After Friday nights stellar performance at “The Gracie Theatre” I was privileged to be able to speak with Aztec Two-Step’s Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman who shared their time with me about their music, the industry, and personal thoughts of their long-standing relationship with each other and Aztec Two-Step.
Q:(John) In the newer versions of previous songs like on “Cause and Effect” was your intention to recreate them as new songs or play them in the mood of Aztec Two-Step today?
A:(Rex) Definitely the latter, I don’t know if I made it clear on stage but we’ve been playing with Fred (bass player) for about three years, well, two years since we started recording and we really felt like a real tight unit and we wanted to give fresh treatments to these songs, that all the previous records have probably in most cases been overproduced. That seemed to be what we tended to do back then going for a hit single or whatever. So, it was our intention to strip it down and really accentuate Neal and Fred and my rhythm and you know…my vocals and have a fresh new approach.
(Neal): And we changed some of the vocal arrangements a little bit too.
(John): I noticed that. That’s why I asked that because it’s a great thing I think when artists revamp songs, like even Dylan if you’ve ever noticed…my wife and I went to see him at the Bangor Waterfront…you hardly recognized the songs, which is great. So it was the same thing with you?
(Rex): Yeah, we didn’t want to get stuck with the preconceived notion, you know it’s like maybe we’ll drop the harmonies in more selective spots, so we just decided to come at it fresh.
(Neal): And we wanted to kind of do what we do live, we hear a lot of feedback from our fans, you know, you guys are so much better live…that’s what we hear a lot of.
(John): A lot of bands have a different show completely live than they do in the studio.
(Rex): Well, we’re more relaxed on stage than in the studio. Studio is hard.
(John): The whole evening was relaxed, and we were in a nice intimate setting.
(Rex and Neal): Beautiful.
Q:(John to Rex, as it’s he who records solo albums) In your solo efforts do you tend to remain with your current style as Aztec Two-Step or do you strive to make variations according to personal preferences since you’re on your own and have a little more freedom to step out of Aztec?
A:(Rex) I’ve made various types of solo records, one was extremely pop, you know…my take on pop music that was just filled with pop songs, going through the eighties and nineties.
(John) Is that what you wanted?
(Rex) Yeah, I wanted kick ass electric lead guitars, big background vocals kind of stuff, I didn’t want it to be the least bit like an Aztec Two-Step record.
(John) I can see that because having spanned four decades with one style this was your opportunity to expand.
(Rex) You know I made a kids record a few years back that was just basically me and my guitar and I had some really cool singers doing again a much more elaborate vocalization than Neal and I do cause we’re basically a stripped down duo and then I made my best record back in 2000 called “Gettysburg”. That was very much just me and my guitar, very little accompaniment, very little singing other than my own and that would be if I were just Rex and not part of Aztec Two-Step, you know, an acoustic artist doing my thing and that is probably my favorite solo record and one of my favorite records of all time. And I would put “Cause and Effect” with one of the best records we’ve ever made as well. And the previous record we made “Days of Horses”, which was a little bit more produced but still without a doubt a great record which Neal shared half of the writing on which is unusual for him.
Q:(John) What are your thoughts about having been on a four decade journey? You’re still playing, friends with Neal, people love your music, this question is asked more on a personal level than a musical one.
A:(Rex) Well, there have been bands that have hung in there over the years, not the solo artists cause they can’t break up with themselves, but it’s unusual for two or more people to stay together, and it’s probably harder for two people because you don’t have that third person to bounce off of. But when you do have your Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s touring and even America, there comes a point where it becomes almost like a spiritual thing. Your fan base is grateful for the fact that we’re still doing it, they’re still into it on our level. It’s very rewarding. It’s very much like a marriage, it’s hard work, we’re two distinct individuals. Neal is a native New Yorker, and I grew up in rural Maine, there was a cultural difference, a significant age difference, I’m six years older than Neal, it’s not been an easy thing, but like any great couple you work through it and you come out the other side. And when you come out the other side that’s the spiritual payoff and that’s what we’ve been able to do. And now we’re enjoying the fruits of our labor and people are appreciating the fact that we’re still doing it and we’re very grateful that we haven’t really lost anything vocally or musically and I don’t think you can say that about some of the bands that are still doing it.
(John) Or some of the bands that are coming out today.
(John and Rex) Laughter…
(John) Thank you so much.
(Rex) You’re very welcome.
In conclusion, true talent will stand the test of time and all else is but a vapor waiting to dissipate in the noonday sun.