

Pat: I’m really lucky. My Co-Producer Sean Shannon, who had a lot to do with this album, has a studio five minutes up the road from my house, so my access to it was really easy. It isn’t a big studio, but I didn’t need a lot of room. It sounds awesome in there and he knows what he’s doing. We have worked together for a long time now, so it’s a very smooth-working relationship and I can get a lot done and worry about putting in a good performance instead of the technical details of the actual recording.

Mellaney: Did that help give you the time you needed without feeling rushed?

Pat: Exactly. I would go in with an idea for a song prepared in my head. To get started, I used this one Paul Reed Smith guitar that is a hollow body, so it is both electric and acoustic. I could set it up where it is kind of fuzzy and distorted on one side and super clean on the other side. With just some sort of a drum machine or click track, I would put down the ruff part of the tune and then add another guitar, bass, put a vocal on it, and then get a chance to listen to a rough mix of that for a couple of days. Then I could go back and fix the vocal and put on the rest of the guitars and stuff after having my other guitar player Kirk McKim come in and do his thing. I had the whole band in early and then I took over after that. Kirk would come in later, too.

Mellaney: Do you think that having more time and having that relaxed atmosphere gave you the chance to really work on every song rather than one more than another?

Pat: Well, it gave me the time to make sure that every song got the amount of time that it needed. Lots of times in an album project you have to record like 12 songs in 10 days. That’s a lot to do and sometimes not everything goes the way you want it to go. You end up spending a lot of time on one song and then running out of time to do the next four songs and it drives you crazy. You have to then settle for something a little less than what you would have done if you had more time. Being able to sit and think about this stuff and be happy with it- that’s the way I prefer to work.

Mellaney: Your first track is called “Can Do.” Is there a reason why you decided to name the album after that song or did the album name come first?

Pat: We actually had something else in mind for the title and artwork, but it didn’t work out so we had to come up with a new title. I got together with Michael Edmonds, who does the artwork, and he had the idea of suggesting some song titles. I thought “Can Do” had a nice, positive spin on it and was simple. It was the first track on the album so it worked out well.

Mellaney: One of my favorite songs is “I’m With You.” I love that you used slide!

Pat: Oh cool! Thank you! I’m all over the slide now. I think I played slide on at least six songs on this album. That was funny how that came about- I always wanted to be a slide player.  I really like what Warren Haynes did and a few other guys. One day by accident I got my fingers slammed in a door because the wind blew it shut on my left hand. Three of my fingers swelled up really bad. I was unable to play in a regular way for a few weeks. One of my fingers, which just happened to be my middle finger, was fine and I could slip a slider on there. I spent four to six weeks fartin’ around until it finally started to come together. I guess it has been about seven or eight years now. I think I know what I’m doing now. It has taken a little while, but I think I can say I’m a slide player. I have a lot of fun with that. I’d play slide half a set if I had it my way.

Mellaney: Well I heard that you play a lot more slide than what comes out on the albums. Is that true?

Pat: It’s been a gradual thing over the years. I started playing slide live about 10 years ago. Playing slide alone in your bedroom and playing slide on stage and trying to sing and perform are two different things. It took me some time to get the feel and be comfortable enough live. Now I’ve got it and I really enjoy doing it. It’s something that I wanted to be able to do. I think over time I’ve developed my own little style, too, which is still developing. I never wanted to sound exactly like anyone else. I’m trying not to listen to too many slide players because they sometimes have a big influence on me.

Mellaney: Do you have a favorite song on the album?

Pat: Thank you. You know, this is one of the few albums I’ve done where I still really like every song after so much time listening to them and working on them. I have to say I think “Diamond Girl” is my favorite. It’s kind of a pop song, in a way, but I like what Kirk plays on guitar; I like what’s played on the drums. I always loved Todd Rundgren and I loved all Todd’s pop songs, so there are sort of some Todd-type chords and melodies in there. I don’t think anyone would really hear it, but that’s where it comes from.

Mellaney: I noticed that you decided to remake the Eurythmics song “Here Comes the Rain Again.” What inspired you about that song and how do you feel you made it your own?

Pat: I’ve always loved Annie Lennox. She’s sexy and she’s got this really soulful voice. When she speaks she has this wonderful Scottish accent. She’s from northeastern Scotland and she has a wonderful way of talking. You can tell I’m a fan.

I was driving in the car one day and that song came on the radio. I was singing along with it when I realized that it’s in my key. I was comfortable singing it in that register. Coincidentally, a friend of mine had loaned me his beautiful, Taylor, classical, nylon-string, acoustic guitar. It just sounded wonderful when I played that on this song. I put down a little rough track with the drum machine and threw a bass and a vocal on it and kind of forgot about it; I moved on to something else I was working on. A month later I was looking through my CDs to listen to some rough mix and that popped up. I went, “Wow! That sounds really good!” Then I decided that I needed to have a female vocal on it and my wife Monica is a singer. She’s often sung on my records, so I had no problem having her come in. We stood there eyeball to eyeball and sang that thing all the way through. It was a wonderful experience. It was really fun.

Mellaney: I love the lead intro in that song.

Pat: Thank you. That was Sean’s idea. I wouldn’t have played quite as much, but he said, “You should play a little more.” I said, “Really?” He goes, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” So I ended up playing quite a bit, but somehow or another it seems to work because it sort of floats around in the background. I think the guitar solo has a sort of bleeding sound to it.

Mellaney: I know what you mean. I really liked that. It is very prominent in the beginning and then it comes in and out throughout the song.

Pat: That’s definitely a very blues thing to do. It’s not necessarily a blues kind of song, but I’m playing the lead guitar in a very bluesy style and it works in that context.

Mellaney: You started a tour that will take you all the way through October. What are you looking forward to?

Pat: It’s fun doing this tour with Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Canned Heat and Ten Years After. We’ve only done a few shows so far, but it’s just been great. Tonight’s show should be wonderful. It’s in San Diego down on the bay- outdoors and on the water. After this tour is over, we’re going to be doing a lot of shows with just my band and promoting the new album. Then we go to the U.K. in October and after that, Europe for November. We’re still setting up what we’re going to do in December. The reaction to the album is really good, so we’ll see what happens.

Mellaney: How long have you been working and touring with this particular group of musicians? You guys are tight!

Pat: It’s true. Actually Kirk McKim, my co-guitar player, and I have been playing together eight years now. I’ve played with Rodney O-Quinn since the beginning of 2008, so five years. Sandy Gennaro, our drummer, you know he goes back to recording with me on two albums in 1981 through 1983 and we did a lot of major tours, too. Then he moved on and played with Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, the Monkees, Bo Diddley and a bunch of people. Three years ago my Co-Producer Sean Shannon was playing drums for me. He decided he wanted to just exclusively spend time in the studio, so I needed a drummer. I called Sandy and he was free. He came back and he has been with us and he’s the master. He’s amazing. We’re very lucky to have such a powerful band. They’re great guys- really talented and really creative, too.

Mellaney: What would you like to say to fans?

Pat: Wow! Fans, if you can, buy a download or buy a CD. It would be really, really cool. I’m getting a lot of critical acclaim on this album and that’s wonderful, but there’s nothing like having some sales, either. That makes my life easier later when I try to negotiate a record deal. Get out there and buy the bloody CD! The CD is available at Best Buy, which is great. That makes it easy to get. Of course, you can also get it all over the place online: Amazon, iTunes…

If you want to, you can visit me on my Facebook page at the Pat Travers Band. I try to spend a bit of time on there every day. Sometimes I’ll answer questions if I can. My wife Monica does quite a bit of it when I’m gone and away from home. Sometimes it is difficult with my travel schedule if I’m on a bus for 12 hours. I checked it this morning and I’ll check it here in a bit. I’m the one that’s responding and putting up posts and stuff. It’s something I’ve been doing now for a couple of years. Being the competitive guy that I am, I love to see the numbers constantly going up. We rolled over 53,000 likes yesterday. Two weeks ago, I had almost 200,000 people visit my page, so we’re getting there.

Mellaney: That’s a great way to stay interactive with fans.

Pat: Absolutely. That’s it. Some of my old fans rediscover me and we also get some new fans, which is great. I think it’s a very cool environment right now with social media. New artists can develop a fan base that isn’t just regional; they can reach out around the world.

Mellaney: You mentioned 12 hour bus rides and being away from home. After all these years, what keeps you inspired and what keeps you doing what you do?

Pat: I just don’t feel like I’ve had the last word yet on what I’m doing. This new album is showing that I’m finally figuring it out after a few years of it being really difficult in a lot of respects. I’m very optimistic for the future and that’s what drives me along. This is what I do. I don’t do anything else except love my family, play with my dogs and do work around the house.