Reactivating Was (Not Was) was “daunting” — but not scary as the group released “Boo!,” its first album of new material in 18 years, last month.
“The first temptation after some time has lapsed is to show everybody how much you’ve learned and how you’ve evolved as artists and writers and everything — which is a terrible idea,” says Don Was (ne Fagenson), who co-founded Was (Not Was) in 1980 with his Oak Park High School classmate David Was (ne Weiss). “You end up doing something that sounds like Tom Waits and say, ‘See, we can be arty, too.
“Ultimately the thing that stood out was just hold our ground and just get back to that thing we did really well, the strand of which we lost somewhere down the line, and get back to that thread.”
Was (Not Was) didn’t plan on such a long break. But interpersonal and music industry issues led the group into a 12-year hiatus in 1992, at which time the Was “brothers” were already working on some of the songs that wound up on “Boo!” Among them was “Mr. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” a song co-written by Bob Dylan that began its life as a song for Paula Abdul, while the Was “Brothers” were producing Dylan’s 1990 album, “Under the Red Sky.”
But, Fagenson — whose production credits also include the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Seger, Brian Wilson and Willie Nelson — recalls with a laugh, “Paula didn’t dig it. So a couple years went by and we revisited it and Bob changed some of the lines and it became a new song.”
The rest of “Boo!” rides a danceable, R&B base, from the funk of “Semi-Interesting Week” to more soulful pieces such as the single “Crazy Water,” “It’s a Miracle” and “From the Head to the Heart,” the latter of which was inspired by a true early ’90s crime story in Pontiac. Kris Kristofferson narrates the album-closing “Green Pills in the Dresser.”
“Boo!” also reunited the Was (Not Was) front-line trio of singers Sweet Pea Atkinson, Sir Harry Bowens and Donald Ray Mitchell. Longtime guitarist Randy Jacobs is back, but while keyboardist Luis Resto (who co-wrote Eminem’s Oscar- and Grammy Awardwinning “Lose Yourself”) and saxophonist David McMurray, Kem’s musical director and now on tour with Kid Rock, both play on the album, neither is touring with the group.
Fagenson and Weiss, both 55, say they
feel a new “appetite” for Was (Not Was)
in 2008. How that will translate into
sales, singles and concert attendance
remains to be seen, but they sound confident that their project is a going concern again.
“We do it now without those piein-the-sky expectations, almost for its own sake,” says Weiss, who also produces (including a pair of “X-Files” soundtracks), writes for golf and travel magazines, and composes music for advertisements and Fox Sports TV broadcasts. “I’m pretty sure, given the reaction to this record so far, we’ll at least get to make another one.
“We’ll talk about perpetuity in another 10 years. For now it’s good to be back in business and hang a shingle again, and God forbid people should come out and hear us and buy a CD. That’s all gravy — but it’s good gravy. I ain’t sending it back to the kitchen, if you know what I mean.”
Was (Not Was) and Todd Snider perform Friday (May 9) at the Majestic Theater, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22. Call (313) 833-9700 or visit www.majesticdetroit.com.
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