WISH UPON A ROOK
to The Rooks' magnificent new CD - A Wishing Well, one gets the
impression that chief Rook Michael Mazzarella is a deep mystical fellow. This
interview, conducted via e-mail, tends to confirm this impression - which makes
Mazzarella a rather unique individual in the underground
pop circles. AND
accounts for the distinctively superlative music found on A Wishing Well.
Kevin: There is a
strong pastoral almost tranquil feel about “A Wishing Well”-what was the
inspiration for that direction?
I am very fortunate in that at the composing stage of a song, I can almost hear
the finished record in my head. That
includes most or all of the embellishments, tempo, color scheme etc.
Kristin (Pinell-guitar) often hangs back for a second to see the
direction and then she will move in to apply her magic and Patrick’s ideas
occur as the rehearsals unfold. The inspiration for anything I write or produce
is influenced by everything I view or listen to.
Moreover, the instrumentation certainly adds to that-the accordions, strings and
horns. Was that a conscious direction right from the get-go?
I did not make a direct decision to move the band to where our sound would
include horn sections and broader textures. We’ve slowly, in a natural
metamorphosis landed here. The
process began with “Reasons” and matured into “Glitter Best,” “Music
Sound Sensation,” “War” and “House Of Fortune.”
We didn’t sit down with a pre-conceived plan other than to have a goal
to make each record better than the prior release.
We’re six years older as a band than we were when we recorded “Night
Writer.” We would be fakes if we
gave you the same record twice.
What was the process from writing the songs to the finished CD?
In a nutshell, I compose the songs…meaning music & lyrics and hear an
overall design for which direction and which embellishments should be utilized
to get the piece across and keep it true to its original inspiration. After I
work out these basics the song is crudely demoed and I then turn those tapes
over to the band. Sometimes tapes are never issued and I’ll deliver the song
cold to The Rooks in rehearsal. Those tend to be more of the uptempo rock things
like “Sometimes” and “Maybe.” We will conspire together until the
arrangements sit in a nice place with an eye always on the recording stage. At
that juncture, anything can happen…there’s not a cut and dried method. Each
song has its own childhood and growing up stage. Occasionally a tune such as
“India” or “Wish You Well” is never taken to the band for rehearsal and
its genesis as a recording comes to fruition beginning with me and a guitar in
the studio. The track is constructed from there but these situations change all
What is the main difference between “A Wishing Well” and the previous LP?
You tell me. We hope we’ve grown as writers and musicians. We’re different
people now. I’m not the same guy I was in 1993 in terms of my outlook to
music. The first record was nothing more than a collection of songs strung
together and for some reason we got tagged as a “power pop” band. I’m not
really certain what “power pop” is because it seems too convenient a
description. A good stretch of our work doesn’t fall under that category and
that margin is a bit too limiting as far as I’m concerned. I hope we have
widened our boundaries somewhat with this album.
Are you entirely pleased with the final product? What would you have changed?
I am completely happy with “A Wishing Well”.
It was finished as I heard it in my head and I wouldn’t change a sound
What were the inspirations for the following songs? “Wish You Well”,
“Vows”, “Drag Of The Month”, “Girl Cried Nico” & “India”
“Wish You Well”- was written for a friend who was having an unfortunate
stretch of circumstances take hold of her life. It was written from her
perspective and my message was it would all turn out ok…she could call me when
she needed to talk to someone.
That song tells a true story. The entire lyric from start to end is me reporting
on a situation that took place between my then-girlfriend and myself. We were
playing a hypothetical question and answer game over a few bottles of wine and I
ended up wishing I never asked that question because the answer wasn’t what I
thought I’d hear.
Of The Month”- That was inspired and written out of frustration from watching
the news on television. One evening it occurred to me that the first four or
five stories dealt with such negative and disheartening stories that I sat with
my guitar and began to just semi-chant/shout a litany of positive phrases. You
know, ”celebrate,” “meditate,” “illuminate.” I was trying in my own
naïve way to cancel out what was coming out of the television set. The title
reflects how dragged down I felt from watching five minutes of the six o’clock
Cried Nico”- I was reading in some magazine a story written by a friend of
Velvet Underground’s Nico and the article was fashioned in the form of a
diary. Apparently the premise of the story was this person’s a week in life
with Nico. You know…Tuesday morning, found Nico under the wheelbarrow covered
in leaves…4:30pm…ate LSD and drew cartoons with pencils. So I placed myself
in the author’s shoes and wrote the lyrics directly reflecting the stories in
this article. It’s a drug song.
It’s about my ex-girlfriend whom I chose not to identify. India is a
pseudonym. I think it was written toward the end of our relationship and I was
attempting to tell her that no matter where she is, metaphorically speaking,
that if she breathed hard enough, at least I’d know she’s ok.
What do those strange words mean in the oddly celebratory “Drag Of The
It means a “triumph in spirit and song.” Those words were the result of a
dream I had. I was in a wooded area and it was nighttime. I spotted a bonfire
and there were many angelic beings hovering over it singing this chant in
harmony. The phrase was carved into a tree, one of them told me what the words
meant and then I woke up. The day began with me singing this chant and those
words found their way to my song… recorded just the way I remember hearing
them in my dream.
How did Mike Mesaros (Smithereens) end up on bass on most of the CD?
I’ve been friends with Mike since about 1983. He is the best bass player in
rock in my estimation. He is exciting in that he’s scientific and instinctual
in his playing all at once. We
fired our bassist (Anne Benkovitz) during our recording for “A Wishing Well”
and I simply phoned Mike and he was kind enough to help us out. I love him. The
Smithereens are very lucky.
I noticed Joe Mannix in the sleeve-what was his contribution?
Joe is another good friend whom I respect.
He’s a big talent and has a great singing voice. Another example of
asking a friend to add something special to our sound. Joe sang background
vocals on a number of songs…he’s credited for each of his contributions.
Did you make a wish at the wishing well? What was it?
I wished for this record to see the light of day. It came true.