Interview: Timothy B. Schmit (of the Eagles)

Timothy B. Schmit

By Martine Ehrenclou

Timothy B. Schmit has maintained an iconic presence in the music world since the early 1970s. The veteran bassist, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist has been a member of the Eagles since 1977, winning three Grammys and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the legendary band. His high-range lead vocals and songwriting skills defined the Eagles hits “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive” and are treasured by fans everywhere. Schmit has also worked with major artists including Poco, Crosby Stills & Nash, Steely Dan, Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, Elton John, Tim McGraw, and Toto. He’s a solo artist as well and has released seven acclaimed albums under his own name.

Day By Day is Schmit’s seventh solo album and his newest since Leap of Faith (2016). It’s a feast of timeless melodies, beautiful songs and insightful lyrics. The 12 tracks were recorded during breaks in the Eagles’ busy schedule. It is his third consecutive self-penned album with guests Jackson Browne, Lindsey Buckingham, John Fogerty, Benmont Tench, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, and Beach Boys’ alumni Chris Farmer and Matt Jardine. Day By Day is out May 6th.

Day By Day is flush with inspiring songs, melodies, vocals and harmonies and top-tier musicianship. I asked him to tell me about it.

Timothy said, “Three albums ago, I had an album out called Expando and starting with that one, I would call this the third, almost the trilogy. That’s just my own personal feeling because three albums ago is when I stopped collaborating and decided to just take my time and write everything myself. It is time consuming because I’m very busy with other things and the band. I’m on the road right now, calling from Nashville.”

He explained that he recorded Day By Day in between tours with the Eagles. “I take my time,” he said. “I don’t want to compromise on lyrics or feelings, and just write.”

Schmit’s home recording studio, known as Mooselodge, is nestled in a rural pocket of Los Angeles County with the Santa Monica mountains outside his windows. When asked about his songwriting for Day By Day, he said that he uses his studio as a writing space until he’s ready to record. “I just go in there and work and sometimes nothing happens, meaning I don’t get that many results, but I think it’s important to have those days in order to eventually get results.” Schmit added, “About half of this album was during major COVID 2020, where I didn’t have any distractions like going out to dinner. And I went out there every day and just worked on songs.”

I asked him about his inspiration for songwriting and a meadow that was mentioned in the press information.

Schmit said, “It comes from a variety of places. I get a lot of inspiration from my wife, Jean. We’ve been together for a long time and we’re still really tight. We’re always amazed at how great it all is. That’s an easy inspiration. She’s a part of a lot of these songs. Regarding the meadow you mentioned, one day I went into the studio and I was really lost as to the subject matter. I was looking out the windows behind the console and into this beautiful area. And I thought, ‘I’m going to write about this.’ And it’s old Chumash, Native American land. That’s where that all came from. And it’s actually one of my favorite songs I think.”

“’Grinding Stone?’”

“Yes, ‘Grinding Stone’,” he said. “If you walk up the paths, there’s actually a trailhead in front of my house. If you walk far enough in and know where to look, you can find this Grinding Stone. It’s really pretty amazing. It’s where they used to grind, probably acorns, for food.”

Given that Schmit brought in several well-known musicians to guest on the album, I wondered how he made decisions about who to choose for each song.

Timothy explained. “I’m an old folk singer. I usually write on an acoustic guitar because I can envision where I want it to go. Sometimes the acoustic stays and sometimes I lose it because it’s not appropriate for the style I might be doing. Then after I get a basic form recorded with guitar and a lead vocal, I start thinking about instrumentation. I have a lot of musician friends, some of them are known, some of them are not that known. I just try and pick out the ones I think would be appropriate for the song.”

Timothy B. Schmit photo

Timothy B. Schmit

Schmit continued. “On ‘Grinding Stone’, for instance, I have Jackson (Browne) and John Fogerty. I always think, ‘I’m just going to ask them. I’d like these people to do this. I wonder if they will.’ A lot of times people accept, which is really great. But I don’t do it to have big names. I do it for what I think they could bring to the record. And they were both great. They were both really hard working and they wanted to get what I wanted. It was really great. It’s the same process for lesser known people. I just try and pick out who I think might be appropriate.”

I wondered if Jackson Browne and John Fogerty contributed to the lush harmonies on the song or if Timothy envisioned them himself beforehand.

“I pretty much had it in my mind,” Timothy said. “I had sung all the parts and told them what I have and they liked it. I’m a big fan of The Band and I ‘modeled’ that song after that really incredible band. I wanted a crudeness. I didn’t want really sweet, doubled harmonies. I wanted some character.”

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Simple Man,” another track with gorgeous harmonies and melody. I asked about it.

Timothy shared, “’Simple Man’, after I started to write it, I said, ‘This is CSN like.’ I’m going to run with it and just go in that direction. After the fact, I look at it as an homage to them. I actually sent it to Graham (Nash) before anybody had heard it. I said, ‘I want you to hear this.’ He commented really nice comments. I said, ‘I’ve learned from the best.’”

Because the harmonies on Day By Day struck such a chord, I asked Schmit about them, even gushed a little about the beautiful melodies on the album. I asked if harmonies are a part of who he is a musician and songwriter, if they are part of his signature style.

Schmit said, “It’s always been easy for me. I love picking out parts. I’ve done a lot of it. When I was about 13, my two friends who had been playing some folk music with a third guy, brought me over to the third guy’s house and I just sang a harmony and they never called him back. I’ve been super fortunate to be able to sing with a lot of people that I never thought I would ever be in the same room with at one point. Steely Dan, Crosby, Stills, Nash. I’ve been on a lot of records that were singles that I heard on the radio. I actually used to have a list of things I’ve been on. I don’t even know where that list is anymore, but I remember looking at it and going, ‘Wow, I sang on a lot of things.’”

Curious about how he comes up with the harmonies I asked, “Do you just hear them in your head?”

“I just hear them.”

“You hear three-part harmonies? It just comes?” I asked.

“Maybe it just requires two parts,” Timothy explained. “I like the process of working things out. Talking about working out harmonies, in the very middle of ‘Feather in the Wind,’ there’s this massive amount of harmony. And I actually had three guys who have been Beach Boys to help me do that. Because I knew basically what I wanted, but I wanted to get their input, too, we just worked out parts together and sang a whole bunch of them. It’s very satisfying to actually hear it when it’s done.”

His song “Tastes Like Candy” is one of my favorites. “How did you end up picking Kenny Wayne Shepherd for that?”

Schmit shared, “I first met him when he was 16 years old and opening up shows for the Eagles in Australia. Quite a long time ago. Three albums ago, I wanted a monster blues player for this song called ‘Parachute.’ I got ahold of him and said, ‘Would you be interested?’ And he came over and played. I did the same thing this time. It turns out he was a really close neighbor of mine for the last few years, but I didn’t know it. I just caught him before he moved to Nashville. He actually came over twice because there was one little section that I wanted him to redo. He said, ‘I want it to be right for you.’ I’m a fan of great blues playing and that song called for that in my mind.”

About his songwriting, Schmit shared that he still thinks of himself as a developing songwriter and didn’t hit his stride during his younger years. He said, “A lot of writers hit their peaks when they’re quite a bit younger. I’ve been writing songs for a long time. Some of them I like better than others, but I didn’t really roll up my sleeves and seriously get into it until I was a lot older. I didn’t even do my first tour as a solo guy until I was 60.”

I wanted to know what it felt like as a solo artist, apart from the Eagles.

“The Eagles, first of all, allow me to do my solo stuff and to do as much as I want,” Timothy said. “It’s my own thing. I pay for it all and the Eagles allow me to do that. It’s really a great combo of things I get to do. I get to play arenas and stadiums with the Eagles, and then I go and play small places as a solo artist. And I like both worlds, but the solo thing is actually a little more intimidating because you’re so close to everybody and the spotlight is only on you all the time, but I like that. I mean, it’s scary and that’s the part I like.” He added, “I haven’t really gone out in a long time. I haven’t been able to, and I’m not really sure when I’ll be able to do it. I’ve got to see what’s going on in Eagle’s future, but I look forward to any and all of it.”

Schmit’s vocals shine on “Next Rainbow” and others, including another rocker “Mr. X,” about self-doubt and negative self-talk. I said, “I think everyone can relate to that song because we all have a Mr. X.”

He said, “That’s exactly right on.”

Not wanting to let Timothy go before inquiring about the Eagles. I asked, “Now that Deacon Frey is taking a break, what does the future look like for the Eagles?”

“That seems to always be up in the air even when everybody was alive for years,” Schmit explained. We’re finishing the US and then we’re doing Europe and England in June. And as far as I know, so far, that could be it for the year, but I’m not positive. And as far as next year goes, I really couldn’t tell you. I don’t really know. We still seem to be something that people want to hear and see. We’ll just see what happens.”

For more information about Timothy B. Schmit see his website here.

Listen to “Heartbeat”

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