Over burgers and eggs benedict, the longtime friends and contemporaries let Rock & Roll Globe listen in as they catch up on how they kept busy during the past eighteen months – and what’s next for each of them
Celebrated musicians Sal Maida (who has played bass with iconic bands such as Roxy Music and Sparks) and Steve Wynn (frontman for beloved alternative rock band The Dream Syndicate) haven’t seen each other since pre-COVID-19 days.
That means it’s a happy reunion when the longtime friends finally meet over lunch at Laly’s, a popular diner in Jackson Heights, the neighborhood in New York City’s Queens borough that both of them have called home for many years. Over burgers and eggs benedict, they let Rock & Roll Globe listen in as they catch up on how they kept busy during the past eighteen months – and what’s next for each of them.
They agree that it still seems surreal to be able to hang out socially after all the pandemic lockdowns and other restrictions. “Jackson Heights was the [COVID] hotspot in the beginning,” Maida says. “We were getting messages from people we know out of state: ‘Are you guys OK?’ ‘Yeah, why?’ ‘Well, because they’re reporting that Jackson Heights is the worst in the world.’”
Dire as the situation was here in Queens for much of last year, both musicians managed to keep their careers going. Last year, Wynn released two solo albums (Solo! Acoustic vol. 1 and the Decade box set), and he also did a series of 35 livestream shows with his wife, acclaimed drummer Linda Pitmon (The Baseball Project; The Filthy Friends). With The Dream Syndicate, he released The Universe Inside (via the Anti- record label) – it is the band’s seventh studio album, and perhaps its most adventurous thanks to its expansive, experimental musical approach. It is, Wynn says, “Probably my favorite thing I’ve ever done.”
“In a way, it was really frustrating because you couldn’t properly promote it or play shows for it because it came out right in the worst time, so people had other things on their minds,” Wynn says, noting that The Universe Inside came out in April 2020, right as the pandemic hit its first peak. However, he adds that there is a silver lining to this timing: “It made it seem a little bit more mysterious and elusive. It’s such a weird record, so I think hustling it might’ve been the worst thing to do. This way, it takes on its own life.”
For his part, Maida made significant contributions to others’ projects during the pandemic: he played on singer-songwriter Ed Rogers’ album Catch a Cloud, which came out last month. He also appears in The Sparks Brothers, the just-released documentary about Sparks, the quirky pop-rock band with whom he played in the mid-1970s.
Maida also co-authored a book, The White Label Promo Preservation Society: 100 Flop Albums You Should Know, released in May via Hozac Books. Maida wrote 25 essays for the book, as did his co-author and RNRG contributor Mitchell Cohen. Then they brought in 50 other contributors to write the rest of the entries, including musicians such as Peter Holsapple, Lenny Kaye, and Wreckless Eric, as well as famed rock critics like David Fricke and Jim Farber. Maida says didn’t know in advance what most of the contributors would choose as their “overlooked album” until they turned in their essays. “I farmed out only a couple of titles,” he says. “I let everybody just do what they wanted.”
Next up, Maida played on six tracks for a project named Spring 68 (along with guitarist Don Fleming). That album – title TBA – is set for release this November. Maida says he looks forward to finding out how his contribution to this project turns out. “They threw a bunch of experimental tracks at me and said, ‘Play anything!’ I said, ‘OK, I trust you!’” he says with a laugh.
Wynn also has a new studio release in the works: “Dream Syndicate is going back in the studio in Virginia in July to make a new record,” he says. “A real band in a studio with no masks!” The band also have several tour U.S. tour dates confirmed for September.
As they discuss their future plans, Maida and Wynn agree that they really ought to team up on another project soon. They’ve only done so, by their reckoning, three times for various band performances here in New York. For Wynn, who has admired Maida’s work since he was a teenager, playing together again is a particularly appealing prospect.
VIDEO: Roxy Music with Sal Maida performing “Psalm” at Musikladen 1974
“When I was growing up in Los Angeles, I saw a lot of concerts because my sister took me to them,” Wynn says, “but the first show I ever saw on my own was when I was sixteen years old, and I saw Roxy Music at the Hollywood Palladium with Sal on bass.” Wynn finally befriended Maida after he moved to New York, when they met at a record store in the city’s Upper West Side neighborhood about twenty years ago.
Finishing their lunches, Wynn and Maida stroll out into the Queens sunshine. They pose for a photo in front of a graffitied wall (“We’ve never done a picture together!” Wynn says, beaming) before they say their fond goodbyes and part ways, headed for their nearby apartments. With luck, their talk of working on a new project together will happen. After all, as the pandemic eases, anything seems possible again.
AUDIO: Sparks with Sal Maida “Throw Her Away (And Get A New One)”
VIDEO: The Dream Syndicate “Out of the Gray”