An Interview with Tal Bachman

Tal Bachman, son of Randy Bachman (Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive) talks with Jackson Truax about growing up with a rock-star Father, playing music with him and his own solo work.

Tal Bachman Photo by Jessica Curtright

Tal Bachman Photo by Jessica Curtright

Tal Bachman (son of singer, songwriter and guitarist Randy Bachman from The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive), after playing drums with his father’s band, released his own self-titled album in 1999.  That album contained the massive radio hit, Tal’s signature song, “She’s So High”.  While other singles from that album and 2004’s “Staring Down the Sun” charted in Bachman’s native Canada, he has chosen to spend much of the last decade out of the limelight. His busy personal life seems to have mostly included playing rugby and political commentary which the junior Bachman became interested in after defecting from the LDS church. It was an exciting prospect when Tal recently announced that he would be playing two shows in Southern California.  The first was this past Sunday (January 15th) at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and then this coming Thursday (January 19th) at the Rose in Pasadena. I was thrilled to be able to attend the show at the Canyon Club, and found Tal’s set to be a showcase of incredible musicianship that was as wonderfully entertaining as it was at times genuinely moving. Having grown up thoroughly enjoying the music of both Bachmans, it was a great pleasure to get to spend about twenty minutes with Tal before the show on Sunday, and hear what he wanted to tell his fans about his past, present, and future. Here’s what Tal shared with me about what fans can expect from his shows this week, why a solo acoustic and spontaneous format for these and potential future shows appeals to him, growing up with a rock star Dad, and writing “She’s So High”.

Jackson Truax: You said on Facebook that you’ve been “lured out of hiding” to play these two shows in Southern California. What led you to want to play again, and why these two venues?

Tal Bachman: I’ve heard great things about the venues and the people that run them. It’s always nice to come down to Los Angeles and get some sunny weather. It seemed like a cool thing to do. I don’t really play all that often. I’m looking forward to it.

JT: Did you initially approach the shows with a sense of what you wanted to share with your audience? Or did the bookings happen more organically, and then you thought about what form they might take?

Bachman: These have sort of organically happened. Coincidentally, I’ve just been talking to a couple of other folks about maybe putting together a legit, one-man, sort of “musical theater” show, for lack of a better phrase. In which I can tell stories about growing up with a famous rock star Dad. And play my own stuff and talk about my experiences. So I guess what I’m saying, is maybe these are sort of rough drafts for that.

JT: With that in mind, how much of the show would you say is pre-planned? And how much of the evening is open to spontaneity?

Bachman: I would say it’s fifty-sixty percent pre-planned. But because I’m just one guy out there, I can turn pretty quickly. So if people start talking from the crowd and start requesting things, things can get kind of crazy in a fun way at these kinds of shows. I’m actually always open to going in different directions, and really trying to have an awesome experience with those people in that venue at that time. That’s kind of what makes it exciting. You never know what’s going to happen. Sometimes famous people show up. Seriously. I’ve played odd shows here and there and there’s some guy sitting there that I know or haven’t seen in ten years or they’re from a well-known band. So things can happen.

Tal Bachman Photo by Jessica Curtright

Tal Bachman Photo by Jessica Curtright

JT: How did you settle on this approach? What about it appeals to you?

Bachman: I just like to have an awesome time with people. I also don’t like going to shows where it’s just a guy sitting there playing songs for an hour-and-a-half. That’s usually pretty boring. So I want to tell some stories. Get to know the people who are there a bit. And play some songs that hopefully will resonate with them. I’ve got, I think, some funny stories. I’ve got a whole range of things that I can draw on. And endless stories about my experience with my Dad. Because I played drums in his band for a while. Then I want to maybe talk to people about a couple of new projects that I’ve been working on. Maybe play a few songs from those and see what they say. And hoping some of them like it.

JT: You were a little kid when your Dad was the lead guitarist and one of the main songwriters in The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Is there anything about your Dad or your upbringing that you’d like to share that you think would surprise people?

Bachman: In my particular case, which is a rare one, my Dad was a teetotaler. Complete straight arrow when it comes to drugs and booze. Never touched a drop. So in that respect, the level of functionality was very high. People that he knew, that he had toured with, they were on friendly terms and they respected each other. But they were living a very different kind of lifestyle than my Dad was. Also, Bachman-Turner Overdrive was a pretty clean living band overall. Because my Dad was running that show. Maybe that’s the thing that would surprise people. In our house there was no smoking. There was no drinking. There were certainly no drugs. There were no women. Because my Dad was married with kids. He was this kind of odd, devoted family guy.

JT: During that time, your Dad was writing so many rock anthems and iconic songs. What did he teach you, if anything, about the craft of songwriting?

Bachman: My Dad is very single-minded. It’s just always music all the time with him. Either there’s a new song out that he loves. Or he’s come up with three news songs of his own and he’s got a new project… It’s kind of like growing up with parents that speak two different languages. You just grow up becoming fluent in French and Spanish. We all kind up grew up becoming fluent in music. I don’t always know to what extent that my musical abilities, such as they might be, are inherited versus environmentally created. When I’m honest with myself, I don’t know how anyone could have grown up in that house and not wound up musically inclined.

JT: Are you able to look at your music and look at your Dad’s and say, “Yes, here’s where his influence can be felt strongly”? Or, in contrast, “Musically, here’s where he and I really differ”?

Bachman: In terms of the actual craft of songwriting, I don’t know to what extent I’m taking cues off my Dad versus everybody else. Because radio songs, big hits, tend to have the same pretty clear patterns. There’s usually an economy of motion. There’s a certain directness. The melodies are fairly simple. And the lyrics tend to talk about instantly relatable, universal themes, albeit in a personalized fashion. Again, I don’t know how much of that is from my Dad, versus listening to every other hit song. They’re not all the same. But they all kind of rely on the same patterns. In terms of how I differ, I’ve gone more deeply into different genres of music in some cases then I think my Dad has. My Dad grew up with Elvis and Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison. Just like all the guys in his generation. That was his real love and real passion. For me, I was in the marching band, for example, in school. I got really into mariachi for a while. I listened to a lot of reggae growing up. But in the end, again, with songs that immediately resonate with you, there are the same sorts of building blocks. So genre, in the end, doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot. Genre is like the frosting on the cake. But when it comes to baking a great cake, you kind of have the same sorts of things going on that always make it great. And when it’s not a great cake, it’s usually not great for one of the same few reasons. Is that a wedding cake or a birthday cake? Well, the only difference is that there’s a little plastic statue on one.

JT: How did you come to write, “She’s So High”?

Bachman: I had gotten married young. We had little kids. I had been rejected by every record company in the world. At least in North America. I’d sent out dozens and dozens of tapes and letters and everything. And nobody was interested. This was in the mid-nineties. So it was pre-internet explosion. I was motivated by all sorts of things. One of them was, “I need to write a big hit.” I love The Beatles and I love The Beach Boys and I love The Kinks. I love all of their big radio hits. There was nothing “non cred” about those songs. And I needed a big hit. I wanted to see if I could write something that could be one of those big radio hits that everybody knows. So I spent the day wandering around trying to focus on this little germ of an idea I had. By the end of the day I had, “She’s So High.”

JT: That song was everywhere in the summer of 1999. And it’s given you a permanent, specific place in popular culture. How do you feel about that? What’s your own relationship to the success of that song?

Bachman: It’s cool. I’m really pleased that it did so well. It was an awesome time for me. It’s a big thrill to jump into cars and go into grocery stores and your song is playing. People start singing along. And they don’t even know it’s you. I was really pleased.

JT: I know you’ve been playing a lot of rugby as of late. Now that you’re playing music for audiences again, is that something you’ll keep doing, especially when it comes to writing and recording more new songs?

Bachman: For sure. I’ve been able to start assembling a really great team. That can be a challenge. Sometimes there are a lot of people you have to go through before you really find a great match. Now I’ve got some great people around me. I’m working on a music-driven, comedy-drama cable show. I’m really excited about that. I’m writing a script with a really talented screenwriter. So there are a couple of projects in the works. I would also like to get people from the audience who are interested, kind of on board. I’m working on getting together my social media and sort of that crowd-driven part of everything. Because a team of fifty hardcore fans can do a lot.

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