PAT BENATAR AND COMPANY
-Michael Gabbay and M.C. Deegan
based on an interview conducted by John Braheny and Michael Gabbay
In September of 1979, the mailroom at Chrysalis was humming. "Heart of Glass" from the Parallel Lines LP was launching Deborah Harry to stardom, and five mailroom employees were busy stuffing endless copies of Pat Benatar's first LP, In The Heat Of The Night to radio stations all over the country. Benatar's first single, "If You Think You Know How To Love Me," was slowly getting airplay, quickly followed by "Heartbreaker" -which drew attention the high-spirited guitar of Neil Geraldo- as well as a third single form the album, "We Live For Love." Benatar, the diminutive lady with the three-plus octave, kick-ass image, had arrived.
Benatar's next score came with a rocking rendition of the Rascal's "You Better Run," for the movie, Roadie starring Meatloaf. (Remember him?) Released as a single, the record further established Benatar and her band in the public mind.
By the time of her second album, Crimes of Passion, it was common knowledge around Chrysalis that Benatar's stardom was imminent. Right out of the box, the single "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" was heard all over the airwaves, bringing her first Top-10 success and sealing her place in rock and roll.
Touring nearly non-stop, Benatar's third LP, Precious Time, yielded four singles, including "Fire and Ice". The fourth album, Get Nervous, gave us "Shadows of the Night" and "Little Too Late". Her fifth, Benatar Live From Planet Earth, has yielded her most successful single to date: "Love Is A Battlefield" went to the Top-5.
Still trying for her first number one record, this rock and roll dynamo has dominated the Grammy's since 1980, locking up the best female rock vocal performance category for the last four consecutive years.
Taking a break from work on their sixth album for Chrysalis Records at MCA-Whitney Recording Studios outside Los Angeles, Benatar, husband/guitarist/producer Geraldo and drummer Myron Grombacher took time out to talk to Songwriter Connection. The mood of the interview was relaxed and upbeat, the parents-to-be Benatar and Geraldo sitting comfortably on a couch and Grombacher fiddling off to the side on a swivel chair.
Songwriter: How long have you been songwriting?
Benatar: I started around '79 (with) the first record. That was my first attempt at doing it. Before that I'd just written poetry, stuff like that. I mostly write lyrics...Neil started before that.
Geraldo: Well, a bunch of trash....
Songwriter: So real songwriting started around In the Heat of the Night?
Songwriter: How do you usually collaborate?
Benatar: It depends. We have all different kinds of ways of doing it. Spider (Neil) usually comes up with most of the melodic stuff and, you know, in between records we're just jotting down things all the time and sometimes we actually write them physically together and sometimes we're like, absentee, you know- he just gives me something and I'll five him a few things. We just go back and forth.... Neil is more prolific than me, he writes constantly all year and I just write every once in a while. So whenever I get anything I just write it down on anything, stick it in a book and keep it for later.
Songwriter: How do your collaborations work with other people in the group?
Benatar: Pretty much the same thing. With them, just because of the locations- most of them live in New York and everything- we just kind of do it over the phone. They'll play something, or send a tape out of something that they have- just however it goes, whatever happens.
Songwriter: Do you usually get a little more motivated when you know you're going to be recording?
Benatar: No. Actually, sometimes it works in reverse. You can really dry up when you know you have to have songs written. Usually the best stuff comes in between, when there's no pressure at all or towards the end of the album when you know you have the bulk of the record finished- then all of a sudden you start writing all of these songs and what happens is you have them for the next record.
Songwriter: Do you find it difficult to write when you're on the road?
Benatar: Yeah, it's hard because you're doing so many other things all the time, you really have to concentrate on the live show every night and the travelling. But sometimes, I don't know, sometimes a plane can really make you mindless and all that travelling, sometimes that's a good time to write.
Songwriter: As far as outside material goes, where does that come from?
Benatar: Publishers, everywhere. Everywhere we find something.
Songwriter: Who ultimately picks the songs that make it to your records?
Benatar: (laughing) We go in the back and beat each other up. No. We just pick. Everybody picks. If everyone hates it, we don't do it. It's really a democracy. We don't use it if I just like it. Plus, they just keep going, "You like that song?!"
Songwriter: When you get demos of outside material, what quality are they?
Geraldo: They're good now.
Benatar: They used to be like, just guitar and, you know, but now they're like....
Songwriter: So now you get demos that sound like masters. Do you think you need that to hear the song?
Grombacher: We've never don a song with the arrangement that was submitted. We put a lot of work into arrangement.
Songwriter: So you don't need to hear a great demo to know that it's a great song?
Benatar: All it does is help you decide how you don't want to do the song.
Songwriter: So you don't like demos that sound like Pat Benatar?
Grombacher: They try and coax you with another "Heartbreaker."
Benatar: That's what they do. They give you things that are so old, you just go, "We stopped doing this four years ago, gimme a break!"
Songwriter: If it's heavily arranged, do you find yourselves having to unlisten to it?
Benatar: Sometimes, but you know, everybody is so selective. When I'm listening to the song...I want to hear vocal, I want to hear what the melody line is and the lyric, you know.
Grombacher: I'm a drummer, so sometimes I'll get locked into what the rhythmic pulse is on the thing. Which is a real drag.
Songwriter: How much say does the label have about what goes on the record?
Benatar: None. (laughing) They just leave us alone now. They only care about two songs anyway.
Songwriter: Hit singles?
Benatar: Yeah. As long as you give them that you can do anything else.
Geraldo: They're not going to tell you not to do it.
Benatar: The suggest.
Geraldo: If we say we're not gonna do it, then some people we talk to say, "Well, if you don't think so, you're probably right."
Songwriter: So, it's getting easier with success?
Benatar: It's getting better, yeah.
Songwriter: Do you miss the hungry years prior to "Catch A Rising Star?"
Benatar: What are you talking about? We're always hungry! It has nothing to do with being successful! Those things don't change because every year someone's coming out and your position is challenged. You know, you don't ever like, sit back and just relax like, "no problem."
Grombacher: Money isn't always a motivating force.
Songwriter: I've seen money cut creativity to the quick.
Benatar: I've seen it too. I mean, sometimes it happens. It happens in spurts. You know what happens is, once you get over it, once the initial thing happens and you make all this big money, then you don't care about it anymore. It really depends on, you know how (you live). None of us live like, real extravagant lives; we're not so far removed...
Songwriter: But is sure beats being a bank teller?
Benatar: (laughing) Yes it does.
Songwriter: Did you know that you were going to become Pat Benatar?
Songwriter: You had no idea?
Benatar: No. I mean, I was singing like, Barbra Streisand songs. I didn't know (laughing).
Songwriter: Neil, do you remember when you first met her?
Benatar: (interrupting) He liked me right away!
Geraldo: I thought she was great. When I first heard some of the demos I thought she sounded great on them. I though the instrumentation and the arrangements weren't very good at all.
Songwriter: So Jeff Aldrich of Chrysalis A&R hooked you up?
Geraldo: Yeah, Jeff did. Right.
Benatar: (Rick) Derringer through (producer Mike) Chapman.
Geraldo: Yeah, Chapman was the one.
Songwriter: Isn't Derringer into something strange right now?
Songwriter: Pat, how would you feel if Weird Al did one of your tunes?
Benatar: I think it would be great. I love that stuff- that cracks me up. It makes me laugh- real funny.
Songwriter: So Jeff really put the whole thing together for you?
Benatar: Yeah, Jeff is really....
Geraldo: ...a big part of it.
Benatar: Jeff came down to the club the night that I sang the first time in New York and he put us together
Songwriter: Neil, from a guitar point of view, you were really laid back on "Love Is A Battlefield" compared to how guitar heavy things had been.
Geraldo: Well, that was the last thing to be put on, the guitar, so after going through so many rhythms and so many keyboard parts, by the time I got done with it I was so burned out that the only thing I had left to do was just try to find a pocket that felt good.
Grombacher: What will happen a lot of times is, because he's a producer, too, he gives more thought to the arrangement of the song. he suggests different parts to different people and starts to eliminate options.
Benatar: The last thing we do now is guitar, 'cause he's so busy doing everything else.
Songwriter: When you put together a song what happens?
Geraldo: A lot of times, I'm just going to wing it.... In general constructing a song, if we write it internally, there's not much though process going into it because when you get an idea for writing a song, there's a feel you automatically have.... you're playing a groove, you're playing a guitar and you're singing it, you know what that groove is.
Songwriter: Who writes the lyrics?
Benatar: We all do. Me and Myron write.
Songwriter: Does it come down as a jam session?
Benatar: No, we hate working together!
Grombacher: Too lazy to do that (laughing).
Songwriter: When you guys go into a room somebody's got chords and somebody's got half a melody.
Benatar: Yeah, I mean, we do that sometimes. It's not our favorite thing to do. We don't rehearse anymore before we go in... It's not our favorite thing to do, just go in with, "I've got this , you got this," but we did that a lot on this new record.
Grombacher: We use like the planned accident method. You have a rough idea of what you would like to have happen, but you're not really sure what's gonna happen. That way you have a degree of spontaneity. It's hard to keep that in the studio... There's a certain kind of a magic, and a lot of times- when you're playing from a rhythm section point of view- there's a lot of times where you lock in a certain way, but it has a totally different effect that you don't actually perceive. Neil might be more perceptive of what the overall thing is than I am. It's just like when Patty's in there singing sometimes. She's doing something she has an idea or someone else has an idea. And you're dong it and only later on when you separate yourself from it do you realize what it is.
Songwriter: Do your lyrics change in the studio?
Benatar: Sometimes, but rarely.
Songwriter: Do you stand behind what you sing?
Benatar: Most of the times. There's very few songs where I let lyrics go. I mean, there's times when I let lyrics go because the rest of the song is fine. But, most of the time, I'm real meticulous with the lyrics because I gotta sing them.
Songwriter: "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"...
Benatar: That's one of the songs!... There were certain parts of that song that I liked, but most of it that I've sort of outgrown. I mean, it's so hard to sing, "you're a real tough cookie." You don't know what....it's impossible.
Songwriter: That was an outside cut?
Benatar: That's what's his name? Eddie Schwartz! I'll never forget. One night, you know sometimes you announce people's names, this is by so-and-so? When I said "Eddie Schwartz", I swear to God, the room- it wasn't very big, then, it was about 1500 people- it just went dead- silence, like Eddie Schwartz? And they all looked at me like, "What?"... I really don't know much about him, I know we met him one time in Canada.
Geraldo: He's Canadian and he's very short. He was nice.
Songwriter: Do you like that "hurt me and I'll kick your ass image?"
Benatar: That was such a...
Songwriter: It was a long time ago.
Benatar: Not only that, I mean they overblow everything. I mean, it's so one dimensional.....
Songwriter: That's advertising, not music.
Geraldo: It's all part of the same thing.
Benatar: I mean, it's part of the reason that you don't like certain songs, 'cause things were done around certain songs you just wish you could forget.
Grombacher: Sometimes you do stuff real innocently, and not naively, but there's a couple of different ways- you can sit down and be overly analytical and really look at everything you're doing, or just kind of go with the general tone of things and the general flow. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" we tried to keep it light....
Benatar: Yeah, real tongue in cheek.
Grombacher: We worked for a long time to get where it was like, fun, so when you heard the song it was fun and the whole thing that came out was that kind of thing (Pat was talking about).
Songwriter: What about "Heartbreaker?"
Benatar: We got that from a publisher and it had all these different lyrics in it. Two English guys had written it, I can't remember their names now...
Songwriter: Gil and Wade.
Benatar: Right, yeah, and it had all these little colloquialisms in it from their country- eiderdowns and aiderzeds (aiderzeds?-Ed.) and all these things that Americans would never say. So they gave me those and I had to rewrite all the lyrics. It was making me crazy. And then in the end, because it was our first record, they wouldn't let anybody know that those lyrics were rewritten or anything. We had to just go with it like that... I just loved that song from the first time I heard it. I think it's my favorite.
Songwriter: "Promises In the Dark"- you two wrote that together?
Benatar: That's the one I started on the plane.... You know, it's real hard when you're married to the person- you're always ashamed you know, you don't ever want to show your lyric. You just slip the lyric under the door and go, "You can read this, but wait 'til I go away!" When I write a melody, that's when I'm the most embarrassed- lyrics I'm okay with- because you know, he writes such great melodies and stuff. So, I came to him with this song half way done and I go, "Okay, look, I''m going to sing this part," and he's like, "Okay, come on," and I'm dying of embarrassment because I have to sing this and I also wrote the music on it...
Geraldo: You got the whole melody of the song, except for the bridge. That was tremendous.
Benatar: But then I let him write the last verse. "Okay, you clean it up!" (laughing)
Songwriter: Why did you write it in the second person?
Benatar: Sometimes I really hate singing in the first person- it's so personal sometimes... I do mostly observational lyric but if it's directly from something that happened, I can't stand to sing it in first person. I'd rather sing it as we or they or you, or something else.
Geraldo: She writes great melodies so don't listen to her if she ever says that again.
Songwriter: Do you get tired of playing your hits over and over again?
Geraldo: Just some of them.
Benatar: Some things. It's like, I'm sure if the Beatles were together and they had "I Want To Hold Your Hand" they'd die. Some things you outgrow so fast. Some songs last. I mean, "Heartbreaker" never bothers me- I could play it anytime without it ever bothering me. But some songs, you just outgrow them. You still like them, but I don't know. You always go, "It was a good idea at the time."
Grombacher: With "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," too, there was so much exposure on the song. You'd turn on the fights and everytime a guy got hit in the face they'd play "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." After awhile.....
Benatar: You get saturated. It gets old.
Songwriter: What about "Silent Partner"?
Grombacher: I'm responsible for that. Primarily, it's the lyric that appealed. And all I did- usually, when I write, I'll try to come up with just a working melody and that we wound up not changing that much, although Patty and Neil both added a lot to it, for some reason, they didn't take the credit. So I wound up being sole writer, anything I write, Patty and Neil will have a lot of influence on, because Neil has got a greater knowledge of chord structure and Patty's a vocalist who knows how to bend melodies. I usually start from a lyric point of view...
Songwriter: How many vocal tracks do you average per tune?
Benatar: Sometimes just one.
Geraldo: With backgrounds?
Songwriter: Lead vocal. Do you nail it first take?
Benatar: Oh, are you kidding? I am not one-take.
Songwriter: Do you pick and piece your vocal performances?
Benatar: No, we don't do that. We punch.
Geraldo: It depends. She'll get verses- complete verses. We'll just go patch.
Songwriter: So, you basically punch. I know say, recording Diana Ross they'll do twelve performances.
Benatar: I hate that, no. That's my least favorite way of doing it.
Geraldo: That's a real bitch.
Songwriter: How has video/MTV changed your life?
Benatar: I fall out of trees now.
Songwriter: Do you like making videos?
Benatar: Yeah, I like them, 'cause it takes the place of when you can't be out on the road and stuff, which we really don't do that much anymore. And, yeah, I like them. They're fun to do.
Songwriter: How do you feel about devoting time to a camera instead of recording studio?
Benatar: It's the same thing. There's a human being's eye behind the lens so to me it's not really anything. I just like it. They don't like it that much, I don't think. But I just like it. It's fun.
Geraldo: I don't like doing many.
Grombacher: I'm not real wild about it.
Songwriter: How involved were you in the planning of "Love Is A Battlefield," which was a big video?
Benatar: They have their own system of doing stuff, but those guys pretty much include you. I mean, it's like everything else. It's your video. You're paying for it and stuff, so, you know, everybody asked everybody's opinion... The only think I did was I said that I wanted to do something in the streets of New York and just something between parent and child relationship. That was all I said....
Songwriter: Any ideas of going into films?
Benatar: Well, I don't know. I mean, now that I have a child on the way, I don't know. I think that'll determine a lot. You could say, probably, yeah, but I don't know.... Yeah, when I'm older, when I'm done with this.
Songwriter: Pat, on John Waite's record "Change" that Neil produced, was that you in the background?
Benatar: (smiling) He won't let me sing on those records.
Songwriter: Didn't that sound like you?
Benatar: Great sound (laughing). Well, I admit, he wouldn't let me do it.
Songwriter: Neil, who was that?
Geraldo: I don't even know. There were a couple of New York hippie girls. They were- I don't even know- They were singing the high parts, these two girls with like, no shoes and long dresses and they sang great but I couldn't tell you who they were.
Songwriter: Are you influenced by radio?
Grombacher: I don't think we're influenced by it.
Benatar: Indirectly, I mean, it gets in there.
Grombacher: We're more influenced by one another. Usually when we play, it's together. And usually when we write, it's together.
Songwriter: What was the last record you put on your turntable?
Grombacher: In Excess was the last one.
Geraldo: (laughing) I was doing harmonica today, so I had a Sonny Terry record on!
Benatar: I don't put them on. I just listen to the radio. I can't stand playing records.
Songwriter: What sign are you, Pat?
Grombacher: Scorpio. Bad press. Always get bad press (laughing).
Benatar: That's because he's volatile over there.
Songwriter: That's because of your sting.
Grombacher: No. Sting's taller than I am. Sting's got more money!
Songwriter: That about wraps things up. Pat, when's the baby due?
Benatar: I'm two months along now.
Songwriter: You're going to be a great mother.
Benatar: (laughing) Let's hope. Some people think I'm a mother already!
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