Missing Persons’ D. Bozzio arrested! Duran Duran’s A. Taylor turns tone deaf! Jacko’s schnozz falls off! Meanwhile, Zappa’s favorite guitarist unveils his new project…
BY GIL MACIAS
Not many guitar players have had as interesting a career as Warren Cuccurullo. In his teens, the Brooklyn born guitar virtuoso got to experience firsthand the tutelage of the legendary Frank Zappa — a rare honor any aspiring guitar player would dream about and something Warren, to this day, greatly cherishes. From there, Cuccurullo went on to form Missing Persons with Dale Bozzio and drummer extraordinaire Terry Bozzio. In 1986 he replaced Duran Duran’s exiting guitarist Andy Taylor and would remain in that position for 16 years. Since 2003, when all of the original Duran Duran members reunited, Cuccurullo has been off the radar working on various experimental projects and running his Italian restaurant, Via Veneto, in Santa Monica, California.
Some of his musical projects have been nine years in the making — some not even out yet — while others have been recorded recently and are just becoming available now. One notable project is his new band Chicanery, a duo formed by Cuccurullo and vocalist Neil Carlill. It’s the closest to pop-like project he’s done since leaving Duran Duran. It’s a psychedelic, experimental rock album, chaotic yet controlled, at times sedative, and features abstract, mind-fuck lyrics conjured up by Carlill. Fans of Radiohead’s Kid A and Primal Scream would find this right up their alley. And the best part is, it reunites Cuccurullo and Terry Bozzio, who have always been amazing together.
We were able to catch up with the guitarist at his home near Venice Beach, California. We discussed many things including: Chicanery, his rarely talked about meeting with Michael Jackson, looking back at Duran Duran, an encounter with Lady Gaga, and what a long road it’s been getting his music off the ground.
BLURT: So how did Chicanery form?
CUCCURULLO: Chicanery started as a duo. I met Neil Carlill a very, very long time ago in London in 1999. We decided to do a couple of tracks together back then. He was going to sing on this TV Mania project — this other offshoot thing I was doing with Nick Rhodes — which coincidentally is coming out sometime this year. Almost 15 years later. Anyway, Neil was going to be the singer for some of the material we had. I heard this guy’s voice on TV one day, and it was Neil in this band called Delicatessen. So I got in touch with him and started working on a couple of tracks outside of the TV Mania thing. They were sounding great. A few years later, he moved to the States and then I moved to the States — and out of Duran Duran — completely lost touch with him.
In 2003, I decided to go back into the studio and start making music again because I was bored out of my mind. Some of the songs I had done with him were still there so I thought I would get in touch with him so we can do some other stuff and I couldn’t find him. He didn’t surface until a couple years after that, like in 2005 when I had finished up this other project I was working on called Enlighten Up, which still isn’t out yet.
You finished something else in 2005 and it’s still not out yet?
[Laughs] The definitive Warren Cuccurullo interview is very difficult because I have been recording since 2003, but the way it’s going right now, the last project I did in the studio, which would’ve been finished in 2005 or 2006, came out first, last year in 2009. The first one I did, called Enlighten Up, is not coming out until later this year in Europe, might not come out in the States this year, but that was the first one I recorded. The second one was Chicanery, which was recorded between Playing with Tongues, the one that was recorded last, but came out first.
It’s a little confusing, but I think I’m getting it now…
So it’s going the opposite way now. The last one I recorded came out first, Playing With Tongues on Zappa Records. The second one I recorded, Chicanery, is out now. Thank God [Laughs]. The first one I recorded is coming out last. As it is now, Chicanery was a dormant project. It’s not like the old days where you were signed and you made a record and you had to get it out in 3 or 4 months. There’s no time table. Stuff is sitting on the shelves collecting dust. I started doing more political stuff that I was doing for my website. I wasn’t thinking about getting signed to a label or anything. Neil had been doing interesting music on his own the last few years. All of a sudden, there’s interest in it. We had like 9 songs and we thought we needed more. We made 14 tracks, but put 13 on the album. For me, it sounds like a band. It was done sporadically in bits over many, many years, but it’s got a totally cool identity.
When did Simone Cello add his touch to it?
Simone Cello is a producer, guitarist and songwriter I worked on other projects with. It was a thing where we could take an idea, I’d send it to the east coast, then we’d send it back here, Simone would get it, he’d do some stuff to it, and then we’d listen to it and go, “Ok, we can take that to another level,” so it was all interesting. It was like an internet project at the same time.
And how did you get Terry Bozzio involved?
I was mixing Chicanery and I heard Terry was coming to town and I was getting into this very Miles Davis-like guitar playing. I had this more horn player approach to guitar. So I wanted to do something very free and quick, go in the studio, jam for a couple of days, edit and make it a record. When I heard he was coming, I booked a studio and I knew I had 4 or 5 days with him. So I thought, the first day, let me get him to play on a few of these Chicanery tracks that could benefit from live drums. I just threw up those tapes to him before he got into the totally loose jamming we were doing. So he got to play on those few tracks.
The lyrics on this Chicanery album are a little out there…
I guess that’s an understatement. Are you involved in writing them?
No, no. I wish. That’s Neil’s whole thing. He is an amazing word man. They’re nonsensical but they’re rhythmic and musical. We’re both Captain Beefheart fans, so there’s a little of that there. It’s like instant cut-ups, like David Bowie’s cut-ups. It’s very interesting. If you’re not going to talk about what’s going on in the world, you might as well talk nonsense as far as I’m concerned [laughs]. I’d rather try to find hidden codes in lines like, “lived in Alaska/No dice for Monopoly.” That’s a classic if I ever heard one. I just marvel where people can pull stuff from. I love experimental things. So to take English to its nonsensical limits is pretty interesting.
The song that jumps out, for me, is “Hubert Selby Song.”
I love that one too, yea. It seems to be very simple but it has an interesting arrangement. Simone did a beautiful job on that one. It’s just a little guitar riff, but has quite a sound.
You’ve had a huge variety of projects since 2003. Do you ultimately plan to form a band that will be a permanent fixture for you, or would you rather keep having all these one-off projects?
It’s a great question. How does a guy like me make me make a living in music today? [Laughs] It’s ridiculous. What I should do if I had a sensible partner is to do Missing Persons correctly. But that didn’t work, like I said, I don’t have a sensible partner. So it’s not a working situation, it’s impossible. As opposed to Duran Duran, we could’ve done it with just me and Simon if Nick ever left, you know? We had the will and everybody was sensible. Everybody knew how to work, could show up, and keep commitments. You can’t get into flakey shit, you can’t.
What was your reaction to Dale Bozzio’s recent arrest for animal cruelty? The photos that were released were pretty horrific.
Like I said, I tried to put Missing Persons back together before the end of the year, so I kind of saw her before she went to jail to serve that term. [Pauses] It’s a disease. It’s a disease that needs treatment, that’s all I can say. It’s not nice for animals to be hoarded. It’s not nice for newspapers to be hoarded [laughs], so imagine animals. It’s a disease. I’m sure it can be treated but some people don’t want to be treated.
Well, Journey replaced their lead singer. Have you ever thought of looking for a lead singer who looks and sounds like Dale and moving on without her?
It would have to be a tranny. Hung like a horse [Laughs]. Nah, I don’t even think Terry Bozzio is into doing it at all. I wanted to do it because Dale’s voice sounded really good. Plus, I had a bunch of music I wanted to record. I thought it would be a nice 30th anniversary, and here it is, the 30th year and there ain’t no anniversary, baby. It’s just not happening.
That’s too bad. You guys have some really great material.
It is too bad. There is really great material. The setlist I had put together was amazing. I had Joe Travers on drums and Scheila Gonzalez on keyboards and sax. It was incredible.
I think you should seriously consider replacing Dale. She toured without you guys all those years; I don’t see why you can’t do the same. Maybe do a reality show and find a replacement. Until then, are there any unreleased studio tracks by Missing Persons you plan to put out?
No, but I did have a list of songs I guess we’ll never record. It was a mess. It would’ve been amazing if there was full sanity. You can’t go out and be a flake. I won’t be involved with anyone who is not 100 percent professional. People thought I was nuts for trying to do it with Dale, but I thought, if she did it back then and I’m with her now, maybe it’ll be ok. But it ain’t!
I recall during your 2002 reunion tour with you Dale, and Terry, she kept forgetting words onstage.
Forgetting words? Dude, she was fucking forgetting to shower! She was forgetting to bring clothes to the gig. She was forgetting, period. It’s an illness, she needs help.
So when you left Duran Duran, did you get hit with a lot of job offers? I would imagine someone with a resume like yours could get into another band easily.
Who would offer me a job? The whole thing is — I’m a writer, I’m a producer. Nobody really wants you in their band unless they want to give you their band.
Have you paid attention to the last two Duran Duran albums?
I heard some of the stuff. Obviously, I wasn’t impressed. It was very disappointing. I was hoping for a lot on the first one but it was so bad. And the second one was even worse. Look, when you’re looking for the essence of yourself in other people, outside producers — and I’m talking handfuls of them — handfuls of them for truckloads of cash. It just really doesn’t work. It might work for a young Madonna or a middle-aged David Bowie looking for another image change, you know? I think it’s best to do things — and I told this to Nick Rhodes too — handmade, man. Handmade is the way to go. Do it yourself.
Back when it was announced you were leaving Duran, the press as well as the news section on DD.com made it sound like sunshine and rainbows, that you and the guys agreed to part ways and it was a smooth segue into a new era of Duran. Not long after, rumors came out about how there were lots of secret meetings, you were in the dark and that you sort of first heard you were leaving the band through other mouths and not directly from Simon or Nick first. Can you clarify how it all went down?
I didn’t know anything about the reunion. Kind of like a “reunion of the snakes,” is it not? Total secrecy. The amicable factor comes from the fact that we worked out an agreement for the forthcoming album, “Astronot,” where I would be compensated. The other negative rumblings came from the request by DD management, that I not come to any of the shows or backstage. I was shocked. I was really looking forward to hooking up with them. I had my restaurant ready for whenever they wanted to come. I was really crushed and I got the word out. Turns out it was an Andy Taylor insecurity thing. Didn’t know he saw my G Magazine photos.
What was your first reaction when you heard that Andy Taylor left the band again?
It was the same old thing again. Exactly like 1986. When you’re in a band, it has to be beyond a serious relationship. He just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. It’s like a family relationship or marriage — you got to be amenable, you can’t be on the edge all the time.
After he bailed again, I know a ton of your loyal fans were hoping you would get your job back. Would you have taken it if they offered it to you?
At the time, I probably wouldn’t have. Now, who knows? I don’t know. It’s been a while. It’s been 9 years now. Time flies. But I’ve been writing a lot of music, having a lot of fun, enjoying life, but I lived on the road. So that was a big adjustment for me. Now it’s like I make music and hangout with the cat. Before I made music and went out to sell it. It’s not like that anymore. It costs so much money to go out and play shows. I couldn’t do that, it’s ridiculous.
Do you keep in close contact with any of the band members?
Oh yea. I’m mainly in touch with Nick Rhodes because we still have things going on. I got something going on with John Taylor too.
Even to this day, on all of the major Duran Duran fan forums, you’ll see the occasional Andy vs. Warren threads break out and the fans go at it. Do you like to peek in and read what the forums are saying about you?
You have to be a paid member on the official site, and I didn’t join any of those, so I can’t see anything. People send me some things though, you know. [Rolls eyes]
Not even any of the free major message boards like on the Duran Duran Lizard King site?
I haven’t seen that site in years. On YouTube, in the comments, you see the same kind of shit there too. Anyone in the know knows there’s no contest. [Laughs] It’s obvious. The guy couldn’t even work with them. It wasn’t a good mix. I knew what our priorities were. It’s a difference between a band and a brand. I think what’s become if it is, let’s go off into the sunset and become a brand, and not so much about the band.
So when Andy originally left Duran Duran, you had to go in and reinterpret his work and make it your own. Since then, the tables have turned and now Andy [has] translated your work [with the band]. How do you think he did?
He’s incapable of redoing my work. He doesn’t have the ears. He had big, big problems with the songs. The thing is, if you’re a guitar player who, first of all understands Led Zeppelin, which if you’re going to call yourself a “rock” guitar player, you better understand Led Zeppelin — the soft and the hard of Zeppelin. [Warren pretends to play guitar]
So if you’re going to attempt to play “Ordinary World,” which is in the key of C-sharp, you have to use your ears and see where the open strings are occurring. Any guitar player would do it. Once you find the key, C-sharp, you’ll see that you have an open E-string, an open B-string, and if you’re holding it in different positions like in the 7th or 5th position, you say, “Oh, C-sharp minor, here’s the 7th in the top, ok, now I’m playing a B.” [Pauses] He couldn’t find where those parts are, dude! He couldn’t hear the voicings of the chords, man. That means he’s tone deaf and — in a guitaristic sense — lame! Spastic! Because it’s all there. The only way you could play it is like that. And then the voicings that he decided or thought were working in the verses completely screwed up Simon’s melody. I sent an email to Nick with the exact voicings and everything, man. They couldn’t even talk to the guy. It was impossible to even be able to communicate with the guy. Nick’s words were, “Pure rage.” It’s the only thing that would come out of him. So imagine trying to work with somebody like that.
Have you ever had a conversation with Andy before or after your time in Duran Duran?
Only before I was in the band. He was in Power Station and I was with Missing Persons. We went to the studio and we were working with Bernard Edwards and he was working with Bernard too. We just hung out there. But damn, I couldn’t believe that a rock guitar player who was English could not find those voicings. You’d think he’d understand Jimmy Page, which I got “Ordinary World” from that Zeppelin land or whatever you want to call it. It’s just shocking to me.
“Ordinary World” is one of the few songs he played from your time period that really stood out as not being the same live anymore. So much of your guitar work is so complex.
What I did do all throughout my time in Duran Duran was make sure that anyone who ever tried to do what I did would find it ridiculously difficult. Not for what I just explained, but for the sounds. I took those sounds with me directly from the studio. This was like the beginning of the time where you could take studio gear and switch it from a pedal on the floor. So you’d have the real shit, the real delays, the real expensive stuff, in a rack, and you can change each program and have every sound just like it is in the studio. So I went to the fucking max on that. If you take a song like “Electric Barbarella” — It’s impossible for anyone else to play [laughs]. First of all, they’d have to spend about 30 grand in gear, but just to get that shit together and to do that was—forget it! Go through any record that I did. The guitars are impossible, just on the tonal aspect, to duplicate.
That’s one thing about you I missed when I first heard the Chicanery album—that guitar.
Well, as soon as “Hubert Selby Song” comes on, it’s like — that’s what’s missing in Duran Duran. The first 3 notes come on and that’s what you think. What a melody Neil wrote.
If you put out a single or make a video, that’s definitely the one.
That’s it, totally agree.
[ED. NOTE: Check out “Hubert Selby Song” here for free download.]
You were once called in to do some guitar work for Michael Jackson. What was that like?
I’m glad you brought that up, because the day I was working with him, his fucking nose was falling off [Laughs].
Yea, this is really bizarre. I got a call from Chuck Wild, the old keyboard player from Missing Persons. He was working with Bruce Swedien, who was our producer for Rhyme & Reason, who was also Quincy Jones’ engineer who worked on all the Michael Jackson records. So while I am in London, Chuck calls me up and asks when I will be in L.A. and when I can do this thing. So I said, “Yeah, OK, great.” So we set it all up in Los Angeles, my gear all goes to the studio. I’ve got all my stuff set up, my giant pedal board rack and who’s there? We’ve got Bruce Swedien, Chuck Wild, Lisa Marie Presley, and Michael Jackson. He comes in the room, we’re talking, I’m trying to show him what I do, and he’s leaning against the door. And while he’s leaning against the door next to his wife, there’s this clear liquid dripping down from the middle of his nostrils.
Now there’s like 4 or 5 people in this room who have known him for years. And it’s dripping lower and lower and it’s like this long letter “u” of clear glue just hanging there. It’s the equivalent of someone having this huge piece of spinach stuck on the side of their cheek, and this shit is hangin’ there, and nobody said anything. Nobody! Nobody went like, “Hey Michael, do you need a tissue?” There wasn’t even an emergency code word for like his nose is falling off in front of others. [Laughs] So I didn’t say anything either! I figured, well, what the fuck? If Bruce ain’t saying anything and Bruce has known him since he was 4-feet-high, I ain’t going to say anything! [Laughs]
Nose dripping aside, what was all of this for anyway?
This was for the HIStory project. And the funniest fucking thing was — that’s all I had to do — was go in and play to nothing. [Laughs] I did get paid. I don’t know what they were doing. I think maybe they were going to take loops of things and use it as a background for something or a voiceover type of thing. Who the fuck knows?
Do you plan to make music videos for this Chicanery project?
Well, who the fuck does music videos anymore? What I mean is, there’s really no way unless you’re a hot shit editor yourself and have all the stuff they use now to make a video. I love shooting stuff and I love to edit, but I don’t know how to use the new editing stuff. There is some really cool footage we shot back in 2005 that’s screaming to be put together. Neil might have some stuff that he can put together but it’s not going to be like it used to be — like back in the old video days. And the label wouldn’t do anything like that. The music industry’s not the same anymore.
And what do you mean by that?
I know someone who works in music marketing and he tries to find ways for musicians to make a living through music because most bands that are signed nowadays have day jobs. I was like, “What?!” Fuck that. I would have never wanted to be a musician if that was the case. It was always about freedom. You can’t get any more free than I have been the last 9 years—and that’s music keeping you alive. You got to write songs if you want to live in music.
So I assume you still get royalties from Duran Duran and Missing Persons music.
That’s what I live on, dude. Really, I haven’t worked in 9 years. “Destination Unknown” in the last 6 months made about $50,000 dollars. Just that song, it’s insane. And I just got 30 grand for this movie called Stay Cool. For some song they want to cover in it. You have got to write your own music and you can’t ever sell your publishing.
Are you going to tour this new Chicanery album soon?
We’re basically all ready, but who is going to pay for it? Since 2003, I’ve spent over $100,000 dollars making music. I could’ve gone and bought another house but I said “fuck it.” I needed to make music. I didn’t know what I was going to make, but I knew I was going to make Enlighten Up. I had to story to tell, I went through some shit and I had to write about it. Somebody offered me a deal, it fell through. But anyway, it’s over 100 grand. That’s a commitment. You spend over $30,000 dollars making a whole record with artwork and everything and you’re not even going to get back an advance of $5,000 dollars? It’s worse now.
Has the internet or social networking sites helped you get your music out there?
Somebody was telling me about how effective these social networking things are. But I was like, what about Jay Leno, David Letterman, Good Morning America, and all these other shows? I remember being on a major label, in a major band, doing all these TV shows and the next week — the album goes down. So what the fuck is a bunch of Facebook friends going to do? [Laughs]
Well, these sites are at least great for discovery.
Discovery is great. You can type in anything and something will pop up. That’s cool. But is someone going to pay for it? Probably not. I think people who really use computers to find music would never pay. There’s no way. They just say “Nah, fuck that,” and go on a computer, they go here, they go there, and get all they need at 128 kbps.
Well, we’re in an iPod generation now where people would rather download single tracks at low quality and a low price without buying a high quality physical product. I for one treat CDs like a movie. I like to listen to them from beginning to end as a full experience.
Yea, me too. And I make albums like that. It’s not like that anymore. It’s all about track consumption. They’ll make their own compilations or whatever. It hurts in a lot of ways. I know Pink Floyd just won a lawsuit where you couldn’t take track by track on one of their albums. Film and music are being ripped off left and right now. I can’t go and get a free hamburger anywhere right now, and I’d love one. I can’t go to an In-N-Out Burger and just take the burger and fries and just walk out. So how the fuck can you do that with music? It’s not right. You can’t even buy music at a records store anymore, they’re all gone.
Do you keep in contact with your old Zappa bandmates?
Here in L.A., I’ve got it made. I hook up with my old Frank Zappa bandmates often. If you listen to my music on MySpace, I’ve got all these great players. It’s a treat to be able to play with the people I played with 35 years ago. We actually all live within 5 minutes of each other. It’s pretty crazy.
So are there any major new bands you’re into or do you have any comments on the current state of radio?
Nah, not really. I’m not into Lady Gaga or anything. Actually, I met her in 2007. She didn’t have anything out except her ass. This was after 9-11. I’m flying back from New York. I did a benefit show for the fire fighters out there and there’s a girl in the lounge. She reminded me of Lamya, the singer who was with Duran for a while — who passed away a couple of years ago by the way. She was only 38 or something, it was horrible — God rest her soul.
Anyway, Lady Gaga reminded me of Lamya. When we got to L.A. and I’m making my way to the baggage claim. I’m like, “There’s no way I’m not talking to this girl.” Every guy was looking. Her skirt was so short you would not believe it. I walk up right behind her, tap her on the shoulder and ask, “What do you do? You look too fucking fabulous.”
She tells me she’s a singer and we start talking. She was really smart and told me she was with Interscope Records, gave me the link to her MySpace and I went and checked it out. And I had a fight with my girlfriend that night [laughs]. I was telling her this chick was pretty cool. She didn’t have anything out but her ass, I mean, it was out. She wasn’t even pretty or anything. She was hot, but she wasn’t a gorgeous chick. She was alluring.
But, I just don’t like that music. I like her fashion sense and her weirdness but I have seen that somewhere before. Her songs: they all sound like the soundtrack to Bruno. Every song.
What’s next for Chicanery?
Me and Neil have some more songs. Now that there’s some interest in this we’d like to get another one done. We’ve already got at least 6 tracks on the go, left over from last time, and they sound killer. One of them is called “Wake Up Levitating,” and that sounds like an album title to me. It’s a very experimental piece, I really love that one. He’s so much fun to work with because I never have to think about melody. I can just go experiment with grooves, tones and weird basslines and he can just take it and transform it with these melodies and words. He’s very fast too, so it’s fun. I’d love to get another one done, but I don’t know how this one is going to go.
I think from what I have been reading about it and from me going back and listening to it, I think it should win Best Alcoholic Album this year at the Grammys — if they have that category. I don’t know what it is. It’s got a vintage fermenting going on. It goes really good with a nice cabernet and really good with vodka as well [Laughs].
Out of your entire career, what has been your favorite time period?
It’s so hard. When you’re making the millions, you don’t even know it. I would have to say it has to be when Frank Zappa was around. When he was around, my father was still around too. Even though I didn’t know anything — that was everything. I was in Frank’s band. It felt like nothing else could be achieved beyond that. There I was; here in Los Angeles. It was impossible and I was in it. And I didn’t know what tomorrow was and I didn’t care. Sometimes it’s the first thing you ever do. And with that guy? How could it not be the best time?
If I went back, I wouldn’t change the smallest fucking thing.
Warren Cuccurullo on the web: