Interview: Carl Verheyen of Supertramp

Unless you have been a fan of the British prog-rock outfit Supertramp since 1985 onward, you have probably never heard the name Carl Verheyen, who is that band's current lead guitarist; however, you are probably more familiar with some of his work than you realize. Carl is a versatile and constantly traveling musician, and has been an uncredited contributor to many popular commercial jingles and television theme songs. Carl spoke with us to talk about his latest solo album Trading 8s and to share some of the insight he's acquired from over two decades of making music.

How long have you been a solo artist?
Well, I have done my own band pretty much since 1988. but we didn't get on the road until 1997. Then I started touring. I got going in Europe pretty well in those days, and just kept that going. I actually just got back from a tour that took me from Italy to Spain, to England. It was fun.
I bet its hard to come home after a tour like that.
Well yeah, but it's hard to leave the family too. So you kind of end up with a little bit of heartache. But its a lot of fun. My band is actually leaving Wednesday for a tour from Seattle, Washington all the way down to San Diego. So there's another tour coming up.
A lot of people I know have heard of Supertramp, but can't name a lot of their songs. It's funny when I start naming the songs, you see this look of recognition on people's faces and they start to go 'Yeah!' Like 'Take the Long way home..'
...'Goodbye Stranger', 'The Logical Song'...
Did you have a hand in writing a lot of that?
I didn't, because that was all written before I showed up. I joined Supertramp in 1985, and so my experience has been sort of the latter-day part of it. That's been about 24 years in the band. We just had a really cool reunion not too long ago. We played over in The Hamptons where Rick Davies lives, the leader of the band. That was really fun to go over to his 40 million dollar house; we had a great party and it was really fun to play.
Has it been hard to keep you guys together all these years?
I guess you could say it has, because we all live in very very different places. I'm in California, and one of the keyboard players is here. But the sax player is in Yorkshire, England. The bass player is in Napa Valley..it just goes on and on. Everybody is in different places.
Do you have any interesting tour experiences or stories?
Oh yeah, with Supertramp and with my own band. I've played with Supertramp in places like a Roman Colosseum, and I've watched the moon come up right in between these two Roman arches. I have played with my own band in many different places. I mean, you name it, we've played there.
What is the significance of your album's title Trading 8s?
'Trading 8s" is sort of a jazz term, and its when you trade 8 bar phrases with another player. And in the jazz era, they would have these blowing sessions where, you know, the sax player, the trumpet player, the piano player would all play solos, and then at the end of the tune, they would trade 8 bar phrases with the drummer over the form of the tune. So I decided how fun that would be..I mean, you've heard rock bands do it too. Like what The Beatles do at the end of Abbey Road. The Allman Brothers will trade 8s for a while on their songs also. That's been going on forever in Rock n' roll. What I tried to do was enlist some of my peers and some of my heroes and say 'Can you play on my record?' It was a really wonderful thing; just the spirit in which everybody came together and was enthusiastic about the project.
I've seen that you have done some instructional work.
I have done two instructional DVDs I've done two books and 10 Cd's and a live DVD. I have been around for quite a while and a studio musician for almost 30 years. You may not realize it but you hear me everyday. I am on every episode of "Cheers", I played on the movie "Up", and I played on "Star Trek" this year. "Land of the Lost", "Scrubs", dozens of jingles, other peoples records. When I am not on the road with my band, I am definitely working here in LA.
So you play the "Scrubs" theme song?
Yeah, I play the main title and the little incidental music in between cues. You won't see my name on the credits though; all you get is the damn composers name. They never list the musicians on those shows. You know that movie "Ratatouille"?
Yeah sure.
I was one of the principal soloists on that movie. Which means me and a harmonica player and an accordion player and a violinist were the principal soloists and I didn't even get a credit for that. [laughs]
Did you get to go to the premiere?
Yeah, at least I got to go the premiere and take my family.
So you do a lot of commercials as well, right?
Yeah, there is a little bit of that, but its mostly touring. When you're like me you want to go out on the road with your band. I've always felt that I have had too much music inside of me just to be a side man for the rest of my life and play jingles and stuff. I've got my own music I want get out and play. So for that reason I'm leaving town for 3 or 4 months a year. But that's OK. i look at it like there's nothing more exhilarating than playing to a live audience and the people in the front row are singing along to a song I wrote in my kitchen, you know? That's a really beautiful feeling that you cant get when you play on people's jingles and stuff.
You are known for many different styles of guitar playing. What can we expect to hear on Trading 8s, as far as styles of music?
Well there's definitely some blues on there, and then I go into a real pretty ballad. I've got almost like a James Taylor style tune which is a duet with a female vocalist. There is some acoustic stuff on there, and a ska version of George Harrison's "Taxman" and that goes into a jazz fusion jam. I have a song called "Highway 27." I wrote it because this is the road that goes from my house down to the beach. I wanted to make a tune that I could listen to in my car when I'm driving. That was the impetus for writing it.
What kind of music do you listen to nowadays?
I pretty much hear everything. I like a lot of guitar music but I'm also listening to Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis, and jazz singers like Betty Carter. Today I was listening to some Little Richard and some Weather Report. But then again, we'll put on some bossanova or samba music and stuff like that, some Brazilian stuff, occasionally during cocktail hour. I like to hear classical music on a Sunday morning...so I really listen to a lot of stuff.
I'm sure that informs a lot of the music that you make.
I think so. I mean, if you're a shred guy or a heavy metal guy, and all you listen to is heavy metal guys, you're not really going to expand the genre because everything you've heard has been done. But if you're a guy like Jaco Pastorius, who was thinking like a guitar player on the bass, almost like classical flamenco guitar playing, he was able to take the electric bass into a whole new area.
Do you do a lot of social networking? Like Twitter or Facebook?
I do the Facebook thing occasionally because I consider that to be like a marketing tool. Getting a whole lot of fans and friends on Facebook. Every once in a while I'll mention I have a tour coming up or something like that. I have a Myspace page where you can hear my tracks. I have been holding off on twitter, but I will probably have to [use it] one of these days.
What are your thoughts on the record industry?
I have been with various record companies for 22 years, but I decided this time to make my own record, because I realized that the advances that the European labels would give me, they would pretty much make back on the first European tour supporting that record. I realized what I should do is just advance the money to myself and I will make it all back and more that way on the first tour. Which I did. So my latest record has recouped itself and its only been out a few months. In my position, not being a Britney Spears or a Rhianna, it makes the perfect sense to keep it a cottage industry and do it yourself.
Is there anything else you would like fans to know?
If you're a budding musician, be true to what you believe in, but also try to open your mind and learn as many styles as you can. That way you'll ensure yourself a long career in the music business.

I played the academy awards this year. Three days before the actual taping of the show, they came up to me and said 'Can you play an acoustic guitar version of the song "Moon River?"' Sitting on the front of the stage. They told me 'You should have it memorized [rather than playing it from the sheet music] because you'll be sitting on the front of the stage with the host Hugh Jackman. Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt and Angelina, and Penelope Cruz and all these movie stars will be about 3 feet away from your toes, and it would be better not to have a piece of music in front of you. Oh, and remember 65 million people will be watching.' So I went home and pulled out the music and memorized it and made myself a little solo guitar arrangement and I did it. If I hadn't spent the time learning jazz and different styles of music, I never would have gotten that gig. It turned out to be really, really big gig for me, financially.
Was it nerve-racking playing in front of all those people?
Well, I had to forget about the TV audience. 65 million is incomprehensible. The biggest crowd I have ever played for was about 180 thousand, with Supertramp. The Kodak theatre where they do they Academy Awards only seats about 3 thousand people. But when you add in the 65 million, that changes. So I just put them out of my mind, and looked at the beautiful movie stars.

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