Jazz Fest 2013: Interview With Aaron Neville

"You never know how much time you have left. I wanted to make sure I got to do the stuff I wanted to do before I got out of here, you know?"

Aaron Neville

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

City: New Orleans, LA
Date: 2013-05-05

One of the biggest stories of Jazz Fest 2013 was Aaron Neville's solo show. The legendary R&B artist, who recently released a doo wop album, My True Story, with the help of Don Was and Keith Richards, spoke to me over a crackly connection. Now based in New York City, Neville has no doubts about leaving his family band, the Neville Brothers, and pursuing his own projects. During our interview, he explains the importance of doo wop and asks his millennial interviewer what she thinks of his new album.

Are you in New York right now?

Yeah, where are you?

I'm in the CBD in New Orleans.

Around what street?

Poeyfarre, right by Tchoupitoulas. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your connection with New Orleans during the doo-wop era. Your memories of that era happened in places that no longer exist -- the Calliope projects.

Parts of it are still there, but where I lived, they tore it down.

Can you describe the atmosphere of those neighborhoods when you were growing up?

When I was growing in the Callope project, we had an oval parkway. Pavement ran around this whole thing. We'd skate or ride bicycles. There were benches and trees out there. It was paradise to us. They finished building it the same year I was born.

The only brother of yours that lives in New Orleans is your brother Art--

Cyril lives in Slidell (a town close to New Orleans).

How many times do you come home?

As much as I can. I'm on the road though.

What's the first thing you eat when you come back?

Probably some gumbo or somethin' like that. An oyster.

You're very fortunate in that you were able to break out of the New Orleans music circuit and have a successful national career. Now you're in New York. How do you stay connected to New Orleans now that you live in New York?

It's in my blood. It's in my heart, you know? I stay connected. I talk to Art, I talk to Cyril, I talk to my kids.

Does Jazz Fest mean something different to you than it did when you lived here?

Yeah. It's one of the greatest festivals in the world. New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest is the best all-around...It's an honor to be closing it. Gentilly stage with my quintet. Coming out with my new CD My True Story.

Let's talk about that CD, if you have some time. How did the idea of doing a doo wop album come about?

It's been there since the Calliope Projects. [laughs] That's been my love. Everything I've ever recorded has some kind of doo wop link to it, some kind of whatever. An ending on the song.

How did you pitch it? Did it take convincing?

Don Was is a friend of mine, we've done projects together over the years. He's worked with Keith Richards. He says he was rooming above Keith when they were doing the Stones' Voodoo Lounge album and Keith had a doo wop thing on loop, over and over and over. He called Keith and Keith said, "What took you so long?"

This album comes out fairly soon after you've found love again. Doo Wop is pretty romantic music. Did your recent marriage influence you to make this album?

Yes, it did. When I met Sarah, I was going through a lot of changes. I had lost Joelle... Sarah brought new life back to me and new meaning to my life. I write a lot of poetry about her. I'm a poet, I've got a poetry book. This CD is like it's dedicated to her. She's my gypsy woman.

You recorded this album in only five days. Those must have been quite the sessions. Can you describe the atmosphere in the recording studio?

If you listen to the CD, you can hear all the musicians smiling and having a ball. We were like kids. Keith Richards was sayin' every time he went in the studio it felt like he was back in the 50s. It brought us back to those days.

I've read Keith's memoir and he talks a bit about his childhood. Y'all are from very different places, but you were listening to the same songs growing up. You connect with those songs at the same level.

Right. It's like with Paul Simon. It's like we grew up in the same block listening to the same music.

Let's talk about the Jazz Fest 2013 poster. You've seen it, obviously.

Yeah. I saw the original. It was like eight feet tall.

What was it like seeing yourself eight feet tall?

[Laughs] It was spectacular, that's all I can say. He caught my soul. He could see. I could jump into the poster. I felt kin to it.

With the doves, and the cemetery, and tambourines--

Yeah, and it was like I was singing something special, you know?

What do you think you'd be singing?

Oh I don't know. "Amazing Grace", maybe.

So you've been given 15 extra minutes in your Jazz Fest cube. What are you going to do with those 15 minutes?

Oh, I could fill a three hour set. [laughs] Fifteen minutes. We're gonna give them a great show. We're playing the night before in Biloxi. We've been doing different shows and festivals. I've been bringing all the music from over the years. Something old, something new. I mix it all up.

Are you going to have any special guests with you?

I don't know. I'm just looking forward to doing the Aaron Neville thing.

How did you tell your brothers than you wanted to do it solo this year?

Well, this is something' I been thinking about before Joelle died. I wanted to do my own thing. She'd see me come home and I wasn't happy. I was stifled. I was on the stage for three or four songs and beating the cowbell and singing background. I just needed to be doing more than that. The time came for me to step out. You never know how much time you have left. I wanted to make sure I got to do the stuff I wanted to do before I got out of here, you know?

This interview is for a national audience, some of whom may be unfamiliar with Jazz Fest. Could you explain what it means to close Jazz Fest and how much it means to New Orleanians?

It's a special festival. It's my hometown. To be closing out the stage at the fest I love doin'-- it's very special. I've done it with the Nevilles. Now it's my turn. I'm looking forward to it big-time.

What's your favorite Jazz Fest that you've been to?

Oh, a bunch of them. I remember when we first started goin' Jazz Fest, we could walk around and not even bump into anybody. There was a smaller amount of people in there.

This is going to be a memorable Jazz Fest for you.

No doubt. Especially with the poster and all. I'm geeked up. I feel like a kid.

Are you nervous?

Aw, no. No. I'm not nervous. I'm anxious. I'm watching the weather. It's rainin' today, eh?

The sun just came out.

It knows I'm coming. [laughs]

I know you were told this would only take five minutes, but before you go, I just want to compliment you on your Facebook account. It looks great.

Oh. Thank you. What do you think about the CD?

The CD? It's great. I was born in the 1980s, so I missed the doo wop era. I just read the Keith Richards book again--

You read it?

Yeah, I've read it twice. I love that thing.

It's a great book.

He talks about your son in there.

Yeah, the Xpensive Winos.

I laugh the whole time I'm reading it. It's so funny. I forget where I was going with that. I'm really impressed with it because it's better than a lot of musicians who I interview who are in their 20s or 30s. Do you do it yourself?

[caught] No, Sarah does it. [laughs]

I knew there was something fishy in there. Anyway, the CD. I discovered the "Little Bitty Pretty One" song on that CD. I've heard it around my whole life but never knew what track it was, and I enjoyed your voice on it. It was cool to hear music that I wouldn't consider contemporary but I'm still able to connect to.

I think that music needs to come back. It was the innocent music back in 50s. You could put it on with a grandmother and a granddaughter and nobody was offended.

I played "Work With Me Annie" for my roommate, Annie. She's going to be hearing that a lot.

That's the only one they wouldn't play on the radio back in the day. They called that a rager song. They said it was too suggestive. But the stuff they put on the radio today is ridiculous-- that was a tame song.

It's interesting because-- I cover a lot of electronic music, EDM, and there's no harmonies. They completely blot it out.

Well, that's what the doo wop era was. A lot of harmonies and stuff, you know.

You're going to be playing songs from My True Story at Jazz Fest, right?

No doubt.

Will you play "Littly Bitty Pretty One"?

Yeah, we'll play that too.




By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.


Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.


L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.


Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.


Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.


Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.


West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.