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Former Byrd Roger McGuinn takes to the 'Net

Being "put out to pasture" isn't such a bad thing when you're an older artist with a history of making good music.

First of all, you're not in line for the slaughterhouse that is the big national media. You've already done your part, received your merciless skewering and/or ego-bloating praise, and escaped alive. At this point, you can pretty much sup freely, whiling away the days just trying to make yourself happy.

For Roger McGuinn, that pasture also contains some rather green grass.

After years on the other side of the fence, McGuinn, the former Byrds guitarist and a lifelong self-professed "gadget freak," has, like many of his contemporaries, turned to the Internet as a means of getting his music and ideas to a captive audience. The man behind "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn Turn Turn," "Eight Miles High" and "So You Want To Be A Rock "N' Roll Star" has turned (turned, turned) to technology as a way to keep his music (and the music of others he admires) alive. The man who sang Dylan's "My Back Pages" so beautifully? He'll now refer you to His Web Pages.

Creative Loafing recently chatted with McGuinn about all things "jingle-jangle," and, while he's not so much interested in chatting about The Byrds, he'll sure talk your ear off about the bytes. Enjoy.

Creative Loafing: You've always been a big proponent of using technology to further the reach of your art. When did this obsession first start?

Roger McGuinn: My interest in gadgets started back in the 40s. My grandfather was an engineer in Chicago, and he used to take me to the Museum of Science and Industry there -- a wonderful museum -- and I got in the habit of pushing buttons and making things light up and whir. I saw my first mobile telephone back then, and it just freaked me out and I loved it! So, I got into gadgets at a very early age, and have loved them ever since. I had my own portable telephone back in 1970. It was in a briefcase, weighed 15 pounds, and had a 25-watt transceiver in it. (laughs.)

You're also a vocal proponent of home recording, right?

Oh yes. Recording equipment has come down to the "artist level" now, where someone with a couple thousand dollars can have a studio that would have cost a million dollars 10 years ago. You can clip and paste, just like on a word processor. If you get a good harmony vocal, you can move it over to the next chorus. You can move and change pitch. We recorded part of Limited Edition [author's note: Roger's new album] at a studio in Nashville. I expected to see a tape recorder and a huge console. And they were there. They had the $200,000 Neve board, and the $50,000 24-track sitting in the corner just gathering dust. And they were doing the whole thing on a computer! (laughs.)

What's your opinion of recording software like ProTools?

I see it exactly as a multi-track recording machine. There's nothing ProTools offers that wasn't there before. It gives you a compact, multi-track recording machine and a compact board of effects boxes, all built in. It's also cost-effective, and is of the same quality or better than tape. It enables you to make more music -- more of the music you want to make -- quicker, and cheaper too.

Of course, you always have people who'll tell you they can tell when an album's done with ProTools.

If you tell them, they'll say yes, they could tell. The funny thing is, any CD these days was recorded on a computer, at least in its final mastering stage. (laughs.)

What about downloading? Services like iTunes seem to be making both sides happy these days.

It looked to me like it was going to be a success from the beginning. If they can get the price right, I see downloading as a very successful means of distribution. We've signed a deal with The Orchard Group, which has eMusic, and we have an exclusive for a short period of time before it goes to iTunes and the other services. In fact, the new CD, Limited Edition, is only available online, either at mcguinn.com or amazon.com. I haven't seen any stats yet, but it seems to be doing pretty well -- I've been on the charts there, and number one a couple of times. I think when they send us a check we'll know if it's working or not. (laughs.)

Speaking of record companies, I read recently where you and your band mates have been denied a serious amount of royalties...

They don't pay the artists if they don't have to! We had a large sum of money withheld from us because they said they "couldn't find us."

...And meanwhile you're on a national tour.

They knew where to find us, they just didn't want to!

Tell me about Folk Den, your non-profit website for furthering Folk music.

The University of North Carolina gives me free web space for the Folk Den. Which is very fortunate, because it would end up costing a lot with all the web space we're using! It's a public service, basically, (and is) sponsored by the University of North Carolina's iBiblio, which is the name of their website/server. It's just out on their Internet for people to stumble upon it -- there's no advertising. I tell people about it at my concerts. It's for people to download (the songs) and listen to them and play them and spread them around. And keep them alive!

Tell me about your album, Treasures From the Folk Den, which was culled from this project.

That was a lot of fun. It was a "strategic hit" -- we'd go to folks' houses and record wherever. I think we did it in a week or two. Some of (the artists) had studios in their basements, but we used our own recording equipment. Pete Seeger we recorded in his living room. Joan Baez we recorded in the garage of her road manager in Orlando, and Odetta was on the 25th floor of an apartment building in New York City. Real mobile recording.

Your music has obviously had a large influence on what is now known as "alt.country," for lack of a better term. It seems like the best of these bands are doing a good job at bringing traditional music to a new audience in a new way. What's your opinion of the genre?

I think you're right. We did songs with Both Wilco and Son Volt at different times, and both were great to work with. Nashville's more slick, more concerned with making "hits." Jeff Tweedy and those guys are more concerned with preserving the old music, and making good music. (It's) music with more integrity, if you ask me. And that kind always lasts.

Ex-Byrds' star Roger McGuinn plays the Sylvia Theater Friday at 8:30pm. Tickets are $30, $35 day of the show.

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