Phil Solem, (seen here on the right), one half of The Rembrandts, chats with Kevin Cooper about the story behind I’ll Be There For You, a possible tour of the UK, working with Danny Wilde and their latest album Via Satallite.

The Rembrandts are an American pop rock duo, formed by Danny Wilde and Phil Solem in 1989. They had previously worked together as members of the power pop quartet, Great Buildings, who released one album for CBS before dissolving in 1981.

After establishing themselves as The Rembrandts in 1989, Solem and Wilde recorded a self-titled album largely in Wilde’s home studio. From this album, the group had their first success during 1990 with Just The Way It Is Baby, which reached number fourteen on the Billboard singles chart.

They are best known for I’ll Be There for You, which was used as the theme song for the television sitcom Friends, which was first broadcast in 1994. This song reached number one on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and remained there for several weeks before being released as a single where it peaked at number seventeen on the US Billboard charts. The song was also released in several other countries including the UK where it reached number three in 1995 and number five in 1997.

In 1997, the duo split, with Solem returning to Minneapolis to concentrate on his band Thrush. In 1998, Wilde released the album Spin This, credited to ‘Danny Wilde + The Rembrandts’. In 2000, Solem and Wilde reunited as The Rembrandts, and released the album Lost Together the following year.

In 2005, the band released an album of re-recorded favourites called Choice Picks. In 2006, Rhino Records released a collection called Greatest Hits, a twenty song career-spanning retrospective that included material from the lone Great Buildings album, Apart From The Crowd.

Whilst awaiting the release of The Rembrandts latest album, Via Satellite, Phil Solem took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good afternoon Phil how are you today?

I’m good thanks Kevin, how are you?

I have to say that I am very well thank you and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No problem at all, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Life at the moment is fantastic. Things absolutely couldn’t be better.

Now, we must speak about The Rembrandts new album, and I know that I am going to pronounce this wrong, especially with the barrier of the UK and the USA using the same language in a different way but I would say Via Satellite whilst you would say (Veea) Via Satellite (laughter).

(Laughter) it’s funny that you have brought that up because I have been noticing that one to the next person will say it one way or the other. However, the way that I used it in the record, it comes from the lyric in one of the songs, I said “Via Satellite” because when I was a kid I would always be hearing ‘Live via satellite’ on some television show and it has just stuck with me that was the way to pronounce it. But I have heard so many people say ‘via’ that I am now starting to think that the British pronunciation is actually the correct pronunciation. I’m just going to put it down to it being an artistic licence thing. Hopefully the Language Society doesn’t come down hard on me (laughter).

Have you ever thought that it could just be that us Brits have been saying it wrong since time immemorial?

Well, I have heard Brits, Americans and other people say either form of that, but it seems now that it is a part of our new record, I am hearing more people saying ‘via’ so I actually now do believe that the British way is the way that it is supposed to be. Whoever wrote that word initially was most probably a cave dweller; they said it, they made the rule, but I guess that I don’t necessarily follow those rules (laughter).

Taking all of that on board and ignoring the fact whether it is ‘via’ or (veea) ’via’, I have been playing the album for the last couple of weeks now and I love it. I have to say that I think that it is a great body of work.

I’m so glad to hear that. Let’s just say tomato, tomato (laughter).

Are you and Danny (Wilde) both happy with it?

Yes, we are. I’m happy that the album finally came out in one form or another because we have had several versions of this album that we kept piecing together out of material that Danny and I mutually had.

You have gone old school and have only put ten tracks on the album. Whose idea was that?

(Laughter) so you noticed that did you, drat! Danny and I decided at some point along the way that this album was only going to have ten songs on it. We used to put out fourteen or fifteen song albums, but to me, they just seemed far too long. The listener would lose interest, or the middle would sort of drop out. We now live in an era where people don’t necessarily listen to entire albums, or at least that has been the topic of popular conversations that I have picked up on. So, Danny and I thought why should we bother, maybe we should put out an EP and not bother with an album at all. However, we decided to split the difference and we went with ten songs, which is five songs per side, and I can say side because we are putting the album out on vinyl.

It’s great to see that people are once again embracing vinyl.

I’m so glad that you think so. I personally feel that, whilst it is going to take time, artists releasing their work on vinyl will boost the sale of equipment which in turn will boost the economy. Everything will be beautiful.

And dare I ask, have you given cassettes any thoughts?

Well I have to say that idea was banded about so let’s wait and see if the record company has the balls to put them out (laughter). There are still people out there with cars that have cassette players in them, junky old cars that perhaps shouldn’t even be on the road (laughter). I personally hope that the album comes out on every format available.

Would you agree that the whole face of the music industry is currently changing beyond belief?

Yes, it is, but as with all things, I suppose that it is inevitable. We are at a period where the exponential of invention together with the sheer mass of change is happening at such a rate that we simply cannot keep up with it. So, what can I say, just strap in, put your headphones on and crank up your record player (laughter).

You mention that the album has been kicking around for a while now in various guises. How long would you say it has taken you to complete the album from writing to release?

That really is a tricky question because some of the stuff goes far back. For instance, the first song that we recorded was completed over a period of several years, because we just kept writing other things at the same time. I guess that writing wasn’t necessarily our intention because it didn’t really feel at that time that the world was ready for another Rembrandts record. So, we would go out and play whenever we had the opportunity and we would talk about how we were working on a record and it will probably be out in the next year or two and we simply waffled along whilst we didn’t really have a solid commitment to a record company.

People were constantly saying to us “just put it out yourselves over the internet”. However, we soon realised that we didn’t want to be the ones who were monitoring how sales were or who was cheering the album; we are not PR people so it would have been a humongous mistake for us to try to release the record on our own. So, we had to wait for the right people to come along, who fortunately did in the form of GoodToGo Records. They managed to pop up and it feels like we are on a real, legit, old-fashioned, record label that cares. It was at that point that we started gathering up the material but, as I said, that has all happened over such a long period of time.

For example, there is a song on the album called Come To Californ-i-yay which I can’t even tell you in which year that song was written (laughter). What I can remember is that I was moving back to California and that song was going through my mind, and so it was the first thing that got recorded but, it didn’t have all the parts at that time. I had laid down the tracks quickly right after I had moved back there, but then that song just disappeared during which time we wrote a whole load of other things and had this immense pile of music. Then, when we were combing through all this material over the years, that song kept popping up and I was like ‘we should finish this, lets write a bridge for this’ (laughter).

That song is very rough; it was like one take, in fact, all the performances on the album are one take. So, as you can imagine, it has got like this clunky feeling, but it is a good opening salvo. Although it is not used at the beginning of the record, it was a good point for us to kick-off and write some new material, which is how material has been sitting in a box just waiting to get out. It was just like Pandora’s Box; should we listen to this record, or what’s going to happen to this (laughter).

Once the album was finally finished, were you able to walk away and leave it alone or are you a meddler and must keep going back to it?

To be honest, I was forced to leave it alone, but I have to say that I am a stickler for perfection. So, when we play the new songs live, there is always the possibility that I will change things at that point (laughter). I have to say that I personally feel that with this record, there are several moments on it which I wish that we would have done a little differently or maybe given it another shot. However, the cake is baked, and it is ready to go. It is as good as it is going to get (laughter).

You and Danny have produced the album. Does that put you under any added pressure?

No, to be honest I find that it takes the pressure completely off. I feel under more pressure whenever we have a producer hovering around. Maybe that is my old-fashioned way of looking at things, as I have always worked with producers who have you make the product and then you must take it to the label and please them, so that you are totally responsible for it, which makes it a real pressure situation. But in this case, nobody put us under any type of pressure whatsoever to make it be a certain way. It is what it is, it is being appreciated for what it is, and we are very grateful that we have finally found someone who didn’t want us to go back and do it again.

Having said all of that, do you find it easy to be critical of your own work?

Well, let me see, let me think about that, no it’s not easy, hang on, yes, it is easy (laughter). I have to say that I will change my opinion regarding that every couple of seconds because you can criticise yourself until your head falls off, but it simply will not get you anywhere, I guess. That really is a tough question to answer. In general, I am very self-critical, but I also find that sometimes I just go ‘no, that’s perfect, let it go’ (laughter).

I feel that How Far Would You Go is a fantastic opening track; it holds your hand and takes you on a journey through the rest of the album.

Thank you. We did that on purpose because we didn’t know where to really start with it and then we wrote that song; that is the freshest tune on the record. Danny and I put our heads together and came up with that track. The big surprise will be, although I guess that it won’t be a surprise after I tell you but, the big surprise will be that we have made a video for that song. We have made a proper video for that track. We haven’t made a proper video in quite some time now and it was great that we were given the means which enabled us to do that. We really did have a great time doing that. It is almost wrapped up, so I am assuming that it is going to be shown sometime between now and the release of the record. Who knows with these things; perhaps they will release the record and show the video simultaneously, who knows (laughter). That will be the song that has the most visual bang for your buck, I guess.

At the minute I have got three go to tracks on the album; Broken Toy, Count On You and the opening track, How Far Would You Go.

Wow, what can I say, don’t trip on them (laughter). At least not until the Acid kicks in then by all means, trip on them (laughter).

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

I’m not really a big favourites sort of a guy but my favourite track changes occasionally. We have currently played a few shows when we have had the opportunity to play a few songs from the new album, and we have played Broken Toy, and How Far Would You Go. A while back we started playing Travelling From Home which is one of my favourite tracks lyrically, and also Me And Fate a couple of times now. We really should start doing some tour gigs where we will just perform the whole record and attempt to pull it off (laughter). However, in order to do that properly we will need to have a ten-piece band out there on tour with us. So, the problem is that it is going to be expensive. The sad thing is that for us to be able to do that, the ticket prices would be over the moon.

You released your last studio album, Lost Together, back in October 2001. Why has it taken you eighteen years to release Via Satellite?

That was because Danny and I had gotten ourselves into a period where we simply didn’t know how to put out a record. We had a couple of independent record companies that didn’t really do anything that felt like there was any forward motion and I must say that within the musical taste in the world, what was being put out and what was popular at that time, was everything that we had nothing to do with. I’m sure that I speak for Danny as well, when I say that we just felt out of place. I personally felt that our time had come and gone. So, we thought that we would just do what we do and not change in order to try to keep up with the ‘times’.

So, we just kept on doing what it is that we do, in the hope that there would be enough people left in the world at some point in time that would accept us for who we are. And so, that time seems to have come, at least to the point where we can now fit between the cracks. Now there is not so much talking and dancing going on. The beast that is the music industry has been so beat orientated, to the point where most of the population don’t even call songs, songs anymore, they simply call them beats. And so, we make beats, but our beats have melodies and stuff (laughter).

If you do manage to go out and tour the album, will you come over here to the UK?

I think that it would be churlish for us not to. I would go so far as to say that the majority of our fan base is over there in the UK. Whenever I receive any fan mail, it comes mostly from the UK, quite a bit from Germany, Scandinavia and Asia but, I have to say that the UK is the one which is closest to our hearts. Everyone is always asking us to play in their town and I think that we would have to totally concentrate on that.

Was it nice to be working alongside Danny once again?

Yes, it was, I have to say that it really was. Because Danny and I never say to each other, “okay, let’s sit down and write a song”. We usually have songs that we have started and then we help each other finish them off, if they need to be polished up a bit or if we want to put a piece of each other’s personality into each other’s tunes. We end up harmonising on them and at the end of the day sometimes we can’t remember who sang which part. So, you could say that it gets a little kooky. If I am totally honest with you then I would have to say that the relationship between Danny and myself is totally unique.

I couldn’t possibly speak to you without mentioning ‘that song’ could I?

That all depends upon exactly what ‘that song’ is (laughter).

In 1994 you recorded I’ll Be There For You which everyone knows was used as the theme song for the television sitcom Friends; just how did that opportunity come about?

Oh, you mean that song (laughter). We were asked by the Executive Producer of a certain TV show if we would be interested in being the sound of their theme song. And they asked us to write something specifically for the show. We were shown the very first episode secret tapes, back in the day when things were actually recorded onto VHS tape, we watched them and got a kick out of it. It seemed like a legit thing, it was very funny, and Danny and I thought ‘if we do this, can we remain anonymous’. We told our manager “we would like to do it, but we want to remain anonymous regardless of just how big this thing goes”.

Our manager kept telling us that he didn’t think that we should do it, because in his opinion, no one did television. No one who was trying to release a legit rock and roll record was doing it via a television show. He really didn’t think that it was such a good move for Danny and me. However, we thought that it was a cool show, which looked as though it had a shot at becoming something big, so we thought ‘let’s do it’ and so in my mind, I just started grinding out all these ideas for a theme song. At first it was only supposed to be thirty or forty seconds long, and after having written several of them, and going into the studio with them, it was a little bit of a shocker because they said, “hang on, we have got an idea that we should all just work on” (laughter).

However, I said, “wait a minute, what about my idea” and I was told in no uncertain terms “no, we like what we have”. Anyway, to cut to the chase, Danny and I ended up collaborating with the main music director of the show, Michael Skloff, who wanted it to be more like a Monkees type of song. However, Danny and I were thinking ‘we would like it to be more like a Beatles type of song or better still, a Rembrandts type of song’ (laugher). So, we really put out heads together, and the way that it came off at the end of the day, most definitely is us. So, I guess that we are the second coming of The Monkees (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

The first record that I bought and paid for out of my own money was the Burning Bridges album by the late Glen Campbell.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

The first concert that I went to by myself, as a teenager, was to a Ted Nugent concert at which point in time, I got pushed up into the front row and Ted put his guitar down in front of me, in order for me to pluck a string. People around me were reaching for his guitar, but I beat them all to it and plucked the string. The only problem was that I pulled on it too hard and I yanked off his G string (laughter). At that point his guitar went horribly out of tune and Ted got really pissed off. That was my experience.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh wow, you know I would have to say that it was while I was watching the new (Bob) Dylan documentary when Joni Mitchell made an appearance. I just couldn’t hold it back. Joni Mitchell was singing Coyote and she did such a beautiful job. It was impossible for me not to grab fifteen boxes of Kleenex. I would highly recommend that you watch it at some time.

On that note Phil, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful. Good luck with the album launch and I hope to see you here in the UK at some point in the future.

Thank you, Kevin, let’s make it happen. You take care brother and we will speak again sometime soon.