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© Simone Cecchetti/Corbis
Did you give Mark any thoughts or direction as to what you wanted him to do?
“Nothing. I just sent him the song with my thoughts high in the air. I didn’t try to prejudice the situation – you can’t make somebody like something. Nash and I are kind of the pros from Dover on putting harmonies on stuff – people ask us to do it all the time. I could list you 10 major records from the last couple of years that we’re on. And we love doing it ‘cause we’re good, and we love music.
“But we won’t do it unless we hear the song first and feel that it’s worth it. And it’s only for friends – usually, it’s only for friends. I mean, even for somebody like David Gilmour, who’s certainly master class, we hear the song first – and he knows that. So we listen to it and say, ‘Yeah, we could do that. Here, right here. Ohhh, I know exactly what to do there.’ And you communicate back and forth. That’s how it’s done at a high level.
“With my song, I heard back from Mark, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s a good song. I could do that.’ And he sent us back what you hear. It’s not just that he’s a great guitar player, great writer and great singer; he’s a master craftsman at building a record. He understands set-ups and pay-offs, how to make a thing swing, all that stuff. He knows! He’s really, really good at this. He did me such a solid – and I don’t even know him. He did it because of the music. That’s high level. That’s going for the high ground. And the result is a beautiful piece of music.”
Holding On To Nothing is so sparse – it’s basically your voice, a guitar and Wynton Marsalis’ trumpet. Was that what you heard when you wrote it?
“Yeah. It’s probably my best vocal on the record. It came about in a wonderful way. There’s a poet who works in a bookstore where I live – really nice man named Sterling Price. He sends his poems out to friends. Sometimes they’re the size of haikus, sometimes they’re longer. With this one, I read it and I said, ‘Sterling, that sounds like the first verse to a song. Could you write me another? Same size, same rhyme scheme?’
“He sent me another one, and it was good. I said, “Do you have another one in you?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Well, do you know what a chorus is? Let me show you – this is how it works.’ That’s how it developed. He wrote a chorus and another verse, and I made up the music to it. I sang it and it was really good. I played it for Sterling, and he burst into tears – he’d never written a song before.
“So I sent it to Wynton, and just like with Mark Knopfler, he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I could do something with that.’ The way he comes into the song, at just the right moment, that tone… I go deep on Miles, but I don’t think his tone’s any better than Wynton Marsalis. Wynton had some of the finest tone, and he made some of the best choices of notes – he’s got such taste. He and I are friends, but that didn’t affect him wanting to do this. It had to be a good enough piece of music for him to get involved.”