The Godfathers’ Peter Coyne Talks About “Birth School Work Death,” Mick Jagger, Old/New Music Videos and the Band’s New Album A BIG, BAD BEAUTIFUL NOISE
Far from “Death”; The Godfathers in 2017, with founder Peter Coyne at the far right, arms crossed.
In 1988, four short words became an underground anthem for music fans, an angry declaration that asked about the meaning of life. That incendiary song was “Birth School Work Death” and that band was the Godfathers. With “Birth” breaking the Billboard Hot 100, the band followed up with modern rock hits “She Gives Me Love” and “Unreal World,” and continued to record and tour with different lineups until the band called it quits in 2000. In 2008, founder & vocalist Peter Coyne reunited the original lineup, and a live DVD/CD and a few singles were released online over the next few years.
Now in 2017, the turbocharged lineup of current members includes Coyne, guitarist Steve Crittall, guitarist Mauro Venegas, bassist Darren Birch and drummer Tim James. The band releases a bombastic new full-length album this month, A Big, Bad Beautiful Noise, full of their trademark snarling social commentary & full throttle guitar. Coyne talked to us about these new songs, the old videos, touring, Mick Jagger and more.
GAMV: It sounds like you are no less angry than you’ve ever been.
Peter Coyne: Thank you very much. There’s a lot to be angry about these days, though. There’s a lot to be angry about everywhere.
GAMV: I’ll have to agree. What made you put out another Godfathers album now? Was it just the right time or was there something that sparked this?
PC: This is what we thought would make really great songs for the last two years. And then, we started rehearsing them in the beginning of this year, with a view to making an album. Then all the fine ends tied together so we were ready to go to record in the summer.
We recorded A Big Bad Beautiful Noise, the album really quickly. We went in for a week, recorded some stuff. Took a week off to think about and reflect – two weeks, I think. And then, we went back in for another week and then we finished off recording the album with one more week worth of recording. The timing was absolutely right to finish this album and release it.
GAMV: A quick, truncated schedule like that — was that helpful or did that hinder you a little?
PC: We love deadlines. We love deadlines in the group. We’ve got fantastic line up for the Godfathers now. I think on stage and on record, I’m fine musically. We’ve got two great guitarists – Steve Crittall, Mauro Venegas. Between Steve and Mauro, we wrote the majority of the songs in the album together. I write the lyrics and they come up with the lyrics, contribute some of the music but everybody in the band contributed. Tim James, the drummer certainly did and Darren Birch on bass.
We’re playing a lot of these numbers live. We played the Isle of Wight Festival which is like a massive festival, iconic festival even. We played a lot of big festivals in Europe. That was really cool to do, and we did couple of big ones in Germany and Belgium.
These songs were tested really, a lot of them, not all of them before we went in the studio. We want to just be able to get in to record as quickly as possible, to get that immediacy to the sound that we were looking for.
We don’t have a deadline. Even the Beatles have deadlines and even Sgt. Pepper had to stop at some point. They said, “Lads, that’s it. Time is running out. Got to wrap the album out. That is it.” I think a lot of bands spend too much time in the studio and I can’t hear the results. I just think it’s polished out of existence if you take too long to make an album.
GAMV: Is it a different process to writing songs than when you started early in your career or do you basically write in the same way that you always have?
PC: I probably write in the same way I’ve always have but I’m now a lot more about writing songs. I actually hear the record in my head now or before the songs have been rehearsed or recorded as to what it should approximately sound like. The Godfathers has been going, as you know, for over 30 years. We made some pretty good records for the past. I’m really proud of them. We’re not a nostalgic band, whatsoever. We love “Birth, School, Work, Death”. We love “This Damn Nation”. We love “She Gives Me Love,” “Walking Talking,” “Johnny Cash Blues,” “Unreal World” – all those songs are fantastic.
The most important albums for the Godfathers is always the next record. That’s what keeps us going and that’s what makes us tick as a band. Now, A Big, Bad Beautiful Noise was really important to us obviously. How that title came about was people used to ask me in interviews, “How do you describe the sound of the Godfathers?” More often than not I would say, “It’s a big, bad beautiful noise.” I happened to read one of these interviews with that phrase in there. I looked at it in cold black and white print and I thought, “There’s something to that phrase. That’s telling me something. That sparks something in my head.” I started writing lyrics straight away and came up with what I thought were good verses, chords and what have you. I started working on it again with Steve Crittall, our guitarist from the band. And straightway we knew we had something special.
In essence, I get a lot of inspiration through reading books, watching the news as I’ve always had throughout the career of the Godfathers. Practically all the lyrics to “Birth School Work Death” were taken from newspaper spreads, tabloid headlines at that time – headlines that jump out at me — “a million mums are hooked on valium”, “a generation raised on poverty”, “we’re living under a false economy”. Those headlines went straight from tabloid headlines, straight to a Godfathers’ song. It’s still just as relevant now as it was then, unfortunately.
GAMV: Do you find there’s anything different that you are wanting to talk about in your songs now? Or does history repeat itself?
PC: No, certainly not history repeating itself. We want to talk about now, what’s going on now. We don’t talk about cruising in a Cadillac in 1958 or something. That’s not the song of rock and roll we are. There’s so much horrible stuff going on. Anybody with half a brain will know the world is in disorder and disarray at the moment. That’s not just the U.S., that’s all over the world. The greatest rock and roll bands, I always think they take a mirror and reflect it to society and say, “That’s what you are. That’s what you’re like.”
That’s what the Godfathers try to do from time to time is write songs about exactly what’s going on. A couple good examples will be the title track of A Big Bad Beautiful Noise, certainly “Miss America” off the new album that was written in the summer before we knew who’s going to win the U.S. selection. A lot of people were asking questions about America and they want answers. This is another question that we’re going to throw in the mix as well. It’s not to put down America, it’s just our take on what’s going on.
Final song on the album called, “You and Me Against the World,” that sort of relates to a couple of things. One of them musically relates to the death of David Bowie which was a massive shock to myself and millions and millions of people around the world. Bowie was a good supporter of the Godfathers. He came to see us twice and it was such a privilege to meet him.
He wants to sign us up to his label in America. It was a lot of things to discuss but anyway, he came to see us twice and he was a real proper gent. He’s from South London, near enough exactly where I’m from in South London. We’ve got along like a house on fire. I cried when I heard David Bowie was dead. The year started off the year like that, and we took to that musically for the song “You and Me Against the World.” It’s all that political fallout from Brexit that’s affected everything in the UK. There’s a massive uncertainties on what’s going to happen for the future.
The song itself, it starts off dark, real dark and it finishes really beautiful. At the end of day, it’s about triumph and a love song. It just shows you what you can do if you actually stick together with the people you love. Love is the glue that holds the whole world together. The Godfathers never been ashamed to write love songs as well as writing angry, social comment numbers. That’s life. That’s how we deal with it anyway.
GAMV: How is playing live recently compared with earlier on in your career? Are the crowds different? Do you feel different?
PC: We can play pretty much everywhere for the people who liked us before and sometimes they bring their kids along with them as well. Their sons and daughters love it. Sometimes the grandsons and granddaughters love it too.
GAMV: It must be quite a kick to see kids of the fans coming out.
PC: It’s lovely. It’s pretty cute. You’ve got an 8-year old kid and they’ve drawn pictures of you. The pictures are taken backstage with the band. We just really look after those people and their families. We all spend the time to get pictures taken, to give them t-shirts or just something special they couldn’t get from anywhere else.
A couple of girls who came along the festival who came from France, again that was so cute. They were eight and nine years old. They really love the music. They’re going mad to it. Kids don’t lie. They like it or they don’t like it straightaway. And these kids were hopping up and down and going mental, so this is lovely. And that’s part of being in the band of 50-odd years. They’re still enjoying themselves. That’s what I like about the Rolling Stones. Compared to the Rolling Stones, we’re quite young.
GAMV: I’d like to talk for a moment about the videos from the early days. I had a chance to talk to Tony van den Ende. He told me something that I did not realize and I wasn’t sure if you guys had ever talked about this. The scenes in the “Birth School Work Death” video where you’re sitting at the desk are actually modeled after the movie Performance where Mick Jagger’s sitting at the giant desk there.
PC: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s from “Memo from Turner”, the movie.
GAMV: Do you remember anything about when you guys were shooting at, there was something somewhat memorable about that? What was the first one that you shot?
PC: First video? We shot a bunch of videos before that one. We shot one for “I Want Everything” and one for “Love is Dead,” both of those are up on YouTube. “Love is Dead” was the last single on their own label before we signed to Epic records and then we released “Birth School Work Death”.
“Birth School Work Death” video was Tony van den Ende and it’s pretty good. It won a whole lot of nominations at the time as I remember. There was four artists up for “International Band of the Year” or something like that on the MTV awards. It was Guns N’ Roses, somebody else and somebody else and us. Obviously, Guns N’ Roses won because, you know, MTV is American. You know what I mean?
That Jagger thing in “Birth School Work Death”, the whole thing about that Performance movie, which is a fantastic film, is the gangster played by James Fox turned into rock star that’s played by Mick Jagger. Mick Jagger, a big rock star turned into a gangster. There’s a little bit of that going on in the video as well.
There’s also some stuff by artist Keith Haring that keeps popping in the video. I don’t know if people noticed that ever. We wanted to use a lot more but we couldn’t get the artist’s permission. It’s a lot of fun doing the video. I’m happy about with Godfathers’ music and lyrics is I think they’re quite universal. They don’t just work in Los Angeles, Berlin or London or Greece. “Birth School Work Death” is applicable anywhere.
I’d like to think A Big, Bad Beautiful Noise will be applicable anywhere or any of the songs off that album. We deal with universal themes. We’re not trying to be clever about anything. We just want to have our say.
At the end of the day, all these songs, they’re entertainment. It’s rock and roll music. It’s not exercises that you can study at college or anything like that. Although, some people have written thesis on Birth School Work Death and what it actually means.
There’s a lot of black humor involved in Godfathers songs. To me, “Birth School Work Death” is like Monty Python. In fact, they did a little bit of that in The Meaning of Life.
PC: Yeah. There’s lots of things like that. “Birth School Work Death” has been covered in about seven or eight different languages – French, Spanish, Japanese, Finish. All kinds of things have come up as just a result of that one number. I supposed the question in “Birth School Work Death” is “Is that all there is to life?” The answer to that surely is “No.” And then you fill in the dots yourself.
GAMV: I wanted to ask you about just one other video, the “She Gives Me Love” video. Was that directed by Don Letts?
PC: Yeah, Don Letts. He’s the original DJ at the Roxy Club in London. He’s the member of Big Audio Dynamite. He’s quite a respected filmmaker now himself.
GAMV: I was just going to say I interviewed Don a while back, just about videos and general. He’s quite a character and he’s full of amazing creativity and a real revolutionary when it comes to his political positions. I imagine you guys got along real well.
PC: We pretty did. I’m not going to say we’re best friends or anything like that. He’s quite a funny character. I mean funny in all sense of the word.
GAMV: I was just wondering if there’s anything you remembered from that particular shoot besides Don because he sure doesn’t look like anybody else probably directing videos at that time.
PC: I like bits of that video. I don’t like all of it, if I could be honest with you. He forced a girl, she’s the female emblem in the video, on to us. We never met her before. We’re like, “Who is this one?” It was Paul Simenon’s girlfriend. It was Patricia or something. Our idea as, “No, we wanted our girlfriends in the video. She gives ME love, not her.” You know what I mean? But for me, it was not real because it’s not our girlfriends but they’re not our girlfriends anymore so that would be quite embarrassing. Maybe he did us a massive favor there.
GAMV: Are there any other videos that you did that come to mind as memorable experiences? Imagine there might be but I wouldn’t know which ones to ask about.
PC: There’s a video for a song on the new album. It’s called “‘Til My Heart Stops Beating.” I think that’s a really good video, great song as well. That’s up on YouTube.
PC: My favourite video though the Godfathers have ever done is for the song called “Strange About Today”. I can’t explain it. It’s shot in black and white. It’s got a ventriloquist dummy in it. The Godfathers had stockings over their heads. It’s filmed in a deserted mental hospital and it’s just really good. Check it out yourself and see what you think.
A Big Bad Beautiful Noise is being released on February 10, 2017.
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Everybody Dance Now: C+C Music Factory’s Zelma Davis Reflects on 25th Anniversary of “Gonna Make You Sweat” & More
C&C Music Factory’s Robert Clivillés, Zelma Davis, Freedom Williams, and David Cole
Sing the line “Everybody dance now!” to anyone and there’s only one song that pops into the brain: the blockbuster 1991 hit “Gonna Make You Sweat,” an infection electro-funk dance floor jammer by C+C Music Factory, consisting of two DJs, a singer and a rapper. And as much as the Weather Girls’ Martha Wash sang the tune, Zelma Davis is the face & body people associate with the timeless song & video. Although Zelma Davis — along with band members DJs David Cole and Robert Clivilles and rapper Freedom Williams — appears in the music video, she was later credited as “visualizing” the song rather than singing it, after a lawsuit by Wash sought to straighten that out.
Davis sang on C+C’s follow up hits, including “Here We Go (Rock & Roll)” and the Arsenio Hall-inspired “Things That Make You Go Hmmm”, but after international success, the Factory shut down after the death of David Cole due to complications from spinal meningitis brought on by AIDS. Attempts to revive the group with another DJ occurred, but later success eludes C+C, unlike “Gonna Make You Sweat,” which continues its streak of popularity in movies and television, sometimes as a dancefloor reference, other times as a 90s punch line, but always to the delight of audiences, regardless of the intent.
Zelma Davis continues to record and perform, most recently with the holiday supergroup Band of Merrymakers, who performed just last week on the Today Show. She stopped to answer our email questions about C+C Music Factory, the Martha Wash controversy, and the “Gonna Make You Sweat” video.
What do you recall from shooting the “Gonna Make You Sweat” video? It was really the first chance that the world got to see the group, and you and Freedom were the big stars of that video.
I recall being very excited at the shoot. I had been performing live with the band for a month before we shot the video. It was my very first experience filming a music video. It was new to me and a lot of fun.
Do you remember the first time you saw the video broadcast? It was pretty much an MTV blockbuster hit right away.
I don’t remember the first time I saw the video, but I do recall my first impression which was that it seemed very different than other music videos of the time, somewhat groundbreaking.
“Here We Go, Let’s Rock and Roll” was the next big hit, but the video set for that one was much more elaborate, set inside a factory. What do you recall from that shoot? You had those giant wings, but were those attached to you?
“Here We Go, Let’s Rock and Roll” was shot in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was shot in the month of February, so it was very cold. The giant wings were attached to me but at some point someone had to hold them and move them up and down. I was in pointe shoes the entire time. It was a very intense shoot.
“Things That Make You Go Hmmm” was a very strong third release, but what was the video shoot for that one like? You guys were full blown superstars by then.
The video shoot for “Things That Make You Go Hmmm” was a personal breakthrough because the label finally allowed me to select my own image. I asked the hair and make up team to fashion my look after a Guess ad.
Was the whole Martha Wash controversy tough on you, even though you were the vocalist credited on the follow-up hits and throughout the album? Do you feel you were treated unfairly?
Despite singing on most of the album, the controversy had a negative impact on my career. Unfortunately, I was branded a model even though I have always been a vocalist.
“Gonna Make You Sweat” became a dance club anthem, so it has continued to live on with placement in films and TV. Is there a “Gonna Make You Sweat” moment from TV or film that really made you laugh?
I can’t pinpoint one that stands out. It’s always a nice surprise when I’m watching a movie and unexpectedly hear “Gonna Make You Sweat” or a reference to C+C Music Factory.
Is it somewhat bittersweet to watch those videos since David Cole is always a part of those videos, and he is no longer with us?
Watching our old videos is bittersweet. When I see David in videos and photos I remember the great times that we shared.
Zelma Davis (far left) on the Today Show with Band of Merrymakers
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Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” Music Video Director Returns 30 Years Later to Direct New Video for “Putin”
Tim Newman was already an accomplished commercial director in the late 70s and early 80s before his cousin, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Randy Newman, asked him to direct a music video for his song “I Love L.A.” The success of that video led Tim to further success in the big 80s, helming clips for Don Felder’s “Girls,” Lou Reed’s “I Love You Suzanne,” Huey Lewis and the News’ “Bad is Bad,” and his most famous work, the ZZ Top trilogy of videos for “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Legs.”
Now, nearly three decades after they last worked together, Tim has put together the music video for Randy’s latest political song, “Putin,” which debut this week. We caught up with Tim by email to get the scoop on their latest collaboration.
Is this the first video you’ve done for Randy since “I Love L.A.”?
No. In 1988 I did a video for a song called “It’s Money that Matters (in the U.S.A.),” which followed further adventures of Randy, the Buick, and the “Big Nasty Redhead”, including flashbacks of Randy and the Redhead when they were kids … perhaps you weren’t aware that they grew up together, and despite this fact, as an adult, she’s a lot younger (and better looking) than Randy … joking of course.
On the set of “I Love L.A.”: Randy Newman, the Redhead, Gary Buonanno, video producer (driving) in the front seat; Tim Newman (white shirt) and Bob Emerson, who played the Bum in “I Love L.A.”, in the backseat.
Did you approach him or vice versa?
“Putin” is one of group of new songs Randy had been working on for a while. He sent me piano demos for all the songs in the late summer of last year. We both agreed that the Putin song was ripe for a video. I said I’d see what I could do, and took it on sort of as a hobby with no guarantee that there’d ever be a video. Neither of us had any thought that live action shooting would be involved. If you don’t know, Putin is one of the most photographed people in the world, so the research was really fun.
Did he say he wanted anything specific for this?
No. He never has, in any of the things we have worked on together. We’ll discuss things generally, but he’s not so interested in having a direct involvement in the visual stuff. It makes him great to work with. He got opinions, of course, but he’s totally open.
How long did it take to create this video, start to finish?
Hard to put a number on it. There was no deadline until mid-September of this year when the song was finally finished, and they (Randy and his label) decided to release the Putin song as a stand-alone right away. Then the finishing of it turned into a pretty intense deadline (typical). The full album won’t come out until spring 2017.
From when I started in August of last year, I worked on it on and off at my own pace, and probably had a rough done sometime ib October. Like I said, I’d fool with it when the mood struck me. Actually I’ve never been in project that casual before. I spent a lot of time digging for images on Google. And then working with stock images sources like AP Images, Reuters, Alamy and a few others. They were great to work work with and have amazing libraries. The essential creative task, really, was the image selection. It took a long time and a lot of looking. And then re-looking. And re-looking. Then, the actual “edit” was picking the right image to convey the intention of a particular lyric, and in some cases, combining it with something else to make a stronger impression (like as shot of Putin looking kind of evil at some meeting, instead cut out and put in front of a line of tanks at a May Day Parade in Red Square).
After October, the project languished until spring of this year when Randy decided to re-write the lyrics of the last third of the song, meaning I had to redo roughly a third of my work. New image selection, etc. But he was right. The new lyrics really were way better.
From an emotional point of view, working with stills is limiting, but of course quite a lot can be done to alter them to create a more unique look. And compositing—combining 2 or more images —helps to make stronger story telling (like Putin wearing shades and a hat that I put on him, in front of the gold domes of the Kremlin and airborne helicopters).
What I did is not remotely as rigorous as animation, but there were a lot of composites. And the images are “treated” with a kind of illustration-y effect and with some, I create a little movement. I wouldn’t dignify it by calling animation, but it was rather time consuming. I love Photoshop so all the stuff was really fun.
What programs were you using to achieve this video?
All the image manipulation was done in Photoshop. The edit done with my antique version of Final Cut Pro.
When’s the last time you spoke to the guys in ZZ Top, or the girls from the Eliminator album videos?
I exchange email with Wendy Frazier occasionally and see her Facebook feed. The guys I haven’t talked to in a long time. Billy was touring behind his solo album and was supposed to perform in NYC, last summer I think, and I was going to go, but I think he got sick and the date was cancelled. I never found out if he did a make-good. If he gets back this way it would be fun to say hello.
A shot from the set of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” music video
Do people still regularly ask you about those ZZ Top videos?
Yeah, if people find out I did that stuff they’re interested and impressed. Go figure.
Where can people find your latest work?
I’m pretty much out of the biz. Have been for at least 10 years. I live in the Berkshires and do a bit of graphic design. That said, I’m always game for anything interesting that involve images and music.
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Electric Six’s Dick Valentine talks about David Bowie, Meatheads, and Their New Album FRESH BLOOD FOR TIRED VAMPYRES
The Electric Six enjoy a snack to celebrate their new album FRESH BLOOD FOR TIRED VAMPYRES
If dance rock is the kingdom, then Electric Six are the kings. Having invented the crunch-chord dancefloor scene with their debut album Fire back in 2003, the E6 pushed the limits of comedy in rock with “Danger! High Voltage,” “Improper Dancing,” “I Invented the Night” and the viral sensation of their “Gay Bar” video. Fresh Blood For Tired Vampyres is their newest release on Metropolis Records, and the E6 pours R&B, riff rock and breakbeats into a funky gumbo with all the rude silliness one comes to expect from their leader, Dick Valentine. We caught up with Dick on the eve of their fall tour kickoff show at Webster Hall in New York City this past September.
GAMV: Is it a challenge to you to continue to be faithful to the Electric Six sound and still make it fresh for yourself? What is different about this album than maybe the last few?
Dick: I think it’s more urban. As close as we can hit that R&B kind of thing. We found ourselves going through the recording process without a drummer. It was kind of clear that rather than audition drummers, we try to meet the deadline having it and we knew it is going to be a drum machine. That kind of lent itself to that sound. You know, you never really plan these things but it just turned out that that’s the style that we are writing this time around.
GAMV: How did you arrive with Two Headed Bob as your new drummer going forward?
Dick: The guy that is playing bass for us right now, Rob Lower, they were in a band together called Might Tiny out of Boston that supported us a couple of times. So we knew him and we played before and so he was pretty much an obvious choice for us going into the tour.
GAMV: I was just looking at some of your past sets in the past few months and stuff and it doesn’t seem that you started playing these new songs live yet. Is that right?
Dick: That’s correct. We don’t really— we are going to probably debut a couple in Toronto. We don’t really rehearse, so rehearsals are a sound check. That just comes from all the living in different cities, having kids and that kind of stuff. We don’t really rehearse in a traditional sense.
GAMV: Which songs off the new album are you looking forward to playing live?
Dick: We are doing “Skin Caboose,” which sounds incredible. We’ve already done that and sound checked a few times. “I’ll Be in Touch” and probably “In My Dreams,” those are the three that we are targeting right now. “Number of the Beast” might be very difficult to do. We’ll see if we can get to that at one point.
Performing at Webster Hall, September 30, 2016.
GAMV: Yes, I noticed some of the songs on Fresh Blood for Tired Vampyres are pretty complex, so I was wondering how you were going to achieve some of those live.
Dick: Well, the great thing is you don’t have to. When you have 12 albums you can fill up a 19-minute set and there’s a lot of songs that you can’t get to.
GAMV: Are you going to pull out any older songs that you hadn’t been playing live much in the past few years? Did anything sort of jumped out at you to revive?
Dick: You know, we do, we are doing a kick-starter campaign right now. And one of the packages that we sell is one where you choose the encore. So a lot of people do buy their way in forcing us to do songs that we have never done before. Some song from those encores sounded really good, so we kept them on the set.
Dick Valentine addresses the crowd at Webster Hall
GAMV: You’ve been doing some pretty interesting covers in the past, like “Cat People” by David Bowie, but you’ve been doing “Easy Lover” lately too. Can you talk a little bit about how you choose those covers?
Dick: One of the things we kick-started a few years back was called Mimicry and Memories. The mimicry part was us doing covers. Those two were songs that were picked by people to bid on in the Kickstarters. And those songs all go well live. If you’re playing an outdoor festival kind of thing, you’ll find that “Easy Lover” really works there because a lot of people maybe don’t know your band, but they know “Easy Lover.” “Cat People,” once you start doing that song, it’s kind of tough to stop doing it, especially since it’s an amazing song.
GAMV: Speaking of Bowie, people have been talking about 2016 as a record year for musicians passing away. Did any of those deaths mean something personal to you?
Dick: To be fair, David Bowie did kind of actually hit me hard. You know, if I’ve never met somebody, I usually do a good job of filtering out the fact that I don’t actually know them as a person, I know the media person. You know, a lot of times people pass away and I’ve never met them. But me and Bowie I always thought that it would actually meet him. I thought our paths would cross somehow, but that was a tough one for sure.
GAMV: I can see how you might connect to Prince as well.
Dick: Yeah I do, I love a lot of his songs. I don’t mean to sound weird but yes, for whatever reason, I feel the way I do because it’s not like I ever met him. Bowie hit me a lot harder. Let’s put it that way.
GAMV: I guess, I just mentioned Prince because your live show is such a big part of what people know Electric Six for, and Prince was such a formidable performer. With you being a front man, I figured somewhere within there, maybe you took a cue from here and there as most everybody did.
Dick: Yeah for sure. A lot of his radio hits are still catchy and he is an amazing lyricists. I’ve done “When Does Cry” at karaoke for the last twenty years. That’s one of my staples. And when you went to see him live any time in the past ten years, he’d do three hours set and he won’t touch any of those songs. He could just do about anything. He was more talented than anyone I know.
When I talk about people dying that I’ve never met. I just want to clear on that, that Prince is enormous and it’s the same kind of thing with Robin Williams and I know he was stuck with depression. I like his movies a lot, and I know his talent, but I don’t sleep over it. With Bowie actually I stayed up thinking about. It’s kind of weird because I wasn’t expecting it.
GAMV: What was it about Bowie that you connected with?
Dick: You accept him as successful, but he had an almost a decade of false starts, you know. He fronted of a lot of like bands, all these traditional kind of London bands. He had a decade obscurity and you know one day the difference paid off. The way he reinvented himself, he was a very unique performer and it’s definitely a career that I’m envious off in a lot of ways.
GAMV: If you had to pick one of the songs that when you were done with it, you thought, “That’s what I really wanted to put on this album,” which would it be?
Dick: Yes, probably two. You know “I’ll Be In Touch,” we went into that song and I thought, “I want us to sound like Pink.” You know, I wanted to get a radio hit like Pink. You hear them in the supermarket, you go to YouTube and her videos have a billion views. So I know, you know, neither of those things can happen for us but at least I wanted— that was a goal going into that song. You know, it is that kind of song I think. “My Dreams” — that’s what’s Electric Six is all about. That’s the song that I can’t wait to do.
GAMV: Last question, is there any misconceptions about Electric Six that you would like to clear up.
Dick: Yeah, I mean. We are— how can I say this. We are not meatheads. I think that there’s a lot of meatheads that come to our show and the students that were like them —just because they hear the lyrics and think that all we are interested in is drugs, partying and women. Nothing can be further from the truth. We played at a festival this summer and I got put in a sleeper whole by a meathead. That they assumed that, that’s what I wanted to be done with my body. It’s just horrifying. They are a lot of really dumb people out there. Some of America are bad. I want a more cerebral— I want like a wine and cheese kind of crowd at this point in my life.
GAMV: That’s very interesting because that doesn’t sound like the Dick Valentine from the first album.
Dick: I’ve never been that person. Again, I think you go into an album, you create a character. You try to have fun. In fact, the whole thing about the Fire album is trying to make people believe that you are somebody you are not. It’s a fun album. It’s a party album, but you know I’ve never been much a partier. I’m much more of a get-on-the-internet-and-play-nineteen-games-of-Scrabble kind of person.
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With Documentary Now Available on DVD, Drivin N Cryin Bassist Recalls Music Videos
This year’s model: The recent members of Drivin N Cryin
Documentary director Eric Von Haessler spent three years looking for reasons why his favorite band, Drivin N Cryin, hadn’t enjoyed more national success. Fellow fans Peter Buck, Darius Rucker, Ed Roland, Ty Pennington, and the band spoke with him to fill in the blanks on the fascinating, behind-the-scenes story of musicians that spent nearly three decades creating great music, sometimes in spite of themselves. He compiled & edited the content into the documentary Scarred But Smarter: Life N Times of Drivin N Cryin, now available on DVD. DNC bassist Tim Nielsen took a moment to answer some questions about the documentary, Drivin N Cryin’s music videos, and touring with the Who.
GAMV: It’s been a while since the documentary was finished, but what made you and Kevn decide that you would allow somebody to examine the band this way?
Tim: Eric Von Haessler was a great friend of ours. He’s a radio personality in Atlanta at a radio station. It’s always been there when we started up. When we made the Bubble Factory record, Eric wanted to do a video for “I See Georgia”. And we did – we shot a video with him. And it turned out kind of weird but we became good friends and he wanted to do a documentary. So, we said yeah. He and a lot of people we knew got involved and started doing interviews. It was his baby. He had complete artistic control of what went to the film. And they shot just tons and tons of footage. I mean, there was so much edited out and never made it. But, I mean, yes, we thought it would be a good promotional tour for all the people in the world who never heard about us and you know, which is most of the people in the world.
GAMV: What did you think of it – what did you think of it the first time you saw the completed finished version?
Tim: You know, I kind of looked at it from the perspective of, it’s just a creative work. And I thought it was entertaining. It was captivating, you know? However they portrayed us was his thing. And I thought it was, at times, a bit extreme, but I thought it made it more entertaining. So, I like it.
GAMV: I think you come off a little cranky.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine. Whatever. I’ve had my moments.
an early band photo
GAMV: The relationship between you and Kevn Kinney is very tight. I think it’s really interesting to see a band examined over the course of its time. You guys have lasted longer than most marriages, so…
Tim: I think that’s a quote from a movie. Everybody has their moments, but I don’t have any regrets about my career. I thought it was cool. It was fun and we’re still doing it, you know?
GAMV: Now, after 30 years, do you still kind of get to the same place in your head when you play, you know, some of the Mystery Road songs and the Scarred but Smarter songs? Or do they mean something different to you now?
Tim: I mean, to answer the first part of your question, yes. We get to the same place. But do they mean something different now? Personally, and I think Kevn’s probably got a similar take, we’re just really happy to be able to be doing this. We feel lucky, you know? We’re in our 50s and we get to play rock and roll and get paid for it. And it’s pretty amazing. It’s a gift, you know? And it really touches people, you know, every time we do a show. We get that same level of excitement nowadays that you’re talking about. We sell out shows all over the place now, so, it’s all good.
GAMV: Kevn once said that Fly Me Courageous [their album that spawned a heavily rotated MTV video for the title track] was like going to grad school without going to college, in that you guys were kind of thrown into it. What do you recall from the era as being, you know, some of the weirder kind of moments?
Tim: Weirder moments. I don’t know. We were busy. We were living that lifestyle. We were in a bus, touring everywhere nonstop and it’s kind of like what we wanted to do and so… I don’t know about weirder moments.
GAMV: What do you remember from shooting the “Fly Me Courageous” music video?
Tim: We did it in a Hollywood studio and so it was a fake train car and there was like some guy working on these big wings for the Fly Me Courageous lady. And then, I think those wings were recycled and used in the R.E.M. “Losing My Religion” video. I know that we paid a lot of money for that video. I mean, the record company did or whatever. But, yeah it was cool. It was so long ago. Bits and pieces, man. Bits and pieces. I remember a lot of waiting around. You know, a lot of waiting around and they put you in this train car or whatever and you’re moving around. There’s lights. I don’t know. Those were different times, man. We don’t have budget for stuff like that nowadays.
GAMV: I looks like in the “Build a Fire” video, you guys are standing near a roller coaster or something.
Tim: Yeah. That was actually we had a gig at Six Flags. We’re going for more of a “on the road” kind of a bit lifestyle thing in that video, I think. It was actually a real concert, you know.
GAMV: The last one I want to ask about is “Turn it Up or Turn it Off”.
Tim: That was a weird one, man.
GAMV: You were in a hole in the ground.
Tim: We were actually in this tiny little room of midgets and just weird – I did not… I didn’t even get that one at all. That one was not fun. That was very uncomfortable. That was weird.
GAMV: It looks very claustrophobic.
Tim: Yeah, it was. That was what they were going for – claustrophobic. You can do that without us actually being in a claustrophobic situation. Just put the camera real close to us and… you don’t have to see all four walls. You just see two and… but yeah, it was weird. It was the director’s idea. It’s weird that you’re asking about music videos because I haven’t thought about these things in forever. It was just weird how much money we spent on those things.
GAMV: Do you have any moments you recall with the members of the Who [Drivin N Cryin supported the Who on tour in the late 1990s]?
Tim: We had one day where we actually got to hang out with John Entwistle for a little while and visit, and that was pretty incredible. Kevn actually waited one night for hours to finally get to meet Pete Townsend and I didn’t get to do that. I wish I would have, but they said he was totally cool. Roger Daltrey was always around, but he was always kind of grumpy. But John Entwistle was amazing. He autographed my bass. I took a picture with him and yeah, it was just great to meet him.
Who are you: John Entwistle of the Who with members of Drivin N Cryin.
GAMV: How has your relationship with Kevn changed since the very beginning?
Tim: Well, I think it’s kind of come full circle because now Kevn and I are managing the band ourselves. So it’s like the way Kevn will say is “we’re back to the tree house” which is the apartment that we all lived there during the time. So, it’s like a working friendship/fraternity or something. It’s like a guy’s club. I mean, we all – we go on the road almost every weekend, but not every weekend. But you know, we look forward to going out and traveling and hanging out with the guys and making music. I think that’s kind of like the reason why we were still doing it is because we enjoy it. And it wasn’t always that way. There was a whole middle period where there was a lot of other moving parts that would cause friction and we wouldn’t even talk to each other. We’d talk to each other through, whatever manager, you know. So, we’ve come full circle. It’s back to the tree house.
You can order the documentary on DVD at the website http://scarredbutsmarterdoc.com/
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