ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 16, 1983
By Steve Newton
America, the masters of mellow, have just released their 13th album. Produced by Russ Ballard, Your Move continues the collaboration between Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley that began in 1970 when–along with Dan Peek–they had a huge hit in their first single, “A Horse With No Name”.
Over the years, with songs like “I Need You”, “Tin Man”, and “Ventura Highway”, America won a strong following worldwide. Sensitive lyrics and gentle melodies were the group’s trademark, and their songs became sitting-around-the-campfire staples.
Your Move sees America carrying on the subtle tradition, but with a much more mainstream approach. In a recent press release, Gerry Beckley calls the LP “one of our most commercial albums to date.”
I spoke to the other half of America, Dewey Bunnell, over the phone from Toronto recently and asked him about the group’s beginnings, former member Dan Peek, and producer Russ Ballard.
It’s been 13 years now since you and Gerry Beckley formed America, and Your Move is your thirteenth album. You’re not superstitious, are you?
[Chuckles] That’s true. I never thought of that–it is 13/13. I knew we had done 13 years, but I didn’t realize this was our thirteenth album.
What brought you and Gerry together in the first place?
We were in high school together, and we had mutual interests in playing the guitar. We became good friends, along with Dan, and formed a small band.
Was that in England?
That was in London yeah. We graduated from high school there and we went on to live together in a little house. We started writing and then one thing led to another. It was a nice beginning, a memorable time.
You weren’t originally from England were you?
I was born in England. My mother is English and so is Gerry’s. But I’m an American citizen. That five or six years that we lived in England was the only period I’ve spent there, besides going back and forth over the years to record and play.
Was there any particular reason why you named yourself after a country?
At that time, in 1970, we were homesick for the States, and there was a certain anti-war attitude that was really bad in Europe. And we were a little patriotic.
It’s just a strong name, you know. It’s a powerful word. In the end, the name really doesn’t matter. It’s one of those things where after the group is established the name loses its strength. But in the beginning a name can be really important.
It says in your press release that the name was “culled from a jukebox logo”.
That’s true too. There was a jukebox in a London cafeteria that was called the Americana. And I think as we looked at it and were sitting there trying to figure out a name, that had something to do with it too.
“A Horse With No Name” was an enormous hit for you both in England and the U.S. I really like that song. But I’ve never actually been able to figure out the message behind it. What is the “horse with no name”?
It’s nothing, really. It’s strictly the word-for-word sounds and the feeling of the desert, with a little bit of an ecological message at the end with the line about “under the cities lies the heart made of ground, and the humans will give no love.” Other than that it’s strictly the sensation of the desert.
What has kept you and Gerry together for so long?
We get along well. The band has been our whole lives–or at least half of our lives, just about. It’s our job. And we enjoy our job.
Do you still keep in touch with Dan Peek?
Not very much, really. But we did see him a couple of weeks ago in L.A.
What has he been doing with himself lately?
He’s making albums too. He’s a born-again Christian, and he does gospel records.
Did he become a born-again Christian right after he left America?
He was basically in that transition at the time he left the band in 1977. He had always been somewhat religious as a kid, and I guess it resurfaced.
Was that the main reason he left the band: to follow his religious pursuits?
Yeah that was the main reason. There were other reasons, but that was the main one.
Was it much of a transition going from singing your own songs to singing someone else’s?
On this album that’s exactly what we’re doing; we’re basically just singers. And I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s something different for me to be able to stretch out and interpret other material. It’s broken the monotony of recording for me to be able to do that.
Not to say that I think that we will do the same thing next album, because we really gave away a lot of the control of this album to Russ Ballad. But that was our choice too–it was a nice experiment. I think we’ll probably split the difference next time.
Do you prefer his production work to that of George Martin?
Well, I wouldn’t compare the two. Russ does a pretty simplified thing; he’s pretty straight ahead. There’s no real sitting down; it’s just whatever comes natural. With George we’d sit back and think about it a little more.
But the two of them are very similar. Our music and our direction needs that kind of simple thing.
Was your last album, View From the Ground, the first one Russ Ballard worked on?
Actually, we did one of his songs on the album before that. On Alibi we did a song called “I Don’t Believe in Miracles”. Then we did “Jody” and “You Can Do Magic” on the last album. And we’ve gone ahead and done about seven of his songs on this album. We like him a lot obviously.
I’ve heard his songs all over the place. He must really write and write.
Yeah he’s really prolific. He’s a really intelligent, eccentric kind of a guy.
He played most of the instruments on Your Move too.
Basically all of them! We did a couple of little guitars and he did the rest all alone. I mean, it’s neat. Because he was in England and we were in the States. He cut the tracks before we came over. We just came over and sang. It was kind of an easy way out, but like I say, we probably wouldn’t let that happen on the next album.
How did you come to get Stephen Bishop to sing backup on “She’s A Runaway”?
He’s a good friend of ours, and he was just over there in London. We were having dinner with him and asked him if he wanted to sing and he said, “Sure”.
Who do you like to listen to in your spare time?
I’ve been listening to a lot of instrumental records lately. The record I really like right now is the soundtrack from the movie Frances. It’s really beautiful music.
As far as pop music, I usually like most of the stuff that’s in the Top 10. I like the Pretenders and Dire Straits a lot. And the Police.
Has America changed much since you first came together?
Not really. I think we are basically the same band that we were in 1971. Our approach is the same: we go for melodies and strong vocal arrangements. We like the lyric to mean something.
What is America doing at the moment?
Our North American tour ended on August 25th. After coming home for ten days we go to Italy for three weeks. We have a big following there.
Oh yeah. It’s pretty amazing, actually. We do 20,000-seat soccer stadiums. And we’re doing a couple of things in Germany too. We did the music to a movie called The Last Unicorn, and that’s opening in Germany.
You won’t be making it to Vancouver will you?
It doesn’t look like it this time, no.
Have you been here before?
I don’t think we’ve ever played Vancouver. We’ve played Edmonton and Calgary and Toronto, but I don’t think we’ve gotten up there.
To hear the full audio of my 1983 interview with Dewey Bunnell of America subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 275 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:
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