Engaging, amiable, humorous, serious, and modest arent exactly the usual sets of characteristics shared by the members of the average pop group. And yet they are most definitely applicable without exception to the Californian group Venice, and its members Kipp, Pat, Mark, and Michael Lennon. And what's most surprising of all, is that Kipp and his cousin Michael (Pat and Mark are their respective brothers) can let that shine through on an album. The proof is there on 'Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life;' Venice's fourth CD, and their debut for the Columbia label.
This album encompasses all the years of grinding it out, and growing, learning, and maturing as a group. The saying 'Good things happen fast' doesn't seem to apply to this quartet, but they don't seem to mind, though. The band's musical leader Michael himself once said that they were like a fine wine, and just took a long time to mature, which makes it all the more rewarding to ascertain that 'Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life' has elevated them to the premier pick of the grapes: the Grand Cru.
There are fifteen songs on 'Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life:' an accumulation of the band's progression throughout their existence. Songs that stick with you, partly due to the spine-tingling and highly acclaimed trademark Venice harmonies. The album was recorded at Compass Point Studios, Nassau, in the Bahamas, which is owned by Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and producer Terry Manning. Compass Point has been a musical refuge for world-renowned groups and artists such as AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Roxy Music, Talking Heads, Spandau Ballet, Eurythmics, Madness, Shania Twain and countless others.
With the first single, the catchy 'Think Again,' the potential hit 'Blue Paint,' the remarkable 'Most Of Us,' and the time-stretched 'Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life,' Venice show a clear departure from the Southern California Rock that the band made a name for themselves with, and with which they were intertwined for so long. Michael Lennon reckons it was a logical step. "We were still being compared to either Crosby Stills & Nash or the Eagles, and we felt that, although these are obviously great artists to be compared to, it was about time that people found out who else we're influenced by, and what we stand for on our own. Just because we also happen to have four voices and guitar-based music, does that have to mean that we're the same as those bands? Well that's why, on this album, we let people hear the things that set us apart from them. 'Sweet Aloha' is a good example, or 'One Word:' songs that, I'm almost inclined to say, have a worldbeat as a starting point," according to Michael.
With the solid 'Not Down Anymore', the sweet Van Morrison meets Al Green groove of 'Sun Inside,' the captivating, Todd Rundgren-like 'Precious Stone,' the electric-driven 'I'm Not Myself,' or the acoustic 'Language Of The Heart' and 'Father Time,' Venice stay close to home. Two instant classics complete the album: the overwhelming 'Tides' and the soulful re-recording of the ballad 'Baby's Calling, which is just over seven minutes long.
Looking at their family tree, the two sets of brothers literally have their roots entrenched in music. For Pat, Michael, Mark and Kipp are part of an extremely large family who have been involved in showbiz for four generations in one way or another, in Venice, California since 1917. The most famous members were The Lennon Sisters, who, in the post-war years, were the stars of a popular television show, The Lawrence Welk Show, every week for thirteen consecutive years, and even ended up being the subject of one of the questions in an edition of the US version of Trivial Pursuit.
Kipp: "The Lennon Sisters are only part of the puzzle that makes up the (musical) legacy of our family, as there are almost two hundred brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts. Like our fathers, for instance, who formed their own swing group in the '40s and 50's, or our uncle Jimmy, who was one of the most recognized boxing announcers in the world, and his son, our cousin Jimmy Lennon Jr., who continues where he left off. Our grandmother was an internationally renowned dancer from Germany in the turn of the century and our grandfather, a newspaper entertainment writer and PR man for the early film studios here in LA. So entertainment, in one form or another, has always been a part of our heritage.
Mark, Michael, Pat and I were fortunate enough to be influenced by so much of the music and spirit of the generations before us, and yet we also got to grow up listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones, Jackson 5, CSN, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Steely Dan; everything right across the board, really. So it was only natural for us to want to be in a band," concludes Kipp. Michael adds: "We have been singing and performing together in various line-ups since childhood. From high school onwards, we started playing at parties and dances and writing our own songs and never looked back."
It was Kipp (youngest of a family of eleven) and Michael (one of thirteen!) who founded Venice back in 1977. It was shortly afterwards that Michael's kid brother Mark joined the two, but Venice was complete in every sense of the word when Kipp's older brother Pat came on board in 1980. The four effortlessly blending voices encapsulated in pure, simple, and catchy songs from the heart began to endear the group to an increasing set of enthusiastic fans in California.
The band set up was Kipp and Mark, the two lead singers, taking care of a fair share of the lyrics and melodies and sharing most of the writing duties with Michael, who, besides playing guitar and singing, was then usually the one responsible for the arrangements, recording, and production of the groups material. Pat added his voice, guitar and (with the release of this new album) his songwriting to the mix.
The band's debut album was released in 1990 with high expectations, but never seemed to find it's place in an era of hard rock "hair bands" and a burgeoning Seattle grunge scene on the horizon. The album, although a bit harder than the Venice sound more recognizable today, was still hailed by many critics as a true alternative to "alternative" and, even then, the engaging, personal lyrics and soulful rock grooves that have become Venice trademarks were very evident. And, of course, the vocals have always been there.
It then took the band seven years to arrive at what and where they thought they should be, musically speaking. On 'Born And Raised' ('97) the result can clearly be heard: the emphasis is placed solely on their unique harmonies, backed by predominantly acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. Songs such as the gloriously tranquil 'Rivers Never Run,' 'That's The Way It Is,' 'Never Coming Back' or 'Baby's Calling' are testimony to that. Europe, and Holland in particular, was starting to notice Venice.
On 'Spin Art,' released three years later, they continued along the same vein, with added electric guitar, mainly to recreate their live sound. Holland then fell en masse for the Californian quartet. The heartening 'Family Tree' is a guaranteed winner in the live venues, becoming in many ways an anthem for them, representing much of what the Venice philosophy and appeal are all about. Other 'Spin Art' songs such As 'End Of The World,' 'The Man You Think I Am,' their wonderful version of Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks' classic 'Landslide' and "One Quiet Day" became instant classics with the fans as well. The band quickly built up a loyal fan base in Holland, thanks to two TV documentaries set up by the renowned Dutch music series Twee Meter Sessies.
For music lovers who've somehow managed to miss out on Venice, it's not unthinkable that they still might come across a track or two in their music collection at home featuring vocal and guitar work by Kipp, Mark, Michael and Pat Lennon. The reason being that they have worked, as individuals or as a group, with such diverse artists as Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton, Brian Wilson, David Crosby, Cher, Don Henley, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Linda Rondstadt, Jeff Healey and Warren Zevon, to name but a few.
And now, with the release of 'Welcome To the Rest of your Life,' it seems like everything has come together: their celebrated voices (of which their good friend, music legend David Crosby, once said, in a remark that totally sums them up and has become inextricably linked with Venice: "The best vocal group in the country and one of the best groups of any kind I have ever heard") and their heartfelt songs, were put down in a total of just six weeks in a studio in the Bahamas, supervised by producer Terry Manning, who provided them with a contemporary sound.
Manning, a legend in his own right in the music biz, was at the control panel as little more than a kid during the recording of Otis Redding's 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,' went on to work on 'Led Zeppelin III,' was responsible for the huge success of ZZ Top and recently left his mark on recordings by Lenny Kravitz, Shakira, as well as the upcoming Mariah Carey album. One thing was certain in Manning's mind immediately after listening to the demos: "I was absolutely determined to work with them. I haven't heard the kind of stuff they're doing for so long, and knew we could create something fantastic with this material."
A great deal of drive and effort went into putting down all the tracks in just four weeks, under the guidance of Manning and Michael Lennon, with the enlisted help of former Venice artisans such as drummers Matt Laug (Alanis Morissette, The Corrs, Christina Aguilera), Jamie Wollam (The Tories), bassists Mark Harris and Alexis Sklarevski (CSN, Jackson Browne, Carole King) and finally Chris Horvath on keyboards. Terry and Michael used the remaining fortnight to add the final touches.
For Venice, who took care of their own production for years, the switch to a producer from outside the band wasn't that big a deal. But that's all down to Manning, says Kipp. "It just clicked right from the start. He had a good sense of humor, but at the same time was pretty serious about what he felt was right for Venice." Manning realized that the group didn't want to sound retro like the Eagles, or similar to a band like Creed, just because they're a 'happening act' right now. Kipp: "We, as Venice, were looking for someone who could preserve our sound, and yet at the same time plant us firmly in this new century. Someone who is a part of what's happening in the current music scene but also appreciates the power, sensibilities and timelessness of the musical eras from which so many of our influences come." Terry Manning was all those things.
As in the past, the foursome have again searched for a sound that can recreate the intimacy and intensity of their live shows. All those years of being on the road have paid off, and anyone who's seen Venice live is instantly captivated. Their shows have become a kind of traveling party with a communal, high-energy performance that is an integral part of their appeal to fans.
The sheer warmth of Pat, Mark, Michael and Kipp's friendship fused with a very 'contemporary' production has made 'Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life' the album to launch the band's definite breakthrough. But hey, let's not waste any more words. Fine wine needs to be sampled, so go ahead and listen to Venice's 'Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life and let it speak for itself.
Welcome To The Rest Of Your Life will be in-stores, in Holland first, as of September 3rd, 2002.
venice welcome to the rest of your life track by track by Michael & Kipp Lennon
(Mark Lennon & Michael Lennon)
Michael: "Mark wrote this in his head. As you may know, he doesn't play an instrument. I helped put it together and added a chord in the chorus. Kind of Mark's autobiography. The 12-string guitar was inspired by the Byrds' 'Mr. Tambourine Man.' It's the first single."
Kipp: "Self realization, self analysis, self assurance, self defense."
'Not Down Anymore'
(Kipp Lennon, Michael Lennon & Scott Crago)
Michael: "These were two different musical and melodic ideas that I had laying around, and we put them together. I showed them to Kipp and Scott Crago, and we worked a little on it and added the B section. It laid around a while and then Kipp and I finished it. Lyrically inspired by the feeling that we are finally happy with what Venice is and musically we are not trying to chase the latest music trend or please a record label. We owe a lot of this building of our confidence to our success in Holland. Now we know that we need to "do what we do" and our audience will find us."
Kipp: "A positive note in the ongoing battle to conquer addictions... to substance, people, sex, money, show biz... whatever!"
(Michael Lennon, Mark Lennon & Kipp Lennon)
Kipp: "Paradise is a state of mind, not a place. Aloha means hello and goodbye... farewell and welcome. Leaving one life to return to another."
Michael: "This was a musical idea I had in my head for a long time. The groove was originally inspired by Jane's Addiction's 'Been Caught Stealing.' The chords, the verse melody, part of the B section and the basic groove was what we started with. Mark made up the other melodies, including the chorus melody. We were at our place in Vista, California (Hideaway Hill) writing songs for this album. Our cousin called from Hawaii and said he was planning to move back to California with his family. At the end of the conversation he said 'Aloha,' which seemed to stick in our heads. Kipp, Mark and I decided to write the song about Billy (our cousin) coming back home."
(Kipp Lennon, Michael Lennon, Mark Lennon & John Vester)
Kipp: "How do you tell someone you love profoundly and totally, just how much you value them in your life? In a conversation I had with David Crosby at his wife's birthday party, he was telling me that the longer you know someone and the more years you've spent together loving each other, the harder it is to find new ways to show them how much you love them. I had already been writing this tune, and his idea fit perfectly into the intro."
Michael: "This was a piano and verse melody idea that I had. I was thinking of Todd Rundgren or old Chicago when it started. I showed it to Kipp and we wrote the remainder of the song together, and when Mark heard it, he loved it and added most of the bridge idea."
'I'm Not Myself'
(Mark Lennon, Michael Lennon, Kipp Lennon, John Vester & Denny
Kipp: "We've all experienced at one time or another what it was like to break up with someone only to realize, sometimes too late, just how great they were and how much you want them back in your life. Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone...?
Michael: "This was one of those ideas that had been laying around that never got finished. Mark and I had the riff, the verse and B section chords and melodies from a night in Boulder, Colorado, while on tour. We were partying one night at our friend, Denny's house and we started jamming on the guitar riff. Denny, who is not a musician, but music lover, started making up the melody that is now the B section. We knew it had hit potential, so we decided to finish it for this album. Mark had brought in the chorus melody years later and I had a verse melody idea and we wrote most of the words in the car with Kipp while driving home from a Vista writing trip. We later rewrote a lot of the verse and B section lyrics, after Terry mentioned that he thought the lyrics could and should be stronger. We agreed and finished the lyrics on the beach in the Bahamas right before Mark had to sing it."
'Sun Inside' (Michael
Lennon, Kipp Lennon & John Vester)
Michael: "This song started out musically as an up tempo thing but changed twice during its conception. It started outside by the pool at Vista as an up tempo, Everclear-inspired riff, but by the time we brought it inside to put something down on tape it was an Al Green meets Buffalo Springfield thing."
Kipp: "I was already writing these lyrics for my youngest son, about how much pure joy he brings into my life, when Michael and I started working on the music for this. Originally the lyric said 'I've got the sun inside,' and it felt kind of clever like it could also mean son, but we ended up changing it so I was singing to the person instead of just about the person. Plus, I didn't want anyone to think it was somehow a religious song about Jesus or something."
'Blue Paint' (Mark
Lennon & Rick Boston)
Kipp: "A declaration of emotional rebuilding and rebirth "
Michael: "This is another song that Mark wrote in his head. I hate him for that. He had some help from a friend in recording the demo. When I heard it, I thought it was a hit song, but the demo was done with loops and very techno sounding. I was looking forward to the challenge of making it a Venice song with real instruments, organic drums, etc. I think we succeeded."
'Most Of Us' (Kipp
Lennon, Michael Lennon, Mark Lennon, Pat Lennon, Chris Horvath
& Matt Laug)
Kipp: "Looking at the world, even from a purely statistical standpoint, it's obvious that most people are reasonable and nice or trying to be, for the most part. This isn't necessarily overly optimistic liberal hippie stuff. Just a statement about the bulk of us standing on the sidelines watching assholes muck up a lot of things. It's a salute to the rest of us for trying to be nice and civilized."
Michael: "We were originally going for the old Peter, Paul and Mary's 'I Dig Rock 'N' Roll Music,' but it ended up a little more Beatles' 'Taxman' mixed with Steely Dan's 'Josie.' We wrote the lyrics in Mark's backyard a while later. After the demo track was cut at our home studio, Mark had a great idea to add the funny 'Diggy Diggy Bop,' that he sang through a toy tape recorder from the hit cartoon 'Toy Story.' On a certain setting, the tape recorder processes your voice to sound like a robot. No matter what note you sing, the recorder keeps it at one pitch. That pitch just happened to fit in the key of the song. It gave it a cool little hook that people love.... especially the kids!"
'Language Of The
Heart' (David Patrick Wilcox)
Michael: "Written by a great singer/songwriter and friend of ours, David Wilcox. One of Pat's favorite songs. Kipp had the idea to make Pat record it at least to consider it for the new album. The drag was that I had to learn the guitar part, which is in an open tuning and is made up of chords that I have never played before. The cool thing is that the guitar I used to record it with is a guitar that Jackson Browne gave me and it has a stereo Pickup so the guitar on the album sounds like two but is actually one guitar. Pat's voice is amazing and this performance is sure to kill the Venice fans. I'm sure they will be requesting this one 'live.'"
Kipp: "Written by David Wilcox, so I can't really elaborate on his writing, but I love it. So genuine and bittersweet."
'One Word' (Michael
Lennon, Kipp Lennon & Scott Crago)
Kipp: "Trying to heal a relationship that is probably past healing."
Michael: "Originally a track that Scott Crago (old Venice drummer who is currently touring end recording with the Eagles) and I wrote for Don Henley. It was music only at the time. I never heard anything about it and don't think he ever heard it, but after it sat around for a while, I showed it to Kipp and he said, "I have some lyrics that would go great with that." We wrote the chorus together and Kipp wrote the remainder of the lyrics for the verses and B sections. I was inspired by older Fleetwood Mac on this track. I love Lindsey Buckingham's production and guitar playing. Also, some of the guitars were inspired by Mark Knopler of Dire Straits."
'Tides' (Pat Lennon,
Mark Lennon, Kipp Lennon, Michael Lennon, Chris Horvath &
Kipp: "Trying to heal a relationship that is still healable "
Michael: "Tides started with a guitar riff that Pat had. It's the riff that opens the song. While in Vista, we wrote the rest of the music and melody but had no lyrics yet. Pat gave us some direction and ideas for a concept and we finished the lyrics at home."
(Michael Lennon & John Vester)
Michael: "This was a song that I wrote with John Vester. The slide riff or hook was inspired by the slide work of George Harrison. Originally, the demo was sung by Mark, but felt a little low in his vocal range, which made it feel a little uninspired. I decided to give it a go and it seemed to fit my voice better. It's one of my favorite sounding tracks on the album. Kind of inspired by Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow."
Kipp: "Michael and John Vester's song."
(Michael Lennon, Kipp Lennon & Mark Lennon)
Michael: "This was another guitar and melody idea that I had that I showed Mark and Kipp while in Vista. When I was singing fake lyrics to show them the musical idea, Mark thought I said 'Father Time,' which I didn't. We decided to write the words about asking time to slow down. Whether it's to enjoy your children or keep your parents or grandparents around longer to enjoy being with them. Everyone can relate to this one. When we cut the album version we tried it on piano instead of guitar. It didn't seem to work until Terry tried using the reverb or echo only of the piano with the guitar. It made it very groovy and almost orchestral. I later added Jimmy Page's mandolin and played the marimba on the choruses. Terry added a melodeon and the rest is history."
Kipp: "A prayer to the universe... to my inner self too... to savor every moment... to slow down."
(Michael Lennon, Mark Lennon, Mark Harris, Scott Crago)
Michael: "This song was written by Mark and me and previously recorded and released on "Born and Raised" in 1997. After playing it live for a long time, it became something much bigger and better. We had the good fortune of performing this one live with a 35-piece orchestra at the Gelredome stadium in Arnhem, Holland. When Terry Manning heard it at our live show he said we have to capture that version for the new album. We recorded the track live in the studio and did it in one take. The vocals were replaced later."
Kipp: "Michael and Mark's song, so I'm not qualified to add anything to his description, although that's never stopped me before!"
'Welcome To The
Rest Of Your Life' (Kipp Lennon & Michael Lennon)
Kipp: "If there's any recurring theme to this whole album, I suppose there is a lot of rebirth going on. This one is hopeful but cautious. It's meant to say, 'For better or worse, good or bad, there's no denying, the rest of your life starts right now. Good luck.'"
Michael: "Kipp and I wrote this one from scratch about an intervention we were involved in. An intervention is when loved ones confront someone with a drug or alcohol addiction. Kipp wrote most of the lyrics and came up with the title. He was describing the intervention to his friend who was cutting his hair and he said, "It was like, welcome to the rest of your life." His friend said, "That's a great title for a song." The verses and B sections are kind of Beatle-inspired, but the chorus was musically inspired by a great new band, Coldplay. It was one of the last songs to be written for the new album and became the album title."