Making The Most of The Music When “Fortune Favors” with Bob Gentry
Bob Gentry’s first release from Blue Elan Records arrived in 2020 with the EP Back on the Horse and it marked a reentry into the music world for him after a ten year hiatus that he wasn’t sure he’d ever return from. Persuaded by Kirk Pasich of Blue Elan Records to send in some new songs, the result was eventually a substantial recording session that resulted in most of the songs on both Back on the Horse and on the upcoming full-length record, Fortune Favors, arriving on September 10th. As an insider hint, though, you can get the album digitally ahead of that date through Blue Elan’s preorder while the worldwide release date remains September 10th.
Gentry makes a virtue of a confessional feeling in these two sets of songs, but that doesn’t mean that the emotions or reflections in the lyrics are straightforward. He often looks at a question or a situation from multiple angles without coming to limiting conclusions. On Fortune Favors, he also approaches a few of the songs from different musical angles, expanding even further into vocal harmonies as gracefully as he threads in some occasional Rock accents. I spoke with Bob Gentry about the relationship between the EP and the new LP and the about how he approaches lyrical concepts in his current era of songwriting.
Americana Highways: I know there’s an interesting chronology between the EP and the LP because when you started working with Blue Elan, there was a lot of material in the works. What’s the relationship between the albums?
Bob Gentry: Most of the songs from the EP and the album were recorded at the same time. We were set up to record the record, and we had 14 or 15 songs. Then the world shut down and because of that, the label suggested putting out an EP as a kind of teaser for the album. So we picked five songs from that. When it came time to release the album, I was missing a couple of songs, so they sent me in to do a couple more, and that rounded out the album.
AH: It’s an interesting selection process because I see some differences between the EP and the album because the album has more vocal harmonies and a little more variation in musical influences. What was that first recording period like?
BG: I live in Palm Springs, so I was driving back and forth to Los Angeles to work with Dave Darling. I’d go there for two days, then go home and sit with the music for a couple of weeks, then go back. It probably took a month or so, or maybe a little longer. That was the first time in ten years that I’d been in a studio and I loved it. That’s where I feel most at home and it’s my favorite part.
AH: Some people are more in love with live performance and some people are more in love with studio work. It sounds like you have a strong studio affinity.
BG: I love performing and the feedback of the crowd, but if I had to pick between the two, I’d just record because that’s when I get to create. All that was before Covid and I’ve sat with the music since then. I actually stopped listening to it so that I wouldn’t get sick of it because 90% of it was done. When you record something, you listen to it a million times at first, but I knew I had to stop. Now I’ve started listening to it again, and I’m like, “Hey, this is pretty good!”
AH: Since you’re so happy with being in a studio, does that mean that the songs were still growing and developing during your time in the studio?
BG: With most of these songs, yes. In the past, I used to get a band together and we’d rehearse the songs to test them out in a personal setting. I don’t have a band now so, basically, I send the songs to the producer and ask him what he thinks. Then he might have ideas, or I might have ideas, so when we went in to record these, they were like a brand new songs to me.
AH: That sounds exciting not to know every single thing that’s going to happen.
BG: All the songs start out as folky little songs, either playing it on guitar or piano, with vocal. Every song starts that way to me and builds on that. Which is a good thing, because then you can strip it down and always play that way if you need to. If that’s not there, then there’s probably not a song. But I love working in the studio with vocal dubs.
AH: Did you know you were going to do so much with vocal layers on these songs?
BG: Though I love singing with other people, it’s fun to sing with yourself. Nobody can blend better. It’s like you’re a twin. Though it’s hard to duplicate live, it’s certainly fun to record it. I have so much fun doing it that on the last day of recording, it was really sad. It was the strangest feeling.
AH: Is that connected to feeling like, creatively, you’ve finished something?
BG: It was a mix of that, but mostly I was sad because if I had to be in a studio every day of my life, that would be great.
AH: Would you live in a studio if you could?
BG: [Laughs] I’d be all over that.
AH: What was it like writing again after a long period of being away from music?
BG: Having stopped for ten years, there were a lot of things going on. I had missed it so much, but I didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I started doing it again. I can relate it to being some kind of addict, where I got a taste of it again, and now I’m hooked on it. I don’t smoke anymore, but it’s like I got that puff of a cigarette, and now I’m back to a pack a day. [Laughs]
But I have a completely different outlook now than I had in my 20s or 30s. I just turned 50. I’m not embarrassed of my age. In fact, I am proud of it. When I was younger, I never wanted anyone to know I was over 29, but I don’t feel that way now. I see 70 year olds out there saying, “I’m 70 and I still want to do this.” I tell them, “Hey, I got my record deal at 49 years old.”
AH: What do you like about the title, Fortune Favors?
BG: Well, it kind of arose from the songs. My last full album was called Seconds, and everyone asked, “Is the next one going to be called Thirds?” I listen back at the songs and what most of them represent to me, then the title is sparked by that. I feel very lucky and fortunate, and I feel very aware of what is going on. I’m not out to be chased around by paparazzi, I just want to make some music and if someone likes it, that’s fantastic.
The endgame here is just that I’m getting to do it again and I’m very appreciative. Title-wise, there are songs on the album like “Lady Luck.” There’s that saying, “Fortune favors the bold,” or “Fortune favors the brave,” but if you don’t take chances and put yourself out there to have luck, good luck or bad luck, then it’s never going to happen. I think you make your own luck, but you have to be exposed to it.
AH: Was there every any chance that you might have walked away rather than moving forward? Was that a struggle at all?
BG: Oh, yes. That was in the back of my head. I thought, “Do I really want to do this again? Do I really want to go down this road?” For the last ten years, I’ve been living another life and I kind of put all the music behind me, which was tough. But I moved to a new city, started a new life, made new friends. But it’s like I’m myself again. I was just dormant.
AH: It’s like a secret identity that got reactivated. I suppose the songs are a great way to try to work that out. A lot of the songs are confessional here. Has writing helped you deal with the return?
BG: Most of the time, writing is therapeutic anyway. On the song, “The Lonesome,” which was the first single off of the album, people thought it was a song about being lonesome. But it’s an answer to that question, “What would you tell your younger self?” So every line in that song is advice that I’d give my younger self.
AH: You’ve made some videos for this album, including some live play. Did you have a particular desire to include live play on those?
BG: When I did music before, I learned all these skills from just doing music. In my first 40 years doing music, I had to learn how to be an editor, how to be a blogger, how to be a video editor, how to be a photoshop expert. You really have to learn to do it all. I had learned all these skills that enabled me to get a paying job later. Video editing is something that I enjoyed, so in the last ten years, for my day job I’ve edited videos. So I got to edit some videos here. Now there is some danger that I do everything.
But another reason I wanted to do live play is that it’s been a while since people have actually seen me. People may think back to the last time they saw me, when I was 25 or 29. I want to say, “Hey, this is me now!” But I am very wary of videos that tell me exactly what they are. If I have a choice, I’d much rather watch the band perform the song on a video rather than them feeding you the visuals. I’d like the song to mean what it means to the listener.
AH: You have a sense of humor about yourself in some of these songs, and “Monopoly” is one that really brings that across. It takes some guts to write an entire song using that metaphor.
BG: I’ve had that one up my sleeve for a long time. I recorded in the second batch of recordings. It was one of the newer ones. I have a friend who heard it and kept going back to it, so I thought I needed to revisit it. When it came time to record more songs, I pulled that one out. I had the most fun writing it. Lyrically, it almost wrote itself. It’s certainly not about the game of Monopoly, but it’s full of metaphors. I hope people can relate it to their lives.
AH: This song has layers. At first, I took everything on a lighter note, and then I started thinking about the words more. The word “monopoly” actually means, for instance, that one entity has all the power.
BG: That’s basically where it came from, from a relationship that I was in that was very lopsided. It was a good relationship but it was also something else. That’s why I put it in a song.
AH: I noticed that the narrator is pretty down on themselves, too, and different points, but the audience doesn’t know if that’s deserved or just being realistic, or what. The general sense is that the person hasn’t been a great player of this game.
BG: That’s how I felt. Even though I was losing in the game of Monopoly, I wasn’t always doing the greatest things.
AH: Then I realized that I don’t know much about the other person in the song, either, and whether they are being beneficial. The ambiguity there is really interesting because it keeps things from being about villains and heroes.
BG: I try to sneak things in. I don’t really want to say everything, but if I can sneak things into songs and someone else can relate to it somehow, that’s all I can hope for.
AH: It’s a really brave song for a lot of reasons, reminding me of how brave “20 Years To Life” is on the Back on the Horse EP. That one has a very direct prison metaphor, though it’s humorous, and follows it all the way through.
BG: I really have fun with these kinds of lyrics.
AH: There are some songs on here that are a bit more serious in terms of reflection, including “One Lucky Guy” and “That Life,” but one that I really have to ask you about is “Clowns in the Driver’s Seat” because I not expecting it. There are a lot of details in those lyrics and a harder sound to the music as well as including piano and violins.
BG: I hope that song doesn’t get me in a little bit of trouble because it’s politically-based. I’m not really a political guy, but you have to pick a side, and with the last five years of watching TV, I’ve been having to reach for a bottle of Xanax every time I watch the news. To me, the song is about a ring leader, who is basically putting on a big show. People are following him and believe him. But I can see the wires and the cards up his sleeve.
Let’s just say that I’m very glad we have a new president. I wrote it in the middle of that political environment, and I lost so many friends and family over it all. I’ve been trying to rebuild some relationships, but it’s just not working, and I don’t know what the answer is.
But the song has a whole string section. It’s actually a pretty big production. It’s probably one of my favorite produced tracks since it has so much going on. If I could do a video for it, I’d be standing in a giant circus tent! It’s fun to play live with a band, which I’ve done. It’s a flashback to my Rock ‘n Roll days when I was a Rock guy.
Find the music and tour dates for Bob Gentry here: https://bobgentry.com
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