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Jonatha Brooke

A Conversation with Jonatha Brooke

Puremusic: So how are you lately? How is life treating you?

Jonatha Brooke: Life is really good. I have no complaints, whatsoever. I have two new records, I have like twins in the world.

PM: I love this new DVD, Live in New York, and that's what I hope we'll talk about. I think it's a superb show and documentary, really, because there's a whole story to it. What a massive undertaking for an indie artist.

JB: Well, thank you for noticing. [laughs]

PM: I mean, the project is so daunting when one takes in all the footage--and I think it's a good idea to shoot all that extra footage behind the scenes, the setup, and the rehearsal--

JB: Uh-huh.

PM: --versus just the performance. When you start to even think about it, the layman, much less somebody who's been in music all their life, it's staggering what it takes to get that done.

JB: Well, thank you for considering all that. Because I think normal people don't realize how much is entailed. And I think that we were dumb enough not to really know, going in, either.

PM: Right.

JB: We didn't even realize we were going to make a DVD, or that that was the whole project. We just wanted to do this ten-night run, and try to create a little event that would hopefully ripple out, like when you throw a rock into the water. We wanted to create a real destination for fans and make a little buzz in New York City, instead of just getting on a bus again and traipsing around the country.

PM: Right. Not to mention that a ten-night run anywhere is extremely difficult to pull off. New York City has lots of people, sure, but it's a helluva tough crowd.

JB: It's fierce, yeah.

PM: To do a ten-night run in New York City, that takes some cajones, which you've never been short on your whole career.

JB: [laughs] Well, luckily I have a partner who has even bigger cajones than I do.

PM: Now, let's talk about him, Patrick Rains, because he must be an amazing character.

JB: He's awesome; unflusterable. He's like smooth water, just comes up with really cool ideas, I freak out, and then he'll say, "No, no, no. Come on. Let's just take it step-by-step, we'll figure out how to do this." And he's just somehow able to piece together whatever is needed at the time. And so he had the idea for doing this extended run. And then we started looking around New York for a perfect small theater that would have the vibe that we were seeking.

PM: In a town full of cool little theaters.

JB: A town full of cool little theaters, but very expensive cool little theaters.

PM: Absolutely.

JB: I had done three nights at Joe's Pub, which is in the same building as the Public Theater.

PM: Of course, that's where the Public Theater is, in that Joe's Pub building, right.

JB: Yep. And the guy who books the place is a super sweet person, Bill Bragin. He said, "Hey, do you guys know that there are all these other little theaters in the building? Maybe that's something you want to take a look at."

PM: Wow.

JB: So one night he led us around the Public, and there are six other different theaters, of varying shapes, sizes and atmospheres. And we walked into the Anspacher, and we thought, "Oh, goodness, this is it." So that became our destination.

PM: And it seated how many?

JB: 275. But then, of course, we had to figure out how to stage it--we had to bring in sound, we had to bring in lights.

PM: You had to bring in everything?

JB: Everything. It was expensive.

PM: Right. And what a headache...

JB: Oh, my God, are you kidding? Flying a Meyers rig? [Suspending a very pricey audiophile level sound system from the ceiling.]

PM: Oh, you weren't messing around.

JB: No, we weren't. We thought, look, if we're going to do this, we're going to go down flying high.

PM: Right. Wow.

JB: Yeah, pretty fun.

PM: Holy jeez. And then you had to bring in a whole lighting company, I'm sure.

JB: Yep, yep. We brought in lights, too.

PM: That's an expense...

JB: Oh, my God, yeah. We figured, look, we lose our shirts every few years just trying things. We're gamblers. What else are you going to do?

PM: Right.

JB: It's kind of fun. And you can always get a new shirt. You've got to gamble. And I think that's the beauty of Pat, is he's been gambling since he was seventeen. He moved to L.A. from Minneapolis, and the second week he was there he realized, "Oh, I know what I'm supposed to be doing here," because he had met Al Jarreau. And he managed Al Jarreau from that time on--well, it took him three months to convince Al to let him manage him, because he was only eighteen at that point.

PM: Holy Jeez!

JB: And gave himself a little ultimatum, "If I can't get Al a record deal in three years, I'll go to law school."

PM: And Al had had no record deal yet.

JB: Right. He had nothing.

PM: Oh, wow!

JB: He was just putzin' around town doing little gigs at the blah blah cafe.

PM: And how old was Jarreau at the time?

JB: Jarreau was like ten years older than Pat. So, sorry, Pat was probably more like twenty-one and Jarreau was thirty-one.

PM: Wow. And he didn't have a deal yet.

JB: Nope.

PM: But he was amazing.

JB: Oh, God, he was incredible.

Al Jarreau

PM: Right.

JB: And so Pat kind of called home and said, "Okay, now I know why I'm here. I won't be home for Christmas. Hold my calls." [laughs]

PM: Unbelievable.

JB: Yeah. And so he took Al from zero to everything.

PM: And so how long did he or has he managed Jarreau?

JB: Well, they stopped working together in about '97-'98.

PM: And when did you meet Pat?

JB: I met Pat first off--actually my very first record deal with Elektra I was introduced to him because I was looking for management. And he was way too busy at the time. So that was '91. Then we started working together in '94, after Elektra kind of botched working Angel in the House. And then I botched--I went with another manager at first, and it was a disaster. And I came crawling back to Pat [laughs] to say, "Hey, would you still be interested, because this didn't work out..."

PM: Right.

JB: And he was nice enough to say, "Oh, yeah. I'm still in."

PM: So Elektra, you would say, kind of botched Angel in the House? [Jonatha's CD with Jennifer Kimball; together they were known as The Story.]

JB: Well, yeah. And I have to say that it was partially that the manager that we had gone with at the time was not particularly present. If Pat had been in the driver's seat I think he would have been in there every day kicking ass, because that record was taking off.

PM: Yeah. And that was a fantastic record.

JB: Yeah. And it was just a matter of a few good ideas that could have crossed it over and taken it further. But our person dropped the ball completely. And we didn't know any better, we were just sort of dorky road dogs at that point.

PM: Right. But a fantastic act, because I remember seeing the act, in fact, opening for the act in that period, and that was really something.

JB: Pretty cool.

PM: Yeah, I really liked that a lot.

JB: Anyhow, the gambling thing, we've always done that. I mean, that was what starting Bad Dog Records was--it was a big gamble, but it was just the best of all of our options at the time, because MCA had just dropped me after 10 Cent Wings came out. I was touring the US, and I was in the middle of a string of dates, and my option came up, and they chose not to renew it.

PM: The way they do.

JB: Yeah, that's kind of typical. So we threw a party, and I was pretty morose for a couple weeks. But I had to get back on the road. We had a bunch of people come over--Meshell Ndegeocello, and Wendy and Lisa from Prince's old band.

PM: Wow.

JB: You know them.

PM: Sure, love them.

JB: Yeah. And a few of their musician pals from L.A. And we got really drunk, and we started turning it into more of a celebration than a funeral.

PM: Right.

JB: And we decided to start Bad Dog Records and see what would happen if we just did it ourselves.

PM: Now, on Bad Dog, did you release anybody else, or just your stuff?

JB: Just me, so far, because we are losing our shirt pretty much, from time to time.

PM: Yeah.


JB: I'm really expensive.


PM: How'd I know that? Luckily you're hooked with somebody that can probably afford you.

JB: Well, it depends, really. We're both on this roller coaster. Some years are great and some years are like, "Okay, how are we going to pay the Amex this month?"

PM: Right. So you never know.

JB: It's a great adventure.   continue

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