Email a Rock Star!
Email A Rock Star!
Special Guest for August 2007
Interview by Bucks Burnett
BB: Let's start with the present. We're both big fans of Ian Hunter, and you just met him in England. Tell me all the details!
SM: It was a happy coincidence that Ian and band were added late to the line-up of the Wychwood Festival near Cheltenham, and conveniently slotted right before us. I was thrilled of course. He hasn't been to the northwest since the late 80s /early 90s so I hadn't seen him play in a long time. The show was excellent, featuring mostly songs from most recent three albums (all great records by the way!) with a few Mott classics and the ever-classic "Once Bitten Twice Shy". Peter and I were acquainted with Ian's guitarist James Mastro and he quickly introduced us and we had photos and a nice chat. After the show Ian came into the dressing room and hung out with Robyn and all of us and it was a fine time indeed. Hatching a plot for the Yep Rock Fading Rockers Dream Tour (Hitchcock, Hunter, Lowe) was a highlight. And of course I use the term "fading" facetiously -- they (we?) all just getting better with age!
BB: There's a reason older bottles of wine cost more, as I must always tell the ladies. By the way, do the f'n' geezer tour! Ian just put out the fab Shrunken Heads album on YepRoc Records, the same label that your band, The Minus 5, has been with for a few years. What's it like to suddenly be label mates with one of your heroes?
SM: Well, you know, one of the main deciding factors I chose Yep Roc over other fantastic labels was the fact that Nick Lowe is Yep Roc artist. And now I'm used to being side by side with people I've been a huge fan of over the years: Paul Weller, John Doe, Hitchcock, etc etc. And now having Ian on the label just seems unbelievable. It's almost comic really. But it just shows what good taste the folks at Yep Roc have. Or maybe what good taste I have...
BB: Even their barcodes are better than average, and I HATE barcodes. How many times have you seen Ian live solo, or with Mott The Hoople?
SM: I saw Mott the Hoople five times. First at Winterland in San Francisco, then three times in England in 1974 when my pal Nordog and I followed them around (thanks, Britrail pass!), and then again on the way home in Allentown PA, with Queen opening (thanks Wally Siegfried!) I saw the Hunter/Ronson Band three times (I think) and then saw Ian with a band from Toronto backing him up at this weird club south of Seattle. All the shows were great. Never disappointed in the least.
Okay, you're cooler and luckier than me. Stop proving it! You seem to stay very busy. You've recently toured with Jeff Tweedy as well as Robyn Hitchcock. What are you doing at the moment, and what's planned for the moment after that?
SM: I'm in Ireland working on the next R.E.M. album. It's going to kick ass! After that I've got a Young Fresh Fellows show (opening for the Blue Angels Air Show at Seafair in Seattle, very Spinal Tap) and four Minus 5 shows before doing a final R.E.M. album session. In "downtime" I'll work on songs for the next Minus 5 album, a possible YFF album, and a collaboration record with Steve Wynn. It's been a long time since I recorded my own songs, but I'm not complaining. I feel so fortunate to work with all the incredible people in my expansive musical universe.
BB: Let's have some Zep gossip. You worked with Jonesey on some Robyn Hitchcock music. When's that coming out? Also, share with me again the hilarious tale of the time you got Jimmy Page to sign your guitar.
SM: Jonesy is an absolute mindblower on mandolin, and fantastic to work with. He just shows up and starts playing, and stops when it's over! Robyn became friends with him meeting up in the neighborhood on Chiswick High Street, and now they manage to get together for (mostly benefit) shows quite often. We've been recording the next RH & Venus 3 album off and on in the Hitchcock front room in London, and JPJ comes by when he can to join in. I think at least one or two songs from a late night live session is available to download from Yep Roc. Cigarettes, Coffee and Booze!
The backstage Page story only gets verbal, preferably sotted, retellings. I don't know, I just made up that rule. Suffice to say Pagey has been very nice and accommodating on the occasions I've met him, and I, of course, am an idiot!
BB: Having heard the story, I can understand your bid for privacy. But I had to ask. Did you ever see Led Zeppelin live?
SM: Twice. First at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (1970 I believe, fantastic show), then the next year at the much smaller Berkeley Community Theater (first time I heard the as yet unreleased "Stairway To Heaven"). I credit that show with truly kick-starting my lifelong love affair with hearing loss.
Nobody ever asked me if I ever saw PATTO live, but I did.
BB: Believe it or not, I once presented Nick Saloman of Bevis Frond with some American pressings of Patto LPs. He's loved me ever since. If you published a rock magazine, what would you call it?
SM: PALAVER. The bands I wrote about would love me.
BB: What was your favorite music magazine growing up?
SM: I don't know, I sort of read them all... Rolling Stone, Circus, Creem. There was one in California for a while that I loved called Phonograph Record Magazine. Then eventually and somewhat briefly you had great ones like Trouser Press, New York Rocker, etc.
BB: I especially miss Creem and Trouser Press. You're always hanging out with the coolest people in rock and roll, stealin' my dream life. Who would you like to meet that you haven't met yet?
SM: I don't know, Reg Presley? It's too late for Warren Zevon, Johnny Kidd, or Ricky Nelson...
BB: What bands were you in before The Young Fresh Fellows?
SM: Vannevar Bush & His Differential Analyzers, Hannibal's Chorus Boys, The Flying Pterodactyl Band, Algol Repmorf & The Xanthrochroid Supermarket, Silver Creek, The Sandbaggers (later re-named Vic Paradise, quite regrettably), The Dynette Set... Eat your hearts out, people.
BB: YFF were a truly great example of a fun indy band in the 80's. Why did they break up, and how did you hook up with Peter Buck to form The Minus 5?
SM: The Young Fresh Fellows could never, and have not, bothered to break up. That would require some kind of effort. The Minus 5 found itself under the burgeoning weight of my unreleased Downer Music, and Peter was around, and happy to be pulled in by the deathly current.
BB: Thrilled to hear the Fellows are still together. Is it true The Beatles have broken up?? You and Peter are also together in another great band, Tuatara. What's next for that ensemble?
SM: Well, chief reptile Barrett Martin just released our latest album "East of the Sun" on his Fast Horse Recordings label. Listen to it -- then buy it! -- here:
The record differs from our previously instrumental efforts as vocalists/lyricists like Gary Louris, John Wesley Harding, Jessy Greene, Mark Eitzel, Dean & Britta, Victoria Williams, Coleman Barks, Mark Olson, meself, etc. etc. collaborated on the musical tracks which were mostly composed by Barrett, Peter and myself. It's a real departure for Tuatara and we're all quite pleased with it. A second volume, "West of the Moon", will be released this fall.
BB: I blew off Tuatara for awhile, thinking it would be aimless or something. A few months ago I finally gave this model a test drive and am amazed by the power and melodic structure. There is a third group from Georgia, REM, that you are also in with Peter Buck. Can you guys just not find anything on TV to watch? Face it Scott, you are a Buckaholic.
SM: Who isn't? You know, we just like the same things. Playing the rock music, writing, recording, listening, walking around. The simple life of a wayfaring stranger.
BB: You travel a lot. Which locale scratches your itch?
SM: I'm always thrilled to be in Spain. I love Chicago. TOKYO! Cologne. Memphis. Ireland. Bologna. Pittsburgh. Athens GA. New Orleans. Oslo. Austin. Oz. You know the drill.
BB: Who is your favorite visual artist?
SM: Tad Hutchison, the drummer in the Young Fresh Fellows. His stuff is brilliant. After him, maybe Goya, or "El Bosco". If you want to look at something for a while, Guernika in person never fails. Or "The Triumph of Death" by Brueghel -- that's an all night party in my book. To enjoy all of these in one day take Tad on a trip to Madrid.
BB: Name the first 45 and LP you purchased.
SM: 45 (came first): THE BEATLES - Please Please Me / From Me To You (VJ Records). LP: THE BEATLES - Help! (Original Soundtrack on Capitol)
BB: Most people who know about you hear of your work with REM, Wilco, or Robyn Hitchcock, etc. I learned about you from a Minus 5 CD in the late 90's. The Minus 5 continue to be my favorite part of your music and career; I'm fairly militant about it. I think Down With Wilco is that rarest of treats, The Perfect Pop Album. My god, it's some pretty sound. And so I pose my question; when the f are Wilco coming out with Up With The Minus 5??? What is taking so long? Tell Jeff I said to hurry up.
SM: According to Jeff, Wilco is in the long painful process of trying to disassociate themselves with the Minus 5. And really, who can blame them?
BB: I have just one complaint about your latest, 'the gun album.' Why didn't they add a sticker to the cover that says Includes The Smash Hit "Aw Shit Man"? "Aw Shit Man" is a classic rock anthem. The first time I heard it I went,"Aw, shit, man!" And then when I realized there was no sticker promoting it as the hit, I thought, "Aw shit, man!" What's up with THAT shit, man??
SM: Record companies refuse to promote epics that last less than two minutes. This is a long-standing practice which dates back to Homer and Virgil.
BB: When you, Robyn, Ian and Nick all do The Older The Bolder Tour, can I be a roadie? I also know how to fold t-shirts and yell 'step right up!'
SM: How much will you pay us?
BB: 10% of the gross plus a reasonable maturity. The Minus 5 - Plus One would make a great name for your first live album. What's stopping you?
SM: We have a lot of shows recorded, some better than others. I don't know, I am actually quite persnickety about doing a live record... I feel, unless it's some sort of transcendent night (which typically will NOT happen if you have the spectre of recording effecting your performance), leave it for the collectors who will find it and download it anyway. That being said, there IS a fantastic live R.E.M. live album (and DVD) coming out in November! (Note that R.E.M. has been together 27 years and this is the first live album.)
BB: My favorite thing about REM is that they don't always follow some of the typical business rhythms. Most people don't realize that The Beatles never released a live album or greatest hits while they were together. Zeppelin and Talking Heads never released a best of during their careers. The better the band, the fewer the best of's, I've always said.
Do you have a favorite breakfast cereal? There is a new Organic Raisin Bran that actually tastes much better than the original. Now that the album cover is dead, cereal boxes are about all that's left. When I was a kid, I would stare at the box when I ate the cereal. As a teenager, I stared at the cover while I listened to the record. Now I just play CDs and look at cereal boxes. It seems to work.
SM: I loved cereal boxes that had dumb stuff all over the back, like a Banana Splits EP for instance. I don't eat cereal that much now, but there was a point when I thought Peanut Butter Captain Crunch was the perfect food. I still stare at CD booklets when I listen to music. They do sort of suck though and it's getting to the point where I can't read the lyrics on half of them, without a magnifying glass anyway.
BB: As everything goes virtual, even the faint CD booklet is starting to seem like a quaint little friend Speaking of album covers, what are a few of your all time favorites? I'm excluding Grand Funk covers, because it's impossible to pick a favorite.
SM: There's an early '60s LP I have by Dion, where a woman's arms in long gloves are wrapped around him from behind. I think the album might be called Dream Lover... It's stunning, beautiful and perfect -- everything a record cover should be, and that a CD cover can't be.
BB: You've seen some amazing concerts. What was your first rock show?
SM: My first "real" rock show (I'd already seen The Orphan Egg at a high school dance -- and I do have an album by them!) was one day of The Santa Clara Folk Rock Festival in 1969. The line-up that day was (in order, first to headliner, as best I can remember): San Paku, Pulse, Santana, Chuck Berry, The Blues Magoos, Spirit, Jefferson Airplane.
BB: The first records you bought were by The Beatles. Ever met any of them?
SM: Not really. I once found myself face to face with George at the Rainbow in London during an Alvin Lee/Mylon Lefevre show. I said, "Hi George". He was probably terrified by the wide-eyed look of wonder in my eye and hurried up the aisle. After the show I saw Patti Harrison and had a very nice chat with her. I've had dinner with Yoko, does that count?
BB: Okay, I'm suing you for being too cool. A) Saying hi to George counts as meeting him, B) I hate you for seeing the Alvin/Mylon tour, C) At least I met Patti (kissed her hand in front of Eric in '85) and D) Yes, Yoko counts, usually money. In closing, our hero Ian Hunter once wrote a classic book, Diary Of A Rock And Roll Star. In light of the scope of your experiences, as fan and musician, will you ever publish Diary Of A Rock And Roll Asterix? It's gotta happen!
SM: If anyone's going to write a book about me, I suppose it'll have to be me. Why would anyone else? I am a decent writer but without the discipline to bring a larger such effort to fruition. A few years ago, the excellent documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge proposed doing a film about me. He sought funding, shot some interviews with the R.E.M. guys, etc. He was serious about it but eventually gave up, probably because no one really wanted to fund it, AND because I think he sensed that a lack of true enthusiasm from me, due to the nagging thought in my head that my life and career really didn't warrant such treatment. Ambition has never been my forte. Having too much fun in the moment usually over-rules the greater good. I'm not proud of it but I guess I've come to accept that that is the way I'm living my life.
BB: And as he lives his life, Namedropper Media will be there to give you all the pix-n-fax, up close and personal! We are the official stalker of Scott Mccaughey and all of his subsidiaries.
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