Monday, 8 November 2021

Silver Jet Discuss "Pull Me Up ... Drag Me Down" & What They Learned From Touring With Cheap Trick!

Originally published in Teenage Kicks #2 (Fall 1997)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Silver Jet
(from the CD booklet)
Some people have called Silver Jet "the Cheap Trick of the '90s" (well, Jason from Dura Delinquent did). 

And it's not without reason. As evidenced by the dozen tracks on their Virgin Records debut Pull Me Up ... Drag Me Down, Silver Jet deliver tight, bright, hard pop tunes akin to the Trickster's initial efforts. At the same time, their catchy lyrics focus on girls, insecurity, girls, other people in bands, girls, loneliness, and mostly — girls!

It began in the '80s.

Lead singer/guitarist Luke Tierney was going to Santa Barbara High and fronting a glam/punk outfit called Lost Kittenz. He loved the New York Dolls and Jetboy. He was also known to venture down to Los Angeles whenever Guns N' Roses played.

Meanwhile, recent Chicago transplant, Jeff Gross, was also attending Santa Barbara High. And he was playing bass with the decidedly darker, female-fronted Under the Weather, which he describes as "kind of like Siouxie and Banshees meet Killing Joke."

My autographed copy of Pull Me Up ... Drag Me Down
The two future bandmates weren't yet acquainted. "I knew about Luke's band," says Jeff, "and he knew about mine. But we had never met."

Neither of their groups went anywhere. But during a series of break-ups and realignments, Luke and Jeff finally met up, and the nucleus of Silver Jet formed about four years ago. 

With the addition of a temporary second guitarist and a part-time drummer, they entered Rick Parker's studio to work on their first demo tape. And this is where Grant Conway came in. 

London-born Grant moved to California when his father came over to open Island Record's LA office. Needless to say, Grant grew up surrounded by rock 'n' roll. He can, for instance, nonchalantly toss out Nigel Olsson's name, not just as an influence but as a teacher: "He introduced me to drums at an early age, like two or three. He used to live with us. His drums were set up in the garage."

Grant was working as a recording engineer at Parker's studio when he met the members of Silver Jet — their demo was his first project. And getting him to join the group was easy. "Our drummer was also playing with Rick [Parker]," says Jeff. "So, our band wasn't his main band. We were interested in finding a steady drummer. Grant knew that, and he liked our music."

Luke Tierney
(from the CD booklet)
With their drummer issue sorted, the guys carried on as a four-piece. But the revolving door of second guitarists got tiresome.

"We kept trying out other guitar players," emphasizes Grant. "When we'd play a show, we'd borrow a guitar player, either someone we were trying out or a friend from another band." 

"It was holding us back," agrees Luke. "So, we decided to go with what we had."

Trimmed down to a dynamic threesome, Silver Jet spent the next three-and-a-half years gigging around Los Angeles. "Waves of interest would come and go," recalls Jeff.

At one point, they came close to signing a deal with E Pluribus Unum, the indie label co-founded by Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz. 

"Adam was coming to every one of our shows," notes Luke. "He was going out of his way. He was leaving rehearsals early to come and see us. He was bringing his friends to see us."

Although they decided not to go with Duritz, his interest motivated them to hire a manager. "Things took off from there," says Luke. "We got a bunch of offers, and Virgin seemed like the best one." (They claim never to have played an intentional showcase; supposedly, Virgin didn't even see the group live prior to signing them.)

Before they released Pull Me Up ... Drag Me Down, Silver Jet issued a limited edition, four-song vinyl EP. "A novelty thing," as Luke calls it, which featured the sardonic "Plastiqa": "Collagen plastic silicone/Feel so real/But got a mind of their own/Soon they'll be making girls/Out of styrofoam..."

"The Boys" - acrylic on canvas
painting by Luke Tierney
(from the CD booklet)
The EP also included the optimistic "Meant to Be" ("It was meant to be this way/I just wanna sing every day...") plus demo versions of David Bowie's "Star" and the terrific Tierney-penned "Kid" — which once contained the perfect line: "She probably dates a future KROQ star." 

"KROQ" was later changed to the generic "indie rock star" over concerns that should "Kid" become a single, every radio station would want to fill in their own call letters. A great gimmick! But "it wasn't the route we wanted to go," states Luke.

All the songs from the EP, save the Bowie cover, made the transition to Pull Me Up ... Drag Me Down

Co-produced by the band and Tim Palmer (best known for his work with alt-rock outfits like the Cure, Sponge, and the Mission, as well as Bowie's Tin Machine), the CD is well-crafted, bursting with energy and propelled by memorable hooks at every turn. The group wanted to work with Palmer because of personal and professional reasons. 

"I was really into the Tin Machine record," says Jeff. "I thought that was a really exciting turn for Bowie, and I thought the production was cool — real aggressive, y'know. Plus, Tim had been a friend of ours for a number of years. He came and checked out the band a bunch of times; he'd seen us grow over different eras. So, when it came time to make the record, we felt comfortable that he knew what we wanted to accomplish. We didn't want to stray too far from what we do live. We didn't want a lot of production. We just wanted to capture the band in its simplest form."

Silver Jet
(from the CD booklet)
The record company bio states that Palmer told them to choose four "focus words" during the recording sessions. They picked "big, dry, youthful, and fun." While the last two adjectives are self-explanatory (and very well represented), perhaps "big" and "dry" could use some clarification.

"Dry in a production sense," explains Jeff (laughing at my allusion to soggy vinyl). "Dry in the sense of not sounding too reverby — like Back in Black is big and dry. We wanted it to sound big, but we didn't want it to sound big by using a lot of reverb."

As Silver Jet's main songwriter, Luke's lyrics tend to focus on clever boy-meets or sometimes doesn't-meet-girl themes, like "That Call" ("He's calling her/He's not so sure/He tries to stall/He's making that call...") and the hapless hero of "Kid" ("Sitting there with my jaw on the floor/Like a kid at a high school dance/Maybe she'd dig me if I was Thurston Moore...") 

Dogstar and Silver Jet at the Fillmore
San Francisco - August 1, 1997
"Most of this record was written right at the end of, and the whole time after, the break-up of a really long relationship," allows Luke. "So everything was new, and that was sort of my inspiration lyrically."

Maybe that explains why the hesitant "Kid" is followed by the arrogant "Free to Roam" ("I don't need a woman I can call my own/I just need a girl that can take me home..."). However, Luke insists that "as far as the order of songs, we were trying to keep a theme going musically more so than lyrically."

There's also the mocking sarcasm of "Master Plan," which is about "people who can't ever stick to one band," and a three-minute bout of lonely introspection simply called "Pain" ("I wanna help you/But can't you see/I'm helpless too...").

"Mostly, anything that sounds really depressed is probably me writing in the first person about someone else," reflects Luke. '"Pain" is about an experience I've had more than once, of being asked for change and literally not having any. And then getting hassled about it. I wanna feel bad, but it's like, what can I do? I feel like saying, "'Just be glad you're not in as much debt as I am!'"

In promotion of the album, the band filmed a video for "Plastiqa" (featuring a "cryptic mannequin theme"), which is airing on regional video shows. But so far, MTV is ignoring it. For the most part, Silver Jet is playing live — often and everywhere.

There were special appearances with the Presidents of the United States of America and Dramarama (members of both groups are Silver Jet fans), not to mention last year's support slot on several dates with Cheap Trick.

Jeff Gross
(from the CD booklet)
"That was a dream come true," enthuses Luke. "Although I don't know how effective it was for us as far as getting new fans. I think Cheap Trick's fans liked us 'cause they knew we really liked Cheap Trick. But they have a following that's like... it's people who already have all the records they need, and most of them are Cheap Trick records!"

Did they pick up any handy tips from the old pros?

"I definitely learned some things here and there on that tour," nods Grant mysteriously.

"They taught me that you can't just mope when things aren't going perfectly," remarks Luke. "Those guys go out and just floor their audience every night. They're insane live! And they never stop. No griping. They just keep going."

"And we learned to shop as much as possible," interjects Jeff. "Tom Petersson hits every music store and buys a new bass; picks up a couple of suits..."

This year, you might have seen Silver Jet at one of the 48 (!) cross-country shows they played with Keanu Reeves' Dogstar. I caught up with them at the tail end of the tour — gig #46 at the Fillmore, with just Palo Alto and Los Angeles left to go. 

Grant Conway
(from the CD booklet)
Luke comments that the tour has gone "really well." He adds that "there's been a few shows where it hasn't been totally packed, but those have been the exception. A lot of the shows were sold out!"

Finally, I wonder, are they sick of all the Cheap Trick comparisons?

"No," smiles Luke. "I love Cheap Trick, so that's fine. I'm sick of comparisons in general, but there's really no way to describe a band on paper. You have to come up with something tangible, so comparisons are inevitable. But it's all right. That's one of the comparisons I like, let's put it that way."

* * *

L-R: Grant, Luke & Jeff
(Virgin Records publicity pic)

On a side note: Silver Jet handled most of the CD artwork themselves! Luke designed the cover, which Grant photographed. In addition, Grant and Jeff took several other photos used in the booklet, and the caricature of the group on the back cover is an acrylic on canvas painting by Luke titled "The Boys."

Saturday, 15 May 2021

The Lords of the New Church: I Catch Up With Stiv & Nicky During The Group's 1983 US Tour

Originally published in Rave-Up #6 (1983)
Interviews by Devorah Ostrov

Stiv fronting the Lords of the New Church - 1984
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
One afternoon in 1981, I was hanging out at Stiv's London flat, chatting with a mutual friend. I hadn't been there for long when Stiv and his girlfriend Stacy (Anastasia Maisonneuve) ran upstairs from doing their laundry. At the top of the stairs, Stiv proudly announced that he'd formed a new group called The Lords of the New Church. "Great name!" I exclaimed. But I wondered, "Will it fit on a badge?"

Two years later, the Lords were touring the States for the second time in promotion of their eponymous debut LP on I.R.S. Records. The morning after their show at the Old Waldorf, I interviewed Nicky and Stiv at the hotel.  

Nicky Turner on Portobello Road - 1984
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Part One: Nicky Turner (Lords' drummer/former Barracudas' drummer)

Q: Remember when you told me that Stiv and Brain were going to play at Le Kilt as a surprise? But then it fell through...

Nicky: Oh, yeah!

Q: Was that supposed to be the first Lords of the New Church show?

Nicky: No, that was when I first met Stiv. He was going to do a show with Brian, Glen Matlock, and Terry Chimes. He just never got anything together. They probably could've played about three songs.

Q: Is that when they asked you to join the band?

Nicky: Yeah! I was playing with the Barracudas that night, and I saw Stiv afterwards. He said, "You should come down and play with us." I said, "Great!" And then the French thing came up at the same time. We did one rehearsal and I said, "Let's do it" — free champagne, trip to Paris first class, all expenses paid.

Q: Were there any hard feelings when you left the Barracudas?

Nicky: Jeremy was a bit upset. He asked me to hang on in the hope that something might happen. But...

Q: Could you tell that the band was going to be successful from the beginning?

"Live for Today" 45 promo material
(I.R.S. Records 1983)
Nicky: I knew it would be big. And I know it's going to be much bigger. When we first got together, we had like three or four numbers and two of those were covers. In Paris, we did "Just Like Me" by Paul Revere and the Raiders. We did "I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night," a song from Stiv's Disconnected album, and "Girls Girls Girls" [the B-side of the "Open Your Eyes" single]. And that was it. But it just felt so good!

Q: How quickly did things progress after that first show?

Nicky: It took us about six months after that French gig to actually start playing properly. We did lots of support gigs in London; lots of little gigs with ten people. After we did the album, things started moving a little bit. We did an English tour, the first half of which was totally disastrous because the album hadn't come out, and no one came to see us at all.

Q: No one knew who you were?

Nicky: Not really. We tried to play it down because we wanted it to be a new band and stand up on its own. That's why we just put our surnames on the album, to try and keep it as low-key as possible. We didn't want people to have any preconceptions about the music. We weren't the new Dead Boys or the new Damned or whatever.

Q: I want to ask you about the change in music and style from the Barracudas to the Lords. Which is the real you?

The Lords outside the York Hotel in SF - 1982
L-R: Stiv fiddling with a camera, Dave pointing,
Brian talking to Nicky & Nicky reacting.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Nicky: The real me? A namby-pamby pop star or an out-and-out revolutionary? I don't know. I've forgotten what the Barracudas were like.

Q: I have photos. I can refresh your memory.

Nicky: No! No! I'd rather you didn't, actually. 

Q: I've heard that the band will be recording a new album soon.

Nicky: We're starting recording on April 26. It'll be out in June, I should think. Then we'll be back here again for about three months or so.

Nicky with the Barracudas - Dingwalls 1981
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Q: Three months? Wow!

Nicky: We have to do it. This is our "main market," as they say. We're not big in England at all; it's all Culture Club and very fashionable bands over there. We haven't played in England in the last nine or ten months. We've only played in Europe and over here. We'll get out there at some point, I suppose. With the next album, we'll play some more gigs there.

Q: Have you guys written anything for the next album yet?

Nicky: Uh... You know how lazy we are. We've got that song "Black Girl White Girl," which we played at the end last night. And we've got "Live for Today," which we did with Todd Rundgren. That's about it.

The phone rings and I excuse myself. As I reach the door, Nicky calls out...

Nicky: I was acting the real pop star the last time we were here, wasn't I? Drinks and drugs and debauchery...

Q: Are you behaving any better this time around?

Nicky: Noooo! Haha!
★ ★ ★

The Lords of the New Church outside the York Hotel in SF - 1982
L-R: Brian, Stiv, Nicky & Dave
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Part Two: Stiv Bator (Lords' frontman/former Dead Boys' and Wanderers' frontman)

Stiv: I ain't in too great of shape. [He pulls up his sleeve to display his swollen arm.] I've got to get it drained out, but that's what the end of tours are for.

Q: Yesterday, you asked me about Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan in San Francisco, and you and Stacy had a Wiccan wedding last year... Are you into black magic as well as white magic?

Stiv: I'm into studying the occult, all different forms. Not necessarily for practice, but you know... The wedding... It predates Judaism and Christianity in England. It's the way people used to get married around the time of the Druids. I read about the ceremony and really liked it. It seemed more natural. For instance, the Druids — or the "Wiccans" — before they cut a limb off a tree, they'd say, "As I take from you, you'll take from me someday." They were a culture that was in tune with the Earth's magic.
   We got married inside a five-candled pentagram with salt around it. And it was blessed by a sword. Everybody was kind of scared when they first saw it, but after they heard the words that we said... which were: "Join us as soul mates for eternity." The wedding lasts for a year and a day. If you want to continue, you just say the vows again.

Stiv (with Brian James) - 1986
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Stiv excuses himself to run down the street for breakfast. He returns a few minutes later with a Hostess cupcake and a carton of milk.

Q: Tell me about the political stance of the Lords. This seems to be a new development for you lyrically.

Stiv: We got political... Well, it first started when I was living in the desert in about '79. I was staying with a bunch of different bands when I first came out to LA — Pure Hell, Cheetah and me, Levi, and Angie Bowie... It's a weird combination! We were living right near the Spawn Ranch in the Mojave Desert, and I did a lot of acid sitting in the desert, thinking... I started putting down a lot of ideas. I was reading [The Book of] Revelation. 
   The politics, though... It's like when you're living in the eye of a hurricane, you don't see the damage. When I went to England, I could finally see what America was doing to the world; the effect it was having. From being outside it and being so close to Europe, and Russia's influence... So, this album is more or less blatant. I had all those chances to say something and never did. I thought this time — if it's my last time — I'm going to say it.

Q: This certainly isn't your last album, though.

Stiv: No! But just in case there's a born-again Hinckley in the crowd, you know.

Q: It almost happened in San Diego. I heard someone shot you with a BB gun.

Stiv: Yeah, close but no cigar.

The Lords open for The Police
at The Golden Summernight concert
 in Germany - September 18, 1983
Q: What happened when the Lords played at the Old Waldorf last time? A lot of your fans were disappointed afterwards.

Stiv: Yeah... I was drunk off my ass. I kept missing the mike; I couldn't find it. In fact, that's the only thing I really remember onstage from the last time — walking around trying to look for the mike.

Q: I know you're still working on material for the second album, but Todd Rundgren produced "Live for Today"...

Stiv: Tell you what... Turn off your tape recorder for a second, and I'll play you "Live for Today."

He pops a cassette into a Boombox and plays me the Lords' toughened-up cover of the Grassroots 1967 folk-pop tune (originally called "Let's Live for Today"). When the tape finishes, Stiv picks up the conversation.

Stiv: After we finish the album, we're doing some dates in Germany. We were supposed to do Australia with the Police, but that fell through.

Q: How can you possibly play to the same audience as the Police?

Stiv: We did it in Gateshead, England. We won over most of the audience; they liked it. It's all like leather... We bring out their dirty dreams or something. I'm sort of the Anti-Sting!

* You can read my other interviews with Stiv here:

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Talking To CJ Pretzel From The Drags About "Dragsploitation...Now" Wasn't A Drag At All!

Originally posted in Teenage Kicks #1
By Devorah Ostrov

L-R: CJ, Lorca & Keith
From the back cover of Dragsploitation...Now!
Photos: Nick Tauro
The Drags — most people assume the name has to do with drag racing but as guitarist/lead "singer" (their quote marks, not mine!) CJ Pretzel points out, there's (at least) a quadruple entendre: "You have the cigarette thing, the cross-dressing thing, the racing thing, and the bummer thing."

In fact, the group chose its moniker with ambiguity in mind. "We liked the looseness of it," says CJ. "It's sort of solidified now, but in the beginning, people didn't know if we would come out in dresses, or what."

Estrus Records advert for
Formed in 1993 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the band centers around the threesome of...

CJ Stritzel/Pretzel: Originally from Arizona, he formed the group when he got tired of waiting for something to present itself. "After a while, I realized that I just had to do it myself," he states.

Lorca Wood: Originally from Oklahoma, this feisty onetime cellist was a novice bass player when she joined the band.

Keith Herrera: Described as "old school" New Mexico, in 1994 the drummer issued the Drags' earliest 45 on Resin Records, an indie label he co-founded with a friend.

The group's latest release is a fun-packed, eight-song 10-inch record called Dragsploitation...Now! (Estrus Records). Also highly recommended: the "Tales from Estrus" compilation EP featuring the Drags' cover of Crime's "Baby You're so Repulsive" and the Drags/PeeChees split 45 on G.I. Productions.

Teenage Kicks: Has the band always been a three-piece?

CJ: No, for a while we had two guitar players, but Robbie moved to Atlanta a few years ago. And there's been a couple of other side Drags — our friend Ray was a Drag, and this guy Tom was a Drag for a little while. But it's been pretty much just the three of us. There was a point where we really wanted a fourth person, but no one's come along who was ready, willing and able. Now, I kind of like it as three.

Teenage Kicks: Were you in any bands before the Drags?

Meet The Drags
Estrus Records promo postcard
CJ: No, this is pretty much my first band; I'd never sang before. And this is definitely Lorca's first and only rock 'n' roll band. She didn't even play the bass before we started; she played the cello as a kid. But we kinda wanted someone who couldn't play because a couple of us already sorta could. And I was trying really hard not to play guitar that well — or just to play it differently. I was trying to do things that sounded cooler. Not really anything that would freak out other guitar players, but just to be uglier. So, that was our idea at first, to have somebody that couldn't play bass, to add that certain spice to it.

Teenage Kicks: And what about Keith?

CJ: Keith just kind of came along. We lost our drummer, and we had a whole summer of just sitting around. I played the drums for a while just to keep it going. And then Keith presented himself, and we jumped at it.

Teenage Kicks: Do you guys consider yourselves a punk band?

CJ: Definitely! I mean... I dunno how to explain why. We do everything ourselves; nobody's gonna do it for us. And we're not making a shitload of money. We just do what we do. And I think that's as good an encapsulation of punk rock as any.

Teenage Kicks: Do you have a big following around Albuquerque?

CJ: It ebbs and flows. Sometimes it seems like we're doing really well. Sometimes it seems like no one gives a shit.

Gas Huffer, Clawhammer & the Drags at the Whisky
(Poster art by Chris Cooper aka "Coop")
Teenage Kicks: Is there a scene in Albuquerque?

CJ: Yeah, there's some bands that are really good. And there's a couple of places to play. That's all you need, really. But there's not enough bands so that you can go out every weekend and see a different combination of bands. The plan now is to make a record and be gone as much as we can. I don't wanna play there every two weeks.

Teenage Kicks: How did you hook up with Estrus Records?

(Estrus Records 1995)
CJ: We sent them our first record [the "I Like to Die" 45]. We'd seen the Estrus ads; they had great little monsters and stuff in them. And we thought they looked really cool. We were always stealing the stuff from their ads to make our flyers. So we figured, let's send 'em a record! So, we sent them a test pressing with a postcard from this breakfast restaurant.
   This restaurant... it's like a whole city block and it's in a barn. It's called the Frontier Restaurant. We discovered that they had these postcards with their Frontier Sweet Roll on them, which is their claim to fame. So, we wrote on the back of the postcard: "We just made this record!" I don't know what we expected; if we expected to get signed, or what. But they called us back and said, "We wanna sell the record." A good chunk of that first pressing was sold through the Estrus mail-order catalog. And then we went on tour through that. So, we were kind of halfway connected with Estrus even before we were signed. And when we got back, they offered to put out a record if we made one. 

Teenage Kicks: I know the Drags have played on some Estrus-package shows. Is that something the label tries to set up regularly?

Comic book version of the Drags included
in the "Tales from Estrus" Vol. 3 compilation EP
CJ: I don't know about regularly... We've done it a few times. We flew out to Chicago and played with Impala, the Lord High Fixers, the Mono Men, and the Insomniacs. And we've done it out here with the Mono Men and the Trashwomen a couple of times. But it's not like it happens all over. You've probably got an inflated idea of how much it happens, 'cause it happens here a lot. But it doesn't happen as much everywhere else.
   Dave [Crider, Estrus owner] was talking about going down to Texas and doing a show, but it hasn't happened yet. He was actually talking about buying a bus, and we'd all travel together — like the old soul revues. Each of us would play two songs and haul ass off the stage!

Teenage Kicks: Is the trash/sleaze culture something you guys are heavily into?

CJ: No, not especially. That's something that's sort of been put on us. It wasn't really about Rat Fink, or whatever. I have an appreciation for stuff like that, but it wasn't why we did it. I just wanted to have a rock band, you know.
   And the stuff we've done, like "Elongated Man" — it was a joke! This guy told us about Elongated Man, and we didn't believe it. Like I said, we're not really experts. But we ended up calling the song "Elongated Man" just because we thought it was a cool title. Since then, people have said, "Wow! You named it after Elongated Man. He's so rad!" But I still wouldn't recognize Elongated Man from... whoever!

Teenage Kicks: All the songs on the album are simply credited to "The Drags." How does the songwriting actually work?

CJ: We do it kind of collaboratively. I come in with something, and we mess around with it. And then I kind of scream until I find two or three words that go good together. And then we try to figure out what the song is about from there. 

The Drags 
(back cover of Can't Stop Rock and Roll - Estrus Records 1997)
Teenage Kicks: How did the split 45 with the PeeChees doing a Drags' song and vice versa come about?

CJ: Somebody sent us a letter asking to do a single. And we said, "Yeah!" before we thought about if we had any songs. 'Cause we write songs kind of slow. We called the PeeChees about something else and they said, "We just got this letter to do some single..." And they didn't know what song they were gonna do either. I dunno... It wasn't the most original idea on Earth, but we decided to do each other's songs. And when we presented the idea to the label, they said, "That's weird." 'Cause that's what they were thinking about doing.

"Tales from Estrus" Vol. 3 
featuring the Lord High Fixers, Impala & the Drags
Teenage Kicks: Do you purposely try to get a lo-fi sound with your recordings?

CJ: Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. There's been times when we wanted to add a little extra heat to it, so we did that. And sometimes it sounds really good, and sometimes we've been burned on it. And there's been times when we thought it sounded a little high-tech in the studio, but once we got the record, it sounded really neat. And there's other times where we thought it sounded really neat in the studio, but when we got the record back, it was a little grosser than we'd intended.  

Teenage Kicks: I've heard that the "Anxiety" single [the A-side of the group's recent 3-song 45 on Empty Records, which also features "Elongated Man" and a cover of "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll"] was recorded on the spur of the moment. Is that true?

CJ: We did that completely on the fly. We did it the day after Garage Shock [95]. Our van broke down, and we were sitting in some hotel. Blake [owner of Empty Records] had talked to us the night before about wanting to do a single sometime. Usually, that's like the rock equivalent of "let's do lunch." So, we called him up the next day and said, "If you can get a studio, we're gonna be in town." And we had a single recorded within 24 hours of when he asked us to do it!

Poster for Garage Shock 95 with the Makers,
Supersnazz & the Drags (to name a few)
Teenage Kicks: Are you inspired by other vocalists?

CJ: I have been since I started. But when I first started, I was mostly inspired by fear. Just straight-up fear. I figured, "I need to do this because no one's gonna do it for me." And it horrified me. I was in the bathroom for the whole night before we played our first show. It was such a horrifying experience. Since then... There's people whose singing I really enjoy, and I think you can be inspired by other people's singing. But you've got your own equipment. There's not really much I can do to sound like other people.

Teenage Kicks: I want to ask about the stories behind a couple of the songs on Dragsploitation...Now! One of my favorites is "My Girlfriend's in the F.B.I."

CJ: That was probably the quickest song I've ever written. It just kind of came to me when I was driving around one day. What was the word that I heard? Usually, that's the way it happens. I'll hear a word somewhere, and I'll start running with it when I'm driving around in my car. My car doesn't have a radio, so I have to keep myself entertained. So, I was driving around and it just came to me. I had it written by the time I got home. All I had to do was figure out how to play what was going on in my head.

Teenage Kicks: What about "Teenage Invasion"?

Mono Men & the Drags at Kilowatt in SF
CJ: Same deal. I just thought it was a really great title. I just thought "invasion" was a great word! That's actually the fourth incarnation of "Teenage Invasion." You know, there's the old philosophical question: If you change the head and you change the handle, do you still have the same axe? It used to have a different verse, but we thought the chorus was cool. So, we changed the verse. Then, we thought the chorus wasn't so cool. So, we changed the chorus, etc., etc. 

Teenage Kicks: The new "Tales from Estrus" compilation EP, (which includes the Drags' cover of Crime's "Baby You're so Repulsive") comes with a comic book featuring all the bands. How does it feel to be depicted in comic book form?

CJ: Oh, that was so cool! Dave told us that was going to happen, but it didn't really sink in at the time. But once we got the comic books back, it was really great! Although, for the record, I don't wear Converses. They make me look like I have duck feet.

Teenage Kicks: Why did you choose to cover "Baby You're so Repulsive" on the EP?

CJ: It was just kind of a neat song. I think one of Keith's friends had the record. We hadn't really heard of Crime. I mean, I knew that "Hotwire My Heart" was theirs — the song that Sonic Youth did. But that was about it.

Teenage Kicks: Have you heard anything back from Crime?

CJ: No, but you know, all our songs are ripped off from something else anyway. We keep expecting to hear from a whole lot of people. Haha!

★ ★ ★

Here's a link to the track "My Girlfriend's in the F.B.I." from Dragsploitation...Now.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

In 1982 I Summoned The Courage To Interview Bauhaus ... And They Were Really Nice!

Originally published in Rave-Up #6 (1983)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Bauhaus publicity photo
The backstage dressing room at the Old Waldorf was pitch-black. A red light flickered in the corner. I was scared to death. A quarter of an hour earlier, Bauhaus had finished their set and left the stage, and for some reason, my friend Sara and I thought seeking them out for an interview would be a jolly way to end the evening. But now, I couldn't even see the questions on the piece of paper in my hand.

I finally found Peter Murphy, slumped in a chair and looking exquisitely bored. "Nope," I thought to myself, "no way." Instead, I stumbled into the empty area next to guitarist Daniel Ash. Soft-spoken and polite, he said he'd be happy to answer some questions for a fanzine (or something to that effect; I was busy fumbling with the tape recorder's on/off button in the dark). I must admit, in the impenetrable gloom, I didn't even see bassist David J sitting there until he joined in the conversation. He was very nice as well.

Daniel Ash - publicity photo
Q: I read an article recently which said Bauhaus didn't want to do the "standard tour" sort of thing and sing the "standard songs." But it seems like that's more or less what you're doing on this US tour.

Daniel: We're just being practical about it. It's different in America. It's at a different stage, you see. We're at a similar stage in the US to where we were about three years ago in England. The last English tour was a total sell-out. We were breaking records!
   In England, we've raised the whole thing to a certain pitch now. If we do something different, which we intend to do with our next tour, we're going to have the attention of a large majority of people. So, it's not like sort of screaming into the wilderness. 

Q: I thought you already had everyone's attention.

Daniel: Not over here. That's why we're doing this sort of tour, just to get attention; to raise it to a certain pitch. And then we can go off on a tangent.

Q: I wondered if that's why "Spirit" and "Bela Lugosi's Dead" weren't included in your setlist tonight. I thought perhaps it was part of your statement about not playing the standard songs. 

Daniel: Tonight? No, not at all! We've got about 85 songs and you can only fit so many into a set, obviously.

Mask (Beggars Banquet -1981)
gatefold cover artwork by Daniel Ash
Q: Yes, of course. It's just that those two songs are amongst the best known and most loved of your material out here.

Daniel: Really? I didn't know that. We wouldn't necessarily have played them anyway. It's just the case that there are dozens of songs we can play. When we played in Chicago, we did away with the conventional set and did one piece ["Antonin Artaud"], which lasted for the entire time.

Q: Wow! Was the audience prepared for that?

Bauhaus - publicity photo
Daniel: Well, we asked them to bring drums and things like that. We just handed all the instruments over to them in the end. So, that was good.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the recording of "Bela Lugosi's Dead." I've heard that you made the demo tape for it after only being together for six weeks.

Daniel: Four weeks.

Q: That's amazing! You must have known exactly what you wanted to do when you got together.

Daniel: Well, it was just one of those magical moments. It was recorded as a demo, but it worked out so well just on an 8-track that we decided on it as a single.

The Sky's Gone Out
(Beggars Banquet - 1982)

David J: We don't really believe in demo tapes. The best things happen the first time; that's usually the case. Or something happens...

Daniel: ...that you can never recreate. We like to go for accidents.

Q: You used an image from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on the sleeve for "Bela Lugosi's Dead," and it's been noted that your stage lighting is reminiscent of the film. Is that something the band is greatly influenced by?

David J: Yeah... But the thing is, we started using lights like that before we'd seen any German Expressionist films. I'd seen photographs, and I've seen a lot of films since our live shows have started. It's remarkable, the similarity in their approach and our approach. It's just a common interest or idea; we're not copyists of that film.

Daniel: It's just a coincidence. We like to use black and white lights for a dramatic effect.

Q: The amazing photo on the cover of "Bela Lugosi's Dead" is another old movie still... What film is that from?

Front: Peter Murphy
Back row: David J, Kevin Haskins, Daniel Ash
David J: The Sorrows of Satan.

Q: Your new album [The Sky's Gone Out] is the first Bauhaus record to be released domestically in the US through a deal with A&M Records...

Daniel: That's right, yeah.

Tones On Tail - "There's Only One!"
Picture sleeve artwork by Daniel Ash
(Beggars Banquet 1982)
Q: Do you know why they didn't include the live album [Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape] with it, as Beggars Banquet did in the UK?

Daniel: They wanted to focus on brand new material for the first album. That was the idea originally, to put the two albums out together. But that was old material which had been coming in drips and drabs on import anyway. They wanted something totally fresh to promote. The live album is being sold separately now anyway. To begin with, it was a limited-edition free record; there were only 25,000 copies printed. Now, it's sold separately with a poster and an extra single.

Q: You've done the cover art for a couple of Bauhaus LPs, and your artwork has been used on a 45 sleeve for your side band [Tones On Tail]. Have you ever had a proper showing of your work?

Daniel: No, not since art school... exam times, you know. I haven't really had any time since Bauhaus started to do that much work. I do intend in a year or so to have some work done. Uhmm... see how it goes. I usually use things that I did about five years ago.

Bauhaus feature from The Face
Q: The music that you're recording as Tones On Tail...

Daniel: It's like a disco hit!

Q: Did you say disco?

Daniel: Yeah, with a difference. But it's disco.

Q: Have you ever performed live as Tones On Tail?

Daniel: No. There's supposed to be a thing going on New Year's Eve, just a fun thing in our hometown. We're all doing different things. I might be doing it then.

Q: Do you still live in Northampton?

Daniel: Yeah, we all do except Peter. He lives in London.

Q: Are you tempted to move to London?

"Bela Lugosi's Dead" (Small Wonder -1979)
Daniel: No. Definitely not! If you live in London, you get sucked up by the whole merry-go-round. It's almost a continuation of touring. It's much better to be away from that.

Q: I want to ask about a band you had previous to Bauhaus... I read somewhere it was called Jack Plug and the Sockets, which is a wonderful name!

Daniel: That band lasted what, five hours?

Q: I've also heard about an early lineup called Jam.

Daniel: That was years and years before. I mean, Kevin was about 12! That was ages ago. 

David J: The one that was more important than those was called the Submerged Tenth [archaic economic terminology for the percentage of the population living in poverty]. It was Kevin and I, and Daniel was going to join. He was rehearsing with us. 

Flyer for this Bauhaus show at the Old Waldorf
with support from TSOL - December 15, 1982
Daniel: I remember going to see the Submerged Tenth, but I arrived too late... for a change! The idea of a punk band was very new at the time. This was in '76, when it was actually happening. And it was very exciting to hear about because punk was very fresh. There were no other bands in our town. There was nothing to do with punk at all. So, it was very new and original. But I missed it. I got there just when they were loading the gear up.

Q: The live reviews I've read in the British music papers make it sound like Bauhaus is usually quite violent towards the audience. But it didn't seem at all like that tonight — not that I was disappointed.

Daniel: Well, sometimes it is like that. Occasionally, that'll be the case. It depends on how the audience reacts. There wasn't that element in the crowd tonight anyway. It'd be a bit pointless to just start belting people just for the sake of it. 

Q: Are there more Bauhaus shows planned after this US tour, or are you going to rest up?

Daniel: We keep saying that we don't intend to ever do this again, two tours one after the other. We'd just done a tour of England, and then we came straight over here. We only had a gap in between of about two weeks.

(Many thanks to Rave-Up reader Rodney Klein who kindly forwarded me this long-lost interview from issue #6)

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

The Thompson Twins Want To Know Why Passion Is More Important Than Dinosaurs

Originally published in Rave-Up #6 (1983)
Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Alannah Currie, Joe Leeway & Tom Bailey backstage at the
Kabuki Theatre in San Francisco - March 1983
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
As I write this, the Thompson Twins are the biggest thing in pop music. Their latest single, "Love on Your Side," from the album Quick Step & Side Kick, is topping several different charts at once, and tickets for their extensive US and UK tours have sold out. Melody Maker even reported that when Alannah goes out in public, she has to disguise herself as an old hag to avoid being mobbed!

After struggling for several years to get noticed and having undergone a radical change of lineup, this has all happened super fast! When I first met the band a few months ago, they were a critically praised but not especially well-known pop outfit who'd had a US dance club hit with "In the Name of Love." After the show, Alannah promised me an interview "next time."

"If we're not too famous to talk to fanzines," she added in jest. 

Alannah Currie backstage at the Kabuki - March 1983
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Well, they are actually too famous for fanzines now. But Alannah kept her promise. 

So, prior to their headlining set at the Kabuki, I found myself sitting backstage with Tom Bailey, Joe Leeway, and Alannah Currie discussing their massive rise to fame, and the effect it's had on the band and their fan base.

Tom: It's like, really MEGA! See, we've always been at a cult level...

Joe: It's totally over the top! The last gig we did in Staten Island, we said, "After the encore, no one come up onstage. Please!" And everyone just came up onstage.

Alannah: When it started happening [people getting onstage with the group], it was very spontaneous. We were trying to break down the barriers between the band and the audience. Instead of just being very voyeuristic and watching a band, you've got to join in and help create the event. 

Tom: It was a sudden rush! And I think that was the first break... or one of the first steps away from just playing music. It was the first kind of non-musical event.

Rave-Up: Has the live show itself changed dramatically since I last you?

Tom: We haven't really changed it very much because we've been more or less consistently touring. We've had to go through sacking various personnel and getting new people. I mean, in terms of not changing very much, that's quite true. But in terms of dealing with human beings, we've gone through a whole lot just getting this production on the road.

Rave-Up: It does seem as if it's a lot more business-oriented now than it used to be. Does that take some of the fun out of it for you?

Tom Bailey at the Warfield in SF - May 1984
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Alannah: No! Definitely not.

Tom: It's much more exciting! In fact, we are not musicians. We see ourselves perhaps more appropriately as a business.

Alannah: We're more like a production company. We deal with music, and we deal with videos.

Tom: We're a communications company.

Rave-Up: "Love on Your Side" has crossed over to several different charts. What would you attribute that to?

Tom: It's probably because there was no prejudice towards us. I mean, as soon as we arrived [in the US], a lot of black radio stations stopped playing us because they could suddenly see us. We suddenly didn't fit into what their image of a "black band" was all about. Similarly, some AOR stations thought we were a little too risqué visually, so they stopped playing us as well.

Rave-Up: Do you think MTV showing the video for "Lies" on regular rotation helped push the group over here?

Tom: Sure! And that's quite exciting for us because we're just about to release our second video over here [for "Love on Your Side"], and we think it's 100 times more powerful than the "Lies" one.

Rave-Up: You've been so busy lately. Have you been able to give any thought to your next album?

Tom: We haven't really thought too much about our next album because we're touring and promoting Quick Step & Side Kick. We want to see that pushed a little bit more.

Alannah & Tom with their copies of Rave-Up #6
backstage at the Day on the Green - September 1983.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Joe: We've always been a common-sense band. Basically, we need to consolidate what we're doing at the moment. We won't be going out on a massive tangent, that's for sure. We've just got to consolidate and further push the single.

Rave-Up: I've heard that most of your US shows have sold out.

Tom: In New York, we did two nights at the Ritz!

Joe: There were 400 people locked out at the Ritz, and the weather...

Tom: It was pouring rain! It was so embarrassing.

Rave-Up: Were you expecting that sort of reception over here?

Joe Leeway at the Warfield, San Francisco - May 1984
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Alannah: No!

Joe: We didn't know what it was going to be like. I suppose that's where you have to rely on other people analyzing things for you and saying what you're worth.

A journalist from Lowrider magazine voices his concern about the lack of guitars on Quick Step & Side Kick, which leads to a lively conversation about passion and dinosaurs.

Tom: Guitars sneak into one track, and it's really boring! They took four hours to do something we could have done in 7-1/2 minutes.

Alannah: Guitars can be played really well, but we've had several years of having two guitars, and everything we write having to do with those two guitars. Almost everything that can be done brilliantly on a guitar has been done already — it's not new. Whereas synthesizers are new! With technology, there's more sounds; more differences come out.

Tom: If you're not used to technology, it could seem overbearing. You can over-reflect on the essence of technology, so people use synthesizers to make very stark, bleak sounding music.

Alannah: And then also, you can get some great sounds! You can mix very organic sounds with very synthetic sounds, which is what we're trying to do. So, even if your vocals might be, like ours, sarcastic and a bit cold... or not terribly impassioned... 

Alannah Currie backstage at the Day on the Green - Sept 1983
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Tom: The vocabulary of emotion in pop music is very cliché. All those "Hey baby, let's get down and groove," or "Hey baby, my life is a misery since you left me," soulful wailings and things... They're all rather empty of emotion. They're just like a formula, you know. I think people who are quite inhibited and let emotions sneak out of them under stress and strain are actually more passionate.

Joe: I don't know what the big deal is, screaming out for passion. We're living in a synthetic age. Passion is no big deal.

Alannah: I have this theory that since the beginning of rock and roll, it's been men doing it, right? And men, as we all know, are emotional cripples because they can't express themselves. They've been brought up not to cry and not to show emotion. So, music is the perfect outlet. And because men have always been in control of the rock and roll business, they write these songs that are a total outlet for their emotions. But they need a stage and a performance to do that! Now that there are more women involved in groups and writing songs, there's also been a change in mental attitudes. It's not so important to go out there and do these massive wailings and screechings anymore, because they're doing that in their day-to-day lives. So, then they start looking for other things to talk about and sing about.

Tom: And in fact, we are quite passionate in a subliminal way.

Alannah: I mean, why is passion far more appreciated than a sense of humor or wit, or something completely off the wall, like dinosaurs? Why is passion more important than dinosaurs?

(Many thanks to Rave-Up reader Rodney Klein who kindly forwarded me this long-lost interview from issue #6)