Divine Mr. M
By Daryl Sanders
A chance meeting with no less a vocal talent than The Divine Miss M herself, Bette Midler, proved to be a catalyst of sorts for singer-songwriter David Mead’s new album.
Mine and Yours (RCA), which was released to record stores nationwide today, features a leaner sound than Mead’s debut effort, The Luxury of Time. His vocals are featured more prominently on the new record, a decision that was in part inspired by a conversation he had with Midler backstage at The Belcourt Theater.
One of Mead’s songs was selected for the soundtrack of the film Restaurant by music supervisor Bill Coleman, a friend and A&R consultant of Midler’s. She was planning her next record and looking for songs at the time. Coleman played The Luxury of Time for her and she considered recording several of the songs, but none made the final cut. Not long thereafter, she was in Nashville and caught part of Mead’s show at The Belcourt.
“She was hanging out with some mutual friends actually, so we worked it out to where she came over to the show,” Mead recalled while relaxing and drinking cappuccino recently at Fido. “She just caught the last four or five songs, and a lot of it was just me … playing solo. I had played the show with a band, but the band didn’t know a lot of these songs.
“I met her after the show and her comment to me was, ‘I had no idea that you are as good a singer as you are,'” he continued. “She also said ‘Don’t ever make another [expletive] record where I can’t hear your voice.’ Then she went into this description of how to record a record and how to sonically craft it around your voice and who to fire if that’s not happening — so she was really forthright.
“I don’t want to say that was the genesis for the approach to this record, but it really did make me think.”
Mead said he had incorrectly assumed his voice was very much the centerpiece of his first record. “Maybe having someone of that renown say it that blatantly was the kick I needed to kind of look at that again,” he suggested.
Although Midler’s comments may have helped Mead focus on the need to make his vocals more prominent, he had already gotten hints to that effect when he toured in support of The Luxury of Time.
“After going and doing The Luxury of Time, which was a fairly large-sounding record, I ended up doing the majority of my touring either solo or with my bass player,” Mead remembered. “A lot of people liked that better than they liked the record.
“I realized in retrospect that the last record might have come across like David Mead Sings David Mead. It was very ambitious and I like that about it. But as far as an introduction to someone you’ve never really heard before — for all practical purposes it was a little large maybe.
“This one feels like it’s a little closer to the bone. It’s more about songs and the singing and not as much extraneous ear candy.”
To get the leaner sound featured on Mine and Yours, Mead’s A&R executive at RCA suggested enlisting Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne to produce.
“I met David and Brian Malouf of RCA for lunch,” Schlesinger recalled during a recent interview. “I think it was Brian’s idea that we hook up because … [he] was a fan of some of the other stuff I had done. So we met for lunch in New York, end of the spring, early summer last year.”
After that, Schlesinger and Mead got together and went through his songs. “I think it was after hanging out for a few days that it seemed clear this was going to be really fun,” he continued. “We had a lot of similar tastes and our record collections certainly overlapped.”
Schlesinger quickly came to the same conclusion as Midler. “Just listening to David strum and sing in his apartment, I realized that what was going to be crucial was just to keep his voice really front and center; and just make sure the personality of his great singing and playing didn’t get overwhelmed by any other elements on the record,” the producer explained.
“So that was really our focal point from the beginning, just make sure every song was about his vocal and his melodies and his guitar playing or piano playing, as the case may be.”
“Liberating” is how Mead described working with Schlesinger. “Adam is very much about trying to get a feel on tape, but it’s balanced with a really strong pop sensibility,” the red-haired crooner said. “You can listen to Fountains of Wayne records and pick up on really quickly that he understands what kind of pops out of the speakers, but at the same time he’s not a perfectionist.
“It was also good in that he coached me vocally a lot more than I really expected,” Mead continued. “He always encouraged me to trust the tone of my voice. He said, ‘Look, when you open your mouth it’s going to sound good. Just sing it like it’s a conversation. Don’t picture yourself being at Carnegie Hall. Just try to emote like you’re singing to one person.’
“The more … I focused on that, I think something new kind of came out of the vocals.”
Schlesinger wanted Mine and Yours to have a band sound. “We didn’t want to bring in a slew of different people, so we put together a three-piece unit of guys who were all friends of mine from various places,” he said. “We got together in a rehearsal room and just practiced like a band, and worked up some arrangements on the songs.”
John Skibic, best known for his work with Juliana Hatfield and Gigolo Aunts, played guitar on the record, and Danny Weinkauf, who has recorded with They Might Be Giants and Fountains of Wayne, played bass. Well-known New York session drummer Shawn Pelton rounded out the basic lineup.
“We wanted to make a record that was really groovy, that had some really interesting atmosphere and texture, but which was mostly just about David’s songs,” Schlesinger concluded.
The first single from Mine and Yours, “Standing Here in Front of Me,” was released several weeks ago and is already picking up steam at adult alternative radio stations, such as Nashville-based WRLT, Lightning 100. Mead, with accompaniment from bass player Wijnand Jansveld and drummer Ethan Ewbanks, kicked off the tour in support of his new album May 6 in Cincinnati and will make a stop in Nashville this Saturday. At 5:30 p.m., the trio will make an in-store appearance at Tower Records on West End Avenue, then will perform a full-blown show later that same evening at The Belcourt Theatre.
Even though he’s currently calling New York City home, Mead is a product of the local pop-rock scene and maintains strong ties to Music City. “It’s always like a recharging thing to come back [to Nashville],” he explained. And he’s excited about unveiling his new material to all his old friends and fans.
“I like it a lot, it feels so much more like me,” he said of the new album. “A big difference in recording this record is that I had already done one and I think I really learned in a lot of ways to just back off and let everyone do their job — and to do my job.
“I spent a lot of time and energy being really stressed out with the last record trying to take care of stuff that was not my responsibility. And I think it did effect my ability to contribute what I was actually supposed to do — which was play and sing.”
Mead didn’t repeat that mistake with Mine and Yours. This time, his playing and singing are nothing less than divine.
Mister D: If you want my opinion I would definitely recommend “Luxury Liner“, his first CD…the melodies seem stronger….Mr. Mead also has a newer CD coming out this spring…so watch out…this guy is great and he does have a beautiful pop voice to go along with his exceptional songwriting….