INTERVIEW WITH JOHN WOLOSCHUK
BY DAVID BRADLEY, SEPTEMBER 20, 1997

HOPE

DB:  Moving on to Hope.  How did the concept originate?  Did it start off as a bunch of songs which were later fit into a concept, or was it a concept that needed songs written for it?

JW:  Half and half.  Some of the songs were actually written beforehand, like "We're Off You Know" had been written in 19 19 when the hell was it?  1972 was so that song was already written, and I think Dee's songs what's he got?  "Around the Universe" and "Madman", they really were written independent of any kind of a concept.  But Side 2 of that album was sort of written intentionally as a thematic concept, and the idea sort of came and was built as we went.  Like "Politzania" for example, "Long Live Politzania," that was about the fifth song that I ever wrote.  That was written back in 1969.  But the version that appears on the Hope album is different from like, there's no speaking in the original version, it was all sung.  And when we went to do the album, I took that old song, and the only thing that really is exactly the same as the original song is the anthem at the end, like the (sings) "Po-lit-zania " you know, that part there.

DB:  So that's always been there?

JW:  That's always been there.  In fact, that was the first part of the song that was ever written.  Like, when I first wrote it back in 1969, that was the part that came first, and then the rest of the stuff came after.  And then in 1976 when we recorded it, we revamped it to its present version, you know, where we added a bunch of classical type stuff to it, and electric guitars, and the talking and things like that.  So I mean it just sort of evolved, but as far as an overall concept for the album is concerned, we didn't start off knowing what the concept was going to be.  We knew that we wanted to do a concept album, but we weren't quite sure what it was going to be, and then gradually over time we sort of rationalized one, you know (laughs).  But Side 2 was a different story.  Side 2 was not pre-written.  Side 2 was all written to order for that album.  It was all written during the rehearsals like, during the period that we were rehearsing for the album, and it was written to fit that concept.  So, "So Said The Lighthouse Keeper" and the "Prelude" and "Hope" and is that it?  I don't know if there's anything else on there or not.  But those were all

DB:  "Loneliest of Creatures."
 
JW:  Oh, "Loneliest of Creatures," right.  Those were all written to fit this sort of concept, which essentially was about this lighthouse keeper on an asteroid somewhere, and he was bemoaning the fact that his former civilization had blown their world all to hell.  And that's really what the concept was.  Like, I don't think there was much more to it.  And the first side was really comprised of songs that weren't written specifically for the concept, but were close enough in their subject matter that people would think they were.

DB:  What about the destroyed planet and the surviving lighthouse keeper, who came up with the concept for them?

JW:  Uh, that might have been Terry Draper who came up with the idea from something he had read.  He used to read paperback fiction.  Like, he was an avid reader, and he was always reading these science-fiction paperback things.  And, I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised.  That sounds like something that he would have suggested, you know, based on something that he had read.  And the idea seemed to have been a good one, because it enabled us to personalize the story.  You know, telling it from the point of view of one person instead of just talking about destruction.  And that's really, I think that's where it came from.

DB:  What about the motivation behind the message being a very positive one as he's dying, instead of a negative one?

JW:  Gee, I don't know, I guess I mean, it's like Sam Goldwyn, you know?  (Laughs) "Send 'em home happy."

DB:  Happy ending.  Okay.

JW:  I mean, if you go to some of those movies from the forties, like some of those heavy-duty like "Random Harvest" and movies like that, where like there's moments in it that are just heart-wrenching, you know where people are like facing adverse stuff, and heavy-duty and but in the ending, you have this sentimental, happy ending it makes you feel good.  So, I guess that's where we were but we were going to have a tough enough time getting airplay as it was (laughs), so I guess we didn't want it to be a total bummer.  So, we sort of thought it wouldn't be right just to have I mean, who would want to listen to it more than once?  I mean, if you had it so that everything got destroyed, and the ending was "Well, that's tough, everything's a bummer" people wouldn't want to listen to it.  But when you give them a little thing at the ending that makes them think, "Well, jeez, there's still hope yet" you know, it sort of makes it, it gives it more longevity, I think.  But, you know, I'm not even sure we went through that conscious process.  I think it was instinct.

 THE HOPE SESSIONS

DB:  I've heard that the orchestral tracks were re-done with synthesizers, to further enhance them.  Did you know coming out of the recording session with the orchestra that they hadn't captured what you were looking for, or was that something that really came about after you listened to everything mixed together, and just didn't hear what you felt needed to be there?

JW:  Well yeah, we knew that there was problems with it, because of the mechanics of how it was put together.  I mean, we had to go to London, we had to record an I think it was an 85-piece orchestra in Olympic Studios, and there was all kinds of glitches where they weren't synching to the track properly, and there was some intonation problems, and things like that.  But we were running out of time, and it was costing a fortune so I think we knew when we left the session in England that we were going to have to do some repair work.

But it wasn't until we got back to Toronto and listened back to the tracks that we realized how extensive the repair work had to be. And in some cases we had to listen to the orchestration off the two-inch tape, bounce it onto quarter-inch, and then wild-bounce it back in, in time, because it was so badly out of time.  And there were other times when the intonation was so crummy that we had to replace there was one place there where they had french horns, and were just so badly out of tune, and we couldn't fix it with a harmonizer or with any in those days there was very little digital gear, and so we weren't able to fix the intonation, and so we ended up having to put synths over some of it.  And then some of the synth work was done just because we felt there was holes -- the orchestration didn't quite fill what void we thought had to be filled, so we just threw out some synths to fill it out a bit, or put in an interest or focal point here and there.  There was a lot of scrambling, I can tell you that (laughs)!

I mean, we came back from England in January of '77 having recorded the tracks.  We had a tentative deadline for delivery of that album in February of '77 I can't remember the date now, but it was some time in the middle of February.  So we only had two weeks when we got back to mix it, and you could imagine what that album would be like to mix.  It was just a monster.  But luckily, at the same time, that Beatle rumour thing started and the first album started taking off.  So Capitol Records said "We want to hold off releasing the second album."  So, we were lucky in that respect, because we didn't have to meet the February deadline.  So as soon as we found that out, we booked more studio time in Toronto and proceeded to put those synths on because the deadline got moved back, and I think we ended up finishing in May.  I mean, we weren't working solidly from February to May again, we were doing it in spurts, but most of the extra overdubbing was done between February and May of '77.

WE'RE OFF YOU KNOW

DB:  Where did the image of the ship setting sail for adventure come into play with "We're Off You Know," and who plays the jazz trumpet at the end?

JW:  Well, the jazz trumpet was played by Guido Basso.  He's a pretty well-known jazz musician in Toronto;  he's sort of in the same league as Moe Koffman.  And he was, again, a session player that had played on He was one of the trumpeters on "Sub Rosa Subway," at the ending there with the fanfares, and like I knew Guido from when I was working as a session player and he agreed to come in and overdub this.  And he did a great job.  We just told him to wing it, and of course, with a musician of that calibre, you don't have to tell them much:  you've just got to tell them when, and where to come in.  And he did it with the muted trumpet.  We just told him we wanted a, sort of a solo type thing, and I think he did it in one take.

DB:  Wow!

JW:  Yeah, I mean these guys are like they're real good (laughs)!  I mean, there's some really great session players in Toronto.  In those days there was some of the guys were vintage players who have been around, like It's like working on a movie or something.  If you were an actor and you were working on a film, and like one of the actors is, like Gregory Peck or something, and you get to work with him you know?  It's like one of those deals where they're so "pro."  They've been at it for so long, and Guido was like that.  He was just a consummate professional, and you just told him, "Go.  Start now," and he just went.

Now, as far as adventure on the ship's concerned, gee I don't know.  That song was really just another fabrication, and it was written long before Hope was even thought of.  It was sort of like a "Marvello" thing; it was just sort of an exercise in fantasy.

DB:  Did you always feel that it needed something at the end like trumpet, or was there a point where that wasn't part of it?
 
JW:  Actually, the trumpet was added on after, as an afterthought.  Originally it was supposed to end with the bassoon melody, you know, the (sings) "brrra-dat-dat-da-dant-da-dela-dant " that thing.  And we had it that way for a while, and we had a bassoon player come in, and he played it in different octaves, and then we had him where he played both octaves, overdubbing, and everything like that.  And I think when the smoke cleared, and we kept listening back, it just sounded boring.  It was the same thing over and over again.  And it was suggested that we try putting something a little wilder on there, something not quite so repetitious.  And so the trumpet was really an afterthought, because the original intention was to have the bassoon type thing on there.  We tried it, and it didn't quite do what it was supposed to do, so we tried to find something else.

DB:  Do you remember the name of the bassoon player?

JW:  No, I don't.  He was I mean, he was like one of the Toronto Symphony players, you know?  Because whenever you use strings or anything like that, any orchestral instruments, we generally were able to get Toronto Symphony players to do that, and he was one of those, and unfortunately I don't remember his name.

LONG LIVE POLITZANIA

DB:  "Long Live Politzania."  Why the tinny, scratchy record for the narration?

JW:  I don't really know.  I mean, you gotta remember what happens:  You're in the heat of a session, and somebody comes up with an idea, and you try it, and it either works or it doesn't.  Sometimes it works well, and you go for it.  So, that was a case like that, where we just weren't happy with the result.  I think the main reason we wanted to do it was, we wanted the make the voice sort of like sound like a telephone voice, and we figured we could enhance that by making it sound like it was coming off a little scratchy record or something.  But there's no grand conceptual theme to it or anything like that, it was just an idea that somebody suggested.  Don't ask me who, I'm not sure.  But we would just do that, you know.  Our sessions were pretty open like that, where anybody could suggest anything.  And the only rule we had was that whoever wrote the song got final say.  So I mean, if I made a suggestion on one of Dee's songs and we tried it and everybody liked it but him, it didn't stay.  But that usually didn't happen. Usually we were very much in tune with each other's tastes, and usually when somebody suggested something, nine times out of ten it was a good suggestion and it ended up surviving.
 
DB:  Did you view "Politzania" as a political statement?  And if so, what country was it directed at?

JW:  I think when I first wrote it, it was supposed to be a political statement.  But I was pretty young when I wrote it, and a little on the green side.  It was written during the height of the Vietnam war, and I guess it was probably an anti-Viet it was an anti-war thing, you know?  I mean, everybody was doing anti-war songs in those days (laughs), and I was only 19 at the time, so it was sort of like an adolescent attempt at political worldliness without really having all the ammunition to do it properly (laughs).  So, yeah it started off, originally, I think its concept was sort of an anti-war song, and I guess the obvious thing was the Vietnam war thing, and because of that I guess you'd have to say it was an anti-US song.  But it really was I mean I wasn't really that anti-US, it was more anti-war I think.  But that was like 1969.  By the time 1976 rolled around, when we were actually recording it for the album, it really had nothing to do with Vietnam or the United States or anything like that.  Because the lyrics, by the way, apart from the anthem part of it, the lyrics were all re-written to fit in the Hope idea.  I can't remember, Professor Pamplemousse or whatever it's supposed to be?  It was supposed to be about an imaginary planet where the civilization went, you know, annihilated themselves.  So it was really just sort of a fantasy type thing.  It was sort of like a "Star Wars," I guess, you know, a similar idea.  I  mean, what's "Star Wars" about?

DB:  Yeah.  It's just creative process at work, I guess.

JW:  It's just a creative process, and yes, it's sort of generally anti-war, but it's not it's not meant it's not like I'm standing in the middle of downtown streets on a soapbox yelling and screaming with a shopping bag in my hand (laughs) it's supposed to be a subtle attempt at eloquence.  And I guess that's all it is, you know?  It's still anti-war, but it's not directed at any one country.

THE LONELIEST OF CREATURES

DB:  "Loneliest of Creatures."  The myriad number of voices on there:  are they all three of you, are they just you, are there other people in there?

JW:  I think most of them are me, but the low voices we did as a gang like Dee, myself and Terry Draper sang the low voices in unison you know, where it does that operatic type thing?  But I would say most of the voices, like that round at the end where it keeps going over and over and over again, is mostly me.

DB:  Was that round always part of it, or is that something that got added on in the process?

JW:  That got added on afterwards, because the ending wasn't going anywhere and we thought it needed something, and I came up with this idea of a "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" type deal, and it seemed to work.  In those days I had a little quarter-track tape recorder at home, and what I would do is I would take dubs home of monitor mixes and then overdub, really roughly, at home, ideas that I want to try in the studio.  And I would try them out at home first, in rough form, just to make sure that they held water, and that was a case of that where I'd already tried out some ideas at home and found that they seemed to work well.  Because if you don't go to the studio prepared sometimes, you know, you end up with nothing.  I mean, sometimes you can get lucky in the studio and be inspired on the moment and come up with something, but other times, when you're trying to do something as intricate as that, you usually have to plan ahead.  And in a case like that, I got the monitor mixes back, and the ending had no vocals on it In actual fact, the ending was supposed to fade out on the harpsichord thing, and I went back to the studio and I said to Terry Brown, "We've gotta lengthen that ending," because the ending was only about ten seconds long.  So I said, "You've got to give me about a minute and a half of that harpsichord."  So he bounced it down to quarter-track a couple of times, edited them together, and then wild-bounced them back onto the two-inch tape and artificially extended the ending by about a minute and a half, and then I was able to overdub the vocal.

PRELUDE

DB:  "Prelude."  You had mentioned on that Hope, most of the strings came from the arranger's concepts.  Is "Prelude" something that was predominantly the arranger, or was there a basis for the song from you?

JW:  I think there was a basis of the song from the band, because what happened was that we that song was put together in rehearsal.  I did the piano work in that.  I had composed the piano parts, like, the whole song on piano in a rough form.  And then Terry, Dee and myself rehearsed it where Terry was playing the drums, I was playing an electric piano so we could hear it, and Dee was playing guitar.  And what we would do is we would play the song over several times hundreds of times, I guess and every once in a while we would change the arrangement.  Again, this is just three men playing, no orchestrations or anything like that.
This is just working out the beds bed tracks.  And so every once in a while, you know, we'd embellish it or inject a new part in it, or whatever the case may be.  But when it came time to record the bed tracks, we had a complete song.

Like, you know, the guitar parts were all worked out, the drum parts were all everything was worked, and the piano parts were quite extensive, and so the bed tracks themselves were a pretty strong guide as to what was needed.  Because a lot of the orchestration simply took the piano parts and translated them into orchestration.  And there are some string parts on there, a couple of solo violin parts on there, that were done after the orchestrations were completed, where we went back, after we came back from England, and
we listened to what we had, weren't totally thrilled with it, we ended up bringing in a couple of musicians, and just sort of asking them to do this, that and the other thing over top of what we already had, 'cause in some places the orchestrations either didn't work, or we changed our mind on them, or whatever the heck it was.  But, the full orchestration, were written by Doug Riley, but they were largely translated from the piano parts that were already there.

DB:  All right, then that leads me to my next question, then:  There's a very, very strong classical or romantic feel that to that piece. Is there any specific composer that influences you, or that you really like the music of?

JW:  Oh, well yeah, I like a lot of classical composers, but as far as that song is concerned, what I used to do is When we did the Hope album, we knew we wanted to do a sort of a classical pop album.  Like, that was part of the concept.  I mean, there's the thematic concept, which is like, you know, the lighthouse keeper and all that kind of thing, but then there's the musical concept which is sort of like a blending of classical music and pop music.

And, what I used to do is, I used to have my car radio set to a radio station here in Toronto that always played classical music, and every day when I went back and forth to the studio I listened to nothing but classical music.  Now, I couldn't tell you who I heard, because there was all kinds of stuff being played, but I totally immersed myself in it so when it came time to write something I sort of had, you know, some influence that I could draw from.  But, I mean, there are composers that I like a lot, like, I guess everybody likes Beethoven and Bach.  Bach is great.  I'm not a student of classical music.  I mean, I like it, but I can't name you a whole bunch of names.  But I've always liked classical music, I mean, from right down to the level of like, Bugs Bunny cartoons that play classical music in them.  I always think those are fun.  But classical music lives forever.  You don't have to be a serious student of classical music to appreciate how great it is (laughs).  There's bad classical music too, but good classical music is like, really nice to listen to.  And Tchaikovsky I think is a, I mean, has done some great stuff.  Gee whiz, I'm going to leave out names here, I know it, but I pretty well like anything anything that's melodic, and has beautiful movements in it. I mean, there's all kinds of great stuff.  But as far as the Hope album is concerned, there wasn't any one classical composer I was trying to emulate.  I just was totally immersing myself in classical music whenever I could at the time, and that's where a lot of the ideas probably came from.

 SO SAID THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

DB:  In "So Said The Lighthouse Keeper," you change your voice around several times. There's your solo voice, double-tracked, a little bit harsher with an echo on it in some spots   Is there a specific way that you like your voice best, or do you tend to play with it for the style of what you're singing for each piece?

JW:  In that case it was really done for the style of the parts of the tune.  I mean, where the voice has got the echo on it, that's where the bitchy guitar is.  You had to have that kind of voice.  You couldn't have a sweet-sounding voice there, or it wouldn't fit.  Whereas on the more intimate parts, where, at the ending there, where he says that he thought and thought away his last remaining day, you need an intimate voice with no echo on it.  So the decision process as to whether or not to put echo or double-track and things like that was done more for texture reasons than for me saying I want my voice this way or that way.  I mean, I'm not that great a singer to begin with, so sometimes we'd double-track just to cover up some of the sins, you know (smiles).  But if I can get away without double-tracking I'll do it, because sometimes it works better.  But other times you want to double-track or you want a special type of echo on it or whatever.  But usually the decision on voice treatment, sound treatment for the voice, was triggered not by vanity of the singer, it was usually triggered by what we felt was the aesthetic need of that part of the tune at the time.

DB:  Were the guitar parts for "Lighthouse Keeper" something that was written out ahead of time, or did Dee improvise that as it was progressing?

JW:  Dee did that.  All the guitar work on the Hope album was Dee's creativity, and most of it he wrote while we were rehearsing the tunes.  He would keep working at the parts, and every once in a while he'd come up with Dee's the kind of guy that can he's very creative.  And he used to come up with great stuff and then throw it away (laughs)!  And there was many times during the rehearsals where I would have to say, you know, we would be doing something, and then all of a sudden he'd play a guitar part that he'd never played before and I'd say "Oh!  Stop! Whoa!"  I'd say, "Dee, write that one down!  We've gotta keep that!  Don't lose that!" Because he would quite often come up with something fabulous, and then the next time you ran him through it he wouldn't remember it, or wouldn't do it the same way, and then if you ever tried to get him to get it back again he couldn't, and things like that so, you had to be very careful to let him know what you liked, so that he didn't just keep looking (laughs)!  Because he was extremely creative.  He could come up with all kinds of things.
 
And he did.  If you listen to some of the guitar work on Side 2 and in "Politzania" as well, he did all of that stuff, and some of it's quite Like the guitar work in "Prelude" near the ending there, where it sort of gets a little rocky, he does a very fast guitar line like (mimics guitar sound) all the way down like that, it's very fast and bitchy and just great stuff.  I mean, stuff that I could never play (laughs) in a million years!  But he was extremely good at coming up with ideas.  And the same things with "So Said The Lighthouse Keeper," is it?  No, which one says "In the name of charity" that part there?  He came up with the sort of Led Zeppeliny type parts in that.  And that he just came up with on the floor, you know?  You send him out for an overdub, onto the floor, you play him back the track, you say "Dee, we need something like Jimmy Page here" and usually, in the first take or certainly in the second, he would come up with something that was just, like, killer.  And you'd always have to have the red, the record on, because if he came up with something fabulous, you know, you wanna capture it before he forgot what he did.  And he was great like that.  It was a real joy to watch sometimes.

EPILOGUE

DB:  "Epilogue."  It's listed in the lyric sheets, but it doesn't appear on the album.  Was it ever actually recorded, and if so, why was it left off?

JW:  Yeah, it was recorded actually.  It was just a short little ditty that was supposed to be a bridge between the "Hope" song and whatever immediately precedes "Hope."  And it was recorded, it had vocal on it, and it never appeared on the final version because when we went to do the mix-down, I though it was overkill.  I didn't think we needed it because the "Hope" song sort of started off with the calliope-type sound on its own, and when we had the "Epilogue" in between the two, it just sounded like we were trying to start the same song twice, you know?  It just sounded like you know the expression "less is more?"

DB:  Yeah.

JW:  Well, that was an occasion when less was more.

HOPE

DB:  Okay, onto "Hope" then.  It's absolutely beautiful.  A wonderful melody, the key change, like you mentioned earlier, just blows me away.  I love it.  But your bass playing is what really stands out to me in that song.  It's very melodic, instead of just a percussive rhythm like a lot of bass players use.  Where did the inspiration for your bass playing come from?  Not just that song, but in general as well?

JW:  There was more than one bass player that I admire a lot.  I would say that the two I admire the most well, there's three:  Paul McCartney, the Led Zeppelin guy John Paul Jones and the Moody Blues guy is it John Lodge?

DB:  I'm not sure.

JW:  I think it's John Lodge.  The Moody Blues' bass player.  All three of them are extremely melodic.  Now you might say "John Paul Jones, you know, how  " well, yeah, but if you listen to Led Zeppelin II, there's lots of times and even "The Immigrant Song" if you listen to "The Immigrant Song," if you took his bass out of that song, there'd be no bottom there.  I mean, he really makes that song move.  And of course, John Paul Jones was not just a bass player.  You're only seeing the tip of the iceberg when you're hearing his bass playing, because he was actually a studio musician and an arranger.  He did a lot of arranging for Donovan, and he was also a keyboard player, and he also did I think he did the string arrangements on "She's A Rainbow" by the Stones.  So we're talking about someone who understands melody who just happened to put on a bass guitar because it was the only way he would fit into that group.  And I always admired his bass playing, particularly when you listen to "Good Times, Bad Times" on Led Zeppelin I, there's a hell of a great bass line there.  And the Moody Blues, I think John Lodge's bass playing was also melodic.

But of course, the king of melody on bass as far as I'm concerned is Paul McCartney.  And I always admired his bass playing because he, starting with "Rain" and "Paperback Writer," he started using the bass for something more than just tonic and fifth.  He really started using it as melodic instrument and if you listen to the bass playing in "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" and the Revolver album, and then later on of course he developed it even further on Sergeant Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour and even on the White Album in some cases, like "Dear Prudence" he was very good at using the bass as a form of melody.  And anyway, I guess I'm getting a little bit long-winded here, but these are the guys that influenced my bass playing.  So, when it came time to do "Sub Rosa Subway" and which one did you mention?  "Hope?"  And "Hope," and even "Dr Marvello" the bass playing in those songs are sort of an attempt at being in that melodic mode.  Like, I'm not into slap bass, you know?  Like, I mean, I was never into that I never thought of the bass as being a rhythm instrument only, I always sort of really and I also liked the sound, particularly McCartney's sound on some of that stuff, if you listen to "Benefit For Mr Kite" and "Lucy In The Sky" and some of  those other -- oh, what's that one?  "With A Little Help From My Friends."  The sound of the bass is as much a part of the bass as what he is playing, and I really admired that.  So, I think that those songs were really the bass playing on those songs were influenced by that.

DB:  What about the reprise at the end of "Hope" where you bring back "We're Off, You Know?"  Was that intended to suggest that the story line would continue on, or that the people who were involved in this story were moving on?

JW:  No, I'll tell you what it was for:  when we did the mix for the album and of course, when you do the mix, you listen to it a million times we listened to the whole thing through and when we got to the end of the "Hope" song I thought gee whiz, you know, like this is a real bummer.  You know what I mean, like people are going to walk away bummed out.  Because even though it's a positive message, it's still very solemn and sombre and all that kind of thing.  So I thought well, we've got to lighten it up a little bit at the ending somehow.  So I suggested that we take the bassoon part at the end of "We're Off, You Know" and just sort of fade it in and then fade it out just to lighten it up a little wee bit, you know?  And that's what that was for.  It was purely a gut feeling.  It had nothing to do with concept or anything like that, it was just I felt that the album ended on a down note, and I didn't think that was a good idea.  Now, I might have been wrong .. (laughs) .. but that's what I thought at the time!

DB:  Works for me!

JW:  I still think it's true, because if you listen to an album and it leaves you bummed out, then you're not likely to put it on a second time or a third or fourth time, so I just thought well, you know and the other logic was if people don't like it, they can lift the needle at that point, you know?

 
 
 

 
 
 



© 1997 Dave Bradley