Tuesday, 17 April 2018

The Damned: A Rendezvous At Alice In Wonderland With Dave Vanian & Roman Jugg

Dave Vanian
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Originally published in Rave-Up #10 (1985)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov

Shortly after the Damned independently released (and had a Top 50 hit with) "Thanks for the Night," Rave-Up arranged to rendezvous with keyboardist/ guitarist Roman Jugg and vocalist Dave Vanian at their fave London haunt, Alice In Wonderland.

Roman was the first to arrive...

Rave-Up: After seeing the Damned in London, the group seems to fit in more comfortably with the Alice In Wonderland psychedelic scene, rather than with the death-rockers at the Batcave. But if someone didn't know you, they would probably think it was the other way around.

Roman: Well, it depends on if you know what the Batcave and Alice In Wonderland are all about. The Batcave started off as a good idea, but unfortunately, it's attracted the pseudo-gothic-punk worshippers. And you've got loads of bands playing down there with this gothic sort of image, who haven't done anything. It's just an image. They don't believe in what they're doing.

Rave-Up: Does it bother you that all these new gothic-punk bands are getting so much attention and press, while the Damned have been at it for so long without getting the attention they deserve?

Advert for the "Thanks for the Night" 45 and EP
Released on Damned Records (1984)
Roman: I suppose it annoys us a little bit. I wouldn't mind if the bands were doing something worthwhile, but unfortunately, they haven't. They just surface for a very short period of time, and the fact that they split up so quickly speaks for itself. They don't have any belief in what they're doing.

Rave-Up: Exactly! Whereas the Damned has always kept going in one form or another.

Roman: I think our strength comes from... If you believe in what you're doing, you find strength in that and you can carry on. You've got to believe in what you're doing to carry on through the hard times.

Roman Jugg
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: It seems like the Damned has had a harder time than most other bands.

Roman: We've had a very hard time! I think it's been a case of bad luck upon bad luck. But the fact that we've stayed together and carried through it... I mean, the last two years have been very, very hard for the band. But I believe that by getting through that, hopefully it'll strengthen what we're doing.

Q: Are you going to continue releasing your material on Damned Records, or are you still looking for a major label deal? [They have since signed to MCA Records.]

Roman: Well, it's very strange. The only reason we put that single ["Thanks for the Night"] out on Damned Records was because eight months earlier we were trying to get a deal with any record company. So, we decided to do it on our own.

Rave-Up: And you've actually had something of a hit with the song!

Roman: The fact that we had a Top 50 hit made a mockery of all the major record companies. It got to #43 in the British charts and stayed in the Top 50 for four weeks! Since then, we've had all the majors queuing up to sign us.

Dave Vanian
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: I've heard you say before, that the reason record companies are hesitant to sign the Damned is because they don't take the group seriously.

Roman: Well, that was one of the excuses they gave us. When we started taking demos in, half of them wouldn't see us. Then, we'd take in the demo tape and not tell them what group we were and they'd say, "Fantastic! Who is this? We gotta sign them!" We'd say, "It's the Damned." And they'd say, "See ya later." They're scared of us.

At this point, Dave Vanian made his appearance and the conversation turned to mutual hero, Sky Saxon...

Dave: Last I heard... A couple of years ago we were in Chicago, and it was like he'd turned vegetarian and thrown his dog out of the house because it wouldn't eat vegetarian food. We were hoping he'd come down; we were going to do a few numbers with him. But he never did. You said you've got a tape of his new stuff?

Rave-Up: A demo tape. It's pretty bad.

The tape recorder picks up an unidentified voice from the other end of the table...

Voice: ...Sky doing that song with Dave?

Rave-Up: No! What!?

The Damned's lineup at the time of this interview
L-R: Rat Scabies, Dave Vanian, Roman Jugg & Bryn Merrick
Dave: Outrageous! Outrageous!

Voice: It wasn't very good.

Rave-Up: Do you have a copy of this recording?

Voice: It's on a bootleg somewhere.

Dave: Is it? I'm always the last to know about bootlegs.

Dave Vanian
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Dave flicks through a copy of Rave-Up issue #9 laying on the table and pauses at the horror trivia page...

Dave: Some of these questions are quite difficult because we don't get to see these films very often over here. There's been a kind of resurgence of very bad films lately.

Rave-Up: They've become trendy.

Dave: Yeah, it's a shame in a way. The things that I like have become a little bit of a cliché. I always wanted to get, if there's any video tape, a copy of Vampira's original show. I've got a couple of Life magazines from 1954 and a few articles about her. One of the tracks on Machine Gun Etiquette ["Plan 9 Channel 7"] was actually written for her. She sent a letter to me when I was in the States... It was funny, this guy was going back and forth between us. She didn't want us to meet in case my illusion was shattered. You know, she's gotten older.

Rave-Up: Have you ever thought about doing a movie starring the Damned?

Dave: Often. We did a video for "Plan 9," but it was never shown anywhere except Italy. It was shot in Surrey at some farmer's place — all overgrown, with smoke everywhere. Laurie [Dave's wife] was done up as Vampira...

Rave-Up: That sounds amazing!

Dave Vanian
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Dave: The funny thing about it was, we did lots of things that I thought would look good in the video — we actually shot it on film, not video. A year later, I got the Life magazine and some of the stills from the film [Plan 9 from Outer Space] were identical to things I had done. There was a scene where Laurie blows out a candle, it's a side view, and there was the exact same photo of Vampira! It was very strange.

Rave-Up: I was talking to Roman about the problems the group has had getting signed to a major label. He said that now you've had a hit record, they're all interested!

Dave: Yeah, about six months ago they weren't interested whatsoever. They thought we were washed-up. Since we've proved that we're not, there's about four companies fighting to sign us!

Rave-Up: Being signed to a major label would certainly make it easier for the Damned to tour the States. The last time you were there, it seemed like things were quite bad financially.

Dave: It always has been. We're on a real shoestring over there. There was one time when we were in San Francisco and we couldn't get to Los Angeles to do our last gig because all the money was gone. If anyone had anything to hock, if anyone had a credit card, any money we had... It was really funny because at the beginning of the tour, we were met by these limousines. We thought, "Man, this is it!" And then here we are in San Francisco with all these bags trying to get on a bus!

Rave-Up: But through it all, the Damned has persevered!

Dave: I enjoy it!

* * *

You can also read my 1998 interview with the Damned's Captain Sensible here:
devorahostrov.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/captain-sensible-interview

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Redd Kross: The Brothers McDonald Give Rave-Up The Scoop On "The Spirit Of '76"!

Steve and Jeff McDonald star in The Spirit of '76.
Originally published in Rave-Up #17 (1989)

Interview by Devorah Ostrov & Michelle Castro

Jeff and Steve McDonald of Redd Kross recently called the San Francisco Bay Area home while they were filming The Spirit of '76. This soon-to-be cult classic also stars '70s teen faves David Cassidy and Leif Garrett, with appearances by Moon Zappa and Olivia d'Abo.

Between takes, the brothers found time to pursue their other interests, including production for Frightwig's new album and performing with their sideband the Tater Totz.

We found Jeff and Steve, during a rare moment of relaxation, in their stylin' bachelor pad overlooking the Alameda Marina.

Cover photo for Rave-Up #17. Vicki
Berndt snapped this super cool pic of
Jeff McDonald hanging out a window
during a trip to Cairo, Egypt, in 1990.
Rave-Up: So, give us the scoop on The Spirit of '76!

Steve: Well, it starts off sometime in the future. The world has become apocalyptic, nothing really exists anymore. David Cassidy plays the leader of a team of scientific explorers. They travel back in time, to America in 1776, to retrieve the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence so that the land can have guidelines to rebuild itself. But somehow David botches things up and they end up in 1976.

Jeff: But they don't realize it. So, it's all about how the future will be corrupted by 1970s fashion and music.

Rave-Up: What roles do you guys play?

Jeff: We play two teenagers.

Steve: Goofy, stoner-type teenagers who discover the time-travellers when they land in a local park.

Jeff: It has a Planet of the Apes-type flair to it! The people of the '70s are like the apes and David Cassidy is like Charlton Heston!

Steve: Yeah, me and Jeff are like Cornelius and Zera!

The McDonald brothers enjoy reading their fave fanzine!
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Jeff: We are very Cornelius and Zera, 'cause we're basically their guides.

Rave-Up: What about our other fave-rave teen idol, Leif Garrett?

Jeff: Leif plays a sort of Erik Estrada [CHIPS] type — the hip surfer, teen disco star. Very white-bread.

The Spirit of '76: "A close-up look at 
the most embarrassing decade in history."
Steve: Leif's a cool guy, but he was really comfortable doing those disco sequences!

Jeff: Maybe a bit too comfortable.

Steve: So, it was good casting. You're not seeing acting; you're seeing the real thing!

Rave-Up: What was it like meeting David and Leif?

Steve: It was pretty overwhelming!

Jeff: We've always loved The Partridge Family, so it was weird working with David at first.

Steve: I was thinking, "God, I'm gonna be acting with this man! He's gonna be total Keith Partridge and just blow my mind!"

Jeff: As for Leif, he pretty much epitomized everything that we hated about the '70s! We like him now, but when we didn't know him it was like, "Yuck!"

Steve: When I was a kid, any girl I liked had a couple of Leif Garrett pin-ups in her room. So, he was pretty much resented!

Jeff and Steve relax in their stylin' bachelor pad.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: Whose idea was this film?

Steve: It was Roman Coppola's [son of Francis Ford] idea. Not to sound pompous, but Roman actually thought of it while he was at a Redd Kross gig. We were dressed up in the '70s mode and were real energetic. While we were playing he just had this brainstorm. I guess were "naturals" to be cast!

Rave-Up: Do you guys wear your own stuff in the movie?

Steve: No, teenagers in 1976 wouldn't have worn clothes like this. The whole movie is an overblown version of extravagant '70s fashions.

Jeff: Since '76 is in the middle of the decade they took liberties with the fashions. We're dealing with a teenage audience who aren't really gonna remember this stuff, so there's no need for complete accuracy.

Robert Hecker, Steve McDonald and Jeff McDonald
interpreted as Big Eye children for the Redd Kross LP
Third Eye — released on Atlantic Records (1990).
Original paintings by Vicki Berndt
Rave-Up: Yeah, a lot of those '70s clothes were pretty boring. Of course the cast would be dressed in good, "freaky" clothes!

Steve: Yeah, most of the real-life '70s clothes would be too ugly to photograph for a movie. They wanted wild stuff, so the movie would be lots of fun to look at!

Jeff and Steve model the 
latest styles in matching pyjamas.
Photo: Devorah Ostrov
Rave-Up: Is it all disco music in the movie?

Steve: It's not quite full-on disco. The movie takes place two years prior to the Saturday Night Fever disco craze, so there's "The Hustle," "Boogie Fever," "Saturday Night" by the Bay City Rollers...

Jeff: You know, I always hated that music when it was actually going down. But now we're so far removed from it...

Steve: That we can appreciate it!

Jeff: It's no longer being forced on us!

Rave-Up: While you were here filming, we heard you were also producing a record for [San Francisco band] Frightwig.

Steve: Yeah! We've been producing Frightwig's album Phone Sexy, and it's really good!

Jeff: It's so great! We're very excited about it! Working with Frightwig was lots of fun because they don't get stressed out about trying to make everything sound perfect; they just go for it.

Steve: While we were filming this movie, we had become very removed from any musical involvement, which was a real drag.

Jeff McDonald and Patricia Arquette 
feature in this magazine fashion-spread. 
Rave-Up: You guys have so many different projects. What about Redd Kross?

Steve: Oh, we're breaking up...

Jeff: Don't say that! What if people believe you?

Steve: No, we're really happy! We're gonna be working on some new songs before going on an East Coast tour.

Jeff: When we get back we'll be doing a record.

Steve: We don't know what label it'll be on, but we're definitely gonna do a record. It's not like nobody wants us.

Rave-Up: Has long has it been since Neurotica?

Jeff: Two years!

Steve: Too long!

Jeff: It's a drag. We've had some personnel changes...

Steve: But we're back, stronger than ever!

Steve and Jeff McDonald — promo photo
Rave-Up: What about the Tater Totz? Are they going to do another album, or was that just a one-off thing?

Jeff: The Tater Totz isn't really so much our thing. It's mainly Bill Bartel's [a.k.a. Pat Fear] brainchild.

Redd Kross, Christmas, and Frightwig
at the Fillmore, SF — May 6, 1989
Steve: We're just accessory Totz! There will be another album. It's "in the can" as they say. And we'll be happy to participate with it.

Rave-Up: So, getting back to The Spirit of '76... Are you guys worried that when this movie is released, the '70s will become the "big thing" and it'll be trendy?

Steve: Like it already is? No... I think, if anything, the '70s revival is a breath of fresh air compared to Paula Abdul or Jody Watley.

Jeff: Paula Ab-dull or Jody Twatley! I'm not worried. We're not locked into one thing. It's not like we made a conscious decision to dress '70s. We like that stuff because we grew up in that decade.

Rave-Up: People who don't know you might think you're just jumping on the '70s bandwagon.

Jeff: Well, that's their big, smelly problem! ❃