"A Horse With No Name." "Sister Golden Hair." "I Need You." "Ventura Highway." "Tin Man." "Lonely People." "You Can Do Magic." These are among the signature songs that comprise America's transcendent canon of songwriting riches. More than 35 years since they formed, America's music remains timeless. The group's two-CD set, Here & Now celebrates the group's storied career, past and present.
Disc one presents the band's first new studio album in many years. Co-produced by Fountains Of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, the record sounds like classic America with a modern twist. With a set list that closely mirrors America's multiplatinum greatest hits album, History, disc two captures a live XM Satellite Radio performance crammed with strong renditions of many of the band's signature hits.
Goldmine: What did Adam Schlesinger and James Iha bring to the record?
Gerry Beckley: One of the main attractions for Adam and James was their initial love of the America sound. We have intentionally tried to keep that being the main focus. We?re not trying to emulate or go backwards, but the initial ingredients have always remained common to us, which were an abundance of acoustic instruments sounds, a lot of vocal harmony and interesting melodies and lyrics in the forefront. There wasn't any talk about wrapping this in something for the new millennium and bring you up to date. If anything, it was, "Let's go back to those sounds of the first few albums."
GM: What kind of direction did you give to them?
Dewey Bunnell: We gave Adam and James as much lead on this. We want to incorporate the elements of their experience. They're terrific to work with. It?s a very comfortable situation. We've tried to maintain the elements of our own traditions — the acoustic guitars and the vocal harmonies — so those things haven't changed. We're not moving into electronic music. Adam and James want to preserve whatever quality of the old style that we have. But there's a few quirky things on the new album. We're doing a few outside tracks, including "Always Love" by a group called Nada Surf.
GM: Bring us back to one of the most memorable shows that America ever performed.
GB: We played the return of The Beach Boys to the Mall in Washington, D.C. They had been denied a year or two. They'd been playing every July Fourth. When James Watt, Ronald Reagan's interior secretary said, "We don?t really want that element," and then was forced to kind of say, "Sorry, I put my foot in my mouth. It turns out that Ronnie and Nancy are huge Beach Boys fans," the return concert was the biggest they ever did. It was 800,000 people. We were first on the bill, but we'd already accepted a gig in Caspar, Wyo. The only way we could do both was to appear first in D.C., and then we helicoptered out of there to the airport so we could make our gig in Wyoming. It was just a bizarre but fun day.
DB: It was really spectacular. We didn't know until after the fact how many people were there. It was a sea of humans, and it?s kind of like how you imagined the Woodstock Festival. Ringo Starr was on the bill, so we were actually on the bill with a Beatle, so that was terrific. The Beach Boys, who were our heroes, too, were the hosts. You really felt like you were at the center of the universe with all these artists and people, and it's in the nation's capitol.
GM: Unlike most America records, which are self-contained in terms of songwriting, on the new CD you have provided your own interpretations of songs by Nada Surf and My Morning Jacket.
GB: This album wasn't going to be a project where we picked a ton of outside material; we wanted it to really be mostly self-penned stuff. But we felt that there was gonna be room for some carefully selected songs.