by Jarret Keene
When Josh Haden, son of iconic jazz bassist Charlie, unveiled The Blue Moods of Spain in 1995, its minimalist melancholy was unlike anything ever recorded. Almost unexpressive in his vocal delivery, Haden and his L.A. bandmates in Spain exuded a dark eroticism only the best crime novels (The Killer Inside Me, The Postman Always Rings Twice) could ever convey. Spain released two more studio discs and got a song included in a Wim Wenders film soundtrack before calling it quits. After a couple of solo albums in the intervening years, Haden restored the band in ’07, released a new Spain record in ’12 and has embarked on a short tour—the band’s first U.S. gigs outside Los Angeles in 12 years. Spain lands in Tucson March 9 at Club Congress with Marianne Dissard and Andrew Collberg. Tucson Weekly had a chance to chat with Haden.
What did you learn or forget (and then have to re-learn) about Spain’s music in the years between the band’s studio albums (2001 to 2012)?
Probably the thing I missed most about it was being on the road and bringing our music to the fans. That’s the main reason I’m a musician and not a lawyer or a philosophy professor. When I put the band on hiatus in 2001, I was very bitter and disillusioned with the music-industrial complex. I felt I was being treated unfairly, but in retrospect I was just a selfish person. I guess I was the epitome of the “spiritual materialist.” Now I’m older and just want to get back to making music and delivering my message to the world. I don’t care if anyone’s ripping me off.
When you assembled the familiar strummed cadence and sensuous melody of, say, “Only One” for 2012’s The Soul of Spain, did it feel like coming home in a way? In other words, do you recognize Spain as having a definite and defined approach to rock balladry? Or is it less considered and more instinctual than that?
It’s funny you ask that because “Only One” was written in 1993. It actually was one of the first songs I wrote for the band Spain, even before I had the band name. In those days I used to think we had a definite and defined approach to songwriting but now I don’t. Nowadays, it’s more instinctual.
The Blue Moods of Spain seems to be the band’s most “curated” work and the album you tend to play live in its entirety at certain festivals. How has your own evaluation of Moods changed or evolved in the nearly two decades since it was first released?
I think Blue Moods is our best album. Recording it was a magical experience. Just one of those rare instances in life when everything goes right even though you aren’t trying. I appreciate listening to Blue Moods now more than I ever have, simply from a listener’s point of view, if that’s possible for me.
“I’m Still Free,” despite its liberating lyrics and steady drumbeat, still manages to torch-burn like an old Julie London noir-set piece. How much do those jazz-kissed, pop-blues laments of yesteryear influence your songwriting—if it all? Or are you actually just hoping Beyoncé covers one of your tunes?
Ha! Beyoncé! Oh my god. Seriously, Julie London is a big influence on me. The new album is going to have a heavy Dionne Warwick vibe too. You'll see. Good call.
As a bass player, you’re so no-nonsense, in-the-pocket, Zen. The only musician who comes close to what you achieve is maybe Sting. How do you view your role as a bassist in this band?
You're right about Sting. Even his bass itself is no-nonsense. My opinion of myself as a bass player is that I’m not a very good one. I’ve only had a few formal lessons and most of what I’ve learned was from my teenaged days in a punk-rock band—use heavy gauge strings, hit the strings as hard as you can, refuse to remember the names of the strings or how to read and write music, and cover your bass with stickers.
What do you think of the musicians who comprise this latest incarnation of Spain?
This is the best ever incarnation of Spain. I've been working with Matt Mayhall (drums) and Randy Kirk (guitar, keyboards) since even before 2007, when I put Spain back together, and when I was doing shows for my 2006 solo album. Daniel Brummel (lead guitar) joined in 2008, and he’s from a really great band called Ozma. We have a great musical camaraderie. Matt comes from a jazz background, and Randy is a trained classical pianist. Everyone is such a great musician and has such great ears and musical ideas that they put me to shame.