Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fiona: Squeezing Out Sparks (1992)

This article appeared in a spring '92 issue of the Chicago Area Metal Magazine (CAMM) and was one of my first features. Enduring thanks to Fiona Flanagan, who generously gave me more phone time than CAMM's relatively limited readership probably merited....

“Who do I like to listen to?” muses Fiona Flanagan, the veteran hard-rock siren whose new album, Squeeze, is about to be released by Geffen Records. “I just bought that Sandi Saraya record, When the Blackbird Sings. I listen to old Rod Stewart. And I love the Ozzy Osbourne record that’s out right now.”

She pauses.

“Oh, and I just bought ‘I’m Too Sexy,’” she admits, laughing. “I bought the single last night. I think it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard in my life!”

Flanagan laughs a lot these days. But while life looks pretty good for her at the moment--new album, new label, new band (named Fiona, by the way)--she hasn’t always had a lot to laugh about.

Take, for instance, 1985, a year that, by all rights, should’ve been a really big one for her. Atlantic Records released her solo debut (the now out-of-print Fiona), she sang all over the No Small Affair soundtrack, and she opened for the ever-hot Bryan Adams on the U.S. leg of his megabucks Reckless tour.

But by year’s end both her album and the film were in the bargain basements, and Bryan Adams’ predominantly teenage female audience had apparently decided not to turn Flanagan into their latest role model.

1986 was better--for awhile. Not only was she
slated for some big-time top billing opposite Bob Dylan and Rupert Everett (of Dance with a Stranger fame) in Richard Marquand’s Hearts of Fire (Marquand’s follow-up to Jagged Edge), but the release of her second album (the still-in-print Beyond the Pale) was also scheduled to capitalize on the interest that the film would no doubt generate.

And, just in case Plans A and B should somehow fail, Flanagan landed the role of a “kinky hooker” who kills herself on what was then TV’s highest-rated show, Miami Vice.
But her character’s suicide proved uncannily symbolic: For the second time in as many opportunities, her promisingly multi-faceted career bit the dust.

First off, during the editing of Hearts of Fire, Marquand died of a stroke. “It
kind of freaked everybody out,” Flanagan recalls. “I think the film was problematic before that, but once he died, the film was orphaned. It was really his baby.”

More problematic than Hearts of Fire’s failure, however--at least from the standpoint of Flanagan’s music career--was the debacle that Beyond the Pale turned into before it was done, especially considering how well it could’ve turned out.

“I ended up marrying the producer, Beau Hill, so the recording of it was enjoyable,” she says. “It’s just that the record was pretty bad. There were too many cooks, not enough communication, not enough pre-production, not enough rehearsal with the band.”

It didn’t help either that the “band” was really just an assortment of studio pros coming and going through a revolving door. “It was a mish-mosh. People were
getting fired. And that’s what the record sounds like.

“But,” she wants to know, “why is that record what we’re talking about?”


It’s easy to understand why Flanagan wants to talk about Squeeze. Ten songs packed with walloping hooks and juiced to life by Marc Tanner’s metallic echo-chamber production, it sounds like what you might hear if that guy in Roxette were to ditch his current partner for Lita Ford.

In other words, if Squeeze doesn’t ring the bell at the top of the strongman pole that is the pop-music business, then maybe the world’s just plain unworthy of it and Fiona should pack it all in for a career in modeling.

“I took my time with this one,” she explains. And how much time exactly did she take? “Eighteen months. Not eighteen months of actual recording, but I wanted to put a band together. I started out with just me and [A&R man] John Kalodner. Then I solicited players.”

Did she have trouble finding musicians who’d want to play with someone who, despite being born and reared a Flanagan, had been as untouched by the luck of the Irish as she’d been up to that time?

“No,” she laughs. “There are lots of unemployed musicians, believe me. And, anyway, I didn’t
exactly try to get Eric Clapton on guitar. I just wanted people that were interested in the same things I was.”

The lineup that solidified about six months into the Squeeze project included guitarist Dave Marshall, ex-Y&T drummer (and Wayne’s World bit player) Jimmy DeGrasso, and bassist (and long-time Flanagan cohort) Laura McDonald. It’s a lineup, according to Flanagan, that feels more like a band everyday.

“It’s more of a democracy now than it was twelve months ago just because everybody’s been in it longer. I mean, Jimmy’s getting the band together now with Laura and Dave while I’m on the road promoting the record. Everybody’s really divvied up the responsibilities. Everybody’s in for equal splits and equal say.

“But,” she adds, “you get out what you put into it. So as more time goes by and the more these guys put in, the more we’re a band. That takes time, but from when we went into rehearsals to the actual recording, and then afterwards and now, it’s just like a train that’s really picking up steam.”

By the time you read this, Flanagan, McDonald, DeGrasso, and Marshall, will have just finished shooting its first video, “Ain’t That Just like Love.” They will also be in the middle of rehearsals for an as-yet-unspecified touring itinerary.

“There are two ways to go with that,” says Flanagan of the concert
circuit. “You could play clubs, or you could open for someone”--preferably someone with a large-venue contract and an audience of potential Fiona fans.

But, whichever route Fiona takes, one thing crowds should notice live even more than on record is the added flexibility and resilience that Flanagan’s opera lessons have added to her already remarkable voice. So why did she sign up for lessons in the first place?

“John [Kalodner] suggested that I take them. And once I went to the first one, I realized what a good idea it was. The guy [professional opera singer Ron Anderson] obviously knew what he was doing, and I obviously didn’t know what I was doing. So I thought, ’Bingo! I can learn something here!’”

What did she, a veteran of three solo albums and several soundtracks and live tours, feel she could learn from an opera singer?

“Well, my voice was really stiff. I’d taken it as far as I could personally. This guy knew a lot more about singing than I did. He knew a lot about the human body. He’d been studying all his life, and I just thought it was a brilliant idea.”

But back to the prospects of touring with an already-
established act: Whom does Flanagan think Fiona might appropriately warm up for?

“I don’t really know,” she admits. “I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to open for Skid Row. I don’t think that audience would like what I do.”

But why not? The music on Squeeze is loud and hooky, like Skid Row at its best, and Flanagan’s cheekbones are more photogenic than Sebastian Bach’s.

I think Skid Row’s a little bit heavier. They’re darker, especially with the second record.”

How about someone a little lighter, then, like Cher?

“If the money was there, sure!" Flanagan says without hesitation. "I think her audience would like this record.

“People have broad tastes,” she continues. “I think it would surprise everybody to go to somebody’s living room and see what records they listen to or what concerts they want to attend. People don’t have to define themselves by one particular strain of music anymore. I think all of this really narrow marketing is a mistake.”

But are there enough broad tastes to help Squeeze turn a profit? After all, Lita Ford’s equally worthy Dangerous Curves recently died an early death.

“I can’t answer that,” Flanagan says. “This business is a mystery to everyone. I mean, who could’ve called Nirvana coming out of nowhere and selling 200,000 records a day?

“It’s a drag about the Lita Ford record because I really liked it. But that’s really got nothing to do with me as far as I’m concerned. If it does, I might as well quit.

“Besides,” she says, “I don’t really think about who’s making records and what’s on the charts when I’m doing my work. Basically, I think about tomorrow and what’s for dinner.”

And what is for dinner?

"Probably McDonald's," she laughs, somewhat interview weary. "I think I need some red meat."

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