It was cold. It was Christmas after all, and we were heading through the door of the Neil Simon Theatre where The Scarlet Pimpernel (SP3) had just come down. Our mission was to hook up with Jim Hindman, one of the writers of A Christmas Survival Guide, when there stood the Scarlet Pimpernel. We exchanged hellos and then Ron Bohmer says, "Hey I want to talk to you about a CD that I want to make ..."
All I could think was, Ron Bohmer, who did Alex in Aspects, Joe Gillis in Sunset, Phantom in Phantom, Enjolras in Les Miz and now Percy in Pimpernel wants to do a CD with us. I sort of stumbled and said, "Lets get together." And the rest is history.
2die4 Productions, Inc.
Nancy Rosati: What came first - did you have the idea to do the CD and you wrote the songs for it, or did the songs come first?
Ron Bohmer: When I finished my first record ("Everyman") I immediately started writing again, pretty much because I thought I'd have the opportunity to do a second one.
Producers always love to say this to artists - "Struggles are good for you. You do your best work when you're hungry." In a way that's kind of true. When you're wanting something, when you're reaching out for something, when you're in a state of unrest, it brings a lot of questions. For me, that's the essence of song writing. There are questions to ask. A song always has some central question. That began to affect my writing because it was in a scalable form. So, to get back to the essence of your question, I was writing more out of need and less out of a deadline.
NR: That probably made it easier.
RB: In some ways. I didn't know if or when I was ever going to record these songs. I thought I probably would. Once the bulk of them were finished I felt like I had to. When a painter does a canvas, eventually he's going to show it to somebody. It gave me a chance to work with JJ McGeehan who's a great guitarist. He co-wrote several of the new songs. I would basically go to him with an idea formed in my head and say "This is the melody and lyric, here's the rhythm". Then we would finish it from there.
So, the plan was to get the songs finished, but once Pimpernel announced that it was closing, I knew I had to do it then. It's a time- consuming and expensive process. I got on it and started getting the stuff done. It was a crazy period because I was doing eight shows a week with Pimpernel, and any free moment I was with the musicians singing my guts out. It was very motivating because it was stuff I'd had in my head for all this time and it was great to finally hear it coming into form.
The original plan was to just do the concerts. I set the date for the concerts and booked the space to make myself get the songs done. It was as if I had to have the deadline to force myself to get it done. I had heard about James Marino and Caralyn Spector of Car-Jam through Jimmy Hindman, who had just done A Christmas Survival Guide with them. I called James and he was extremely enthusiastic. I described the project to him and he said, "Yes, we want to do this." We just flew from there. He let me choose my own producer, all my music. He basically gave me complete artistic freedom of the project. He said, "It's your job to give me a good record. I'll make sure you have the funds you need to make it happen, but that's your gig. I'll take care of selling it and marketing it."
NR: I was going to ask you why you decided to do it live, but I guess that makes sense. It started as a live performance to begin with.
RB: It started as a live performance and that was the best and most cost effective way to get it done. I had envisioned the songs initially as being a studio record so I didn't know what I was getting myself into, trying to do them live. There are pros and cons to both and the studio is a completely controlled environment. You literally control every single element of the record - every note of music, what it sounds like, where you hear it, all of those things. With live, you pretty much have no control. Most live records are recorded over a series of concert dates, maybe two months and they pick and choose the best stuff from that ... we had two nights, so it was a lot of pressure.
The plus of doing a live record is that you get a kind of energy behind it that you can't get in a studio. It's interesting now to compare my two records, particularly because there are studio versions of songs on "Everyman" that are done live on this record. I may never be able to beat what we were able to do in the studio in terms of the pure quality of the sound, where the instruments were placed, the number of instruments we could use, but in terms of the energy, and also the maturity that's come into my way of presenting the material having lived with it for two years now, that's unbeatable. The highest element of the record from doing it live is the level of energy that runs out of it.
NR: You can't control the crowd. If I remember correctly, didn't you have people yelling out a few times?
RB: Oh yeah.
NR: I've never been in a recording studio. Can you fix something like that? Can you re-record a portion of the song?
RB: Yes and no. We did enhance this record a little bit. We doubled a lot of the guitars, basically just because in a live setting, one guitar is going to be completely satisfactory to an audience, but when you're sitting in your car or you're sitting in your home listening to a CD, you're used to a fatter sound. On most records, when you hear a guitar part, you're generally hearing three or four guitar parts mixed together. We did that and added a few background vocals here and there.
But there are limitations to what you can and can't do. You can't really cut anything out. When you record live, in addition to each instrument having its own microphone or direct line into the system, you have a vocal mic. The job of the vocal mic is to pickup your voice, but because you're not in a studio with all the other tracks being played only in your headphones, your mic is also picking up the instruments. So, making changes in that becomes very complicated because if you say you want to take the drum part out, you're still going to hear it from the vocal mic. It's tricky but because my producer, David Chase, is so brilliant, there were places that we were able to make enhancements and adjustments that have made it an infinitely better record ... I'm thrilled with the results.
NR: If you had it to do over again, would you do it live or in the studio?
RB: (BIG GRIN) I said, "I'm glad that's done. I'm glad we got it all in the can. I'll never do this again!" But, of course, you should never say "never." I prefer the studio. I prefer the control that you have, but none of that can compete with the rush that you feel actually doing it.
The level of energy you get from a live performance is its own unique animal and there's no way I could have gotten that in a studio setting, so I'm happy about that. The other challenge you face is when you hear the record, the songs are in the order that we did them in the show. There are no songs cut that were done in the show. An hour of singing pop and rock is pretty challenging. There are no breaks. It's not like in Pimpernel when I could say, "Now Carolee is going to sing a number," or "Now Marc's going to sing a number and I can go get a drink of water." You just hit a high A at the end of one song, and you've got another one coming right up, so pacing is challenging. But you rise to the challenge. And I really responded to the crowd that I was lucky enough to have.
We sold out both nights of the show. Everybody who was there wanted to be there. It was a really enthusiastic crowd and that feeds you. That makes you push yourself. You always discover you're capable of a lot more than you think you're going to be capable of. So, I'm very happy with it.
NR: Let's talk about a few of the songs you've done. Can you tell me about the one you said was the most difficult?
RB: "Into Thin Air" took the longest. It's about something that affected me very deeply and very personally. It affected alot of people. The title and lyrics are based on the book by Jon Krakauer - a personal account of the Mt. Everest disaster. Krakauer was on the expedition, commissioned by "Outside" magazine to write a piece. He summited a few hours ahead of most of his party, including their instructor/guide Rob Hall, who was assisting the less experienced climbers. As Krakauer was making his way back down to base camp, the worst storm in Everest history hit. It essentially trapped every party that was still attempting to summit. Through the storm, Rob Hall remained in radio contact with Base camp, as hope dwindled and people died. Devastating. Near the end of Hall's life, they were able to patch his radio through by phone to his pregnant wife in New Zealand. He spoke to her, from the highest, loneliest place on earth, as he was passing. It's something you never forget as a listener to the story. Hall could have saved himself, but he would not abandon his party, his responsibility. So he lost his life. The other thing that struck me was the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that Jon Krakauer felt as a survivor. That overwhelming surge of "I could have done something different". But what? Those things haunted me for months and months.
I just kept writing. I'd write a line and put it down. I'd come back a month later and write something else. At the time that I started working on the show, I didn't actually have a finished song. I just had a bunch of pieces of paper. JJ said on a whim, "I have this melody that I want to play for you." I recorded it and I took it home and I started thinking about this lyric and if there was a way that I could fit this to it. It fit perfectly. The only thing that wasn't written from those scraps of paper was the bridge of the song which I wrote totally from Krakauer's point of view.
NR: Tell me about "Sandra Is." That's the funny one. I loved your line, "There's nothing that rhymes with coffee." Of course we all went home afterwards and thought of words that rhymed with coffee!
RB: That song is kind of a fun obsession about somebody. It was a song that wasn't planned. The melody came to me first. I was just kind of fooling around. The lyrics are just silly pieces of life. I just kind of threw them together, never thinking I was going to do anything with them. When it was finished, I took it to Wendy Bobbitt and I started just with piano on that track. What was cool about getting to do a band arrangement of it was that I wanted a kind of "Doobie Brothers" feel to it. You kind of hear an eighth note or a sixteenth note in the percussion, instead of it being just a square four. That sort of drives the song. That happened really successfully in this tune and that gave it the fun, kind of doo-wop feel I wanted it to have. It was fun to do.
NR: I know you don't play an instrument. When you write a melody, what do you do? Do you hum it into a tape recorder? How do you do this?
RB: Sometimes I'll sing it into a tape recorder if I'm afraid I'm going to forget it. I can write. I studied theory so sometimes if it's really complicated I'll write it out. For "When the Lights Go Out" I did a full melody chart. I wrote the lyrics and melody because I was afraid it would be gone from my head. With a lot of musicians, that's an unnecessary step. Most of the guys I work with are so great that you go in and say, "Well, it's like this" and they can work on it. We'll just kind of work our way through and figure it out that way.
Songs are like kids. You can't really judge them. You just have to love them and nurture them along. They're going to be what they're going to be, regardless of what you do with them.
NR: That's wonderful. Thanks so much, Ron, and good luck with the CD.
RB: You're welcome and thank you.
You can read Nancy's earlier in depth interview with Ron at
The Scarlet Pimpernel website
Also visit Ron's official website at RonBohmer.com
-- Nancy Rosati
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