Frail Hope Ranch is one of those haunting ballsy albums that gets released and falls just under the what’s-hot-in-music-now radar. With songs such as “The Twins” and “Gothic” and a very interesting take on the Zombies’ “She’s Not There”, Brett Anderson (of the Donnas) and Paul Stinson have taken a surreal little walk through a hypnotic landscape. Releasing their second album of 2012 on November 13th, the duo has again enlisted the talent of punk rock’s legendary drummer DJ Bonebrake. A member of the seminal LA band X, Bonebrake was there for the rise and fall and rebirth of one of punk’s classic groups with John Doe, Exene Cervenka and Billy Zoom. Hammering out a heady rhythm behind Cervenka’s even headier lyrics and Doe’s snarl, you wonder how he might occupy himself on a typical fall afternoon. Cleaning out his garage office is not something that would immediately come to mind.
“Oh I’m trying to put off cleaning my garage so you can keep me here all day,” Bonebrake half-jokes when I call in for our interview. It is one of those ordinary acts that proves he is actually more normal than you might suspect of someone who slammed his way across dark and ominous clubs throughout X’s early 80’s heyday. “I’m in the process of cleaning my studio, which is about a three day process (laughs). Organizing CDs which is hard enough and throwing things away. I have everything in here so, you know, I’m trying to throw away cymbal stands that don’t work any longer and things that get in the way.” Doesn’t he think that maybe one day the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame might come calling for just the things he’s leaving for the garbage man? “They haven’t asked me for anything,” he says with a hearty laugh. “They had their chances. I think they have one of Billy Zoom’s guitars but they never asked me for anything so I just throw it away.” (laughs)
The thing about Bonebrake that you immediately notice is his sense of humor. He laughs a lot and could have a second career as a stand-up comedian if he ever grew tired of playing drums. So while he flips through hundreds of CDs he really doesn’t want to part with, many of them jazz and big band era treasures, Bonebrake talks about his years in X, his love for jazz, his tragicomic youth and his new adventures with a band called The Stripminers.
You had a new CD come out in November with The Stripminers. How did you hook up with this band?
Well, it just kind of fell together. I’d met the producer of the band, who also plays guitar, Scrote – how do you like that name (laughs) – but I met him at a party and we started talking about mutual friends and then I think later that year he gave me a call and said, “Hey, we need a drummer.” And he was the producer of this record and Brett Simons (bass) and Paul Stinson were working together writing songs, so it was a recording session. It wasn’t supposed to be a band. I think we did about four or five sessions over maybe a year and a half. We would just show up for an afternoon and do three songs. Then at the end of it he had two full records ready to be released. So then we said, “Well, should we do a show?” “We could do a show, yeah.” And we did it and said, “Hey, this is really fun.”
Then we went to SXSW and played a few shows and then nothing happened for a while so it’s been a very slow progression over three or four years since we started recording. Then more recently we said, why don’t we really be a band, why don’t we start writing songs? So we’ve gotten together and collaborated as a group. So originally we were all sidemen hired to do a job and then it just turned into something. So at least we’re trying. And we realized it was something special. We played a show and realized it was a good band and we had fun and we liked each other (laughs); all those basic elements. So we’re giving it the old college try, you know, which is not easy with so many bands and so hard to get attention.
The market is filled with bands. It’s almost over-saturated.
It is. And I always remember what Billy Zoom said to me: “When I was living in Boston” – I think it was in the 60’s – “you’d walk down the street with a guitar and people would look at you and walk up to you and say, ‘Is that a guitar?’” (laughs). It was a little more rare. “You’re a musician?” And now if you DON’T have a guitar they wonder what’s wrong with you.
So why put two CDs out in one year?
I don’t know (laughs) I think because they were there. We recorded them and you put one out and go, ok, it made a little tiny splash, and I mean really tiny, a couple people bought it, and we got a review or two, so why not give them another punch, you know. A one-two punch. I’m in my fifties and when I was growing up, a band like The Beatles would put out two records a year; that was the normal thing. Nowadays, bigger bands tour the world, they put out an album, tour for three years and once they get back from the far reaches of the Earth they think about making the next record. So they spend a long time writing and recording and then they start the process over. And these days bands like us, let’s say younger bands, can put out an album every two months if they want. They sit at home on their home computer recording unit and mass produce things. So the answer is, why not. It may take longer to get the third one out because we haven’t written it yet. We’re all very busy so it’s hard to schedule everyone on the same day. Plus Paul lives in Oakland and everyone else lives here so that’s a problem. But we’re making it work.
How much input did you actually get to have when recording Frail Hope Ranch?
I didn’t have that much because it wasn’t a band. But I think now I will have more. You know, we got together last month and sat in a room and actually had a tape recorder and we started playing and brainstorming. So I will have more input. But I was just a sideman so all the interesting stuff I had nothing to do with that. I gave it my interpretation but it was being formed by Scrote and Brett and Paul. It was their project. So I can’t take responsibility (laughs)
What song was the most interesting for you to play on?
When I listened back to “Admission Theme” I’m going, “We must have had another drummer play on this. Who is the drummer?” Cause that’s always a possibility. I thought I was at every session but it was because I did something, like a Steve Gatt type thingy between the high hat and the snare. “Oh, that’s pretty fancy, why didn’t I think of that?” (laughs) So in that way it surprised me so maybe I’m proud of that cause it’s not a normal DJ thing, although I’m pretty versatile. But I’m usually known for a couple of things so I would say that one.
What do The Stripminers plan to do? Are you going to get to play some more shows?
We usually play the West Coast so we’ll book a show maybe in San Francisco, maybe Santa Barbara or LA, and do a couple of shows in a row. We’ve played around town. If we get an offer, we play. So we just play here and there. The band opened for X at the Roxy but I didn’t play drums cause I thought it would wear me out. I wasn’t sure if I should do it. But I actually got to stand back and hear them live and they sounded great. I was standing with my friends saying, “This band’s really good.” (laughs) “The songs are really interesting. They’re not your typical band.” If a band asked us to go on the road with them, open with them, that would be great. But that’s the other hard thing. There are advantages to being an older band cause you have some connections. But when you’re a younger band, you’re not afraid to just hop in a van and go out for six weeks around the country. That’s the advantage of that. They’re anxious to do that and when you’re a little older, you don’t really want to do that cause, one thing, you can’t afford it (laughs) and two, you have a family.
And the back can’t handle sleeping on the seats …
Yeah, I mean, I could do that for a couple of days. It’d be like camping. But I don’t know about six weeks (laughs). So I don’t know what is going to happen. We’re just throwing it out there and seeing if anyone likes it, try to get a little attention, saying “We’re here! We’re here!”
You sound really happy and excited about playing music, even after all these years.
You know, I’ve played on a lot of things and it’s fun to be surprised at something you did. It usually takes about ten years when you play the CD and go, “That’s really good. Who is that? Oh, that’s you, you’re playing drums on it.” (laughs)
You know, it’s humbling because there is always something to learn and even if you learn something, you could forget it (laughs). And playing drums is very physical so you could be in really good shape one year and then the next year suddenly you can’t play something and you go back to the drawing board and end up going back in your garage practicing for three months. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be exciting. The fact that it’s hard to maintain it, I think that’s part of it. It’s like I’m rambling now but it’s almost a randomness of when you play a good show, it’s humbling but it’s exciting because it doesn’t just happen. You do a lot of work and then you hope the gig is going to be good or you play well. And every once in a while it happens and you get excited. You go, “Well, this works. I was doing this for a reason.” (laughs).
I play with this guy Jason Myers sometimes and you just get together and read stuff out of his book, any possible style, he’ll do a reggae tune or a jazz tune or a rock tune or a ska tune and you’re background entertainment but when it happens it’s really fun. When you’re playing with good musicians and you’re improvising the whole thing, I get excited about that. And it’s fun and I try to challenge myself.
You know you get bored too so that’s the other side of it. And when you find yourself getting bored you try to do something new and that’s when I started playing vibes a lot more. You know I have my jazz bands. I’m not a great jazz player but I really enjoy it and when I started working on the vibes more, I realized I would lose myself practicing as opposed to looking at the clock and going, “How many paradiddles have I played? Oh, I only played ten minutes? I’m supposed to do an hour.” When you’re a kid, you’re learning something new. I was playing drums when I was younger and I would totally get lost in it. And that is what started happening. So you try to set up situations where you practice something that is new and then suddenly it’s 2:00 in the morning. What happened? (laughs) I started at 9:00. And it’s exhilarating and it’s what I love to do.
Where did you grow up and what kind of childhood did you have?
I was raised in North Hollywood, a suburb of LA, and I had what you might call a typical middle-class childhood. We lived in a suburban house, post-WW II. My parents were in WW II, they were from the mid-west and they settled out here after the war. There were three Bonebrake boys and I was the youngest and we ran around and played baseball and played music. My older brother, who I think was the first one to play music obviously, he played guitar and violin. We had a garage band. I was born in 1955 so AM radio was happening and Motown and the British Invasion, The Beatles and the Beach Boys, and that kind of morphed into the Jimi Hendrix-type era with more psychedelic stuff. And I was into all that and then I started playing drums. I started taking lessons when I was twelve years old. I was in a Buddhist marching band. It’s complex to get in to this (laughs) but my brother joined a Buddhist sect and they had a marching band and I said, Oh yeah, I’m going to be a Buddhist. And they said, “We need sax players and we need drummers. What do you want to do?” “Well, maybe drums.” So they gave me lessons.
So I just grew up and then my parents died. My dad had a stroke when I was in elementary school so that was really traumatic. He died in a hospital bed after about five or six years of basically just rotting away. Then my mother died of cancer when I was fifteen. So I was orphaned and my older brother was my guardian and we still had the rock band. It went from being the archetypal American family that you see on Tv, like Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver, to a tragic situation and I dealt with it the best I could but I think because of that I immersed myself in music. But I was aimless. I was doing everything musical, but I wasn’t doing well academically, because I didn’t have to. I had no one directing me, I realized in my older age.
So then I became a punk rocker. It’s funny, it makes perfect sense. I remember being at a club in San Francisco and the promoter was like a beatnik guy who would come on stage and give commentary. He was like the older guy, like thirty-five or forty years old – we thought he was ancient. He would always say, “You’re all from broken families.” And all the punk rockers would get mad but I started asking punk rockers, “Are you from a broken family?” And they’d go, “Yeah, my parents are divorced. Yeah, my dad died.” So it makes perfect sense (laughs). So that’s my life story. It’s hard to tell you what it really was in four minutes but you asked me so I told you; tried to encapsulate it as quickly as possible (laughs)
When was the first time that you actually performed in front of people?
I was in junior high school, probably when I was about fourteen. When I started taking lessons I progressed pretty quickly, the Buddhist marching band started playing, which morphed into playing in their big bands, and then I was in the junior high school band and orchestra and I performed in whatever they did, like a bolero or something, started playing timpani. Then my rock band was probably playing about the same time, when I was fourteen or fifteen. The early [shows] we just played at the local park, during the summer and then when I was in high school we started playing high school dances, teen centers, parties. By the time I joined X, I had been playing about ten years at least, probably performing eight years.
You said that you could relate to punk. Is that what was speaking to you at that time because it was angry?
Yeah, because I understand now when you’re youthful and you don’t know what you want to do, you’re angry. And you don’t think there’s any future for you, especially when you don’t have parents saying, “Maybe you should go to college or maybe if you stick it out a couple of years, you’ll end up getting a job somewhere.” But when you don’t have a person in authority who you trust and when you can’t see that far ahead, yeah, you’re angry. And also there were things kind of built into the music system where everything was so corporate that younger bands, unless they knew someone in the industry, if they knew someone who could help them make a demo or had an insider who could get them a record deal; there were always people who did that and you wondered, Where did they meet these people? How do they know what to do? So unless you had that going on, you have no place to play. There weren’t clubs in LA that allowed you to play original music, unless obviously if you brought a bunch of people in, but there was no outlet for that. You didn’t feel like you were connected to the record companies, there was no connection there, so you could just play in your garage.
So I think the time was right for when the punk scene happened. The time was right for younger musicians to want to share their music. It was that simple. And the people who were in the punk scene here, as you talked to them you realized that they didn’t want to only play punk. They found it just a convenient way to have an audience. Now, people may get mad at me for saying this, but I think it was totally true. I think that is why there was more variety here too. It was just a lot of people who were creative but had no outlet, to say it succinctly. So yeah, we were mad and we were frustrated and in some ways we deserved to be and in other ways it was just the typical, youthful blame game: It’s always someone else’s fault. The youth are self-centered and I certainly was.
When you were first asked to join X, you were actually playing in a band with Charlotte Caffey, who went on to be in the Go-Go’s.
Yeah, I was. We were called The Eyes and it was a trio and she was playing bass in the band. She is fantastic. I think she went to Immaculate Heart College, she studied music there, music composition and piano, so she is a trained musician. I met her at a dance at that college. I was playing in my band called Rocktapus, which our singer was a student there and he managed to get us the gig. We were from the Valley and it’s over the hill and it’s suburban and people make fun of it to this day. But as a side note, there is a lot of crazy, subversive music that goes on here and a lot of musicians live here cause you can get a house with a garage and practice in the garage, but the people in Hollywood make fun of the people in the Valley. I still live in the Valley but I swear a lot of studio musicians, a lot of people over the years have lived out here so I’ll get to my point (laughs). So our singer was drunk because he’d broken up with his girlfriend so Charlotte came up to me and said – to Joe too, who was the singer, Joe Ramirez – “Our band’s better than this. You want to play drums in the band?” And I said, “Sure, I’ll give it a try.” That’s when I started going into Hollywood and it must have been March or something of 1977, and as the months went on they started playing me the Ramones and they would take me to shows. So it was all new to me. Then I joined X a year later.
It was hard. I would have played in both bands, which a lot of drummers do, and to this day I probably play in ten bands at once, they come and go but (laughs), because drummers are bored and they want to play all the time and they want to do things that are physical, they want to play every day. So I would have stayed in both bands but X gave me an ultimatum. They said, “Well, you have to choose one or the other.” And I chose X because they were playing a more variety of tunes. It was interesting to me, as simple as that.
Ray Manzarek from the Doors produced X’s first four albums. What did he bring to those recordings?
It’s really hard to put a finger on it but I think that whatever it was he did something great. For one, he encouraged us to be us. He didn’t try to totally change us, which is the quality of a lot of producers. A lot of times they think they know what’s going on and sometimes they’re the liaison between the musicians and the record company so sometimes they’re doing the devil’s work. The record company is telling them “This is the kind of music we’d like. They’re playing this on the radio so make sure they conform to this style.” And he didn’t have that at all. His attitude was, “You guys have something great, let’s make it happen in the studio, whatever it is, whatever it takes to do that, to get a perfect take, translate the live show into a recording.”
Also, on the first record, he played on three tunes, which I think they sound great. He played Hammond B on two and electronic keyboard on the third one; just one note, I think (laughs). I thought it sounded great but we had a problem going on the road because people would say, “Where’s Ray?” And then we had crazy people. We had this one guy and I remember it was Lincoln, Nebraska, going “Where’s Jim Morrison?” He was a problem (laughs) and it actually got pretty bad that night. The guy was spitting on Exene during the show and John threw his bass down and dove at him and he broke two of his ribs. It was a crazy night. But Ray also brought experience. He was in one of the greatest LA bands and they had something in common, they had poetry, they had Jim Morrison, and they had a unique sound. So to have someone there who would encourage that, who wanted you to have your unique sound; he wasn’t trying to make us sound like The Doors but he saw there was something different and something happening, so he just tried to nurture it, that’s all. I think that’s part of his greatness, knowing what not to do along with what to do. He had practical advice too that he gave us but sometimes standing back and letting us be us.
When X recorded Under The Big Black Sun, what was the vibe like because I know Exene’s sister had died. Was it a dark, almost melancholy vibe when you were recording it?
I’m sure that she was in a dark place but it’s vague to me. I don’t remember it exactly. But, yeah, obviously the songs reflect that: “Come Back To Me,” it’s haunting. I remember doing some tracks late at night and we had the lights really low. I can remember playing “Hungry Wolf” and we’d come back from dinner and it was like we had mood lighting and we were trying to get the right take on the song. So to tell you the truth, those times were dark anyway because we were starting to become, we were a big small band, we were a famous underground band, so there was the combo of feeling like we were doing something important and people are hearing us and I think we really didn’t know where we were going. And yeah, like the tragic thing with Exene’s sister Mirielle. I think we were learning life’s lessons, that life is bittersweet. I don’t know, I can hardly remember it (laughs)
That’s not good if you want to write your memoir.
Yeah, I know, that’s probably why I’m not writing it (laughs). Probably Exene will. She is always writing stuff down and I never do that. I’m reminded of things all the time that people tell me. Then of course I have to analyze if it’s true or not cause people’s memories are flawed. But I think that is all I can think about from that period, because that whole period, we did a record every year so really if I were to think about what we did, we would go on the road for three months, three or four or six month period, and then we would come back and start writing songs and then record it and do the whole thing over again. So really, it was nothing but recording and playing gigs. The first album came out in 1980 so we had an album out every year for five years.
So what stopped X?
Well, Billy Zoom quit the band and he was fired at the same time in 1985 so that stopped it for a couple of years. We had Dave Alvin fill in for a while, then we had Tony Gilkyson come in. We had both of them for a while then Dave went off to do a solo thing. The next album came out in 1987 but that’s pretty amazing when you think about it; it only took two years but it seemed like forever. Then we took a break because Exene had a baby and John’s wife had a baby in 1988. We took a break and then we started doing a few shows and our next album came out in either 1992 or 1993. Yeah, that’s what stopped it – life. You end up getting married and having babies and it’s hard to be gone all the time.
I want to ask you about your jazz ensembles. You have two of them.
Yeah, I have two or three or four, five (laughs). I have the Bonebrake Syncopaters and we put an album out on our own called The Da Da Strain and for lack of a better word, it’s kind of a 30’s style band, but we also have a lap steel guitar player, so it has kind of a country swing sound. But we do classic swing songs like “Limehouse Blues” and “China Boy” and things like that.
There’s that one and then there’s Orchestra Superstring, which is kind of a Cal Tjader Latin jazz band. And I play vibes in all of these. We have two records out on Dionysus Records and we actually have a Best Of vinyl album coming out about now. I also put out an album with my DJ Bonebrake Trio. It came out, must have been four or five years ago and these are tunes that I wrote. I have only played two live gigs but it’s out there and you can buy it. It’s called The Other Outside and it’s on Wondercap Records.
What do you love about jazz?
I don’t know, it’s one of those things that I’ve always listened to. I think it’s down to this and it’s what I like about a lot of 60’s music too, is that people in the band are playing in a room together, you can hear the grooves they’re playing, you can hear them respond to each other, you know they’re following a form but they’re improvising outside of that. There is a human element to it and there is also, as a musician, I don’t what is the word (laughs) but an Olympian element to it where you listen and go, wow, listen to what they did. Maybe that’s why musicians like it so much because they realize the great stuff they’re pulling off. They know that the sax player is building off of a melody but he’s improvising on it. So to me it’s really active, where you’re listening to it while it’s happening. You’re hearing them make mistakes and you’re hearing them recover and you’re hearing them accidentally play something that is so great that they can’t believe it. So to me it’s intimate and you feel like you’re in the moment when you’re listening to it.
I don’t know, it’s just really hard to describe why I like it but to play it is another thing. You like it even more cause you realize how hard it is. Because jazz musicians are asked to do things on the spot. Usually they know their 500 songs or something but sometimes they’re asked to play in a different key and for rock musicians some can do that but usually it’s planned out, it’s rehearsed day after day after day. And jazz musicians get together and it doesn’t always happen, doesn’t always work, but they get together and they do things on the spot. They go, “Let’s play ‘All The Things You Are’ and they interpret it on the spot and it can be really terrible or it can be really great. And I’m not naïve, I know that when they made a lot of the recordings, bands actually rehearsed endings. The better ones are bands that have played together. The big bands in the 30’s rehearsed a lot and they played every night and the same bands played together for years. I do know that. People forget that. It’s not always guys getting together for the first time.
It’s just exciting. I’m going through my jazz records and putting them in alphabetical order and there are so many good ones here, so many eras and I just like it. And melodically and harmonically, it’s really fun playing. When you play vibes and you listen to a great player, you go, How’d they do that? That line shouldn’t work over that chord. I think that’s one reason why I started playing more. It’s like, that shouldn’t work, so I start writing out the melody and it’d be like a math puzzle, sudoku or something (laughs)
Who are some of your favorites?
Oh that’s a tough one. Vibe-wise I really like Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson and Lionel Hampton. I like Ellington, I like Bill Evans, I like Thelonious Monk, Hank Mobley – he was a sax player and I just love him – and of course I like the classic Coletrane and Charlie Parker, that era; but I also like the big band stuff, like Count Basie and Jimmie Lunceford. There are just so many. Red Norvo was a xylophone player and played vibes. Oh and Buddy Rich. I used to see Buddy Rich when I was fifteen and that was a perfect time cause I was just learning drums and he would play with his big band. He was spectacular.
You saw him play live?
Yeah and he would just play the shit out of those drums. He’d be in a big band and he would be in total control. And of course playing solos he would just kill it. I would go away from those gigs and want to lock myself in a room and practice ten hours. He was just so good.
You don’t usually see fifteen year olds really getting into Buddy Rich and music like that. How did you discover him?
I think at that time it was probably the early 70’s. He was trying to play more contemporary music. Some of it was corny. He would do a Doors song or something, “Soul Kitchen” and mix it in with classic big band tunes. When I was in the Buddhist marching band, I joined that in like 1967 or 1968, and a lot of people who were into that, which I’m not a member anymore, I was a member for five years, but it was the thing in the 60’s (laughs); everyone is joining Buddhist sects, going the Eastern way, attain enlightenment, but a lot of the people who were in the bands were jazz musicians who just happened to be, maybe they were trying to get off drugs or something, I don’t know, but I was around a bunch of really interesting players and they would turn me on to stuff, like John Coletrane. So I started buying records, as simple as that. I know my friend Lance turned me on to Buddy Rich and Tony Williams. I’d go to his house, he was my brother’s age, and he’d say, “Listen to this record.” And I’d go, “Wow, that’s incredible.” So usually you hear it from other people, usually who are older than you. Buddy Rich used to play Disneyland, so we’d go to Disneyland, go on some rides and then watch the show and it’d be just fantastic. It’s perfect when you’re taking lessons, you’re learning the rudiments and you’re trying to play a good roll and do all these things and then you hear someone that can really do it then there’s nothing more inspiring. It’s just amazing.
And some other things about that, people ask me why do you play music when you’re so old? (laughs) You’re thirty-two, why are you still playing music? Then suddenly, you’re fifty-six, why are you still playing? You’re seventy-five, can’t you get a real job? (laughs) But you see people like Buddy Rich and Sonny Rollins is another one, a sax player, he’s probably, I don’t know how old he is now but probably in his 70’s and he’s still playing. The musicians who don’t OD on heroin or haven’t died of alcoholism, they tend to thrive. They want to become better and better and it’s a reason to live, so I think I picked that up from Buddy Rich. He was notorious for having heart attacks, if you can be notorious for that, but he had like four heart attacks and his doctor would say, “Quit playing.” And he’d say, “No, I’m going to die on the drum set.” It’s that attitude, this is what I do and I’m going to do the best I can and I’m going to be better as I get older and I don’t care if I have grey hair.
You have played with a lot of very cool people throughout your career. What was it like playing with Rickie Lee Jones?
I just did something with her a couple of months ago but I didn’t see her. I did a vibe thing and Sheldon Gomberg was the engineer/producer so I actually only worked with her I think once where I was actually working WITH her, cause I’ve done two or three things I think. She was great but she had a cold and she didn’t want to be there. I could see she was using just all her energy to help me come up with a vibe part and she was fantastic. She knew exactly what she wanted. She just kind of made up a part on the spot. She was sitting with me going, “Play this chord, no, no, try this one, and play a little more melodic part here.” She was like really focused and then she just left. She just went into the other room but she’s great.
What about Marianne Faithfull?
Is that on my resume? Cause I worked with her like one day – and I put a lot of people on my resume because of this one thing, the Harry Smith Project. They put on performances on the East Coast and the West Coast and I was lucky enough to be part of the backing band and all these guest artists came in and it was at UCLA and it was actually a day rehearsal, two days of rehearsal, and then the performance, and she was great. I think we played one or two songs, and I wish I could have spent more time with her, I really do. But the way it was done was we were each doing like twenty artists or something like that. It was like being in a college class or something. We’d do like an hour long rehearsal with Marianne Faithfull and then someone else would come in and you would be writing music and trying to remember your parts. So it was like being given ten or fifteen assignments in one day. You’re playing with all of these people and it all came together on the stage. I think it was like a four and a half hour performance. People like Beck, Todd Rundgren, all these famous people. Sometimes you would play with them and sometimes you didn’t. Sometimes they would have their own little band. And there were two drummers and sometimes I would play marimba and other times I would play a shaker or play drums. I wish I had more to say about her. In fact, I wish I could play with more people from the 60’s, like actually go on the road and play with more musicians from that era cause that was my era in a way. You know you start out as a kid listening to all of your idols.
Last year X went on tour playing Los Angeles in it’s entirety. How did you feel about that?
It’s hard to say because we played most of the songs and it was interesting because I think there was one song we didn’t play that much and I think that was “Sex & Dying” and we’d play it occasionally. I don’t listen to the record – I mean, I listen to it if I have to learn a part if it’s been five years.
Well, it’s become kind of common nowadays for a band to go out and play one of their famous albums in concert in it’s entirety.
I think it’s fantastic. With us, we play a lot of the songs but to play them in order it makes it this solid thing, like this is what we did at that time. It encapsulates it and it makes you realize, I mean, it’s only nine songs and it’s over so quickly. It’s amazing how you think about how CDs are a lot longer – and I know no one plays CDs anymore even though I’m organizing them – but it was like two sides of a record, like twenty-four minutes, a short album. I understand why certain bands do it because they may have it more arranged and live they don’t include the arrangements, like if they have background singers behind them or extra instruments. In our case, the only extra instrument was Ray Manzarek and we did that a couple times with him. We did it at the Roxy and we did it at Slim’s a couple of years ago in San Francisco and we had him play Hammond B3 and we presented the album the way it was. And fans really liked that; of course, fans got a treat to hear Ray Manzarek, who is amazing live. So my answer is, yeah, it made me learn that one song we don’t usually play (laughs)
It’s a legendary album
Well, I guess it is but we learned really quickly the first time we did it, we played the album and we were going to take a five minute break. Like, here’s the album now think about it (laughs) and then come back and start playing. We were about to start doing that and we go, This is ridiculous, let’s just keep playing. Like, there it is and now we’re going to play our other material.
It was shorter than some records but at the time you could only put so much per side. It’s because we’ve been listening to CDs for so long that we forget for an album we could bite off so much and let it actually seep in. I don’t know if I said that very well but I don’t know about you but do you remember buying albums and listening to one side for a long time?
Yeah I do
Then you would go, what is on the other side? After a week or two after you were bored with it. Same with singles. You might play one side and then go, oh, is there a B-side? So there would be that repetition and it would actually be kind of exciting, like saving your lunch or something for later in the afternoon (laughs)
Do you feel like a legend?
A legend? No, I find it funny, we’ll be given awards like the LA Weekly Lifetime Achievement Award and it’s like, don’t give me that! You can’t get rid of me that quickly (laughs) It’s like sending Grandpa off, “Here’s your award, your commemorative wrist watch, now get out of here.” (laughs). It’s always great when someone says they like our music or they recognize me. It feels great, that part of it feels great, the human aspect and getting some respect. And the thing you learn as a public person is that for every one who loves you, there’s the same amount of people that hate you (laughs) so you just go, ok, that’s part of it.
Going back to Ray Manzarek, he said, “Always save the bad reviews because you believe the good ones but it’s always great to have the bad ones.” You kind of play with it, cause I’m not that famous. John and Exene are more famous and people really recognize them. People are more subtle with me because in LA they may know me more and half the time they know me as that guy who plays the weddings or something (laughs) or the guy shopping at Ralph’s. I love the aspect of being someone who is anonymous at a wedding but then one person knows me as the guy from X and I just find that funny, I love that. Some guy will come up to me and go, “Are you DJ from X?” and I’m in a tuxedo playing wedding songs – and I go, yeah. That’s the part I like about it, the funny, human element about that and how you can play around with it.
But a legend? I don’t know. You think about, if I die will they actually put me in the obits section? (laughs) But you think about it and go, it doesn’t matter because I’ll be gone but you wonder, Will I get one column? Will they just totally forget me? I don’t plan on dying soon but there won’t be any real papers then. You can see the LA Times dying right in front of us. I still get the LA Times and it’s getting thinner and thinner and thinner. I like online stuff, I use the computer a lot, but I also just like that tactile feeling of getting a paper and spilling stuff on it and reading in the bathtub, those old school things.
What are you planning for the rest of the year?
Aside from just the oddball things, like recording sessions and stuff, we’re playing shows around Christmas on the West Coast. So we have X shows in there and then my usual stuff with the Stripminers and I have some jazz shows and some rockabilly shows, some casino shows. I play all these things. I have a wedding, a couple of clubs, I just do it all. And my year is busy which is good. When the economy tanked out, those were tough years, 2008 and 2009, for everyone. It wasn’t just me, it was every musician I talked to, and people losing jobs and homes, it was a tough time. So I’m really happy to be working right now and I don’t take it for granted.