On The Road With Timothy B. Schmit of The Eagles

Ken Morton, Jr. | November 17th, 2009

timothy-b-schmit

At some level, it has always been about the road for Timothy B. Schmit. Before travelling uncountable highway miles playing bass in the country-rock band Poco for nearly a decade, and before charting courses around the world as a member of The Eagles, it was about chasing the song on tires. For this Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, music and home were one as a child in a trailer on wheels.

Close to 50 years after its purchase, Schmit has gotten reflective about the Expando double-wide mobile home trailer that his family upgraded to after his musician father settled down working at a club in Sacramento. After chasing the next gig with his family in tow, Schmit’s father finally put down roots when Timothy was roughly a tween. The brand new shiny trailer with the pop-out sides, nearly twice as big as their old home, was the place where Schmit was raised and bitten by the music bug.

Now, a worn classic advertisement for that trailer is blown up large and is mounted on the wall of Schmit’s studio–partly for inspiration, but also partly for reminding him of his roots and exactly where he came from. Expando is also the title for his latest solo album, released this past month on Lost Highway records.

The 9513 had an opportunity to sit down with the legend and talk trailers and tracks.

KEN MORTON, JR.: Let’s open up by looking back a bit. You got your start in music playing in a band called Tim, Tom & Ron in our hometown of Sacramento at Encina High School. Is that what brought you to music in the first place or was it before?

TIMOTHY B. SCHMIT: It was before. My father was a musician, that’s what he did for his livelihood. From before I was born, he played the club scene and did standards of the day. They were a trio and did a little comedy. He was gone for the first part of my life a lot until I was about five years old. Then, about that time, my parents sold our house down in the Bay Area and moved into a trailer house. He pulled us around from town to town to wherever he was playing. He was probably my first real musical influence. From there, I started playing various instruments in early school. I sang in the chorus at school. I always took to the music thing.

KMJ: What kind of music was your dad playing in those days?

TBS: He was pretty active through the 50s and early 60s actually, in the club scene. The club scene back in the 30s, 40s and 50s was a lot of supper clubs. They would host a group for a week at a time. He was one of those groups that they would hire. It was really standards of the day. It was pre rock and roll actually. It was whatever was popular on the radio at the time. They weren’t songwriters, they’d just interpret the songs.

KMJ: Were you into his type of music back then or did you play the role of the rebellious teen and do your own thing musically?

TBS: It was the latter–a natural course of events where I would be interested in something else. But I never shunned what he was doing. I thought it was great. I was the only one in Sacramento where when they were filling out a form at school or something about what their parents did, they would write musician for my father. I was always really taken with it and he was always pretty magical in my eyes. I loved music and I’ve even purchased some of his old recordings that he did and I’ve transferred them to CD’s and gave them out as Christmas presents to significant people like family members. I’ve always been into all kinds of music. Anything I hear with my ears is really what influences me.

KMJ: That leads us to your newest project.You’ve got this brand new album called Expando that just came out this last month. Before we talk about its content, explain the title.

TBS I mentioned that I lived in a trailer house for most of my younger years–most of grade school and all of high school, really. Over the years, they kept upgrading our trailer house and when we started staying pretty solidly in Sacramento they got a big one and it was called an Expando. You could park it where you wanted to park it and it would literally expand out from 8 feet to 15 feet wide. That’s where the word came from. My first encounter with that word was this mobile home called The Expando. Later on, when I was making this record, I thought of that. My engineer friend and I started to look for it and do research on it. We found this old website and we found a brochure of this very same trailer house that I used to live in called The Expando. And I printed it out and I have it big on my wall here in my studio. When it came time to start to think about titles, I didn’t want to title the album any of the song titles. None of them seemed to quite get it. This word popped into my head and it seemed to sum it up pretty good. It’s such an autobiographical record anyways in many of the songs. I like the word and it’s different and it implies growing and expanding and I think that’s what I’ve done with this record. I think I’ve done on this record a bit. I think I’ve taken a big step in my songwriting and recording abilities.

KMJ: For someone that hasn’t heard the album yet, describe what they’ll hear.

TBS: For people that are familiar with my solo work, and even for those that aren’t, this is the best work I’ve done to date. It’s something I’ve done in my spare time with the time off with the Eagles. I’ve been really busy with the band for a long time. And we’re gearing up to go back out again after the first of the year–probably in the spring. For a while, we’ve been working all the time, but have a month off here and there. That’s when I would write and record a little at a time. It’s the truest music I’ve done. I chose not collaborate with any other songwriters–even though I know plenty. I didn’t want to go down that path this time. I decided to do this all on my own just to see what would happen–no matter how long it took. And it did take a while. I thought I would start everything with my roots which is kind of a type of folk music. I would come out to my studio on a regular basis and these songs kind of came together that way. I would figure out how I would want to treat them and then record them. I think it’s the truest representation of my music and partly me than anything I’ve done.

KMJ: Fans know you well for your work with the Eagles. How would you say your solo album is different from your stuff with the other guys?

TBS: I’d say it’s way different. Certainly there will be hint of that, because that’s what I do on a regular basis. I think it’s quirkier and at times, more raw than the Eagles. It’s looser than the Eagles. It is two different types of things for me. In a group situation, you have parameters. In my case, it’s the Eagles. You stay somewhat in those parameters. People expect certain things from the Eagles. They expect lots of harmony and melodic songs–and whatever else the Eagles might imply to the fan. When any of us go into the studio alone, we don’t have those parameters any longer. We can do whatever we want. I did a lot of experimenting. I didn’t do anything extreme, but I definitely wasn’t as careful as maybe the Eagles are.

KMJ: You have some special guests play with you on the album as well, don’t you?

TBS: When it came time for extra singing or extra instruments, I would literally sit down and think of who would be great on this or that. If I could have anybody, who would I choose? I would think of somebody and I would find out their info and I would get a hold of them. I would personally ask if them if they were available and if they’d do this. Luckily, the majority of the people I asked took me up on my offer. Some people I already knew, some people I didn’t. That’s how it happened. I did it all myself. I used management to get a few phone numbers, but I would do the legwork.

KMJ: Who are some of those people you felt important enough to ask?

TBS: One is a really great new friend who I didn’t know before I contacted him and he’s on the first song “One More Mile” and that’s Keb Mo. He’s a really terrific musician and a really sweet guy. He took my call right away and he came right out. I have the legendary Van Dyke Parks, who is more known as a writer and an arranger. He played accordion on some things. I had Benmont Tench from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers who did a lot of organ and keyboards for me. I had Garth Hudson from The Band–which is one of my favorite bands of all time. He was over here and did some organ on a song. I had Dwight Yoakam and Kid Rock on the same record. They’re both hard workers–in fact everyone was. On “White Boy,” my son Ben played drums and a little guitar. I have the Blind Boys of Alabama even on a song called “Secular Praise.” I ran into them on an elevator and got talking to them one night and that’s how that got started. And of course, Graham Nash, who is an old friend of mine. When I first wrote that song, “Parachute,” I figured out that I shouldn’t be in denial that it sounded like the Eagles. I decided just to not take it another way and have Graham sing harmony on that.

KMJ: Do you have a favorite track on the album?

TBS: Not really. Everything on here is on here for a reason. I don’t really have a favorite track. I’m happy with all of it.

KMJ: We mentioned your work with the Eagles a couple times. You guys finished an amazing 16 month international tour this summer, how was that experience overall?

TBS: It was great. We had a really good European run. And before that, we were doing most all of the states. It’s been an incredible experience for all of us. The fact that’s still alive and vibrant is amazing. The music still means a lot to a lot of people. We have a lot of people come experience it with us. I couldn’t have imagined that it would be going this strong at our ages. It’s still very exciting and pretty great. And now with some stuff that’s new in my life, it’s recharging me in another way too. It’s great to have the newness in my solo career and then the thing with the Eagles. I couldn’t really ask for anything more. I hear people around my age talking about retirement and it’s just not something that is in my future. There’s no stop sign out there. And luckily, I don’t have to. I have a great job.

KMJ: The relationship dynamic between the group members has been well-documented, how is that today?

TBS: It’s really good. Basically, we all have our separate lives and our separate families. We come together and we work. And we work very hard. And when it comes time to take breaks, we scatter. We don’t socialize all that much together outside of work. And that is okay, it doesn’t mean that anyone is having problems. It simply means that we have our own things going on. It just means that we’re not young and sharing a big house together. You know what I mean? The other three guys have young children that they’re raising. My youngest is 19 and in college. So things are really good. We have a really good work ethic. We come together to go to work.

KMJ: Will we be hearing new music again from the Eagles anytime in the future?

TBS: You know, that’s hard to say. It was pretty difficult to get out this last record. It took a long time. There’s a lot of elements to take into consideration. We’re a complicated group of people–including myself. I think we’ll just wait and see. My tendency is to say probably not. But I’m not so sure. I’ve learned to not make statements like that. So we’ll have to wait and see.

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