Ken Sharp is a New York Times best-selling writer. Oh yeah, he’s also a singer/songwriter, power pop maestro, that’s now four albums into a solo career and he’s hoping you won’t hold the countless magazine articles, many liner notes and 18 authored or co-authored books (on subjects like Elvis, John Lennon, the Raspberries, Cheap Trick, David Bowie, KISS and three tomes on his power pop heroes) against him. Mojo magazine called his last record “a shining light in the world of power pop,” and Eric Carmen says Sharp’s latest, New Mourning (on his own Jetfighter Records), “his best work yet.” But will he get a fair shake? And what’s he gonna do about it?
Music Connection: It’s clear that this isn’t just a writer’s side-project à la Lester Bangs, but are you concerned about people unfamiliar with your work seeing it that way?
Ken Sharp: Playing and writing music has been the driving force in my life. So this album is definitely not a rock writer deciding out of vanity to record an album. It’s actually the opposite. I started out doing music and this is a continuation. In fact, New Mourning is my fourth album to date. I hope the music stands on its own and can be judged by its own merits as opposed to, “Hey, this guy’s a writer and this record's probably not gonna be any good.”
MC: On New Mourning you can hear a Jeff Lynne thing here or an Eric Carmen thing there. Has interviewing your heroes over the years given you insight, the “formula” if you will, to get that authentic power pop sound?
Sharp: If it happens it’s by osmosis. I’m the product of my influences; I dig everything from the Beatles to Elvis, the Sex Pistols to Hall & Oates, Todd Rundgren/Utopia, Small Faces, the Who, Queen, Raspberries, Badfinger, Motown, Squeeze, Slade. But the important thing I try to do with my music is inject my own personality into things. I want to stand out and have my own voice.
MC: You have Rick Sptrringfield and other special guests on the album. How did that happen?
Sharp: I’ve known Rick for quite some time, having written a book about him and liner notes for a few of his CDs. Rick plays lead guitar on two songs, “Burn & Crash” and “Satellite.” He’s a really underrated guitar player and lays down a fierce solo à la the Beatles’ “Taxman” on (my song) “Burn & Crash.” Ironically, in the back of my mind when I wrote the song “Satellite,” I always heard him singing the chorus and never believed it could happen, but my God, it did. I sent him the tracks and he dug it. Fernando (Perdomo, co-producer) and I went to Rick’s home studio, the Black Lagoon, in Malibu. We were there for a few hours and it was an amazing, surreal experience to have Rick— someone who had a huge influence on me as a pop songwriter—play and sing on my stuff.
I was also privileged to have Wally Stocker from the Babys and Prescott Niles of the Knack both play on the record. Fernando is very active on Facebook and he will normally post a 30-second snippet or a minute snippet, and both Wally and Prescott saw that on Facebook and liked it, and they both emailed me separately and said, “Hey Ken, if you want me to play on your record I’d be happy to do it.” I thought, wow!
It’s kind of ironic having Prescott and Rick on my record; these are two artists who both had two huge Number 1 iconic hits of the day with “Jessie’s Girl” and “My Sharona” and, ironically, Fernando just recently told me that one of his guitars that I played on the record, he played it on a Number 1 Latin record. So there’s some good mojo on my album with three Number 1 records represented.
MC: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome to make this record?
Sharp: The first challenge was financial. This was a record that financially I couldn’t afford to do, but emotionally I couldn’t afford not to do. I did whatever it took to raise the money each time I needed to cut another song.
Another challenge was how do you market yourself? Will you be taken seriously? So that’s something to fight against and you have to educate people. We did this record at Reseda Ranch Studios, which is my co-producer Fernando Perdomo’s studio, and I think we were able to come out with a really good-sounding record and we didn’t have to do it in a studio where you’re paying $100 an hour.
MC: As an artist going it alone, how do you get the most out of your studio for the least?
Sharp: It’s funny, I’d be working out at the gym on the treadmill early in the morning before a session furiously scribbling away thinking, “Okay, a Moog will be good for the bridge and then we’ll bring in a Coral sitar part and then we’ll bring strings in for the fade.” So doing your homework, not wasting time in the studio and really being prepared, is the most important thing I can impart to anyone.
MC: As an indie artist you also have the challenge of getting your music out there to the masses. How are you navigating the dilemma of wanting the exposure but receiving little money in return from streaming services?
Sharp: I think the whole streaming paradigm does not benefit songwriters. It benefits the big machine and when you’re the little guy like I am, the size of an ant, it’s a real uphill battle to get up over that anthill.
MC: Didn’t you also encounter technical problems when deciding to put the record out on vinyl?
Sharp: The challenge was that I recorded 14 songs and it’s almost an hour long. Real Time Vinyl, who specialize in small pressings perfect for an indie musicians like me, tried to fit it all on one vinyl, but due to its length I had to do a two-LP set. But, whatever, to have a vinyl of my own record is the ultimate victory for a kid who grew up worshipping records.
For more details, see ken-sharp.com.