Spin Doctors' Eric Schenkman: How We Wrote Our Hit Song 'Two Princes'
via Ultimate Guitar
Spin Doctors guitar player Eric Schenkman was recently interviewed by UG's Steven Rosen, covering various topics including their hit song "Two Princes" which gave rise to the band's success. You can read the entire thing below.
It’s amazing that your music is still important to people 30 years after making it.
“Two Princes” particularly and the songs off that record are recognizable still to lots of people.
When you originally worked on “Two Princes,” did you have any feelings about how cool the song was?
We always knew “Two Princes” was a great song because it always got a really great response when we played it live. When we recorded it a second time for the record—we recorded it for a cassette earlier on—we slowed it down a little bit. That little bit of a lesser tempo made it so we all knew for sure. We just knew if it saw the light of day then people would like it. It’s a great song and I love to play it and I like it when I hear it.
Did “Two Princes” get written around your chord changes?
No, that song formed around Chris’ lyrics really but the rhythm in the guitar parts and changes are a big part of it.
The feel of the rhythm part you played was sort of sloppy but cool in a very kind of Keith Richards and Jimmy Page approach. Where did that style come from?
Probably came from listening to those guys. Everything I do on a guitar is meant to represent a lot more or a lot less than I’m actually doing. It’s never really an adequate tool to describe what you’re trying to describe.
Who else did you listen to back in the day?
I was inspired by a lot of varied guitar players and music. When I grew up there was a lot of music in my life and I had a musician father who had lots of records. I listened to the radio a lot. I listened to the pop stuff of the ‘70s and my dad was a classical musician so a lot of classical music filtered in. My mom’s brother was always giving me jazz records so I have a big heavy love for tenor saxophone. John Coltrane. In the early ‘70s, I learned some fingerpicking and 12-string things like Dave Van Ronk and Mississippi John Hurt kind of stuff.
When you recorded the Pocket Full of Kryptonite album, were you trying to bring out all these different influences in your playing?
When we went in to cut it, we had at least a couple of years of heavy club gigging behind those songs and there had been changes that came because we recorded some of those songs more than once. “Two Princes” we slowed the tempo down and of course we were just a trio and I really had in my mind a lot of second guitar parts going around in my head from not having a second guitar player and wondering what it would be like to actually ever get into the studio.
Once you got into the studio, you had already thought about the songs a lot?
I was lucky with this record because when we finally got in to do it, we had a little bit of freedom. There was a little bit of interest and it was enough of a record contract and enough time to do the guitar overdubs. With this record, I did have a chance to do second guitar parts. In a lot of instances I had something in my head that wasn’t realized and I got to try it to see if it worked.
Where did that happen?
There’s a great second guitar part in the song “Refrigerator Car” when it comes back in after the guitar solo. I play two chords together—a G and an A chord—which is reminiscent of “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I remember recording this poly-chord, which is two major chords together, and having this thought in my head that, “This is just gonna sound great.”
It did and it still does. Another good example of that is the second guitar part in “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues.”
How did you approach solos on the album?
The moment to decide what the solos were was in the studio because as a three-piece playing songs live, you’re just chugging along and not really playing big solos. With “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” I completely winged it and fell on exactly what’s there in five seconds. The solo and intro and outro. Conversely with “Two Princes,” I stayed up late, man, and ended up smoking a bowl of weed with Aaron at four o’clock going, “I’m never gonna get this.” He actually recommended it and said, “Why don’t you smoke some weed?”
Then you got it?
I came back in and cut the solo. I think “Two Princes” is a combination of two takes but I can’t remember where it’s spliced. “Little Miss…” is really straight and bang bang bang and “Two Princes” as highly labored over the entire evening and ended up being off-the-cuff but only as I said two or three takes after that bowl of weed. That was the “Two Princes” solo and my favorite thing I’ve ever recorded probably in my life.
So, smoke a little weed and play a great solo?
I wouldn’t ascribe it to weed necessarily but you’ve got to relax sometimes in order to let shit go and come up with something new.
Did you ever consider bringing in a second guitar player?
Not really. We tried that with Chris [playing guitar] occasionally but it never works. Sometimes with harmony, it’s better to leave it out. I love playing with two guitars or a keyboard or a horn but it never was in the cards for the Spin Doctors. We do find especially now with the 30th anniversary show that we’ve all continued to play both together and independently over the years. We have so much maturity in the ensemble and there’s a lot more space than there used to be.
You touched earlier about how much live gigging the band had done. Is there where that jam aspect of the band originated?
Yeah, for sure. Aaron was a Deadhead, I was into the Allman Brothers and Mark was a funk guy and into P-Funk. All those elements were present in the New York scene of the late’80s and early ‘90s. We’re actually a well-oiled and able jam band that’s pretty unsung at this point.
Were you listening to jam bands like Cream?
Yeah, we listened to all that stuff. Not just Cream but more like Hendrix and the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones and Beatles and Zappa.
Talking about Hendrix, you’ve done some interesting projects including Cork with Corky Laing and Noel Redding. What was that like?
Corky, me and Noel had this band Cork for several years. We did a month’s worth of touring altogether and had two recording sessions in Ireland and one in the U.S. [resulting in the Speed Of Thought album, 1998]. Corky and I are songwriting partners from then ‘til now. We’ve written a lot together including a song on Who Shot John? Corky and I wrote for Cork.
What was it like playing with that rhythm section?
It was pretty cool playing with a couple guys from the ‘60s. It’s a very different kind of rhythm section and I loved it. It really helped me to understand how that kind of music was built. Like what I said about trios, it was pretty exciting for me to work with two guys who really understand how that works. Both compositionally and where the guitar fits into that rock trio format and it yielded a lot of great songs.
Talking about Cream, you also worked with Jack Bruce?
Mmm hmm. I worked with Jack in Kip Hanrahan’s band. Kim was an avant garde New York jazz and Afro-Cuban ex-filmmaker. It was Jack, Andy Gonzalez and Fernando Saunders and some others. I worked with Kip on his record A Thousand Nights and a Night and we did some gigs in support of that record.
Jack Bruce played those gigs?
I got to know Jack at that time and he actually liked me, which was cool because apparently he didn’t like everybody. I enjoyed working with him. I’m very good friends with Malcolm, Jack’s son, to this day. Malcolm and I have also worked together with Corky actually.
When you were in the studio with Jack Bruce, were you nervous at all?
I was nervous pretty much a good amount of the time playing with that guy. That was several years ago and I was in a slightly different state of mind. Now I don’t get the same kind of nerves I used to get. At the time, I was much more inclined to try to want to impress somebody like that. Now I’m much more inclined to try to be who I am and enjoy the company.
When you recorded the new Who Shot John? album, did it feel different than recording the Spin Doctors records?
Not really. The thing that’s different is I’m the singer. I sing with Chris but I’m not the singer in the Spin Doctors. As a guitar player, it changes what I’m doing in a huge way because I’m accompanying myself. I’m very accustomed throughout my life to accompanying a lot of different kinds of singers.
Are these songs that the Spin Doctors might have recorded?
These are the same kinds of songs I’d bring in to any Spin Doctors session. I think it’s a great group of songs. There are a few different kinds of blues from punk blues to Americana blues and power funk soul and my sensitive side is represented. This could have been a Spin Doctors record but we just didn’t happen to be recording.
Play all the good notes.
Thank you so much for your interest.