Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features guitarist Christian Nesmith.
Christian Nesmith can’t even count the number of times he’s walked offstage, bursting with pride and adrenaline after playing an amazing concert, only to have someone shatter his joy by spewing a line he’s heard his entire life. “They go, ‘Oh, son of a Monkee!” he tells Rolling Stone. “I just shake my head. I have never known a time in my life where I haven’t been associated with somebody else. Until you walk in my shoes, you can’t know what that feels like.”
That somebody else is Michael Nesmith. And even though Christian was close with his father and played guitar in the Monkees touring band and his solo group the First National Band — and continues to work closely with Micky Dolenz on projects like Dolenz Sings R.E.M. — the vast majority of his career has existed far outside of the Monkees orbit. He’s toured as a guitarist in Air Supply and the Led Zeppelin tribute act Led Zepagain, served as the musical director for the first Russian production of Hair, and released a long series of collaborative albums with his wife Circe Link, tackling everything from prog rock to grunge and jazz. He’s also posted countless YouTube and TikTok videos where he plays rock standards with stunning precision.
“I don’t want to say that I’m a ‘mimic,’” he says. “But I have a great appreciation for the work that goes into finding different tones, and finding different ways of expressing yourself. That’s not just on a guitar, but vocals and drum sounds also. I just love sculpting and creating.”
There have been many lean times throughout his journey. “The life of a musician if you don’t hit rock stardom is snack or famine,” he says. “You find ways to get it done and pay the bills. As long as you’re doing it with a guitar in your hand or a control desk in front of you, that’s worth it.”
Nesmith grew up in Van Nuys, California. Music was a constant in his life from the very beginning. “I’m absolutely sure that I heard the Beatles within the first 48 hours of my life,” he says. “When I was two or three, my parents got me my own little toy record player. It was a two-sided record of Disney’s ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ with ‘Peter and the Wolf’ on the other side. ‘Peter and the Wolf’ had a strong impression on me since I was immediately able to associate the emotional value of each instrument with each character right off the bat.”
When he was still an infant, his father landed a job on a goofy sitcom about a pretend band. Christian was only taken to The Monkees set on rare occasions. “Those guys were partying pretty hard during that time,” he says. “It was no place for a little kid.” When he watched the show, he mostly just felt baffled. “I actually thought to myself even at that young age, ‘What is my dad doing up there acting like a dummy?’” he says. “I knew who he was at home. He was a very serious man and a serious thinker. For him to get up and and act all dumb, that wasn’t my knowledge of him.”
Much of his time was spent at home poring over his dad’s massive record collection, which took up an entire wall. “There were thousands of records,” he says. “I was able to listen to anything I wanted to, and I did. One of my earliest memories is holding the cover of Sgt. Pepper.”
He made the move from listening to music to playing it himself around the age of five when his father taught him how to play “Heart and Soul” on the piano at a visit to his grandparent’s house. “He was able to teach me both the lead and the accompaniment,” Nesmith said. “In my mind, that’s the day I became part of the club. I could play.”
His knowledge grew when his mother started bringing home sheet music for songs like Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” and Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” so she could sing along. “They had the little guitar chord charts on them,” he says. “I would go, ‘A minor 9. I know what that is.’ I would plunk it out. That was actually hugely helpful. That strengthened my understanding of music theory. I was able to use that as a basis for everything going forward.”
Before long, Nesmith could figure out virtually any song on the guitar. And once he heard Kiss and Led Zeppelin, he knew music was always going to be at the center of his life. But it’d be a long time before he was able to turn it into a steady career.
There’s obviously a ton of hard work that’s required to become a musician. But how much of it is also just in your blood?
Being the son of a famous person, this comes up a lot. “The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. You’re just as talented as your dad.” I don’t know about that. He freely admitted that I was playing guitar better than he was when I was 13 or 14 years old. I knew my love of music was real right from the moment I started appreciating “Peter and the Wolf.” I don’t really believe in “nature” in the “nature vs nurture” debate.
I don’t know that the “love” of something could be hereditary. I think nurture is far more influential, if not 100 percent. I just happen to be lucky that I was surrounded by a lot of music. Had I been surrounded by a lot of race cars, maybe I would have done that.
Tell me briefly about your grandmother. The world knows her great achievement with the invention of Liquid Paper, but that’s about it. What was she like?
I didn’t know her all that well. There were a few visits. She seemed a very proper lady, if you will. I don’t know how much of that was real and how much of that was assumed. I know that she and my dad were dirt poor until Liquid Paper took off. They were really struggling. All of a sudden, she became this regal, red-headed, well-spoken icon of a lady. I remember her as a lovely woman. I believe she was rather conservative and religious. I think some of that was not transferred into my experience with her since my parents were so liberal and so hippie and so Sixties.
Did you ever think about a non-musical career when you were a kid or teenager?
I pretty much committed to music ever since I saw The Song Remains the Same. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been on the outs. I’ve been in all kinds of funky places. Music never stopped being the goal. I don’t know about the “goal.” It just is what I get. It’s just what I love so much that I would never not do it.
When were you homeless?
It was a very short period of time. I was an idiot kid in my late teens and early twenties. I’m 23 years sober now. That’s because then I was very much not. [Laughs] That’s no secret. My parents helped me the best they could. When you’re 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, you just don’t make the best decisions for yourself. But you think you’ve got the world under control. I wasn’t making the smartest decisions. I was thumbing my nose at the universe, and had nowhere to go.
And because I was being an idiot and a drug user, mom and dad, in their separate locations, went, “You can’t come here if you’re going to do that.” Those times pass. You go on. You get older. And homelessness isn’t that significant a chapter in my life.
Did the last name ever feel like a burden to you when you were young?
As you might expect, it has opened doors in some respects. It has upped expectations unreasonably in other respects. The biggest albatross is not being seen for my own work a large part of the time. I understand that he affected many, many lives. People carry around that nostalgia. That’s why those Monkees shows were so successful. And even with just Micky, they still do good business. People show up. They want to hear those songs.
And I knew that you and I would talk quite a bit about that part of my life in this interview. That’s fine. I don’t regret it. But I ain’t him.
Of course. Let’s talk about some of your other projects. How did you wind up working on the first production of Hair in Moscow?
I got involved in a local theater production of Hair. A friend of mine said, “I’m playing percussion. They need a guitar player.” Everybody in the band was sort of amateur. I was a fair cut above everyone else’s talent. I immediately went from sideman to Musical Director.
Michael Butler, the original Broadway producer of Hair, came and saw our production. He said that we came as close as anyone ever had to the original. Then he was approached by another guy named Stas Namin. He’s basically a Russian rock & roll star. He sold, so he claims, 30 million records in Russia. His grandfather was in the fifth tier of the Russian establishment. As each new premier of Russia would come in, they’d clear the decks in the top row, but his grandfather stayed in Soviet Russia all this time. This guy Stas had a blue light on his car. He could drive on the sidewalk.
Stas called Michael Butler and said he wanted to put on Hair in Russia. It has never been done there before. He says, “I know these kids. They’re doing it great. I think you should take a small group of them and the musical director and they’ll teach you how to do it.” Of course, Russians don’t know from hippy. It was a bizarre experience, but really, really cool. I can say I was the musical director for the first ever Hair in Russia.
How did you wind up playing guitar in Air Supply?
I actually built a recording studio with a guy named Michael Sherwood. He was an Air Supply alumni. Also, another of his best friends, a guy named Jimmy Huang, he was also an Air Supply alumni. I was in a skinny moment in my life where I didn’t have much work. I put the word out there: “I’ve got nothing going on right now. I need a gig.” It just so happened that [Air Supply’s] Graham Russell was letting go of their guitar player. He talked to Jimmy Huang and Michael Sherwood. They wanted to hire me. And so I did two years with those guys.
How was the experience?
They were great guys. And they gave me an opportunity to see the world. I did more touring with them than I had ever done up to that point. They also gave me and the rest of the band the freedom to really express ourselves within the context of those songs. I’m more of a hard-rock bass guitar player, and they allowed me to explore that. It was really fun.
Me and Jonni Lightfoot, who was the guitarist at the time, we’d just run all over the stage. They were very accommodating. It’s always ABC. That means Artist, Band, Crew. But they really allowed the band to be who they were and express themselves onstage. And so I was grateful to them for that.
Those songs have endured. You hear them all the time. It’s hard not to love “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.”
They’re good songs. Just ask them. [Laughs]
How did Led Zepagain start?
Led Zeppelin was a huge influence to me as a kid. I learned every song I could get my hands on. I played those songs my entire life for fun at bars and jams and what-have-you. For a guitar player to play those riffs, it’s just a blast. They are the most riff-laden band besides maybe Sabbath that’s ever come down the pike.
I heard from a friend that was doing another tribute band. They said that Led Zepagain, which is the West Coast’s premier Led Zeppelin tribute band, were looking for a guy. Hubris took over, even though it didn’t bite me in the ass at this particular juncture. I sent a message to the singer and said, “I know this sounds arrogant, but don’t hire anybody until you see me play.” And they did. They did an audition and they allowed me to go first. I guess nobody else hit it.
But I got the gig. I ran over all over California, Washington, Oregon and parts of West Canada. It was fun. Although my thoughts about the tribute world are less favorable than it was after I did it.
I think there’s a competition there that doesn’t do justice to the music. I also saw a few folks who thought that they were more of the character they were portraying than they actually were, which is not at all. [Laughs]
It’s just an odd thing to go and pretend that you’re somebody else. And to Led Zepagain’s credit, [lead singer] Swan [Montgomery], who happens to be from Ireland, had the accent. He never had to pretend. I saw Van Halen tribute bands going out and doing David Lee Roth’s shtick. I saw a Doors tribute band where the guy acted like he was Jim Morrison, doing this whole thing. That always struck me as odd. I’ll put on a wig to create the visual experience. And I’ll play the licks because they’re fun and I love playing them. But if you expect me to talk and walk like the guy…Ehh. Not so much.
Are you playing Page’s parts how they sounded on the record or on the stage or a combination of both?
Well, the live stuff was a great way to go because he did so many overdubs in the studio and stacked so many things. There are so many examples of layered guitars. The live stuff is just him and a guitar. And yes, we all know that he greatly repaired those live recordings and fixed them up. I don’t blame him for that.
The way I look at it is that Page’s hands gave up on him around 1975. For one reason or another, they just stopped working as well as they used to. Maybe drugs. Maybe…whatever it was. You can tell the difference. You hear the 1973 recordings and then the 1975 stuff and you go, “Oooh. Something happened.”
When I play those licks, my credo is to play them as he would have liked to have played them had he had the physical dexterity… You’ve got some of the greatest riffs ever. I just play them as perfect as I can, as soulful as I can, without the mistakes, which is what I think he would have done had his fingers worked better in those early years.
Tell me about the cover songs you and your wife Circe began posting on YouTube about a decade ago.
That’s an interesting thing. We got turned on by a friend of ours, Robbie Rist, who you probably have heard of.
He was Cousin Oliver on The Brady Bunch.
Yes. But he’s become an incredible musician and singer. He’s an old friend. I actually mixed a record for him, and produced a record for him. He got involved in a group called Theme Music on Facebook where you were encouraged to post a video, just sit in front of your phone, and sing a song that was in keeping with the theme.
One of the very first ones was “celestial bodies.” We did “Life on Mars.” What we didn’t want to do was just sit in front of the camera and play. We wanted to do something more interesting. That was also the impetus for us to start making videos, which we did right here in our apartment. Almost all the ones that look like actual videos were done right here in our living room with a green screen.
You do a pretty amazing job with them. When I first heard your version of Genesis’ “Dance on a Volcano,” I really thought it was the original recording. You sound just like Steve Hackett.
“Dance on a Volcano” was just an exercise. It was, “Can I do it? Let’s see if I can do it. I want to see how close I can hit all those parts, particularly Hackett and [keyboardist Tony] Banks and see if I can really nail them. I thought it came out pretty good. That’s actually Michael Sherwood singing on that version.
Then there’s a song like “Video Killed the Radio Star” where it sounds like you really deconstructed it and rebuilt it from the top down.
I’ve always loved that song. Everyone associates that with the first video played on MTV. I associate that with pre-MTV because of my dad doing the show Pop Clips. That was one of the wonderful things in my life as a young musician. Because everyone was sending him their original videos. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the early Split Enz stuff, but I got to see it when I was like 13 years old. It was mind-blowing, and so amusing. We were allowed, as kids of Nez, to just play them for our own enjoyment. We watched them over and over.
Tell me me about making your solo album Axe to Grind. I see that Warren DeMartini from Ratt plays on it.
He guessed on the song “Big.” This was in the early days of computer recording. I had been without a way to record for a long time. My two-inch tape studio sort of fell to the dust. And then I finally was able to get into some computer recording. Once that was in, I was like, “It’s on,” particularly with the editing and the programming and the MIDI capability.
I was doing one song out of a whole batch of songs. I was trying to blow a solo, and I realized I was just trying to ape Warren because he’s a fantastic player, one of the true great musicians to come out of that hair metal scene. He was head and shoulders above so many of those other guitar players. He was so creative, and had a style of his own.
I had the opportunity to kind of get to know him a bit. I met him on a couple of occasions and we spoke on the phone. I took the chance and I said, “You know what, I’m just doing you. Will you come over and blow a solo?” He said, “Absolutely, here I come.” He used my red Les Paul and blew a few takes. I cobbled it together a little bit.
It’s a cool record. “Big” sounds sort of like Stone Temple Pilots. “Blister” sort of sounds like Van Halen. And then “Buggin’” is sort of Janes Addiction-ish. You do cool things with your influences.
Yeah. That certainly was an influence for me. I loved the Purple record by STP. I thought it was just a fantastic record. And again, because I had this new way of recording…and it should be said that it changed everything to be able to record on a computer. One of the factors that people don’t often say is that you didn’t need tape anymore. And so it wasn’t cost prohibitive. You had to go out and buy $150 worth of material for every 15 minutes you wanted to record. For a struggling musician, that’s so hard to do. Once the computer era was in, it was on. I was throwing out as many ideas as I possibly could.
How did you wind up in the Monkees touring band in 2012?
Well, I just happened to be at up at my dad’s with Circe. Davy [Jones] had recently died. Micky and Peter came up and said, “Okay, it’s kind of a new era, different approach.” Thankfully, he said, “Yeah, but you have to put Christian in the band.” [Laughs] I was very grateful. That lead to nine or 10 tours or whatever it was.
What was it like learning the material for that first tour? I’m sure you knew it at least somewhat well.
Actually, I’m not a Monkees fan. I did not spend my early years learning all those songs. I didn’t listen to them for recreation. My path was far different than that. My early loves were Beatles and Elton John and Stevie Wonder, the Carpenters, Beach Boys. I was all in that other world. When I hit hard rock, it was Zeppelin, Kiss, Aerosmith, and Rush.
I barely knew those songs. I was learning them on the fly. And not to brag, but thankfully I have a really good ear. I was picking them up very quickly. And I’d heard them. They were in my subconscious lexicon way in the back of my brain somewhere. But it wasn’t rote by any means.
Did you gain a greater appreciation for the music as you learned it?
Umm…[Long pause] Uh…no. It was as much appreciation as I had for it before. There were certain songs that I knew I liked. And I already liked them. Again, the Monkees are not my style. They are not my bag. But I’m a good player. When I get up there, I’ll play it as well as I can do it for the part. That said, I always loved “Circle Sky.” I always loved “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “She.” That’s fun to do. “Stepping Stone” is fun to do.
It’s not that I gained a better appreciation for it. It’s more like an actor, if you will. I have to get into that groove. I have to get into that bag and make sure that I’m doing right by the privilege and honor to be asked to play. If you’re asking me to play and you’re giving me the opportunity to play it, I’m going to go out and play it the best I possibly can.
Those Monkees shows with your dad felt very special. I never thought I’d get a chance to see him revisit that music.
I don’t want to sound negative. This isn’t meant to be negative. I think, like I said earlier, about me always being associated with somebody else. He, in spite of wanting to do other things, like the First National Band and creating the groundwork for MTV, and developing the art form of the video, and writing books, and producing movies…he always knew that his obituary was going to read “Ex-Monkee Michael Nesmith…” There was a lot of bad feelings that he carried with him. There was a resentment about that. I think that he felt that so much of the hard work that he put into creating was overlooked.
Even if you go back to the very original rounds of it, right at the beginning of the show, if you think about it, he was out there hosting the hootenanny at the Troubadour. He’d gotten “Different Drum” placed with Linda [Ronstadt] and he’d written a few other songs and was among these up-and-coming great musicians that would go on to be CSN and the Eagles and what-have-you. That whole Laurel Canyon thing was just about to burst. He was getting recognition, the kind he wanted, as a quality singer, as a quality songwriter. And he was. That’s why his songs more than any of the other three showed up in the Monkees material, because they were quality songs.
The other side of that is that he went from those justifiable accolades to being in a pretend band. The pretend band is what blew up and got him notoriety. He’ll always be associated with being in a “pretend” band. That broke his heart.
This is a long way of coming back around to this point…those first few shows, because he was actually out there playing, and actually out there singing, and actually playing many of the songs that he wrote, to audiences that appreciated them for no other reason than they were up there singing and singing them well… You sing a song and the crowd sings it back and cheers. That felt great. It changed the way he felt about that part of his life because he got to approach it in a new, legitimized way.
That’s why, by the way, I think the Monkees do belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They went out there and actually sang it. Whether they were in front of a backing band doesn’t matter. That’s their songs. Those are their voices.
As my colleague Rob Sheffield has pointed out, the Sex Pistols were formed by a guy that owned a clothing store. But they wrote and sang those songs. That’s all that matters. The Monkees were a fake band on TV. But “You Told Me” is a real song by any definition.
It’s a real song actually written and actually sung by that actual person. Also, it sold millions of records and people love it. How is that not a legitimate contribution to rock & roll?
So Nez enjoyed those last few Monkees tours?
Even though his health was failing up and down through the last three or four tours, what a trouper. He walked out and he would…granted, and everyone knows that he’d stumble on lyrics from time to time, but his voice never failed him, ever. That was amazing to me.
Tell me about rebuilding the First National Band.
That was a lot of fun. We were sitting in sort of a downtime between Monkees tours. I think the Monkees had sort of given him a little goose, give him some inspiration to get out there and do more stuff. All the kids and their significant others were visiting him up at his house. I just turned to him and said, “Man, you should be doing FNB. I got the guys. I’m telling you I can put together a band that will absolutely do this stuff justice, that will kill. We can take it out. You sing it. I put the band together. All you gotta do is walk up and sing.”
He always had a little bit of questioning about whether people wanted to hear what he had to say. I think that goes back to being sideswiped by the “pretend band” thing. He wasn’t really sure since those three National Band records didn’t do squat. They didn’t sell for anything.
They were beloved though.
They gained an underground appreciation that was solid and never went away. I said, “You have an audience out there that will come see it.” He said, “Okay.” I started putting it together. I hired almost everybody. It was really nice to have my brother Jonathan there playing acoustic guitar. We got Pete [Finney] in there on pedal steel and Circe and Amy Spear on background vocals. The secret sauce was Christopher Allis and Jason Chesney on drums and bass. They’re dear friends and the rhythm section for anything I can possibly get them on forever since they’re just ridiculously good.
How did it feel to walk onstage at the Troubadour and see the reaction to this music?
I was far less surprised than he was. I knew that this was going to kill. I also knew that it was a sort of full circle thing because of his time at the Troubadour some 50 years previously. He thrived on it. It was amazing. You can even hear that. We left some of that on the live record. He talked about that reciprocation of artist and audience feeding each other. That was a perfect storm.
How did Dolenz Sings Nesmith start?
This was completely on the side. There’s a guy named Glenn Gretlund that runs 7A Records. He’d been wanting to do a few things with Micky. We did a lot of streaming shows here at my house, Circe with my band, live streaming. We had the occasional guest. Micky came over. We did a few songs. It came off really good. We always multitrack recorded those shows. Glenn said, “I want to put that out.”
That idea of a Dolenz Sings Nesmith album had been kicked about over the years. I heard it on the tour bus over the years many times. Micky said, “I want to sing all the Nez songs.”
We decided very quickly this wasn’t going to be a karaoke record where we just try to recreate the old tracks and strip off Nez’s vocals and put Micky on it. First of all, that wound sound kind of dumb. And second of all, Micky is a far higher singer. We had to re-key everything.
But it was my job. And thanks to Andrew Sandoval, who helped curate the list, he found a few underground things that I wasn’t even aware of. That was great.
We recorded 17 songs. It was my job to reimagine everything. Of course, the little thing of, “It’s your dad’s songs, dudes,” was sitting there over my shoulder. I wanted to do a great job. I really wanted to do the old man proud. And he loved it. He was so complimentary and congratulatory.
I really love the Indian arrangement you did on “Circle Sky?” It’s so wonderfully different.
It was Circe who came up with that idea. Nez said many times that Bo Diddley was one of his biggest influences. And Bo Diddley has many one-chord songs. For the most part, “Circle Sky” is a one-chord song. It has a break, but you’re just pounding away in A. I was really wrestling with a way to find my way into that song and re-imagine it. Circe just walked in and went, “Why don’t you try it as a raga?” Bing!
I attended rehearsals for the final Monkees tour and was alarmed to see your father looking so frail. Did you worry that he wouldn’t be able to do the tour?
Very much so. That caused me a lot of stress. I was very protective of him during that time. So much so that my need to protect him started to outweigh my role as just a guitar player. It was better that I step away. Not only did we have 19 friggin’ guitar players anyway, but it was a source of stress to me to see that kind of physical punishment, and certain members of that cast weren’t respecting that. They weren’t giving that a little room, which I won’t go into. That was something that caused me to be very angry about it, so I had to step away.
Did you attend the final show at the Greek?
No. It was better that I not do that. I stepped away from the tour. I didn’t want to be part of that crew. I just wanted to be Nez’s son again. I did see him when he came into town. That was fine. But I didn’t want to be part of that scene anymore.
A lot of fan theories were floating around concerning your father in the final days. People felt he wasn’t being treated well by certain people. Do you want to address that at all?
I would say that their concerns were mostly justified, but in the end it all worked out exactly like it was supposed to. That rotten element was excised.
It felt to me like he wouldn’t let himself die until he finished that tour. He really pushed himself.
To frame it like that causes me heartache.
Sorry. I didn’t mean to…
Oh no. That’s okay. I understand. And as it should. As his son, it’s normal to feel that way. One of the reasons I had to leave the tour is that I ached seeing him so frail. I wish that he had taken better care of himself. But maybe that was his body saying, “That’s it. Done.” That’s okay. He pushed through. Apparently the Greek show was amazing, and so heartfelt, and great. That’s a good way to go out.
How did Dolenz Sings R.E.M. come to be?
It was another idea of Glenn. He sort of knew that “Shiny Happy People” was written with the Monkees in mind. I listen to that song, and I don’t see how that’s true. But if it’s true, great. And I thought it was a really, really cool idea.
I never was an R.E.M. fan. My roots are in blues-based hard rock & roll. R.E.M. were huge on MTV and you couldn’t not see them, but they weren’t on my personal radar. And so I was really grateful when this came up because I had to do a lot of work and digging to make sure that we found all the right songs for Micky to do. I developed a new appreciation for that band, particularly where Michael Stipe is coming from. It’s clear that he was writing some lyrics that were fired up. He had some stuff to say.
Many people were surprised by this because if felt so out of left field. He previously covered the works of Carole King and your father, but those both made a lot more sense.
It felt random to me too. But, you know, I’ll take the gig. [Laughs] And Micky’s approach to it, he says pretty much the same thing. He just wants to be the singer. We recently had dinner and he said, “I’ll be Sinatra. You be Nelson Riddle.” That’s cool. It makes for a very good working environment. I know how that feels as a session musician when I was doing a lot of commercial work. What I want is for the producer to tell me what he wants.
Are you thinking yet about the next Dolenz Sings…album?
Well, there’s a couple of things floating around and stuff. But nothing sure yet. I just love working with Micky. Glenn gives me carte blanch in my approach to production and arrangement. It’s fun. I’d really love it if some people are digging some of these things I’ve done with Circe and Micky and some of these other records, to give me a call. I’m not just limited to the immediate family.
I really liked Cosmologica, your prog record.
That’s our most recent record. We did that completely here in this little room. I played all the instruments and Circe sang all the vocals. We did it during the 2020 lockdown. If you listen to the earlier stuff, there’s a country twang to a lot of what we called Cowboy Jazz, on Circe’s earlier records. On the last three records, we branched out and are trying some amazing things.
I wanted to see, “Can we do something that is full tilt prog for the sake of it?” It came out great. It should be said that people are going to say, “That sounds like Keith Emerson” or “That sounds like Chris Squire.” Well, duh. Of course it does. I make absolutely no excuses for paying full homage to my influences on this record. I mean, if you’re going to pick a bass sound, what better bass sound for prog than Chris Squire?
I was watching your TikTok. I’m sure it’s fun to play so many different riffs.
It’s a really great challenge and exercise. I like TikTok. I thought it was really fun. With the algorithms, you’re able to get where you want to go and see things you like pretty quickly. The algorithms are intuitive. But I wanted to do something on my own. I was like, “What can I do?”
I saw this woman into grungy things. On one of her posts, she said she had nearly a video every day. She just got picked up by a signed band and she’s going on tour. Fantastic! I don’t know if that’s necessarily my goal. But I said, “That’s good. I think I can do 365 cool riffs or solos in 365 days.” And we’ll see what happens.
Is there any talk of a big Nez tribute concert?
Not right now. As you might expect, an estate that wasn’t necessarily as large, but as broad as his, we’re still sorting it out. Once that settles and we can all get a closure on what that is and how that relates to our relationship to him, that might come back around.
It would be lovely to give a bunch of calls to people that had played with him. John Hobbs, Joe Chemay, Paul Leim, who were so integral in his mid-career…John Jorgenson…some of those others players. Penn Jillette was a good friend and has since become of mine. I’d love for him to be a part of it, and maybe be the emcee of the show. That’s all pipe dream and ether right now. There’s nothing like that happening.
Do people presume that you’re rich because of this idea about your father’s wealth?
Yes, they do. No, I’m not. [Laughs] Not by any stretch of the imagination. I live in a two-bedroom apartment and have for 20 years here in Van Nuys. By the way, there was a quote in Rolling Stone where Nez said he bought all his kids Teslas. It’s utter horseshit. That did not happen.
Nez told me that. I remember it vividly.
Well, he didn’t do that. And we’re not all rolling in dough. No, no, no. There’s a few nice little things laying around. It’s not upside down. The estate is fine. But if anyone think we’re all going to live in a house on a hill, we ain’t.
It must be weird that so many people you meet want to talk about your dad. I’ve done that myself here. Is it hard emotionally to have to talk about him over and over?
My relationship with my father was just like any father and son. It had its ups and downs and all those kinds of dynamics that fathers and sons go through. Almost none of it had to do with him being famous. None. My being associated with him, I understand it. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of the work that he did. I would hope…and I say this in the most positive way…not in a grouse or complaining way…but I would very much like people to see what I have to offer, because I’ve got some stuff to offer. I’ve got some stuff doing on here. And I think it’s pretty cool.