Listening 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? 

Michael: 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.  

Kevin: Moreover, the instrumentation certainly adds to that-the accordions, strings and horns. Was that a conscious direction right from the get-go? 

Michael: 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.  

Kevin: What was the process from writing the songs to the finished CD? 

Michael: 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 the time.  

Kevin: What is the main difference between “A Wishing Well” and the previous LP? 

Michael: 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.   

Kevin: Are you entirely pleased with the final product? What would you have changed? 

Michael: 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 on it.  

Kevin: What were the inspirations for the following songs? “Wish You Well”, “Vows”, “Drag Of The Month”, “Girl Cried Nico” & “India”   

Michael: “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.  

“Vows”- 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.  

“Drag 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 news.  

“Girl 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.

“India”- 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.  

Kevin: What do those strange words mean in the oddly celebratory “Drag Of The Month?” 

Michael: 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.  

Kevin: How did Mike Mesaros (Smithereens) end up on bass on most of the CD? 

Michael: 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.  

Kevin: I noticed Joe Mannix in the sleeve-what was his contribution? 

Michael: 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.  

Kevin: Did you make a wish at the wishing well? What was it?  

Michael: I wished for this record to see the light of day. It came true.