You've always been a bit of a hi-fi geek, haven't you?
I have. On prom night, my boyfriend and I checked out stereo speakers at an all-night speaker sale. It was a big deal back then, a ritual - you had to get the perfect speakers, and set your room up a certain way. And my brother, who's a classical musician, absolutely had to have flat-panel speakers for his music.
Back then, you'd have friends over, sitting around listening to music fill the room. What you listened to, what kind of speakers you listened to, and the environment you listened in all defined who you were. It was a big deal, a ritual.
As we get older, it's different. When I'm in New York, I'm a big reader of the newspaper and I do the crosswords, and when I'm out walking, I can't do the iPod thing. I don't have music on when I'm on the computer, either. But when I'm in Los Angeles, I do more listening, because I'm in the car a lot. And I listen to things in there pretty loud.
Do you know certain album sides by heart?
Oh yes. Every morning before my sister and I went to school, we would alternate listening to David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, the Rolling Stones' Hot Rocks, the Who's Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, the Police's Ghost in the Machine, and a bunch of the I.R.S. bands from the '80s. An album side took about as long as getting ready for school did - about 15 or 17 minutes. And in high school, before I even drove, I would listen to an entire side of Pink Floyd's The Wall before I'd go to sleep.
It took me a long time to switch over to CDs. I remember the first CDs I bought were the albums I kept purchasing over and over: David Bowie's Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, the RCA version, Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, and Brian Eno's Music for Airports. Airports is a great analog recording, but I thought, "What a perfect thing to have digitally and not scratched."
At the time I bought the David Bowie record that came after Let's Dance - Tonight, - the not very good one with the Beach Boys cover on it ["God Only Knows"] - I bought the album and the cassette together so I could listen to the cassette in the car; then, when I got home, I listened to the album.
And when CDs came out, I re-bought Thomas Dolby's The Flat Earth, because I love that record. It's a great record with a lot of synthesizers, and it's timeless. It has a very "phonic" landscape that you wanted to hear how good it would sound on CD. But when I got the Police's Synchronicity, I didn't like it at first, but I love it now.
I know exactly what you mean. I think it was because of the sequencing. After "Synchronicity I," which was an odd but likable opener to Side 1, you got "Walking in Your Footsteps," which slowed the album's momentum. You had to grow into it.
That's true. There are certain songs that should come "before," and certain songs that are "after." At my shows, I always wonder why people request certain songs - like a B-side to a single gets requested right after I play the single.
Have you had the opportunity to put out a vinyl record yourself?
We made a record of my  album Tails because our A&R person at the time was an audiophile indie-rock person, and he thought it was cool. But we haven't done any vinyl since, because it basically costs you [the artist] money to do it. It's an expensive hobby.
I love listening to vinyl. I used to listen to Sgt. Pepper in the third grade, back in 1976. It was "old" vinyl at the time, but it wasn't even 10 years old at that point. I used to listen to it over and over and over.
You know, I was talking to somebody about vinyl last night. I have crates and crates of records at my parents' house in Dallas. And they have my grandparents' records, too - their old 78s. When I'm really settled - I live in L.A. now, but, like I said, I spend a lot of time in New York - I'll have all my vinyl shipped to me.
It's funny: When I make most of my records, I still think of them in terms of sides. To me, song sequencing is really important. I tend to jump around a lot when I listen to albums, except when I'm in my car in L.A. and I'll listen to things like the new Coldplay album [Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends] all the way through. I wanna get that one on vinyl.
My new Camp Lisa album (Furious Rose) may be the first record I've made where I didn't think of it in terms of sides. During the interview section of The Purple Tape CD, I talk about when you made cassette tapes, the A side had to be longer than the B side so that when you flipped it over, it would start right at the beginning of the B side. When it came to records, I would rarely get up and move the needle to another song in the middle of an album. I let the sides play out.
Final vinyl question: Do records sound better than CD?
Maybe I have that mythical understanding, but when I listen to vinyl, it just sounds warmer. As a kid, I listened to Steely Dan, ELO, and Wings records, and they were clean-sounding and well-arranged. And when I first got into CDs, it was a special event. They were really high-end, smooth, and clean. Nowadays, it's off-putting to hear things sounds so clean. It's a little empty - almost like watching a Flintstones cartoon, with that kind of hand-drawn repetition. As a musician, it's up to you to have that sense of knowing when to take advantage of technology and when not to, and also knowing how to let things still be human.
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