Monthly Archives: October 2011

HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM… Southern Culture on the Skids

Rick Miller & Co.
are getting
Zombiefied all over
again: Miller examines his life-long horror fetish, with a cameo from The
Editor.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

Rick Miller’s sittin’ in his Kudzu Ranch studio trying to
fix a fuzz pedal that, when it’s workin’, “sounds like a 60-pound bee.” The
reference betrays Miller’s fascination with old horror films, an affinity
well-known by fans of eclectic hillbilly-rockers Southern Culture on the Skids.

 

 

“I always loved Halloween because I could just watch endless
streams of horror films,” he recalls. “Every Saturday morning there was a
double feature of Roger Corman films, some sort of indie 50’s sci-fi, or
Universal horror films from the 30’s. I used to just live for that stuff.”

 

 

That’s one reason SCOTS often draws from the horror/sci-fi
well, as on Zombified, a
limited-edition horror-themed collection the band self-released in 1998. The
eight-song EP featured songs about vampires, zombie babes, the devil,
undertakers and more, and fans lusted after it like the shufflin’ undead crave
guts. It quickly went out of print and was fetchin’ big bones on eBay and
Amazon until now.

 

 

Several years ago SCOTS was
asked to soundtrack horror legend Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat. It was a huge honor, natch, but the
band dragged their feet getting songs to the filmmakers. “When I finally [sent
them], the guy said, “It’s already done – it’s gone straight to video,” laughs
Miller. “So I was like, ‘Oh, shit.'”

 

Rather than allow the tunes to
rot, he pumped up Zombified (SCOTS.com/skidmart)
for reissue. Now it sports a wicked 13 tracks, including “Eyeball You Later,” a
Link Wray-style instro called “The Creeper” and “Bats Are Sleeping,” a solo
number from little Jack Miller. Papa Miller says he and his five-year-old boy
are bonding over some of the same stuff he liked when he was a kid. “We love
cartoons, man. That’s our thing. We watch all the Looney Toons and Ren &
Stimpy
– all that stuff, man. We have the best time together. Mom doesn’t
understand.”

 

***

 

BLURT: It’s good to see you’re reissuing Zombified. I remember picking up the original release in Salt Lake City, like 12
years ago.

RICK MILLER: Oh my gosh. Salt Lake City. What a
crazy place, man. We always had fights at Salt
Lake City, we – and things got stolen. Go figure, the
city of Mormons.
[laughs]

        If you’re not Mormon, you’re really
bad. [laughs] Nah, I mean – we always had a great time there, but I remember
there was these guys there that made an incredible neon  piece that said “Southern Culture on the Skids.”
Some guy tried to grab it and run with it from our merch table. They tackled
him and I think he got the crap beat out of him in the parking lot, you know,
before the police came.

 

That’s Southern Culture fans. [laughs]

Yeah, exactly. But they made,
the brothers made us another one and they covered it barbed wire so it wouldn’t
happen again. I said, well, that’s a tough one to ship, you know. And I mean I
don’t know if I can have that in my house. (Laughs.)

 

Yup. That night I actually, uh, that was when I bought the original Zombified.

Oh, man!

 

I always loved horror films and monsters. I didn’t know I could love you guys anymore, then I saw that.

Oh, yeah, and that’s like my
favorite one. I really love Zombified,
and it was just, you know, it never available in stores.

        It came out on, on an Australian label,
and then we just said, well we’ll sell it at shows ‘cause we didn’t have a
label or we didn’t have anyone interested in putting it out at the time or we
were with Geffen and we weren’t gonna give it to them. So we just started
selling it ourselves at our live shows. And once we ran out, we ran out, and we
haven’t had any for so long.

        Then we got contacted to do this
soundtrack for this movie called Blood
Feast 2: Buffet of Blood.
They were very nice guys, but they didn’t stay in
touch very good. We’re very good communicators, and we were quite busy, so we
wrote some songs but when I finally got ‘em to ‘em, the guy said the film was
already done, it had gone straight to video. [laughs] So I was like, oh shit.

        So, we’ve had a few kind of Halloween
songs sitting around in a can for awhile, we thought, “Well, let’s reissue Zombified and put five new songs on it. And
some of ‘em are from Blood Feast and
then some of them were relatively recent recordings so, anyway, now it’s a full
LP.

 

I remember the first time I watched the original Blood Feast. There’s something special about Herschell Gordon Lewis
gore. I’ve seen
some gory films –
these are some of the craziest, but the blood is clearly red paint. I wound up
seeking them all out in my Psychotronic
Video
Guide

Oh yeah, man, that’s an awesome
book. I’ve got that, too, man. I’ve got a first edition. I have sticky notes on
all the pages and stuff – you know, stickin’ out where I can go right to it and
find stuff. It’s a great book. I keep wondering if there’s like an updated
version. I’m sure there must be, but I haven’t seen it if there is one.

 

Do you have The Gore Score?

No, I don’t. What’s that?

 

Uh, Chas Balun, who put out Deep
Red
magazine and wrote for
Fangoria, rates a bunch of films
according to general quality and also the amount of gore. It’s basically like a
fun book to get into. But I wonder if you’re less about gore then you are camp
and schlock.

Well, you know, I like, I’m
not, I like some gore films, and I mean some of ‘em that are really creative
like, I thought Re-Animator was
awesome. You know, and what are some of the other ones? Oh God, the guy that
did The Hobbit, he had –

 

Oh yeah! Dead Alive and Bad Taste.

Yeah, those were awesome, too. I
mean, I kinda like the creative ones. I really love that movie that was out a
little while ago that was called Henry:
Portrait of a Serial Killer…
I like a blend of humor with the gore and stuff
and I like things that I’ve never seen before, like in Re-Animator, that guy holdin’ his [decapitated] head, you know – performing
oral sex on the chick? I mean, that’s a cinematic first!

        You know what I mean? I’m not so into
the just kind of the repetitive slasher films, like the Halloween films. I do like them, but not where it’s just kind of
the same formula repeated over and over and over again without any variations,
you know what I mean?  I do kind of like
the schlocky stuff a lot too, ‘cause I like the humor whether it’s intended or
not. That’s why I love Herschel Gordon Lewis movies. Or Russ Meyer. And I like
Mario Bava, just ‘cause I love the look of his movies. And of course Barbara Jewel
was in a lot of them. She was pretty great. [laughs]

 

That’s cool. Have you by any chance heard of the film Hobo with a Shotgun?

No, huh-uh. Is that like a
Troma film or something?

 

It sounds like it, but it’s not. You know that film Grindhouse, where it was a double feature with Death Proof and Planet Terror?

Mm-hmm.

 

This was one of the fake trailers, like Machete.  It came out on DVD in July and it’s beautiful. It looks just like one of those 1970’s exploitation
films. But it’s a little more vivid. And it’s one of the sickest, goriest films
I’ve
ever seen, really disturbing,
but it’s also got this dark humor.

Yeah, remember that movie Man Bites Dog?

 

Oh, yeah, that’s the serial killer, the French guy, right?

That was kind of that way to me.
It was funny at times, and then it was so disturbing, too, you know. Honeymoon Killers is another one that
was kind of like that when I first saw it. Have you ever seen that one?

 

I haven’t.

Oh, check out the Honeymoon Killers. It’s not necessarily
a horror movie, but it’s about this couple that, uh, a lonely-hearts thing
where the guy would get involved with like older women that had some money and
stuff, and then his wife would uh, do away with them. It’s pretty good, and
it’s filmed in black and white and it’s from the 1970’s or maybe the 80’s. It’s
really good.

        Anyway, so yeah, [Hobo] sounds really good. I’ll have to check that out. Recently, I
haven’t been able to do a lot of that stuff because I have a young child and I
just have been really busy with music and making a living.

        He just turned 5. He’s in kindergarten
this year. It’s great to hang out with him, too. We love cartoons, man. They’re
our thing. We watch all the, all the Looney
Toons
and Ren & Stimpy – all
that stuff, man. We have the best time together, watching that. Mom doesn’t
understand.

 

Getting back to Blood Feast and
Zombified, I remember hearing some of
the songs from Zombified in the film,
but aren’t there some songs in the movie that aren’t on Zombified?

Yeah, there were some from a
single we did called Santo Swings on Zontar
Records.         And then there was some that was just some instrumental incidental
music that we just fed him early on ‘cause we couldn’t use anything from Geffen.
They wanted too much money, so we said there’s some that we could re-record,
and then we’ve got old singles and a bunch of – I just sat out here one day and
just did a bunch of incidental music that I thought might work for it. And, you
know, we did try to do our take on kind of the tracks with kettle drums and
stuff like that, you know, from, uh, from some of those movies and stuff.

 

Wasn’t there like a, a slow creepy version of “8 Piece Box”?

There was, yeah. It was kind of
an instrumental – But we might’ve given him some outtakes. There could be
something like that on there that are like close to that, you know what I mean?
That we just said, “Use this, don’t worry about contacting Geffen.” I’ve gotta
be honest with you, I haven’t looked at that in about four years.

         So I forget. But I will tell you one
thing, though, you know that one scene where the guy gets, gouges the eyeball
out with the spoon? We wrote that song on Zombified,
that’s on a the new comp. It’s called “Eyeball You Later, Baby.” That was
supposed to go over that scene, but it didn’t make it. The film got put out
before we could get the song to ‘em. [laughs]

 

Is there ever gonna be, do you think there’s a possibility-I know some
of these
songs are on other
releases, but would there be like an EP with that rare version of
“8 Piece” and –

Yeah, well we were thinking
about doing Zombified the re-release
of Zombified like an old paperback,
like an old pulp paperback, where one side of the album would be, uh, Zombified and the other side would be Blood Feast. We just didn’t have time to do it and I couldn’t get in
touch with the guys from Blood Feast. I don’t know where they’re at now.
I know the one guy had a heart attack or something. So I just have lost touch
with them all. We just decided to reissue the Zombified because we just didn’t want to get in any problems.

 

Alright, now, uh, is it me or are werewolves kind of criminally
underrepresented
on Zombified?      

Very underrepresented. But we
did do a song called, “Werewolf.”

 

Yeah, I think it’s on Halloween
Hootenanny
isn’t it?

That’s right. It’s that
Halloween compilation that Rob Zombie put together. But again because Geffen…
We couldn’t use it for anything and we didn’t want to re-record it ‘cause it’s
already out there. And we were already re-issuing stuff that’s on Zombified, so anyway, yes, they are very
underrepresented on Zombified. And I
agree they should be more – maybe we’ll do a “Werewolf” single.

 

Yes, please. That’d be great.

I think we should put out a
single every Halloween. Don’t you think?        

 

Oh yeah, certainly! For stuff like that, you know, I think you guys
would just rake in the dough-not that that’s the important thing but I mean
the, the fans would appreciate it, too.

Well, we’ll do that, man. We’ll
do a single for next Halloween. It’ll be a werewolf single.

 

Now let’s do kind of a memory-lane thing – can you tell me your first
like trick-or-treating memory? Or your wildest Halloween story.

Well I think my wildest
Halloween was where you, you know, got thrown in like juvenile detention
because you were caught like, you know, vandalizing public property or
somebody’s house, you know. I think I mean we all went through those stages at
12, 13, 14 years old. But I think my, my, uh –

 

Sounds like you got caught, man. I never got caught.

Yeah. I got caught man. You
know why? Because we used, this liquid snow to write all this stuff on things and
we left a trail of it going away from the guy’s house. And we were all over at
our buddy’s house’s staging garage, you know, and his mom came out and she said
the police had called and we were all supposed to stay put. [laughs]

        Well, they took us in their patrol car
and delivered us to our homes and had long talks with our parents. I think they
gave us a citation, and we had to go to court with our parents and of course we
had to clean everything up and pay for anything we damaged, you know. Stuff
like that. We didn’t go to juvenile hall. I’m kind of glad we didn’t actually.

        As far as, uh, Halloween – well, I
remember stringing firecrackers – you used to be able to buy firecrackers that
you could pull and they would pop, they were called poppers and they were, but
they were like, they were more like firecrackers than just little- We used to
string them, like, we’d get like 30 of ‘em all together, and we’d string them
across the road on Halloween. People thought they’d got a flat tire, things
like that.

        We were jerks. Somebody probably
could’ve gotten really hurt. Pranks was our big Halloween fun, you know.

        But I always loved Halloween because I
could just watch endless streams of horror films. Television, too. I mean. I
grew up in a little town called Henderson, North Carolina and, uh, uh…every
Saturday morning, there was a double feature of a, uh, like a Roger Corman,
like some sort of indie 1950’s sci-fi and some serious Universal horror films
from the 1930’s, you know. So, uh, I used to just live for that stuff. Matter
fact, I remember when we got our first color TV, I got up just to watch the
fuzz.

        But that was, I think, probably my
favorite memory was just watching all those great movies, like the whole month
of October was so great, you know.

 

Alright. What is your first memory of being terrified in a film and
your first memory of being grossed out?

Well man, probably the first
terrifying moment, really – I’m sure this is true for lots of people, was when
you watched that house land on that witch in The Wizard of Oz. And those flying monkeys freaked me out.

        I couldn’t turn away from it. I, you
know, I’d cover my eyes, then I’d look right back – you know what I mean, it’s
like one of those things. And I remember getting really scared – I loved Famous Monsters of Film magazine.

        I’d just learned how to read, and I got
my mom to buy me one and I remember I’d read it and then I’d just be frightened.
I couldn’t sleep for weeks. And I remember doing the old, uh, I love the old Aurora models. I built
like every one of them, uh, Wolfman, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera. As far as
being terrified, that was probably it.

        One movie that really scared me the
most – I saw it at my grandma’s house; she had a big house and we were upstairs
– was the original Haunting. You
know, with Claire Bloom and Julie Harris and Russ Tamblyn. That’s a really scary movie. I remember watching
that when I was probably about the same age as the Famous Monsters thing, man. I had to sleep on the floor; I couldn’t
sleep upstairs because it was too spooky.

        But yeah, that was probably the most
terrifying, was that. Starting with Wizard
of Oz
, but The Haunting stuck
with me for a really long time.

       And then as far as grossed out, let me
think, man… I think probably Night of the
Living Dead.
I saw that when I was in junior high. It was the first time
I’d seen people eating body parts, like pullin’ intestines out and stuff.

 

Yeah, they don’t have a ton of gore in NOLD,
but there’s the one scene where you can see that floppy flesh like chicken skin.

Yeah. I think that was it. The
first time I’d seen anything that graphic. You’d see lots of severed heads and
stuff like that, kinda fakey and stuff, but that one was kinda grisly, you
know? I just remember in junior high it was abuzz with it: ‘Have you seen Night of the Living Dead?’ And if not,
‘You gotta get your mom to take ya.’ That was the hardest thing. [laughs]

 

Yeah, my mom took me to see An
American Werewolf in London
when I was eight, so I had it pretty easy.

Those transformation scenes were
really great. That was somethin’ that really grabbed my attention, too. Alien, the first time that thing pops
out of that pod? That was a good shocker. Oh, you know some of the Fulci movies
really disturbed me, too.

 

Yeah, City of the Living Dead!

Oh yeah, and god what was the-I
think there was one where there was a rainstorm of maggots.

 

You know, in COTLD, when she
pukes up her intestines? That’s the only time I’ve ever almost puked in a
movie.

Yeah.

 

Fulci’s zombie movies are some of my favorites. Speakin’ of zombies,
I’ve always been curious as to your favorite type. In “Zombified,” you’re
talking about the classic voodoo zombie. Then you have the Romero shufflers and
the viral 28 Days Later runners.
There’s some controversy over which is better and whether the viral ones are
zombies at all. Where do you stand?

Well, lemme think here, man.
Really The Mummy was a zombie, too,
if you think about it. Raised from the dead by a high priestess or a witch
doctor or hoodoo guy. I don’t know, man. I think the virus kinda stuff is the
scariest to me ‘cause it’s kinda plausible. That’s the cool thing about
zombies.

        Some of my favorite zombies to watch
are the ones from outer space. My favorite zombie/sci-fi was one where they
lived in a cave and they planted a little thing in people’s heads and all of a
sudden it would be – God, what was it? And there are two movies. In one, there
was a little kid whose parents got turned into zombies. There was a sand pit
and you’d disappear into the sand and come back totally zombied out. And the
guy that ran the whole thing was from outerspace and was just like a head in
kind of a turban with little octopus hands that floated in a bubble. Yeah.

      That’s another example of totally cheesy
effects that were really disturbing in its own way, you know? Golly, man. Oh!
Something Invaders. Invisible Invaders! That’s it.

        And there was another one where there
was a ray from outer space that made people who’d only been dead about 48
hours, become alive again and crawl out of their graves. That was a good one,
too. And those were 1950s one, and they all had the outer space/sci-fi thing
goin’ on. And of course there’s the 1970 thing with kinda of the possession,
the demonic zombies. You know what I
mean? I guess that’s more like possession, with the demons.

 

And the Fulci zombies were sort of both the voodoo/demonic variety.

Yeah, and those Italian guys –
the Church always seems to enter into it, somehow, or their Catholicism. Which
kinda makes it creepy, too.

 

Yeah, like the (Argento-produced) Michele Soavi film The Church.

There’s always a priest that
ends up workin’ for Satan or somethin’. That’s pretty scary stuff, too. And
then the virus stuff. But that can be kinda dumb, too, because a lot of it’s
big-budget stuff, which is so-so.

        But I love all the Night of the Living Dead, Dawn
of the Dead
, all that stuff. That’s great, too. Speakin’ of gore and
zombies, I love the scene in FILM where the zombie gets too close to the
helicopter blade and it slices the top of his head off like baloney, man!
[laughs]

 

How about the zombie vs. shark scene in Fulci’s Zombie?

Yeah! That’s right, that’s
right, that’s right. That was another cinematic first. All that stuff’s great,
man.

 

So what about shufflers vs. runners? Got a preference?

The fast zombies remind me too
much of MTV. I’m not sure I like them. It’s shocking, they’re so fast, but I
kinda like the shuffling zombies, myself. They’ve got a nice rhythm to them.
You get some really nice shots of exploding heads.

 

I agree. It’s all about building terror, and this mounting dread that
leads toward this shocking, grisly end.

They’re gonna get ya. They just
keep comin’.

 

And the runners –

You don’t have time to think
about it! It’s an immediate release of action, and then it’s over with. It’s a
let-down. The slow building of the
zombies – I like it.

 

You know our editor, Fred Mills, and he said to ask you about some of
the Halloween shows you’ve done in the past.

I think the weirdest Halloween
show we ever did, Fred was at. It was in maybe the 1980s at the Milestone in Charlotte. It’s an old
house and the first time we played there, we got down there and it was locked
up. It was run by an old Vietnam
vet named Bill Flowers and, while we were diggin’ around, tryin’ to find
another entrance to the club or at least see if anyone was there, we found this
guy sleepin’ in a sleeping bag. The place looked deserted, like it had been
condemned. Boards on the windows. We thought it was a homeless guy, but it
turned out to be Bill.

        The opening bands, he used to send them
to get beer with a shopping cart, down to the Foodland. And he’d sell them
later to make a profit. It was part of the gig if you were an opening band, for
a while.

         But we played there on Halloween and
somebody was givin’ out tabs of acid at the door. It was pre-Ecstasy days, you
know. [laughs] So it was really strange. Fred might have a picture from that
night of this one guy who had his arms stretched out, staring at the ground. He
looked like he was reaching for something, like he could feel the music coming
from my amp. We must’ve been doin’ some feedback stuff or somethin’. [Ed. Note: oh man. I remember that particular
SCOTS-fueled Halloween very well….
]

 

Fred says your sax player dressed up as a werewolf?

Yep, uh-huh.

 

Were you in costume?

I think I was, but I don’t
remember. We were wonderin’ why the crowd was actin’ so strange. And it was
Fred Mills that told me what happened. But it wasn’t Fred givin’ out the acid. [Ed. Note: I’ll take the 5th on
all that.
] The Milestone, the
shows back then, was legendary.

        It might’ve been the show where we had
to scrounge up a PA. We ended up using a broken custom amp head and … we found
a broken monitor somebody had put under the stage to hold it up. We had to go
down the street and steal some old retread tires to replace it, then set the
amp and the blown monitor speaker up onstage on some beer cartons and that was
our PA.

        We
kept gettin’ shocked, so somebody took their sock off and put it on the
microphone. It smelled so bad.             Those
were the types of shows we had there. You never knew what you were showin’ up
for.

 

An edited version of this story also appears in issue #11 of BLURT.

 

KRAUTROCK GODFATHER MEETS MOOGFEST Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Appearing both solo
and with Lunz Project at this weekend’s Moog bash, the Cluster/Harmonia member,
Eno collaborator and solo maestro is a genuine musical giant.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

 

CINCINNATI
– It’s another night on the American road for 77-year-old Hans-Joachim
Roedelius, one of the world’s most melodically ambient and influential – but
also underappreciated – electronic-music musicians/pianists. (He will be
performing at this week’s MoogFest in Asheville;
check the links at the end of this article.)

 

For this fall, 2011 jaunt through this country, the
German-born Roedelius is traveling with the younger electronics musician
Chandra Shukla, who spearheads a collective known as XAMBUCA.  His recordings, like Roedelius’, are being
supported by Erototix Decodings, the Asheville
“microlabel” devoted (for now) to experimental instrumental music. On
Roedelius’ latest album distributed by that label, Stunden, he uses piano, guitar and electronics (with German
musician Stefan Schneider on bass) to achieve transcendent illumination on a
series of peaceful yet coiled instrumental works. It was inspired by their
joint concert in a 17th Century church in Dusseldorf.

 

In Cincinnati,
the show has been booked into an old semi-ruin of an inner-city warehouse,
called the Mockbee, that looks as ghostly and haunted as Roedelius’
introspectively minimalist, classically influenced piano work can sound. The
concert room is at one end of the second floor – one must walk past rooms and
up stairs of eerie emptiness to get there.

 

The date has not been widely promoted locally. So even
though Philip Glass recently received an extended standing ovation at a
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra appearance, this show has but niche appeal.
Consequently, only about 25 people are in the darkened room. The scent from the
burning candles/incense is strong, but serves to provide some warmth on a cold
weekday night. The semi-abstracted video projections that bounce off the
pillars and walls only add to the space’s otherworldly feel.

 

At 11 p.m. sharp, he steps up on stage and begins playing
without a word of explanation. On one table is a small keyboard that looks
ensconced in a red, wooden frame. It emanates a clear, mournfully pure acoustic-piano
sound, and he plays graceful, slowly building figures on it that have the
simple but transfixing charm of Satie’s Etudes.

 

But he alternates this by stepping over to his other table,
where he can manipulate electronic sounds from a console. They do not come off
as “artificial,” but rather like a collage of what one might hear in nature –
or on the street below. Rain, barking dogs, a train, the wind, birds…after a
while it becomes hard to pick out what one is actually hearing and what one thinks he is hearing in the darkness, a
tribute to the associative power of great electronic music. Yet they aren’t
random sound effects, either…Roedelius has a way of combining, overlaying and
developing these sounds to make them musical.

 

This extended suite goes on for about 40 or so minutes, and
then it’s finished with a slow conclusion on piano. The applause is long and
hearty, even some standing cheers, and he performs a short, lovely piano
lullaby as an encore. Then he walks off, asks a bartender at the rear of the
room for a whiskey, and talks to his fans. 
The crowd may have been small, but the reception is enthusiastic.

 

**

 

At this weekend’s MoogFest, Roedelius first appears Friday
night with pianist Tim Story, for a show in which they are billed as Lunz
Project. On Saturday afternoon, he’ll perform solo. It’s good to see Roedelius
booked into this showcase festival for progressive, “modernica” music of all
types, which has plenty of artists (and bigger names) of a similar bent —
Terry Riley, Tangerine Dream, Moby and – giving an “illustrated talk” – Brian
Eno, whom Roedelius has worked with and influenced.

 

Roedelius has a long, fruitful and prolifically complicated
recording career as a soloist, collaborator and band member interested in
electronics, piano and synthesized keyboards. It’s certainly much too involved
for this writer to know off the top of his head, so thank you to his publicist,
Erototix Decodings and the Internet – especially Wikipedia – for attempting to
keep it straight. He was born in Berlin
and came of age in that city’s countercultural arts world of the late 1960s, a
place of radical experimentation. He became involved in a music commune that
begat Zodiak Free Arts Lab, an arts space that was a late-night haven for
musical groundbreakers of all types. Tangerine Dream played there early on, as
did other bands that set the agenda for what in the 1970s would become Germany’s
influential, drone-cum-industrial-music “Krautrock.”

 

One of the Zodiak’s other founders, the artist Conrad Schnitzler,
even joined Tangerine Dream for their first album, but left to form Kluster
with Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. That group lasted for a couple years and
three albums, mixing classical New Music with found sounds and industrial
noise. After Schnitzler left in 1971, Kluster became Cluster – the band for
which Roedelius is still best known. Cluster also featured the late Conny Plank
as a musician at first, but he moved over to become a composer/producer for
them.

 

Through 1981, Cluster released albums – mostly in Germany but
occasionally elsewhere – that featured a confident feel for all that was
possible with electronic experimentation, from ambience to thundering noise to
early trance/dance. But the highlight of their work came in 1977-1978 when Eno,
in his Berlin
days, recorded two albums with them. The all-instrumental Cluster & Eno is on the gentle instrumental side with its
hypnotic loops, while After the Heat has a little more of a “pop” presence, 
if you can call it that – the song “Tzima N’Arki” features a reverses
Eno vocal that features a manipulated fragment of his own “King’s Lead Hat.”

 

Since 1989, Cluster has occasionally reformed, recorded and
toured internationally (including Cincinnati
in the mid-1990s). Encounter Tour 1996, a chronicle of a U.S.
visit, was produced by Tim Story, appearing with Roedelius at MoogFest. It
appears Cluster is now officially over; this year Roedelius announced plans to
issue three albums under the name Qluster with Onnen Block.

 

Roedelius and Moebius also have performed with Michael
Rother of Krautrockers Neu! under the moniker Harmonia, releasing two mid-1970s
albums, Musik von Harmonia and Deluxe, moving between ambient and more
forceful rock. They also recorded with Eno over 11 days in 1976, when he came
to their studio and found their music and work process invigorating. The
resultant album, Tracks and Traces, was not released until 1997 and has subsequently been reissued. Harmonia, too,
has occasionally reformed and toured, playing the My Bloody Valentine-curated
All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in New
York in 2008.

 

Roedelius has numerous other collaborations, but on his own
has released forty-five studio, live and compilation albums, according to the
Internet. You’ll probably find an ample selection on display at his MoogFest
performances. He deserves his own library or museum (or at least record store)
to keep track of his work, and he reportedly has more releases on the way. And
certainly deserves a large, enthusiastic turnout at MoogFest, and here’s hoping
he gets it. He’s one of the giants of this year’s line-up.

 

 

Roedelius performs a
solo set at MoogFest on Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Diana Wortham Theatre from
5-6pm. It will be preceded on Friday evening, also at the DWT, with a
Lunzproject performance at 11:30pm.

 

 

[Photo credit: Camillo Roedelius]

STORMBRINGER (SLIGHT RETURN…) John Martyn

A recent tribute
album, featuring heavy-hitters (Beck, Robert Smith and Phil Collins) and
lesser-knowns alike, offers a decidedly mixed appraisal of the late troubadour.

 

BY STEVEN ROSEN

John Martyn, the British singer-songwriter who died in 2009 after a
long career, continued the romantic, introspective folk/jazz hybrid that Tim
Buckley, Van Morrison and Pentangle had developed at the end of the 1960s. An
excellent guitarist, he also could write in the British folk tradition or rock
it up with echoplex, a tape-delay effect in his guitar’s amplifier.

 

He was revered in Britain – he (along with wife
Beverly) was part of the late-1960s/1970s Island Records
progressive-folk/folk-rock family that included Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and
Fairport Convention, Traffic, Jethro Tull, the Incredible String Band and more.
His musical sensibilities made him a hero to the trip-hop movement of the
1990s, as well as more recent freak-folkers. But he never was much more than an
acquired taste here in the States, maybe because his work was hard to
pigeonhole and because, sometimes, his folk-jazz could slip like mood music. (Read
more about Martyn at our
2010 profile
of the musician.)

 

Johnny Boy Would Love
This… A Tribute to John Martyn
(Hole in the Rain/Liaison Music), a deluxe
two-disc package featuring Martyn interpretations by 30 artists, attempts to
both honor him and introduce him to those unfamiliar. However, it’s primarily
for fans – the official release comes with a DVD and 40-page booklet. Many of
the artists are unfamiliar to a wide audience either because they’re new
(Sabrina Dinan) or are British folkies (Syd Kitchen, who himself died shortly
after recording “Fine Lines” for this project). There are enough big or
alt-rock names here to show the breadth of Martyn’s influence. But when you get
so many relatively unfamiliar artists on a tribute, you do begin to wonder
whether you’d be better off just listening to Martyn, himself, if you want an
introduction.

 

On the plus side, the dreamy fluidity, undercut by
introspective melancholy, of Martyn’s best songs is especially well-suited for
David Gray, whose “Let the Good Things Come” has a fine vocal with a sensitive
arrangement that will have you noting Martyn’s influence on Elton John’s early
(and best) ballads. And the ethereal solemnity of Phil Collins’ album-closing
“Tearing and Breaking,” which has an overall feel similar to “In the Air Tonight,”
reminds us that Collins once did know how to get inside, way inside, a song
with substance, and still can if it means a lot to him. Maybe he should do his
own tribute album to Martyn. The a cappella ending is especially haunting.

 

 

 

It’s notable that the title tracks to four of Martyn’s
best-known albums all get strong readings. Beck displays a movingly sincere,
maturely informed voice for the gorgeously ominous “Stormbringer,” which
benefits from a spare arrangement that opens up for strings at key, dramatic
movements. This is chamber-folk, or folk-jazz, at its finest – and Beck really
rises to the occasion. Another American alt-rock icon, producer Butch Vig, has
put together the Emperors of Wyoming – featuring Fire Town’s Phil Davis on
vocals – to turn “Bless the Weather” as a, well, weathered, almost-Gothic
Americana-rock song that makes it sound like something from Dylan’s Rolling
Thunder Revue. Skye Edwards of Morcheeba sings an eerily slow, trip-hop version
of “Solid Air” that could stand proudly with the best of Portishead. And Jim
Tulio’s voice on the “Road to Ruin” is gritty yet tenderly direct – Tulio was
Martyn’s friend and producer.

 

Unfortunately, not all of their contributions are inspired.
Particularly unfortunate is Snow Patrol’s take on “May You Never,” which starts
off with a sweet slowness but falls into a meandering instrumental passage and
awkwardly lugubrious vocals toward the end. This is Martyn’s best-known song,
thanks to Eric Clapton’s version, and it needs a strong version here. It
doesn’t get it. Similarly, another big name for the project, the Cure’s Robert
Smith, just can’t move “Small Hours” past the atmospherics of his guitar
reverberations. And one hopes Paolo Nutini’s slurry overly emphasized
Marleyisms on “One World” weren’t inspired by Martyn.

 

This record certain proves Martyn is deserving of a tribute,
and that he has inspired other performers. But it would have been better to be
more sharply focused, and more limited in scope, so a wider audience could
discover it and maybe love it as much as Johnny Boy.

 

 

FEEL THE POWER Keep On Pushing

An interview with
author Denise Sullivan, on the past,
present and future of protest music.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

Arguably coming of age
and hitting its stride during the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, protest music continues to
exert its relevance with each new
generation – sometimes, to cultures with no obvious connection to those earlier
eras. (Hello, Arab Spring.) In her latest book Keep On Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip-Hop (Lawrence
Hill Books), Denise
Sullivan traces protest music from its origins through the
present, interviewing the likes of Buffy Sainte-Marie, Solomon Burke, Wayne
Kramer and Michael Franti while making a strong case for that ongoing
relevance.

 

Sullivan is
author of White Stripes: Sweethearts of
the Blues, R.E.M.: Talk About the Passion: An Oral History
and Rip It Up!: Rock ‘n’ Roll Rulebreakers,
and a regular columnist for the Crawdaddy! website. In a recent interview she discussed what went into putting her
book together, some of the revelations she experienced while writing it, and
what direction contemporary protest music might take.

 

 

BLURT: Is there anything from your own
childhood or teenage years, in terms of intersecting with some of the music or
related events, that stands out in your mind
re: a foreshadowing that you might one day want to write a book about it?

DENISE
SULLIVAN: Back then, message music was in the air and we were lucky enough to
have been exposed to it every time we turned on the TV and the Top 40 radio,
which as you know, gave equal time to rock and soul. As I remember, folk music
was part of California
public school curriculum (or maybe I just had some right on teachers). While at
home, I studied the liner notes of my dad’s jazz records like they were the
Dead Sea Scrolls (I thought Nat Hentoff was related to me, I saw his name so
much). So this mix of jazz, folk, soul and rock, the artists who made it, and
what they stood for, came into focus for me pretty early.  I was also a child news hound and everyday, I
read the paper, and it was filled with local reports of student, political and
black power movement.

        What I got from all of it was examples of
democracy in action: the student protestors, Marvin Gaye and John and Yoko
became like teachers, which later added up to me being well disposed to Horses by Patti Smith, “Hurricane” by
Bob Dylan, and the songs of Bob Marley. Those records hit me hard and still do.
By the time I got to college radio, I guess it was only natural I’d find my
people, among the punk rockers and DJs who segued the Clash with Sugarhill and
Stax Records and Gil Scott-Heron.

        To have been alive to witness all that
we have, from the civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights movements, to the
births of both punk and hip hop, while watching the world turn from analog to
digital blows my mind on pretty much a daily basis. It seemed important to pass
on another version of the story and soundtrack of our extraordinary lifetime to
the people coming of age right now, as they use parts of it to render changes
and innovations of their own.

 

What was the initial impetus behind your
research and the book?

I’d say the
lifelong interest converged with a number of other factors, as these things
often do. When I finished writing my last book, The White Stripes: Sweethearts of the Blues, there was so much in
their story concerning the origins of the country blues and the circumstances
of the musicians who played it that I’d left unsaid which lead me to wanting to
write a book about rock and race, but I didn’t quite know how to approach it,
till I was at a book fair and ran into the writer Nelson George.  I’ve admired his work since he was one of the
few journalists to cover hip hop in the early ‘80s, and I told him as much,
before asking him what he thought about a woman like me writing African
American history.  He said, “I think more
white people should write about it.” 

        Basically, his encouragement gave me
the confidence to move forward, as did a few things Solomon Burke said when I
interviewed him. I also received inspiration from everything from fine art
photography to a mixtape compiled by a friend: At some point, it all added
up. 

 

I picture you and Peter Case [Sullivan’s
partner] talking about a lot of this music as well, given his obvious love for
it.

You are right
that Peter and I can talk music and trade tracks for days and it helps that I
have someone with whom I can bounce around ideas. Certainly, I owe my interest
in pre-war blues to him, and I appreciate having a resident expert to check in
with on questions of song construction, melody and rhythm patterns. He’s the
number one supporter of my work, as I am of his.

 

What were some of the key revelations or
biggest surprises you encountered while putting the book together?

It was exciting
for me to make the connection that poetry is a big part of the story of freedom
music. From the blues and Langston Hughes, to Amiri Baraka and the Black Arts
Movement, Allen Ginsberg and Greenwich Village, Len Chandler, Richie Havens and
Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, H. Rap Brown, and of
course the rhymes in hip hop, it’s key. Personally, I’m so happy to have made
this connection because it opened a door into the world of poetry and now that
I’ve walked through it, I get to explore and enjoy it on a much deeper level
than I have before.

 

 

 

 

“From Blues to Hip-Hop” reads your
subtitle: what do you think are the key similarities and intersections between
the two song forms, and how would you convince, say, a die-hard John Lee Hooker
fan that NWA or Public Enemy might also be relevant to him?  

Well, aside
from the obvious connection to groove, bold rhymes and extreme wordplay, the
voices telling stories have the same depth and feeling, whether poignant or
prideful.  If you have the desire to get
inside the human condition and feel the similarities, or to receive an
uncensored, unembellished account of real life, then I’d say a blues fan could
definitely dig hip hop and vice versa; they’re both soulful forms of
expression.

 

What do you think people from other, not
necessarily African-American, cultures might be able to take away from your
book? John Trudell, who appears in your book, certainly grasped the parallels
between the black power movement and American Indian Movement. What about
similarly oppressed groups in Arab countries, for example?

Cultural
expression can be personally and politically powerful. Songs have been known to
break down walls, open jailhouse doors and have contributed to major movements,
from civil rights in the US
to anti-apartheid efforts in South
Africa. Buffy Sainte-Marie didn’t set out to
write an international peace anthem, and yet, that’s what “Universal Soldier”
became; the ball got rolling because she wrote down what was in her heart. As
Freedom Singer Bernice Johnson Reagon says, “The songs are free.” Where there
is music, there is hope.

 

 

 

 

You mention a number of worthy, sincere,
contemporary artists such as Tom Morello who have picked up the baton of
protest music. Who else do you think we should be paying attention to?

Nellie McKay,
PJ Harvey, and M.I.A. all have important things to say, as does “Born This Way.”
Plus, now that we have a common cause [Occupy Wall Street, etc.] I expect new anthems will emerge; I’d like to hear the people
singing. There is a tradition of writing new words to old melodies and there is
power in that tradition. It’s important that musicians of all kinds, set the
pace with simple songs to go with the movement – so everyday people can
singalong.

 

 

Duly and absolutely noted because – speaking of
Morello – on Oct. 13 he appeared as his alter-ego The Nightwatchman at the
Occupy Wall Street gathering in NYC’s Liberty Plaza, doing Woodie Guthrie’s
“This Land Is Your Land” and a few other songs. What was your reaction to that?

Michael Franti and Jeff Mangum were there too. Every
important movement, from labor and civil rights to the anti-war movement has
had its songs so I expect this one will develop an anthem too, whether it’s an
old song rewritten or a new one. Music takes people from where they are to
where they want to be. When people of all races, creeds, genders and sexual
preferences sing together, for one purpose, that’s a powerful thing.

GODFATHER OF SOUTH KOREAN ROCK Shin Joong Hyun

A new anthology from Light In The Attic puts a much-deserves
spotlight on the guitarist and pop auteur. Check out some choice videos, below.

 

BY CARL
HANNI

The saga
of South Korea’s
Shin Joong Hyun encapsulates both the ebbs and tides of global pop music
culture over several decades and the socio/political fates of his own SE Asian
country. From struggling and starving artist to true pop culture phenomenon (he
was South Korea’s
first home-grown rock star, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s) to political
pariah and cultural has-been to elder statesman of Korean music with fans
around the globe, Hyun’s tale is remarkable from start to present.

 

Pulling
himself out of true poverty and hardship in post war Korea by sheer force of
will and an early gift for playing guitar, Hyun was one of hundreds of
thousands of youngsters around the globe captivated first by Elvis Presley and
other first generation rock & rollers, and then the pop culture tsunami
ushered in by The Beatles. Frequently playing on U.S.
military bases around Seoul, and with access to
the music played and available on the bases, Hyun quickly picked up on Motown
and Memphis
soul, jazz, the current hits of the day and eventually the world-wide
psychedelic explosion. Something of a sponge, he soon developed knack for
combining traditional Korean music with American and British sounds. He was, in
fact, the first Korean playing much of this, fronting a series of combos and
building a reputation as an ace guitar player.

 

Hyun
eventually branched out into composing, arranging and producing other acts, and
became much sought after as a master collaborator responsible for crafting hits
for any number of S. Korean acts. When stardom came his way, it came quickly
and definitively: “Shin Joong Hyun fever” took off in 1968 and rolled into the ‘70s,
with Hyun being the biggest thing going. The downward spiral came just as
quickly; his lovely number “Beautiful
Rivers and Mountains”
rubbed the South Korean powers that be the wrong way, and Hyun was suddenly
persona non-grata in the music business. He was eventually busted on a pot
charge, jailed, tortured, sent to a mental hospital, and suffered other
degradations. Jeez, all from a song called “Beautiful Rivers
and Mountains.” Touchy despots, those Koreans of the time.

 

Hyun
eventually found his way back to some sort of normalcy, but never regained his
reputation or fame. But, as things have a tendency to come back around, eventually
Koreans started to remember the Ga-yo (pop-rock) period of the ‘60s and
early ‘70s that he spearheaded, and not surprisingly his records have become
high $$$ items among collectors and fans of psychedelic and period-pop music. Hyun
still lives in Korea, still
plays music and got to play his first gig in the U.S.
in 2008. He’s also been honored with a special edition of guitar in his own
name by Fender, putting him in company with Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff
Beck, Eddie Van Halen and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

 

 

 

 

So, Light In The Attic is doing
us all a tremendous service by finally bringing a career-spanning collection
into the outside world for all to enjoy. Starting with the mono “Moon Watching”
(recorded with a single mic for the whole band) in 1958, and working through
some of his mid-‘70s productions, it presents a full picture of Hyun’s career
as a musician, song-writer, producer and talent scout and collaborator. Hyun
the guitar hero is showcased on the blues rock work-out “‘J’Blues 72” and the
hard rocking “I’ve Got Nothing to Say,” and psychedelic Hyun weighs in on
“Please Don’t Bother Me Anymore” (credited to Golden Grapes) and the spooky,
classic “The Man Who Must Leave” by Kim Sun, which sounds like the soundtrack
to a bad acid trip in a Kenneth Anger film.

 

Quite a bit of this is
straight-up pop that Hyun wrote, recorded, arranged, A&R’d and/or played on
for other acts, like Kim Jung Mi, Lee Jung Hwa, Jang Hyun and Park In Soo. It’s
all good, and I’m happy to have it all, but I could wish for a bit more Shin
Joong Hyun the frontman here – he’s actually only listed as the artist on 5 of
these 15 tracks.

 

But still, most of what’s here
is pretty great. The eerily propulsive “Push Through The Fog” by Jang Hyun is
remarkable, and the spunky “Why That Person?” by Bunny Girls hits all the right
moves. And the pastoral epic “Beautiful Rivers and Mountains” (edited at 10
minutes), the one that got him in so much trouble, is a beautiful, graceful
unwinding that transports us to those rivers and mountains.

 

Beautiful Rivers and
Mountains
comes with a substantial 32-page booklet detailing Shin Joong
Hyun’s life and career, with liner noted from archivist, collector and
DJ Kevin “Sipreano” Howes, plus individual track notes penned by Hyun himself. Generous amounts of photos and album
cover art puts faces and images to his life story. All together, this is a very
classy compilation, and an essential piece of the global puzzle of 20th century
music. 

 

 

 

Below,
check out some video and audio clips of Hyun in various incarnations.

 

 

Shin Joong Hyun & Yup Juns (circa 1975)

 

 

Shin Joong Hyun (live, latter years)

 

 


 

 

“The Woman In The Rain”

 

 

“Spring Rain” (circa 1970)

 

 

CATCHING UP WITH… Handcuffs, Vivs, Wiretree & The Public Good

In which we revisit
four of our favorite Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret” artists.

 

BY FRED MILLS

 

At BLURT we remain staunch independent music fans. Just
under three years ago we unveiled the BLURT/Sonicbids “Best Kept Secret”
program
to spotlight up-and-coming and under-the-radar indie artists,
subsequently profiling 17 worthy bands from all across the U.S. (and even a
couple from overseas). Among the acts that knocked our socks off were Chicago’s
Handcuffs, Boston’s
Vivs, Austin’s Wiretree, and D.C.’s The Public Good; you can click on the links
to read the original interviews. Meanwhile, our Best Kept Secret program is
ongoing – we’ll have our newest pick announced in a few weeks – but since all
four of those groups recently issued new records, we thought it would be a
golden opportunity to check back in with them and see how their careers have
been going. Without further delay, then, let us reintroduce you to…

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

THE VIVS, Boston MA (Karen Harris, guitar/vocals; Terri Brosius,
vocals/keyboards; Mat Magee, guitars; Pete Sutton, bass; Nathan Logus, drums) New
record:
Why So Dark? Visit the Vivs
at their Facebook page.

 

BLURT: Since you
appeared in BLURT, how has your life changed – lucrative endorsement deals,
paparazzi stalking you, groupies mobbing you after gigs, etc.?

KAREN HARRIS: The groupies: uncontrollable. Of course….

        We’ve received so much attention and
general excellent awesomeness and feedback from the Blurt Best Kept Secret.
Practically speaking, your review provided the most specific and right-on
description in terms of defining our music, which we have a hard time doing in
an “elevator-pitch” sort of way. I think we may be a strange amalgam: of new
and old, obscure and not, girl and boy, happy and tortured – and consequently,
seems we’re not so easy to define genre-wise. Your equation of influences and
way of describing the band has been instrumental. Seriously.

 

Briefly outline some
of the things – artistic, personal or otherwise – you’ve been up to since we
ran our BKS feature on you. Any milestones that we should know about?

We’ve
been chugging along steadily since the debut of Mouth to Mouth in late 2009. We got a new bass player – the awesome
Pete Sutton (ex-Trona), who also sings, so now we have three-part harmonies! We
also got a new drummer, Brett Campbell (from Seks Bomba – also a session guy
with Marc Ribot, etc.), who played on the new EP Why So Dark?, and he was awesome. I think he got frustrated with
our home-spun way of doing things (he was used to making a lot of money and
touring a lot, for example, which is tough with kids and day jobs), and awesome
though he was, it made sense to part ways. We now have Nathan Logus. He’s perfect
– he’s played with Baby Ray, John Powhida, Pete Weiss, etc.

        After the last CD (which was also so
nicely written about in The Boston Globe,
Cape Cod Times, and elsewhere!), we
proceeded to have another prolific period, wrote a ton of new stuff over the
last year and a half (each new song I love more than the last; I love that
trajectory) and played a handful of shows around Boston. Reconnected with Bill
Goffrier from Big Dipper and Carrie from The Breeders/Ed’s Redeeming Qualities
last December to play a great benefit show at The Regent Theater here in Arlington – it raised lots
of money for The Children’s Room, a place for grieving kids.

 

 

 

Tell us about your
latest record: some of the inspirations that went into the writing and
recording, any songs that you feel really excited about, etc.

We
decided on which four songs, of all the newbies, to bring in to record at Wooly
Mammoth studios (with the all-star team of David Minehan and Eric Brosius
again), and went in and finished them this spring. I love the songs. They seem
to be a bit more Brit-pop and “X” ish than the last CD, and the
addition of Pete’s voice just elevates the whole thing to another place. There
are about a dozen more songs waiting in the wings, and we may get more demo-y
about those and do them on the cheap in our rehearsal space with Eric and his
Rock band genius…. he’s still the audio director at Harmonix. We also plan to
cover an old Scruffy the Cat song (“Tiger, Tiger”) to a benefit
compilation for Charlie Chesterman.

        I’m still just loving writing songs and
bringing them to the band to finish and work on. Like I said, the newest stuff
is my fave. On this EP, I go back and forth but right now, I’m loving
“Sun’s Coming Out” and “Forget It.” This EP isn’t quite as
heartbreaking as the last CD, but there’s still some bite and woe there… hopefully
not too much of a wallop. I love the contrast and tension between the sonic energy
(and “happy” sound) with the struggle and strife in the lyrics. I
live for when bands do that. The Kinks. Elliot Smith. Television. The Smiths.
Blur. X. Matthew Sweet. Robyn Hitchcock. Know what I mean?

 

And of course, what’s
next for you?

I’m still
teaching high school, working with Robert Pinsky on a poetry project for
teachers, raising kids. Abby, my 9 year old, and Maddy, Terri’s 9 year old, were
just in Girls Rock Camp Boston; they played guitar and keys, respectively,
formed a band The Blue Stars, and performed at Brighton Music Hall,
where we’ll probably never be able to get a show! So awesome. And Emmet, my
son, is drumming away – lots of music in our house.

      Overall, I’m just loving this band so
much. Love these people I create and play with. Ready to record again. Excited
to see what happens. Maybe we’ll do mini tours. Probably with the kids…

 

MP3: The Vivs – “Forget It (I Don’t Think
About It”)


04 Forget It (I Don’t Think About It) by The Vivs

 

 

MP3: The Vivs – “Are You Coming Around”


Are You Coming Around (demo) The Vivs by The Vivs

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

THE PUBLIC GOOD,
Washington DC
(Steve Ruppenthal,
bass; John Elderkin, guitar; Sam Esquith, guitar/keyboards; Chris Garges, drums)
New record
: A Varied Program of Stereo Dynamics for Your Wild Nights Alone (by The Public Good); plus Hi, We’re
The Popes (by The Popes).Visit The Public
Good at their Facebook page.

 

BLURT: Since you
appeared in BLURT, how has your life changed – lucrative endorsement deals,
paparazzi stalking you, groupies mobbing you after gigs, etc.?

JOHN ELDERKIN: Beginning with our most recent news, Steve
Ruppenthal and I have teamed up with our former Popes bandmate Henry Pharr and
will be releasing a digitized version of the widely acclaimed Hi, We’re The Popes EP for the first
time. The Popes were based in Chapel
Hill, NC, and played
regularly in the late 80s and early 90s. The EP was released in 1989 and made a
splash that surprised even the band – Billboard gave it a rave review, Jon Pareles of The
New York Times
sent them a note asking for more music, and the record
debuted on CMJ’s “Hot New Release” chart one spot higher than R.E.M.’s
album of the same week. The Popes later released a cassette-only collection
called Afar and several specialty
releases, including a hard-rocking cover of Alex Chilton’s “I’m in Love
with a Girl” that garnered national college radio play. A complete
“great lost Popes album” is rumored to be hidden in a damp basement
somewhere in North Carolina,
but band memories on this subject remain fuzzy. The Popes split in 1992,
        As a bonus, we will also be
releasing two lost songs – the very first Popes recordings, which were
discovered under a pile of seaweed and hot dogs by Public Good drummer Chris
Garges and Mitch Easter. They did a great job cleaning it up, and all the music
will be available on iTunes and other outlets in mid October.

 

 

 

Briefly outline some
of the things – artistic, personal or otherwise – you’ve been up to since we
ran our BKS feature on you. Any milestones that we should know about?
While
on tour for our latest album we got caught in two of the most recent Storms of
the Century – Chris got stuck in the Virginia
mountains on his way to meet us for a gig in Philly last December. Thankfully,
he and his wife gave up on the gig and found safe lodging in the nick of time.
And all of us were trapped in the Maryland
countryside last February during the now infamous Snowmageddon storm. We’ll
spare you the ugly, freezing details, but we must thank the brave heroics of
our occasional sideman Matt Everhart and his giant Ford truck – otherwise we’d
still be thawing out at roadside. Seriously.
        The band managed to survive the
recent D.C. earthquake without incident or fisticuffs.

 

Tell us about your
latest record: some of the inspirations that went into the writing and
recording, any songs that you feel really excited about, etc.

After releasing No. 1 in 2009, The Public Good recorded and released A Varied Program of Stereo Dynamics For Your Wild Nights Alone in
mid-2010. Chris Garges recorded the band at his Old House Studio in Gastonia, NC,
and at Don Zientara’s Inner Ear Studio, famous for many Fugazi and Dischord
records.

 

And of course, what’s
next for you?

We’ve also written two songs for the upcoming “The Book
Club Play” to open at Arena Stage in Arlington,
Va. later this fall.

 

Listen to “Charmless”
and “Not Beautiful,” from the new Popes reissue, at ReverbNation.

 

 

***

 

 

 

 

WIRETREE, Austin TX (Kevin Peroni, guitar/vocals; Joshua Kaplan, guitar; Rachel Peroni,
bass; Daniel Blanchard, drums) New record:
Make Up. Visit Wiretree at their Facebook page.

 

 

BLURT: Since you
appeared in BLURT, how has your life changed – lucrative endorsement deals,
paparazzi stalking you, groupies mobbing you after gigs, etc.?

KEVIN PERONI: Ha! Um, yeah… we’ve been having to take alternate routes to get
to our gigs to avoid the onslaught of fans, yeah… But other than that it’s been
good – we’ve used the “best kept secret” tag to its full
capacity.  Having a reputable music resource writing about us has
definitely opened some doors. 

 

Briefly outline some
of the things – artistic, personal or otherwise – you’ve been up to since we
ran our BKS feature on you. Any milestones that we should know about?

Mucho.  We’ve just come out with the new album Make
Up
[the previous album was 2009’s Luck]. We’ve played Austin City Limits,
Satellite Sets, and we’re about to go on a small European tour based around the
Loop Festival in Granada Spain as we share the stage with Josh Rouse.

 

 

 

Tell us about your
latest record: some of the inspirations that went into the writing and
recording, any songs that you feel really excited about, etc.

Our latest effort is the final phase of transformation of
Kevin’s solo project evolving into an actual 4-piece band. There’s excitement
in the diversity of the songs in the album.  Some highlight
“Tinyhearts,” others will bring up “MTH” or “The
Shore.” Those who want their alt country fix, “Josephine”
usually gets them.

 

And of course, what’s
next for you?

As we said, a little tour in Europe
in mid November.  Past that, we’re going to relax in what we’ve created
and enjoy ourselves.  Possibly a release
of demos?  You’ll have to wait and see.

 

 

MP3: Wiretree – “Tinyhearts”


Wiretree – Tinyhearts by wiretree

 

 

 

MP3: Wiretree – “Make
Up”


Wiretree – Make Up by wiretree

 

***

 

 

 

 

THE HANDCUFFS, Chicago IL (Chloe F. Orwell & Brad Elvis, with
Emily Togni, Ellis Clark and Alison Hinderliter) New record:
Waiting for
the Robot. Visit the Handcuffs at their
Facebook page.

 

BLURT: Since you
appeared in BLURT, how has your life changed – lucrative endorsement deals,
paparazzi stalking you, groupies mobbing you after gigs, etc.?

CHLOE
& BRAD: Well, we’re very famous, but nobody knows it. We’ve managed to
enjoy some relatively quiet, more under-the-radar kind of success due to some
pretty nice television and film placements. Notably a few pretty cool feature
placements in Gossip Girl and literally hundreds of placements on a lot of
other TV shows on MTV, VH1, E!, A&E, Showtime, the CW, PBS and more.

        We’re also thrilled to be providing
most of the soundtrack for comedian Wendy Liebman’s comedy special on Showtime
called Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV, which will air this fall. She’s not
shy about tweeting that we’re her favorite band (she’s also our favorite
comedian, and we’re not just saying that). We’re also known for our energetic
and stylish live shows and our fans can expect not only a powerful and tight
musical performance, but a well-dressed band on stage, too, complete with
scarves and feather boas when the mood strikes us. It’s our inner glam creeping
out from inside the garage.

 

Briefly outline some
of the things – artistic, personal or otherwise – you’ve been up to since we
ran our BKS feature on you. Any milestones that we should know about?

We just
released our third album called Waiting for the Robot on September 6. We
think it’s our best work ever. To help celebrate the release, drummer Clem
Burke of Blondie, who is a friend, fan, and champion of the band, invited us to
open for Blondie the very next night (September 7) in our hometown of Chicago at the House of
Blues, which was spectacular. One of the highlights of that night was when the
entire crowd sang along, with a little coaxing from Chloe, at the top of their
lungs to one of our new songs called “Everybody Waves Hello” from the
new album. It was one of those moments that just kind of gives you chills. That
kind of stuff never gets old, no matter how many stages you’ve worked.
        We’re also going to be the
support act for punk legend Hugh Cornwell (The Stranglers), who’s stopping by Chicago on his U.S. tour on October 31. We’re also
looking forward to getting out and doing some of our own touring, probably in
early spring 2012.

        As far as milestones and/or tragedies:
How much time do you have? For starters, drummer, co-leader and head songwriter
Brad Elvis has and still continues to have a pretty amazing career (he’s been a
pro musician since his early teens and has never stopped) despite, or perhaps
because of, his underground status. He’s had a few major (and some indie) label
deals, and toured all over the world. Like any pro musician with longevity
there have been some crazy ups and downs both professionally and personally
(although his downs, shockingly, have never involved drugs or alcohol, in which
he’s not really a big participant). He is often compared to Keith Moon and John
Bonham. He has also been moonlighting as the drummer for the Romantics for the
past 7 years (replacing Clem Burke, who recommended him for the gig and who
used to drum with the band until he became too busy with Blondie).
       
Lead singer/instrumentalist, co-leader Chloe F. Orwell is a two time
breast cancer survivor and went through the whole difficult treatment
rigmarole, including multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, while
still trying to forge a rock & roll music career. Fortunately both she and
the career survived and they’re both stronger for it. Chloe can also be
frequently heard as the voice-over on national television and radio commercials
and she’s been known to sing a jingle or two, too.

 

 

Tell us about your latest
record: some of the inspirations that went into the writing and recording, any
songs that you feel really excited about, etc.

 

We are
in love with our new album. Our RIYL are Ting Tings, T-Rex and Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
but we think we sound like The Handcuffs. For this record, we were definitely
inspired by a lot of ‘70s glam artists like T. Rex, Bowie, Roxy Music, Mott the
Hoople, but we’re always listening to and getting inspired by our
contemporaries in modern music, too, and just good old fashioned hard, driving,
amplified rock music (i.e. Led Zeppelin, and Rolling Stones). We love all of our
children/songs on this album, but if we have to pick at this moment, we’d
probably list “Eight Down,” “Dirty Glitter,” “Miss You
on Tuesday” and “The Scary Side of Me” among our favorites. When we were recording another one of the songs on Robot called
“Baby I Love You,” it turned into an accidental duet between partners
in music and in life, Brad and Chloe, when Brad, who wrote the song, sang the
guide vocal over the basic tracks. That scratch vocal turned out so cool that
we decided to go with it and turn it into a duet, since it’s a rock & roll
love song anyway. A happy accident, just like many love stories.

 

And of course, what’s
next for you?

We’re
still trying to get through this whole promotional period of the new record!
There has been a lot to do. We’re 100 percent DIY/independent except for having
a fantastic publicist (Green Light Go out of Detroit), so we’re constantly “working
it.” But it’s definitely a labor of love. We’ve got a few cool sync
[licensing] opportunities on the horizon for this current record. We can’t wait
to start on the next record, though, and we already have a handful of songs
waiting in the wings.

 

 

Listen to The Handcuffs Radio
at Green Light Go.

 

 

CROOKED FINGERS, ARCHERS OF LOAF AND… Eric Bachmann

With a
new album just out, Bachmann, pictured above with partner Liz Durrett, reflects
on his busiest – possibly best – year ever.

 

BY JOHN SCHACHT

 

To claw a two-decade-long living from the meager margins of
indie rock – music arguably already on the margin – takes a person of
contradictory strengths and frailties: stubbornness, pride, resignation,
perseverance, self-awareness and self-delusion.

 

These chinks in the psychic armor have always stoked the
songwriting fires of Eric Bachmann, the imposing (6-foot-6, 240-pounds
imposing) tunesmith behind decade-old Crooked Fingers. Breaks In the Armor is Bachman’s sixth – and arguably best –
Fingers’ full-length since his stint in front of ‘90s indie rockers Archers of
Loaf. The 11 songs here read like a downcast but ultimately redemptive catalog
of struggle – with life and its oft-unrequited promise, yes, but life as an
unrequited musician, too.

 

Business as usual for Bachmann, you might think. But after
the oft-bloated, un-Bachmann-like arrangements of 2009’s self-released Forfeit/Fortune, and his near-retirement
from the music business afterward, Breaks
in the Armo
r is the scaled-back and considered work of an artist
acknowledging that the struggle itself defines who he is and what he’s supposed
to sound like.

 

With the reissue of AoL’s 1994 indie rock classic Icky Mettle and a reunion tour, too,
2011 has been one of Bachmann’s busiest and best years. That’s quite a turn of
events, too, considering that just two years prior he’d all but retired
from the music business and was teaching English in Taiwan. Throw in a new relationship
with fellow Athens
musician Liz Durrett, whose voice graces much of Breaks in the Armor, and Bachmann sounds almost content – or as
much as a creatively restless musician ever will. Bachmann chatted with BLURT
from his home Athens, Georgia…

 

***

 

BLURT:
Congrats on a gorgeous record – it was a little shocking to read in the one-sheet
that this one might never have existed…

ERIC BACHMANN: I’ve done this for about 19 years, and I’m
fairly self-loathing (laughs), so I just felt like maybe it was just time to do
or try something else. I know I’m not going to quit making records, but I don’t
know if anybody gives a shit about hearing them. Moreover, I don’t care if
anybody does, in a way, you know? I know there’s some bullshit in that, but at
the time that’s how I felt. And now I think going and doing something else,
well, I kind of like trying to pull a living out of music, I like the struggle
of it, I like doing it. Obviously the creative process is innately woven into
my personality and my lifestyle at this point, so it’s hard to get away from
it. I know I’m not the only one – I’m sure there are countless people who have
done it and get to the point where, ‘this is ridiculous, what am I doing? I
could have a fucking dog. I could have these things that I don’t have because
I’m doing this.’ But you come back to it because it’s more rewarding than the
alternative, at least for me.

 

 How close were you to hanging it up, and did
you have anything else in mind?

 Well, I went to Taiwan
to teach English. I’d put everything in storage, sold a lot of gear but kept
the essentials of what I usually have, my favorite guitars and amps and stuff.
So I just went thinking, ‘I’ll just take a break. I know that I’m not going to
quit making music, obviously, but I’m not so sure I want to go on tour for
seven months this year, so I’m just going to Taiwan and do something else.’ I
went with no guitar, and within a month-and-a-half, I had to have a guitar, so
I bought one, and all of a sudden these new songs started coming out. I was
working from like 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. I couldn’t find a job in Taipei where I wasn’t teaching kids, so I
wound up in Pingtung in the South teaching children. I love children, and I’m
pretty good with my relatives and everything, but I’m not trained. I don’t know
what I’m doing. I’d see a kid with a hockey stick about to smack another kid in
the head, and what you’re supposed to do, you’re supposed to stop them and tell
them they’re not allowed to do that. And what I would do was watch them, ‘oh,
man, this is going to be amazing.’ I know that sounds terrible. And then I
would get in trouble with the people that hired me. Like, ‘oh, yeah, I never
went to the school where they teach you that,’ though I guess you’re supposed
to know that. But I’m just not innately savvy that way.

 

How
long were you there
?

 I was there for a
total of seven months, maybe. I left early because Azure Ray, the band, had
asked me to produce a record, and I’d said ‘no’ back in the States. I told them
I was getting out for a little bit and I went to Taiwan. I stayed at a friend’s
house, the guy whose house I recorded Breaks
in the Armor
in here in Athens, but he was
living in Taiwan
then. I stayed with him for a month-and-a-half in Taipei, then I moved to the
far South end of the island, worked there for four months, and then came back
to record Azure Ray. Also, I came back because I had about seven or eight new
and finished songs, and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll be ready to do a new one here
soon.’ And of course it took me about two years to get it done.

 

 What was the time-frame?

 I went to Taiwan
in July of 2009, and got back the next January. The Azure Ray (Drawing Down the Moon) was recorded in
February. So in that six-month period in Taiwan, I wrote seven songs, and
about four of them made it onto the new record. The others probably won’t ever
be heard just because your personal editor has kicked them out. But I continued
writing, and those other three ideas became something else, you know?

 

 Did the Taiwan experience color those songs
at all?

 For me, to keep from
falling into stagnation or writer’s block area, I have to keep moving. So where
I am has a big significance on what comes out. But it’s also unintentional, or
unknown, you don’t really realize it, it’s in your subconscious more how it
affects it. But that song “Typhoon,” was written during typhoon Morakot, it
blatantly affected it, even in content, for sure. Have you ever been to Taiwan?

 

 Nope.

 It’s really
Westernized, you can go to Starbucks and the grocery store, but it’s also very
bizarre. One of my favorite things to do, when I was there it rained a lot that
time of the year, and I would get on a scooter – which for me was more of a
motorcycle because I’m 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, so I don’t fit on a normal scooter
so I have to get a motorcycle, but they call it a scooter – and I would drive
around in the rain late at night around midnight before going to bed. It’s just
an inspirational kind of place because it’s so oily and polluted and there’s
old men sitting outside their houses and smoking cigarettes playing Mahjong, there
are all these oily lamps and good-looking girls everywhere. It’s just an
interesting place, visually. When you go there, they tell you, ‘oh, it’s a lot
different, it’s a weird cultural experience.’ And culturally, just the cultural
norms, it is very strange – and the language barrier, too. And where I was, in
the South, Taipei’s got English speakers all over, but once you get further
from away from there, you’re definitely alone, and the Ugly American, kind of.

 

 Especially at 6-6, I imagine, you can’t really
blend in…

 Yeah, exactly. But I
really loved it, I would go back in a second.

 

 Were you tempted at all to add any local
flavors sonically? I know you added a bit of Iberian stuff on Dignity & Shame…

 No. I don’t think I
was for fear of being ridiculous. In the sense that that’s such a strange
sounding, distinctive sounding music compared to Western ears. But I also would
argue that when I did Dignity & Shame,
and Red Devil Dawn, people talk about
it like ‘oh, you started using Latin influence’ and whatnot, to me it’s not
really that severe because that’s very American. I’m already getting that when
I go to the mall or the store – that stuff is here as well now. And I’m not
playing Flamenco guitar, I’m using nylon-string guitar because my hands are so
big on a fret board, it’s hard to find an acoustic guitar where my hands will
fit. That’s originally why I started using that guitar. But to answer your
question, if anything, I tried to make sure I didn’t. (Laughs.) That would’ve
been pretty funny though.

 

 Was there a thematic red thread through those
songs, or does that show up in hindsight typically?

 If there was, it’d be
more thematic. But I don’t know what that is yet, I haven’t had that time yet when
you come back and revisit it. I almost feel like what I want to say is that I was
actually avoiding trying to have that influence – being Taiwan. It’s
almost like I wanted it to sound more…I don’t know, more like home. I didn’t
want it to sound like I’d gone away.

 

 Does it help that I even get a weird Brit folk
feeling from a couple songs?

 I like a lot of that
music, too, so maybe that’s a bigger influence in general because I do like a
lot of Anglo Folk music as well, whether it be Fairport Convention or stuff
even before that. I love that band, I love the sound of it, the sentimentality
of it. I like things that are not afraid to be that way, sentimental or
whatever. But I didn’t strive for that if it’s in there, not intentionally. If
I was striving for anything it was, ‘okay, I’m in this place, I want to sound
like a tall American guy.’ I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to be Mandarin
or Iberian or anything; I want to sound like I do. I’m not thinking that
consciously, but looking back I remember thinking, ‘nah, I’m not going to do
that, I’m going to do this because this sounds like me.’ Which makes sense,
going back to the Fairport Convention thing.

 

 Tell us about the arrangements. Forfeit/Fortune had more elaborate
arrangements, this one feels more stark, but not as stark as the solo record
(2006’s To The Races) — were you
shooting for a middle ground? Or is because of financial constraints
?

 No, it’s not
financial. I probably spent more money on this record than I did Forfeit/Fortune. I try to think, in
terms of the way records sound, two or three or even four albums ahead. I knew,
when I made To the Races, that it
would just be guitar and a little piano here and there, and Tom Hagerman (DeVotchKa)
and Miranda Brown singing on it and Tom playing violin. When I made that record
I thought, ‘this is cool because this is setting me up for my next record, I
want to do something really produced, really arranged.’ Because you do this a
long time you try and find new ways to do it for yourself, you know? With Forfeit/Fortune, those songs were not
new songs. With the exception of “Your Control,” that I did with Neko Case, and
maybe one other song, all those songs were outtakes from previous records. But
I didn’t put it out as a b-sides compilation because I didn’t think it was fair
to the songs – God, that’s a ridiculous way to say that – I felt like it
warranted more than just a b-sides thing. So I thought, ‘what if I re-record
all these and make ‘em try and fit on one record and that way I’ll just put it
out as a record and not have this b-sides compilation?’ It just presented the
songs in a way that felt unconfident or something. So that’s what all that was,
I just thought I’d go all-out and have fun, so when I was doing that I was
thinking, ‘oh, cool, the next record I can just do eight tracks – four for
drums, bass, guitar and vocals’ and that’s it. Which is what happened with Breaks in the Armor. The next record —
it may be with Liz (Durrett), it may not — will probably be a quieter thing.

 

 It’s interesting that you’re thinking that far
ahead – I think some music listeners forget what a drawn-out process it can be
to make a record.

 A lot of it is
self-created. I know for Dignity &
Shame
, I wanted to do something I didn’t normally do – I want to make this
record and it’s going to be positive pop songs on here, which I don’t do.
(Laughs) I haven’t done that. You do that and know, ‘well, this isn’t going to
go well for certain people.’ For you, as the person doing it, it can be the
best moments you have, when you break out of the corner you’ve boxed yourself
into. As I do this longer, I don’t like it when you’re boxed into a corner –
‘you’re kind of this indie rock curmudgeon guy.’ I’m actually not – even if I’m
coming across that way, you’re fighting to define yourself more than they’re
defining you.

 

 Is there this push-and-pull between doing the
same thing – you have that reliable fan base, whatever it is – and trying to do
new things?

 That’s exactly right.
That’s true. It’s difficult to do. If I’m selling 10,000 records – as one guy,
I can pull that off, I can make a living doing that. But it’s a very stripped-down
living. It’s cool that people like it or think it’s credible or whatever, but I
don’t give a shit about that that much either. I kind of like having the idea
of having some comfort. Especially after not having it, and after living in my
van for a bit and people commenting about how funny it is. But the reality of
it is, I’ve got $4,000 for the next six months – so you can think that I’m
being funny or whatever, but that’s the reality of it. I’m getting sick of
that. Now, lately, it’s gone a little better. It comes in waves – sometimes it
goes better, sometimes it doesn’t go well. And I never had the intention to
stop making records. I’ll always do that until I’m dead or whatever. But I do
think the struggle to pull a living out of it is annoying. It’s become
annoying. Then again, I say that, and every time I try something else I fall
back into it.

 

 It’s a worthy struggle, though, no?

 Even if it’s not, you
don’t have much of a choice. Even if I was doing it because I wanted to do
cocaine off a stripper’s tit, even then I can’t not do it.

 

 A different kind of incentive, I guess.

 Yes. (laughs)

 

 Let me switch gears and ask about Liz
Durrett’s presence on the record – didn’t you produce her last couple records?

 Not both, I just did Outside Our Gates, the last one.

 

 I love that record – she’s so underrated. How
did you guys meet? And how is it working with her on this record?

 She’s on Warm (Records),
and the first two Crooked Fingers albums came out on Warm Records. I think all
of hers have. I met her through that, and she opened for Crooked Fingers on the
Dignity & Shame tour up the East
coast. I didn’t really know her that well then – I said, ‘hi,’ we were
friendly, but she was playing solo with her husband at the time, the two of
them kind of traveling quietly. They’re quiet, and she’s very quiet anyway. And
I had an eight-piece traveling entourage, and I was tour managing and playing,
so I didn’t get to talk to her much. And then about two years later Warm asked
me to produce her record. So I listened to the demos and we proceeded to make
that record, Outside Our Gates. And
so through that, we became friends. Then, after that, when I was in Taiwan, she had a show in Taiwan and she
was in the process of getting divorced, so then she and I got closer then. And
when I came back from Taiwan,
I scheduled some shows just to get back into the swing of playing, and I asked
her to play on them because I’m a fan of hers as well.

        Unfortunately,
that’s when her uncle, Vic Chesnutt, passed away, so she had to cancel those
shows. That was a bad time, and she and I got closer through that experience
and other things, then we sort of started seeing each other then, and we’re
living together now, so she’s just kind of involved in everything I’m doing.
She’s real stubborn, real cautious and stubborn, and it’s a pain in the ass,
but the result is fantastic because she gets to the right spot. Because of the situation,
it was a weird time – we were doing great, but it was probably the saddest
time. So that’s what was happening. It’s turned out to be good, and a good
working relationship as well. It’s just very – when you say she’s massively
talented and underrated, I couldn’t agree more. So I’m thinking, when I talk
about thinking ahead and future stuff, I want her to do some more. She hasn’t
made a record since then – I think she was done playing, and Crooked Fingers
enabled her to play music but not be the center of it, which made it easier for
her to step back in after all that.

 

 It hit that hard that she was not thinking
about doing it anymore, huh?

 Yeah. I think so.
Being the uncle, and the only kind of progressive musical influence, being from
rural Rome, Georgia, it was very important to
her musical upbringing. That said, it was good in a way because she’s been
playing with me and she’s been really enjoying not being the center of
attention there, although she’s happy it’s just the two of us at this point.
But it’s my thing, she’s not writing the songs, she’s not in charge of it.

 

 Let’s delve into the Archers of Loaf reunion
stuff — how has the reaction to the reunion colored your view of that era?

 It’s been extremely
fun. I’m honored – I had no idea there were going to be this many people. I
knew there’d be some that liked it a little bit, but we’re definitely doing
better now than when we were a band! I don’t know why that happens, or whether
it’s nostalgia or what. But when we broke up I thought, ‘no way, I’m not doing
this again. I like these people, Mark and Eric, I love them, they’re great
friends, but I’m so not interested in sounding like this ever again.’ With
Crooked Fingers, I’m always able to change the arrangements – every time I go
out I play the songs differently a little bit. I can play them acoustically, I
can play with it a loud band, four people, three people, six people, whatever.
I can mix it up. With Archers? We played it the same way … for eight years. I
got really burned out on that kind of aesthetic. But what I learned, and I knew
this, but you don’t really know it until you experience it, is that you can’t
contrive chemistry. That’s the best thing about playing with Matt, Mark and
Eric again is that we were 20 years old when we started playing together, and
there’s an innate chemistry there. There’ are horrible songs that we’ve written
that work because of the chemistry. (laughs). It just works because there’s a
magical weird thing between people, and that’s what makes a rock band great.

        Crooked
Fingers is more of a chamber pop band than a rock band, so it’s a different
thing. So that’s the best thing that’s happened for me, is rediscovering that
feeling of being on stage and the thing that you’re making is based on this
intangible kind of energy. And people really respond to that. I didn’t think
that we’d be able to sell out anything. When we thought about doing it, Shawn
Nolan, the guy who managed the Archers back in the day, it was his idea, and I
was the holdout because I think I’d just got back from Taiwan and knew that I
wanted to get back and play music and knew that I wanted to maybe more
production, maybe do more projects – I didn’t think, ‘well, I can even reunite
my old band.’ But when he called and asked me, ‘do you think it’s time to do
that? I think I can get Merge to reissue the records,’ I thought, ‘this is a
good opportunity, this is something that’d be fun to do, I miss Mark and Eric,
I’d like to try it.’ So when we played in January opening for the Love
Language, it was a test – let’s see how this goes. And it was a great time.
It’s been good, it’s been positive. I don’t know what will happen – we’re done
with this year’s touring except for two dates in England in December – and I’m obviously
changing gears to go into Crooked Fingers land. And next year I’m hoping we’ll
do some shows to support the rest of the reissues that Merge is doing.

 

 Any plans to record?

 There will be shows,
we’ve talked that much, but that’s all that we know. We don’t know what’s going
to happen beyond that. Again, for me, it’s rewarding – for whatever reasons –
to have a lot of different avenues to make stuff. So if I could have the thing
with Liz, the thing with Crooked Fingers, the thing with Archers, and keep
creating with all of them, that’d be fantastic. But it’s hard enough to do that
with one band, so I don’t know if I could. There was talk of writing, but
people are adults now, and this isn’t their main thing anymore. Back in the 90s
it was our main thing. It’s hard to find time – even if I could write new songs
and get them to the point where I could present them to the band, when would we
rehearse? If I’m on tour and they’re going to work? I think everyone wants to
do it, but then there’s also the idea, ‘let’s just let it be what it is.’ Just
stop. It happened, it was a great moment for us.

 

 It does seem like it would be a weird thing to
add the catalog 15 years later…

 It could be really
cool, or it could be horrible. (laughs). ‘You know that cool thing we let bake
for 10, 13 years? We just ruined it.’ I love the people in that band, and I’m
not against doing anything but we haven’t gotten to that point. That was the
one thing that was fantastic about being in that band: everybody had a healthy
amount of self-loathing and was self-critical and was very cautious about
making decisions. So I trust Matt, Mark and Eric in that way, and I feel like
they trust me. We’ll know what the right thing to do is. If we write one song
in practice and do it and then be like, ‘eh, let’s just do the old songs,’
we’ll know.

 

 Has the Icky
Mettle
reissue been, um, beneficial? I’m trying to find a polite way to ask
if you’ve made any money off it?

 (laughs) I don’t know
– it’s a new era. I know that it was No. 1 on Amazon downloads last week for
the nation, or the world, I guess? So that’s pretty cool – but that’s like
5,000 downloads. And Beyonce’s record is $9.99; ours is $3.99. The industry’s
changed so much since we started doing this, the touring’s obviously been
lucrative. But again, we’re not the Pixies, or Pavement – we were never that
big. With a name as ridiculous as Archers of Loaf it was never going to happen
anyway. So we’re playing 1,200-seat, 800-seat, 600-seat rooms – we’re not playing
4,000-seat bigger venues. We’ll play two nights and sell ‘em out, because
that’s more the aesthetic of what we do, we’re more of a straightforward bar
rock band or whatever.

        It’s going
great, but we’re still a smaller band than some people realize. So, yeah, we’re
making some money, but it’s not changing my life.

 

[Photo Credit: Gary Isaacs]

 

Don’t
miss the new print edition of BLURT, issue #11, for a special Crooked Fingers
feature.

 

 

 

 

THE SCOUT & THE CAVALRY Australian Producer Mark Opitz (Pt. 2)

We continue our conversation with the
famed studio whiz.

 

BY MARCUS BLAKE

 

Mark Opitz has been a mainstay of the
Australian music scene since the ‘70s, over the years working with everyone
from indigenous acts AC/DC, Cold Chisel and INXS to the likes of Bob Dylan,
Kiss and Ray Charles. Go here to read part one of our interview.

 

BLURT: Getting back to your days at
Warner Brothers, did you sign INXS?

 

MARK OPITZ: Well,
on the same night as my first day as head of A&R at Warner Brothers, I went
to see them play. I walked up to and spoke with Michael Browning, who was the
ex-manager of AC/DC, who they hated. In fact, in the Albert days, AC/DC had
their lawyers talk to his lawyers. That was the only way they would talk! He
was there. Chris Murphy, who was managing INXS, was there as well. At the start
of the gig, I went up to Chris and said to him, “Chris, I’m the head of A&R
and I want to sign INXS as my first signing.” He said, “You know what, Mark? You’re
a day too late. We already signed with Michael Browning on Deluxe Records.”

        INXS did two dud albums with Deluxe
Records. Well, they did, maybe, five or six thousand copies but nothing
spectacular. Then, they offered me the third album, which was called Shabooh Shoobah and I pulled another
five times platinum out of the hat for that one.

 

  That was massive here in America too.

 

  That was a breakthrough because we had “Don’t
Change” and “The One Thing”. And, later on, when MTV noticed it, it went
through the roof. All together, I did about five albums with them.

 

  Speaking of “Don’t Change”, that song has a
very distinctive, droning guitar sound. Could you tell me how you got that
guitar sound?

 

  I first heard that song at a gig. I used to
go to a lot of an act’s gigs before I worked with anyone just to absorb what
was going on and try to make sure I could capture what was needed.

        So, it was originally a straightforward
rock song. I sat down with Michael Hutchence one day to talk about the song. I
said, “Listen, there’s a song called “Union City Blue” by Blondie. I want you
to go and listen to it.” What happens in that, is that Deborah Harry sings
across the beat all the way through. She follows the beat and it gives it that
distinctive sound. I used that as the basis with the band for the feel of the
song.

        What happened with the guitar sound on
“Don’t Change” is that I layered the guitars up with Tim (Farriss) and Kirk
(Pengilly). But, I noticed when I was in the middle of mixing the song, there
was this harmony (starts singing “Don’t Change for me…”) at the very end. Originally,
that wasn’t there. When the guitars played back combined, there was this
harmonic melody that just popped up out of nowhere! Just because the guitars
were clashing!

 

  A happy accident!

 

  That’s it! A happy accident! So, I grabbed
Kirk while he was packing up his saxes and played him the mix that I had.  I told him, “I want you to sing that harmony
that became the “Don’t change for me” part.

        The other thing that happened with the
droning guitar sound is by putting a quarter note beat and an eighth note beat
with a bit of feedback on each side and burying it under the guitar sounds, you
get sort of a ping pong effect but in time so you can’t hear it. And then, I
stopped it by the last beat so you don’t hear the hangover. That harmonizes the
guitars. One side is slightly sharp and one side is slightly flat. That gave it
that sort of droney sound and that harmonic thing at the end, which I was able
to capitalize on.

 

  Do you have a favorite microphone that you
used to use with Michael Hutchence?

 

  There are a couple of great vocal microphones
that I like. In the studio, some singers work better in the control room. So,
what I like to do is put the big speakers on really loud and give them a SM 57
microphone to sing into.

 

  Wait a minute! You’re blowing my mind here.
So, is that what Bon Scott did? Did he record his vocals in the control room
instead of a vocal booth?

 

  With Bon, most of the time, I used a U 47 on
him.  But I recorded that way in the
control room with The Angels. For the first album I did with them, I put a
Sennheiser (noise cancelling microphone) up for Doc (Neeson, lead singer) and I
sat him in between massive speakers in George, Harry’s and my control room. I
put the speakers out of phase because I knew where the guitars were going to be
placed. So, it meant that whatever he sang would get in there but all of the
guitars that were put in the mix would cancel out the spill. So, I was able to
turn the speakers up real loud so he could get a rock feel. I did Rose Tattoo
and some INXS stuff that way as well sometimes. But I usually did stuff that
required more dynamics and sound with them. I wanted to set them up in a really
comfortable situation. Sometimes, I would actually sit out there with them and
talk to them at the end of takes and stuff like that. But the magic, as the
producer, Daniel Lanois, does, is that you’ve got to make everyone feel
comfortable. That’s why he’s one of my favorite producers.

 

  Funny you should mention that. Lanois is a
friend of mine and we sometimes perform live together.

 

  Were you out in Australia with him?

 

  I was with him in Australia a couple of years
ago, yes.

 

  What a bummer I didn’t get to meet you then. I
did see you guys play in Melbourne though. I didn’t have the intestinal
fortitude to go up to Daniel and say, “Hello, remember me?” because I first met
Daniel at Peter Gabriel’s studio in, maybe, the early ‘90s. He was upstairs
using Peter’s room and I was downstairs recording some German band. He came in
and said, “G’day, my name’s Daniel and feel free to come upstairs, play a
guitar, push a fader, whatever you like.” I thought, “What a cool dude.” I sort
of hung out with him a bit and went to a great Christmas party with him and
Peter Gabriel. We hired a nightclub in Bath, England called Mole’s and Aaron
Neville was there and we all got up on stage and got really shitfaced. We went
back to the studio afterwards to try to record and it went nowhere! (laughs)

        Anyway, when I heard his first solo
album, Acadie, I carried that album
with me for years and years. Every time I would go overseas, that was one of
the records I would take with me to remind me about purity and things like
that. Particularly, when you listen to a song like “The Maker”, that just blew
me away. I thought it had two basses on that but when I spoke to him about it,
he said that it had three! He’s a very inspirational guy and one of my favorite
record producers. Mark Howard is also a lovely man. They are both lovely
people. I would love to spend a lot more time with them and just be a fly on
the wall at their sessions. I’ve had that experience with Trevor Horn and a few
other people but to me, Daniel Lanois is pretty much the perfect record
producer.

 

  Yeah, it’s about feel or a vibe rather than a
“perfect take” with him.

 

  Exactly, and that’s what it’s about for me. It’s
always about feel. Sometimes, I’ve got to go for a perfect take because some
bands can’t play and, therefore, you have to use a click. But, overall, it’s totally
about feel for me. When I look for a band’s sound, when I have the time, that’s
what it’s about, the feel.  Make sure
that’s what comes out of the speakers. The old phrase is “capturing the
moment”. But, of course there are a lot of ways going about capturing the
moment.

        Anyway, Daniel is one of the guys who
keeps me going in doing what I do. Quincy Jones does.  Mutt Lange does. And, obviously, Vanda &
Young are a great inspiration to me.

        I like to be ready. I like to be ready
to record and capture everything. I don’t record demos. I don’t record singles.
I don’t record albums. I just record. I can’t tell you how many times that I
used a demo as a main track or used demo vocals because it’s got the feel.

        Daniel’s position in America allows him
to work on a lot of varied projects. He has a lot of choice. In my case,
because I live in Melbourne, I don’t have as many choices. Yeah, last year, I
spent three months in Istanbul for Sony, doing a great band over there, which I
love doing. I’ve been going all over and working on anything that gives me
inspiration, basically.

        As I said earlier in the interview, it
was all about being the best record producer in Australia. I wish I would have
said the world! (laughs) But, I went for Australia and I got lots and lots of
our version of the Grammys but, these days, my variants have really changed. It’s
just about making good music.

        If a band comes to me that I like and
they say, “Well, we can’t afford you.” I say, “What can you afford?” Then, they
will name this figure and I say, “I’ll tell you what, give me five percent more
and I’ll do it.” The reason I charge five percent more is that I know you’ll
try fucking hard. I know that’s the most you can afford but if you add that
little bit more, I’ll know you’ll try hard. That’s the way you build respect. It
gives me enjoyment as well because I’m passing on knowledge.

        Even to this day, I do master classes
as well.

 

  Could you tell me about these master classes?

 

  Well, I’ve done a few of them and it’s
basically about how I do things. I take my engineer up with me and we do Pro
Tools and stuff like that. But, it’s about how to capture those “happy
accidents” you mentioned before and how to record things like guitars. I have a
particular method that I use where I can guarantee that a guitar sound that you
hear coming out of your amplifier will sound exactly like how it will in the
control room. That might sound like a very hard thing to do to you. The average
person might think, “Why wouldn’t it?” But it doesn’t. My method revolves
around using a condenser microphone, a 57 at a 90 degree angle, crossing in
front of the speaker and, basically, getting this interlocking effect. Or, I
use a 414 AKG condenser microphone with a 57 or something similar.

        Also, I never eq anything when I
record. Maybe I use a bit of filtering, but I never use any eq. The way we
record these days is, after recording, we go into what I call “pre mix” as
opposed to “mix”. We spend a day on a track just filtering out any rogue sounds
and, most importantly, adjusting the phase of every instrument so there’s no
latency (delay) involved. It makes such a difference!

        I remember working with Kiss a few
years back on the symphony orchestra stuff (Kiss:
Symphony Alive IV
, the 2003 live album Kiss did with the Melbourne Symphony
Orchestra). It was a massive production. I wasn’t a fan of Kiss when they asked
me to do it. I have since become a fan of Gene (Simmons) and Paul (Stanley)
because of their attitudes. Anyway, we showed them about putting stuff in phase
correctly. Paul said to me, “You know what? Eddie Kramer is the luckiest man in
show business! He got away with murder!” (laughs) We did a lot of work in
Australia and then I worked on it in L.A. for about three months.  I was in the limo going to the airport and the
phone rings. It was Gene Simmons. Gene said, “Mark!” I said, “Yeah?” Gene said,
“If I ever go to jail, you’re coming with me.” I said, “Why is that, Gene?” He
said, “Because I know you’ll figure a way to get me out.” That’s one of the
biggest compliments I’ve ever received.

        Paul said to me one of the smartest
things I’ve ever heard someone say in the music business. One day, I asked
Paul, “Why did you take the makeup off?” He said to me, “So we could put it
back on.” I thought that was fucking genius. I said, “Oh, the Coca-Cola
principle?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Do you remember in the early
‘90s when Coke changed their flavor?” He said, “Yeah, they did that on
purpose.” I said, “No, they didn’t.”

        Everyone thinks that Coke changed on
purpose but Pepsi was coming up from behind them. So, Coke changed their
flavor. They did this so: 1) Everyone could taste the new flavor and there
would be a sales boost, and 2) Everyone hated the new flavor and people, not
Coke, wanted them to bring back the old flavor. It was the same with Kiss, they
didn’t put the makeup back on until they had enough momentum of other people,
not them, saying, “Put the makeup back on! Put the makeup back on!” Of course,
when Kiss put the makeup back on…BOOM! They’ve always looked after their fans
more than anything. I thought that was one of the smartest things anyone had
ever said to me.

 

  You went on to work with Paul Stanley for his
solo album as well?

 

  Yeah, I did a bit of work with him on that
but it wasn’t what I call inspirational. I did a few things with him. I did the
Rock The Nation tour with Kiss as well, which was pretty cool. Having never
have seen Kiss and then, here I am, working with Kiss with an orchestra, with
David Campbell conducting. That brought on all sort of problems like Peter
Criss had carpal tunnel syndrome. He could hardly drum so I had to replace
every fucking drum. I also had to use lots of phase corrections. But I used to
ask the president of the Kiss fan club in Australia and in America how they
thought it sounded. “Oh! It sounds great!” I left all of the ad libs and coughs
in. Anything that you would notice during the show, I left in. In America, I spent
fifty-two days straight with no drinks or drugs for fourteen hours a day
working on that record. When I was in America, working on it, I had to take
over a lot of the TV production because the DVD director was putting all of
these shots from Dallas or from wherever with the music. I said, “What are you
doing? You can’t do that!” Music is king. So, I called a conference with their
manager, Doc McGhee, and I said that it was taking too long and we have got to
have a plan. This is how we’re going to do it. And, they went with it.

        I think that’s one of the reasons Gene
said what he said to me and Paul said something that I will never forget as
well. Not to boast, but as Paul was walking out of the control room, not
knowing I was behind him, he said to Doc McGhee, “That guy has the best ear
I’ve ever heard.” I thought, “How am I going to live up to this?!” I was
freaking the whole time I was doing the symphony thing. Am I going to be able
to pull this off? But the most important thing was to keep the fans happy. So,
I was on the Kiss Army fan site every day looking for little things about the
show that they remembered. I didn’t want to fool them. I just wanted them to
have the best product that they could possibly have. The way I use modern
technology is not to be hip and groovy but to re-capture the moment as much as
possible.

        One day, Paul was in the control room,
fixing some guitars and was looking at himself on the screen. He was playing
like shit. This was one of the first days of working together. I said, “Fuck
you, Stanley! If you want to fucking look at anything, look at fucking me and
play guitar!” He looked at me kind of shocked and absolutely nailed it because
nobody had ever spoken to him like that before.

 

  That’s what he needed!

 

  That’s why I think Gene and I got on really
well. In fact, when we were at Henson Studios in L.A., him and Paul would come
in at separate times. I remember when we first started doing vocals, I said to
Gene, “Do you want to hang around when Paul does his vocals?” Paul looks at
Gene with daggers and Gene looks at Paul like, “No fucking way!” And I said,
“Oh, maybe you better not hang around!” Paul would come in for lunch. They
wouldn’t even listen to the music because they trusted me. Gene would come in
at night and we would go off and have dinner. Gene is a very intelligent man. We
would talk about shit for hours. Even to the point where, years later, I would
be somewhere, like Turkey and I would get a phone call from him. We would have
this quiz thing going. So, Gene would ring me up and say, “Hey Mark, what is
Donovan, the folk singer’s, real last name?” I would say, “Leitch!” He would
go, “Aw, fuck, you knew it!”

         I’ve got to say, though I wasn’t a fan
of the band at first, I really like working with those guys. They own Ace
Frehley’s face. They own Peter Criss’ face. Gene Simmons owns the word, “Axe”
when you’re referring to a guitar. He has that trademarked. He owns the
moneybag symbol with the U.S. dollar sign on it! If he wanted to, he could sue
anyone for using that without his permission. You might not like what they do,
but they’re doing it and that’s valid. I think music is music. No matter what
form it comes in. It’s still the international language. It’s still the thing
that turns us on in different ways. And if American
Idol
is the only way that one can get noticed, so be it.

 

  You have also worked with another musical
giant, Bob Dylan, for his performance of “Things Have Changed” for the Academy
Awards, in which he won the coveted award. How did that come about?

 

  As you probably know, Bob Dylan was up for
the Best Song award for the 2001 Academy Awards. Bob decided that, if by chance
he might win the award, that the last place he wanted to be was in Los Angeles
at the Academy Awards! So, he decided to tour Australia at that time. He was
out here touring and Bob’s management rang me up from New York City and said,
“We’ve got to do this thing at the Academy Awards and we’re going to do it out
of a TV studio but we want a producer to make sure the music turns out properly
and to do a good service.” I said, “How much do I have to pay YOU to do this?” I
mean, I used to have a poster of him on my wall when I was fourteen. You know,
on his motorbike with the polka dot shirt on and with the Ray Bans.

        I felt the same way with Ray Charles
(Opitz produced the 1993 collaboration between Charles and INXS for their song,
“Please (You Got That)”.) They were my two biggest heroes. He was the best singer
in the world as far as I was concerned and Bob Dylan was the real Elvis
Presley. He should have had the accolades that Presley had.

        Anyway, Bob’s management asked me if I
would be interested and they were also going to fly out a director to make sure
the vision was right. So, I turned up and went to Bob’s show the night before
and met Dylan. I shook his hand and he had a kind of soft fish handshake. He’s
also a very private guy. Luckily, one of my good mates, Charlie Sexton, was in
Bob’s band so, I had that avenue to get in there to get inside of Bob’s head to
see what was needed and to see what was going on. I sat up front and watched
the show. I noticed what equipment they were using and asked the front of house
guy if I could borrow certain equipment for the Academy Awards the next day. I
knew an engineer that worked at the TV studio and I got him and the front of
house engineer to come along.

        Anyway, they had a guy fly out from
America to do the vision part of the performance. One of the things that was
stressed by Dylan’s management was, “We don’t want this to look like The Tonight Show! You know, like as if
he was on David Letterman or Johnny Carson. We want Bob to look like Bob.” So,
we do the rehearsal. I’m in my control room, which is next to the video control
room and the director has all of these swirly lights happening! It looks like
the fucking Tonight Show! I couldn’t
believe it! The song starts and the camera starts to pan across. So, Bob starts
to walk away from the microphone, still playing his Telecaster guitar and just
keeps singing. Of course, you can’t hear a word he’s singing. The director
yells, “Stop! Stop! Stop! You have to sing into the microphone, otherwise we
can’t hear you.” Bob goes, “Oh, okay, sure.” They do another take and the
camera starts to move again and Bob takes the mic out of the stand and starts
walking into the camera, not playing guitar this time. The director says,
“Stop! Stop! Stop! We can’t do it like that! You’ve got to be this way and that
way, etc.” I say to myself, “Director, go down to the floor and speak to him
personally. Do NOT speak to him through a floor manager. You MUST speak to this
man personally.” Well, of course, Bob just said, “That’s it! Fuck you! Fuck
your rehearsals. I’m not dealing with this fucking wanker. He fucking stinks. I’m
out of here. I’ll be back when we’re ready to do the show. Don’t you move one
fucking camera or I won’t do a fucking thing!”

        Luckily, I managed to capture the vocal
sound in the first couple of takes because I knew what we needed to do. I had a
Manley VoxBox. I had a nice LA-2A. I had the right microphones and all of that
so, I could soften his voice a little bit and still bring up the dynamics for a
beautiful song. After having a sandwich, I went back up into the control room
and discovered for the first time in history, the Academy Awards were running
early. So, I’m sitting there and I hear the squawk box go from the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion, or wherever it was in L.A. say, “Okay, we’re ready to go
with Bob in five minutes!” Everyone thought we had a half an hour to go! So,
I’m thinking, “Holy shit! What’s going to happen now?” So, I sent my assistant
to go and round people up and everyone got on stage ready to do the performance
but there was no sign of Bob whatsoever. You could hear the people in America
working on the show say, “Okay, we’ll start a countdown, if you’re not ready by
the count of three, we’re going to cut to a photograph and just play the
original song recording.” Well, it got down to the five count and, all of a
sudden, this white face (Dylan) shows up and puts on his Fender Telecaster
guitar and it gets to: “three, two, one” and then, Bang! They go straight into
the song! It was fucking brilliant!

        My wife and Don Was were sitting in the
audience and they both rang me and said that it sounded great. Then,
afterwards, I went down to talk to Bob and then the Best Actor award was coming
up and Russell Crowe was nominated. He’s another New Zealander/Australian. We
waited to see if he won and he did and we all shook hands and I got another wet
fish handshake from Bob. It was definitely one of the highlights of my life to
work with him and talk to him about how to do the song.

        I love the style of production where
you trust each other. I’ve said a lot of times to bands that I work with, “I
only expect to work with you for two albums, three albums, tops. If I work with
you for three albums, my job should be that I’m in the back lounge, asleep
because you guys already know how to do everything. I’m showing you my craft. I’m
like the scout that has gone forward from the cavalry. It’s up to you, now, to
make the choices.”

 

***

 

I like to consider myself a new student
of Opitz’s. I may not have worked with him (yet) but the knowledge and attitude
towards music making that I learned from him will stay with me for my own music
making and writing. For every great story there’s a great experience. I’ve been
lucky enough to travel all over the world, playing music. Like I said, you never
know where the people who make good music come from…

 

For more info on Mark Opitz, go to: www.markopitz.com

 

To attend Mark Opitz’s production master class
go to:
http://www.studios301.com/sydney/markopitzmasterclass.htm

 

Author Marcus Blake
performs with Daniel Lanois, Mother Superior, Rollins Band and Pearl (just to
name a few); he additionally has a series of interviews with record producers
in Spanish magazine
Popular 1.
Contact him at the
Mother
Superior website.

 

 

THE WIZARD OF OZ Australian Producer Mark Opitz (Pt. 1)

With a resume that includes work with
AC/DC, Vanda & Young, INXS, Hoodoo Gurus, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Kiss,
the studio whiz’s reputation precedes him.

 

BY MARCUS BLAKE

 

You never know
where good music and the people who make good music come from. Whether it’s the
British Invasion from England
or Electric blues from Chicago or Abba from Sweden or African Burundi music,
good (and bad) music can come from anywhere.

 

I have
interviewed several record producers from different parts of the world in the
past, but one man that’s a common link between so much great music that has
come out of Australia
is a producer/engineer named Mark Opitz. Although, Opitz might not be a
household name outside of Australia, his work with Australian artists like
AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, INXS, The Angels, Cold Chisel with Jimmy Barnes and Flash
In The Pan have resulted in multiplatinum success for each of those bands in
his homeland and, in the case of AC/DC and INXS, the world.

 

Ever staying
true to his roots, Mark Opitz has stayed in Melbourne,
Australia, where he is the
director of his company, One Music, Asia. In
addition, Mark does occasional lectures at the legendary Australian studio,
Studios 301, passing his knowledge of record production on.

 

Mark’s deep
grasp of production, engineering and of music making in general is from years
of hard work. From starting in the business at ABC-TV
Australia to working at
different labels in Australia
(Opitz goes into further detail of that in the following interview) in a
variety of jobs, Opitz’s contribution to Australian music is immeasurable.

 

Among the
production companies and music legends responsible for so much great music Mr.
Opitz has worked for is the company Albert Productions and legendary AC/DC
producers/ex-Easybeats members, Harry Vanda & George Young. Vanda &
Young served as mentors to Opitz in the 1970s, culminating in the trio’s work
on AC/DC’s incredible 1978 album, Powerage.
Not only has Opitz worked on a lot of great music to come from Down Under, but
the man has worked with artists ranging from Kiss, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles,
Lenny Kravitz and many more.

 

So, after
reading my interview with another top record producer and
occasional band mate, Daniel Lanois, BLURT president Stephen Judge asked me to
interview “this record producer from Australia” that he had met while
traveling on tour with The Church when the band played a sold out show at the
Sydney Opera House. You never know where great stories are going to come from
as well! Read on and learn why Bon Scott gave Opitz a huge chunk of hash, why
Gene Simmons would want to be in prison with him, and how he helped to get Bob
Dylan on the Academy Awards just in the nick of time! And, just what the hell
is “Sophisto-punk” anyway? Read on, brothers and sisters!

 

***

 

BLURT: I was recommended to interview you
by our mutual pal, Stephen Judge. He told me how you guys hit it off and how
you would make a cool interview.

 

MARK OPITZ: I
met Stephen in Melbourne
about six months ago. We went out to dinner with a group of friends. He turned
out to be [publisher of BLURT magazine] which [had previously been Harp magazine]. Anyway, Harp did an interview with Hoodoo Gurus
frontman, Dave Faulkner, in which he slammed me mercilessly. I was considering suing Harp for publishing the article!

 

  So, you don’t have a good relationship with
the Hoodoo Gurus right now?

 

  Not, really, no. Talking about the Hoodoo
Gurus, back in the 1980’s, they were a big college band in the U.S.

 

  Yeah, I liked them and saw them perform live
in the 1980’s as a matter of fact!

 

  They were signed to a record company in Australia
called Big Time. Big Time sold their contract to Elektra Records in America.
Elektra decided it was time for the Hoodoo Gurus to go “stadium rock” to break
out of the college circuit. So, Elektra asked me to produce the album. The
Gurus weren’t impressed that their contract was sold to Elektra, for a start. So,
I was kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. I loved the Gurus and what
they did, but I was employed by Elektra to give them a bigger sound and give
their songs a bit more structure, which, I did.

        We had a massive hit in Australia
called, “What’s My Scene” but it was hard going. For instance, the drummer
wanted to do the rhythm tracks to that album, Blow Your Cool, by himself. He said, “I don’t want to play with
anybody in the band”. I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I just want to do
the rhythm tracks out of my head and record the drum parts by myself. I know
all the parts.” I said, “I’ll give you a click track.” He said, “No, no, just
let me play the drum tracks by myself.” He recorded all the drum tracks that
way in one day! He wouldn’t let any other member of the band play with him
while recording.

 

  So, when the other band members put on their
parts, how did it all work out?

 

  It worked out great. If you listen to the
record, it sounds like it’s one band. Obviously, I took a lot of time and
attention to how it was going to be done. At one stage, I was sitting with my
engineer and I was doing an overdub with Dave Faulkner. Out of Dave’s earshot,
my engineer said that it was going really bad. I said to him, “Do you think we
should get taxi licenses after this because we’re never going to work again.” But
it turned out great.

        But around the same time that we were
thinking that, in walked a guy named George Young. (George Young is one half of
legendary AC/DC producers, Vanda & Young, not to mention a former member of
Australia’s answer to The Beatles, The Easybeats and, later, one half of Flash
In The Pan.) I had just done a cover of an Easybeats song called, “Good Times”
with INXS and Jimmy Barnes. That morning, I had been up to see Ted Albert
(head of Australian musical production institution, Albert Records and Albert
Productions) and Vanda and Young to play them my version of their song. And, every
time that I had played them a cover version of a song that Vanda and Young had
done, whether it be by Rod Stewart or David Bowie, they would say, “Ah, that’s
crap!” So, I played this version and they looked at me with approval and said,
“Ah, okay.”

        So, about eight or nine hours later,
while I was doing an overdub with Dave Faulkner, George Young walked in the
room, drunk as a skunk, pushed past Dave, pushed past my engineer and grabbed
my hand. He shook it and said, “That’s the best cover version of any of our
songs.” So, I felt a little better after that.

        Anyway, I don’t think Dave ever forgave
me for the fact that I was foisted upon The Hoodoo Gurus by Elektra. My brief
was to give the band a bigger audience and I think I did that. So, Dave said
some hurtful things. When I contacted him about that, I told his management,
“Look, I should sue your asses but I’m not going to but you do have a whole
stack of royalties that you haven’t paid me for the past fifteen years. How
about you do that instead?” I said to Dave, “As a matter of fact, I use you as
an example to a lot of people of how to write lyrics and how lyrics tell a
story, etc. etc.” So, he was very contrite after that and, since then, we have
a very tenuous relationship. But, that’s rock n’ roll.

 

  Can you tell me about the beginning of your
career and how you got into the industry? I know you mentioned Vanda &
Young. But, you worked for Australian TV before that?

 

  Originally, when I was in high school, I
decided I wanted to be Australia’s
best film director or Australia’s
best record director. Those are very vein thoughts as a 17 year old. The first
show I ever saw was The Beatles in Brisbane,
Australia and
so I thought that was cool. After that, I went to every show. I saw The Who in
1967…I saw The Small Faces with Stevie Marriott… The Yardbirds with Jimmy
Page [1967, on the Yardbirds’ only Australian tour]. I was in the front row and it blew my fuckin’ head off!

        At that point, in high school, music
and football was what I lived for. I often had to get off early from football
practice to go to my bass lesions. They used to laugh at me but that was what I
wanted to do.

        I moved from Brisbane to Sydney. In
Brisbane I had very humble beginnings. I was very poor, so my dreams were quite
large. So, as soon as I left school, I headed to Sydney and I eventually joined
the ABC network. I worked there for two or three years up until the opening of
the Opera House and did some very big shows.

        At one stage, I transferred to the film
department. They had a TV department and a film department like the BBC.

 

  What did you do at the beginning at ABC?

 

  I was trained in everything at ABC; from
operating the cameras to editing to audio…everything. They had fantastic
training courses in the 1970s.

        When I got back from the film
department after doing a movie as assistant cameraman, they thought I left the
TV studios shorthanded and decided to “punish” me by banishing me to audio. Not
only audio but music audio, which is the worst thing they thought they could
possibly do. Cool! I’m in! (laughs) I did that for a while.

        I left ABC after that and played in a
band for about a year. I thought, hang on, second choice, be a producer. So, I
got a great list of studios and started at the top, which was EMI studios. Luckily
enough, I got a job as a mastering engineer, which I was over qualified for and
then one thing led to another. But I ended up getting sacked (fired) by EMI
because I was working on things on weekends. I would work on the weekends by
pulling tapes or getting bands in and experiment.

        One of these bands, to my surprise,
took one of my recordings and gave it to another record company without telling
me. The company released it and gave me credit as producer. I had no idea until
they came back and showed the record to me. “Look! Here you are! You’re a
producer now!” So, here is my first official record as a producer and it’s on
Sony! I said, “Oh my God! What have you done?!” The next day, I was pulled over
the coals by EMI because they thought I was making money on the side when I
hadn’t!

 

  Do you remember what band that was?

 

  It was a band called U-Turn. They didn’t do
anything. So, anyway, I was sacked by EMI, thinking that was the end of
everything. If you get sacked by the top studio, you think you don’t have any
chance of doing anything in the future.

        A couple of days later, Vanda &
Young rang me up asking me to come in for an interview. They spoke to me for a
few hours and after that, George Young said to me, “Listen, we’re looking for
an apprentice because we have so much work going on with AC/DC, John Paul Young
and other stuff. ” They had hit after hit in Australia at the time with Albert
Productions. They said, “Give us two days and we’ll ring you back with our
answer.” So, as you can imagine, I sat by the phone for forty eight hours
straight. I picked up the phone as fast as possible when they called!

        It was great. The first job I had, they
recorded a song by Rose Tattoo and asked me to mix it. It was a song called,
“Bad Boy For Love” which was huge here. That was my first thing and then I went
straight on to the Powerage album by
AC/DC and “Love Is In The Air” by John Paul Young. (Which went top ten
worldwide.) I was just an assistant to them. They were the producers and
writers. But it was fabulous working on these things. It was a very closed
shop.

        Christmas came along and Albert
Productions closed down for the holidays. George Young came up to me one day
and said, “Mark, so are you going away for Christmas?” I said, “No, George, I’m
going to be staying here.” He said, “What do you mean? Don’t we pay you enough
around here?” I said, “As a matter of fact, you don’t pay me anything!” George
said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Well, I’ve never been paid!” He
said, “Why didn’t you say anything?” I said, “After not getting paid, the pay
must be the experience of working with you.” George just laughed. But, I had sold
my 1935 Gibson Kalamazoo guitar. I sold my ’62 Les Paul just to sustain myself.
 

        Anyway, good old Ted Albert came
downstairs with his big, red book and said, “Mark, sorry about that. What we’re
going to do is give you a hundred dollars a week as an advance against any
royalties you may earn for the company. And, we’re going to give you another
hundred dollars for the money we haven’t paid you for the last six months.” Oh,
okay, Ted, so a hundred bucks for the last six months after working for you on
all of these hits. Yeah, I get it. So, a couple of months later, Ted came down
to see me again…lovely guy, fantastic guy. He opened this big, red book and
said, “It appears to me that you owe us 800 dollars. What are you going to do
about it?”

 

  What!?!

 

  Luckily, two weeks later, we released an
album called Face To Face by The
Angels, which went five times platinum in Australia. So, I’m still getting
royalties from that.

 

  Is it true that Bon Scott and Malcolm Young
from AC/DC introduced you to The Angels? How did working with The Angels come
about?

 

  No, it came about from George Young…he’s the
leader of Vanda & Young. He’s the sort of guy who can look at any
instrument and play it. He could look at an ashtray and make it move. That’s
his determination. He was the very heart of Vanda & Young and Vanda was the
soul, if you will.

 

  How would you describe Harry Vanda’s role?

 

  A typical example is when we were doing “Love
Is In The Air”, the big hit by John Paul Young. One day, at 9:00 in the
morning, George said, “Okay, you have to do a record for Germany because we had
a hit with a song called, “Standing In The Rain”. He said, “Mark, get out the
loop for “Standing In The Rain”. That was a quarter inch tape that had a cool
percussion sound. He put it on and had this little chord organ with a set of
buttons and he would play some chords and would yell out to Harry, “Harry, get
out the song title book and see what we can come up with and read me out some
titles while I’m playing this.” So, George is playing out a descending melody
while Harry is reading out titles. “How about Crazy, Crazy”? No, no… “Angels
Don’t Cry”? No… “Love Is In The Air”? “Okay, we’ll go with that.” So, within a
day, we had the song pretty much recorded. At 9:30 that night, I rang up John
Paul Young and said, “Come in, we’ve got a song for you to sing”. He was gone
by 10:30 and, so, in one day we had this song. It took three weeks to mix, mind
you, because there was no automation back then. We had a big old Neve. George
then said to me, “Take up the seven inch tapes of mixes to Ted Albert and get
him to pick one. And, not more than twenty minutes later, Ted came down, picked
one and said, “This is it.” All he had done was picked the first one he
listened to!

        But, to answer your question, the way I
was introduced to The Angels was, George and Harry had done an album with The
Angels and it had sold 5,000 copies. It had sold very badly. They said to me,
“We’re either going to drop them or you can take over the full production.” I
said, “Well, I’ll take over the full production.” So, I went to a friend’s
place that night and smoked copious amounts of joints and started to think
about what to do about The Angels. How do I make this band bigger? I thought
that they’ve got to have a sound. I know the songs are okay. I remember I was
listening to the first Graham Parker album at the time. I thought that this is
punk music but it’s more than that because it’s become more sophisticated. So,
the phrase came to me, “Sophisto-punk”. I knew that was a sound I had to find
for The Angels.

        We went to the studio every other day
and weekends and, one day, they played me a seven minute instrumental which
ended up being called, “I Am The One”. It was based on an eight timing feel. I
said, “That’s it! That’s Sophisto-punk! Every song we’ve got, you’ve got to
transpose to an eight feel.” We did that to about six or seven songs. The other
ones we sort of hinted at that sound.

        I remember going out for lunch one day
the operations manager for Albert told me the record had just gone gold! I was
nonplussed about it. She said, “Why aren’t you excited about this?” I said,
“It’s going to go a lot fucking further than gold. It’s going to change the
Australian music scene!” Which it did. In fact, Bon Scott presented me with my
gold record for that to me.

        Speaking of Bon, he was working on Powerage at the time. I don’t know if
you’ve listened to that album…

 

  Are you kidding me? I love that album!

 

  A lot of people say to me that that’s the
album that changed AC/DC. A lot of people think that the album has the best
guitar sounds. I spent months working out which amplifier goes with which
speaker and with which guitar. I spent literally a month doing that because I
had 32 speaker boxes with 16 amps. I had to match them all up with a Gibson
just trying to find the best tone. I said, “That’s Malcolm’s and that’s
Angus’.”

 

  You mentioned how you recorded the Hoodoo
Gurus. What was a typical AC/DC session like? Did the band record live in the
studio?

 

  Yeah, very much so. A typical AC/DC session
started at 8:00 at night. We all had to bring in two packs of cigarettes
because anytime anyone smoked one, you would have to throw everyone a
cigarette. So, there I would be with George, Harry and the rest of the band
sitting around the control room, and as soon as Malcolm walked in, he would
open a pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes and throw everyone one while
Angus would make a cup of tea.

        But, yes, they recorded live as a band,
which was fantastic. Quite often, Phil Rudd, Malcolm and I would finish about
eight or nine in the morning. Then, we would go out and bring a small Dinky (a
small motorboat) with a motorbike and go out to the middle of Sydney
Harbor…beautiful, glorious Sydney Harbor. There would be ferries out there,
taking people to work and we would be out there, smoking hash, drinking beers
and fishing. Great memories.

        Another time, Bon Scott said, “Mark,
I’ve got to write some lyrics tonight” for a song which later became my
favorite AC/DC song, “Riff Raff”. Bon said, “I’ve got to write the lyrics, do
you have anything I can smoke to help me along?” I had this little block of
hash. I cut it in half and I gave it to him and he thanked me for it. One day,
a couple of months later, after the album did well and the band had gotten back
from an American tour, I was in the Albert office and I could hear Bon say,
“Mark! Mark! Mark!” I turn around and there’s Bon chasing after me. He said,
“I’ve got something for you.” He pulled out this massive lump of hash about the
size of a chocolate block and broke it in half and gave it to me. He was one of
the most generous people I’ve ever met.

        The stories about AC/DC on the road
were legendary of course, but the thing people have to understand about them is
because they got all of their angst out on stage, they are very calm people in
real life. They sponsor spastic kids unheralded and stuff like that because
they didn’t want anyone to know. They did a lot of help in the community
without telling anyone at all.

        But, getting back to a typical AC/DC
session is the band plays live and we cut tracks and cut more tracks and fix up
mistakes. Bon wouldn’t necessarily do the vocals while the band was cutting
tracks live.

        Before we started Powerage, Cliff Williams (bass player who joined the band at that
time and has been with the band ever since) had a problem getting into
Australia because of visa problems. So, we rehearsed for a month with George
Young on bass.

 

  Very interesting! Do you have any recordings
of that?

 

  I’m sure they’re floating about. Anyway,
Harry and I would stay in the control room and George would be out there with
the band until all hours, going through songs.

 

  Were you there when the previous bass player,
Mark Evans, got the sack?

 

  I came in at the tail end of Let There Be Rock to do a bit of
cleaning up.

 

  Did you mix the album?

 

  Yeah, I guess I must have mixed some tracks
on it. Obviously, I mixed Powerage. Things
are fairly blurry at that point because I couldn’t believe where I was! I
couldn’t believe that I bit off more than I could fucking chew! I wonder how
long the bluff was going to last! (laughs) That’s a good thing.

        As I said, they hadn’t paid me for
months and that taught me a lesson in that I was in it for the right reasons. When
George found out, he looked at me slightly differently, I guess. Funnily
enough, when we were doing a track with someone else months later, George,
Harry and I would be in the control room, doing stuff and talking about shit
and George Young said to me, “What part of England are you from?” I said, “I’m
not from England, I’m from Australia!” He said, “You know what? If we had known
you are an Australian, we would never have hired you!” Australians are lazy
bastards according to George. Thankfully, they didn’t find out I was Australian
until it was far too late.

        That was an incredible period. The
things I learned from Vanda & Young, who were the top producers in the
country and internationally and great writers, is that you learn about
attitude. You learn about feel and honesty. You learn how to handle people in
certain ways. I could never thank those guys enough. I could never thank the
whole Albert family for making me part of their family.

        After that, I got an offer from Warner
Brothers to head their A&R department. They made an offer I couldn’t
refuse. The Angels went five times platinum. The next one I did went five times
platinum. So, I went over to Warner Brothers and signed a few acts over there. I
got involved with a band called Cold Chisel, who had done very badly with their
first two albums and then, I turned their next album (1980”s East) into a five times platinum album
as well as the next few albums they did. (Cold Chisel are a highly acclaimed,
band hailing from Australia becoming, at one point, the biggest selling act in
their country, beginning with the success of East.)

 

  That was Jimmy Barnes’ band?

 

  Yes, Jimmy’s band. In fact, they just
reformed for a tour. Anyway, I had that string of hits behind me and, all of a
sudden, I was in the driver’s seat in terms of being offered great things. When
INXS came along, I was offered that. The Hoodoo Gurus…. there’s a band called
Noiseworks… a ton of stuff.

 

  One more question about AC/DC. I have always
wanted to know this, so, excuse me for being an AC/DC geek here. Why was Powerage released in the U.K. with
different mixes of several songs? (In England, the first pressing of Powerage was released featuring
radically different mixes of several tracks like “Down Payment Blues” and
“What’s Next To The Moon” amongst other differences.)

 

  I don’t think there was a different mix. I’m
not aware of any remixing that went on. I know Atlantic Records weren’t happy
with it because it didn’t have any hit songs. So, we recorded a song called
“Sin City and put it on there. The Australian version has a slightly different
running order. (The original U.K. pressing also contained the song, “Cold
Hearted Man”, which did not appear anywhere else in the world until the 2009
box set, Backtracks.) We did do lots
of different mixes for choices but there’s no way Vanda & Young or Malcolm
Young, who rules with an iron fist, would allow anyone to remix it.

 

To be continued… Tomorrow, in part two of
the interview, Opitz talks about working with INXS, the members of Kiss and Bob
Dylan, as well as some of this philosophies as a producer and the master
classes in recording that he teaches, and more.

 

Pictured above: Alberts dinner 1978 – George
Young, Mark Opitz, Fifa Riccabono, Harry Vanda (obscured).

 

Author Marcus Blake
performs with Daniel Lanois, Mother Superior, Rollins Band and Pearl (just to
name a few); he additionally has a series of interviews with record producers
in Spanish magazine
Popular 1.
Contact him at the
Mother
Superior website.

BLURTING WITH… NRBQ

In which we travel
across the Q-niverse with Terry Adams.

 

BY RANDY HARWARD

 

For almost 45 years NRBQ has inspired a near-psychotic
obsession in its fans for reasons ranging from matchless musicianship to ace
songwriting to good ol’ personality. Ask any Q fan and they’ll swear a blood
oath that it simply doesn’t get any better. They’re right; once NRBQ gets its
hooks into you, you’re forever spoiled.

 

So when there are changes – and these are inevitable when a
band survives over four decades – it can be difficult to cope. NRBQ fans
experienced this in 1994 with the monumental departure of 22-year Q vet Al
Anderson, whose ripping guitar solos (as on the band’s famous cover of Johnny
Cash’s “Get Rhythm”) and simple, genuine songs (“Ridin’ in My Car”) were so
much a part of the quartet’s appeal.

 

In fact, the Anderson
lineup – Anderson,
founder/pianist/singer/songwriter Terry Adams, bassist Joey Spampinato and
drummer Tom Ardolino – is considered classic and definitive by fans. They
nonetheless welcomed Spampinato’s brother Johnny Spampinato as a replacement
and NRBQ continued until 2004, when Q headquarters abruptly went dark.
Unbeknownst to many, it was due to Adams being
diagnosed with stage four throat cancer. While he sought treatment, Ardolino
and the Spampinatos performed as Baby Macaroni until 2007, when Adams felt good enough to resume NRBQ. In that time,
however, Ardolino lost the desire to tour and the brothers Spampinato were all
Q’d out.

 

Adams elected to form
another band, The Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet, with Pete Donnelley (The
Figgs) on bass and vocals, Scott Ligon on guitar and vocals, and Conrad
Choucroun on drums. With Donnelly and Ligon contributing and singing songs
alongside Adams, it became evident that this
could be another version of NRBQ, so Adams
went ahead and called it that.

 

It pissed off some longtime NRBQ fans. Many still longed for
a reunion with Anderson,
which happened on occasional one-offs, but wouldn’t take since Anderson was happy as a solo artist and Nashville songsmith.
Others felt that this new Q was akin to scab-staffed, reconstituted classic
rock bands. In some ways, they’re right – without Anderson, the Spampinatos and Ardolino, it’s
like too much of the band is gone. Like the Beatles or Kiss, or comic book
collectives like the X-Men, NRBQ was great for the sum of its parts. Then
again, those parts weren’t always there; Adams and Joey Spampinato are the only
true original members of the band.

 

Therein lie questions: Is it better to have this NRBQ or
none at all? Can you really quit Q? If the music and the spirit remain the
same, the answer is a deep and resonant ‘nope.’ If the band can truly Keep This Love Goin’ (NRBQ.com) as the
new album is called, why would anyone turn a deaf ear?

 

Although initially skeptical, BLURT gave the platter a shot
and was rewarded with wall-to-wall goodness. Donnelly, Ligon and Choucroun meet
and exceed NRBQ quality standards in every category, musically and spiritually;
we defy you to reject this batch of honest American rock ‘n’ roll songs, which
bear all the hallmarks of, and even define further, classic NRBQ. You’ll find,
if you give it a chance, that the sum of Adams, Donnelly, Ligon and Choucroun
is rather hefty and will only build upon your dorky, obsessive love for the band.

 

***

 

BLURT: How is your
health?

TERRY ADAMS: Yeah, that stuff – I kept that quiet for all
those years, but I had to bring it out to explain why there’s been so much
mystery and what’s actually been happening. A story came out that said we were
on a break of some kind, which I disagreed with from the start. I hated that
story, and I knew it wasn’t true. There was no hold; there was no NRBQ after
’04.

 

So you’re keepin’ the
love goin’, eh?

Well, NRBQ is like a Timex watch. It takes a licking and
keeps on ticking.

 

That’s good for us
fans. What sort of feedback have you received from folks after the shows?

Um, you know trouble is, all these years, before and after I
play I can’t talk to anybody. You know those boxers, when the boxing match is
over and all those people try to talk to them? How can you do that? I would
just say ‘Come back in twenty minutes.’ So I haven’t met a lot of people
through the years that I should have met through the years because it takes me
a while to come back after you put your whole self into the music for two hours
or so, I missed out on meetin’ people I should’ve met.

 

Do you ever get a
sense of just how much the fans really love the band?

Well you know, people have gotten married and had children
because of the band over the years. We caused humans to exist, and long-lasting
friendship. When you put your whole self into that music, you don’t have a lot
of time to think about that side of it, but it’s always nice to hear.

 

Have you been
recognized or is there a favorite fan interaction you could share? Where you
met a fan and saw the band through their eyes?

There was a couple of times when the State Troopers had me
pulled over and lookin’ through the car, and then came across NRBQ and Carl
Perkins and said, “Oh. You’re in this band? Alright. You guys can go. Go ahead.”

 

There are cop Q fans?

There must be a few. I was in one airport – I’m not sayin’
we’re a favorite of police; I’m just tellin’ you a couple of stories – I was
gettin’ ready to fly to Europe or somethin’ and there was this State Trooper
followin’ me at the airport. He stopped at the gate where I was goin’ and I
thought, This guy is gonna nail me for
somethin’.
I just felt like there was somethin’ goin’ on. And after he’d
been lookin’ at me for twenty minutes, he came up and said, “Where ya headin’?”
And I said Stockholm
or somethin’. He said, “Ah. Too bad. You guys gonna play ‘Get Rhythm?’ You
know, he’s startin’ to ask for certain songs.

            You know,
sometimes a pilot on a plane will come out and talk. But gettin’ recognized is
a funny thing, dependin’ on your mood. Because if you’re not feelin’ yourself,
but you’re gonna go out for a slice of pizza or somethin’, you don’t want
anybody to talk – it’s like, lemme get on a better shirt or shower before you recognize
me. And sometimes if you wanna get recognized, it’s like, “How come nobody’s…”
[laughs] You know, it can go either
way.

 

When I describe NRBQ,
I always feel like I’m describing comic book heroes. Because you get into
appearances, personalities, antics, how to tell a certain member’s song from
another, different eras – like classic X-men. It occurred to me that NRBQ fans
are like comic book geeks, at least with all things in the Marvel Q-niverse.
They buy every album, reissues, side project, collect bootlegs, etc. Of course
some of them feel a sense of ownership of the band, and they complain when
things change. Some Q fans have their NRBQ Underoos in a twist over the new
lineup. Discuss?

Well you know, I’m seven years ahead of the “news.” To some
people this is news, because there’s been silence since ’04. But I know what’s
happenin’. So people that are longtime fans, I understand there’s some sense of
adjustment ‘cause your concept of who did what or how it could be this way or
how it couldn’t be this way.
Sometimes people aren’t as resilient to change. I sympathize with that. I could
say the same for myself. How could I ever have another rhythm section or
greater guys than Tom Ardolino on drums? I get that. But it’s really about
being here now. And you know, I can – I love all the ex-members and I love
doin’ archival projects. It means a lot to me. I love all the hard work that
the guys, we’ve all put in. But I’m not going to live in the past. It’s not
healthy.

            And the
newer guys that have been playin’ with me now are so on that in some ways this is the best version of the band yet. It’s
not meant to be offensive to someone who’s a fan of someone else; it’s just
that times change. I had no say in this; it’s not somethin’ I would’ve done on
my own.

           Time goes by, and the guys have
every right to live their own lives. Somebody said Al Anderson played guitar
for us for 22 years and what went wrong? What happened? How come he’s gone? You
could turn that around and say, what went right? Why could he play with us for
22 years? Why was it working so well? Not why is it broken, but how did you
guys manage to do this for as many years as you did, together? That’s the
question. The miracle of that, other
than lookin’ at change as a problem.

 

I’ll admit I was initially
skeptical, but when the guys you’ve picked – I’m a huge Figgs fan so I know the caliber of songwriter and musician
Pete is, and how he’d fit in a band that has multiple songwriters and
vocalists. And how that band has a goofy side, just like NRBQ. And Scott, I was
familiar with him through the album he did with his brother Chris – they’re big
goofballs as well, and top-notch musicians. And they both have a knack for
simple, powerful songs. They seem to be a natural fit in a lot of ways. 

Yeah, they sure are. [It was a] question of openin’ up my
spirit to have the right people involved so that things happened that I felt
were supposed to happen. Pete, who has a solo album waitin’ in the wings, and
it’s brilliant. His writing his great; he’s one of the best musicians I know.
He’s perfect for us.

         And Conrad – he’s the perfect
successor to Tom Ardolino, for one thing. You might’ve seen that story, or
maybe you didn’t, where Tom and I heard Conrad in the early ‘90s sometime and
we looked at each other and Tom said, “Anything ever happens to me, that’s the
guy.” [laughs] Tom regrets he can’t
tour anymore, although he’s still with the band if we’re in a 75-mile radius of
his home. So we have two drummers on a lot of shows. So he’s an
honorary/still-member. But I thought of Conrad when I was reforming, getting
the right guys, and that story came back to me maybe 15 years later – yeah,
where is that guy? And I was able to track him down.

 

There’s a slight
physical resemblance between Conrad and Tom.

Some people, I think, actually thought I chose these guys
because they look like the other guys.

 

Well, who’s the
Spampinato?

It must be Pete! An Irish Spampinato, I guess.

 

You have a lot of fun
onstage. It’s magical. I imagine that hasn’t changed with the personnel.

There’s a CD called Crazy
Eights
– it’s [this version of] NRBQ live in ’09. Although it’s not a film,
you can hear the band really well, what’s goin’ on. And there are probably a
few YouTube things out there, some of them good.

 

So what’s the live chemistry
like with the new band? How do they feed into your energy?

You know, depending on the night, they can go anywhere – and
it’s gettin’ better all the time. But we haven’t really been on a heavy tour
schedule. We somewhat sporadically play, sometimes with three months between a
show, so we haven’t really cranked it up yet.

        But each time
I see them, it’s like we’ve been playing together [during the entire break].
They’re that much better.