May 2005: Rebelscum staffer Shane Turgeon recently got a chance to visit with Meco, the man responsible for the huge album from 1977, Star Wars and other Galactic Funk. He has a new CD called Star Wars Party. Read along as we wrap up with part 3...
Welcome to our third and final installment in our series of interviews with Meco Monardo. Meco has a new record called Star Wars Party available on CdBaby.com and the wide-scale, national release of this album entitled Music Inspired by Star Wars on DM Records hits stores today. Join us as we discuss where Meco found the inspiration for this newest recording…
Shane: What’s your all-time favorite piece of John Williams’ Star Wars music?
Meco: Well, let’s do non-Star Wars first. The theme from ET is my favorite John Williams piece. I’ve done other John Williams pieces – I did Superman, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, so I’m very familiar with John’s stuff, but when ET came out I went berserk. I was hoping to record it, but I had another record that was already out and it was on the charts, so I couldn’t do ET because of the timing. It’s one of the major disappointments of my life because to me, that is the greatest theme he ever wrote.
Now, as far as the themes from Star Wars go, of course the main theme is the one that I would have to say is probably the best theme that we all remember, and it’s the one theme that’s the most positive. But then my personal preference has got to be Darth Vader’s Theme. It’s the one that everybody recognizes and of course Darth Vader is the dominant character throughout the whole Star Wars saga.
Shane: After 1985 you took a break from the music world. What were you up to in the following years?
Meco: In 1985 I left New York City where I’d been for 20 years, and I became a real-estate broker in San Antonio, Texas. I was burned out and disillusioned with the music business, and was really done with my career, or so I thought, and I wanted to lead a whole new life. I did what a lot of people try to do which was to start all over again in another field. Well, just shortly after I got to San Antonio, the real estate market totally crashed. So within 3 years I left San Antonio and came to south Florida where I became a commodities broker. I was a broker until 1999.
Most of that time, from 1985 to about 1997 - and you’re talking to a guy whose whole life was music - I was totally turned off to music. I did not listen to any music. I didn’t want to talk about music and when I was introduced to people and somehow it got around that I was the guy who did all these things, I denied it all. So whole sections of American pop history – Mariah Carey, other people like that - Paula Abdul had 6 number 1 records in the span of about 2 years and I never heard one of them!
Shane: You’re probably lucky!
Meco: (laughs) I thought I would go to my grave being a non-musician and then I made contact with someone in 1997 from my old days in San Antonio and the next thing I knew, I was back in the studio recording again.
Shane: And you came back with Star Wars again right?
Meco: Not initially. But in 1999, The Phantom Menace was coming out and In February, I got a call from the president of Sony Records, who happened to be Donny Ienner. Donny was the head of promotions at Millennium Records where I had Star Wars, and then he went to Arista Records, right about the same time that I went to Arista to work with Clive Davis, and he became the head of promotions there. I hadn’t been in touch with anybody from the music business for all those years and was completely surprised to hear that Donny was the president of Sony Records. And when he calls me, I’m a commodities broker, and he says, “Meco, quit your job. We’re going to make history repeat itself. You’re going to go do a new Star Wars album and sell a million copies just like we did in 1977”. I was thinking, “Whoa! Alright!” So I quit my job and started to work on the demos of the songs – this is in February 1999 and the film was going to be released in May as all the previous Star Wars films were. So I’m working on the demos of the songs for The Phantom Menace. I get to see the movie in a private screening. I thought it was okay, it’s not great, but it was okay – I was excited. In April – one month before the release of the film, I get a call from Sony. It turns out that they had to say no to our record deal. And they did so because John Williams would not allow a Meco version of his music. Naturally I was very, very disappointed and at first I thought, “Well, why is he against me”? It turns out he’s not against me, but that has been his position, for at least the last 10 years, about anyone recording a cover version of his music, because he now is the greatest film composer who ever lived and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with pop music – why does he need that? And so whenever he would sign with a label for any of his soundtracks, he would say to that label, nobody can cover my songs. The Phantom Menace soundtrack was going to be released on Sony, so they had to comply with what John Williams said because Lucasfilm also agreed. So then I called Lucasfilm and said, “Well, is there anything we can do about it?” They said, “No. John doesn’t want it. It’s not against you Meco, because we know how he feels about you, he’s against anybody doing it”. And there it was, the death of my second dream – there was no Meco album.
Shane: But you did put out a kind of a “greatest hits” CD.
Meco: Yes, but I didn’t release it until almost a year after the movie came out. I put it out on the Internet and had some minor success. Then in 2002, when the Attack of the Clones was getting ready to come out, I find out that Sony again had the soundtrack. So I didn’t approach them about it but I did approach RCA Records, who by the way, was very interested in possibly doing something with me in 1999 after Sony said no, but by the time Sony said no, it was too late for them to sign me because record companies don’t work like they did in the old days. It takes months to get something going now, in terms of putting a record out. So I talked to RCA and they loved the idea and then I find out from the head honcho of RCA that they can’t because they want to stay in the running for the final film in 2005 and/or for a compilation of music from all 6 films. I didn’t do anything for that movie at all.
Shane: And that brings us to now and you’ve got a brand new Star Wars record coming out.
Meco: Right. In all this time frame, the digital revolution hit - big time. Everybody and their uncle now had a computer. And on those computers are software programs that allow someone even with the most minimal amount of musical knowledge to produce a recording. In the old days, where a record company would receive, in a months’ time, 30 to 50 new productions presented to them for possible signing, now they receive 3,000 to 5,000 because we have a huge proliferation of bands and music that almost anybody can make on a computer.
My previous experience in the studio was that I was smart enough to hire the greatest engineers in the world and I always liked to say that my expertise was that I could go right into that studio and turn the lights on… (laughs). I was good at that! And that was the extent of my engineering skills. So now here I am, the year is 2000 and I’m presented with the computer. So I learn all about the computer and I find that I’m good with it. I bought a music software program called Acid, which is made by Sony. So, I have this little program, that costs about 300 dollars and it uses sound samples. You can take these sound samples and manipulate them if you know what you’re doing – you can do things that you couldn’t possibly imagine! And since I’m a person, not only with this huge musical background, but the guy with all this success, I found myself sitting at my computer - no longer the producer with an army of people throwing ideas at me - but I am the creator of the ideas I’m throwing at me and I’ve got to choose them!! Oh, what a daunting task that is! I am the drummer, bass player, guitarist, etc. – the arranger, the producer and even the engineer! And so wearing all those hats, it was hell to start with, but now it is heaven on earth. If you like what I do now, then you like it because I did 100% of it. If you hate it, then I’m the person who’s responsible for your hating it.
I started a little over a year ago working on my Star Wars album called Star Wars Party and I would spend, literally, between 8-10 hours a day working at my computer. It’s the most wonderful, wonderful experience I’ve ever had in my life. Of the 10 songs on the CD, 5 of them are John Williams’ themes and the other 5 are songs I wrote about the world of Star Wars. Now, here’s what’s really interesting: there are no musicians – except for one guitar player playing the solo in one song, there are no musicians playing. There is no midi! Only my fellow musicians will understand that last statement. What you hear is just me manipulating the sound samples from the ACID library. What I’ve done with the 5 John Williams songs is to tell a story from the films. I used a lot of lines from the films, but instead of lifting the lines from the films, I enlisted the aid of some of my friends - Jeff Jenkins, Peter Frank and Kim Weiss to re-enact the vocal characterizations. The songs start like a Meco instrumental, but in the middle of each of those songs, there’s a breakdown in the music, and we hear some of the story we that all know and love.
The other 5 songs are all original songs sung by real people. My fantastic singers are Peter Frank, Kim Weiss and Yamira Santieli. The song titles are Jedi Knight, I Am Your Father, Live Your Life, Star Wars Party and of course, Boogie Wookiee.
Shane: Right, and you’ve written a very cool back-story for this song, which readers can check out at the end of this article.
Now, I understand that there’s going to be a slightly different version of Star Wars Party that’s going to be distributed nationally?
Meco: Yes. I’m very excited because I’ve just signed with a record label, DM Records, for national distribution and it will be released throughout the country in all the record stores on June 14th. But that album is not called Star Wars Party, although it is exactly the same music. It’s called Music Inspired by Star Wars. We didn’t want to have anybody confused because I’m selling Star Wars Party on the Internet and they (DM Records) aren’t.
Shane: So to clarify, the albums are exactly the same but only Star Wars Party is available directly from you at CdBaby.com and Music Inspired by Star Wars can be purchased at record stores?
Shane: With this new album, how do you hope to draw in a whole new generation who might not be familiar with your current work?
Meco: The way I see it happening is that my current work is not like my older work. There is no “disco beat”. It doesn’t reek of “Oh my God it’s like 30 years old”. It’s a contemporary beat. The only thing I’m not doing that’s contemporary, which is very, very big now, is there’s no real hip hop/rap. The rap though, comes from the Star Wars characters. As I indicated earlier, the Star Wars characters are saying lines from the film, but they’re saying them to the tempo of the music. And the other thing is, it’s not instrumental. Again, they are songs which are about the world of Star Wars from which I’ve chosen a lot of the great, great scenes. So for a younger person who maybe hasn’t seen all of the films, this is a way for everybody to remember those scenes and maybe bring a smile to their faces.
Shane: What does the future hold for Meco now that you’re back into music but this looks to be the last Star Wars film? Where do you go? What are your plans?
Meco: This is probably the last thing I’ll do with the thing that made me cool as an artist (Star Wars). But Meco Monardo the producer has now gone into the 21st century with this digital thing. Hopefully, what I’d like to get a production or two to produce and possibly get back into producing again. That would be fun. Even though I’m a little older, I feel like a kid!
Shane: And that’s exactly what Star Wars is all about!
I’d like to thank Meco for taking the time to talk to us about his life – past, present and future and for giving us a glimpse into the inspiration that led him to make some of the most well-known Star Wars albums around. Love them or hate them, Meco’s records are a timeless part of Star Wars history. In closing, Meco has been kind enough to share with us the back story and an MP3 for Boogie Wookiee, one of the tracks from his newest record which is currently available in stores or from CdBaby.com.
Meco: Much to my surprise, I was hastily summoned before the Jedi Council recently. I had been inactive for several years, and naturally, was surprised to hear Master Yoda say, “Very pleased is The Council with your missions to spread the Boogie throughout the galaxy. You have taught well the humans of Earth – The Droids – especially R2D2 and C3PO – Even the Ewoks have you taught!! The Boogie is strong in you, indeed. One final mission have we for you. Go you must to Kashyyyk. For there find you your greatest challenge – the Wookiees! Chewbacca will greet you and assist you. But stray not from your mission, for boogie they must. Now go…..”
Soon, my favorite singers, Peter, Kim, Yamira and I were indeed on Kashyyyk. After talking to Chewie and watching the very uncoordinated Wookiees try to boogie, I knew Yoda’s prediction of the enormity of my task was true. The Wookiees had no feeling for the Boogie. None – Zero – Zip!!
My first task was to get them to understand that they must “make it funky”. I kept repeating this mantra over and over again while they were learning, but to no avail. My singers pleaded with me to forget it as it was obviously a hopeless cause.
Then it occurred to me!! If I could teach Chewie how to say “make it funky”, then the other Wookiees might feel more comfortable and get on down with the boogie.
It took many long and frustrating days, but finally Chewie learned to say “make it funky” and sure enough, the progress from that point was wondrous!
So I recorded one of the songs they learned. In it you can hear Peter, Kim and Yamira singing and Chewie saying, “make it funky” - just as I taught him. It received wondrous applause when I presented it to Master Yoda and the Jedi Council. So now my mission is complete – the entire Galaxy is boogying – and no one is boogying harder than Chewie and the Wookiees!!
Here, then, is “Boogie Wookiee”
About DM Records:
DM Records Label Group is based in South Florida. Past gold and multi-platinum hits include Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is”(quadruple platinum), 2 Unlimited “Get Ready For This” (platinum), Duice “Dazzey Duks” (double platinum), Nikki French “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (gold), Prince “Most Beautiful Girl” (gold), and Los Del Mar “Marcarena”, Clarence Carter "Strokin'" (gold), MC Breed and DFC "Ain't No Future in Yo Frontin'" (gold), Deadeye Dick "New Age Girl" (gold)... to name a few. The label group has earned numerous Grammy nominations and Dove Awards. DM Records Group has charted over 150 albums and singles on the Billboard Charts.
Be sure and check out Shane's website Tatoosandtoys.com.