Every Day’s a Field Day: Marshall Crenshaw on New Vinyl Reissues, Songwriting (Q&A)

Every Day’s a Field Day: Marshall Crenshaw on New Vinyl Reissues, Songwriting (Q&A)

Photo: Lisa Tanner

In 1982, the music world was introduced to Marshall Crenshaw, a singer/songwriter who crazy-glued the best of Buddy Holly, The Beatles, rockabilly, girl groups, Brill Building songwriting, Motown and R&B into a sparkling package. Since then, Marshall has commandeered a remarkably enduring career, issuing a string of timeless records teeming with his trademark sophisticated song craft, incendiary guitar playing and melodies that stick in your head forever.

Fans of the gifted singer/songwriter can take an active role in bringing two worthy projects to fruition on vinylThank You Rock Fans!! (Run Out Groove), a live album circa June 1982 recorded at The Keystone in San Francisco culled from newly discovered master tapes, and a vinyl reissue of Crenshaw’s acclaimed second album, Field Day (Intervention Records), complete with a wealth of bonus tracks. The live record, requires enough fan votes for this project to be released.

Click here to vote for Thank You Rock Fans!!! to be pressed on vinyl by Run Out Groove.

To support the release of Field Day, visit Crenshaw’s PledgeMusic page.

Taking a break from a nationwide tour with Los Straitjackets, we corralled Marshall for a chat about these two exciting new releases.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Let’s talk about these two new archival releases in the imminent pipeline. First up, Thank You Rock Fans!!

Marshall Crenshaw: Right at the same moment my first album was released, we went on tour and I’m pretty sure that the first gig we played west of the Mississippi was this show in San Francisco; the one that’s on this record. Warner Brothers sent a film crew, three cameras, and they sent a sound truck with a multi-track recording set up and they documented the show. Their purpose in doing that was to send out VHS tapes to all of the distributors to let people know what we were about and what we looked like and sounded like.

Back in the day, that concert was shown on MTV a couple of times and the video for “Someday, Someway” from taken from that show as well. So about six months ago, a fellow named Matt Block from Warner Music contacted me and sent me a picture of a tape box. He said, “I just found this in the archives, do you know what it is?” and right away I knew what it was. He had the idea already to release it and we went back and forth about it.

Chris Stamey wound up stepping into the picture and he did a mix of it, which is just a killer mix. It’s really great. The band had a really powerful sound for three people; it was kind of well-engineered that way, you might say. So this is a really good document. There are a couple of high quality recordings of that band but most of the stuff that I have at my disposal are just board tapes.

What impressed you most about hearing these live tracks?

Marshall Crenshaw: It just kind of reminded me of that moment in time when we were venturing out in the world for the first time and how fired up we were and how sharp we were. We were ready for it. It’s a fun time to look back on.

So Run Out Groove is putting that release out?

Marshall Crenshaw: Yeah. Apparently it’s a vinyl-only situation. It’s part of Rhino but sort of a little outpost of Warner Music. It seems like there’s several labels out there that are strictly about catering to the interest in vinyl records. That’s what Run Out Groove is.

Matthew Block, the guy who’s running it, is a serious music person, big jazz fan, big record aficionado.

Fans need to place a vote and those with the highest votes earn a release, right?

Marshall Crenshaw: Yeah, they do have a system where there is participation from people. They put one vinyl release against another release and then whatever win the elections gets released. I encourage all my fans to go and vote. I’m happy that it’s surfacing. Please vote if you haven’t already.

It’s a cool package, the graphic design is kind of elaborate. It’s a classy record with a fold open cover. I wrote liner notes for it and my brother, Robert, contributed most of the photos. He was a real photo journalist, shutterbug kind of guy back then. He took lots of pictures of everything so there’s maybe a couple dozen behind the scene pictures inside this thing.

I’m happy to see that you terrific over of Elvis’ “Gotta Lotta Living To Do” makes an appearance on the set.

Marshall Crenshaw: Oh, is that on there? Yeah…great. It’s essentially the stuff we played, songs that are mostly from the first album but there’s also a few extra things too. I like that it’s a live recording of that band because I’ve complained about all the overdubbing that I wound up doing on my first album. So this is just kind of the purest, straight up sound of that band in a room playing those songs. This to me is just a real document of what we were about back then.

Moving on to “Field Day,” the follow-up to your 1982 self-titled debut. It’s much punchier and powerful record with a massive drum sound compared to your debut. Was the mindset to make a record much more representative of your live act?

Marshall Crenshaw: Yeah, that was my reaction. For me it was moving the pendulum the other way back towards where I wanted it to be sonically. I got the test pressing for the new release of Field Day about six weeks ago and I played it. I hadn’t listened to the record since maybe when we first made it and hadn’t really thought about it in a long time either. But I just was so delighted by it immediately. The thing is the tracks are really powerful and explosive, but there’s never more than one guitar on it. There are some overdubs but the rhythm tracks are all just guitar, bass and drums. That made me really happy.

My big complaint about my first album is you don’t hear my guitar on the record. You hear guitars but you don’t really hear me. That’s how it works in my head.

Is there an improvement in sound with this new vinyl pressing?

Marshall Crenshaw: Yeah, I think so. When I first signed with Warner Brothers Records, it was my first or second time talking to Lenny Waronker, and he said to me, “Records are on their way out.” He told me that he went to this expo six months ago in Tokyo and he described the compact disc to me and said, “This is where it’s going. We’ll still make records for the time being but they’re being phased out.”

The quality of the vinyl records had gone down a bit from what it had been because they were pushing vinyl records out back then. For me it was always a little bit of a disappointment. I’d go to the mastering session for my albums and of course I had been in the studio every day and everything sounded super sharp and real immediate and then I’d get the test pressing and I’d feel there was something stripped away. That might have been the cheap vinyl they were using. Anyhow, I got this test pressing of this new reissue and it just explodes right out of the speakers like it’s supposed to. So this high end reissue of Field Day is being put out by Intervention Records. They’re a very classy operation and so is Run Out Groove too. I was really happy because I have a real fondness for Field Day.

How did the ecstatic response to your debut impact on mood/atmosphere when cutting the follow-up album?

Marshall Crenshaw: It’s complicated because yes, there was this momentum and all that but there was also a feeling that we wanted to get a record out real fast so we could stay on the road and keep going. I felt rushed doing Field Day but I was ready to take it on; I was ready to take up the challenge to do a second album. I had a couple songs leftover from my first album. I kept “Whenever You’re On My Mind” sort of in my back pocket for the future and I had “For Your Love” that was unrecorded and laying around as a spare part. But the rest I wrote for the album.

We did this one called “What Time Is It?” which was co-written by Richard Gottehrer who produced my first album. I did that just to be friendly and say, “It was nice working with you the first time, don’t take it badly that we’re not working with you again.” Anyhow, it was very well engineered from a management standpoint; the whole thing of “we’re gonna do this record now and it’s only 11 months after the first one.” That wasn’t very wise. But that was the plan that other people came up with, and I went along with it.  The result of it was this record that I love. I did have freedom of choice with the producer. I was the one who brought Steve Lillywhite into the whole thing. People in Burbank at Warner Brothers never heard of him. My A&R person at Warner Brothers in New York was really savvy and a really brilliant gal. Her name was Karin Berg. She knew who Steve Lillywhite was. It was kind of a chaotic scene but out of all this chaos was a record that’s a keeper.

Exciting news for fans of yours is the inclusion of several bonus tracks on Field Day.

Marshall Crenshaw: Field Day, the album, went out and Karin Berg signed off on it and I was utterly delighted with it. But there were some that were puzzled by it because it blew up their stereos. They weren’t expecting it to be as loud as it was or as explosive as it was. There was a funny reaction to it at the time, which is still inexplicable to me but there you go.

So in the fallout from all of that, which was immediate, these remixes happened. I was all over WBLS and club culture. I was really influenced by stuff that I heard DJs would play in clubs in New York. I was cool with the idea of remixes but I didn’t really have any participation in the making of these things. The guy that did them was named John Luongo. So those remixes from back then are on this new vinyl pressing plus there’s a live version of “Little Sister” by Elvis Presley taped at the Ripley in Philadelphia. I was good friends with Doc Pomus, who wrote that with his partner Mort Shuman. He was really happy when we put “Little Sister” on an import EP, which is crazy because Elvis Presley and all these other people had recorded the song but still he was just glad that somebody had done it. He was such a great guy.

Why did you change the front cover of original vinyl release of “Field Day”?

Marshall Crenshaw: That was my call. My wife came home from work one day and I said, “Guess what, I’m really happy about this, there’s gonna be a really classy vinyl reissue of Field Day on vinyl.” And before I finished the sentence she went, “Oh, did you ask them to change the front cover?” (laughs) and I had; she knows me pretty well. I just hate that front cover. It was foisted on me while my back was turned. (laughs)

I was on my vacation with my wife, Ione, and my brother, Robert after we finished the second album. First we went to London and then we went to Prague and Czechoslovakia. My brother’s girlfriend at the time had a job as an assistant director on the movie Amadeus. So he told me while were finishing the album that when we were done he was gonna go over to Prague and visit his girlfriend, Debbie. I said, “Ione and I want to come too” so we all went off on this crazy road trip, which was really memorable. When I got back my first manager had this artwork and said, “Well here it is, here’s the cover for the new album” and I just looked at it and went, “Are you crazy?!” He found the worst photo from a photo session and put it right on the front cover. I said, “Look, I hate this!” And he said, “Well, here’s the thing, if we change it, it will delay the release of the album by two weeks.” And I was like, “Oh well, we don’t wanna do that.” He said, “Yeah, you’ve got your touring schedule and the label’s ready to go.”

I look back on it now and I think “two fucking weeks was all it would have mattered!”

Any parting words?

Marshall Crenshaw: I’d have to say that the music on Field Day is still very vibrant and full of life. It’s the sound of young people who are in love with life and just having a great time. Even though Run Out Groove is part of Warner Music, it’s still this one guy’s domain, so that’s interesting. Intervention Records is a total labor of love on the part of the people who do that stuff. They license from the major labels but they set their agenda and create a really beautiful product.

I love that the music we made back then still lives and breathes in the world. That’s wonderful.

2 Responses to "Every Day’s a Field Day: Marshall Crenshaw on New Vinyl Reissues, Songwriting (Q&A)"

  1. Nick Canterucci   July 25, 2017 at 11:06 am

    glad to see it getting the re-issued it truly deserves..such a 180 degree turn from the debut LP…Always thought the cover took away from the LP..looking forward to the new revised cover..funny as when the LP was released back in the day, Vinyl was being phased out..years later, in 2017, vinyl is still alive and well.

    Reply
  2. Sam Base   July 28, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    The old album cover for Field Day is comically bad. Marshall looks like somebody just stole his lunch money and it’s sending him into a cosmically deep depression. I’m glad Marshall didn’t have anything to do with that cover. But I wish he would have said “Screw the 2 weeks, let’s get it right!” Anyway, on to the new one.

    Reply

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