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A Conversation with Rock Legend – Rik Emmett – “My Gifts Are The Things That Gave Me Opportunities And I Have Tried Hard To Remain True To Them”

Photo by Stuart Hendrie

 

Interview by Marianne Jacobsen

 

MGM: How do you separate the music business from the actual art itself.

RE: If I can quote the great Van Morrison for a sec, who said “Music is spiritual – the music business is not.” And you know, I think my goal in life is to always sort of try and make sure that the business of music is also getting some of the spirits of music in it and also that musician, especially young ones realize that there’s no way around it. That the disciplines of business have to be applied to this, you know, the spiritual enterprise that they are part of the vocation that they have is going to be colored with the practical realities of the industry. Take pop music for instance. You are already dealing with a form that is some kind of bastardized marriage of commerce and hormones.

MGM: What’s the difference in making music now in 2016 than in the 1970’s?

RE: Wow. Well, I don’t think the difference in making good music changes. You know, I think that good music has its own kind of demands and parameters and things and the pursuit of excellence doesn’t really change. But of course, the business itself – Oh My God – I mean, in 1975 it wasn’t a digital universe and we live in one now where it’s all the advent of technology and the use of computers in every aspect of life – not just the music business. I think that the music business was like the canary in the coal mine in a way. I mean, where did file sharing really start. I mean it started with songs. So I think that’s the biggest difference these days. And it’s good and it’s bad. The Good is that the bar is lowered and every kid with a laptop gets into the business now. You know, doesn’t take much to get your song up on the internet and put a youtube video up. The Bad side is – wow – Everybody’s in. It’s an awfully crowded marketplace.

(laughter)

MGM: You have been saying that this album is “This album represents a journey through my life, and the idea behind a lot of these songs is me trying to figure out who I am, and why I’m doing what I’m doing,”  Have you found any clarity on those questions recording this album?

RE: Well, I think clarity is something that comes and goes. The doubt and fear come and go. Joy and happiness come and go and I think in the end the resolution that one has to have to these things is that – all things are gonna pass. It’s not like I feel like I have to find clarity and hold on to it and live there and be there. Because honestly, it’s probably a healthy thing to question oneself and question one’s values and things. I mean, I don’t have the same values as I did when I was, you know, oh geez, 10 years old and picking up a guitar. 14 years old and deciding I wanted to try and become a lead guitar player. 17 years old, deciding I wanted to become a Union musician. 23 years old and deciding I was gonna join Triumph.

All of those kinds of things they matter. They are a part of who I am but they are not who I am currently. I’m 63 years old and lots of things have changed you know. I think you have to take all of that in stride. I think you want to keep moving forward but I’m not afraid of change and I’m not afraid of doubt and fear. If there is any clarity it is that you know, you kinda gotta accept the good with the bad and all the rest. The dark with the light you know?

MGM: And then the gray area in between that you fill with balance.

RE: (chuckle) Yeah, that’s what life is all about – balance – no question about that.

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MGM: Where did you come up with the name for your new band Resolution9?

RE: Well RE are my initials and we looked for band names that started with RE. So we had a list of words and we kinda liked Revolution Resolution. I liked Resolution because it was like the solution to RE’s problems is the band. So that was a kind of fun little twist. And the 9 came from Dave Dunlop who I work with a lot and is my sort of right-hand man. He’s got a big thing for the number 9. He has the tattoo of the Chinese number 9 on his arm, he has 9 on his hockey jersey, his studio is called Room 9. He’s just always had a thing about it being his number. And it had many kinds of resonating things about it, for example, I’m an old fart who has taken another kick at the rock and roll can so that is kind of like a cat having 9 lives so that’s one of the things but there are certainly others.

MGM: Mr. Emmett, please don’t take this the wrong way, but, Centurions are not unusual these days and you are not an “old fart” you are a “Silver Fox”. I’m serious man, you’ve got way more juice in the can I promise.

(laughter)

RE: You know I was exchanging emails with some of the people who work for me and stuff. And you know Leonard Cohen who just passed. He had a relationship with a man named Robert Kory (Mr. Kory donated one of LC’s paintings to a charity I was volunteering for in 2010 – MJ). Robert Kory did an unbelievably beautiful job of taking care of Leonard in resurrecting his career and respecting his needs. I think that’s part of it.

I think you need to feel like you are surrounded by people that have your best interests at heart as opposed to being served by people who are like, “Wait, I’d sure like to make some money off of you”. Sometimes you feel like the business – As my friend Ian Thomas would say, “You feel like people are trying to figure out how they can use your eye sockets for toe holds on their climb to the top.”

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MGM: I always say to be nice to everyone because you’re gonna meet them on the way back down to mediocre.

RE: Yeah well that’s a good way of looking at it. For sure. But you know sometimes, somebody smiling and acting like they are your best friend – and meanwhile they have their hand in your pocket. You have to have a certain kind of level of, not cynicism but skepticism.

MGM: So why the return to Rock and Roll after 20+ years?

RE: Um, well you know sometimes we chase things and something thing chases us. I mean, it’s a big part of who I am and it had been a long time since I’d done anything like this and the deal from Mascot just kinda fell in my lap. I had always had Dave and Steve whispering in my ear saying, “Come on Uncle Ricky, you know you got another great rock record in you. You really should. You really should!” So eventually, I just kinda gave in to the wave of stuff that was coming at me and I just decided to go with it and see what happens.

I think every generation is gonna come along – I talk about this with my students at Humber (College) – Musicians are going to have a deep impact like Kurt Cobain or Jeff Buckley. There are things where you realize, there’s value in that the same way as someone like Jimmy Page could be looked at or the Beatles from those generations. Being around that young energy and rubbing shoulders with young musicians I think helps keep me current and sane. (chuckle)

MGM: After all these years what’s your muse? What keeps you creative?

RE: Usually my inspiration comes from other art or from nature. Sometimes I can’t explain it. It’s just kind of, it’s like a philosophical or a spiritual kind of itch. Somehow or other I gotta figure out how to scratch it. You know, the thing about talent is, and you know, my life has been shaped by the fact that I have it – I have gifts. I don’t say that in an egocentric way. I just say it in a very matter of fact kind of way that this is what I based my life on. That I have these abilities. I knew when I was a little kid that I could sing and so I was put in the church choir, the school choir and then I’m singing solos.

My gifts are the things that gave me opportunities and I have tried hard to remain true to them and take care of them and use them. And sometimes with the gifts, they use you! Sometimes the gifts are the thing that – you know, they are the juice that drives the motor. So sometimes you just gotta go, “Alright, I’ll put my ego in the back seat and we’ll see what happens here.”

MGM: Starve the ego, feed the soul.

RE: Yeah, you got it (chuckle)

MGM: Monumental moments?

RE: Well for sure marrying the right woman and having 4 amazing children are monumental. Career wise? I’d say playing the US Festival in 1983 was pretty monumental. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLB104D618236A0EE7Who knew what it was until totally after the fact and after much time that you might look back on it and you realize, “That was kind of like a watershed moment.”

And then you get invited to be part of the Hall of Fame and when it’s happening you just kind of do it and it felt kind of perfunctory – and then you look back on it and you go, “Well, that was kinda cool.” There are very few people who get to enjoy that kind of recognition. I don’t know, I mean, I think I’m gonna look back on stuff 15/20 years from now and be like “You know that Res9 album that I made? That was pretty good. I was turning a corner there – but I was doing it with a lot of styles!” So who knows?

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MGM: Well I’m excited for this album and of course I have to ask. Have you got Alex Lifeson and James LeBrie on speed dial? And if you do let Alex Lifeson know I have two tickets for the show on November 26, 2016, for the Resolution9 show at the Living Arts Center in Mississauga and no date…so if he is free…I’ll even get an extra ticket for Charlene (Lifeson) if she wants to go. I hear they are a lot of fun!

(laughter)

RE: I’m sure they are! My relationship with Alex is – our lives have a lot of parallel kinds of things. We both do the same thing kind of and he came to see Triumph play at the Gasworks in Toronto (anyone else remember the big beers at Gasworks? – MJ) in 1976. I think we both kind of over the years realized that our paths were gonna keep crossing and so professionally we have done things like workshops together and we have had a couple of little recording sessions, you know. He’s a real gentleman, he’s a real sweetheart and an incredibly gifted artist on a lot of levels. Like there is stuff that people don’t even know about him – you talked about Leonard Cohen’s painting – Alex can paint! Seriously! Like very very well. And nobody knows wine like Alex. Like the guys got a masters level of understanding of that kind of stuff. He’s deep, he’s cool.

James LeBrie I didn’t know, but the A&R guy at the record company had managed Dream Theater and he said, “We should have a Canadian thing on this album”. And my son loves Dream Theater – while he was growing up that music was always ripping around the house at 10,000 decibels.

All of it is a really sweet thing. I mean when you develop connections like that – sort of a mutual admiration in society, respect kind of thing – so yeah it was a nice thing to have them involved.

 

Resolution9’s debut album is available everywhere now!

Resolution9 is appearing on Saturday, November 26, 2016, at the Living Arts Center – Mississauga Ontario. Don’t miss it!

If you have a copy of the new album or purchase one at the show – Resolution9 will be available after the show to sign copies!

For more information, visit www.rikemmett.com and www.mascotlabelgroup.com.

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