One of Christian music's most important voices continues to swim his own race.

by Bruce A. Brown

Mike Roe, as many readers know, is the founder of the influential Christian rock band the Seventy Sevens. The Sevens, which began its journey on the Sacramento, Cal.-based Exit Records, was one of the first bands in Christian music to find its musi c receiving secular distribution.

Concurrently with the Sevens, Roe has released two highly regarded solo albums and more recently recorded and toured with the "supergroup" Lost Dogs. His newest solo project, The Boat Ashore, has recently hit stores.

During a recent tour, I had the opportunity to sit down over a dinner in a Chattanooga restaurant and chat with Mike Roe and his long-time friend and producer/co-writer/bandmate Bruce Spencer. Both men were, as you will see, very forthcoming about both musical and personal matters.

Brown: What was the most important thing you learned during the existance of Exit Records?
Roe: Overall, the feeling that you can make a record by yourself; be your own producer. We learned about all aspects of making a record, except for one key element--hype. We never mastered the art of self-promotion. We could never get the big buzz happening or kick in the publicity machine. It's crippled the Sevens ever since.

We were part of a large, vibrant church. The Sevens were formed by design as the sort of "spokesgroup" for that church. But we never quite outgrew being the church's mascot, which kept us isolated from the real world.

Brown: What was your state of mind when the 7 & 7 Is project came out?
Roe: There was barely a band at the time. The "project," as you so graciously call it, was really a big bag of hot air. But I knew I needed to continue recording because people made it clear the music was important to them.

Brown: Then came Sticks and Stones?
Roe: That garnered a lot of publicity and sold really well. So we recreated the band from the Strawmen, a band featuring David Leonhardt, Mark Harmon and Bill Harmon. They were my favorite band and I was blessed to have Dave and Mark become my band.

Brown: Pray Naked came next, then Drowning with Land in Sight. (The Echos 'O Faith album referred to later was recorded on a tour which happened between these two discs.) There was some controversy surrounding a song being rem oved from the album for its lyrical content, I believe?
Roe: Yes, and we managed to take that groundless fear and turn it into publicity. All it really took was a few people in high places being overly concerned.

Brown: How has Tom Tom Blues, the latest Sevens album, done sales-wise?
Roe: It keeps moving, but not very well. That was very discouraging, considering Bruce's contribution made it among our best. I was beginning to have doubts about continuing before the Lost Dogs albums and this new solo album came up.

Brown: It was always my assumption you were going to do "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" on this album.
Roe: I wanted to, yeah. I wanted to do the old single, the one from the early '60s with all the kids singing, the big acoustic guitars, the guy singing through his nose... (sings, as waiters stare in disbelief) "Sister help to trim the sails..." al l that. There wasn't time or opportunity to do that.

Brown: Where did the little snippet of the song come from?
Roe: Oh, some friends of mine left that on my answering machine about a year ago. And I always thought it was hysterical. I never imagined using it on an album until I realized that "Well, I do want that song on the record somewhere, what a perfect way to do it."

Brown: I know you've been threatening to call an album by that name also.
Roe: Yeah, for years.

Brown: So, was your family way into sing-a-longs?
Roe: (flatly) No.

Brown: Are you strictly self-taught as a musician, then?
Roe: No, I had a musical family. My grandmother, mother and her sisters all played piano and organ. My grandmother was church organist for years and years and she was really good. So it was in the family. I had an uncle that taught accordion and w rote music--it was there.

Brown: The first song is also called "The Boat Ashore?"
Roe: Right.

Brown: Was there a specific "running-to-running-from, drifting-to-drifting-from" idea in that song? I know there's a line about "drifting too far from my moorings..."
Roe: Yeah, that's probably the one song I wrote front to back, lyrically and musically. (To Bruce Spencer) I don't know if you stuck in a line here and there or not (Spencer shakes head 'No'). That was entirely my own thing. It was one of those on es that I had a vision for and it all came together real well, so I stuck to that. It didn't need a re-write. And I kind of wanted to have a song called that if possible, but it wasn't contrived. It's just a lot of the imagery in there about the boat runn ing ashore and all of the drifting and all of that. Yeah, that's kind of a prayer, definitely. Personal prayer.

Brown: The whole album seems, to me, very basic and unadorned. Especially when I compare it to [Roe's last solo album] Safe as Milk and [The Seventy Sevens'] Tom Tom Blues--it feels like it's scaled back, a real basic statement.
Roe: I don't hear it that way. To me, I would have expected you to have said 'this is the most complex, deep, multi-layered, multi-textured, polyrhythmical... I just hear so much in the music that is complex to me, I don't hear it as a simple reco rd. If it comes off simple, that's great.

Brown: I'd call it "country soul." I'd only call it "simple" in the sense that music by say, Hank Williams, is simple. Yet accessible. It speaks on many levels to many different audiences.
    (Mike is mulling over my last statement, when Bruce Spencer breaks in...)
Spencer: If I can toss in, just from the standpoint of something being considered "complex", I think it's easier for us to go in and bash out a bunch of rock music; it's just drivin' and it does its own thing. But with a lot of country production, it may be something very simple but it's something extremely subtle and it's a lot harder to capture, I think. The ebb and flow of stuff--it takes a lot more care. You can't just go in and bash it out. Does that sound a little more like what you're tryin g to say, as far as it being a little more complex? You just don't drive it out, you sit back and you kinda really carefully lay it out with string arrangements and stuff like that. It's more complex in that way.
    (Brown nods head in agreement.)
Roe: I think I'm too close to be objective about whether it's simple or complex because I just got done making it and I know what went into it and it was by no means simple to me. You hear it as a clear, clean record. That's actually a beautiful t hing that you would perceive it that way, because the last thing I want people to think is to buy it and be all bogged down in it and feel like "this is over my head and I can't relate to it." If you're getting it as a clear, clean, simple thing that's re ally good. That means we achieved our goal.

Brown: The sometimes delicate nature of the music seems to complement the mercurial nature of the lyrics; like water pouring over rocks changes the shape of those rocks, while still making a beautiful sound. It's symbolic of how pressure changes r elationships...
    (Roe is momentarily aghast at this profound observation...)
Spencer: I don't want all the pretty stuff to come off as ponderous or real complex. I just want it to be flowing smooth and yet have a... if you look into it you can see a lot there, a lot of patterns, a lot of subtle stuff that you don't tire of quickly. (In Elvis voice) "Uhhh, thank you."
Roe: Yeah, to me it's almost as if "Honey Run" could've been thought out to have that affect lyrically and musically. I can't speak for the music, but lyrically I quite literally visited a covered bridge for fifteen minutes and happened to be worki ng on the lyric around the time that I did that. And the tape of that song was playing and I was trying to come up ideas for it. And I never once stopped to think that the music sounded like water running or honey or any of that. It just all kind of tumbl ed out. And as we continued to develop it I started to notice that this probably was a very appropriate thing to write. That whole concept is kind of like that, as you say, like a river running over rocks. And again that ties in to the boat ashore, which is totally unconscious. I mean, I just now flashed on that I would've never sat there and tried to work all that out. Which I think is a beautiful thing, 'cause unconsciously you're working on this on a lot of levels that I would hope comes off more fresh than if six months ago I would've sat down and said "I want to have this album and it's all about water and boats" and to put all that together in my mind and say "this song's going to be like this and that one's going to be like that," literally this wa s all--with the exception of the music, which Bruce spent a good deal of time writing and developing on his own--the lyrics, the production, turning it from a track to a song, that was all very "seat-of-the-pants," very last minute, very much on the fly. I like that, because I think things come from that process--even though it's terrifying for me, 'cause it's all last minute and you don't know if it's gonna work or not. I think there's a lot of things that happen in that process that don't happen when yo u sit and ponder it and calculate things. At least I don't like working that way so much. I can work that way; I'd feel a lot more relaxed if I did. If I took the time to really conceive it and brood over it. But I think that process for me happens in the living of life.

Brown: If the situation with the Bruce coming into the Seventy Sevens had not happened, would you have been in the position to be collaborators.
Roe: No, I can't imagine that.
Spencer: Would we be in this situation the way it happened? Probably not. But I've always loved what Mike does. Had I had the opportunity to show him my material I would've tried. I've been around him for 12 years, a long time. And we have a real kindred musical push and pull. When we get out and play together we are constantly playing stuff together and I like to come up with musical ideas that his kind of soloing would fit perfectly with so he just owns it. It's like a natural thing, it's not ha rd.
Roe: And I never knew Bruce was a composer. Never imagined it. I gradually realized that he had a computer work station and that he had tons of musical loops, maybe eight to 16 measures of music each. I didn't realize he had complete arrangements o f songs--all orchestrated--from bass to drums to strings to guitar parts to you name it. And one day he invited me over to his house and played me some of these and as I got into them I started to realize that a lot of that was stuff I would write if I co uld or if I'd thought about it. 'Cause I've always looked for good music. I don't have to write it all myself. I could if I had to, and I've done that. But when I hear a great song it doesn't matter where it came from, you know if my friends are writing g reat music I love working on it because you get stuff you wouldn't get on your own. And it's always a really, really special thing if it reflects your soul in some way.

Brown: When did your collaborating start?
Roe: It started during Tom Tom. The song called "Deliverance" was born from one of Bruce's tracks and the band developed it from that idea. But every time I heard it it just sounded like some kinda gooey thing. It was only when I sat down a nd really listened to his stuff with a clear mind, and really payed attention to it, that it went from being gooey to being beautiful. It captured my imagination. And on a more pragmatic level, we needed to make a record at this time 'cause we were in dir e straits financially... And he had a lot of music written, so that made it easy for me to say, 'the record's half done,' (laughter) to the record company. Rather than 'well, there's nothing there, but give me some money so I can make a record.'

Brown: Where was Mark Harmon the construction of Tom Tom?
Roe: Mark was very involved in that--he was a co-creator. Absolutely. With my new record, Bruce wrote all the music and we were all real busy and it had to happen very quickly, so Mark was kind of shut out of the collaboration process, much to his chagrin. And we all felt bad about that, but again, we were under constraints of a deadline.

Brown: How is this different from being another Seventy Sevens album?
Roe: (Straight-faced) 'Cause it was my record. And I had ultimate, final say on it. I could have at any moment said "Bruce, I don't want to do any of this. Go away." And I would have written it... you know what I mean?

Brown: It does seem to me to slip toward a Sevens vibe on "I Buried My Heart On Bended Knee."
Roe: That's totally Bruce. That whole chorus, that whole thing. That (sings) "I know..."--that was his thing completely.
Spencer: There's no doubt about it. We went forth and created all this stuff and really the financial back against the wall, that kind of scenario is what is responsible for something showing up that feel like they might be more 77's, they might be this or that. I think not the whole record is really the Mike Roe solo thing. A certain portion of it is, really has a lot of continuity like that. Some of the other stuff is more, we've kind of rolled over to more of our band approach, I mean we just ki nda rocked it out. But we didn't ever really have the opportunity to sit back and go, "hmm this fits and that fits." It just kind of all.....
Roe: I picked the ones I liked and I couldn't make up my mind. There was a lot of songs that I wanted to do but I couldn't, and there were songs we didn't finish.

Brown: You've always been more eclectic in your solo work. For instance, [the R&B-flavored] "Billy Paul Said" wouldn't have gone on a Sevens album. It just wouldn't have seemed right.
Roe: Maybe, yeah.
Spencer: I came up with that after listening to Safe as Milk, to tell you the truth. And that was also inspired by me thinking of the way Mark [Harmon] writes a lot of stuff.
Roe: It can be a very incestuous thing. I know that Bruce wrote a lot of these tracks with me in mind to sing them--like that bit that you described in "Bended Knee." He was thinking of me singing it exactly that way. Even back in the old Mark Toot le days, "This is the Way Love Is" was written with me in mind. His whole demo was him copying the way I would sing. So that can happen in a good collaboration or band situation, that's always great when the writer's thinking of their singer. 'Cause when it gets down to it, if I can't sing it, I can't hang with it. I made a number of recordings years ago with Larry Tagg from Bourgeois Tagg...There's an album in the can, literally, that maybe I'll put out one day for fun. The song "Tattoo" came from that c ollaboration.

Brown: The thing that surprises me about the collaboration part is not so much writing for a person's voice, or lyrics that they would feel comfortable singing. It's that your guitar style, for instance, is so distinctive, and you're so well verse d in a number of different genres that it's difficult to imagine that being scripted, so to speak.
Roe: I believe the soul of this album is not in the vocal or rather that the soul exists in a lot of different areas in the album, but one of the places that's the most special to me is the guitar solo area. Because I identify quite particularly w ith all these songs and it drew something out of me on the lead guitar that is really emotional. Some of those solos Bruce wrote note for note; he had them already written on the keyboard and he almost forced me to play them exactly the way he wrote them.
Spencer: And even though he loved those solos, he would often still try to play something over or around them. Then he'd sit back and go "No, I'm not getting what I was getting out of the demo" and I'd say "Well, I hate to tell you this but you sho uld try to do what was on the demo, only in your own way." And when he ended up doin' that, man he was real hot...
Roe: ...or occasionally his demo suggested where the solo should go and I would take off from there.
Spencer: All the demo stuff, all the rough drafts that I did, all had some kind of solo. place where that was designed to happen. Most all of them had a suggestion of where to get it going. But it was a natural thing. It was exactly the way he wou ld do it and that's the way he did it.

Brown: The music on The Boat Ashore, certainly the guitar solos, seems much less angry than on many of your previous albums...
Roe: I wasn't angry when I made the record. I was angry at Bruce sometimes, for making me work so hard. 'Cause I tend to be a little bit more one-offish, like the Lost Dogs approach where you do it in one take, maybe two, and that's it. This is mor e my personal taste. Whereas the Sevens, it's not like I have to force myself, I have to draw on the more adolescent angst. Rock 'n' roll has it's own anger, just inherent to the music. It's and aggressive, intense thing and you play that way. Whereas tha t wouldn't be appropriate for these tracks.

Brown: Just knowing some of your history, there's all sorts of things one is always tempted to try and read into yor lyrics. But at least, with this album, there's a good chance that Bruce may actually have written those lyrics.
Roe: You know, I need to make a statement here and now especially since this is going to be in CCM. I really feel strongly about this since I've had many people confront me, if you will, about that subject. There's often an assumption that because a song is about love lost or about a woman walking out, that they assume that this has something to do with my personal history, if you will. And quite honestly--I want to word this carefully--a lot of these songs are pure fiction. Now, "Love Like Gold" contains within it an unconscious idealistic picture for me of a way to reconcile things that have happened in my personal life. But at no point is that song a biographical statement. There are elements in the lyric that to be sure I could say are relevant to me, but not 100% of it, and certainly it's not intended to be a statement that makes people think I'm crying in my beer over and over and over again. To the contrary.
Spencer: In the end, you say, you rectify the whole thing, "I want a love...." basically you're setting out something, if I may interrupt, like it's a blues song and in the end the guy's saying "Hey, you know, I'm coming to terms with realizing th at I can't find that kind of love. It's not a love between two people, it's a relationship with something much more.
Roe: "Some Kind of Dream" brings that out even more because I say "How can I love you with a love from above, how can I do it, if we make a vow, how can we live up to it?" These are all things that I think come from a voice of experience. However, I would never want people to think that I am beating this thing to death on what I went through years ago because it's simply not true. If it is, it's unconscious.

Brown: And there is the sense of you wanting to be more open, more transparent with your work than you ever have been...
Roe: I've just been afraid of pinning down any song and explaining it too much because that takes away from the listeners' role in the song. Because each person that hears this is gonna get something different from it that may relate to their life or it may not. That's the beauty of pop music. It's kind of an emotional scrapbook for everyone who's involved in it. Art is a place where you have that idealistic area to project--what if? If I can make everything right, I could do it in this song or I could hope for it in this song.

Brown: Yet with something like "Blue All Over," you describe the blues--normally considered hot or passionate--with the words "Ice cold frozen blue."
Roe: I can relate to an awful lot of that lyric, there's no doubt about it. There's lines in there like, "She held the key to me/...I knew...I was not free." Now that's about someone specific, for that minute. I'm thinking about a specific person that did that to me, that had me under their control and I wasn't free. But then it moves on, to other things.

Brown: And what about "Deliverence," the last song on Tom Tom Blues?
Roe: That was biographical. That was very biographical. I had a dream that I murdered somebody and I had it over and over and over and over. I had it about 10 or 12 times. And it was a terrifying thing that I felt that I should write about it. A recurring nightmare I think bears some kind of exorcism in some way or at least to share it, and I found out after I wrote that that one of my best friends had the same dream reoccurring. Which led me to believe that maybe my experience isn't as uncommon or as scary as I thought it was because maybe it's common for guys in my peer group to dream this for some reason. And talking to him about it helped me to kind of deal with it.

Brown: Is that song a testimony to the fact that you still wonder how the Holy Ghost can live in you, when you want to do harm to another person?
Roe: No, I settled that issue 20 years ago. I realized that if God is in me, He's in so deep that even I couldn't unpeel the layers to find Him and I couldn't sin enough or swear enough or drink enough or whatever. There's nothing I could d o to try to eradicate Him if He's in there.

Brown: But you still raise those old doubts again in "I Buried My Heart On Bended Knee."
Roe: That's right there is that Armenian fear. Is that the right word? I mean, Calvinist vs. Armenian? Calvinists believe that once you're saved you can never be unsaved, it's the eternal security. Whereas the Armenians believe that you can sin yo ur way out of it. That you can turn from God and be lost. And I think scripture eludes to both and scholars have debated this for centuries.
Spencer: Bruce, can I ask you a question? Can I get just a little bite of that brownie? (Laughter)

Brown: The end of "Blue All Over," I think, is as good a guitar solo as I've ever heard you play.
Roe: (Quietly) Thank you.
Spencer: I have to say that that is just a standing monument to our relationship musically because Mike just sat down and played this thing and he was kinda goin' "hmm?" He thought he made a mistake or thought he did this or that wrong, and I just said...
Roe: He made me keep the mistake.
Spencer: Once again... he was sitting there creating this organic thing. That's why I love his records. I just sat down and I was listening to him do it and I was like "Oh yes, that's the way I want to hear it from now on, every time!"
Roe: It was a high moment for us. And I marvel at this. I don't look at it and go "Gee, aren't I great?" I go "Isn't that great?" When I get one like that I have to stand back from it and go "We're so lucky that something like that got captured" be cause again, the music he wrote drew that out of me. And it wasn't like I labored over it. I sat down and that was kind of a "run it down" solo. I sat down and kind of meandered through it. I felt it. That music is intensely spiritual music to me. Especia lly that chorus, there was something in the music itself that Bruce built, that every time I would hear it these emotions would just wash all over me. and I lived with that for weeks and months before I played that solo. Cause that's how I work. I live wi th that thing and then it all comes pouring out in one solitary take, or one writing session. And other people may spend a year to get it and they'll refine it and refine it and refine it. For me it's more the living within either the experience or the mu sic and then you sit down and it's all there and you just put it out there and boom. If I sat down and tried to play that solo now I probably couldn't do it.

Brown: It seems like you went for an Isley Brothers vibe with "Billy Paul Said."
Roe: Definitely the Isley Brother thing. That's all Bruce, that was his solo. Completely written out. Do you remember that record by Billy Paul called "Why Can't We Live Together?" From the time I heard Bruce's track, I said "This sounds just like that Billy Paul record where he's got the draw bars on the Hammond organ pulled out so that when you hit it, the percussion bangs, it goes "Boing" and he hold a chord."
Spencer: Right when Mike said that, I said "Billy Paul"--that was the title.
Roe: It was a working title. and I figured we'd change it later. And later, I couldn't come up with anything that was better. And I thought, "Let's call it 'Billy Paul Said,'" because there's a "Jackie Wilson Said' and a "Brian Wilson Said" and I t hought "Let's stay in that 'Said' tradition"--whatever the heck that means--and go with it and trip people out.
Spencer: Basically, lyrically that's not really an experience that I can recount, that there was a time of sitting down with a woman or whatever talking about any of this. It just was a piece of fiction that described a scenario that made sense. So that was cool, that was an experiment. Stylistically, we were having fun with it. But it turned out to be something cool.

Brown: What about "Tum Tum Tum?"
Roe: Again, for lack of anything better, you could come up with cliche titles that are based on your chorus hook. But "Tum Tum Tum" was Bruce's working title because it was that tom-tom thing I guess.
Spencer: Yeah, tom-tom... it was a drummer boy vibe.
Roe: So I thought that's more memorable than.... I would've called it "Garden Path" or something, but I liked "Tum Tum Tum."

Brown: And is it autobiographical when you sing "That's what happens when you do things you know you're not supposed to?"
Roe: Gosh yeah, that lyric I can totally relate to. "Alone...will I do something about it, I doubt it..."-- that's my inherent laziness. There's a fear of reaching out to God, or maybe a person. I like to keep it loose because, again, I don't want the listener to be boxed in to that in case he's relating that to a specific relationship that is not necessarily God--it may be a human being.
Spencer: That's the way I heard it from the beginning. It's like, the chorus, it felt like Mike kinda had laid out that whole vocal thing that just cruises and floats and I was like "You gotta reach up and just belt out this great stuff..."
Roe: When you came up with that idea, I jumped in on the idea of someone walking away from their own inheritance or who they are, which is a recurring theme in this and many of my lyrics. You can hear it even in the bonus track "Tall Trees"--"Be yo urself, be yourself, be yourself." I think if there's one message God has for us it's that we be who we are and not someone else because that's who He made us to be. And I think that is such a central tenant of the faith that gets overlooked. You would n ever hear that preached as a doctrine--be yourself--that almost sounds almost new-agey or humanistic. And I think that's one of God's central messages--unless we are truly ourselves, we can't fully function. I was telling Bruce the other day that I've spe nt most of my adult life trying to get back to the guy I was when I was twelve. Because I felt like he was the guy that was the most "Mike" there was. It was only when I got into junior high and high school when suddenly everyone's telling you "Well, no y ou're not cool enough. You need to be this person or that thing or do this." And some people will never ever get past that point where they were turned from who they were. I have a daughter and one of my main goals is to make sure that she knows who she i s and that rather than try to steer her from that, I enhance that any way I can to make sure she doesn't try to become someone other than who she is.

Brown: "I Buried My Heart" is another one of your songs where you seem like you're pushing God's patience to the limit. Almost daring Him not to stop you from carrying your guilt.
Roe: Yeah, that's a prayer. It's facing the fact I'm far from where I need to be and how many times am I gonna expect God to rescue me from any mess I make off the path. I think if most Christians are honest, they will admit that even though on pa per they can say "Oh yes, Christ paid the debt for all my sins, yes I'm forgiven, yes I'm free in Christ" the fact is very few of us live as if we are. We carry our guilt, we carry our sins, we carry just about everything we can carry because we think we need to feel pretty bad about everything. Whereas I think if we could stand up and feel good about who we are, we probably wouldn't have to carry things and we wouldn't be doing the things that make us carry them, as much. Again, it gets down to your iden tity. Because when you stand up in who you are, that identity calls for a standard of behavior that is so far above the one that we usually paint for ourselves.

Brown: How does the last song, "Thanks A Million," fit into the context of the project?
Roe: That song was written for my grandfather who will be 90 this year. I've wanted so badly for years to thank him, to say something. I have so much emotion pent up about him I can't really spell it out. I can't sit down with him and say "Gee gra mps, I want to have a heart-to-heart talk with you and tell you how great you are." That wouldn't wash; he'd be upset by that, I think. I've attempted that and I can see him becoming nervous and kind of, I don't know if it's embarrassed or what, he just c an't relate to that kind of thing. So I thought maybe I just need to say it for myself, whether he hears it or not is not important. I wanted to say some simple thing, just "You've done your job, sit down and rest. Thanks for doing whatever." And the "bab y, baby" bit again is pop language to make the thing a pop song. That came from an idea that Bruce had to make the chorus better. But the fact is I will never run from those things because I like the word 'baby' a lot and that's part of rock language, pop language.
Spencer: And to me, personally, what that lyric was saying to me, I wasn't thinking of just my grandfather, I was thinking of other people I love. I was thinking about my girlfriend who I really was very thankful for. She had been in a couple plac es for me when I needed her to be and that made it more relatable to me. I didn't just throw in "baby, baby." I tossed that out to Mike and he went "Aw yeah" and he embraced it very quickly and felt that it was appropriate.
Roe: Yeah, you know, the song needs to mean as many things as it can for people. I don't want to get everyone down in that "I'm sorry about grampa" vibe. That's for me. It means that to me, but if it can function as a pop song on many levels then that really makes the thing go way beyond my "pity-party" about my grandfather. Otherwise you get so specific it's like that means everytime someone would have to listen to the song they'd have to go there, and maybe they don't wanna go there. Maybe they couldn't relate to that. But everyone can relate to thanking someone for hanging in. "You gave me your heart, you gave me more than your love"--which I think is a cool idea.

Brown: Tell me how the new Sevens live album came about.
Roe: In the midst of recording The Boat Ashore, we compiled a live album from an unplugged concert from 1992, which features Dave Leonhard on guitar and vocals and as fate would have it, Steve Hindalong from The Choir was along for percussi on because Aaron [Smith] was on the road with Michael Card. We spent all that year doing acoustic shows, unplugged shows. Aaron was touring almost the whole year. And that one got recorded and it was a particularly good concert so we thought why not give the fans that. Something to represent all our labors from that period and it has a lot of songs that we never, ever do that I thought people would maybe want to hear in that context. And it's rough, it's not perfect, but it's fun and funny and a great add ition to the catalog I hope.

Brown: Are there parallels between the changes on Drowning and Tom Tom Blues and the progress from Safe As Milk to The Boat Ashore?
Roe: Anyone who's in the band influences the band a lot, even though I may do a lot of the lyric writing and singing. Drowning reflecting the people that were in the band at the time, primarily Mark and Dave. Whereas on Tom Tom, Bruc e was the central character. Anywhere that Bruce walks, even if it's a bathroom, that room changes when he walks into it. He drastically affected the band. So Tom Tom reflects him and also where Mark and I were at the time which was "We need to roc k hard, we're tired of sinking down into our depression and whatever from that drowning experience of Dave having cancer and all of my personal problems and everything." We just said, "Let's just rock hard."
Spencer: We wanted to have fun. I've heard from a lot of people that they felt my influence on these guys was that Tom Tom was a happier record or just something a little crazier, a little less meticulous. And we had a lotta fun, we had a l otta laughs. We never got really bogged down in it.
Roe: It was a rowdy record, but not a heavy... It sounded heavy but the mood wasn't heavy.

Brown: Where did the latest Lost Dogs sessions fit in?
Roe: Right before we really started tracking The Boat Ashore last November, I started going down to L.A. working on Green Room Seranade, Part One. And that album was put together...we actually started two records and finished one of them. There's still another whole record, there's 15 more songs that are not complete yet. But I was flying back and forth from L.A. trying to get that done while we were assembling The Boat Ashore and the live record and another new band called Sa fe As Milk. That group features myself, Bruce and Mark Harmon, plus three other guys. It's a jazz-pop-funk-thing.
Spencer: Actually, we made the choice to do some of the material on The Boat Ashore because we felt more comfortable about the R&B thing, due to the other band doing a really interesting, eclectic mix of that stuff and pulling it off very c omfortably.

Brown: Who are the other three musicians?
Roe: Kerry Avery, who played percussion on Tom Tom Blues, and Mike Gregory, a really great guitarist. He played the mandolin solo on "Blue All Over." He used to be in a group called the Daniel Band. And Pete Lehman who's a local Sacramento h orn, sax player. And both Cary Avery and Michael Gregory are Christians as well. We wanted to do a band that we could play in jazz clubs around town and do a lot of the pop stuff that the Sevens did like "Alone Together" or "I Want Never Gets" from Safe A s Milk, "Ache Beautiful." Things that the band just wouldn't do because it doesn't sound like our group, it's too complicated. So we put together about a three hour show with that stuff plus, we even did "Dunce Cap" by the Lost Dogs and some well-chosen c overs like Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles, "Avalon" by Roxy Music. And I have to say that it's one of the most pleasant, satisfying musical experiences I've had playing in a band ever. I just hope that that band stay s together and we keep doing it because I think it's incredible. We plan to do some live recording this fall, and hopefully release an album at least through the Sevens' mailing list, if not through wider distribution, by the end of the year.

Brown: Will there be a Sevens tour as well?
Roe: We certainly have the desire to tour, if the figures are right. You know, I'm increasingly intrigued by what has happened with things like the H.O.R.D.E. tour, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, etc. These artists seem to be picking up where the Grateful Dead left off, grooming an audience and keeping them for several years. We've built an audience over the years, but we haven't necessarily been able to pick up younger fans and add to those numbers. We just seem to keep skirting the fringe o f showbiz and the record biz without attracting the attention we need to grow a larger following. So maybe, in its own offbeat way, Safe As Milk will succeed where the Sevens have failed.

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