This month we chat with producer Josquin des Pres about his collaborations with legendary songwriter Bernie Taupin, and talk cartoons with Audrey Callahan, Riston Diggs, Richard Whig (Thee Allergic Reaction), Cassie B, Jerry Raney (the Farmers), Rick Walker (Sometimes Julie), Cliff Cunningham (Social Spit), Suzanne Shea, and more!
Josquin des Pres / Songwriting with Bernie Taupin
While La Mesa-based producer Josquin des Pres (Track Star Studios) is perhaps best known for his studio work and bass playing, he’s also penned numerous songs, including 14 with iconic lyricist Bernie Taupin. Taupin, alongside musical songwriting partner Elton John, is responsible for some of the biggest hits of all time, but he’s also co-penned classic songs with other collaborators including “These Dreams” (Heart), “How You Gonna See Me Now” (Alice Cooper), and “We Built This City” (Starship). Here’s how des Pres’ collaboration with Taupin happened.
How did you come to work with Bernie Taupin?
In the late ’80s, I had an exciting opportunity to co-produce a song with Bernie Taupin. A mutual friend and producer, Mark Paladino, brought us together for this project. Little did I know that this collaboration would become a pivotal moment in my career as a composer. Working with Bernie was an honor reserved for only a select few. His unique style and discerning taste in collaborators made the experience even more special. Our creative partnership opened doors for me and helped me secure a songwriting contract with Warner.
Did you compose all the music and Bernie the lyrics or was there crossover?
I wrote all the music and melodies; Bernie writes the lyrics first and his lyrics are like an entire story. It’s like writing music for a movie. Bernie’s lyrics make melodies jump off the paper.
Were any of the songs written with Bernie for specific projects?
Yes, following my recent co-production for the Young Dubliners’ fourth album (Alive Alive O/1998, co-produced with Steve Albini), an interesting opportunity came about. The Young Dubliners happened to be one of Bernie’s favorite bands. He expressed interest in co-writing a song for them. It became the title track for their follow-up album Red. Coinciding with this project, I was working with San Diego-based Cargo Records. We crafted a couple of songs for two talented Cargo artists: Mary Dolan and Lisa Sanders.
Are there any songs beyond the 14 listed?
Yes, I wrote quite a bit with Taupin between the late ’80s and 2000s. There are also a few songs that we never completed.
Where did the writing sessions take place? What instrument do you write on?
We had a few sessions at my house where Bernie shared some new lyrics with me, and we discussed them before I started working on the music. Basically, a similar method to what was shown in the movie Rocketman about Elton and him. In that process, Bernie gives Elton the lyrics, and Elton creates the melodies and music on his own. It was a similar approach with me. Bernie would provide me with several sheets of lyrics, and I would work on them in my own time. When I worked on the songs, I had my own way of doing things. As a bass player, I often wrote melodies while accompanying myself on the bass. It may seem different from how other writers work, but it actually made sense to me. Having the topline melody and the bass line together naturally influenced the chords and groove that would complement them.
Of the sessions you played bass on, which is your favorite?
In the late 1980s, while based in Los Angeles, I was producing albums for various European labels. One particularly memorable project was producing an album for Yves Choir (aka Yves Chouard), a talented French studio guitarist. I also played bass on the album alongside Jeff Porcaro, Steve Lukather, and Billy Sheehan, who also played bass on half the album. Another great project is San Diego’s own Lisa Sanders’debut album on Cargo Records. In addition to producing the album, I also played bass along with Alex Acuña on drums and Jerry Goodman on violin. The collaboration and synergy among these musicians brought Lisa Sanders’music to life and helped create a great album. Those years were a time of tremendous growth and fulfillment for me as a musician and producer. Being able to work with outstanding artists, bringing the right combination of people in the room always feels like a dream come true. www.trackstarstudios.com
Who is your favorite cartoon character?
Since animation first began back in 1908 (Fantasmagorie by Émile Cohl) a lot of animation has been created. Here we have 16 musicians giving details on their favorites!
Derrick Anderson (The Bangles/Marshall Crenshaw): Linus Van Pelt. Security blanket my ass! This cat is infinitely wise beyond his years, with all the patience and empathy of a great philosopher.
Cassie B: Tina Belcher from Bobs Burgers, hands down. Second in line is Linda Beltcher. I sing her little tunes all the time! Bob’s Burgers is really the only cartoon I watch anymore. But I can seriously watch it on repeat all day. Their humor always makes me laugh and smile.
Catherine Barnes: I love Bugs Bunny when he does the Barber of Seville, especially the part where he dresses up in drag and dances with scissors. It proves that classical music doesn’t have to be snobby; it can be comedic and great for dancing!
Audrey Callahan: Belle from Beauty and the Beast because she was smart, independent, and kind. She didn’t worry about what others thought of her and always stood up for her beliefs.
Cliff Cunningham (Social Spit): Speed Racer, because I like fast cars!
Riston Diggs: My favorite cartoon character of all time is Goku from Dragonball Z. I love that his character was never meant to be the strongest, but he was always able to push himself to defeat any opponent. Whether it be through thorough training or absolute delusion. Coming from the small town of Pageland, South Carolina, I relate to this. We didn’t have many opportunities there, especially when it came to the entertainment industry, which in return always made me feel like I was an underdog. With that in mind, I always relied on practicing and sharpening my craft so I could compete against the best of the best. I approach every opportunity like one of Goku’s battles in the cartoon.
Happy Ron Hill: It’s Cartman from South Park. Don’t like anything about him, and I enjoy the type of humor about how you SHOULDN’T be. It’s much more real than simply having characters that are models for good behavior. The show constantly has some of the best social and political commentary. It even comments on the dangers of getting TOO cynical and snarky. Perhaps the last place aside from comedy clubs where you can do “offensive humor” and have almost everyone accept it.
Joel Kmak (Farmers, Hitmakers): Muttley the dog! I loved his laugh! In fact, my father and I used to mimic the laugh at each other. Cool memory.
Omar Musisko (Spiritual Motels, the Peripherals): My favorite cartoon character is the Brain from Pinky and the Brain. I used to watch it with my youngest brother, and we’d crack up. I loved that character because he continued to plan to take over the world every night of his life even after previously failing miserably to take over the world every night of his life up to that point.
Joe Normal: The Beatles in Yellow Submarine. Just genius, psychedelic, original. I mean come on, it’s the Beatles!
Nathan Raney: it’s probably Bender from Futurama, because who doesn’t love a foul-mouthed alcoholic robot!
Jerry Raney (Farmers): Calvin and Hobbes. I loved Calvin’s overactive imagination and all the places and adventures it took him on.
Suzanne Shea: Why Pinky and the Brain? Cuz those cartoons were f***ing brilliant! The writers were spot on and aimed the material for adults to enjoy. OMG, so good. I loved the episode where the Brain wants to take over the world by becoming a Nashville recording star. Ha! My fave episode!
Allison Adams Tucker: Pepe Le Pew. He’s on an unfaltering, eternal quest for love, and is oblivious to any limitations. “I must find out what this “pew” means…” He was also my first window into the vibe of the French language.
Rick Walker (Sometimes Julie): I have always been a fan of Scooby Doo and the rest of the Scooby gang. I think I relate to Scooby on several levels but particularly his sense of humor, love of food, and his sense of self-preservation. I used to have a CD called Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. There are several awesome versions of cartoon theme songs by underground ’90s artists. A couple of my favorites are the Banana Splits theme song by Liz Phair and Material Issue, and Ghoulie Get-Together by Toadies.
Richard Whig (Thee Allergic Reaction): Ann-Margrock. No explanation should be necessary!