Exclusive Interview: Heart's Craig Bartock
7/11/2013 12:59:00 PM
Heart has been winning over hearts since the mid-70s and they show no signs of slowing down. The band is in the middle of a nationwide tour and they continue to pump out new songs. Any band that can stay strong and carry on through multiple decades has reached a milestone many musicians only dream of. Guitarist/Producer/Songwriter Craig Bartock took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us.
How did you get your start working with Ann and Nancy?
Craig: Early on in 2003, Heart and I had the same management company. They represented them as artists and me as a producer/songwriter. I was working with Blondie, Yes, Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue and a number of other artists. Someone thought I would be a good fit for Ann and Nancy as well. They were preparing to record their first studio album in 13 years and were just starting to gather song ideas. Nancy came over to my studio in Hollywood and we instantly hit it off. We basically had grown up with the same music, the same influences and oddly enough had even played some of the same clubs in Canada growing up. On that particular day when she came over, we wrote three songs in one afternoon ... two of which actually ended up on the final CD which was titled Jupiters Darling. As the album progressed, I ended up doing quite a few of the guitars, keyboards and various other instruments on it so when it came time to go on the road to promote the album, they asked me to join the band. And here I am 10 years later.
Tell us about your solo work.
Craig: I originally started out being an artist and then eventually settled on the writing and production side of the business. I had a partner way back when in the 80s and had an album out on MCA records called On The Air. It got great reviews and I was very happy with the end result. My partner and I did all of the writing/producing. I engineered and played all of the instruments except for drums. At that time though I was getting a number of offers to produce other artists and I found that I really enjoyed doing all different types of music so that's where I put most of my attention. It wasn't until after the Heart CD Jupiters Darling came out that I decided that I wanted to put out something of my own again. The solo CD called The Finer Points of Instinct was the end result.
I hear Heart has been performing a set of Led Zeppelin covers, how did this idea come up and what are your favorite ones to play?
Craig: It was the end result of Ann and Nancy doing Stairway to Heaven at the Kennedy Honors show and it receiving so much attention. It got something like 4 million hits on YouTube within a couple days. Someone thought it would make a good tour and they were right. Playing those songs with Jason Bonham is a lot of fun. And as far as my favorite to play, it's hard to pick one. The Rain Song comes to mind because I really think we do it justice. Stairway to Heaven is another one. It's a great feeling to stand there in front of 15,000 people and hearing them all singing along.
How much creativity can be put into the production of an album?
Craig: As little or as much as needed. Production is a very subjective thing. It can either be very transparent or quite obvious. It really depends on the connection between the producer, the artist and what they are trying to achieve.
You guys have been announced as new members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where you got to play alongside Jerry Cantrell, Chris Cornell, and Mike McCready, how does it feel to be a part of something legendary?
Craig: Those type of shows are always a bit unnerving because it's "real show biz" you know? It's a lot of "ok, stand here and you go out right after this" type of thing. They're fun to do but there's always a little sigh of relief after it's over. It was great seeing Jerry and Mike again. They are both wonderful guys.
When you are not on tour, how do you spend your free time?
Craig: I'm usually in my studio at home either doing music for TV or working on new songs ....... my "day" job.
What was it that made you decide to chase a career in music?
Craig: I don't think you choose it. It chooses you.
How tight-knit is the Rock n Roll community?
Craig: There are certain cliques like the people in LA, Nashville or Seattle, but all in all I would say it's tight. There are a lot of very nice people in this business. Rarely do I meet someone successful who isn't nice. More often than not I'm very impressed with the people I've met and worked with over the years.
As a producer and a guitarist I'm sure you are a gear junkie, what is some of your favorite musical equipment? Are you an analog or a digital guy?
Craig: I keep it pretty analog. I would just use one guitar, one cord and one amp if I could. I've seen a number of guitarists on the road with these huge racks of outboard gear trying to get that "studio sound" live. An interesting thing I've found is that the more you try to process your instrument, the thinner it sounds and the less it translates to live work. I use Fender, G&L, and custom made guitars, a minimal pedal board and Vox amps. Nothing sounds like an AC-30. Those amps are nearing 60 now and in my opinion they haven't improved upon that basic design. They got it right from day one.
When can we expect Heart to come back to Austin?
Craig: Soon I hope. We love that city.
Where are some of your favorite places to play?
Craig: A lot of venues we play tend to be the same ... huge outdoor sheds/amphitheaters. I like the smaller older places. Converted movie theaters, that sort of thing. Places with a real history to them.
You guys have a lot of amphitheater gigs booked for this Summer Tour. What is it about playing outdoors that becomes so attractive during the summer?
Craig: Nothing really. They are just bigger and can accommodate a larger audience. They really don't work too well in the winter. No one's that crazy about standing out in the rain or cold weather and watching their favorite bands.
What is one of your most memorable tour experiences?
Craig: I'm not sure I can say! Actually it's the times when things go less than perfectly. You don't remember the shows when things go smoothly. Like one time when we were playing in Sweden I believe for one of those huge summer 3 day festivals and during Magic Man, the neck of my Fender Strat came right off. One minute I'm playing the guitar solo and the next I'm holding my guitar in two pieces with just the strings keeping it together. I love that stuff!
You've been involved in the music industry for a long time now, what do you think of how innovation in technology has changed the industry?
Craig: It's been a huge game changer. I would equate the information age and how it's affected music very much like the industrial age and the horse and buggy. Being able to copy and share music basically killed the business and I can't see it ever really coming back. There was a time when kids would count the days until the new Beatles or Led Zeppelin album came out. It was not only the ultimate form of entertainment, but more like our "leaders" were speaking from above. Music was the ultimate act of rebellion. Nowadays, there's a lot of things fighting for the attention of the music buying public and almost even more ways to rebel. It's good and it's bad, you know? There's no money in the business anymore but now anyone can afford to make a CD, put it on iTunes and sell it or make a video and put it on YouTube. Everyone's in control but the audience has gotten a lot smaller.
What's the best part about being in a band like Heart?
Craig: It's a well-controlled family. Everyone ... the band, the crew, management ... all good people. We come out here and do the best we can every night under all kinds of conditions. They make you be at the top of your game because you want to. Ann and Nancy are two of the best friends anyone would want on their team. They let us be ourselves which is very important in a band like Heart that's been around for so many years. It's not about looking back at what this band has been but looking forward to what it can be.