Friday, August 17, 2012

"Tokyo Girl" by Val McCallum

ARTIST: Val McCallum

SONG: "Tokyo Girl"
WRITERS: Val McCallum, Dillon O'Brian
ALBUM: At the End of the Day
YEAR: 2012

SITE: Val McCallum
BUY: At the End of the Day - Val McCallum

I just heard Val McCallum for the first time about a month ago. I went out to the Ryman Auditorium here in Nashville to see Jackson Browne play, and initially witnessed Val as Jackson's electric guitar player. About halfway through the show, Jackson stepped aside and Val took center stage with a stunning song of his own, "Tokyo Girl," for which he was joined by Jackson and Sara Watkins on harmonies. It was a dreamy performance that made me curious about the rest of his work. I met him later that night and he graciously gave me copy of his brand new solo album, which features the song he played live. In addition to being a part of the very cool L.A. Country/rock outfit, Jackshit, and an artful contributor to others' work, Val McCallum is a soulful singer and songwriter. I'm so glad to have recently made his acquaintance.

BA: Hi Val! Thanks for giving me some of your time.

VM: My pleasure.

BA: Congratulations on the new album, At the End of the Day. Let's talk about the second track, "Tokyo Girl." When I met you a few weeks ago, you told me that this song was a true story about meeting your wife. Will you elaborate on that?

VM: Yes, The song is based on how I met Shelli, my wife, in a bar in Tokyo back in 1990. I was on tour with Wilson Phillips and she was working as a model. I was in a bad way having just lost my mother to cancer and my brother to drug abuse in a six month period and she was dealing with some very heavy family issues herself. We were just so comfortable together right from the get-go. It felt like we had found each other.

BA: I personally favor songs that are about specific people and instances, and this work gives so much detail to that end. I had to look up the reference you make in the first verse, about the Lexington Queen. What was that place like back then?

VM: The Lexington Queen had the feel of an 80's era Beverly Hills night club. It was dark with mirrors and couches surrounding a dance floor. Myself and a few friends were the first to arrive that night, but it wasn't long before the place started filling up with lovely young models from all around the world, dancing and drinking. It was quite the scene. I think I even danced, which is never a great idea, but it didn't seem to scare off Shelli . . . and here we are twenty two years later.

BA: I see that this is a co-write with Dillon O'Brian. High-five for getting such an intimate song out of a collaboration; that's not always an easy thing. How did it come together?

VM : I've known Dillon for a long time now. He's a great songwriter and a hell of a musician . . . writing a song with Dillon is always fun because he's such a strong lyricist. He likes to work early in the morning, so we usually meet at a golf course coffee shop and just shoot the shit over breakfast, and before you know it we've got an interesting concept to work with. Then we hit the first tee and by the eighteenth green, Dillon's usually got the better part of a lyric worked out.

With "Tokyo Girl," I had the tune and subject matter pretty well figured out. My wife and I had this nasty fight one evening and in a fit of passive aggressive behavior, I went out to my studio and wrote the tune. Dillon came over later and we reworked the lyric into what it is now.

BA: There is a lovely voice next to yours throughout the entire song. Tell me about who you're singing with. And, who is the third voice on the choruses - Jackson Browne?

VM: The female voice you hear on the record is Z Berg, the daughter of my friend and producer, Tony Berg. Z is a very talented singer/songwriter. She has great background part ideas and works really well with her dad. I love the airy quality in her voice. I like to call her "The Wind Machine." She's in a great band called JJAMZ.

Yes, that is Jackson singing the third part. He came in and sang beautifully on three songs. He really put his heart into the session. He's a great friend.

BA: Did you track your vocals together? I ask because there is a rather magical moment in the second chorus where the voices quiver with sentiment at exactly the same time, on the line:
"In her eyes of green, my blue world changed . . ."

VM: No, I recorded all of the songs by myself live on acoustic guitar then overdubbed everything else.

BA: As Jackson lovingly pointed out when he introduced this song on stage, you keep the guitar playing to a very simple minimum. I'd love to know more about that decision, given your obvious talents on the instrument.

VM : Initially I wasn't worried about how to approach the guitar. The problem was how to get good vocal performances and be believable as a singer. It was Tony who suggested after hearing me play the songs in his living room with just an acoustic, that we track the songs in that stripped-down style. Live guitar and vocal with no click track. So that's just what we did.

I used a 59 Martin D-28 with flat wound strings on all but one song. The combination of that really humble guitar sound and the sparse arrangements make for an inviting sounding record, I think.

BA: Along that same thought, what instrument is playing the lead melody? It has such a sparkly tone, like the harpsichord of guitars.

VM: It's a Greek bouzouki that I found in Hamburg.

BA: How old is this song, and who were you listening to when you wrote it?

VM: The song is about four years old. I remember being into David Crosby's "If I Could Only Remember My Name" around that time.

BA: What’s your favorite song right this minute?

VM : Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" is perfection.

BA: Thanks again, Val. And I wish you all the best with the record.

VM: My pleasure.


  1. Pretty Song. Great mix of tones and vocals.

  2. I agree! Thanks for listening and reading.

  3. Great great song. Have it on repeat. I saw these two play it together during a Jackson Browne show a couple months ago. Val's such a great player.

  4. Val is a wonderful musician. Thank you for stopping by!

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