America comes to town on Canada Day

America is coming to Canada!

But fear not: an invasion is not imminent. The America we speak of is the pop-rock group of A Horse With No Name fame, which is headed to Moncton for a Canada Day performance at Casino New Brunswick.

Although the peak of its success was in the 1970s, the group maintains a regular schedule of live shows each year.

From his home in California, band member Dewey Bunnell says that he and partner Gerry Beckley consider themselves fortunate to be able to keep the band and brand of America alive after all these years.

“We get a lot of shows offers but at the end of the day, we don’t tend to kick out much more than 100 shows per year,” Dewey says. “As glamourous as the road can appear to the unknowing, being on tour involves a lot of early morning flights, show set-up and living in hotels. You really end up living for those 120 minutes you spend on stage.”

Ironically, America were formed and found its earliest success in the United Kingdom where Dewey would eventually meet and start making music with fellow Americans Beckley and Dan Peek in the late 1960s.

“We were all Air Force dependents, Dan, Gerry and I. We had each come from different walks of life and different states at home in America, but ended up meeting and started making music while living in England,” he says.

Upon completing high school, Dewey admits that he “fumbled around” in music for quite some time. Eventually, he, Peek and Beckley made the conscious decision to write their own songs rather than focus on arranging the songs of others.

Before long, the trio dubbed themselves America and was soon making the rounds of music publishing offices in London to play their songs for music executives.

“Once we had a dozen songs of our own, we walked around to publishers throughout London to play our songs right in their offices,” he says. “We would literally take our acoustic guitars with us, hoping that we would be able to get a deal.”

Good fortune in the form of a recording contract would eventually find its way to the trio with Dewey admitting that their early days were a whirlwind for the group.

“It seems like we were high school students one day, and then were opening for Cat Stevens’ European tour the next. It was rather surreal,” he says.

Dewey says that looking back upon their experiences of having played with such remarkable acts as Pink Floyd, Elton John and The Who, he muses that it is probably for the best that the trio didn’t fully grasp the depth of what was happening around them.

“I was a naïve, dumb kid that felt like our songs were just as good as theirs,” he laughs. “We rubbed elbows with those bands and also had Derek Taylor, who had worked closely with The Beatles, championing us. All that was happening with the band didn’t necessarily intimidate us, however the experiences we had were intimidating in magnitude. Once we were on stage though, we were confident that what we had was good. Having reached our 40-year milestone last year, it is quite a history to look back upon and piece together.”

From 1972 through 1979, America enjoyed a respectable streak of chart success with their singles A Horse With No Name and Sister Golden Hair reaching the number one position on the influential Billboard Hot 100 Singles Charts. The group also lodged a number of Top 10 hits including Tin Man and Lonely People.

America continued experiencing sporadic chart success in the 1980s, although it released little in the way of new music after the mid 1980s.

In fact, its acclaimed 2007 record Here and Now was the first studio effort from the duo of Beckley and Bunnell (band member Dan Peek left the group in the late 1970s) since 1998s Human Nature. Produced by Fountains Of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger along with former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, Dewey looks back fondly upon the experience of making Here and Now.

“When we were signed with Warner Brothers, we essentially had to deliver an album a year for six or seven years. But these days, the industry has changed and with the digital age upon us. We have nothing in the way of deadlines or obligations imposed upon us. It’s probably for the better too,” he laughs. “I’m a bit of a lazy writer where Gerry has a studio at home and is essentially always writing.

“I miss the days of actively writing and recording to some degree but I find that I just don’t have the energy anymore, not to mention that we have already expelled a lot of different themes in our songs.”

One of the next projects on tap for America is an album comprised solely of cover songs of artists whom Dewey says he and his partner have loved over the years. Titled Back Pages, he says the duo ended up with a short list of more than 100 songs they believed would be ideal to be recorded. Due for release at the end of July, Dewey says that whittling down Back Pages to feature 12 songs was no easy task in some respects, he says.

“It was hard to sift through. We ended up wading in, grabbing a handful of songs from people like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and The Zombies and cutting them.”

Featuring guest appearances by Mark Knopfler and Van Dyke Parks, Dewey says that reinterpreting the songs as simply as possible was the primary goal for Back Pages.

“It is a fairly stripped-down release. First and foremost, we wanted the people to hear the great acoustic guitars that are featured on the record, so as such, we chose not to go too overboard in terms of other instrumentation.”

Article published in June 29, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript