I probably owe my career to Rob Fetters, at least in some part. When I was about 12, a friend of mine turned me on to a vinyl record by a Cincinnati band called the Raisins. That album ruled my world in the early ’80s (when I did an "exchange student" program that took me to France around this same time, my gift to my host family was that self-titled album). I never thought of them as a "local band" — it was just good music, to me. But it turned out to be my introduction to "local music," leading me to explore, as years progressed, various Cincinnati bands and musicians, from The Modulators and Jimmy McGarry to SS-20 and Red Math. When the lightning bolt hit me and I realized I might be able to make a living writing about music, I was well positioned to immediately begin writing about bands that lived and worked in Cincinnati, because I was already familiar with so many of them.
I recently sat down with Fetters to chat about the new Bears album, Eureka!, the group he formed in the mid-’80s with longtime friends Chris Arduser and Bob Nyswonger (his mates in the Raisins and, later, the psychodots), as well as twang-bar king Adrian Belew. The first version of The Bears didn't last long, but put out two well-received albums on the Primitive Man Recording Co. (or PMRC) imprint (founded by Stewart Copeland's brother, Miles) and sold out shows all over the place.
In 1997, CityBeat asked Fetters and Co. if they'd like to be the first inductees into the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards Hall of Fame, honoring both The Bears and the individual members' vast accomplishments. Seeing as they had just reconvened to begin writing a new album, they obliged. In 2001, Car Caught Fire was self-released. While the band wasn't looking to be on the cover of Rolling Stone anymore, they still experienced success on the road and with sales, thanks to a legion of fans that hadn't forgotten about them.
My conversation with Fetters lasted about two hours and, fanboy that I am, I couldn't resist asking some questions I've always wanted to ask. Does Rob resent Adrian for stealing his trademark "neck bend" guitar move? Read on to find out.
Rob and Adrian recently appeared on WVXU to talk about the new album and tour. Give it a listen here.
Here is the feature story that came out of the interview and ran in CityBeat.
(photo: Michael Wilson)
So what’s with the album cover? (Ed. note: the photo from the cover is at the top of this post.)
Rob Fetters: It’s a bear bowl with dry ice in it. Our dilemma with the cover, the concept was that we felt with Car Caught Fire we really got a good one, just by chance with Michael Wilson. It’s pretty iconic to have those Rickenbackers in front of our faces and everything. We were with Michael Wilson, who’s just a fantastic photographer we were lucky to get, and he’s also a friend of ours. He does a lot of work as a favor for us and he gets paid a pittance of what his normal rate is.
I’m a big runner and I go on long runs and that’s where I dream up most of my schemes. I was halfway through a book about Aleister Crowley. So that was just thinking along those lines and also the silliness of it all -- the photos of (Crowley) looking all demonic in robes and all that. So I think that’s where that came from — the Halloween-ish group of wise men around something. The cover design simply came because The Bears, we love to eat and we love to read. We’re always talking about books and giving each other books for birthdays.
The back cover has a stack of books (from The Beatles’ Anthology to a bio of director Erich von Stroheim to William Gibson’s Neuromancer). What was behind that? (On the Bears new Web site, you can click on each of the books on the back cover to find out more info.)
RF: It wasn’t really our favorite books, but we just piled them together. Everybody brought four or five books and we put them together and it’s interesting because so many people have commented on it. For us, it’s ‘words and music.’ The Bears are very much about words and music. And we all have songs that are informed by the books we’re reading. I recommend all the books there — even Automobile Quarterly.
After we had done that, I felt so good about it because I finally got around to reading Chronicles, Dylan’s autobiography, and he talked about how cool it was to hold albums and wonder, ‘Well who’s that girl in the background?’ He always considered that with his albums, (like) ‘I want this to be kind of intriguing.’
Probably because we’re middle age and our eyesight’s not so good, we hate lots of writing and tiny lyrics. So we thought, ‘Hey, you want to read something, read these books.”
Is this the most experimental Bears record? Your songs have gotten a lot more adventurous in particular.
RF: I would say it’s the most — of course we compare ourselves to the masters of Pop — I think is our most Revolver-ish record. Especially with something like 'Doodle,' which is so abstract and out there. When we were thinking about sequencing the songs we were like, ‘Where do we put this thing.’ And Chris said, ‘Well, it’s gotta be last, like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows.’’
We presented that to Adrian and he said, 'Yeah, that really makes sense, BUT what about a children’s song for a reprise at the end.' (The album ends with a chugging version of “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain.”)
That’s also something The Beatles might have done.
RF: We don’t want to sound like The Beatles, but we want to be adventurous like The Beatles.
Between (the progressive Fetters solo album) Musician, (the psychodots recent bash-it-out LP) Terminal Boulevard and this album, you are able to get your ya-yas out in different forms — the live-feel dots album, the ‘a man and his studio’ experimentalism of Musician, and then Eureka!, which is a mix of the two.
RF: I’m lucky that way. I like different forms of Pop music a lot. With the ’dots, we knew those songs and played them live; there wasn’t much new on that record, so we just went in and bashed those out. We turned the amps up really too loud for the studio and knocked it out. Musician was ‘mad scientist with a bunch of toys.’ Using the studio as an instrument.
None of this stuff I invented — I would say my main teacher in that area is Todd Rundgren. Anything I did, he did in 1971. Using different tools, but the same type of things.
When you write songs, do you write with a specific project in mind, like ‘Oh, this is a Bears song. Oh, this is a solo album song’?
RF: Never. I’m not smart enough to. Sometimes I’ll
know when I need a song for the Bears or the ’dots, I think that way.
But as far as whatever comes out, I’m never sure. I don’t want to limit
it that way.
Did the process of making a record change with the new one? I have always imagined the process being: ‘Meet up every now and then, write on your own and e-mail song files back and forth.’
RF: We recorded this in 10 days, but we did it over a three-year period. We’d meet the first weekend, share songs, maybe pass the guitar around or maybe go to a piano and say, ‘This is an idea’ or ‘This is half an idea.’ And if it gets an ‘a ha’ — or a ‘Eurerka!’ — from the band, then we get to work on it the next day; we learn it and record it.
That’s where Adrian’s guide as a producer really comes in handy. He really wants to not overthink this stuff. He doesn’t want perfection. It’s funny, a friend of mine who’s really into perfection heard ‘Zelda Fitzgerald,’ for instance, and said, ‘Those guitar aren’t tight at the beginning.’ And I said, ‘Exactly.’ I could be a tight guitar player, and Adrian (could) obviously — we could make it as tight as you want it and sound like (Pop producers) The Matrix, but we don’t want to sound like The Matrix. We want to sound like two guitar players thrashing it out. To me, it has more wildness; it’s better.
The new album is dedicated to engineer Ken Latchney, who passed away.
RF: We had recorded almost everything and Ken Latchney had a heart attack one afternoon. He took a nap at his house and our friend went to wake him up to go back to the studio and he simply died. It was not a drug- or alcohol-related death, he had a heart condition no one knew about. He didn’t either. He was 40.
Ken was a huge Bears fan. He recorded and mixed Car Caught Fire and did a lot of mixes on this one that we kept, but not all. We had to finish without him.
Did his death put a damper on things?
RF: Adrian worked every day with Ken. They were a team. It really floored him. About three weeks after Ken died I was talking to Adrian and I just said, ‘Well, what’s next?’ And Adrian was still pretty shell shocked by it all, so I said, ‘How about if I just guide this thing in?’ It was almost all the way there. We just finished it.
It’s really sad. Ken loved this record. He loved the songs and we loved working with him. He was a classic curmudgeonly music engineer and it would take a lot to get a rise out of him. He had to listen as we sorted out songs and it can be a very boring thing to be a music engineer while so-called creative types are sitting around going, ‘What do we do here? Is anybody else hungry? I wanna go for a run.’ He had a fantastic set of ears.
Why did you call the new record, Eureka?
We were going to call it Voila, but Belinda Carlisle came out with a record called that. So that went out the door, ’cause we Googled it. It’s always a good idea to Google a band name or anything you’re doing.
Speaking of names, I’ve always wanted to ask — why ‘The Bears’?
RF: The Bears really started with Adrian and I meeting at his house in Champaign, Ill., for songwriting sessions. Not really knowing where we were going to take it. We just knew we wanted to form a big, world-class, successful Guitar Pop band. And we didn’t want a name that sounded hip. We were anti-hip. We didn’t look like other Rock bands in the early- to mid-’80s. We liked baggy pants at that point in our lives — I don’t know what was going on.
The name The Tigers came up but I knew of a band called (Norman) Nardini & The Tigers in Pittsburgh. We just came up with The Bears. We were in Illinois and we thought, ‘Do you think the football team would mind?’
How did Chris and Bob react to it?
RF: We informed them the name was The Bears (laughs).
Did they say, “Can we at least put a ‘z’ at the end”?
RF: That would have been dangerously hip.
When that question was asked in the ’80s, Adrian would say, ‘Because Menudo was already taken.’
Do you spend a lot of time on lyrics?
RF: I spend a lot of time on lyrics. First, they have to mean something to me. I edit myself a lot. Usually, for every set of lyrics, I have three or four sets. I work on it a lot. Every now and then I’ll get a little editing help from the other guys in the band or someone else. I’ll sing a song to my kids or something and if they don’t understand it, I want to make them understand it.
Sometimes I’m a little enigmatic. (Fetters’ dysfunctional family anthem on the new disc) ‘Normal,’ I can relate that to my life, but I can relate that to a lot of people’s lives, a lot of people I know. I’ve gotten an immediate response to that song from a lot of people. There’s a record store owner in Louisville who heard it and he said, ‘I didn’t know you knew my family.’
(‘Normal’ is) one I caught a lot of grief from my nephew over. He said, ‘You shouldn’t be writing songs about Grandpa that way.’ I don’t know how to answer that. He wrote me a scathing e-mail. I just thought, ‘This really isn’t about Grandpa, but I guess it could be.’
‘Normal’ is talking about the classic dysfunctional American family and how natural law says if you live through that, you’re going to have a family, too. But that leaves the door open — there are choices to make. Do I have to do it like my dad or mom did it? The answer of course is no — you have a choice.
I kind of hoped ‘Normal’ had a positive bent to it. Most people like it; a lot of people have commented on it. And lyrically it’s one of the simplest things I’ve ever written. I almost thought it was maybe too simplified. But apparently it’s hitting the mark.
Do you think meaningful lyrics are a lost artform in Pop and Rock music?
RF: It doesn’t seem as important. A lot of people try to mask their lyrics in mixes these days, which, stylistically … it’s a style, but it frustrates me when I can’t hear what someone is saying. I want to hear what a person is saying, otherwise, why even say it? Even if it’s Jabberwocky.
I think there’s still a lot of great lyricists. As much as I detest modern, slick Country music, I know that the songwriters that write those lyrics are really word-oriented. Every now and then I’ll hear something that’s fantastic, even though I don’t like the medium it’s coming through. I think Rodney Crowell is a fantastic lyricist.
They’re out there. And I’m sure there are great lyricists I don’t know about. I think style in Pop music often beats content. And that’s always been the case.
Being a producer/engineer, what do you think of the shift towards MP3s? Bob Dylan caught a lot of shit for saying he hates the way music sounds today. It’s so compressed.
RF: I absolutely agree with Bob Dylan. It is the compression. When I got Eureka!, I stuck it in my MacBook Pro, arguably the best laptop you could stick it in, and I had studio reference quality monitors. I put it in there and I just freaked out. I had to go in and turn off the ‘advanced features’ on my Apple computer that were supposedly ‘enhancing’ and ‘leveling’ and all these things. I turned them all off and finally it sounded right. It’s really upsetting to me that so many people don’t even consider that.
While we were mixing this record, I got an e-mail from a psychodots fan, a real hardcore guy who was really worried that we would try to play the loudness war with this record. And I assured him we didn’t. I assured him we listened to the mixes and the mastering with our ears, not our eyes.
He didn’t want something that sounded all crunchy, but the medium is crunchy. My kids have iPod Shuffles and I describe things to them. I’ve said, ‘Okay, this sounds really cool. Listen to it through some studio speakers and see what you think and hear the difference’ And they do.
It’s a choice you have to make and be careful about. I love compression and limiting, as far as special effects, the way it colors things sometimes. But I detest when it comes to just trying to make your record louder than whoever you’re competing with in your mind, whether it’s Thursday or Mary Chapin Carpenter.
I think it’s a real problem. And it’s really disturbing — the technology is capable of delivering so much more. The technology in a recording studio is better than it’s ever been — I do not want to go back, for a host of reasons. But the delivery system, for consumers — it’s just not there
I don’t know if the answer’s a return to vinyl. I really feel that
iPods and the like, in five years … I hope there’s a good place to
throw them away. I don’t know if there will be a new format, but I
think they’ll improve it. If you are listening that closely and I am,
it’s eventually going to get to the top.
The shrinking of the format seems to make music less important to some people.
RF: I liken it to 8-track tapes. I remember how bad they sounded and how a song would stop in the middle while the thing clicked. They have comedy value now, if anything. They’re gone. Cassette tapes are, for the most part, gone. I did like recording with cassettes on the little 4-track and 8-track Tascam machines.
The technology will change. I really hope it will grow up for the consumer. It wouldn’t cost that much money to make this stuff sound good.
On every Bears record, all four songwriters get their fair share of songs. Has that always been an unspoken rule for the band?
RF: I think it is a rule for the band. I think it makes the album more interesting to hear different perspectives. We all write differently. As long as we all agree, ‘cool song,’ I think it works this way. I would really hate it if my songs weren’t on this record and I’ve got to assume the other guys feel that way too.
Is there ever stuff left off because of the fairness rule? Like, ‘I really want this song of mine on the record, but Chris needs to get his three in there’?
RF: I would say everyone in the band feels that way. The Bears are not a band without tension.
I was going to ask about that. You all always seem so cheery and easy-going.
RF: We work it out. It’s like a marriage. We know our limitations and the limitations of the other guys. We try to keep our expectations in line with that. Probably first and foremost we are friends who agreed to come together to do this. There was no necessity for us to do it. It’s funny how it can become a necessity to be in a band and make it work. Like right now – it’s a necessity to sell enough of (the album) to pay for the recording. To go on the road, it’s a necessity to makes some money so we’re not losing money, things like that.
What’s going on with the psychodots? I thought there might be more shows after you put a new album out, but it still seems to be only a couple of shows a year?
RF: We will play more this year. But I don’t think we’ll get back to the every weekend thing. It just becomes boring, for us and our fans. It’s much more exciting to play an odd gig here or there and make it a special thing.
I can’t say I prefer one band or the other, because the Bears, to me, are the best, most complete band I’ve ever been in in my life. But the ’dots are guys I played with when Chris was in junior high school. When we’re playing and sharing that thing, it’s magic and it’s really fun. Not that the Bears are without magic. The ’dots are much more hardcore.
RF: Well, we grew up within 60 miles of Detroit, during the golden age of the MC5 and the Stooges!
So are you saying Adrian is a pussy?
RF: Adrian is NOT a pussy. He could probably whoop my ass — Adrian’s from Covington!
You recently left your staff job as an in-house producer at Sound Images (a local commercial audio production house).
RF: I worked there 10 and a half years and did a thousand commercial projects and I think grew out of it. I’m going to do commercial music again, I just want to freelance and be more of an independent mobile unit. I’m building a small, very mobile rig so I can go to any studio and work and travel. The technology for that is perfect now. I learned a lot at Sound Images and stretched my technical ability in places I never would have dreamed.
I learned a lot about business, the business of music.
Artistically did you learn anything from doing commercial work?
RF: I learned that I’m more than a one-trick-pony and I’ve got proof of it. When I first would freelance there, they would call me when they needed a ‘Rock song.’ But I did every genre of music (ultimately), including light Opera, at my job there. I discovered there’s two types of music — there’s good music and bad music. Artistically, it broadened my palette of what I could do.
But as far as core creativity, I think (that job) was coming from a different place. It was more of a fear-based creativity — do this or starve. Which I can respond to and react to.
But artistically, my creativity — and I mean this absolutely — comes from a place of deep love and belief that music heals and can save souls. It probably goes back to my adolescence. I’m sure I would not have survived adolescence if I did not have music to make it okay to get up in the morning before I went to school to be a mediocre student for another day. Music saved my life, I absolutely believe it.
I see it in my kids. All my kids just gravitate towards it. They’re better than me — they’re all smarter than me. My wife and I are more hands-on, not that I was not loved, but we do things, techniques, that my parents didn’t even know about. So hopefully we’re making a better generation. But they love music.
It’s like salve at the end of a bad day. My daughter gets up and plays piano in the morning, just kind of gets her head together. My 16-year-old plays guitar effortlessly. I don’t think any of them are looking at it as careers. They’re just looking at it as ‘This is a way of life, this is a part of me.’
You do it because it’s like oxygen. Everything else in my life is
like a means to get to this point, like, ‘Gee, do I get to pick up a
Okay, I’ve got some silly, random “fanboy” questionos.
Has Adrian ever given you any money for stealing your neck-bend guitar trick?’
RF: No. I saw Ted Nugent do that at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit once and immediately went home and tried it. I did it far more than Ted did; he just kind of shook the note a little and I actually would bend down a whole step or more. But, yeah, he stole it from me. And when he was confronted with that in an interview he said, ‘Well, Rob got it from Ted Nugent.’ Yeah, put that in. I’m really bitter about that. I think the next time we go out to dinner I’m going to make him buy me an extra side of baked potato.
Will the ‘balloon trick’ (where Fetters blows up a balloon during a song and uses it up and down the guitar neck, yelling through it into the pickups) ever be retired?
RF: Only if I start taking myself far too seriously.
Ever thought of doing a different trick? Maybe dropping Superballs on the strings or something?
RF: There are some other guitar players who use
different devices and things on their guitars. But the balloon is just
so bad and stupid, I think I’m going to keep it.
Have you had the chance to hang out with Peter Frampton since he’s moved to Cincinnati?
RF: No, I’ve only met Peter casually. Adrian introduced me to him. I would love to meet him. I know some mutual acquaintances and I’ve always thought of asking, ‘Hey, you think I could e-mail him?’ I like Peter Frampton. I saw him back in the day, just before he got super famous. I want to ask him if I actually saw him play with Humble Pie, because I saw Humble Pie once and I’m not sure if he was on the tour I saw.
If you ever get together for a jam session, will you call me and let me just sit in the back and watch?
RF: Yeah. Okay. I know Peter is über-famous still and a lot of people want something from him, but I’d like to just sit down and have a cup of coffee with him.
Have you heard about the attempts to get the old King Records building preserved and turned into a museum?
RF: That would be great. On the back of (the psychodots CD) On the Grid, we’re sitting on the doorstep (of King). We didn’t tell anybody. It’s like a magic spot.
What a great idea. The stories I’ve heard about Syd Nathan. Stan Hertzman (musician and longtime business associate of the band) was in a band in high school that almost got signed by King, or maybe they even did a record for King. He went in to see Syd Nathan. These are kids, 15, 16 years old, and Syd Nathan’s sitting in his office, chomping, smoking a cigar. Stinky, yucky place. And he’s going, ‘What’s the name of your band?’ I don’t remember the name of the band, but Sid didn’t like it. He said, ‘Eh, that ain’t gonna work. How many of you are there?’ ‘Four, sir.’ ‘Four? Why don’t you call yourself the Four Fuckers.’ Stan said it was a real eye-opener about the music business.
Do you hate playing (the huge Raisins’ hit) ‘Fear is Never Boring’?
RF: No, not at all. There was a point where I was really sick of it and it was because my other songs were jealous of it. I was like, ‘I don’t think it’s my best song.’ Now, I like it because the song is still edgy, it’s still kinda politically incorrect, maybe more so than ever. It talks about mama’s little baby digging sadomasochistic sex. So now, it’s just kind of funny. It came out right. I don’t know exactly why.
That’s a song where I had probably two pages of lyrics, this is pre-computer time, and there was a technique called ‘cut up’ that William Burroughs used. I had read about it and I read that David Bowie used cut-up technique on his songs. I just liked the way his lyrics skewed this way and that. With ‘Fear is Never Boring’ I did the same thing – I cut up lines and moved them around.
Do you still have those pieces of paper?
RF: Oh yeah. I kept a lot journals. I don’t journal the way I used too. This is a great way to journal for anybody. There was a photographer named Peter Beard. I read about his journals and what he would do is get a big notebook or artists’ book and whatever he did, like say he had coffee at Starbucks, he’d ask for a matchbook or a page from someone else’s notebook from where ever he was (and then stick it in his journal). He traveled the world so he had these great, wonderful, entertaining scrapbooks and diaries. And I did a lot of journaling like that and that’s where most of my songs from that era are from.
I remember on one of (the journals), I taped two qualudes. Your readers might not know what a qualude is, but they were these wonderful little, cushiony pills. I taped them in and when I opened one up a couple years ago, I was like, ‘Wow, what was there?’ Now it’s just kind of dust but it’s still sticking to this thing.
How did they last?
RF: Yeah, no, I actually didn’t take them. There were a couple of other drugs that wouldn’t have lasted that long.
Would you ever play (early Raisins track) ‘Your Song is Mine’ again?
RF: Wow. (Thinks for a minute) Sure. If I could find someone with a Minimoog to play it the right way. The Raisins version was good but there was an earthier version by the band that actually wrote that song (on a WEBN Album Project local band compilation in 1978). Most of that song (keyboardist) Tom Toth wrote, and Chris Adruser; I came up with a couple of snippets. I lucked out and got credit, I guess because I sang most of it. And played that ‘soaring,’ ‘anthemic’ guitar solo.
Speaking of the Album Projects, I think if you told younger people that WEBN used to put out an album every year with local music on it, they’d fall down dead.
RF: It was so cool. WEBN played an unsigned local band’s song, ‘Fear is Never Boring,’ relentlessly. In HEAVY rotation. Then Q102 couldn’t help but fall (and start playing it too). It was an amazing stroke of luck. To my knowledge, it hasn’t happen since.
I don’t think it can.
RF: No. It’s really sad. Because, God knows, over the years, there’s been so many … I mean why couldn’t they do that with The Afghan Whigs? Why couldn’t they do it with the Ass Ponys? Why couldn’t they do it for Over the Rhine? All these bands with national exposure, national fans. They didn’t do it for The Bears. We’re not even trying; the Bears couldn’t give a rat’s ass anymore. But they’re nice people, they’ve got a format, they’re doing their job. I can turn on WEBN and know I’m going to get three AC/DC songs in a row when I need them. It’s all right. ’EBN is still a very strange anomaly. I like them for that. There’s nothing like WEBN. Even though they don’t play my stuff. Though they still occasionally play ‘Fear is Never Boring,’ the Raisins’ version.
Do you think it’s better for musicians and bands now in Cincinnati or when you were coming up? There’s a trade-off – you don’t have radio anymore for support, but you have so many other means of promotion.
RF: I think it’s better now. I think it’s better. I think there’s a lot more. There’s a lot of people to cut through. But I think because of communication, you can get the word out very quickly about a new, cool band. I think that’s great.
You don’t have to hang fliers anymore.
RF: God, I used to get in so much trouble for hanging fliers.
Do you ever download music?
RF: I don’t download music very often. I have downloaded music, I paid for it. I like to go to record stores and buy stuff. And people give me things. I don’t try to stay current unless someone says, ‘Listen to this current music.’ Because there’s so much out there. I’m still catching up with stuff recorded in the ’90s and I go back to stuff that might be old. I listen to Jules Shear. I love him. I think iTunes is cool, but I have to say it’s sad to think that people have thousands of dollars worth of legal downloads and they have highly compressed files.
You don’t use an iPod when you run?
RF: Oh no. I’ve got stuff going on in my head all the time. I’m working on songs. I’m a marathon runner so just about every Sunday I go for a three or four hour run. It’s a tape loop -- basically, it’s money, sex, music. Money, sex, music. I’m just thinking in general terms. It’s not worry, but I think about how I’m going to pay the bills. And I think about sex. I won’t go into details about the sex … but I like sex. And I think about music and songs and lyrics. Quite often I’ll come home and write stuff down. Though, truly, my music and my ideas are not that heavily complex.
Can you think about actual notes and such, or is it more just lyrics?
RF: I think of music (too). Melodies come to mind.
Does it make you want to punch me in the face when I tell you that the Raisins were my favorite band when i was 13?
RF: No. The Raisins were hot. That was a rip-roaring band.
I meant more that I was 13?
RF: (sardonically and under his breath) Yeah. That’s just great.
I wish more people had seen the Raisins before we were popular in Cincinnati because there were different versions of the band, like the Toth/Arduser version. That was a mini-revolution because we started as a cover band and we were on the road constantly. That was the band where we decided, really within a 30-day period, ‘We are not going to play covers anymore.’ We started writing our own songs. We would say, ‘This is a song by the Eagles’ or ‘Here’s a new Andrew Gold song’ and then just play our own stuff, cutting our own throats, destroying our career base in the beach bars of North America.
That was a really exciting time. It was a traveling hippie commune. The whole band, plus girlfiriends, plus cousins and maybe parents – we’d all be staying in maybe one or two cheap motel rooms. Living on $100 a week. The Raisins – and this doesn’t go for everybody in the band, but a lot of us — we’d play some beach bar in Florida and do a six-night stand, have a Sunday off where we would drive to Raleigh, North Carolina, and play another six-night stand. And on that day off, we’d all drop acid and drive 12 hours, then the next day get up and do it again. We practically killed members of the band, as we kind of weaned it down to this core of intense people who were never going to do anything but music.
Have you settled on being on your own, remaining an independent band? Is there any desire to find a label to put records out for you anymore?
RF: We did that with Car Caught Fire. We
got one solid offer from a label. But we did the math and I’m very
grateful that we decided, ‘No thanks, we’ll just sell it ourself.’
Quite simply, we could sell 100,000 records through a label and not get
paid. We sell 5,000 on our own, we’re in the black 40 or 50 thousand
bucks. If we do that with this record, God willing, sell 5000 Eureka’s,
our wives go, ‘Well, yeah, you can do that again. I’ll let you go for a
few weekends.’ We are absolutely free. We are as free as an artist who
goes to a Day In Eden and sells their paintings. I just think it’s a
fantastic way to be. There’s no middleman. There are certainly people
who help us on the way, a little AAA radio promotion, (and we) pay as
we go. I think it’s a really honorable way to do music or art or write
books or anything.
That seems like the new model. People from Prince to Greg Dulli have gone that route for some of their releases.
RF: And I love those records. I don’t look at them and go, (indignantly) ‘Well, there’s no label here.’ The last thing I look at is the label. I look at a band on a label and I think, ‘Poor bastards.’ Because I know what it’s like to be signed, sell a bunch of records and owe money.
For a long time, your shows have been “non-smoking.” You must be thrilled with the Ohio indoor ban.
RF: I’m not anti-smoking or anti-anything unless it
hurts somebody else. And I think smoking in a place hurts somebody
else. I’m a total libertine, you do what the hell you want to do. Come
to a Bears show and take a mega-dose of LSD — we hope you have a good
trip. Just don’t dose somebody else.
What kind of stuff do you listen to for fun?
RF: I listen to everything. I fall back to certain musicians. In the last 10 years, my favorites have been Jules Shear; I love Todd Rundgren; I listen to pretty much anything Terry Adams, who is the keyboard player for NRBQ, plays on. He’s my favorite living musician and has been a big influence. I like Rufus Wainwright. I love Randy Newman — he’s about as middle of the road as I go. I listen to a lot of Brian Wilson. I love the (Beach Boys) albums where you can just hear vocals alone. I don’t listen to the Beatles a whole lot anymore. I guess I just listened to them enough.
I listen to what my kids listen to and I’ve heard some interesting things. I like Thursday, I like the Early November. They turn me on to these bands, kind of Warped Tour-type bands. I think My Chemical Romance is a really good band. I like a band called Cartel from Atlanta. That’s the thing my two oldest boys listen to a lot. (And if) they’re going to the Warped Tour, I’m going to the Warped Tour with him. I’ve seen some really cool bands, really quirky — I like the ones that are off the beaten path. And I just like the vibe (of the Warped Tour), that traveling, movable feast. It seems like the bands are really good at working with each other on that tour.
I listen to Classical music. I love Beethoven. I’m really excited the Symphony’s going to play Beethoven’s 3rd this fall. I listen Thelonious Monk, who I love. I listen to early Miles Davis. I like Linford Detweiler’s solo piano CDs.
Do you think if you didn’t have kids that listened to them, you’d even know of a band like Thursday?
That’s kind of a nice give-and-take there.
RF: Oh yeah. And here’s the other thing. My kids listen to Jimi Hendrix. My 10-year-old listens to Axis: Bold As Love, which is an album, when I was more than 10, that got me through the day. He listens to Electric Ladyland too.
Did he come to it by himself?
RF: Well, it was there. I’d say, ‘Listen to this. I’ve played guitar all my life and I still can’t make it sound like that.’
I remember a few years ago you told me your son came to you and asked for a Stooges album for his birthday and you were thrilled.
RF: And I was able to tell him I saw the Stooges numerous times and they never finished a show because Iggy always got hurt. Sometimes they’d only make it through three songs. I always wondered, ‘Do they get paid for that?’
— Mike Breen