Interview with Stanley Mouse- Seconds #45 (1997)

Seconds #45, 1997
by Steven Cerio

You’d have to list Stanley Mouse among the most memorable aestheticians to come down the pike since Normal Rockwell. But I’d hesitate to label Mouse a master of Psychedelic Art. To dub Stanley a master is to say he worked within the confines of a set form and fully acknowledged and exercised the laws of past technicians of said form. But Mouse helped create the form from rubble. He cast the frozen standard. Mouse is a maker! He laid down the track that any book-worming retro punk of psychedelic masterdom must follow.  Stanley Mouse didn’t rise from the art books. He came from up inside the music.

A child of Fifties Detroit, little Stanley spent lifetimes huddling under the sheets sneaking listens to the devil’s very own R&B, absorbing the tunes and developing a good prepubescent crush on the culture. He channeled those energies into art, mastering the airbrush at a very early age. With his parents and family behind him he went on to set up a mail order t-shirt business. He panhandled his wares at Midwestern Hot Rod shows and drag strips where he rubbed elbows with chubby characters like Big Daddy Roth, all while attending art school.

Mouse uprooted to the West Coast where he came face to face with the Coppertone-stained surf culture and its resident visionary Rick Griffin, with whom Stanley built a friendship that lasted until Rick’s untimely death in 1992.

In 1965, the San Francisco psychedelic scene really came together and happened. At that time the Haight-Ashbury was a sleepy neighborhood populated by only a small percentage of long hairs. Mouse haunted the print shops, snatching up posters wet off the press.

The Stanley Mouse-Alton Kelley connection was made in ’65 as well. The pair went on to create album covers, posters and other ephemera for The Grateful Dead, Starship, Rolling Stones, Wings, Journey and Steve Miller, to mention a few. They crated dozens of classic psychedelic posters for shows held at the now legendary Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms. Mouse coagulated his talents amidst Joplin, Eric Clapton and Robert Crumb. Stanley sent home posters and shirts to his family back in Detroit and they opened The Mouse House, a classic head shop to this day. Mouse became known as the “Grateful Dead artist” through his tight affiliation with the band, completing a fortune in graphics throughout their history. Mouse remains a Deadhead fave to this day. But his crown grew heavy and restricting at times. He hid from the Dead in Santa Fe, his crown secreted under a very big hat. In Santa Fe he went on to further investigate painting, something with which he is experimenting with to this day.

In 1993, Mouse’s 52nd year, his liver pooped out. Close to a half million dollars was needed for the surgery and organ replacement. The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Dinosaurs and New Riders of the Purple Sage amongst the many others pledged benefit shows and money. Stanley got a fresh liver – one that’s not regularly dipped in turpentine and toxic oil painting pigment like his ’52 model.

He continues to scribble and plat away with the same intensity he harnessed in the Sixties, each piece the expression of solidity with an obvious tinge of Zen as the basis of the sauce. But where there were many nervous notes in his earlier work, his new work abounds with confident open spaces packed full of reverberation and visions of a center. A wet freedom slides loose and glues the ideas in place.

Stanley Mouse resides in Somona, California with his wife and daughters. He amuses himself with sketching from models and writing ugly little death marches on his toy synthesizer. His book Freehand: The Art of Stanley Mouse is available from Snow Lion Graphics – PO Box 9465, Berkley, CA 94709.

SECONDS: So Stanley, I have some questions laid out –

MOUSE: All the regular questions? “How did you meet the Grateful Dead?” It’s a burning question.

SECONDS: No, I am not going to ask that. Let’s start with this: When did you realize you wanted to dedicate your life to art?

MOUSE: That’s a toughie. There’s so many moments that made me aim this way. Like the day I bought an airbrush and painted something weird on a t-shirt in my backyard and the neighborhood kids saw me doing it and in two seconds they had all their t-shirts out for me to paint. At that point, there was no other thing I could do. I was forced into it. (laughs)

SECONDS: What does an artist need – clarity or delusion?

MOUSE: A balance of both.

SECONDS: Your stuff seems to go both ways. Your airbrush work is very technical and labor intensive and other work looks like you’re just having fun.

MOUSE: I just finished a painting that looks like a Degas painting. I was thinking, “What do I do now? Do I draw hot rod monsters over it or Grateful Dead album covers?” I guess it’s a fantasy connected with the real skill.

SECONDS: What do you see as the difference between older Rock posters and what’s being produced now?

MOUSE: Before it was an explosion; now it’s a traffic jam.

SECONDS: It seems like the monster dragsters are coming back in vogue now.

MOUSE: I like painting hot rod monsters but I think hot rods look dumb now. Hot rods in the old days used to be bad. Now they’re just nostalgic looking. In the old days, when you drove down the street in a hot rod it was really a statement. There’s no sense of humor in cars now.

SECONDS: Rumor has it that Ed Roth stole the Rat Fink from the work you were doing –

MOUSE: Well, he stole my mouse image and took my character Freddy Flypogger and turned him into a rodent. You take the tail, ears and nose off and you have Freddy Flypogger. I was painting on the East Coast car show circuit and Roth came from the West Coast to a show in Pittsburgh. He was showing his car off and said, “Hey kid, can I paint at the show with you? You’ll learn how to make three hundred dollars instead of a hundred.” I said, “Let’s do it.” He set up next to me and he had a pair of Levis, a giant stomach and no shirt on and he sat on his little stool that was about a foot high and started painting. He was painting snakes and skulls, groovy stuff, but he was real slow and he only painted in black and white. I went fast and colored everything in and wound up making a thousand dollars. He made three hundred. He took a bunch of my catalogs back to L.A. and had his artists copy all my stuff and they created Rat Fink out of my characters.

I called my shirts Monster shirts and he called his Weirdo shirts. Then he started calling his stuff Monster shirts and even stole the pointed hat idea from me and called them Rat Fink hats.

SECONDS: You were close friends with Rick Griffin, too.

MOUSE: I stopped doing t-shirts and moved to California. I was painting shirts while my girlfriend was piercing eyes. We were all chewing peyote buttons. These three little surfer kids came and said, “Paint Murph on a shirt?” I said, “Who?” They ripped me apart and laughed at me. They went and got Surfer magazine and in it was the cartoon strip “Murph the Surf.” So I painted them a shirt with Murph the Surf on it.

About a year later I moved to San Francisco and the lady living next to me was Rick Griffin’s wife. She saw some of the posters I was doing and sent one to Rick in Southern California. Rick made a beeline up to San Francisco and joined in on the posters.

SECONDS: What is the project you’re doing with Peter Max?

MOUSE: I saw him at a show and we talked about doing Summer Of Love posters, where I’d do the West Coast and he’d do the East Coast Summer Of Love.

SECONDS: He’d probably get a sponser behind it…

MOUSE: Right; we could have Honda –

SECONDS: You could design a monster hot rod and they could build it for you.

MOUSE: That would be nice. I am working on my West Coast poster right now and it’s really neat.

SECONDS: What kind of imagery are you using?

MOUSE: The victory statue of Samothrace, the Greek statue with heads or arms that has wings. I had a model pose in that same pose and I put arms on her. One arm is carrying a guitar and the other is carrying a palette.

SECONDS: Robert Crumb was from the same period as you as well. What do you think about his success?

MOUSE: I don’t know, what is his success?

SECONDS: With the film, it seems like a household name now –

MOUSE: But I don’t see any new work coming from him.

SECONDS: That’s the strange thing.

MOUSE: He must have something brewing.

SECONDS: Do you think he’s put energy into being a good businessman like Peter Max has?

MOUSE: I don’t think Crumb is like Peter Max. (laughs) I have a picture of Crumb on my drawing board. I visited him in the South of France on the first day he had the key to his new house. I was there and took a picture of him pulling the insides of his pockets out like he didn’t have any more money. It’s a beautiful town, built by the Romans out of stone.

SECONDS: Back in the Sixties, lettering again became a real art form. Why did that happen?

MOUSE: Lettering was sterile in the Fifties. You weren’t supposed to break the laws of lettering. Doing hot rod t-shirts, I did all kinds of experimenting with lettering. That was my training. Everybody would put something different in front of my face and say, “Draw this on a shirt” so I got to draw in many styles.

SECONDS: That’s your art school right there.

MOUSE: I went to art school during the week and painting t-shirts on the weekends.

SECONDS: What is it about the printed graphic that appeals to you? Francis Bacon said he’d rather see his work printed than see his own originals

MOUSE: That’s because they were so hideous. (laughs) It seems like the era we live in is mass marketing and nobody’s going to buy a painting. I do a lot of paintings. Nobody buys them, but they’ll buy prints of them because they’re cheap.

SECONDS: Do you like the idea of your work being printed in a magazine or on an album cover so more people can see it?

MOUSE: Yeah, I probably have more printed things out there than any living artist. All the album covers, posters, t-shirts…

SECONDS: Any poignant thoughts about the Sixties?

MOUSE: When I was growing up, my parents always used to talk about the roaring Twenties. When people talk about the Sixties, I’d rather think about the future. I despise the Sixties for that reason.

SECONDS: Because there’s so much nostalgia built around it?

MOUSE: Yeah. The reality of the Sixties was pretty grungy. There was a few great things that happened and it was nice – we were in our twenties and there were all these beautiful people around but Haight Street was weird and what was going on was strange. I always get sucked into talking about it. First I’ll say, “ I hate it” and then all of a sudden I’ll go on about the Sixties. I say, “I’m doing it again.”

SECONDS: Well, it’s your childhood, right?

MOUSE: It started with the Psychedelics and was a search. It got twisted along the way into some kind…

SECONDS: Lifestyle?

MOUSE: A sick, druggy lifestyle and that’s not what it started out as at all. When the masses got a hold of it, it turned into something other than the initial spark.

SECOND: Did it lose the sense of ritual?

MOUSE: Yeah. I remember around ’63, we’d gather people together – and they had to be the right people – and we’d get in a room and smoke Pot. We used to call it a set. Like, “Let’s have a set.” It was Communion, you know? Everybody would know what everybody else was thinking. If some stranger walked in who wasn’t in tune, it would jar everything apart. We lost that along the way. I grew up in the Fifties in Detroit. I was all Motown and ’56 Chevys. It was a great way to be a teenager but there wasn’t any Psychedelics. It was real uptight. You had to go to church on Sunday’s and if you didn’t you were bad. When the Psychedelic thing hit, it blew everything apart. It’s taken this long for the whole country to become Hippies, but now everybody’s a Hippie. They might deny it but they’re living with the lifestyle. I hate the word “Hippie.” (laughs) All the movies, all the TV – everything is done with that consciousness that first happened in the Sixties.

SECONDS: Speaking of the Sixties, how was your record collection changed since then?

MOUSE: The only place that you could get records in Detroit was at Hudson’s department store. I bought a Bob Dylan record and the lady said, “You like this stuff?” I had a portable record player and I went to New York to a hot rod show and I played it seven thousand times on the way to New York. While doing the posters, the record I remember the most was Rolling Stones’s Between the Buttons. That’s their greatest record. We played that a lot.

SECONDS: What’s the last record you bought?

MOUSE: Fionna Apple. Oh, I bought Blur.

SECONDS: Did you like it?

MOUSE: I like their strange stuff but I don’t like their retro-Beatles stuff. I like my music better than anything I buy.

SECONDS: What do you do?

MOUSE: I play keyboards and play funeral dirges with a beat. My band is called The Macabre Industrial Waste Band. One of the tunes is “Hitler’s Death March.” I’m the only member of the band. I turn on the drum machine real slow and play to it. I like playing music back to myself when I’m painting it. I get totally wrapped up in myself.

SECONDS: What’s the most Psychedelic medium?

MOUSE: Well, what is Psychedelic?

SECONDS: Why don’t you answer that?

MOUSE: Psychedelic was super normal to me – just everything intense. The reality took on a super reality. It was never paisley patterns. Nature is more psychedelic than anything created by man.

SECONDS: Did you get a Grammy award for the Book of Dreams cover?

MOUSE: Alton Kelley and I did it and sent it to L.A. and the record company produced it on the cover. We were watching TV one night and we saw the Grammys and they said, “For Book of Dreams, Roy Kahara, art director.” It won a Grammy but we didn’t win it. They didn’t even tell us about it. We had to see it for ourselves on TV.

SECONDS: When did you first hook up with Alton?

MOUSE: The burning questions. That’s what they all ask. He was just hanging around The Dog House in San Francisco. A lot of people from Detroit hung around there. It was a scene and Kelley was a regular on the scene. I think Kelley lived there too. They were throwing parties which turned into The Family Dog. They finally made some money throwing some dance=concert party and they split to Mexico to score some weed. I ran across Kelley a bunch of times and he’d rap the rap and enjoyed it. He became art director for The Family Dog. We teamed up to do a couple of posters and…away we went.

SECONDS: Did it take you a while to develop a system for working?

MOUSE: At first I did all the handwork and Kelley helped me with all the concepts and art directing.

SECONDS: So he isn’t an airbrusher?

MOUSE: He is now. Over the years he got pretty good. It got to a point where he was left handed and I was right handed and we could sit at the same drawing board and we were like a four-handed monster painting away. We’d paint with our outside hands and our inside hands would manipulate pencils and erasers. We worked together for a long time like that. Then we didn’t work together for about fifteen years. About a month ago, we struck a deal with the Grateful Dead using our designs and stuff. They gave us a record cover job. It’s called Terrapin Limited. It’s a live tape featuring the song “Terrapin Station.” We did a different take on the turtles driving trains and getting off the train and walking up to this fantastic station in the sky. He came over and sat down and it was like no time passed. We don’t talk, we just start doing it. We had a secretary over and she said, “Don’t you guys ever disagree?” We really did have a cool way of working.

SECONDS: Almost psychic?

MOUSE: Yeah, it was definitely psychic.

SECONDS: It’s like that myth that you hear about the Hildebrandt Brothers where one starts on the left and one starts on the right and they meet in the middle and the composition’s done.

MOUSE: That’s pretty amazing.

SECONDS: When you were doing all these covers for the Dead, did they give you any direction on those?

MOUSE: They early ones, no. They would just say, “Do us a record cover,” and we would do it. They were always a hit. Over the years, they were working with other artists. They would have their way with other artists; “Design us this and show us what it’s like and show us the sketches…” The band was almost the artist and the art director. That’s probably why they had such horrible artwork after Kelley and me. They tried doing it with us. They wanted to see it every step of the ay and they actually changed it once. Some of he changes they made were pretty good, but they did finally come and say there weren’t art directors so we could go ahead with what we wanted.

SECONDS: But they did try their hand at it –

MOUSE: Yeah, they had been doing this over the years with other artists and getting what they want. But it’s hard; it’s like “Okay, Picasso, none of those girls with two eyeballs on one side of their face.” It’s silly. How can you tell someone what to do?

SECONDS: Well, that’s what makes an illustrator. You have to be able to take direction.

MOUSE: I did a Journey cover where I took direction.

SECONDS: I was going to say, those look like the art director beat you to death on them.

MOUSE: At first we were cool. The good Journey covers, the first three or four, were all our stuff.

SECONDS: They let you have your way? I thought they’d be staring over your shoulder?

MOUSE: They had it all planned out. It was like being a machine and it came out real stilted.

SECONDS: It must have paid nice, though

MOUSE: Yeah, that’s why I did it.

SECONDS: Those things are distinctive. I thought you and Alton together and alone are great colorists. Is it something you spent a lot of time thinking about?

MOUSE: You couldn’t tell they were airbrushed. They have that smooth look, but you couldn’t tell. Some of the stuff you see is so obvious – the same with computers nowadays. God, I hate computer artwork!

SECONDS: I used to supplement my income by doing lettering. Now they feel like they don’t need you anymore because they have ten or twenty thousand computer typefaces –

MOUSE: They even have scribbly stuff so you can’t scribble and try to fool them.

SECONDS: I saw Ed Roth come out with a disk of Ratfink typefaces. Everyone’s trying to get in on it. But you can’t get things like that without being too stiff.

MOUSE: You can always see it. There’s some computer artwork that doesn’t look like computer artwork. That’s the stuff that excels. Jim Philips has been doing some great stuff with a computer. He took the Mouse and Kelly flying eyeball and did a rendition of it that looks really cool.

SECONDS: How do you feel about that fact that a lot of people associate you with the bands for which you developed images?

MOUSE: I hate it because I feel like I’m branded. I may not like that kind of work anymore.

SECONDS: Do you feel it helped your career along, though? Do you think it had a positive effect on your wallet at least?

MOUSE: I never did make any money off of it. I mean, I made a living off of it, but never did make money. Actually, I’ve been licensing things lately and things are starting to happen. I got some Zippo lighters out there with my stuff on it, and some t-shirts…

SECONDS: What kind of images are you doing on those – back to the monsters, like you said before?

MOUSE: They did eight really classic things, like the Steve Miller Book of Dreams, a flaming wolf head – some of the classic old stuff. Then the European distributor saw them and ordered fifteen more and just started taking things out of my book.

SECONDS: The flaming wolf head – you mean the Steppenwolf cover?

MOUSE: Yeah, I like the flaming wolf on a lighter. And they’ve been selling big time – they sell all over the world. I got a royalty statement the other day from Czechoslovakia. Can you imagine my stuff in Czechoslovakia?

SECONDS: Journey is totally entwined in your designs. That’s all I remember about them – your covers.

MOUSE: Look at The Residents. All I remember about The Residents is that eyeball.

SECONDS: Is there something you’d rather do than make art?

MOUSE: Not really.

SECONDS: You feel like that’s a good way to spend your time?

MOUSE: I feel like it’s a great gift. It’s my duty to produce beauty as best I can. It’s like a responsibility now.

SECONDS: You use that word “beauty” – do you feel you’re coming across with some positivity then?

MOUSE: Yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of negative energy in the world and I’m not adding to it, that’s for sure.

SECONDS: I should mention your liver transplant – is there anything you want to say about it? That seems like a pretty intense thing – I don’t know if you feel comfortable talking about it…

MOUSE: I love talking about it. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

SECONDS: That muse have been a touching thing, having all those people stand up for you and get all that money together.

MOUSE: It was touching. But other than that I was so sick I was a goner. I had twenty-four hours to live. I didn’t want a liver transplant. It sounded like the worst thing possible. I’d rather die than have that. I almost did. At the last minute I guess my wife said, “Give him a liver, “ after I went into a coma. I was really very sick. I was a hundred and thirty-five pounds and there were a million things wrong with me. They stuck a nineteen year old liver in me and I woke up and said, “Let’s go and get a beer.”

SECONDS: Let’s get to work on this new liver.

MOUSE: I never drank beer, that’s the funny thing. I’m sure that’s how the guy lost his liver, he must have been out drinking or something. It was amazing; almost immediately I was healed. I got really healthy after that. I felt nineteen.

SECONDS: Still feeling good?

MOUSE: I still feel good. My liver’s twenty-three now. The only problem is I feel like a broken down Volkswagen with a supercharged Chrysler engine. There’s a little imbalance there, but it’s cool.

SECONDS: I saw some later photos of you and didn’t recognize you. Have you still kept all that weight off?

MOUSE: God, no.

SECONDS: So you’re back in the classic Mouse look?

MOUSE: Yeah, I’m as healthy as could be.

SECONDS: You had to raise something like $150,000?

MOUSE: What happened was I didn’t have health insurance and the liver cost $250,000. They didn’t know who I was in the hospital. Here comes a guy in a coma from liver failure. All of a sudden all these people arrive and are calling saying “save the guy.” There was this intense outpouring of love. The hospital goes, “who do we have here?” My book was just published by Roger Williams, my publisher, was really verbal about it and told them who I was and they went to work finding me a liver. Then the Grateful Dead came in and said they would back it and eased the hospital’s worries about the whole thing. I went to the top of the list because I only had a few hours to live. Miraculously I got a liver. I applied for county health and the county paid for it. Then the Dead backed out. No, they didn’t back out, but they didn’t have to pay for it. But it because of all the support that it even happened. Otherwise, I’d be six feet under.

SECONDS: That’s pretty heavy.

MOUSE: Yeah, it’s heavy, but it’s also wonderful. It’s a miracle of the wonders of modern medicine which I didn’t believe in before. I learned to love modern medicine. I go to the hospital now for flashbacks. I had a such a good trip in there that I missed the whole transplant thing because they had me so….I wasn’t there.

SECONDS: Knocked out in your bed on painkillers?

MOUSE: After I got it I went through a lot of hallucinations. Because of the bad state I was in it caused hallucinations. But they were really intense and I still remember them to this day. There were forty of them and they have sub-groups to them. They were really far-out. One of them was that my wife had five different husbands, but I was her favorite because I gave her the offspring that she liked the best. It was a fish with a jewel in its nose.

SECONDS: It sounds like a Native American tale.

MOUSE: You know how dreams go away? Well, these didn’t. I still remember them all.

SECONDS: Were they like hallucinations:

MOUSE: Not really. They were somewhere else. I was there. But I thought that Kelley had this car that when it hit 200 mph, it made a sonic boom. I had another car I thought was parked in back of the hospital and every time someone would come to visit me I’d say, “Hey, let’s go for a ride.” It was fun. I’d be conscious and the next think I know I was in Vancouver, Canada with Steve Miller riding in my car.

SECONDS: And your wife’s breast-feeding fish?

MOUSE: This was real. They’d say, “You can’t walk.” And I’d say, “What do you mean? I went swimming yesterday.” It was really fun. It was one of my best trips ever.

SECONDS: When most artists reach a certain sort of fame they become absorbed by the mainstream. Do you think you’ve become absorbed, even partially?

MOUSE: It’s happening. My stuff, just a few years ago, was cult. It’s just become mainstream on its own. The Sixties is reality now – mainstream. What we did in the Sixties, everybody is doing now, even thought they fought it for years and years. It just happened. It was prophec.

But now in the Nineties everything came back. It’s almost like a big summarization of everything. A “summer” –ization of love. I’m doing a summer of love poster and also a bummer of love poster.

SECONDS: Bummer of love? What are you going to do for that?

MOUSE: It’s a realistic scene of a Haight Street pad. A couple doing it and the guy’s looking over his shoulder and he’s got a big, fat doobie. The girl’s shooting up in her butt. They’ve got Jimi Hendrix on the record player and they’ve got a nitrous oxide tank and black light poster on the wall and a plain old mattress. Outside the window is a psychedelic shop and Hippies walking along. Like it really was.

Interview with The Residents- Seconds #43 (1997)

Continuing to archive items from the old Happy Homeland site.


By Steven Cerio

The unblinking eyes of THE RESIDENTS stand as a constant reminder of the infinite possibilities of invention and transcendence in the face of numbing boom boom crash crash dance beat aggression. They stand in tuxedos and bow ties against obligatory fuzz boxes, planned apathy, and cooler-than-thou affectations. They are faceless, genderless and devoid of individual personalities: a brick pitched into the face of mass marketing. They are a collective of unknown human quantities shuttling along the cutting edge for a quarter of a century – and they are sharing that twenty-fifth anniversary this year with Disney World.

These winkless wonders have created their own aesthetic with any and all of the newest technological advances in sound and recording. Even with the slew of synthesized voices and oddly registered sounds, which have become The Residents’ trademark, they have somehow managed to create an organic, analog feel to their painfully futuristic instrumentation. Their compositions have overtones of exactness counteracted by a sense of disintegration. This is a phenomenon felt in the music’s of Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band, Pere Ubu, Sun Ra and John Coltrane – in short, the innovators who helped create a new psychedelic, technical savantism, and an inborn need to reinvent the wheel.

HOMER FLYNN is the official spokesperson for the Cryptic Corporation, a management company that handles The Residents’ business affairs. Flynn also founded Porno Graphix to oversee graphic needs of The Residents and their Ralph Records label mates. With the consent of the group, Flynn and a fleet of artists went on to create the seemingly largest and oddest series of packaging concepts and knickknacks in the history of musical propaganda. Aside from the expected t-shirts and buttons (of which they produced countless varieties), these kings of collectibles produced a plethora of LP covers that change with each new pressing, scarves, UWEB (Uncle Willie’s Eyeball Buddies) newsletters and white singles with iris-inscribed labels set inside clear plastic dust sleeves silk-screened with swollen red veins. When not hard at work redesigning the ever-fluctuating Ralph logo, the team set out to find the newest art technologies. They utilized the clumsy computer graphic programs available to them in the Seventies, creating the covers for the Composer Series albums with wonderfully clumsy bit maps, using the “Pong”-like technologies to full effect. Mockingly futuristic patterning prevails in most of their designs, creating deceitful stability for the over-layered images. Covers like those of Mark Of The Mole, The Tunes Of Two Cities, Not Available and Residue Of The Residents testify to the scribbling prowess of the Porno Graphix founders – images vary from the slickly airbrushed to the possibly Flair-penned. Each newly concocted image and design presents a fresh variation marked with playfulness and the bold refusal of repetition and other symptoms of stagnation. Even the name “Porno Graphix” undergoes a constant metamorphosis, alternating between Pour No Graphics, Pore-No Graphics, Pore-know Graphics, and Poorknow Graphics. Additionally, Flynn and Fox have utilized other graphic technicians including photo wizard Henrik Kam, Gary Panter, the forlorn Mark Beyer, Savage Pencil, Richard Sala, Jonathan Rosen and yours truly.

There are very few facts known about The Residents. By choice they have remained warm and snuggled in anonymity since the dawn of their existence, using their ego-less freedom rampantly and flauntingly. The one proven fact is that The Residents have worked obsessively for the last twenty-five years creating records, CDs, films and CD-ROMs. Somewhere in the dawn of the Seventies The Residents had the unmitigated audacity to write and record music with almost no licks, chops, or even practice to speak of. There are rumored to be early tapes with titles like “The Warner Brothers album,” “Baby Sex,” and “The Ballad Of Stuffed Trigger” but The Residents do not acknowledge their existence. They remain unreleased and, according to Residents Fan Club president, biographer and touring pal Uncle Willie, unheard as well. The multitudes of purported bootlegs of this session are fakes.

The recording of Santa Dog is more a matter of record than of superstition. It was released in 1972 as a free gift to possible fans and cronies, a move Uncle Willie termed “a Christmas card to the music world of their coming invasion.” They would later follow it up with updated versions in 1978, 1988 and 1992. They spent the next four years filming Vileness Fats, a video shot on reel-to-reel long before the first VHS recorder was made available to the public. (The film was not released till1984.) Vileness Fats is a convoluted narrative about the citizens of the town of Vileness Fats, a community united in the fear of the atomic-powered shopping carts. All of this fine publication could be easily filled with a discussion of the video’s tainted intentions and buckled symbolisms.

Their next release was the famed Meet The Residents. It hit the stands in 1974, enshrouded in a morbidly silly defacement of the cover image found on the Fab Four’s debut release. Meet The Residents also marked the birth of Ralph Records and its offshoot Cryptic Corporation. Ralph would eventually be home to such seminal acts as Yello, Renaldo And The Loaf, MX.80 Sound, Fred Frith and the immortal genius of Snakefinger. Ralph exists today primarily as a clearing house for Residents collectibles new and old.

The sophomore album Not Available was recorded amidst the Vileness Fats shooting schedule of 1975 but wasn’t released until 1978. 1976 gave birth to the aural irritations of The Residents Present The Third Reich ‘n Roll, its cover bestowed with Nazi imagery and a Hitleresque Dick Clark. It included retardations of songs from the dawn of the electric guitar.

The same tour, another loss was suffered by The Residents – their very close friend and fifth Resident, Snakefinger, had passed away while on tour with his own band in Austria. Snakefinger, a.k.a. Philip Lithman, was an overtly adventurous guitarist who was able to sway back and forth between personas. He easily tackled Frank Zappa’s “King Kong” with The Residents, yet could dissolve into atonal dissonance when called for. His influence can still be heard in the work of any guitarist worth his weight in used toilet tissue.

As the Eighties rocked and rolled to a close The King and Eye was set upon the public. Its stage show: a former Elvis impersonator Granddad holds “Shorty” and “Shirley,” his wooden grandchildren, on his knees while speaking lovingly of the birth and demise of The King. These actions are set against a backdrop of Elvis covers done in purely Residential style. They do steer away from the obligatory Elvis gags, preferring to treat their subject with eloquence – which made it all the spookier. 1990 brought us Cube-E: Live In Holland, “The History Of American Music In 3 E-Z Pieces.” included music of the Plains, subtitled “Buckaroo Blues,” the birth of Gospel as “Black Barry”, and the dawn of the Elvis era as “The Baby King.” They ended the retrospective in 1950, the point where The Residents as well as many historians believe marks the end of genuinely American music. The stage show demanded attention – at times, there was a dark stage lit only with the false Christmas bulb-eyes of dancers; at other times a cube creature rises from the stage growing to mammoth proportions, its arms outstretched like a savior to the ticket-holding worshippers.

Freak Show was released the following year by OP. Its counterparts included the now classic Freak Show CD-ROM, as well as a graphic novel released by Dark Horse that included the wayward talents of Savage Pencil, Charles Burns, Richard Sala and the ever-present Pore.

Thereafter the giant media cyclops carried them away in its hairy arms and labeled them the darlings of New Wave. During that era they released Fingerprince and Baby Fingers and bestowed the cult classic “Walter Westinghouse.” These albums demonstrated The Residents’ love of minimalism, an affair that has continued to the present day. For example, Side B is a 17:48 song, “Six Things To A Cycle,” expounding upon a morse code-like ditty that haunts each minute in a terminal state of transformation. It provided yet another theme that surfaced continually throughout their history.

1978’s Duck Stab / Buster And Glen was a crowning surrealist achievement blending the psychedelic and the childish (odd couplets scrambling majestically above disorienting keyboard passages, narratives revealed with sinister-yet-Dr. Seuss-like intent). For the first time catchy riffs emerged amongst seemingly sarcastic arrangements. “Constantinople” and “Hello Skinny,” two late night radio faves, appear here in their unfailing glory.

The Eskimo LP emerged in 1979, paving the way for ambient musics to come. At first listen it seemed to contain no understandable languages. After repeated listening, catch phrases like “please don’t squeeze the Charmin” emerge, adding extra flakiness to the blizzard of sounds. Many of the lyrics were improvisations on Innuit themes such as walrus hunting, birth rituals and avenging spirits. This album’s disco counterpart was released in 1988 as Diskomo, a must for Eskimo addicts.

The release of The Residents Commercial Album in 1980 ended The Residents’ stint as New Wave darlings. It was a collection of TV-commercial-length songs strewn one after another that the press didn’t groove on (but the fans sure did). Its forty songs included imported performance s by Snakefinger (by now an honorary member), Fred Frith and percussion great Chris Cutler (Pere Ubu, Henry Cow). Uncredited performances include Lene Lovich and gun-shy XTC frontman Andy Partridge. This project also inspired the ocular ones to pursue optical accompaniment to their sounds. Those videos as well as other works completed for Third Reich ‘n Roll and Duck Stab were added to the permanent collection of the Museum Of Modern Art.

Mark Of The Mole marks the waterline where the turbulent New Wave sea retreated back into a muddy hole. It was the first installment in a series that also included Tunes Of Two Cities, Intermission and The Big Bubble. This series invoked their darkest era. Begrudgingly slow tempos, drawn-out, depressive vocals creeping between long keyboard strains embodied a period complex in its economy and surprising maturity. The series also spotlighted the Residentially-invented Mohelmot language of Zinkenites, the forlorn prisoners of their dark world. The Mark Of The Mole tour, with its extreme set design worthy of a major Broadway production, sparked a film by the same name, which was a staple of the USA Network’s Night Flight throughout the early Eighties. The American Composers series began in 1984, with odd pairs teamed for each of the two releases. The first, George And James, saw the odd marriage of George Gershwin and James Brown. The second saw the unholy partnership of Hank Williams and John Philip Sousa, entitled Stars & Hank Forever.

Residents live albums like The Residents Mole Show (1983), 13th Anniversary Show Live In Japan! (1986), PAL TV (1985), Assorted Secrets (1984), The Mole Show Live In Holland (1987) and The 13th Anniversary Show Live In The USA (1986) displayed the eyeballians and Snakefinger out of the comfort of the studio, on the proving grounds where only previously ticket-buying fans had tread. At a 1986 show in Los Angeles they lost one of their heads, or one of their eyeballs, as it were. It was eventually returned after the elaborate theft but not before The Residents decided to replace it with a skull head. “Dead Eye Dick” was the moniker given to this sightless Resident who was assisted on and off stage by his sighted brethren. During permanent waves with a pale tattooed arm, the glint of a sterling silver skull ring shining like a lighthouse beacon through the fake fog. Yet they remained unseduced and yes, a bit queasy, and they decided to mutate, in the process exacting a new science. Now their immense pupils soak up the ambient light, fiendishly large retinas opening only to slide shut like barn doors trapping the woozy hallucinations that have become synonymous with The Residents.

SECONDS: First of all, what is your relationship to The Residents?

FLVNN: Well, I’ve done a lot of The Residents’ album covers and graphics. As things have continued, my biggest responsibility is more in terms of management. I do a lot of public relations stuff and a lot of contracts – yucky business things.

SECONDS: The Residents have always seemed genre-less. Do they consider themselves part of any movement?

FLVNN: Not really. They were swept along with the Punk/New Wave of the late Seventies/early Eighties but they never considered themselves to be Punk or New Wave. That was a point in time when people were more open to new ideas and from that standpoint, The Residents did fit in. We’ve always felt The Residents were more marketable when seen as the fringe of the Rock audience.

SECONDS: I’ve always thought of them as being the truest Psychedelic band. Did they set out to be Psychedelic?

FLVNN: In a way, yeah. All of those bands – San Francisco Psychedelic-era bands – eventually found their formula. They were experimental and then about 1970, 1971 most of them found a formula that sold and they stuck to it. Even Jefferson Airplane going into Jefferson Starship didn’t change that much, it just got more bland. I don’t think The Grateful Dead were that different three years ago from how they were twenty years ago. The Residents felt the ideas of the Psychedelic era could stand to be No Graphics.

The CD-ROM is masterful, the first of the Rock, personality cult varieties. Freak Show utilizes the expertise of animator/illustrator Jim Ludtke, who animated and designed the release along with the watchful eyes and the Porno boys. Its macabre theme probed the private lives of imagined performers like Wanda The Worm Woman and Herman The Human Mole. It was purely sinister 3-D animation supported by an equally creepy yet mournful soundtrack whose lyrics were a straight narrative with undertones of the cryptic (instead of the inverse mixture we’ve come to expect from the unblinking ones).

Gingerbread Man was the CD-ROM follow-up to Freak Show. Released in 1994, Gingerbread Man had that trademarked forlorn quality, investigating the woes and beaten-down dreams of sold-out artists, transsexuals, old soldiers and aging musicians. That CD-ROM was a form of what The Residents call “Album Length Interactive Music Video.”

Bad Day At The Midway, the next CD-ROM release, returned to the classic interactive format loved by game users and film aficionados alike. It had a Fifties retro midway theme, complete with dark alleys and fiendish ticket ladies. You wandered through the dank park in search of fun and mischief. Your visual perspective is matched to that of a young boy, “Timmy,” whose body you’ve inhabited quite innocently. Animated and designed once again by Jim Ludtke, the CD-ROM included guest animations by Peter Kuper, Jonathan Rosen and yours truly. Word has it that a big production company run by a famed surrealist film director is speaking to the optical spheroids about further possibilities for the piece.

I Murdered Mommy, a new CD-ROM, was in development for 1998 but has since been canceled. It surely would have included yet another obsessively engineered soundtrack, a task The Residents have always lept into top hat first. Their first soundtrack (for their own film), Whatever Happened To Vileness Fats? had first seen light in 1984, their score to The Census Taker in 1985. Hunters: The World Of Predators And Prey (Milan) was created for the Discovery Channel in 1995. They also scored the Pee-wee Herman show Pee-wee’s Playhouse five times (the “dentist” show is still a cult fave amongst Residents fans in the know). Until its demise in 1993, fans of the aqueous humorists had a friend in UWEB, their official fan club. Uncle Willie dealt out news and answered mail as well as dispensing myths and citing new ones. Dedicated to their very dedicated fanbase, The Residents released UWEB CDs, available for years only through the club. Some of these releases included a recording of an informal musical wake for Snakefinger entitled Snakeywake. There was also Our Finest Flowers, probably the most satiating hard-core fan classic ever created. With fans in mind, The Residents re-created Our Finest Flowers from stripped-down skeletons of various recorded points of their past. Other UWEB classics such as Stranger Than Supper, Liver Music, and Buckaroo Blues are no longer available.

Since their birth, The Residents have always been the kings of the collectible single. Some of their classic B-sides like “Safety Is A Cootie Wootie,” “Loser Is = To Weed,” and “Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers” stand as monoliths to The Residents’ success not only because of the novelty factors but because they didn’t treat any B-side like an expendable track. You can’t find a throwaway in their twenty-five-year history. When the quality control is that genuine, so is the music.

The work of The Residents is an untapped world of something new where open-faced inspiration replaces rehearsed apathy and the wheel gets a chance to be reinvented. Playtime sounds are mixed with coagulations of Acid and sugar highs. New sounds abound, masking cryptic clues to the deciphering of a psychedelic legacy that reveals itself layer after layer with appealing absurdity and unfettered intelligence.

Their anonymity and disguise appears as shtick upon first glance yet reveals itself to be a fully functional shield against the death rays of ego-laden complacency and stagnation. They have fenced in the cash cow of Pop only to leech its milk and flesh for sustenance for themselves and their fans. The Residents saw the specter of Rock & Roll standing under the garish lights, hairspraying its long

SECONDS: The Residents have always done a lot of cover tunes.

FLYNN: One of the things they always enjoyed doing was reinterpreting other works. That’s the side of their creativity that has… not so much fallen by the wayside, because I expect it to come back at a certain point, but they haven’t done as much of that in recent years – the last thing being the Elvis album. They really like music to reinterpret other people’s stuff is a thrill for them.

SECONDS: There’s a heavy sarcastic edge to those interpretations. ls that intentional?

FLYNN: From their point of view, most of the stuff they interpreted they liked or they wouldn’t have bothered to do it. While there’s always a sense of dark humor, there’s an underlying sense of respect and tribute.

SECONDS: The way they play is in some ways very minimalist but at the same time very detailed and thick sounding. Someone said to me that Duck Stab was the smallest-sounding record they ever heard. It wasn’t powerful; there were no power chords – it was small-sounding.

FLYNN: A lot of that comes from the fact that they didn’t play. They wouldn’t know what a power chord was. Generally, they play one or two notes at a time and build things through overdubs. That’s how they would get that thickness, by adding more and more parts, but the parts were never very hard, which is the source of the minimalism. They wouldn’t spend tons of time trying to work a melody out in twenty different variations. They’d have an idea, get it down, and move on.

SECONDS: Early on, what equipment were they using?

FLYNN: They started out mostly acoustic with some kind of electric keyboard and maybe an electric bass, but not much more. They had drums, saxophones, a trumpet, clarinets – none of which they played very well. They had instruments from thrift stores and pawnshops. Initially, they could get a huge variety of sounds by banging on pots and pans to go along with the instruments they had. Over the years, they started getting into synthesizers, which offered a huge variety of sounds in one instrument. Then they got more sophisticated and sampling comes along. They absolutely love sampling because they can take highly-processed sounds and play them. That’s what made it possible for them to feel like they could do a live performance and be faithful to their sound, because they could never play it otherwise. After that, they got involved in MIDI, which was liberating again, because it took the real-time aspect out of it. Now, they could not only manipulate sounds, they could manipulate time. They had done that by speeding up and slowing down tape, and here was a way to almost magically manipulate the time. Ultimately, things have gotten to where they now have a fully digital studio. The amount of flexibility they have at their fingertips is stunning. It allows them to manipulate sound more fully than they ever have before.

SECONDS: Do they prefer digital over analog for any reason other than that it makes manipulation easier?

FLYNN: It’s purely convenience. They could never afford progressed further, rather than left where they were.

SECONDS: What advantages did they have by owning their own label?

FLYNN: The advantage was they could do whatever they wanted to without having any pressure to compromise or conform to whatever the trend of the day might be. The trade-off was the distribution was always terrible. If you’re with a big company, they give you more money and expect you to kow-tow towards what they want, unless you’re at a high level. You get the distribution and promotion and pay the price with control of your products.

SECONDS: What is the state of Ralph Records right now?

FLYNN: Ralph right now is exclusively for Residents merchandise. It’s a service for the fans. It makes a little money, but not a huge amount. It exists as a way to get purist level Residents stuff to people without having to be filtered through anything else. Ralph doesn’t manufacture much stuff anymore; it’s more a clearinghouse for all the different things that are manufactured at other points all over the world. Anywhere they can find Residents merchandise, they buy it and sell it to the fans.

SECONDS: Has it been hard for The Residents to find appropriate touring partners?

FLYNN: First off, The Residents aren’t really a band and they never have been. They’re a group of people who create work. People think of a band and think of several people who get together and work on a song, and then go into a recording studio and lay down the basic tracks and build from that. The Residents approach couldn’t have been more opposite. Traditionally, they’re non-musicians. Before they started doing The Residents, they had never played. By teaching themselves, they felt it was a good path towards originality. You asked before if The Residents were part of any genre. If anything, they like to create their own reality. They build a world and then inhabit that world to see what to create a live concert with another band opening for them works against that idea. If you look at the Third Reich ‘n Roll video, there’s a little world that they created and it’s very complete in and of itself. The fullest expression of this idea musically was Eskimo. It had some links to the real world but it was a fantasy created by The Residents. When you get in there and give yourself up to it, it becomes very whole. This same idea they’re bringing into CD-ROMs. It’s The Residents world you become fully immersed in, with complex stories visually fleshed out.

SECONDS: Did they have an easier time, when they started than they would if t~ the Nineties?

FLYNN: If they were starting now, it might be difficult. They’ve never been trendy relative to the music business but they are established enough so that its easier now to connect with the people. The people The Residents appeal to are always going to be there. It’s mainly a matter of finding them.

SECONDS: What is your average Residents fan like? Are they different from a Rock & Rol! fan?

FLYNN: The average Residents fan is generally more alienated. For the most part, all the stuff that comes out of the big media machine doesn’t work for them that well. The Residents are the voice of alienation and they say, “It’s okay.” They connect with the nerds and alienated people in every community.

SECONDS: What do they think about the present state of Pop music?

FLYNN: They have a difficult time finding current stuff to get interested in. They’re musically curious and looking for new things but they’re less and less finding it in the Pop world. It’s hard to tell how much of that is just a product of getting older. Pop Music is generally made for younger people. On the other hand, so much of it they feel like they’ve already heard before. It just gets regurgitated and reworked. One of my favorite expressions is “There’s no new jokes, only new audiences.” I have a sixteen-year-old daughter and she was into Nirvana and more recently Nine Inch Nails. I don’t want to invalidate that, but it’s more valid for the audience it’s created for. Musically, it’s exactly what was happening twenty years ago. The differences are in the subtleties.

SECONDS: Is there anything new The Residents are interested in?

FLYNN: The things I think they listen to the most are World Music. One of them’s gotten into Indonesian Music. They listen to European soundtracks, Forties and Fifties Big Band and Country Swing – stuff they find still has a lot of energy.

SECONDS: What do they think of the new Residents tribute album?

FLYNN: They’re quite flattered by it. In a lot al ways, The Residents isolate themselves from their audience. It’s always been part of their aesthetic. When they’re creating they enjoying feeling like they’re doing what they want strictly for them. To then have someone put out a tribute album like that is kind of shocking to them. Like, “People pay that much attention to us? Why would anyone do this?” The Residents don’t take themselves that seriously so they have a hard time understanding why anyone else would.

SECONDS: If I’m right, they’re also the first to record an album solely with musical children’s toys.

FLYNN: As far as I know, yeah.

SECONDS: Then you move on to the first group to do a home video, Vileness Fats.

FLYNN: Vileness was designed to be the first video feature and unfortunately it wasn’t completed.

SECONDS: Did they take a cue to do that from 200 Motels?

FLYNN: They saw video was a big thing coming. They were no more filmmakers than they were musicians and what they really liked about video was it gave them instant feedback.

SECONDS: The way they blend music with images achieves an equilibrium

FLYNN: There’s a whole phase of their career doing soundtracks that’s yet to unfold. I think they really know how to compliment images.

SECONDS: Is Video Voodoo on permanent exhibition somewhere?

FLYNN: There are a couple of pieces of Video Voodoo in the collection of The Museum Of Modern Art, I think Third Reich ‘n Roll and the one-minute movies.

SECONDS: Have all the one-minute movies been released?

FLYNN: There hasn’t been a new compilation put together in awhile. There’s a lot of music videos in the CD-ROMs but a lot of them are too low-res to be viewed on TV. Something like the “Jelly Jack” song from Freak Show was done as a full music video and that will eventually make it onto a compilation. The best collection is the laser disc that Voyager has out now.

SECONDS: They always seemed ready to cross the line from musical performance into theater. Who designed the whole Mole show set?

FLYNN: That was me, really.

SECONDS: So you are Pornographix. Were you always an in-house entity for The Residents?

FLYNN: Yes. I’ve done a few things here and there outside but I work pretty much exclusively with The Residents.

SECONDS: There’s so many t-shirts, picture disks, books, toys and what not …

FLYNN: There’s always been an interest in creating cool things. The first Residents release was Santa Dog, a two record set of 45s with silk-screened covers. It’s part of The Residents’ ongoing war with Pop Culture in that they like things to be more individualized and have a sense of being done by a human being, whereas the culture likes everything to be uniform and homogenized.

SECONDS: Didn’t you tell me you dreamt up the white single?

FLYNN: One of The Residents had a dream that this was going to be their hit single and they saw it in the dream as a white single with this silk-screen on the clear package.

SECONDS: When you started designing for them, Hipgnosis was doing some interesting covers. How did you feel about them?

FLYNN: I think they’ve done some nice stuff. At the time they certainly were the ones creating the more eye catching covers. As far as what I do, I’m pretty much selftaught and operate more based on my limitations than anything else. It can be difficult to copy somebody if you don’t have lots of chops and skills. My design work has operated more based on what I felt good about than on what I was influenced by. There’s people I like – Picasso, Escher – but I could never do it.

SECONDS: Do you have to run ideas past them, or do they come up with ideas?

FLYNN: It goes both ways. For the most part it’s their stuff but we work on things until everybody’s in agreement with an idea.

SECONDS: They seem very willing to do the photo shoots

FLYNN: More or less. I couldn’t say there aren’t , occasionally a few stand-ins inside some of those eyeballs.

SECONDS: Have they ever sampled anyone’s work or been sampled themselves? .

FLYNN: They’ve sampled everybody. [Laughs] If you listen to Meet The Residents, they sample the song “Nobody But Me” by The Human Beinz. Halfway through the first side, you actually hear a needle being set down on a record. They rigged up this thing with a coathanger so that the record would stop at a certain groove and skip back, like “Nobody does – nobody does – nobody does,” and they used it as a rhythm track.

SECONDS: A primitive loop.

FLYNN: Exactly. If you listen to their version of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” on Third Reich ‘n Roll, that’s actually James Brown’s horn section. What they did on that was lay down his original song as a template and played along with it. They did that a lot on Third Reich ‘n Roll. I could list examples for the next hour, but yeah, they’ve sampled.

SECONDS: Was the composers series created differently than that?

FLYNN: The James Brown side of George And James was done that same way. What they did is take James Brown Live At The Apollo, edit it down to twenty minutes, play along with it, and then take the James Brown part out. I think that’s the only side of American Composers done that way.

SECONDS: Have they always engineered and produced their own work?

FLYNN: They’ve had some engineers at times. The Elvis album, The King & I, was recorded at a local studio here, Different Fur, because it came out on Enigma and they had a little extra money to spend. Then, Freak Show and Finest Flowers were both recorded by Tony Janssen, who was The Residents soundman when they toured last time.

SECONDS: The Residents used to work with Snakefinger. Now that he’s passed away, has their work process changed at all?

FLYNN: Not that much. Snakefinger wouldn’t really be a part of their process. They would have semi-completed things and ask him if he’d want to lay down some tracks on them. The structure was already sketched out at that point. The interesting thing with Snakefinger was that at the point he died they were at the high point of their collaboration. They had just recently done their 13th Anniversary Tour and that was the thing he was the most heavily involved in. They got a call from these people in Japan, Wave, wanting to know if The Residents would come and perform. Originally, they wanted the Mole show but it was dead and buried, but they said they could put another show together and they did so in two weeks and took it to Japan. It was successful enough that they toured with it. Snakefinger was with them as they created music for that tour.

SECONDS: He came from a completely different background. How did they hook up with him?.

FLYNN: The Crosby, Stills & Nash / Eagles Folk Rock sound was such a dominant trend that that’s what Snakefinger was doing with the people he was recording with in England. That’s just what he was doing to have a career, but his interests were much broader than that. He was way into Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

SECONDS: There’s that beautiful version of “King Kong” The Residents did with him.

FLYNN: That was his influence. When he would get with The Residents, he would break away from the stuff he was doing as a commercial musician.

SECONDS: Why do you think the history books overlooked him?

FLYNN: Because he never stuck with one thing long enough to develop a hard-core style and on top of that, he never got major distribution. He wasn’t exposed that much. The people who build careers are the ones who do one thing over and over again. Why is Jerry Garcia so loved? He’s fine, but there’s nothing distinctive about him to me. How many people do you know that are able to maintain vital careers over a long period of time? Bob Dylan’s line is “There’s no success like failure” and The Residents are the ultimate failures from the point of view of what makes Western Pop work. In other words, you have to find your formula and do it over and over again until you burn it into people’s minds, but The Residents have always been moving on to something new. That’s the wrong way to build a successful career in the Pop market. But if you look at their career, you’ll see it as vital and lively. Anytime artists find their formula that sells, they’re on the path to creative bankruptcy. If The Residents had ever had an album that sold a million, they’d have the temptation to do another one of those, but it’s never been the case.

SECONDS: There was never any sense that they were concerned about sales.

FLYNN: I agree. That’s the appeal for people that aren’t even into the music, They’re into what The Residents stand for. For along time, people considered them a joke band. People don’t understand how you can use humor in music and not be Spike Jones. People think if you’re using humor then it must be a joke and that couldn’t be further from the truth with The Residents, as it obviously wasn’t true with Frank Zappa. You can set up your seriousness with humor and vice versa. They’ve never had the view that things should be one-dimensional from an emotional standpoint.

SECONDS: Were they ever trying to create sincere beauty?

FLYNN: We’re talking eye-of-the-beholder here. Some things other people find ugly they may find beautiful. There’s definitely things where they have harmonies clashing that they find beautiful. For them, it’s more the process of expression rather than trying to create beauty, ugliness, sarcasm or anything else.

SECONDS: They’ve always been the first to exploit new technologies. They probably did the first record recorded on a home four-track, right?

FLYNN: All these technologies existed, they just existed on a high level. The Residents were the first ones to adapt these things when they hit a consumer level. They’ve always liked having new toys. New technology stimulates them in new directions and makes them think in ways they haven’t necessarily thought in before.

SECONDS: It’s impossible to discuss The Residents without hitting on their perpetual anonymity. What are the latest rumors about their identities? I’ve heard Mark Mothersbaugh and Les Claypool

FLYNN: It was published in a big Australian paper years ago that they were The Beatles.

SECONDS: I heard a rumor that Captain Beefheart was upset that The Residents lifted his ideas.

FLYNN: I don’t really know how true that is. There was a Captain Beefheart interview where he said about how his stuff was totally original to which The Residents reply was “Oh, he must have not have ever listened to Howlin’ Wolf then.”

SECONDS: Does the eyeball have special meaning for them?

FLYNN: They feel what they do is take the world in and regurgitate it back out again. It’s their symbol of looking back at the world.

SECONDS: Let’s deal with some more rumors. One rumor is Mr. Skull exists because Speed freaks stole one of the eyeballs years ago.

FLYNN: Whether or not he was a Speed freak I have no idea, but one of the eyeballs was indeed stolen on Christmas of 1986 at The Palace in L.A. Somehow somebody got backstage and got into the dressing room, got the eyeball, went up a spiral staircase, found an open window and dropped it into a debris box, and then casually strolled out and got it. Ultimately what happened was a few weeks later there was a call from somebody in L.A. that a friend of theirs had stolen it and this person was going to steal it back for us and return it, which did happen, although everybody was suspicious that this was the person who had stolen it. This person said a friend of his just happened to have been given two plane tickets from L.A. to San Francisco as a Christmas present and that’s how he was able to come and return the eyeball.

SECONDS: So Mr. Skull appeared after that?

FLYNN: Yes, they were kind of halfway through their 13th Anniversary Tour when that happened. They could get another eyeball made but they felt the whole thing was defiled and it became a better story to have the stolen eyeball go into mourning and be a black skull.

SECONDS: Is their anonymity a snide statement about stardom?

FLYNN: I think so. It’s not just that; they’re very private and the decision they made years ago was to protect their personal lives. The anonymity has served to do that. It’s also an anti-star message. It says a lot about ego and not having to be in competition for how many times you can get your name on the album covers. It just eliminated all those issue. While at times I think it’s been confining to them, it has generally worked out.

SECONDS: Have you had any weird reactions from people because they don’t have a Jimmy Page or Robert Plant to cling on to?

FLYNN: Not really, because The Residents don’t appeal to people looking for that. If anything, the people into it respect the privacy of it and are willing to accept the fact that it’s all about the work. SECONDS: What’s Uncle Willie doing now that UWEB has disbanded?

FLYNN: Uncle Willie has been writing some columns for the catalog. He’s also trying to make a CD-ROM out of his book. The problem with all the Residents stuff is that there’s so much stuff out and there’s hardly any demand for it when it’s available. As soon as it’s all gone, everybody wants it. The classic examples were the Santa Dog doggie t-shirts. They were cool and they sat around forever. As soon as they were gone, everyone wanted a Santa Dog doggie t-shirt. The UWEB stuff is another good example. There was not tons of it being sold when it was being made but it’s going to gain value over time and it might be worth collecting.

SECONDS: Any tours coming up?

FLYNN: No. The Residents have mixed feelings about touring. Some of them are still into it, some of them are not. The first question would be how to come up with a structure that suited everybody. At least for now, there are enough interesting projects that touring is not relevant. I expect it to happen again but it’s hard to know in what form. The most interesting thing is a couple of producers and a writer from the Tales From The Crypt series are interested in doing Bad Day At The Midway as a TV series. It’s a longshot but it’s exciting. [Editor’s note: Those people have since been taken off the project.]

SECONDS: Van Halen always had a thing for brown M&Ms. Is there anything on The Residents rider?

FLYNN: The only thing I can remember off hand is a bottle of Old Crow. They were never big druggies on tour – it was hard enough as it was.

Interview with Calvin Schenkel- Seconds #32 (1995)


“I’m happy to take credit
for anything you want to
give me credit for”

By Steven Cerio

CALVIN SCHENKEL is the uncrowned king of rendered absurdities. A painter, designer, and illustrator who was entrusted by Frank Zappa to design the lion’s share of album covers for his voluminous catalog as well as covers for various other groups, including Captain Beefheart, Cal came to embody the proto-Punk pseudo-Psychedelic point-of-scale propagandist. Album cover culture threw Cals’ work screaming onto the mindscreens of Sixties and Seventies youth at a time when the music was analog and the discs were big – real big – and an album cover sleeve was always there like a good friend (dog), its tender crease cradling your seeds oh so tenderly as you split up the contents of that alligator baggie…

Though born, bred, and raised in that drug-drenched era of anti-war slogans and brown Acid, Schenkel’s work had edge – an edge that graphics of the later Punk wave were seldom able to match. Schenkel’s influence still flows heavily through the work of Winston Smith and Gary Panter – two artists with a few notches of their own on the headboard of classic Rock imagery.

Whether riding the wave with Zappa or hiding out and painting in the Mojave with Beefheart, Schenkel always had the smarts – grabbing onto the reigns of his id and crashing it directly onto the paper, canvas, or film with a style that is at one moment silly, the next moment elegant. At some point his work echoes the throes of a crumbling machine gone berserk, spewing out Surrealist visual non sequiturs and Dadaist absurdities held together by only the thin threads and mucilage paper glue offered by its feeble and faltering composition – an illusion; similar to that created in much of Zappa’s musical work. It’s an amusement turned sarcastic; an intentional retardation of logic, and it comes from a mindset straight out of the manifestos of Surrealism. While some of Schenkel’s works delight while they destroy, some of his other stuff presents a snideness with the over-sweetening of sustained beauty and harmony of composition.

In the nineties Schenkel is still keeping his distance from the spotless skivvied Art Forum boys and their wine-sipping fans. Schenkel carves himself a deeper niche – one filled with history, creation, and freedom. And with Rykodisc’s newly-renovated and repackaged release of the Zappa catalog, Cal’s work is once again gleaming from the “record store” shelves like moistened gum drops and broken glass.

SECONDS: I guess you’re known first and foremost for your Frank Zappa covers. How do you feel about being so closely associated with him?

SCHENKEL: I have a lot of respect for his work, so I feel that it’s definitely an advantage. I think the disadvantage is that it’s always a subsidiary thing to be known in relation to someone else – especially with Frank, who was notoriously stingy for giving credit. Right now, it’s certainly an advantage because it’s going to help me to use that history to show my other work.

SECONDS: How much was Frank involved in the concepts for the covers?

SCHENKEL: It varied a great deal from the process of actually just illustrating his concept… For instance, One Size Fits All was basically an illustration based on a story, with some input from Frank as to what he wanted to see in it. Then there’s interplay, too, where I would have ideas beyond that preliminary state. On One Size Fits All, the back is pretty much my concept.

SECONDS: Was he much of an art fan?

SCHENKEL: Yes and no. I don’t think he was really studied in art or followed art trends, but he was certainly aware of basic art movements. Back to how we worked … One Size Fits All and The Grand Wazoo were obviously based on existing stories, but then a piece like Uncle Meat was entirely my design and I showed him what I did and he like it. It ran the gamut from a great deal of control with a pre existing concept to no idea to start with and me coming up with something and showing it to him.

SECONDS: Did your stuff fit Frank’s image or did you help define his image?

SCHENKEL: That would be really hard for me to say. I think that would be for someone else to say because I would have to be immodest. I think that, sure, there was definitely interplay, you know?

SECONDS: You guys were sharing an apartment right?

SCHENKEL: First of all, I lived with him for a very brief period. When I first met him in New York, the art studio was in his apartment – but that was only for a brief period. I didn’t actually live there, but I would commute to work at his place. When we moved to LA when he had rented the log cabin, I had a wing of it. It was my living quarters and art studio, which I rented separately from him. There was probably more of a chance to fraternize when I lived in that close proximity than when I didn’t, but even when I lived in my own place I’d be hanging out a lot and listening to what he was doing with the music. I think that it was just that I happened to fit the mold. I’m not sure I totally did understand it, but it just happened to coincide with what I was doing. I liked working in a lot of different directions and doing very eclectic stuff and working in different styles and Frank was doing that with his music. That’s one reason why it did work. In fact, many times in later years, there was very little relationship because Frank was much more isolated in his studio, working. I’d be dealing a lot more with his wife Gail or secretary. There wasn’t as much communication

SECONDS: How about Zappa’s ethos of ugliness – ugly Americana? Did you ever feel that would saddle your work with a tag you might not be able to transcend? Did you ever want beauty in there?

SCHENKEL: I don’t remember that being a problem particularly, because I could see the beauty in ugliness, too. I think that’s part of my art statement, too. There’s aesthetic beauty in a lot of things that normally may not be considered beautiful.

SECONDS: If you look at your covers for Burnt Weenie Sandwich or Uncle Meat, there was no other covers at the time quite like that –

SCHENKEL: Actually, Burnt Weenie Sandwich was done much earlier for another project when were still in New York, which was around the time of Lumpy Gravy and We’re Only In It For The Money. It was done for a project that Frank got involved in with Alan Douglas. We were going to be supplying advertising and packaging for a little label that Alan Douglas was starting, Moop. There were some ads done – crazy comic strip stuff, very surrealistic. Then I did a series of covers – I don’t remember what most of them were – but Burnt Weenie Sandwich was originally done for an Eric Dolphy album. Then at the last minute Alan Douglas backed out. That piece of art sat around for a couple of years and then Frank decided to use it. At the time he decided to use it, we had a minor falling out. I was out of the picture and he had this nice piece of art and decided to use it for Burnt Weenie Sandwich.

SECONDS: Back then, particular Rock bands and particular artists became known together – you and Frank, Roger Dean and Yes, Hipgnosis and Pink Floyd

SCHENKEL: It would be really hard for me to critique that because I’m not familiar with as much stuff now as I was. Everything is so diversified now that there’s so many different directions and there’s also so many different ways stuff is going out. One thing in hindsight is when you look back at stuff, you see more of what’s classic and less of what’s mediocre. I think there’s always good around. I see a lot of good graphic art and I see a lot of mediocre art, too. As far as that specific connection between artists and groups, I don’t know of it myself. I don’t know that it was a real major thing. If you try and look for examples, you’re not going to find a lot of them.

SECONDS: Frank’s early work has that intense Psychedelic thing happening but he’s always been such a militant anti-drug guy. Was he making a statement about the Psychedelic thing?

SCHENKEL: Definitely. I didn’t use drugs either. I experimented with them a little bit when I was younger but I was never involved in the drug scene, which is one of the reasons that I did like working with Frank. I found it to be a problem with other people I might have started working with … it was a big problem to deal with the drug scene.

SECONDS: It seems most people think that when Zappa says “We never did drugs,” it’s bullshit.

SCHENKEL: He was an artistic genius and I also think he was able to see what was going on in society.

SECONDS: Whether or not you and Zappa did drugs you were still part of that culture by default. Frank and yourself are very much the exceptions – most Rock music comes out of a subversive and problematic origin. You have the look and feel of the lifestyle even though you don’t live it. How do you feel about that? Are you opposed to drug use?

SCHENKEL: On a personal level, it doesn’t agree with me. I think that’s primarily metabolic. I experimented a little bit with drugs when I was younger so I’m familiar with the experience. I found that a lot of people I know that use drugs for the insight it gives them, have gained insight. I think drugs can be used to gain insight – depending on the drug and user – and I’m not against that insight, but I think that insight doesn’t only have to come from drug use. The insight is coming from the individual; the drug is only a mechanism.

SECONDS: Do Zappa fans make up a big part of your fanbase?

SCHENKEL: Definitely. Over the years, I’ve been able to cultivate it myself. I’ve done some mail-order catalog merchandising and I hope to do a lot more of it in the future. I’m working on some projects now and I really want to work with Ryko to do something. I’m not particularly aggressive, and I haven’t been in the past – like going to galleries and looking for outlets for my work. I’m kind of a hermit, you know? Once you get to communicating with certain fans, it just kind of grows. I’ve built a pretty big base of people that I deal with.

SECONDS: Do you have reservations when it comes to promoting your work?

SCHENKEL: It’s very hard for most artists to market themselves. Some may be better than others. I’m probably in the group that’s the worst at it. Being a very introverted type of person, I find it so much easier to deal directly with people because I’m talking to somebody who knows my work and likes my work. There’s a common base for communication. If I go out to a gallery – it’s changed a lot because the people involved in that echelon of art marketing are more aware of my work. But back when I started doing it, it was just an enormous obstacle. I spent a lot of time looking for work. A lot of people were aware of my work but it just wasn’t ready for the market at that time.

SECONDS: It seems like your style started the whole Punk graphics thing.

SCHENKEL: I’d love to see that mentioned in some history. I’m happy to take credit for anything you want give me credit for. It’s hard to give yourself credit; it’s hard for an artist to market themselves. I think probably the most successful artists are able to do that, or have someone close to them do that for them – that’s another thing that’s been difficult, because I’m pretty isolated. I haven’t found someone to work with me to do that. I’ve also been on the outside, even when I was in LA, which is the middle of the market. Where I am now, there’s no market at all. If people find out about me, great, but I rarely go out looking for work. I probably will now that there’s this big thrust of material that’s suddenly out there. I definitely will take advantage of it, but I’ll do it in a way that will be very impersonal. I’ll just send out promotional material, a mini-portfolio …I really hate calling people and looking for work.

SECONDS: You’ve always straddled the fence between illustration and design.

SCHENKEL: After thinking about it for years and years, I’ve always come up with the conclusion that I’m really not in any camp. I’m just an artist. That’s one of the great things about working for Frank, that there was always something new I could experiment with and there was always a lot of different realms I could deal with. That’s what I enjoy most about art. I never could find a niche that was just the thing I was going to concentrate on. A lot of it was practical in the beginning when Frank had the need for a lot of different things. I got into advertising, working with type and working with all the elements of a project because it all needed to be done. Then I got into doing animation and even set design because it needed to be done. I enjoyed stretching in all those different directions. For me, that’s what I really like about it. I don’t consider myself a designer or an illustrator because I’m not good enough. I just don’t have what most illustrators have, and that’s the honed, polished, single-minded look. Some illustrators have a specific look and that’s it. A lot of that’s practical, too, because that’s the easiest way to sell your work. I could never fit into any mold – I’m too crazy.

SECONDS: Do you think that’s related to the way you are personally?

SCHENKEL: Probably is. I just have a very weird metabolism. I get real slow spots and real high spots with energy. The only way I can really get a job done is to work all night on it. The hardest part for me is getting started. Once I’m into it, I can’t quit. There are times I’m working on a project that’s so intense that you have to work all time on it, whenever you can …I have a tendency to spend more time on the beginning phases of a project and then have to rush to finish it. Once I’ve designed the whole thing, finishing it is relatively easy.

SECONDS: When you were developing your style, who influenced you?

SCHENKEL: It’s a hard question to answer because I’ve been influenced by so many people and different things. From the standpoint of the work I’m known for, it would be the Surrealists and Duchamp. If I’m working on a specific project and I have a particular style in mind that I want to work in, I will allow myself to be influenced by certain artists, particularly older master artists …I love looking at all schools or art.

SECONDS: Would you have liked to been around for Dadaism?

SCHENKEL: Actually, I think that now is always the best time to be around. Being around now allows you to really appreciate that period. If you were around then, you wouldn’t be appreciating now.

SECONDS: You’ve now repackaged the part of the Zappa catalog your originally worked on.

SCHENKEL: That only amounted to about a third of the full catalog.

SECONDS: It’s still a giant amount of records, though…

SCHENKEL: I should sit down and count them out. There’s probably no more than twelve.

SECONDS: Of all the record covers you did not do for him, which one was your favorite?

SCHENKEL: I’m not going to give you one answer to this because I like all of them – well, a lot of them. I really like David McMacken’s work – Overnite Sensation, 200 Motels …He has a fantastically sophisticated, polished style. I really like Neon Park’s work a lot although the cover of Weasles Ripped My Flesh is not my favorite Neon Park work. Wait, let me not forget Gary Panter because I love his work too. I think the covers he did for the Zappa stuff for Warner Bros. without Frank’s involvement don’t represent his – I don’t want to say anything negative here but I think I like his other work more too. I think that they’re not as complex as some of the other stuff.

SECONDS: How is musical composing similar to visual design? Did you learn anything from working with musicians that helped you to expedite the production of your own work?

SCHENKEL: I don’t think I would say so, although I probably did. Some of the work I do is more of a …almost a dance. Some graphics, where I’ll be working with technology – it’s like playing an instrument in a sense, too. I see it less with illustration and traditional media.

SECONDS: Do you do any painting?

SCHENKEL: I’m doing some large stuff, working on panels and on unstretched canvas. It’s starting to really turn into what I want. It’s hard to explain what it’s about. In terms of the working process, I’m working primarily in acrylic, but I use a lot of mixed media and sometimes I incorporate found objects. A lot of it is kind of Abstract but it does have Surrealistic tendencies. I just like painting – it’s so much fun and fulfilling. Then I’m also doing more fan-oriented stuff where I’ll do a pastiche of an illustration from elements from the Zappa covers. I’m doing some limited-edition prints in different prices and sizes – some silkscreen, some multi-color litho. I’m also doing what I call album reconstructions where I take an album cover – which I have to get from collectors now – like Uncle Meat and I’ll open it up to a four panel spread and then I’ll work on top of it using found art and painting all types of gooey materials. To do a piece like that is a little more affordable than starting from scratch and it also has that relationship to the old work. I’ve done quite a few of them over the years and I’ve got them to a point where they’re a little more formalized. Another thing I’m doing is selling t-shirts and cards and I hope to have a catalog of that before the summer’s done. One thing I want to do with this catalog is a newsletter which will have some background and stories. I’ve come up with some of the history of these covers and I want to write that down. I want it to be a real free-form crazy thing.

I used silkscreen, print and splatter whatever else onto this huge sheet of board and then chop it all up into little pieces. I found each one is this unique little piece of art and I didn’t want to sell them. It’s a real cheap way to create something and sell it for an affordable price. I found that when I do the mail-order thing, it is nice to have affordable stuff because a lot of the fans don’t have a lot of money to spend. It makes it worthwhile to sell a hundred t-shirts when I do a catalog mailing.

SECONDS: What kind of designs are you going to be doing for those?

SCHENKEL: I’d silk-screen all different stuff and then I would wind up with a whole bunch of samples that I wanted to keep for the next batch so I wouldn’t forget what I did. Then I decided I needed to formalize it. Now, every time I do one I’ll print the same shirt in an edition. They’re pretty cool. The next time I do it, I’ll do a different edition with different images but it’s the same idea. I always have my Rraallff shirt, which is that dog guy and also my E-mail address on America Online. It’s just a giant blowup of this little drawing and I have that on the front of some of them. I always have some odd ones. Sometimes I do a t-shirt of the month when I’m really cookin’.

SECONDS: Who are your favorite contemporary artists?

SCHENKEL: In the Fine Art realm, one artist I’ve been looking at is Sigmar Polke. He mixes Pop with Post-Modern ideas. We mentioned Gary Panter – I really like his stuff. I like a lot of artists that I don’t even know their names. I love Captain Beefheart’s stuff, I always have, and he’s finally getting some recognition.

SECONDS: Didn’t you hang out in the desert with Beefheart? Anything strange happen?

SCHENKEL: It’s really hard to remember all the details … we hung out a lot and painted. We’d go on little trips. One time I went out to take some photos of him.

SECONDS: For the Trout Mask Replica cover?

SCHENKEL: No, that was much earlier than when I was hanging out with him. There were a couple of brief, intense periods relating to Beefheart – or, to call him by his proper name, Don Van Vliet. At other times, Don and Frank weren’t getting along, so he wasn’t around or I wasn’t around. There were just a couple of brief periods and one of them was when we did Trout Mask. I don’t remember whose idea it was to do what we did but I would say it was a collaborative thing. The way it came about, I went and found this carp head at some fish market. We took it back to my studio, which was the same place that I did the Uncle Meat cover – another very interesting thing that happened there was the cover for the Wild Man Fischer album – and I took the trout head and hollowed it out – the thing stank like hell – and Don had to hold it up to his face for a couple of hours while we shot.

SECONDS: Was he complaining?

SCHENKEL: Not really, he was really good-natured about it all. I have this incredible piece of 8mm film of him playing the baritone sax through the trout head. It was like an actual animated version of that cover. That was when I first met and we had a lot of interesting conversations about art, philosophy and reality. He would come by when I was working on the cover and we would hang out and talk. We got into some interesting conversations. The whole band was living in Woodland Hills when they were working on that album. I went out there to do photos, but then I didn’t see much of him until around the time of Bongo Fury, a good four or five years later, when he got involved with Frank again. At that point, he was living in this little trailer in Lancaster, where he grew up. I would go out there and we’d paint all night. It was right across the street from the desert and we’d just walk out into the desert and watch crows. Don was into nature, as I am too. Since I didn’t use drugs, it was the equivalent of tripping in nature. Don is a very unique person – I don’t want to say “peculiar.”

SECONDS: Tell me the other covers you did for other bands.

SCHENKEL: I did Trout Mask Replica for Captain Beefheart, I did the first three Tom Waits covers, I did a lot of stuff I wouldn’t want to mention – a lot of groups that just disappeared.

SECONDS: Tell me one of them.

SCHENKEL: I can’t think of one I want to mention. More recently, I’ve done stuff for obscure groups that no one would ever have seen.

SECONDS: How should Frank Zappa be remembered?

SCHENKEL: If I were to sum up his meaning to music and art in this century, it’s as someone who opened new doors by experimenting with so many different things, expanded the envelope, and brought other types of music into Rock.

SECONDS: And how should we remember you?

SCHENKEL: To some extent, in the same way – for connecting diverse parts of art. I think one of the things that I feel that I did was bring different types of art into that commercial records package. But I haven’t begun, so there’s nothing to remember me by yet.

Interview with Frank Frazetta- Seconds #29 (1994)

flexes his muscles

By Steven Cerio

FRANK FRAZETTA’s work doesn’t fall into an easily-definable category. It is at home on a paperback book cover or on a gallery wall. Though his subject matter is highly illustrative, reminiscent of Sunday supplements and Comic culture, its elegance and painterly qualities propel it into the realm of Fine Art.

Perhaps you know Mr. Frazetta because of his seminal cover art from Vampirella #1. Or perhaps you go back far enough to remember the days when Frank’s paperback covers for Edgar Rice Burrough’s extensive Tarzan series screamed out from every book rack in America. It was those kinetic covers, through their erotic implications, that put Frank on the map.

To some aficionados, Frazetta is the Michelangelo of modern Fantasy Art. Frank’s romanticized versions of the human form, culled from men’s magazines and old children’s books, were lushly erotic and scantily clad. When his style coalesced a few decades ago, its highly-exploitive element was regarded as a necessary evil of the marketplace. But in these days of bulimic babes, are Frazetta’s big-bosomed broads still welcome?

If you want swords and sluts, Frazetta’s got’em. He’s made his mark drawing multitudes of savagely heroic figures in dynamic poses. Never passive, the figures fight one another with sensuous abandon and are provocatively attacked bye wild animals. In bringing the world of Tarzan and Robert E. Howard’s Conan to life, Frank improved upon the titillating and vulnerable vixens who populated the soft-core Eisenhower era.

At sixteen, Frazetta had Snowman, his first Comic, published by his employer, Talley-ho Comics. Soon thereafter he drew covers for Buck Rogers and was the ghost hand for Al Capp, creator of Lil’ Abner. Early in Playboy’s history he helped piece together Hefner’s Little Annie Fannie. As the paperback book market peaked, Frank did the work which would gain him fame. But it was his work for Creepy and Eerie that brought him into mainstream Pop Culture.

Frank’s album covers for Molly Hatchet and Dust brought him into the Rock & Roll spotlight. His images sailed smoothly into the collective unconscious of America, as evidence by the wide array of Frazetta tattoos, posters, and Seventies van murals world-wide.

Frazetta has the extraordinary ability to guide the viewer’s eye by focusing and unfocusing on chosen elements within a composition. This technique creates a picture plane which mimics the focal capabilities of the human eye. Objects on the periphery are blurred, indistinct, while the central image snaps with clarity. Such masterly touches have imbued Frank’s works with great financial value – for example rumor has it that his paintings have recently sold for a quarter of a million dollars.

Despite massive popularity over the decades, Frank’s current show at New York’s Alexander Gallery is the first public showing of his works ever outside of his own estate in East Stroudsberg, PA.

At this point in his career, Frazetta is the unchallenged master of the Sword & Sorcery genre. Many other artists have come under his influence – for example, Boris Vallejo, Richard Corbin, Barry Windsor Smith, and Bernie Wrightson. But when Frazetta pulls out the stops, the hero triumphs and the blood flows freely!

SECONDS: Where do you see yourself on the art continuum? How do you categorize yourself?

FRAZETTA: I’d like to think of the quality of my work as fine art. On the other hand, I’m in the wrong field. That’s because of people and their judgments. If you illustrate a book, you’re an illustrator. I’d like to think of Fine Art as being what it sounds like – fine. Quality. There are fine artists that do Comics, there are fine artists that do classical art, there are fine artists that do illustration and yet, if they’re in a certain field they think of themselves as fine artists when they could be terrible artists.

SECONDS: It’s that adjective then.

FRAZETTA: I think so. It’s the quality of art that counts. Whether it has all the great elements that make great art: the color, the design, the composition, the emotion it creates, all those things. If it doesn’t do that, I don’t care how skillfully done it is.

SECONDS: Who were some of your influences earlier on?

FRAZETTA: Everyone. All the masters that ever lived, many illustrators, and certainly guys who did Comics. Foster would be my main influence. From the sublime to the ridiculous I go from Foster to Sega, who did design. Even though Foster did Popeye, I thought he was a brilliant artist. His ability to simplify and tell a story, that’s a great artist. Then you go to the masters who rendered and painted beautifully but told no story at all. It was contrived, it was obvious that they just posed models and weren’t very excited about it, in spite of the skillful approach. Sure it’s great but so what? It leaves me if I have to sit there and wonder about the application of paint. It means nothing. I’d rather look at Harvey Kurtzman. On the other hand, certain classical artists like Goya had magic and power. That’s my own personal judgment. Unfortunately, there’s a million people in this world that have been brainwashed and have to be told what’s good and what isn’t.

SECONDS: How do you feel about abstract painters?

FRAZETTA: There’s a lot of abstract quality in my work. Abstracts are painted for the sake of creating patterns. That leaves me cold. I like some abstract art. If the design is wonderful and has some pizazz I can enjoy it.

SECONDS: I don’t see much Mondrian in your work.

FRAZETTA: Not really. I refuse to put on pretenses about what’s intellectual and what isn’t. For many, many years, anything that was representational was considered corny and old hat. They could be right about that but people that just jump from good drawing to abstract could be copping out. It’s nonsense.

SECONDS: The argument is that the abstract artists thought they were the ones acting directly on your psyche.

FRAZETTA: If it’s calculated and deliberate and there’s a certain intelligence behind it and assuming they paid their dues in the first place, that they did go through the fundamentals of drawing and found it boring and were looking for other avenues, fine. But don’t sit there with your finger up your ass and pretend you’re a genius. I don’t buy it. I’m very capable of painting abstract but I’d just be kidding people. What would I prove? That I can design wonderful shapes?

SECONDS: It ends up being sort of intellectual masturbation.

FRAZETTA: You said that, I didn’t. The subject I do is so hokey and yet entertaining but some of my fanatical fans like Dave Winiewicz have looked beyond that. I was doing a lot of things. I tried to appeal to the masses and at the same time inject little subtleties that would appeal to the intellectuals around. They did see past the obvious. If you look at the background, that’s what makes my work go on and on. Many people, even the fans, don’t realize why they keep enjoying it. It’s like abstract music, you don’t quite understand but because it’s so varied you keep enjoying it and you never get tired of it. There’s a lot going on in my art besides the superhero standing there doing his thing. It’s the way I lead into it, the way I move you around, not just a heroic figure looking wonderful. At least that’s the way I like think about it. I like to compare myself to Stravinsky. When he wrote The Rite Of Spring he went out in left field and people said, “What the hell is that?” To this day, I’ve never tired of that piece.

SECONDS: I’ve always sensed a real fluidity in your brush strokes. It always kind of reminded me of Sargent. Despite the fact you’d have a giant warrior on a horse, it seemed to have a calming effect on me.

FRAZETTA: I’m trying to make people feel wonderful. It’s not meant to create menace or anything like that. I try to be as tasteful as I can with everything I do and make it beautiful, in spite of the mayhem. I’d like to think that even my battle scenes are not ugly. It’s a beautiful piece to look at and you soon forget what it means and you start enjoying it for all these other reasons. That takes time, it takes study. Nobody went to art school and learned it all in a day. I developed as I went on and on and began to be more deliberate about what I was doing. The stuff I did earlier was just as good but it was more instinctive. I just had sense of design, composition, and movement. The fact that I could draw well didn’t hurt. I did a painting that almost approaches surrealism and it won an award and I kind of predicted it would. That one was called “Downward To The Earth.” I just went out on a limb with that. I said, “I’m going to prove a point here,” and I knew that a certain element of people would enjoy it. On the other hand, I realize the majority of my fans would say, “What happened to Frank?”

SECONDS: Do you often do un-Frazetta-like paintings?

FRAZETTA: I do but it generally fails commercially, although my peers enjoy the hell out of them. I don’t pretend this is a deep hunger in me. I do love shapes, wonderful moving shapes, moving your head around just like great music does. You don’t know what certain combinations of sounds feel good but they do. I think it all depends on your intelligence level. People on a certain level always seem to agree on a combination of sounds in music or a combination of colors and shapes in art. Then you get a lower element and you’re down to some lower level and they find another area that entertains them. It just depends on what they understand. I was a crazy guy, I tried to make everybody happy. You see that my fans range from ten to one-hundred-and-ten. That’s tough to do.

SECONDS: Do you work from life of photographs?

FRAZETTA: I work from my head.

SECONDS: Uh-huh.

FRAZETTA: There’s a lot of people that are very skeptical about that but go to the show and ask any artist who’s watched me work and they’re amazed. It comes out of nowhere. Not that I never have referred to a pose myself, there have been many times, but generally speaking, every Death Dealer painting I’ve ever done has come out of nowhere. I could pick out on the fingers of my hand the number of times where I might have posed or my wife might have posed. That was generally when I had a problem with lighting, never the drawing, never action.

SECONDS: The reason I asked that was because of how you keep your backgrounds abstract and washed away. I assumed that was because you were using photographic reference.

FRAZETTA: Not at all. I am a dyed-in-the-wool shutterbug but it never does a thing for my art. I never use it. Unfortunately, I have watched artists refer to models and photography and become enslaved by it. Next thing you know they can’t draw, can’t think. It’s an absolute fact. They get so damn lazy. They find using the model and photographs made the painting look very realistic and they become entranced by that fact. That’s precisely what I don’t want. I want it to look dreamlike, I want it to look made-up, I want it to look unreal. If I start getting lazy simply because I’m frightened of making mistakes, I’m done. Sure, sometimes I have to struggle because I’m trying to solve problems with my noodle but I have this great drawing ability which helps a lot. And this imagination I can’t explain.

SECONDS: With the subjects in your paintings, you seem to have a set body type. Are those based on your own idealized body types or is that because it’s fantasy work?

FRAZETTA: We all have personal likes and dislikes and I love a certain body type in women and men and in creatures and lizards and dinosaurs. I’d like to think that I break it down to the perfect machine, whatever it may be. There’s a certain physical type, a certain look, in a heroic figure of a guy that just is the ultimate. I have a very personalized woman, as you know. You’ve seen my women, they kind of look alike. I’ve tried to escape from that and I was never happy. I’d make a perfectly nice rendering of a female and it would just make me unhappy. “I don’t love her.” She’s got to have a certain look, those eyes that I love.

SECONDS: I’m sure you know what a great impact you’ve had on Fantasy Art.

FRAZETTA: I’m aware of everything that goes on out there. Everything. I’ve seen my imitators and the rest and it’s wonderful, I’m glad. They’ve talked to me about it and I tried to tell them, “You have to do your own thing for your own joy.” Their answer is, “That’s easy for you to say, Frank.” I guess what they’re saying is that they don’t see what I see. I just see, I visualize very clearly. The minute somebody says, “Here’s a job we want you to do” –bang! There’s the image, right between the eyes. I see it and begin to move it around in my head. I not only see it vividly, I begin to select the perfect perspective in my mind’s eye. That’s something I have that I couldn’t possibly teach or explain away. I’ve always had that ability.

SECONDS: Is it challenging for you to illustrate other people’s ideas?

FRAZETTA: Not really. A lot of my most successful works are my own ideas in the first place. Death Dealer and many things I’ve done over the years, I just did what popped into my head and they wrote stories around it. Conan was a commissioned work. They told me about his character and I began to visualize this character as I speed-read through the first few chapters. I went right ahead and developed this character that didn’t even barely resemble Howard’s description at all. Quite a different guy. It was what I thought a barbarian should look like, the ultimate barbarian. His description was quite different. He was leaner with tousled hair and hawkish features. I instead saw a bruised, battered, scarred, monster of a guy. That’s just the way I felt a guy should look like at this point. Once again, it’s all personal. My interpretation of the feeling I get from it. I’m prone to develop characters every day. I just sit there and create images that are powerful, sensual, whatever I’m in the mood to do.

SECONDS: What’s the strongest reaction you’ve ever seen anyone have to your work?

FRAZETTA: Catgirl is certainly high on this list. Death Dealer, some of those. I’ve never seen a whole publishing place go crazy as the day I brought in the first Conan painting. That was an interesting story. They commissioned me to do it and as usual I waited to the last minute. They called the day before it was due in and said, “Frank, how’s it coming?” At this point they had confidence in what I was doing. “By the way, what’s the concept?” I said, and I was being very facetious, “It’s a portrait.” There was silence at the other end. They had their own ideas, the obvious approach, a battle scene. They said, “A portrait?” In any event, I sat down and bashed it out in a day, brought it in, the place was in an uproar. They went crazy, they were drinking champagne. I even predicted it would turn the world of illustration upside down. Kind of arrogant, isn’t it? I knew it was a new look, nobody had ever seen something quite like it before. Maybe I just sensed the world was ready for something like that. Typical of me, after the Fourth or Fifth painting I was bored. I just don’t like chewing my cabbage over and over.

SECONDS: Do you think you would have stayed doing Comics?

FRAZETTA: No way. I always loved to paint and work with color. When I was younger there was no market. You either painted for galleries or you told stories in Comics. Then suddenly there was Science Fiction and I saw a market for what I liked to do. Create strange, wonderful images and tell a story, and there I went. But Comics are fine too because you can draw a panel after panel and tell stories. I love telling stories and now I do it in one page. I like to think that my paintings have a beginning, middle, and end when you look at them. That’s what separates it from illustration. Illustration is a design to lure you into buying a book, it leaves you hanging. “Gee, that looks interesting. I wonder what that means?” I want them to look at my cover and say, “I don’t care what the hell’s in the book. I’m not even going to read it. I just want to cut out the drawing.”

SECONDS: I actually did that to your books when I was a kid. I never read the books you did covers for.

FRAZETTA: You see. It’s complete. You look at it and know what’s happening and you love it for the sheer artistry of it. Who the hell cares what the book is about?

SECONDS: Do you read much?

FRAZETTA: No. I did when I was younger. Now, every time I decide, “Maybe I should read once in a while,” I realize I’m wasting my time. Why sit there hour after hour when I could do a painting in that time? Which would you do? But I used to when I was younger and I didn’t do this stuff. I read books from the library and stuff like that. Nothing very profound, just a lot of animal stories.

SECONDS: What do you think of the state of Comics now?

FRAZETTA: I don’t like what I see at all. I look at it and I don’t understand it. I don’t know exactly where they go. It’s a huge ego trip. “Look at how I can design these crazy panels, look at this great coloring, look at these great effects.” Everything is special effects. I hate special effects! I’m a purist. Do your panel a step at a time and get involved, like a great movie. What is with these special effects? The young kids, they love it. But what do they know?

SECONDS: I was just looking at your Vampirella stuff the other day and it’s just like, “Here you go, here it is.”

FRAZETTA: Yeah, I want you to identify with it. I want you to know what you’re looking at and understand it. If I can look at art in Comics and not understand it, something’s wrong.

SECONDS: I see a psychedelic influence from the Sixties coming back.

FRAZETTA: Sure, fireworks on stage, what the hell does it have to do with music? I go back to Frank Sinatra and Forties, when music was beautiful and romantic –I’m and old guy. It was romantic and grabbed you by the heartstrings. Suddenly they’re screeching and hollering and they’re half-naked on stage. Every one of them has a guitar –what the hell is this? It’s not a question of how skillful you are anymore, it’s a question of how crazy you are. I don’t buy that. That’s bullshit. Same with art. Even at this late date I’m very capable of keeping up with these kids that do this nutty stuff. I just wouldn’t let myself do it. I want it to be beautiful and I have my own ideas of what I think is beautiful and there’s an awful lot of people that feel the way I do. I don’t try to appeal to the masses and the assholes just because there’s more of them, I could care less.

SECONDS: What do you think of the state of fantasy covers right now?

FRAZETTA: It’s pretty boring I think. If you ask any of the artists, they blame someone else. “This is what the editor told us to do, this is the effect they want, skulls all over the place.” What happened to pure art?

SECONDS: With your covers, I’ve never seen anyone use type to compete with your images.

FRAZETTA: I’ll kill them. I wish I could agree with you but they’ve screwed up so many. You got some of these art directors that just didn’t like me and decided to do me one better. They’d crop a cover I designed beautifully – bigger is better with these guys. Zoom in close – wait a minute, I had a whole lot going on out there. “What’d you do that for, you nut?” They just loused up the composition just to get a close shot. That irritated the hell out of me. I didn’t waste all my time in that space for nothing.

SECONDS: Are you happy with this new book of pencil drawings that Glenn Danzig’s company put out?

FRAZETTA: Do you like it?

SECONDS: Oh, it’s beautiful.

FRAZETTA: In spite of the great printing, the originals still blow it away. Something got lost in the reduction. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the quality, it’s gorgeous, but in the reduction it made it look tighter. In the originals they’re looser and more fun to look at.

SECONDS: It stood out as some of the better printings of pencils.

FRAZETTA: Oh it is! It’s great. I’m only saying the originals are more fun to look at.

SECONDS: Do you see yourself in the Met in the future?

FRAZETTA: I don’t plan on that but if some people want to take the ball and run with it, that’s fine with me. I thought I’d be long dead before anybody really saw what I did. It’s pretty hard to crack that are brainwashed. I like to think of them as brainwashed. I’ll be the first to tell them too. I think I’m a pretty good judge of what great art is, I’ve studied it all my life, I went to art school – a Fine Art school, I might add – and learned all the do’s and don’ts. It’s not like I’m some dunce that grew up doing Comics. I had Fine Art training and found most people had no talent. They just sat there and painted a still life or posed someone and that was it. I saw no creativity, I saw no pure talent. Okay, maybe they got pretty good with a brush, maybe the color was interesting, but what does it boil down to? Style and technique, period. I have to be creative. I have to create images that knock your socks off. I want images that have never been seen before and then paint them with the style and technique. That’s what I try to do. I try to have people say, “That’s incredible! I’ve never seen anything like it. I am really moved.”

Interview with Raymond Pettibon- Seconds #34 (1995)

“Art is the last place anyone is
going to derive their inspiration from”

By Steven Cerio

Like most people on the East Coast in the early Eighties, I first witnessed RAYMOND PETTIBON’s work gracing his brother Greg Ginn’s early Black Flag Lps as well as the gate-fold of the Minutemen’s classic Double Nickels On The Dime. On the West Coast, his work had wallpapered walls and telephone poles since the dawn of Punk – a period highlighted by his brief stint as the original bassist for Black Flag.

Raymond’s work was a great gift, going far beyond the droll Rock & Roll iconography so painfully present at the time. His drawing embodied what my suburban friends and I believed to be the Punk ideal: unruly, snide and bleak. Even his draftsmanship wreaked of sarcasm and gloom. His output consisted entirely of drawings with captions.

During the Eighties he self-published close to one hundred photocopied collections of his grim renderings, as well as contributing politically-charged Serial Art to Exit magazine and producing a book of dynamic locomotive drawings. Nowadays he hangs his voluminous works on gallery walls throughout most of the free world. He tacks up his pieces by the hundred in salon style, sometimes putting one piece over another, obscuring both word and image and making the relationship (conversation) increasingly abstract.

In the last decade, Pettibon’s work has borrowed a less diplomatic and expedient tone. He’s thrown away his checkers and taken up chess. Where before his work seemed to emanate from the Cro-Magnon underpinnings of Punk, he has now taken on a lyrical glow which attributes to the literary luminaries William Faulkner, Marcel Proust and James Joyce.

Only a few years ago Sonic Youth convinced Raymond to decorate their Goo LP. Despite the great difference between what emanated from the vinyl and what was said by the images on the cover, Pettibon’s work still felt abrasive and timely.

His image and word juxtapositions, though visually sparse in composition, seem heavy, manifesting themselves as question marks. Lyrically they stand as a testament to logic and speech in their purest states, frozen at the decisive moment before being polluted by the obscene vagaries of conversational speech.

SECONDS: A lot of people know you from the Xeroxed books you were distributing through SST.

PETTIBON: I didn’t distribute them through SST to any extent. I ended up destroying most of them. No, they never distributed anything if they could help it. I tried to keep some in print later. I just did thirty, forty copy editions and ended up giving ninety-nine percent of them away. Right now, there’s nothing in print, but I’m always planning on doing more when I get the time.

SECONDS: Are you going to collect them together?

PETTIBON: Yeah, part of it is to have the documentation evidence and to have a communicative value as well, rather than having them disappear into the ether.

SECONDS: Is it important that people see the books?

PETTIBON: Oh sure. Part of making art is you’re making it for somebody. It’s not done in a vacuum. Some work is problematic as far as reproduction and bookmaking and some is less so. A lot of my stuff tends to work just as well or better in book form. I always like the idea of making books …

SECONDS: From the older stuff, you get this tag on you about the comics influence but I’ve read that you’re not even a comics fan.

PETTIBON: No, I wouldn’t say that. My visual style is no doubt right out of comics. While learning to draw, the figures I looked at were people like Marsh, Hopper, the Ash Can School, the etching style, Goya, then also people like Milton Caniff.

SECONDS: Herriman, maybe? The Krazy Kat stuff?

PETTIBON: I love his work. I don’t know if that comes into my own stuff that much but I like him from afar. There’s some artists you may not even like whose work, for whatever reason, becomes an influence on your own. I think maybe the Caniff kind of school and the guy who uses to …what was his name? Frank Robbins, I like his style. Who else … this guy who used to draw for EC, Bernie Krickstein. Those are probably the primary ones. I’m not a comic fan so much. I love the form but I just don’t think there has been much done in it. I think the comics form is capable of a lot more than what’s been done in it. It should be as legitimate an art form as any but the problem is they don’t want to play on the same playing field as everyone else. On one hand, they’re bitter about being looked down upon by the rest of the art world, but when it comes down to it, they’re happy being in their own world and having their own standards. There’s an attractiveness to being ghettoized. Like any genre writers, they’re making a steady income putting out the same thing they’ve been doing over the years.

I never wanted to be a commercial artist and have some asshole art director for DC looking over my shoulder telling me what to do. I never wanted any part of that world, never thought about it without revulsion. The comics field is its own enclosed little world. It’s just a slacker, jack-off mentality of people who know what they want. They’re the kind of people who are into what they themselves call bad films. They have this inverse high-low kind of thing that they celebrate.

SECONDS: That whole concept caught on a little too heavily. People are going out and watching a movie just because they think it’s bad.

PETTIBON: I haven’t been able to get through a comic book or so-called bad movie. The whole camp thing, looking down on something … if that’s their whole life, they can’t get anything out of the other end.

SECONDS: Something like poetics – how deep does that run in everyday life?

PETTIBON: It depends on what you by poetics. I don’t set-up these hierarchies, either. What I mean is that there’s a certain type of person who break them down just to celebrate garbage. I can appreciate Rap music, I think there’s great writing in Rap and other forms outside of academic poetry. You have poets writing for poets and that’s always been the complaint. Every generation looks down on the previous generation with its apocalyptic vision like everything is going down the gutter, and it’s not true. Things always revive. Good things are always going on. It’s not that bad.

SECONDS: What do you find more powerful, the drawn image or the written word?

PETTIBON: I guess the written word can work graphically within your own mind but my work’s always been weighted more towards the words. I don’t think there’s any question.

SECONDS: With the lettering you’re doing, it seems like the words are fighting for control. Do you ever see yourself doing something with just words and no images?

PETTIBON: I’ve done that before. There’s usually some formal reason behind it that calls attention to itself as words without images. I also do writing of other sorts where I’m not dependent on visual images. In the work we’re talking about, it is art and it’s not that often that I can get away without the use of language. I wish I could more. They depend on each other.

SECONDS: Do you think you were made aware of words earlier than most because your father was a writer?

PETTIBON: I think that’s what it comes down to. I was always reading, although I was always drawing, too. It was just a part of my life. I was really the same person at five years old as I am now.

SECONDS: You can tell that?

PETTIBON: Definitely.

SECONDS: When people are talking about your work, there always seems to be references to the Burroughs/Gysin cut-up techniques. I though your work was more automatic and more in a Surrealist manner.

PETTIBON: Surrealism really doesn’t touch much on my work. There’s cases where you could say it does. The actual physical cut-up technique – not really. I have done physical techniques, like I used to cut-up a rectangle and a Ouija board and roll it over the text of the page and you make associations that way. You can do it from one page to the next. I don’t know if that makes sense. There’s trickery like that. A lot that stuff is something you can just do in your head.

SECONDS: Freud said all automatic writing was the condensation of thought and words.

PETTIBON: Yeah, I can see that. Usually when I’ve done that, rather then being automatic writing of an expansive sort, it’s been more reductive. I think my later work depends more on longer sentences. All my work from the beginning has been directly related to reading that was putting yourself in the field of language until something comes out. Sometimes I would use phrases from it, and usually it’s between the lines.

SECONDS: You’re a real vivid reader, right?

PETTIBON: Well, it’s part of my work, fortunately, because I like doing it.

SECONDS: It seems that over the years your stuff has become more cryptic. Do you see your later work as more open to interpretation?

PETTIBON: Probably not. I think if I brought you through the work you’d see what I was trying to get at. You can say it’s open-minded, whatever, but it’s never a random association between the language and the image. There’s always a reason.

SECONDS: Do they occur at the same time or do you have drawings sitting around that you add the words onto later?

PETTIBON: I do both. I used to always start with the words – the thought. Now, I start with the image.

SECONDS: It seems like you’re mocking formal speech because a lot of the poetics are so over-the-top.

PETTIBON: I wouldn’t say I’m mocking it, I just like that kind of high Modernist, Seventeenth Century …what some people would call purple prose. If it’s expressed through the mouth of Vavoom or Gumby, that might be comic element to some people. That’s cool – I’m glad people think it’s funny.

SECONDS: It seems reality is secondary with you.

PETTIBON: Escapism is letting the narrator bring you along and manipulate you without your conscious knowledge of it. Reading, to me is not escapism at all – it’s the complete opposite.

SECONDS: Manson has shown up in a lot of your stuff.


SECONDS: What does he represent to you? Of course, there’s the classic image of Manson and what he means to Middle America …

PETTIBON: That image of Manson doesn’t have any interest to me. Manson is someone who’s an original exegesis of The Bible and The Beatles. He takes this blank piece of work, The White Album, and by the time he’s through with it, it’s blood red. He’s taking these Rock lyrics and making apocalyptic importance out of them. The Bible as well, The Book Of Revelations … everything’s open to interpretation. That’s the way Manson works and that’s why he’s an important figure to me.

SECONDS: You had a lot of tie-ins to Punk. How do you feel about your work on the Black Flag and Minutemen covers?

PETTIBON: Well, I just knew these people. They asked for work and I did it. It was really such a minimal thing. It really wasn’t anything of what I did.

SECONDS: No one ever told you what pieces to do, right?

PETTIBON: Not when I could help it. Unfortunately, that tends to come up because everyone thinks they’ve got great ideas. I managed to shy away from it whenever I could. There’s a few abominations where you’re backed into a corner, but otherwise …

SECONDS: Do you think you’re asking a lot from the viewer? Do you think your work is demanding?

PETTIBON: Do you mean morally?


PETTIBON: I’m not making any demands of people. I would if art had the ability to do that with authority, but that’s highly doubtful with the debasement of art in this country. Art is the last place anyone is going to derive their inspiration from.

SECONDS: How about demanding visually? Do you hope to exhaust the viewer?

PETTIBON: Not really. The way I look at it, there’s no contract with the viewer the way a professor assigns a certain amount of pages to the student. I’m not making any demands on the viewer. I don’t have a crusade about that. The gallery audience is not a captive audience like in music or theater. There’s been shows before where you have this palpable resentment between the audience and myself. Just walk out. I’m not expecting anything from anyone. For one thing, I’m working where even the crassest pulp book takes at least a few hours to read – and people are complaining that it takes more than ten minutes to look at a show of mine? Here I am, considering large bodies of work into small fragments and it’s as if I’m making demands. The whole thing is absurd. If someone is interested in my work, maybe some people go back a few times. That’s nice but I don’t have to know about it. It’s not an issue with me. When I read art reviews, it’s like reading restaurant reviews. The whole show is reviewed as if it’s set up with an appetizer … whatever. I like the idea of being able to do shows of a few works, that’s cool too. The show in New York I didn’t have any hand in.

SECONDS: You didn’t hang that one?

PETTIBON: No. I didn’t make the decisions of what to show. There’s stuff I would have preferred not to, there’s ways I would have done it different … sometimes it works better just to let someone else do it. If there’s any complaints, maybe it’s from an art student whose assignment was to go look at the show and make notes on every piece.

SECONDS: How do you perceive your own show?

PETTIBON: Usually, I try to just dismiss it. I think it’s an expression of love – that’s what’s behind it for me. Anything less is not worth all the years of twenty-four-hour days three hundred sixty-five days a year. Nothing else would compensate for all of that.

Interview with H.R. Giger- Seconds #25 (1994)

Biomechanical modifier
H.R. GIGER watches the clock

By Steven Cerio

Most rock fans know H.R. Giger’s work from his designs for the Alien film series and his album covers for such heavy hitters as Emerson Lake & Palmer, Deborah Harry, and Danzig. The universally-recognized space monster that haunted the starship Nostradamus was the direct result of Giger’s fertile, fevered imagination, and the brooding bitch on Brain Salad Surgery emerged from his quasi-misanthropic mind. But those burning images are only a fraction of Giger’s self-contained universe, where biomechanical surrealism pervades dehumanized characters whose hearts and minds have been replaced by tubes and wires. Part pornography, part pop science fiction, Giger has scared and influenced a generation of artists and film buffs.

In Giger’s universe, machines often appear to be parasitic upon humans in wending episodes of domination. He depicts a humanity that is weak and in need of robots for essential tasks such as eating and fucking – humans are perpetually relegated to life-support systems. That’s one of his work’s turn-ons, but in fact, Giger feels that he is portraying a positive relationship between machines and humanity. Despite the fact that it is symbiotic, it is horrifying – a vision of hell from the future.

To say that Giger’s images are erotic is an understatement. Heavy S&M abounds. Phallic shapes grow from the fleshy floor as vaginal ovals appear atop volcanoes. However, in his interviews he downplays any sexual symbolism by saying that most people have a tendency to see penises in every column and vaginas in every hole.

H.R. Giger is important because he is a fantastic surrealist obsessed with life, sex and death. There are never depictions of flesh alone; flesh is always accompanied by machines. Humanity is slowly being replaced by metal and circuits. Botched babies and imperfect cocksuckers wait patiently for their turn to find sexual and spiritual fulfillment through mechanization.

Currently, Giger has given up painting in favor of sculpture and drawings, and is compiling a book which will contain photographs or tattoos of his elaborate images. His most recent exhibit, Watch Abart, at New York’s Alexander Gallery, displayed his Swiss fascination with clockwork and his interest in Daliesque surrealism. Over-sized spiked timepieces and macabre holograms greeted visitors as the space was transformed into a chronological twilight zone.

Giger’s business relationships have sometimes been as turbulent as the dark world he has created. For example, he was in a legal dispute over the blockbuster film Alien 3. Giger contended that the film’s producers failed to properly credit him for his monstrous designs; consequently he was denied an Academy Award nomination. He is now involved in litigation over copyright infringement concerning artwork used by Glenn Danzig for the cover of his album How The Gods Kill. Giger claims Danzig used the image for merchandising without permission. Hopefully minor legal adjustments will fix this malfunction before the machine shuts down.

Vilified by American Puritans for riveting, taboo-ridden images like the poster included in the Dead Kennedy’s Frankenchrist album package or his own seminal book of psycho-satanic airbrush paintings, Necronomicon, Giger remains the undisputed champion of the fever dream. We spoke with this renown alien artist about sex and art in hell.

SECONDS: After your recent show at the Alexander Gallery, there were many complaints about the twenty-five dollar door price. That wasn’t your idea was it?

GIGER: Oh my God, no! The gallery owner was upset because I promised to come by the gallery one day to meet some fans. Then something happened and I couldn’t get there. I was told there were some kids waiting for me, and they were playing football in the gallery and making a lot of noise. The gallery was furious and afraid that things could get damaged. The owner said, “I need protection – more security for the art. To cover it, I need to charge a twenty-five dollar fee.” There were so many kids, he was frightened. I heard that here in the States even museums don’t charge that much. I told him, “You can’t do that,” and he got all sour. It was very difficult to convince him. In the end, I said I’d take the risk on myself if something happened, and then he gave the show for free. No one wanted to pay the twenty-five dollars. They all went down the hallway to see the Robert Crumb show for free. The gallery wouldn’t display the one sculpture I had done that wasn’t in metal. They said the polyester and rubber are not quality materials – only metals. They said you can’t show that uptown. It was the last piece I made, so I didn’t have time to do it in metal. That’s the reason why they didn’t want to use the show poster we gave them, because it showed that same piece.

SECONDS: Tell us about your Watch Abart exhibition.

GIGER: I wanted to call it Giger’s Swatch Abart, but Swatch wouldn’t let me use their ‘S’. At the time, I was negotiating with them. They wanted to work with me, but later on they became afraid because they felt my images were a bit too strong for their philosophy. Swatch is one of the best watches because they are very cheap and I can take a shower and swim with it on. That’s why I’ll always wear one.

SECONDS: Is there a nationalistic inspiration for the watches?

GIGER: Perhaps. Watches are a unique thing. They’re different from other objects because they run in time, which has to do with life. One of Dali’s best paintings was the work in which he likened watches to melting Camembert cheese. I made my crosswatches unfunctional art objects with four bands.

SECONDS: You met Dali at one point, right?

GIGER: Sever times, but he didn’t always recognize me. He always thought I was Austrian because I worked in a detailed style like the Viennese Fantastic artists such as Ernst Fuchs. When I was at Dali’s house, he presented me as a painter from Austria to the girls in his home – he gave the girls any name he could find because there were so many people visiting that he couldn’t remember their names. The people would all come after 5 P.M., when he was done working. There were all sorts of artists and good-looking people, all sorts of gangsters. He liked to be surrounded by musicians. Amanda Lear wrote a book about him. For some time she was like his lover. At the time, they didn’t know if Amanda was a guy or girl. David Bowie brought her in and told Dali she was a man in order to make her more mysterious.

SECONDS: I read in one of your books that Dali tried to seduce your old girlfriend.

GIGER: Yes. He was very successful because people always did what he wanted; they treated him like a king or a priest. They also wanted him to play the king in Alexander Jodorowski’s version of Dune that was never filmed. Dali was supposed to get paid I-don’t-know-how-many millions for each hour.

SECONDS: What school of art do you consider yourself from? Fantastic? Surrealist?

GIGER: Both schools are relevant. Fuchs seemed to be technically the best out of the old masters. He’s a good friend of mine. We’re opening a museum in a castle a few kilometers from Vienna. It’ll be the first international Museum Of Fantastic Art and the first show will be called The Treasure of Morpheus. It will open in 1995. There will be three hundred artists with four works each. One of the artists is Mati Klarwein, who did the covers for Santana’s Abraxas and Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. I really enjoy his work.

SECONDS: What is the relationship of your art to psychedelia?

GIGER: I think there’s a relationship. Not so in the colors but I have some older works that look very psychedelic.

SECONDS: What have drugs done for the art world?

GIGER: You know, drugs are forbidden in Switzerland. Even psychedelic drugs that open you up are forbidden. LSD was invented by Albert Hoffman, who is Swiss. He had his first psychedelic experience on a bicycle, after accidentally getting some LSD on his fingers. He didn’t know what he had discovered. He was looking for something that would help women in labor. He changed the world. Many artists symbolize the psychedelic experience with a bicycle. This man is now 88 years old. I met him about six months ago. He’s very healthy and intelligent. Each day, he hangs upside down with his wife for half an hour, like a bat, in gravity boots.

SECONDS: You know Timothy Leary too, right?

GIGER: Yes, but not too well. When he was in Switzerland, he was looking for a place to hide because they wanted to put him in jail. My father was a pharmacist and knew Leary was in trouble. He was not very excited about Leary being in Switzerland, so I didn’t tell him I was trying to get help for him. He wouldn’t have been pleased.

SECONDS: It’s been rumored that you’re not allowed in the States since the incident with the Dead Kennedys poster.

GIGER: Not allowed in the country? No, that’s not true, I was never charged or prosecuted. They were looking for the painting in Jello’s home, they thought it was a photo or something. We explained that this painting was shown all over the world in galleries, on television, and even at the Bronx Museum without any controversy. The painting is one of a triptych illustrating the circle of life, represented by babies, skulls and penises.

SECONDS: Do you think they approach erotic art differently in the States?

GIGER: Yes, they like erotic art very much, but not officially. They have trouble showing my books in store windows. Necronomicon came out fifteen years ago, you would think by now that they’d have no problem with it. They’re seeing sexual penetrations that aren’t there. They’re looking for them. They wanted to hide the breasts on the cover by putting type or stars over them.

SECONDS: I’ve noticed a lot of guns in your work.

GIGER: Yes, before I was able to get a lady, before puberty, I was collecting guns. My father gave me my first gun, an automatic pistol.

SECONDS: Do you still have it?

GIGER: No, because later I was more interested in revolvers; I admired them from cowboy films. I liked them because they could fall in the sand and still shoot.

SECONDS: Do you use them for anything other than a phallic symbol in your work?

GIGER: Any object has sexual symbolism. A long thing is always a penis, a hollow thing is always a vagina. That’s all very simple. I don’t approve of guns for the killing of humans or animals. I distance myself from their violence. In my work they represent magical action. Working with an airbrush is also a magical action, but it’s non-violent.

SECONDS: Are you still painting?

GIGER: No, I stopped painting. I’m working directly with my ideas through my ink drawings. I like having my ideas immediately fixed on paper or in books, even through comics or storyboards. I realized drawings were the quickest way to transmit my ideas to people, something I noticed as I was faxing sketches to them. There was no sense in faxing copies of airbrushed paintings, since they would print in such high contrast.

SECONDS: How are people reacting to your new drawings?

GIGER: They don’t enjoy them as much as the airbrushed paintings. I’ve noticed that artists prefer my drawings. Non-artists fixate on the airbrushed works because they come closer to reality. To me, the paintings are too finished and too cold. What I do like about using the airbrush is that it’s easier to render texture with it. I don’t like shiny objects such as new airplanes, but with the airbrush I can create the passage of time on an object.

SECONDS: What criticism about your work bothers you the most?

GIGER: After Alien people only talked about me but I’d rather have people talk about my work. After the Oscars I became kind of a celebrity. People think they can do with you what they want, they don’t feel it’s necessary to talk about your work anymore. They just want to make small talk, they don’t take you so seriously. After Alien the museums stopped buying my pictures. They think that if you do film or architecture, you don’t have anything to do with art. I read someone say in a review of my art that you can’t make paintings with an airbrush. Stupid guy.

SECONDS: What’s the highest compliment you’ve been paid?

GIGER: The greatest compliment is when people get tattooed with my work, whether it’s done well or not. To wear something like that your whole life is the largest compliment someone can pay to you as an artist. I have no tattoos. The only tattoo I’d ever want to get is a cross on my arm to show my doctor where to draw blood from.

SECONDS: How do you feel about your fans?

GIGER: I like my fans very much. When I see that people enjoy my work, it gives me great happiness and the energy to go on. Everyone needs a little admiration, just like everyone needs a little sex, love, and vitamins from time to time. But some fans are too enthusiastic and disturb me at home. This I don’t enjoy, I like peace and quiet when I’m home.

SECONDS: Have you ever looked to religion for inspiration?


SECONDS: Is your use of Satanism purely poetic?

GIGER: My interest came from literature. I was quite interested in mythology and magic and that’s why those images appear in my art.

SECONDS: When you paint your nightmares, are you doing it to exorcise them or to celebrate them?

GIGER: If I have a problem in my life, it’s that my dreams aren’t very good. The stress destroys my dreams. It brings back memories of military service and school. If I have the same disagreeable dream repeatedly, I’ll paint it to liberate myself from it.

SECONDS: Who are the beings in your work?

GIGER: They’re often people I admire, like beautiful women – my goddesses. I like to create images of faces in ecstasy.

SECONDS: Your work is often described as violent, but I’ve always sensed a feeling of serenity and contentment.

GIGER: I hate violence but violence can be played out in sexual play. I have always thought of my paintings in a way, as being beautiful. I don’t look at them as ugly, to many people the beauty is hidden. I do have some paintings that I think are ugly, but I had to do them for some strange reason, although I don’t know why. I don’t enjoy looking at them.

SECONDS: I understand that you have had problems with the producers of Alien 3 over your omission from the credits.

GIGER: That’s right …

SECONDS: Is that something you can discuss?

GIGER: These are things I don’t like to discuss because it’s horrible. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with people not being honest.

SECONDS: So will you shy away from film work?

GIGER: I no longer have any illusions about Hollywood and the movie-making process. I worked hard on Alien 3 improving the creature from the first movie. They tried to hide the fact that I was the designer. When it was shown in theatres, nobody knew that I worked on it. My credit, as promised in the contract, was not there. Shit, after a long argument between lawyers, it was finally fixed for video, but it was also too late for me. I hope it’s better next time.

SECONDS: What about the screenplay that you’re working on?

GIGER: It’s called The Mystery Of San Gottardo. It concerns a race of creatures, my Biomechanoids – part organic, part machine. The concept of these reduced human beings is that they are a new life form. They consist of only an arm and a leg. It’s the further developing of a recurring image in my work from over the last thirty years. My earliest sketch was called The Beggar, in 1963. The film will be about a man and his unique love for a freak of nature, Armbeinda, who is really a sentient being combining and arm and a leg. This is where I’m focusing my attention at the moment.

SECONDS: Are you also having some problems with Danzig?

GIGER: I like to trust people. If you can’t trust people, existence is difficult because you’re always worried about being taken advantage of. Without friends and confidence and love, life has no value.

SECONDS: Do you listen to much music?

GIGER: Nothing has came out that’s really good or special. I was into Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane.

SECONDS: You played piano on Deborah Harry’s Debravation but you weren’t credited for it, correct?

GIGER: Warner Brothers forgot. I think I played too badly, I don’t know. Chris Stein recorded it during the time I was making the molds for Debbie’s mask for the cover of Koo Koo.

SECONDS: In her video, was that you behind the mask?

GIGER: Yes. I do have several masks. When I was in New York I used that one. It was made for Debbie’s face, on her skull. This mask is made from stencils for electronics. It’s melted copper burned out with acid. It has very fine lines and is very delicate. The Koo Koo mask has changed a lot – getting me into the mask changed it a lot. I wore it to the opening of my show in New York at the Alexander Gallery. It was the night before Halloween, and everyone had to come in black tie or in a mask. I wore a mask and a vest made from my four-banded crosswatches.

SECONDS: I read somewhere that you like to wear masks to your shows because of your shyness.

GIGER: Yes, it’s best because you don’t have to smile and you don’t have to hear small talk. You’re a little hidden and that’s not bad sometimes if you don’t know or recognize the people.

SECONDS: Is technology the master or the servant in your work?

GIGER: I’ve always shown machines as servants of human beings.

SECONDS: I always thought you were saying that mechanical was taking control of the biological.

GIGER: No, things such as bicycles, watches, artificial hearts and prosthetics are helping man, but machines can be used to destroy. It depends on how they’re used, everything has its good and evil.

SECONDS: Is man good or evil?

GIGER: Man is both. Without evil, there’s no good. If there were only good people, the world would be shit.

Interview with Bill Bruford- Seconds #28 (1994)

Everything you wanted to know about
BILL BRUFORD but were to afraid to ask.

By Steven Cerio

Drummer, percussionist and composer BILL BRUFORD – The answer to the trivia question “Who is the only person to have been in Yes, Genesis, King Crimson?” Master stroker, father of Prog Rock drumming, Bruford left the tinkering over-anxious beat keepers in the dust. For decades his Popeye-like forearms have flailed away, providing the lions share of sound while his more glamorous band-mates have always snapped up the spotlight. Bruford has gone beyond mere percussive beat keeping—he’s a musician capable of propelling the eccentric time signatures of Prog Rock explorations with inescapably powerful snare beats and a smoothness of the greats like Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones and Gene Krupa.

Starting off at the throne of Yes, Bruford made a name for himself as an aggressive Art Rock proto-Fusion drummer who paved the way for other Prog drummers like Terry Bozzio, Neil Pert, and Billy Cobham. He left Yes to drown in their topographic ocean as he switched his allegiances to Fripp’s revitalized King Crimson. Churning out record after record packed to the lid with severe rhythmic contrasts and harmonic dissonance, Crimson tore up the flowing effervescence of the docile Prog bands of the time. Their music created the illusion of chaos through its frequent atonality and compositional complexity.

After the demise of King Crimson, Bruford had more beats up his sleeve. He helped out National Health, Genesis, and others. Then he formed a band under his own name, a unit that stole the aggression of Punk to blend with the finesse of Jazz. With the six-string sorcery of Allan Holdsworth and the bass wizardry of Jeff Berlin, Bruford would remain untamed until their quick demise after their fourth LP.

Following stints with UK and Patrick Moraz, he found himself faced with the rebirth of King Crimson. He was surrounded by Tony Levin and Adrian Belew as well as the ever-present Victorian aura of Fripp. The recorded results were the triplet of Discipline, Beat, and Three Of A Perfect Pair. This project was the closest Bruford has come to Pop music, mainly because the song lengths stayed under eight minutes.

Then there was the birth of his present group Earthworks, where Bruford and crew investigate the jazz of the dirty Americans. With this project, Bruford revitalized drumming and percussion, pulling drummers out of the shadows of the Marshall stacks once again. Armed now with a saxophone player, Earthworks explores the sultry side of music in these days of Grunge and jangly bullshit, all while plans for another King Crimson are being prepared.

SECONDS: Do you consider yourself a Rock drummer?

BRUFORD: Well I don’t. The whole Rock vs. Jazz thing is a totally meaningless conversation that is really only best had between marketing departments at record labels and record store owners. Anybody who knows anything about music knows that it is an entirely gratuitous and passé conversation. The best of Rock has the spirit of Jazz in it and the best of Jazz often has the best attributes of Rock in it. You try to play good music. You try to keep the best elements of both things. If you call me jazz, you condemn me to no record sales. On the other hand, I cannot call myself Rock because I don’t have a singer. So it’s a Jazz group. When I play in Earthworks I’m a Jazz drummer. Let’s keep it simple. I’m Bill and I play with Django and Ian. Then I play over here with Robert Fripp and Tony Levin and that’s a different thing. It’s not Rock or Jazz, its different people who walk through the door.

SECONDS: King Crimson was just a thing unto itself.

BRUFORD: It was. It has had elements of Jazz in it and elements of European improvising and even little bits of Classical music occasionally pop up once in a while. It’s all elements of everything. At the end of the day, you’re trying to fashion a group sound that sounds different from anybody else.

SECONDS: How much improvisation do you do?

BRUFORD: In theory, you would not be able to tell when the written music finishes and the improvising music starts. I’m sure of course you can. We have kicking off points like all Jazz groups do. We start somewhere and then stuff happens. On this live Earthworks CD, the second half of “Emotional Shirt,” the whole of “Bridge Of Inhibition,” and large portions of “All Heaven Broke Loose” are improvised. “Pilgrims Way” in entirely written.

SECONDS: On the new record, you’re using chordal drums.

BRUFORD: That’s a way of trying to describe the fact that the instrument I’m using is a hybrid. It plays drums and keyboards at the same time. That satisfies my fantasies of being a keyboard player. I can assign to any pad at any time any note or combination of notes and samples and add an analog sound anytime.

SECONDS: With King Crimson, you were saying how you formed the drum set after you arranged the band.

BRUFORD: That’s absolutely true. In King Crimson, the music was arrived at in another way, and it turned out what we then needed was this instrument and that instrument. With Earthworks, I had an instrument that you could almost do solo concerts on, though I’d never want to go down that route. This instrument if you configured a rhythmic and percussive scenario — it was very interesting. You could just take it to other musicians and say I’m going to do this and you guys can throw on top of mine and harmonize a bit. It won’t sound like regular Jazz it will sound different.

SECONDS: It seems this newer music has more of a calming effect, as opposed to the Bruford albums which seemed very aggressive.

BRUFORD: You get a bit more measured as you get older, a bit more thoughtful, maybe. The guys I’m playing with are much better musicians. Nobody wants to hear constant tension all the time. I like playing slow. Sometimes playing slow is harder than playing fast.

SECONDS: What kinds of people are coming to your shows now?

BRUFORD: A mixture, Earthworks has played in the States three or four times now and its sort of getting its own audience. There’s King Crimson fans who are being brought into Jazz. There’s a number of young Rock guys. Because I’m supposed to be a Rock drummer but yet have a fascination with Jazz, that encourages young Americans to come over to Jazz, too. I’m in a position of being able to lead people and show them things. There’s a lot of young Rockheads who say, “I don’t like Jazz but I like Earthworks.” You hear that all the time. You realize they never heard any Jazz ever and it’s all based on prejudice. After two hours of Earthworks, they like Jazz.

SECONDS: How did you like working with a percussionist early on in King Crimson?

BRUFORD: That would be Jamie Muir way back when. He was a very interesting man. He taught me lots about music and life in general. I have worked with two drummers quite a bit-like with Phil Collins in Genesis and Alan White in Yes. We have a new King Crimson starting up too, which is going to have two drummers.

SECONDS: What’s the line-up for this King Crimson?

BRUFORD: The 80s King Crimson plus a Stick player and another drummer. It’s a very big sounding group. It’s huge. I don’t think it’s loud, but it’ s very dense and dark.

SECONDS: With Fripp, he’s always come across as the dictator of the band. How does he express his ideas?

BRUFORD: It’ s a lot less than you think. In common with Miles Davis, Robert picks interesting guys. That’ s the entire art of bandleading — picking the right people. If you pick merely interesting people, they’ll make one good album and break up. If you pick the interesting and right people, they’ll make several albums. All Robert does is pick four guys and shut the door and let them figure out their own problems. You’re in the room together and you just have to find a way to make it work. You just forget any ideas you may have had about how it should be or how it was in the past or how it could be. You come with a pair of sticks and an empty brain. He doesn’t in any way give orders, although a certain amount of the current music is written from his guitar. Again, it’ s not the type of band you write a tune for. You find the music in the rehearsal room.

SECONDS: I heard Fripp said something about John Wetton overplaying a lot on the older stuff, and when you did the CD reissues Fripp was thinking about turning down the bass. Is that true?

BRUFORD: I think that’ s very true. John did overplay. John got noisier and noisier as life went on and things became more hysterical until it reached a peak in Asia. By the time he got to UK with me in 1977, he was playing real loud, very loud. That almost killed UK because Holdsworth couldn’t bear him. John did start to play too loud, which is a shame, because he was an extremely hip bass player for a while.

SECONDS: Was that UK project planned as a Rock supergroup?

BRUFORD: That supergroup thing was all kind of nonsense. It was planned that if a couple of Jazz guys and a couple of Pop guys could somehow meet then it would be an interesting album. It was interesting people in a room, but the wrong people. So they made the one good album and they fell apart. It was a good album, I even like it.

SECONDS: Are there any records that you have a problem with?

BRUFORD: The only one I actively hate is the Yes Union record. I thought that was a terrible record. Absolutely awful, an embarrassing record. It cost way too much money. There was no direction at all. It was just a record company thing where they were screwing the band rotten.

SECONDS: Any egos colliding?

BRUFORD: All egos colliding. It was the most awful album to make. It sounds terrible, too. It was put through every conceivable device and computer to try to do something with it. It’ s a complete testimony to the idea that the more money you spend on something, the better it will get. That’s absolutely wrong. The more money you spend, the worse it will get. They threw money and technology at it and it got worse and worse. That’ s the record I have trouble with, but I don’t go around listening to the old records. It’ s like a photo album. You don’t really want to see a photo of you when you were seventeen, right? you looked stupid. Sure, so I looked stupid. That’s what it is to listen to my records.

SECONDS: Any large egos you had to deal with other than Wetton?

BRUFORD: Singers are always a special case unto themselves. All musicians in a band will acknowledge that the singer will be your problem. Singers have to have problems. They have to have throat problems and anxiety attacks. They’re the people who need the audience to clap. Drummers have the least problems. Drummers never have any problems on the whole because the problems they have they keep quiet about. Why? Because there’s a million drummers. Who needs you in the band if you have a problem? The singer – he’ s the guy who’ s the golden thing to the record companies. We all bow and scrape for singers, but we can dump the bass player and drummer any day. The rhythm section is always the first to go. That applies to all groups.

SECONDS: Is it fun for you to be up front?

BRUFORD: It’s absolutely great. It’s fun to get out and about. I love seeing the whites of an audience’s eyes instead of being stuck in back and seeing John Wetton’ s ass. Life for me is a series of asses that I’m behind. Adrian’s got a very nice ass, slim. John Weston’s is fat. Jon Anderson’s is very small. Nice legs, lousy ass. It’ s a series of asses.

SECONDS: I’m sure you’ve been offered a lot of interesting gigs. Are there any interesting ones you decided to turn down?

BRUFORD: I don’t think so. I always accepted whatever came my way. People haven’t offered me strange gigs. Generally, my phone doesn’t ring at all. It’s assumed I’m some kind of specialist. The minute you say you’re a composer or a bandleader your phone stops ringing; you’re on your own at that point. That happened to me very much. People think you’re too expensive or too busy or you want to play in 15/8 or something, none of which may be true. Maybe I’m extremely cheap and dying to play in 4/4 but nobody takes the time to find out. Most of the stuff we’ve done has been self-created. If you want to hear the drums played a certain way like I do, you’re forced to form your own band.

SECONDS: The Bruford Tapes is your most aggressive, violent record

BRUFORD: It is. It’s very tense. A very live album, not mixed, just straight to two track. When l hear that stuff, it’ s tired. The musicians are tired. Their eyeballs are out on stalks. It’ s two months worth of a heat wave down by Oklahoma, and often doing two shows a night. Four hundred miles a day, two shows a night, very hot temperatures and the music is tired. You could tell when musicians are tired and how that manifests itself is incredible aggression. You’re willing to kill the promoter, you’re willing to kill the booking agent, all you want to do is go home. That’ s my memory of those times. I’ve come in and started in New York and ended up in LA exhausted playing at the Roxy or something. Again, five nights, two shows a night, an hour-and-a-half each time, sound check as well, and at the end of it you’ re just so tired. That doesn’t mean the music gets slow – the music gets wild. It was a road band. I like The Bruford Tapes for that reason. The Earthworks live CD I also like for exactly the same reason. Again, no mixing, straight to two-track tape. I like it much more because the band hadn’t done nearly so much road work and was not nearly so exhausted and is a little bit more mature and is still capable of observing silence on the stage and playing with space a little bit.

SECONDS: What are some of your influences?

BRUFORD: Early on, I grew up with Jazz. Grew up through the 60s in England with all the great American Jazz drummers. We used to import albums from the Riverside label in California. I grew up therefore with Charlie Persip and Max Roach and all the big drummers – Art Blakely, Philly Joe Jones and so forth. That’ s where I learned my drums. Then The Beatles came and The Rolling Stones and we listened to those albums but we didn’t like those albums as much as we liked Monk. We had a huge stack of Jazz and a little bit of Rock. I’m the only guy I know who never bought a Beatles record. Now I see it, but then I couldn’t see it. I could only understand Jazz. We started a group in 1968 and l started playing Jazz in Yes really. I didn’t know it wasn’t going to be a Jazz group. For what I’m listening to now, everybody and everything. Being a professional drummer, the ear goes up the minute I hear rhythm anywhere. I can’t say I’m in a club. I’m not in a post-Nirvana club. I’m not in an alternative music club. I’m not in a trance music club. I’m a free agent. I’m trying to be Bill. I’m trying to come up with music that is fresh and particular to me.

SECONDS: What do you think of the trends right now, like Grunge?

BRUFORD: Nothing’s new. It’s all old to me. I’m thrilled the Grunge thing happened because machines were put back in their proper place. Technology really got out of hand in the mid 80s.

You couldn’t even cut a track if there was a human being in the studio. It was all scientists. In London, you could watch the actual physical size of a recording studio be reduced as they wanted less and less human beings in there. The size of the production suite on the other side of the glass was getting bigger and bigger because they wanted more scientists. Now, everything I do is just set up some microphones and let’s play. Thee new King Crimson material I’m doing, six guys in a room, and you play. Just like it used to be, I just played here in New York with the Buddy Rich Big Band. That was amazing. This is a thing that was put together by Neil Peart from Rush. His idea was to get the Buddy Rich Big Band and have all these star drummers play two tunes. We got a guy from Guns N’ Roses. It sounds smoking. This is live. Put the drums up, the horns over there and away you go, you record. The Grunge guys have brought that element back and that’s great.

SECONDS: For a while, everyone was scared of drum machines. Were you feeling threatened around that time?

BRUFORD: I turned left and made my own bands. You can do whatever you want in your own band. There’s no doubt it was a depressing time. I think it’ s much more exciting with real guys.

SECONDS: I read somewhere where you said about King Crimson. “It’s the only gig in the world where I can play in 17/16 and still stay in a decent hotel.”

BRUFORD: You can be treated as a human being, but you’re still allowed to do that stuff. That’s the great advantage of King Crimson. You put those two words together and musicians know they can come in and do some interesting stuff. If you can’t do it in King Crimson, you can’t do it anywhere. It is the place in Rock for a drummer to do something and I’m thrilled to be back. It’s my spiritual home.