Don Was To Van Morrison: ‘Write Some Songs That Mean Something To You’
Last year saw the quiet release of Van Morrison‘s 34th album, Born To Sing: No Plan B. One of the reasons that it didn’t get a lot of press was that Van historically isn’t fond of doings interviews or promotion. But Radio.com talked to Don Was — the president of his record label, Blue Note Records — about the album.
Was — a member of funk group Was (Not Was) and producer of albums by the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan — said that he got the position at Blue Note with the help of his lawyer, who also happens to represent Van Morrison; that was who suggested that he sign the iconic Irish singer to the label.
So, Was traveled to Belfast, and Morrison suggested that he might want to do an album of jazz covers (possibly because Blue Note is most well known as a jazz label, having put out classic albums by Herbie Hancock and Grant Green). Was quickly nixed that idea, telling him, “‘C’mon man, let’s do the real thing: write some songs that mean something to you. And let’s make a real record!”
Was wasn’t involved in the making of the record, but as label head, he was responsible for getting it to the world… which is a reversal of what he’s used to. “It’s a novelty to me, (record labels) were always the enemy, they were always the guys who were messing you up.” But he told Morrison that Blue Note was behind him. “(I told him) ‘I’ve got you covered, let’s do this. You do your part,’ which means, get in there and bleed for these songs, ‘And we’ll make sure it gets to people.'”
And Was was more than pleased with what Morrison brought to the album. “He wrote these incredible songs,” he says. “If you go through and really check out those lyrics — I don’t know if he intended it to be this way — but I can read a whole story arc in there, of a guy who goes through a transformation of being bitter and negative about the world and feeling harassed, seeing people getting ripped off by the ‘One Percent,’ and seeing young people with this sense of entitlement and just being disgusted with the world. And then… in the end deciding to open his heart. That’s how I see it.”
“He’ll probably say, ‘Nah, it’s just ten songs.’ And maybe it is. But the great songwriters are the ones who allow you to project your own inner life onto the framework that they set up.”
Van Morrison has three dates scheduled in Belfast this month, but no U.S. dates are planned. Meanwhile, another Don Was/Blue Note project – Aaron Neville’s next album, My True Story, which Was co-produced with Keith Richards – is due out January 22nd.
Watch Was talk about Born To Sing: No Plan B below.
– Brian Ives, Radio.com