"IT'S A COMBINATION OF OPPORTUNITY, AND PREPARATION": PART IV
CR: So – if you had to dispense any words of wisdom to these young bands, that would be it, then?
RS: It's totally it. I mean, I meet a lot of guys that are on their first or second record, and think they got it all figured out...you'll tell 'em, “It's just about the work. None of the other stuff matters.”
CR: As I like to say, “The music is going to outlive us, so we'd better try and serve that first” – whatever you leave behind, that's what you're judged on. If it's embarrassing, then you're treated accordingly.
RS: That's it. It's funny, Ralph, that's the thing that drives me every day, the concept that there's only so much time. I love the work, I love the process. Bruce, he's a little different than I am. He's more of a social kind of guy, and works when he wants to work.
He calls up sometimes, and I'll be working on something. He'll go, “Are you playing that? Are you recordin'?” I'm like, “Yeah,” and he goes, “Why?” And I say, “Because I want to, I got to.” Really, when you think about all of this – you never know when your ticket's punched with that deal, why not do what you do?
CR: So, when you look back on the “[good] old days,” there's all that superficial revivalism going on now. Where do you think time has treated you, in that respect?
RS: I don't worry, I think that'll all be figured out, at one point. I got a thing [message] from a kid in Russia last week. He'd been a fan since CRY TOMORROW, then went back and got the other stuff. And he said, “You guys are the real gem. You are a real diamond. Your music has, to me, a real psychedelic quality that touches my brain.” And I said to him, “How old were you when you got into this?” He says, “I was 10.”
That blew me away: how did he hear it? I should have asked him that [first]: “How did you hear the record?” He continuously likes to listen to all the stuff. He says, “Don't think of me as a junkie, but your music – when I'm high – sounds unbelievable.” And I loved that, I thought that was great. But that'll all be figured out at one point. I said to Bruce, “We're just like the blues guys – maybe 30, 50 years from now, somebody'll be listening to us, saying, 'These guys were real good.'”
CR: “These guys were the reference point.”
RS: Yeah. I get people that were there when that [early] stuff was going on: “Are you guys gonna tour?” Especially European fans: “Is there a chance that you would tour, and do stuff from all the albums?” And the answer is no. I mean, we could do it real well – maybe it would happen, I don't know. It's just that sometimes, when you see older acts doing this stuff, it's kind of depressing.
CR: In other words, you feel like that would be going back a bit too much, perhaps.
RS: Maybe. If it could be done in the right way – I've seen some people that do it. I've seen Van der Graaf Generator, and it was absolutely phenomenal – they were unbelievable. But I think it just depends on the act.
CR: But you're quite happy for the Reds to exist as a studio phenomenon?
RS: And the fact that we like working with the film stuff. Theresa got a company in Los Angeles to release, finally, the soundtrack from MANHUNTER – which was a big deal, because that was something that we wanted. So I've been doing some interviews around that [release], and they ask, “Why not go out and do the Reds stuff, live dates, and all that business?”
The answer I gave them is, “To me, film has a real sense of immortality. A movie like MANHUNTER's played in Brazil, Japan, and all over the world.” People can experience your music with the sound and vision concept – you're visually taking something in, and the music's there. It doesn't necessarily just have to be about what we're doing.
CR: Given the regimen you guys were subjected to back then, it's something that you really don't miss, and are not anxious to repeat.
RS: Once you enter the first couple days into that tour thing, you're just into it then, and that's what you're doing. I like playing live. But, economically, I don't see how you can do it now.
We're supposed to do a thing in 2012, in Edinburgh – a live performance for film. Somebody proposed it to us. It's a cool idea. They want us to compose a piece for a '40s film noir – for a specific scene to be performed live, to the film.
CR: Now that does sound like something a little different...
RS: Yeah, we would do it, 'cause we thought it'd be a cool thing to actually perform the music to the film, live. They wanted our sound – which, to an old film like that, would be interesting. There's a couple [film titles] being talked about. We don't know which way it's gonna go, though.
CR: OK, but that's a little different, and that'll get your juices flowing in a different direction – [rather] than doing 10 days here, 10 days there.
RS: Yeah. The beauty of doing the other stuff is that we have a catalog now. We have so much material. Somebody sent me a thing where they performed “Victims,” off the first album – it was a Philadelphia band, for [WXDN's] “World Cafe,” a syndicated radio concert series. You hate to speak to ill of anybody, since...
CR: They're complementing you by doing the song...
RS: Yeah, but it was weird. I hadn't heard the song in ages – [theirs was] like a rolling kind of shuffle [hums the riff], and the original version went [hums original riff]. At the end of it [the program], I was surprised...people really liked it.
CR: Has your music actually been widely covered, to any great extent?
RS: Not that I know of. Some Canadian band did “Self-Reduction,” but the label wouldn't let them put it out. I think they were called The Darkroom – they were a cool band, an electronic band, reminded you of the [Psychedelic] Furs.
CR: And you said, “Go ahead,” and got bitten...but that's typical of how a lot of these things go.
RS: Yeah. But the thing that was interesting – we just licensed a song off our third album, “Five-Year Plan.” It's a real raucous piece, and was licensed to a company doing a film about architecture [laughs]!
CR: Really? That's really weird...
RS: Yeah, it was from left field. We said, “Thank you.” It was an Australian company, which was cool.
CR: Well, in that sense, these things aren't so bad in that they keep you as a deeply underground phenomenon, you might say.
RS: I guess. People ask me, “Are you bitter that you're not big?” I say, “No, I'm able to keep the lights on, and doin' what I love doin'.” For me, it's not an issue. At one point, it probably would have been a bigger issue – because I would get real frustrated by having to get another label, find another producer, getting so wrapped up into that...you spend all your time doing that, rather than writing.
CR: Right. Well, I guess, maybe it might have been more of an issue at the time that you were gotten rid of by A&M, perhaps.
RS: That was definitely an issue at that point, because I was responsible for all the business stuff – dealing with the management and agents. The band was [saying], like, “Well, what are we gonna for money? How are we gonna live? What are you gonna do about this?” I was 26, and I was beside myself, 'cause I didn't know what we were gonna do.
CR: You didn't really know which way things were gonna end up, right?
RS: I didn't, but from working with the people I did that Freight Train album with, they schooled me real early on. They came out of the doo-wop thing of record-making, producers, and labels, so I learned a lot from them. With A & M, they wanted the whole thing to end.
I said, “We have a five-year deal with you, but how about if you give us the money, so we can do the second album?" Because we had already started working on it...they thought it was a little too off-the-wall, and they wanted it to be a pop album. That's when I got into [saying], “No, that's not happening, so let us finish that record, and we can have the master.” And they said, “OK.”
Then I got the master. We were able to make the deal with the Canadian label, and a British label. Terry King, he had stuff like Caravan, and different progressive bands like that, on his label. He says, “OK, I'll make a deal with you guys for the master.” So he made a deal with them [A&M]. With the Canadians, and a couple American people here, indie guys, we released EPs and albums. We were able to keep it going that way.
CR: So you found a sideways route out of that little problem [with A&M]...
RS: Yeah. And then, we just kept playing through that whole business till we got on the thing with Seymour [Stein], Sire, and that led us to Mr. Mann.
CR: And here you are today. So that was pretty fortunate, how it turned out.
RS: We've had some [stories] written about us, and it's always,“The poor Reds.” And we don't really see it that way.
CR: When we first talked, you made that abundantly clear – you didn't see yourself as a victim of that whole ['70s/'80s New Wave] era.
RS: There was an opportunity, just a little while ago – the guy that produced the [first Reds] record, [David] Kershenbaum? I sent him a thing [note], and I was real nice...because he was also the vice president of A&R, and he was the guy that decided that we either became pop, or we were gonna be off the label. And he was our producer, which made it really uncomfortable.
CR: Lovely situation!
RS: And I sent him a thing saying, “Over the years, we've had quite a bit of compliments, and I could kind of see where you were coming from with the record – you were trying to drag that garage sound out of us, and you really wanted to develop that more...” Because he thought we should really be more like the early Animals.
I said, “You know, I can appreciate that now, but I also have to be very thankful – through the A&M thing, I've been able to have a pretty long career, I've been able to create for a long period of time. And I really thank you for giving us the opportunity.” But I never heard anything from him.
CR: Oh, well, that's just how it goes.
RS: Yeah, that's pretty much my MO in life. I try to do the right thing, say what you think, and if it doesn't go, that's not my problem.
CR: So, if you're giving advice to the next generation, what two or three things would you tell them, assuming they'd listen? Because, as you said, you meet people who think they've got it all figured out...
CR: Oh, yeah. I was talking to a guy – I think he'd signed a deal with Sony, and I'm askin' about the studio, production, artwork, things like that. He says, “I don't care about that stuff!” I said, “What do you mean, you don't care – it's what you're doing!” And he says, “What I'm doing is making records so I can meet people, and get women.”
RH: Oh, God, he told you that?
CR: I said, “You don't care about the whole creative process?” He says, “Nah!” And it was very superficial – a lot of the younger people I run into are very superficial. It's kind of distressing.
RH: Well, perhaps – but you know what? My theory is that this stuff skips generations....
RS: You're absolutely right. It's that old thing of, the father's a laborer, so his son can become a doctor, and his son can become an artist. The most important thing is, play it like you feel it – if you're doing the work, and you're really doing what you think, it's going to come to light.
You can't just sit in a room and not do anything with it. I knew this one guy that was a producer from the '50s and '60s. The guy was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He would work in the studio for 20 hours a day. He was like a Joe Meek kind of guy. You would hear this stuff, and it's like taking a hit of acid, it was so surreal – the way he would do things, and produce things. But he would work on a song for five years! One song!
CR: One song?
RS: One song, every day, for five years! And he'd just never do anything with it – he's workin' every day, he's real creative and he's brilliant, but he's doin' nothin' with it!
CR: And nobody ever got to hear it.
"IT REALLY GIVES YOU A SENSE OF PURPOSE": PART V
RS: Nobody ever got to hear it. Well, it's a combination of opportunity, and preparation – put 'em together, and you usually come up with something.
CR: Yeah – when I was first playing, I knew people that were champions in their bedroom.
RS: Yeah! I have a guy that develops all the stuff I'm trying to do with the old gear. He's has a lot of guys that come in his place, phenomenal technicians – they don't understand a thing of the creative part of it [music], you know what I mean? Remember this band from New York, the Dots?
CR: Yeah, I remember them very well.
RS: Yeah, they had some really good songs, and all – one of the guys comes in [regularly to visit Rick's gear tech]. They never really got anything going, though. They had a couple demos out, and – I think – an independent single, or something.
CR: And that was pretty much it...
RS: And that was pretty much it. But he's [the ex-Dot] still riding on that kind of thing – “We're legendary,” “We're really big,” all this stuff. I don't say nothin', but you feel bad for somebody like that.
CR: That's a shame. There are a lot of legends in their own mind, and that's what they thrive on, but it's not gettin' them anywhere.
RS: No, and that's why I just keep workin'...
CR: Keep workin', keep your head down, and just do the playin'...
RS: Yeah. The other thing is, I keep in touch – I listen to everything I can, [including] the newer bands. That's one thing I'm really happy with – a lot of old-timers are buying the CD, rather than the downloads, which is kinda cool.
It really gives you a sense of purpose, I guess. I get a lot of responses from people, “You made me become a musician” – from the first album, [the] early stuff – and when I listen to their stuff, they're good. That definitely makes you feel like you passed it on from the people that turned us on, know what I mean?
CR: Absolutely – so we can only hope everybody does you proud, I think.
RS: Yeah, right. We're fortunate, too – we're with about five different libraries where music supervisors go to pick stuff.
CR: And I'm assuming that's something you would recommend, as well?
RS: Yeah, absolutely. You just go online and look for 'em, and you can submit your material to 'em...
CR: And then, it's kind of a potluck, random [situation]?
RS: Well, it is, but you've got as good a chance as anybody else. When we did the stuff with [Michael] Mann for “Miami Vice,” everybody said, “Aw, you can't do it, he's got Phil Collins, you guys are nothing.” I said, “OK, let the guy decide.” That's the way I look at everything that I do. I don't care. I have no embarrassment issues – if they don't want you, [they say], “Next!” That's my thing.
CR: Different people get tuned into different things. Sometimes, that coincides with what you do, other times, it doesn't.
RS: I did an interview with a guy in Canada on the last [Reds] album, and he said, “Do you really think you're gonna be any bigger than you are?” And I said, “I don't really care.” He says, “Well, I think you're the main reason why this band has never gone anywhere.” I said, “Wow!”
CR: So what did you tell him?
RS: I said, “That may be true.” I says, “You know, I'll be honest with you, I can understand that” – because his big issue is my voice. He says, “You sing out of tune, you sound like a bad Mick Jagger”...he was real aggressive.
CR: He's really trying to make friends!
RS: Yeah, and I said, “That may be so, but the fact of the matter is, I've been recording since 1977, and my stuff's released everywhere. The main thing is, I like it.” He said, “This band could have been really a big band, with somebody else in it.” And I said, “Well, the other side of it is, I have written mostly all the material...”
CR: Boom! Touche...and there was, probably, I'm guessing, the sound of crickets on the phone...
RS: Nah, he said, “I don't think you'll ever be anything.”
CR: Geez, what a prick!
RS: Yeah, he was pretty brutal. When we were looking for record deals, before we signed to Sire – Theresa would set up things where I would meet people at Elektra, Capitol, or Columbia. I had guys telling me, “You can't sing, you can't write, you can't play, and you're sure as hell not pretty.” And I'd say, “Yeah, but I'm real good.” You know, what can you say to that? It's an indefensible kind of a thing, and it's their opinion. You can make anybody look like an ass.
CR: Yeah, but there's some other agenda going on with somebody like that...
RS: Oh, absolutely. That's somebody who's got some kind of an issue, somewhere.
CR: If somebody like that really dug it [his own music] – I'd have to ask myself, “What am I doing?”
RS: Yup, that's right! [laughs] I have to say, Ralph, I think that a lot, too. When I got off the phone with that guy, I was like, “Where are you comin' from?” One of the reviews we got on the first album, Bruce and I absolutely loved – the other guys in the band and the management weren't too thrilled about it. I think it was in MELODY MAKER.
The guy said, “Imagine this, if you will: Elvis Costello, and Black Sabbath.” Then he went on to go through the whole album – that was the whole theme of it [the review], putting Black Sabbath and Elvis Costello together. And I was like, “This is great.” You think about that, and I guess it's a perspective on stuff.
CR: Yeah, I can almost see how you might have reacted to that.
RS: We just got our first review on NECESSARY ILLUSION, from a magazine in Luxembourg. He's [the reviewer] a Reds fan, and started with [how] he missed the keyboards at first – but, as he delved into it, found other things [to excite him]. He said it sounded like late '60s garage: “Imagine, if you will, Jon Spencer and Alan Vega together.” I thought that was cool.
CR: As we say, different people like different things, and that's a good example.
RS: Yeah. Well, I thank you for your time, Ralph.
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