Monday, October 12, 2015

Jimbo Wallace, Reverend Horton Heat Interview, Summer 1998

The Healing Powers Of The Heat
By Daniel Coston

In these times of soul-searching and yearning for enlightenment, some find healing in the form of therapy, while others have discovered strength through religion. However, there any many others that have found religion through Heat, as in the Reverend Horton Heat, a Texas-born and bred trio that has become a savior to many a listener.

For nearly ten years, the Heat, made up of guitarist and lead singer Jim "Reverend" Horton Heat, bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla, have burnt up and torn down people's expectations. Their mixture of rockabilly roots, punk attitude and a wild live show has brought many a fan to their knees, and their legion of converts is continuing to grow.

Along with continuing to play over 200 shows a year, the band made a high-profile guest appearance this past spring on "The Drew Carey Show." The band also recently released their fifth album, Space Heater, on Interscope Records.

With the band's hectic tour schedule, it was no surprise to find that Jimbo Wallace was calling in from the road. In this case, Mizoula, Montana. "We're at the local university here," said Wallace. "One of those places where they send up the 90-pound entertainment director to help you load equipment."

Coston: Tell me about the new record.

J: It's a little bit of a departure for us. This time, I think that we leaned towards our punk influence a little more. A little more aggressive guitar, more guitar chords, instead of the lightning country picking. It's cool for us. We never play it safe. We always try to do different stuff, and pretty unpredictable.

We had Ed Stasium produce it. He did a lot of Ramones records. We've been known for our crazy producers, from Al Jourgensen to Gibby Haynes. [laughs]

Coston: Who's been your favorite producer to work with?

J: I would have to say Ed Stasium. He was the most level-headed. Gibby Haynes was a lot of fun to work with, and Al Jourgensen was a nightmare. [laughs] But we somehow got that done. Every story you've ever heard about him is probably true. [laughs] But some people think that's our best record. [Liquor In The Front, 1994] Something went right.
Coston: Was the change on this record a conscious decision?

J: No. I think that we get bored sometimes. [laughs] We had a limited time frame for this record, so we just locked ourselves in a studio and tried to write a song a day. We came up with about thirty of them, and used what we thought was worthy, and threw away the rest.

It was kind of a challenge with this record, because we did have a limited time period. Of course, working with Ed Stasium, he's a slavedriver. I hope that he reads this. [laughs] If we messed up, or if he didn't like a part, he made us do it over. [laughs]
Coston: You guys recently appeared on the Drew Carey show.

J: Yeah. We first did on his HBO "Mr. Vegas" special, and that was pretty cool. We got to meet Wayne Newton, who was also a guest on the show. We were backstage, and Wayne was waiting to come [onstage]. I had on a silver tux jacket, and I walked up to him, and said, "Wayne, look. I'm sorry that I outdressed you tonight. You're going to have to do something about that," 'cause he just had a black [tuxedo jacket]. And he said, "Yeah, I'm been wanting to talk to you about that, Jimbo." [laughs]

But he was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. "Take all of the pictures that you want," and he was just real down to earth. Since that thing turned out successful, Drew asked us to be on his sitcom.

I guess the whole scenario was that the bar where they hang out was having a Battle Of The Bands, and they had an actor that they added to our band as a fourth member. We were called the Underprivledged. It ended up that we won the contest, but they stole the trophy at the end of the show.

As the credits were rolling, he announced, "Rev. Horton Heat," and let us play a song as they took the credits out.
Coston: There's a lot of different influences in your music. Where do some of those influences come from?

J: I don't know. Growing up in Texas, of course, there's a lot of great guitar players, and I'm sure that it inspired the Rev., or Jim, in his early years. Growing up, I was into all different types of music, like heavy metal. And then punk hit, that was all I would listen to. And then the Stray Cats came out, and that's what inspired me to play the upright bass.

It all kind of melts together. It's nothing we really planned. Each one has a different kind of music we like, and once we get together, you can hear traces of it in most of our songs.

Also, there's a little truth in every song. I don't know if everybody knows that, but a lot of our songs are true stories. I know the "400 Bucks" girl. It's a long story. The Rev loaned this ex-girlfriend of his some money while we were on the road to buy this car, and we get back home, and she breaks up with him, with the car and the 400 bucks. So he wrote a song about it. [laughs]
Coston: I loved the last song on It's Martini Time (1996), "That's Showbiz."

J: We're doing that as an encore. Guess there's a lot of truth in that song, too. There's a line in that about "rats the size of loaves of bread." That comes from a club in Washington, DC called the 9:30 Club, which is now big and beautiful since they moved locations.

They used to be in this little basement behind the Ford Theater, where Lincoln got shot, and the alley back there was just full of rats, and they'd come and steal the pizza out of your dressing room while you were on stage.
Coston: At one point in your show, you turn the bass on its side and play it while the Rev stands on top of it. Where did that all start?

J: Back in the fifties, the bass players used to be pretty crazy with their upright bass. They'd stand on it and play. We've been fans of Bill Haley and the Comets, and they did tricks like that, so we kind of reintroduced it back in.

Although, [The Rev's] put his foot through my bass a couple of times. Of course, he never offers to pay for it. I'm always paying for it, so I might stand on his guitar next show. [laughs] No, he fixed my bass.

I've been in the band ten years now, and I guess that it's taken ten years to be an overnight success. Good things are starting to happen for us, finally. For a band that's never had a hit on the radio, we've got a pretty big following as compared to bands that do have hits.

Our following is pretty big, and we're real excited about that, 'cause we put many years of hard work into that, and it's paying off. A lot of our loyal fans are still with us today. We still see their faces at the show, and that's cool.
Coston: How important is it for you guys to have that loyal fan base? Those people who have been with you five, ten years?

J: That's number one. Record companies come and go, but they'll still be there, and that's the main reason we do this. Interscope's been pretty good to us so far, but I trust all record companies about as far as I can throw them. [laughs].


This interview was originally slated for Issue 31 of Tangents Magazine, a near-mythical issue that did not see the light of publication in 1998. Seventeen years later, it's finally a part of the Tangents archives. Yay!
October 12, 2015

Douglas Adams Interview, October 1996 Issue, With 2010 Notes

There is no way to describe Douglas Adams' sci-fi comedy opus The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and accurately capture why it has become one of the most popular books of the past 20 years. With characters such as Guide researcher Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin The Paranoid Android, it 's one of those books that you just have to read to understand its popularity.

It's also very hard to describe the career of its author, who has now sold over 15 million books worldwide. Born in Cambridge, England, Adams did everything from odd jobs to write with Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame before he found his voice in Hitchhhiker's.
Originally done as a radio series for British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio in 1978. He has since adapted Hitchhiker's into five books, a popular 1981 TV mini-series and every other form of media imaginable. With a second popular book series, Dirk Gently, now under his belt, Adams has now positioned himself at the forefront of the Computer Age, with several upcoming CD-ROMs now in the planning stages.
During his stay in Charlotte last month for the Novello festival, I sat down with Adams to talk about Hitchhiker's, his experiences with Monty Python and "Doctor Who," and the numerous Hitchhiker followers that fill the Internet.

Tangents: What were some of your early influences as a writer?

Adams: I'd have to say that Monty Python influenced me a great deal from a comedy standpoint, because I consider myself a comedy writer. Doctor Who also was a big influence from the standpoint of science-fiction. I don't know if you can imagine it now, but the impact that Doctor Who when it was first broadcast was amazing. It was so huge that the following week, they had to run the first episode again, and stagger the rest of the series back a week.
I guess on a prosaic level, I was influenced by the classics. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, P. B. Woodhouse. They were the ones that you always looked up to as a writer, and always convinced yourself that your never be as good as theirs. There were a few science-fiction comic books in England when I was growing up. They were the rather sort of upper crust comic books that were there, I think, to instill good Empire values into young boys. But I think that the great one was called Dan Dare, Pilot Of The Future.
I must profess that I have a bit of a problem with a lot of today's science-fiction. I just find that it's very hard to read. In what many people think of as the "Golden Age" of science-fiction that produced [Arthur C. ] Clarke, [Isaac] Asimov and those guys, they were all working for voracious editors. You always read them complaining about how much their editors beat them up, but it produced very clear, clean, lean storytelling.
If you read science fiction nowadays, everybody's been to creative writing classes, and you get page after page, after page of "creative storytelling" without it ever actually going anywhere.
There was one great, great writer who is now, alas, largely overlooked. His name is Robert Sheckley. He was a very funny science-fiction writer, which was unusual. In fact, I'm going up in a few days' time to meet him, because we're probably going to collaborate on a little thing.

[At this point in the interview, Adams and I noticed that my new tape recorder was starting and stopping due to the machine being switched to voice-activated, a problem that Adams actually spotted. And yes, the irony of technology going awry in the middle of a Douglas Adams interview was not lost on me.]

Adams: I was a junior producer for BBC radio, and I was doing a radio show for Christmas...that was based on the story of Cinderella, and it was called "Black Cinderella II Goes East." We had a bunch of luminaries taking part in it, including John Cleese. John was, predictably, the only one couldn't turn up for recording. So I worked this out with the writers that it was written in such a way that John, who was the Fairy Godperson, was such and successful Godperson that she could never turn up to see Cinderella, but she would leave all her spells on her answering machine.
So I had to go off and record all of his bits, and it was terribly difficult finding a moment in his busy schedule when he could do this, and he finally could see me at 8 o;clock for an half-an-hour to do this. So I turned up with my tape recorder, tested everything to make sure it was all right. I did a quick test record and everything was fine, and I said, "Okay, let's go ahead."
And at that moment, John just happened to say, "Do you think it's a bit warm in here?" And I said, "Yes, it is a little bit. I'll fix that," and didn't think anything more about it. And it turned out that when I turned on this air conditioning fan, it set up a hum over the whole tape.
So I had to call [Cleese] the next day and say, 'I'm terribly sorry. I know we took weeks of work trying to find the time, but can we do it again, please?" And he was a little bit shirty, but eventually he agreed to do it, but unfortunately the second recording wasn't such a good performance, because he was a little cross about it. So I understand your frustration.

T: You came from a largely medical family.

A: That's right, yes. My mother was a nurse, and my father's father was an ear, nose and throat surgeon. My stepfather, because my parents divorced, was a doctor, and my sister from time to time is a nurse.

T: Did you expect to be a doctor when you grew up?

A: Well, I don't know about expected. It certainly crossed my mind from time to time, and there were certainly times when I thought, "Oh God, that's what I should have done." But it was never really an option, or if it was an option that I had taken, then it would have involved taking a U-turn in life, and suddenly giving up another eight years.

T: You said once that you became a writer because you couldn't think of anything else better to do.

A: Yes, that's true to a certain extent. That's funny, looking back now I would have a whole bunch of ideas about different things I'd like to do, but they weren't clear to me then. If I'd known back in 19747 which is when I left University, what I know now, among the things I would've thought of doing was being an evolutionary biologist. I guess a better time to decide this would've been before I went to University. But also a computer scientist, I would've loved to have been a rock musician...

T: Yes, you actually play some musical instruments.

A: Well, I actually play only two musical instruments, really. One is the guitar, and the other is the computer-driven synth. I'm a fairly poor keyboard player, but I can write music pretty well, so I basically write to a sequencer.

T: One of your first jobs was writing with Graham Chapman during the last season of Monty Python.

A: Well, it was something that seemed to me at the time as a young kid just out of University like this was having the clouds opening. "Wow! I'm working with all the Pythons." It wasn't quite as straightforward as that. Graham, and I think is a matter of record, so I'm not doing him any disservice, was a very, very heavy drinker at the time. He wasn't working with John Cleese anymore, and he was working with a lot of different people, but an awful lot of work really wasn't being done. So it a period of mixed output, and after eighteen months of that, I really felt that I was better off taking the plunge myself.

T: What were your impressions of the Pythons when you worked with them in that period?

A: Well, I do want to emphasize that it wasn't really working with them. My actual input to the Python era was about two lines. But, to a greater or lesser extent, they're all friends of mine. I know Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, John [Cleese] I know to a small degree, Mike [Palin] to a small degree, Eric [Idle] to a small degree. But the two Terrys are great.

T: In between that and getting the radio deal for Hitchhiker's, you worked as a bodyguard.

A: Yes, for an Arab Royal Family, the Altoni of Gutar. That was strange. It wasn't what I was expecting to be doing at that point, but like anything that happens to you in life, it turns out useful in some way or another. I think some of the weirder ideas that carried me through the next couple years after that came from long nights sitting opposite the elevator shaft at the Hilton Hotel, while I was trying to keep my sanity.

T: The ideas for Hitchhiker's came from several different inspirations, didn't they?

A: Yes. The actual title, as I've told many people, came to me while I was lying in a field, in a capside, actually, in Innsbrook at night, and looking up at the stars. There was a book around called The Hitchhiker 's Guide To Europe, which I had a copy of, and it occurred to me that somebody should write a Hitchhiker 's Guide To The Galaxy. I then promptly forgot about the idea until six years later.
I was intrigued by the idea of doing science-fiction as a form of comedy, and it was only while I was at work on the story that became Hitchhiker that I suddenly remembered this title, and that idea that folded into it.
One thing that I always want to tell people is that people always described Hitchhiker rather carelessly or loosely as being a spoof on science-fiction, and it isn't at all. Basically, a spoof or parody might give you enough material for a couple of pages, but that's about it. So it was very much using science-fiction to enable one to parody everything else, but there's no, or certainly hardly any attempt to actually parody science-fiction.

T: You also once said that a lot of the characters in Hitchhiker's were originally based on friends or people you knew, but then you expanded on those characters.

A: Well, I think you'll find that's common for most writers. Very often you have an idea for a character from just some little aspect of someone you know. something they do or say, or some thing about them, and then it grows into something else. It's often quite a surprise when you look back and think, "Oh, this character came from that person. It's not much like them now."

T: Marvin, for instance, came from a friend of yours.

A: Yeah, who's a comedy writer called Andrew Marshall. Hence the name in fact, because in the original draft of the script, he was actually called Marshall, because I did want Andrew to be absolutely clear that I meant him.
It was the producer who said to me, 'I'm worried about you naming him Marshall, because it has other connotations which you don't intend, but maybe the audience will pick up and then be confused by it." So I thought, "Oh, yeah. Mar, Mar-vin, then." It practically became Marvin on the way to the recording studio.

T: While you were writing the Hitchhiker's radio series, you were hired to become a writer and script editor for Doctor Who.

A: The sequence of events was that while I was waiting for the BBC to make up its mind about doing Hitchhiker, which took a long time, I needed some income from somewhere, so I thought, "Well, I've got this one script I've written that I've written for Hitchhiker. What else could I generate with this?" And the obvious place to send it was Doctor Who.
So they said, "Okay. Come in and see us." So we talking about storylines, and the inevitable happened, which is that [Doctor Who] took a long time to sort out, and the commission for the rest of the Hitchhiker 's series and the commission to write four episodes of Doctor Who came in the same week.
So it was pretty hectic. I really had hardly a day off for four years after that, until I finally decided, "That's it," made the escape from London, and holed up in a hotel in New York for a month, and tried to figure out what to do next.

T: What's your feelings now about your work with Doctor Who?

A: Well, Doctor Who's great in all sorts of ways. I remain tremendously fond of the actual idea. I think the idea is brilliant, and it obviously got very well-worn and tired over the years. I think the problem with it was simply that we were doing 26 episodes a year on a very, very small amount of resources, and there comes a point where you're having to compromise on so many things, and rush so many things just to get to the next problem that you're no longer getting any satisfaction out of it. It's merely a collection of missed opportunities.
Now, obviously anything you're working on there are compromises, missed opportunities, things that go wrong and things that you can't quite do. But the question is at the end of the day, have you done a good job? And I feel on Doctor Who, there was just too much. Too much expected from too little in the way of resources, so at the end of the day, you feel, "Well, we didn't even do a good job, I'm afraid." So it was a little disappointing.

T: The character of Ford Prefect in Hitchhiker's was originally conceived as a sort of anti-Doctor Who, wasn't he?

A: In a kind of a way, yeah. One of the keynotes of Ford was that given the choice between saving the world and going to a good party, he'd go the party. Or even a bad party. [laughs]

T: Whereas Doctor Who would just save the world.

A: Yeah, he was that kind of boring guy about saving the world over and over again. That's why I thought with Hitchhiker, "Let's just get the world out of the way from the word go." Boy, that was a decision I came to regret. [groans] Good God.

T: Why is that?

A: It was such a problem thereafter. It's one of those you do, like a gesture. Michael Nesmith, who was one of the Monkees, told me how there came a point when he wanted to leave the Monkees, and everybody was very down on him for that, 'cause as far as they were concerned, they were doing well, everything was going great, everyone was earning money. Why kill it now?
So somebody said to him, "Look, it's all very well for you. You've very comfortably made this amount of money. Now you just walk away from it. Is that right?" And Michael said, "No, it isn't about the money," and they said, "Oh, yeah." So he said, "All right, how much have I made from the Monkees? I'll give it all away." So he did that, and he said he woke up the following morning, and he thought, 'I've got no money now." [laughs]
That's the problem with it. You make this grand gesture at the beginning, and you give up the earth, and you think, "Damn. Now where's the thing going to be set?" You haven't got any good reference point thereafter, so I've made these sort of futiling attempts to bring it back from time to time, but it never quite works.

T: What's you feelings about the various Hitchhiker incarnations?

A: The top ones in my mind are the radio series and the books. The TV series was kind of a mixed blessing. I was very fond of the towel. I thought that was a good read. There was a couple of comic books over the last couple years that, well, I don't know, I'm not a great expert on comic books. It's not a media I'm really sufficient to converse with and to have an opinion, but I guess I'm old fashioned to think that it works better as a book.

T: There was also the record albums, there was a sort of musical that was done...

A: A couple of stage productions, yeah. It's kind of difficult to perform on stage. One of the reasons why it keeps on being about to be a film, then never quite becoming a film is that the whole thing is essentially picaresque, which means it's just one damn thing after another. It's the momentum with which it rolls forward, rather than sends it going anywhere in particular, and that's very, very hard to translate into a movie. A movie has to be 100 [minutes], maybe 110 at the most, but it's beginning, middle and end. I've been able to come up with a couple of scripts that observed those constraints, but somehow, it now fails to be Hitchhiker. It's become more like Star Wars or whatever. No disrespect to Star Wars, but Hitchhiker ain't that.

T: Do you think the Hitchhiker's story can be taken any further?

A: I'd like to, actually. A lot of people have not particularly liked Mostly Harmless [1993], including myself. The problem with it, and most people never notice this when they're reading books, was the year in which I wrote that book was just full of terrible problems at home. Professional problems, family problems, a sad death in the family. I don't want to talk about it all, because it's personal stuff, but it was a really, really bloody year, and against the background of that, I had to write a funny book.
It was tough, so there's a little bit of me that, I know I'll keep on saying that I'll never do another [Hitchhiker book], and then I do it, but I might well another one at some point because I'd like to leave it all on a slightly more upbeat ending than Mostly Harmless was. Take the thing back up again, because it seems sad to leave it at that downbeat flavor.

T: Do you ever tire of people asking you what you were working on next?

A: I got very crazed by it, actually. I'm afraid that I went through to almost a sort of parodic degree a real mid-life crisis, hitting forty, thinking, "What am I doing? I'm going round and round in circles, doing the same things over and over again."
When I started out, I did something in radio, then I did television, I did this, I did that. Then I did a book, and then suddenly, the book was such a hit meant that the next thing I did was another book, and the next thing after that was another book. And that wasn't the kind of life that I really wanted, but there was a huge pressure on me to keep on doing that, and for years I found myself sitting in a room alone not really enjoying myself at all.
So a little while ago, I started thinking, 'I've got to do something different," and it's a hard call to make. Because you're a well-known author, everyone's expecting another book from you next year, and you think, "Well, I also have a life I have to try and sort out." Essentially, what I wanted to do was to find a way of working which could enable me to go back to doing what I did to begin with, which was moving from one medium to another, and working with people and actually having fun.
So I've set up with a bunch of very complimentary and bright bunch of people, and we've formed a company called the Digital Village. It's turning out to be enormous fun. My first project is a CD-ROM, which I'm working on at the moment, and television, and film, we hope at last. But the center of it all is going to be a huge Web presence. Everything will sort of flow into that.
I'm just having the best possible time. Suddenly, all the creative juices are flowing again, and I'm working very hard on the CD-ROM, Starship Titanic. Now that looks like it'll go on into different media, but I don't want to do what I did with Hitchhiker, which was "Okay, now I've done the radio series. Now I'll do the book of it, and now I'm gonna write the television series," and this and that, and virtually become my own word processor. So what I'm intending to do with each of the projects that I start with the Digital Village is that I will do the first alliteration of it, and then hand it over to other people to take it to the other fields. So this Starship Titanic starts as a CD-ROM, but as far as the novel is concerned, even though a lot of people will think that I should do it because that's basically what I do, in fact I'm handing over the novel to Robert Sheckley to write, because I want to go on to these other projects.
One's called Secret Empire, which will be a television project. I want to go on to another project, which will be a film. I can't tell you what the title of that yet, simply because I can never get the right title for it. But in each case, I want to hand on to whatever else may come of it to other people to do, because I want more variety.

T: What's your feelings about the different Internet groups that follow you?

A: It's kind of weird, actually. Andy Warhol said that in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. Now he would say that in the future, everybody will have their own group. There was a point where I used to go into the different newsgroups from time to time, but I found that it was an uphill battle because you get a lot of flak from people saying, "Oh, it can't possibly be you, so butt off out of here."
But the other thing is the effect of Chinese Whispers, because of the way in which notes would fall off the bottom of it. Someone would ask a question, and I would go on and answer it, and I might right a full piece. And over the next two or three days, your piece would disappear, and a lot of people would miss it and ask "What did he say?" And then you'd watch as more and more people garbled versions of what you'd said would proliferate around, and got to be a full-time job just trying to keep it under control.
So I thought, "I'll duck back out of this now," and wait until I can do my own web site, where I can keep control of things. The other thing I have to say, and this is an important issue because the Digital Village is about to start producing some major Hitchhiker's Guide sites, and this is the tricky thing on the web, because some people who are doing fannish stuff, which is great, terrific.
And then when you see where a major Web designing group is calling itself "the hitchhiker's guide to" this, that or the other thing. No, sorry, that's my property. Back off. I'm having to start being a little bit tough about that, which I don't like. But you feel that people are saying, "Hey, he's a good, cool guy. Let's go and burgle him." [laughs]
Unfortunately, my lawyers have said, 'If you're going to preserve your right against major infringements of copyright, you've got to protect from all infringements of copyright." So I'm having to go out of the way and say, "Oi guys, stop doing that, 'cause it looks like you're starting to look like you're doing a professional thing here."

T: Would you ever do another nude scene like you did in the TV version of Hitchhiker?

A: [laughing] No! Absolutely not! They got me very drunk to do that.


This is still one of the better interviews I’ve ever done, and almost completely in spite of myself. I was frightfully young, on the late side of 23, but still in the first few months of knowing how to interact with other people. I had only been doing interviews in April of that year, and while the questions I asked aren’t bad, I can hear the overeager edge of my voice, trying to be funny and “cool” around a guy whose work I had just recently gotten into. On top of which, I had bought a new tape recorder for this interview, which unbeknownest to me was set on Voice Activated. So, I start the interview, and the tape recorder is cutting on and off. It rolled intermittently for the first few minutes while Douglas told me a great story about a similar problem he’d had while recording John Cleese for a BBC pantomime. Eventually, we both picked up the tape recorder, and Douglas figured out what the problem was. Not only did the machinery go heywire during a Douglas Adams interview, but Douglas then fixed it. Even back then, it seemed absolutely brilliant. After the interview was done, mind you....

What it did establish in my favor was that I literally had no airs about myself. I was the innocent fan with some half-decent questions, and Douglas really went out of his way to give some very in-depth answers. I kept running into him the rest of the day, as I had to stay at the library until Douglas’ speaking engagement and signing. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t bugged him as much (at least I feared I did), but it was such a cool day, it was hard to let it go. I also hate that I never got the chance to talk to him again, and tell him how much it had all meant to me.

And how that we get this interview? Tangents was the only one that wanted to interview Douglas in person, while he was in town. All of the papers only wanted pre-show interviews before that week (all of which Douglas was doing at the time via email, or internet chats, which was still in its dodgy infancy), and I wanted to meet him. A few weeks before the interview, the Main Library had temporarily banned our magazine from the building, as someone got scared by our “content.” And then, there I was, representing the media through the Main Library of Charlotte, and we were back in the library. Even then, it struck me as bizarre, and hilarious. 

This gig also became notable for other reasons. It was one of the first events I ever photographed, as our photographer at the time didn’t show up. I took photos from my seat, sitting next to the girl that had dumped me the week before, as we’d had already gotten the tickets weeks ahead of the show. I then took photos at the signing, which were the best pics of him I got that night. I would soon discover the combination of music and photography at Farm Aid the following week, and I was off on another adventure. 

-Daniel Coston, February 2010  

Nat Perrin Interview, September 1996 Issue

Nat Perrin: The Man Who Put The Words In The Marx Brothers’ Mouths
interview and introduction by Daniel Coston
originally published in Tangents Magazine, September 1996 issue

Let’s face it. Although it’s been nearly fifty years since their last film, and nearly seventy years since they roamed the Broadway stages, the Marx Brothers are still cool. Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx were the original anarchists of comedy and film, railing against convention, conformity and whatever else got in the way.

Joined at various points of their careers by their younger brothers Gummo and Zeppo, the team was the first to mix highbrow verbal wit with lowbrow slapstick. They attracted luminaries ranging from George Bernard Shaw and James Joyce, to the Beatles and Alice Cooper.

Nat Perrin was witness to it all as both a writer and family friend. With only a few days’ notice, he left a burgeoning law career to leave with the Marxes for California, eventually contributing to their classic films “Monkey Business” (1931) and “Duck Soup” (1933), along with their later films “Go West” (1940) and “The Big Store” (1941). Perrin also holds the distinction of writing for the team’s lone radio series, “Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel” (1932).

Perrin later moved on to produce “The Addams Family” TV show (which we’ll feature next month), and to this day remains close to the Marx family, despite the brothers’ passing many years ago. Though 92 years of age, he still has a critical view of his work with the Marxes, but Perrin remembers the team with both warmth and affection.

Tangents: How did you first become associated with the Marx Brothers?

Perrin: One day when I was finishing [Fordham, N.Y.] law school, I happen to get an idear in the library, and I wrote in out as a sketch. The Marx Brothers... had already appeared in three Broadway shows, and they had done done two pictures, “Cocoanuts” [1929], and “Animal Crackers” [1930]. I love those pictures, and when I wrote the sketch, I wrote it with Groucho and Chico in mind. 

And some guy at law school said, “Jesus, that’s good. You oughta get that to the Marx Brothers.” I said, “I don’t know how to get to the Marx Brothers.” He said, “Well, I know a guy who works in an agent’s office, and maybe I can get a note for you introducing you to the Marxes.” They were appearing personally with “Animal Crackers” at the Keith-Albee Theater in Brooklyn. Well, he did. And I got to the stage door, and I gave the doorman the sketch, and he said, “Just wait here.” And he took it, and a few minutes later, he came out and said, “Mr. Marx will see you.”

So he ushered me into Groucho’s dressing room, and the first thing that he [Groucho] said to me was, “Well, we’re not going to do any more shows and sketches,” and my hear dropped. And then he said, “But we’re going to Hollywood to make moving pictures. Would you like to go to Hollywood? We’re leaving Wednesday.” And I don’t think I even let him finish his sentence before I said, “Would I? Wow!” The bar exam was scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. That gave a chance to take the bar exam, and Wednesday I met them at Grand Central Station.

Tangents: What did you think of Chico and Harpo?

Perrin: Harpo was a sheer delight, and Chico was a good-natured guy. Chico was a big gambler. They used to keep throwing him out of the Hillcrest Country Club for nonpayment of dues, and Groucho and Chico would pay up his back dues. He was always playing bridge there, he was a great bridge player. He [was considered] one of the expert non-professional bridge players.

Tangents: Groucho once said that he thought Chico was fascinating in that he was that he was tremendous gambler...

Perrin: ...and womanizer.

Tangents: But he was also this tremendous business person.

Perrin: He was the one who gave them the interest to go to Hollywood. He played cards with the skanks who were the real controllers of MGM, and Chico, through his contacts with them, got the Marx Brothers set up in Hollywood.

Tangents: Tell me about Gummo and Zeppo.

Perrin: Zeppo, he was the excess baggage when they first started, and he later quit. He was a sharp guy, and a tough guy from Chicago. He went into the ammunition business during the war, and he made a fortune in it. 

Gummo quit the group in vaudeville. He said he thought that they didn’t have a future. He went into the dress business and he failed in six months. Gummo was the only snob in the family. The rest of the boys were fine, but Gummo was the soft-show snob. But he wasn’t a bad guy.  

Tell me about “Monkey Business.” It’s one of my favorite Marx Brothers films.

Perrin: I was just brought out to add some gags. There were two guys already working on the script. Will B. Johnstone, who was a well-known cartoonist, and [famed writer] S. J. Perelman. When we came out there, there was gonna be a reading that night at the Roosevelt Hotel. 

S. J. Perelman was a very nervous man, and the worst guy in the world to read the script that could’ve been picked to read this script that he and Will B. Johnstone had written. And while he was reading, let alone the fact that he was sweating profusely, Harpo had a little terrier dog that he didn’t have on a leash, and this dog would keep coming in and biting on the cuffs of [Perelman’s] pants. Anyway, he droned on and on, and there wasn’t a single snicker, and when he finished, all Groucho said was, “Well, now all we need is a script!”

We also had a Chicago newspaper man named Arthur Sheekman, who we’d picked up on the train on the way out here. He couldn’t get along with S. J. Perelman, and Sheekman and I wound up as partners. I threw him whatever gags I could.

Tangents: Was it tough presenting your work to the Marx Brothers?

Perrin: I didn’t think so. I got along great with them. They would interrupt a lot, ‘cause they were yakkers and talkers, especially Groucho. But they were basically such nice guys. 

Tangents: What kind of input did the Marx Brothers have into their scripts?

Perrin: It was very hard to write for Harpo, because when you’re given dialogue, it’s very easy to read. But when you put that solid block of explanations of what happens with the action, nobody can make head or tail of it. And Harpo wasn’t getting anything from the writers. No one could write that shit anyway. So he used in bring in his own stuff, he’d think of things. He could do the little [scenes] with Chico, but most of the gadgets and gadgeteering, Harpo thought of himself. 

Tangents: What about Groucho? Did he have input?

Perrin: Groucho always had input. He had input when [Pulitzer Prize Winners George S.’ Kaufman and [Morrie] Ryskind write their shows on Broadway. Apparently, [Kaufman] once was standing in the wings when the Marxes were on stage, and he was talking to somebody. And he suddenly stopped, and he said, “Oh just a minute. I thought I heard one of the lines from the original script.”

I gotta tell you a cute story I was just reminded of. The Marxes... were out [touring theaters previewing] scenes from “Go West,” and they thought they needed some work done on the script, so they called Louie B. Mayer and said they “needed help” there. “Send Perrin out.” A guy named Irving Brecher was there working with them, and he was going mad. So I was sent out to do what I could. I watched the show with Brecher, and then Brecher and I wrote some new material for them.   

The Marx Brothers could never remember the stuff that they had. They had no desire to memorize, and that’s the way they were. They had to perform, so I was concealed behind the curtains to be the prompter, and they got lost in one of the new routines that Brecher prepared, and I whispered the line. And all I could hear was, “Huh?” So I whispered louder, and they said, “Huh?” So I whispered louder.

Anyway, we finally and mercifully got through with that performance, and as the Marx Brothers were heading up the iron staircase to the dressing rooms, I suddenly heard my name at the stage door. It was a friend of mine from the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. We were in Chicago, so I was surprised to see him. He said, “I was sitting in the back of the theater.” I said, “What did you think of the show?” And he said,”Well, the only one I could hear was you.”

Tangents: After “Monkey Business,” you wrote for Groucho and Chico in “Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel.” 

Perrin: Perrin: Yes, I did that with Sheekman, and they weren’t very good. You had to see Groucho with his mustache and his slink walk. We used to try stuff with audiences first, and it would go very well in the studio, but when it got to the radio, it was still just talking and it was deadly.

Tangents: After “Flywheel” ended, you did “Duck Soup.” 

Perrin: They had a decent director, Leo McCarey, but he and Groucho got carried away with joking around on the set. Very often you find a script, and before you finally get to performing you go over it so many times. So finally, everybody’s so familiar with it that it becomes stale in your mind. So anybody that ad-libs on the set, it sounds fresher and better than anything they’re familiar with. And very often, they put in the wrong things, but that’s just a personal opinion.

Tangents: MGM also took a story of yours from “Flywheel” and turned it into “The Big Store.” What happened with that film? It was apparently rewritten quite a bit.

Perrin: That was for a theater man-turned-producer at MGM, George K. Sidney. I think I got paid for the script, and Sidney brought in a couple of writers for it, and I didn’t think that they did anything for the script [to make it better]. It got all fucked up, but I was out of the [writing] scene by that time. 

Tangents: What do you think are some things that people would be surprised to find out ab out the Marx Brothers personally?
Perrin: Groucho always used to say that he wasn’t an actor, he was a writer. He had great respect for writers, and all of his friends were writers. You’d go to his house for dinner, and all the people he had there were writers.

Once, a friend of mine was remarking about how Harpo, a guy with no education, how he fit in with the Algonquin Round Table, the wittiest crowd and smartest set in New York. This was Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woolcott. They wouldn’t accept Groucho because he was an insulting character. He would insult too much. And somebody said to Harpo, “How do you fit in with them?” And Harpo said, “Well, somebody’s gotta listen.”


Of all the interviews I’ve done since, this interview still inspires the most “You did what?” or “How did you get that?” questions. It all started with a TV show, and the Los Angeles phone directory. 

I’ve been a big Marx Brothers fan since my early teens, and know their history backwards and forwards. When the Disney Channel aired “The Unknown Marx Brothers”  in 1996, it was like they had raided my collection of rare Brothers footage, and they even had footage of the rare “Deputy Seraph,” a 1959 TV show that the Marxes never completed. In it, they used a good number of quotes from the then 92 year old Nat Perrin. Tangents was completing its first year of publication, and I was growing more confident in bringing whatever I was into to the magazine. So, I thought, these people interviewed Nat. Why couldn’t I?

I guessed from reading something (a book from the 1970s, I think) that Nat lived in the Los Angeles area. When I called the Los Angeles phone directory, I asked for Nat Perrin. “There is a Nathaniel Perrin,” the operator told me. “Would that do?” Looking back, it hadn’t even dawned on me that he might have had an unlisted number. But he didn’t, and I now had his phone number.

I called his number, half expecting to leave a message, and Nat answered the phone. When I recovered and told him that I’d like to interview him, he replied, “You don’t want to talk to me. Nobody cares about that stuff anymore.” Without pointing out to him that I was calling all the from North Carolina (darn right, I cared), I built up this belief that great work from the past is still great work, much like great painters. Despite my youth, I did an good job of pulling that answer out when it mattered. Finally, Nat said, “Okay, call me back on Saturday.”

I really enjoyed talking to Nat, although I kind of pushed it by calling him back a couple of times to ask him about other comedians I loved (the fist comedian he worked with after Monkey Business was Buster Keaton, and I got the impression that Keaton left Perrin cold). And the guy was 92, for crying out loud. But after I sent him the interview you see above, he told me, “You’re a great writer, and you should keep it up.” Despite the photography career I soon dived into, that comment still means a lot to me.

Perrin passed away in May 1998, less than a year after my interviews. I didn’t find out until 2008, when I looked him up on IMDB. My thanks to Nat, and his family. And when people ask me what world event I wished I’d been at the most, I still say that I wish I’d seen the Marx Brothers on Broadway. I once went to the theater that the Marxes performed “Cocoanuts” the same afternoon I sat in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel, and I took at all in, and dreamed of what I would have seen. 
-Daniel Coston, February 2010

What's Next For Tangents

Hello All-

Thank you to all of you for responding to Tangents Magazine's 20th Anniversary Issue. Now, just when I thought that the issue would be the end of Tangents, we're contemplating the future. That begins with a project to collect, and publish Tangents' articles from the early days, and 2011 webzine.

If you were a part of Tangents, or had pieces published in Tangents, contact me at We would love to publish your work as part of the archive collection, and we can compensate you for your work. I'll keep you posted on this work, and I hope to have this out sometime in the new year.

You'll also notice that we have started to post original articles from the 1995 to 1998 era of Tangents. You'll also see some articles from the 2011 relapse. Do you have any favorites that you would like to see again? Let us know.

As for the future, beyond that? Stay tuned.
October 12, 2015

Jason & The Scorchers Interview, October 1996 issue

Jason and the Scorchers:
"Clear Impetuous Return"
by Daniel Coston. Tangents Magazine. October, 1996

While there are many bands that climb to the heights of success, there are few who return to those heights again, years after they've fallen from grace. Jason and the Scorchers is one of those exceptions.
Roaring out of Nashville in 1982, the band mixed influences ranging from Hank Williams to the Sex Pistols to form a musical concoction many dubbed "psychobilly" or "country punk." Albums such as Fervor (1983) and Lost and Found (1985) gave the band worldwide acclaim, and a loyal fan base that still cherishes those records.
By the early '90s, however, after years of constant touring and record company pressures to produce "the next big thing," the group was beset by mediocre albums and personnel changes, and looked to be another rock n' roll casualty. But proving that some fires don 't die out so easily, the band's original four members reunited last year, and have now released their best album since their early glory days, Clear Impetuous Morning.
In talking to lead singer Jason Ringenberg, guitarist Warner Hodges and bassist Jeff Johnson last month before their show at Tremont Music Hall, I found three musicians who were honest about their past, and excited about their return to the limelight.

Tangents: Tell me about the new album.

Jeff: "Written in the country, recorded in the city" basically sums it up. Jason wrote a lot of stuff in Nashville, and then brought it down to my basement outside of Atlanta, and we just hashed it out with about a month's worth of rehearsals, and headed downtown to a friend of mine's amp repair shop. He has a studio in there, just a warehouse-type room that he gets really great sounds in, and everybody feels really comfortable.

Warner: It's weird. In some ways we literally went back to the way we did things years ago when there was just no money involved. We rehearsed at Jeff's house in the basement. It sounded like absolute hell, but if we could make it sound good in there, we could make it sound good anywhere.
And then Bakos Amp Works, the place literally is an amp repair shop. A vintage amp shop. The guy just has studio gear, but he really knows what the hell he's doing. He just helped us get sounds that we were looking for, and we really tried to get back to what the essence of the Scorchers is all about.
We made a real concentrated effort after the last record and we kind of got the train back on the tracks, we all sat down, and it was like, "Okay, do we all really want to get serious here, do we feel good about Jason and the Scorchers, or do we want to call it a day, or what?" Of course, all four of us were like, "Hell, let's just really bear down." Jason wrote some great songs, Perry wrote some really good hooks, we had good material, and it was just a good feeling across the board. Jeff and I produced the thing, and it was just natural. Everything happened really positively, and it was a real quick turnaround for us. Usually records take us a little bit longer. We got serious about it in September, October of last year, and by mid-June we had a mastered record done, which for us is a really quick turnaround.

T: Was that planned, to record in this guy's amp repair shop?

Warner: We originally went there to do the demos, 'cause it was a cheap place to do the demos. We walked in, and we were like, "Man, this place looks like hell." But by the second day, it was like, "Wow, this place sounds great. We could cut here." By the time we got the demos done, it was like, "Yeah, this is where we want to cut." Jeff had been saying all along that he wanted to record in a different city, a different vibe. We'd recorded the last one out in the country, and that was a good thing. We needed to do that at the time.
It was just a good call all the way around. The engineer was the perfect guy for us to work with. It all just fell into place. It all worked. Rehearsing at [Jeff's] house rather than going to SIR, and bringing all this gear and all this crap, it made us focus on the music.

Jeff: Back to the early days, that's what we always said. We rehearsed at Jason's house. There was no time limit. If the creative juices were flowing, we didn't have to stop. In a rehearsal studio, you're watching your watch...

Warner: ...sitting there, going, "Hurry up. We gotta load out of here in 30 minutes. C'mon, come up with a great idea."

Jeff: This way, after ten o'clock we could work on acoustic things if we wanted to 'til midnight. If they had an idea that they went to bed with, it would still be there in the morning. We'd jump right on it, and started on a fresh day.

Warner: In a good way, it forced us to just think "band," and "new record." We also quit doing shows. It was like, if we keep trying to tour while we're doing this, it'll take us forever to do the thing. So we said, "Let's quit doing shows." Jason really focused on the songwriting. Every time we got back together, we had three or four new ideas, and two that didn't work last time are really coming along, and we recorded literally everything he wrote. It was probably the best songwriting role that Jason's had in a long time too. There was no garbage, there was no weak songs.

Jeff: The songs were so good, we didn't want to contaminate that over-production, so we kept it simple, and not fence ourselves in with a lot of elaborate bulls--- that a lot of studios have, and it kept us on the track of just making a Scorchers rock record. An honest record, where we just try to texture it in the moods of the songs, rather than effects and overdubs.

T: Jason, has the way that you write songs changed over the past 15 years?

Jason: Yeah, I think it's always been a process that was at first just simplifying the process, and being a little more direct. Then I think I became a little too direct, actually. I had to open it back up again with this last record. I think it always changes.

T: Has the way that you put the songs together changed?

Jeff: It kinda got back to the way it used to, via us all being in the room and arranging the songs, and everybody giving input. "That doesn't feel right. Let's try this," or try that. Everybody voicing their opinion, and just hammering it out.

Warner: It did almost get back to the old days. The original impetus was the idea from Jason, and we'd take it and do s-turns with it, or be like, "Yeah." Nine times out of ten, the song either clicks immediately, or we work it to death. There's no middle ground.

Jason: Sometimes. The only disagreement I have on that part is the last song on the record, "I'm Sticking With You," which just evolved over a two-month process. It was a 3/4-time folk song. Gradually, it just became this epic psychobilly anthem. [Laughs]

Warner: I heard it the first time you did it. I just didn't think you guys would go for it.

Jason: Even 'til the end of the process, I wasn't sure it was gonna work.

Warner: Even the demo was weak.
Jason: Even to the last mix. The guys who put the mix together, 'cause the song's just all over the place, the guys just nailed the mix, and it finally made sense. And it's one of the strongest songs on the record now.

T: What was the inspiration for the album's title?
Jason: I was hanging out at his place when we made the record, sleeping at his place. We'd wake every morning, and it'd be real clear and cool.

Jeff: You said something about, "Gee, it's a beautiful morning." And I said, "Call it that," and then it evolved into "cool, clear morning."

Jason: Or "sweet morning air," that was the first one. Then we gradually added words and changed it, and that's how that became it. It's interesting, because when we first proposed the title, it didn't go over very well with people around the band. But now, fans are really reacting strongly to it. It is a very strong title. "Clear," "Impetuous," "Morning."

T: You've gotten a lot of good reviews for this new record. Are good reviews something that you still get excited about?

Jason: I think the great thing about this band is that we still get excited about everything. We still get excited about playing a room with lots of folks, or no folks. I know that when I had my breakfast and opened up USA Today, and we were in it, that was a lifetime moment for me.

Warner: For Jeff and I, 'cause this was the first one that we got to produce ourselves, and there's that second-guessing after it's totally done that, "Well, I hope to God that you're so off-base." We knew that Jason dug it, Perry really was into it. Jason wasn't sure about the idea at first. It's a real weird step. The band producing itself. Most labels aren't into that.

Jeff: Originally, we would produce the demos, and then a producer would get a hold of that and perfect that.

Warner: Theoretically. [Laughs]

Jeff: But I think we've got a handle on what the band sounds like to us, with being on stage with this monster every night. And then the engineer we used is basically a genius, I think. In getting just the tones, where the separation is not too glossy. It's still raw, but it's enough in the mainstream where it will translate. It won't offend anyone.

Warner: To take that point further then, yes, when the reviews started coming, it was like, "Okay, we didn't miss the nail on the head." 'Cause there is that second guess. It's like "Well, we dig it. God knows what everybody else is gonna say." It's really cool when you start reading that stuff and it makes you feel good about your work. My God, you pour your heart and soul into a record, and the last thing you want to see is somebody slice it to pieces.

Jason: I was kinda worried about going into it, 'cause it's such an ambitious record. Sometimes people want to slam ambition, and it hasn't happened so far. People have been saying what we felt about it, that it's our strongest record, or very close to our strongest record.

Warner: Also, we've been around 15 years. It's kinda hard to do. The first couple's easy, but as you go through time, it's hard to make a record that goes "Wham!" again. Pushes the envelope again, which is what we wanted to do.

Jeff: Essentially, we picked up where we left off with Lost and Found. We got off the track a little bit there just by being naive, and being caught up in business of music. We kind of lost our focus, but now I think by seeing the damage that that can do, we got it back, and directed it back to where it should've been all along.

T: Was there a certain incident or incidents that brought you guys back together, and made you regain your focus?

Jeff: I bought the CD, and heard the band sober for the first time, and liked what I heard. [Laughs]

Warner: He thought, "Man, I'd go see these guys." We all sobered up. I think that helped immensely.

T: On this new album, you covered [The Byrds/Gram Parsons'] "Drugstore Truck Drivin' Man." How did you come to cover that?

Jason: When we started the A Blazing Grace tour, I brought it into the band. I just thought it was time to bring a Gram Parsons song, and we always do weird covers. It just thought of it as a live thing, and two, I just felt the song's the essential spirit of rebellion. It's a very rebellious song. It's always sung really laid back, and real mellow, like the singer's the victim. And I always heard those lyrics, if you sang 'em right and the band played it right, as the ultimate expression of rebellion. And it worked great live. The demo was okay, but we decided to take it further and cut it on the record, and it came out brilliant. The guys just produced it perfectly. The difference between the record and the demo is pronounced.

T: Do you feel a kinship to bands like the Byrds?

Jason: Oh yeah, certainly, in terms of that they were pioneers of something, and we feel that we're pioneers, too. People seem to say that about us. Musically, there's similar influences. The big difference, of course, is that the Scorchers are in the radical '90s. There's a lot of punk rock in there, high energy rock n' roll. In fact, you could probably say that that's what separates almost all country-rock, modern and old. (Modern country-rock) is very aggressive.

T: Speaking of that, how do you feel about the current mainstream revival of country-rock?

Jason: I think it's good for us on a career level, 'cause everybody talks about us as the pioneers of it. Whenever you've got people talking about you, that's good. I'm sure it'll peter out someday, and we'll still be there doing what we do. But for now, it's a good thing. And it's good timing for us, 'cause we're coming at people with our strongest record in ten years, and possibly our best ever, so the timing is just perfect. Life is good for us right now.

T: What were some of your influences that made want to mix country and punk rock? The term "country punk" has often been thrown at you guys.

Jeff: It was kinda accidental. [Jason] came to Nashville lookin' for a band. He wanted a raunchy country-type band, and he happened to fall on us. I don't know if I know what the ingredients are, really, but it just kind of happened.

Warner: The "country punk" thing, f--k, whether you like it or not, we started that. It wasn't like, "Okay, we're a country-punk band," that's the way we played rock n' roll. It just happens that we listen to Hank Williams, but we also listen to the damn Sex Pistols, too. It just shows up the way we play chord progressions and things. Hell, if you take the distortion away, you've got country songs. But if you distort 'em all to hell, all of a sudden you've got punk rock.
I don't know. People talk about that crap all the time, and it's just the way we play. It just so happens that we like to do hoe-down music too. There's nothing wrong with that. That whole thing about you've gotta categorize it, and pigeonhole. You've listened to the new record. There's God knows how many styles of music going on at the same time.
I appreciate that about the Scorchers. Playing guitar in the Scorchers is great because, s--t, anything you're capable of playing can be used somewhere. The only things we don't do (are) funk and classical.

Jason: Yes, but I'm bringing that into the next record.

Warner: On a couple of nights, it kinda sounds like free-form jazz. We listen to everything. It's all there. The Rolling Stones are there, Hank Williams is there, Merle Haggard, Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan, Neil Young. It's all there. But those are influences, they're not the music. If you don't take that and go somewhere with it, all you're doing is someone else's s--t. For us, I think it worked out great that we can do our own stuff because we could never play like Van Halen, anyway. We weren't worth a damn in high school when we tried to play other people's stuff. It sounded like hell.

T: Did your parents want you to be musicians when you were growing up?

Jason: It's different in every case. My parents really weren't sure about it. They were really supportive, but they were really worried when I started coming home with guitars. And then, the first summer I came home from college, I said, "This summer, instead of going out and working, I've got gigs in a whole bunch of bars. I'll make $40 a night, I could $200 a week doing this. This is gonna be great." What I'd done was gone off to a bunch of places and talked to them about it, and I thought I had gigs, which turned out I didn't have any of them. I was back working on the railroad again that summer.
Warner: My folks were musicians. This is what I do. I've never heard that whole "go get a job, be somebody" thing.

T: Another great song on the new album is "Everything Has a Cost," with Emmylou Harris. How did that come together?

Jason: It's interesting. That song was started back during the Thunder and Fire days. There was a bunch of great songs written that never made the record, because it was the height of corporate influence on the band. If the guy running the show didn't like the song, he just threw it out, and that was the end of it. In fact, three of the songs on this record were started in those times. "(Walking a) Vanishing Line," "Jeremy's Glory." When I started working on this record, I remembered that song, and I started working on it again. Reworked the lyrics, and wrote it as a duet. And I brought it to the guys, and everybody said, "Emmylou Harris." That was it.

Warner: "We want a girl singer. Who would that be?"

Jason: It wasn't even a question, really. We two or three other second choices, but she was first choice. I kinda know her a little bit, so I started calling her, and she came to do her part and did a great job. She was real cool about it. She's a real princess.

T: Do you believe the song's message?

Jason: Absolutely. You pay for everything you do, good and bad.

T: Is there anything that you have paid for your careers in music?

Jason: Yeah. Every good and every bad, there's a price for it, and the prices just keep going higher as you get older, but what you get gets better for the price you pay. The band's probably playing better than it ever has. What I'm seeing on the record, and what I think I'm gonna see on the tour, is the band still has the energy it used to have, or close to it, but our musical energy is dramatically much higher, so its making for really good shows.

T: What's a better subject for songwriting, good or evil?

Jason: That's a good question. I've never been asked that in fifteen years. Evil tends to interest people more. If you somehow can mix them together, that's when it's really good.

T: Has your fan base changed over the years?

Jeff: We get a wide variety of folks. It's been pretty much consistent, because there's no boundaries to a Scorchers audience. We get old people, young people, kids. We had a couple of teenage girls in front of [Jason] that couldn't have been older than 13, 14. But they knew the words.

Warner: We get older people that get into the country side of the band. The more slower, melodic side of the band, which is fine.

Jason: [to Jeff and Warner] Did you see the couple last night?

Jeff: They seemed they were a really happy couple, holding hands and digging the band. And we're like, "What is that?"

Warner: It's really weird. A few years ago, we did a bunch of Bob Dylan shows, and it the audience was like, 12 and 13 year-old kids; to 60 year-old people that were 30 when he started. That's what impressed me the most looking at his audience base. Of course, he's got a 30-year career to draw on, but it was everything from 13 year-old kids to people who ain't too (far) from calling it a day.

Jeff: There's just something for everybody. We played Bowling Green, Kentucky last week as kind of a warm-up gig. It was a line-dance bar. And then, when we played Finola, I saw line dancers come to the floor, and it just knocked me out. People are sitting there (and they) don't know what to think, and all of a sudden there is a song for them, and they're doing their little bit.

T: Does touring over a long period of time change you?

Jason: Yeah, you get lighter. [Laughs] You get lighter, and you get more wrinkles, but, you see, we've been on the other side of it. The first time around, we did a lot of touring, and don't think we appreciated what we had, 'cause it was so easy. There we were touring, and we're rock stars. Then we had it taken away from us, and now it's coming back. At least, we hope that it is. It seems to appear that way. I think it's more appreciated now, because if you're out there touring, and there's demand for you, and you're busy, that's a good thing. That's a really good thing, and I think I'm gonna dig being worn out tired, as opposed to the alternative.

T: Is there any subjects that you always wanted to talk about more in interviews, but interviewers never ask about?

Jason: This is my sixth [interview] today, so I think I've been asked everything. [Laughs] I think I'd like people to ask more about pre-Scorcher Scorchers. These guys all played together in high school, in little bands and stuff. Warner and Perry went to high school together. I think that would be interesting to find out about. I don't know very much myself about that.

Warner: Perry and I have been playing together 22 years. Jeff and Perry have been playing about 18 or so. Jeff doesn't want to talk about that. [All laugh] Forget that s--t.

Jeff: That's a little too long. Wait, didn't I just meet y'all two-and-a-half years ago?

Jason: [to Warner] How long has it been between you and Jeff?

Warner: Between all three of us, it's been about 18 years. Jeff and I actually had a band, and Perry played in and out of it. Perry was so damn young, we couldn't get him into bars.

Jeff: If we'd have a fight with a drummer, we'd drag him down there to fill him in.

Warner: We'd put a hat on him, and sneak him in. Perry was the first guy I met when I moved to Nashville. I was playing with Perry in my parents' basement when I was 15, and he was 12. I'm 37 now. That's 22 years.
[At this point, a young fan in his 20s came up and immediately said, "Hey man, your new album kicks ass!" He also said that he wasn't sure at first if the abrupt ending to "I'm Sticking With You" was intentional]
Jason: My mom didn't know what to make of that at first, either. It just cuts off. I like the song.

Warner: That s--t right there is why we're here, period. To me, that's the only goddamn reason to be here. When people say that, everything else doesn't matter.

T: Looking back, do you have any regrets, anything you'd change?

Jeff: I'd have a larger bank account.

Warner: All kinds of regrets, and things you think you'd do different. But by the same token, if the stuff that happened didn't happen, then we wouldn't be sitting here.

Jason: I think I would have enjoyed the early days more. I was kind of obsessive in those days. I was kind of an art monster, and very sensitive. I think I could have enjoyed those things that happened the first time around. I know I'm profoundly enjoying it know. I look back on those first tours of Europe, and being on the cover of all three English newspapers, which I didn't even really appreciate.
Warner: It was like being on Rolling Stone three straight times.
Jason: It was really cool. Those kind of things, I was just too young to realize it. Packed houses everywhere in the world.

Warner: But you're young, dumb and full of c--- at that point. It's like, "There's no end to all this great stuff." I don't know about the other guys, but I look at it completely differently, because it was taken away. And when you get that back, you treat it a lot differently. You can real get mushy and all kinds of s--t with it, but the end result is that I've never enjoyed playing more than I do with these three guys. I had the chance to play with some other folks, but it just wasn't the same.

Jeff: There's a certain energy that just happens. I don't know how to explain it, but I've played with a bunch of 
better musicians, and it just doesn't ever lock in, and you don't feel that electricity. Something about this band, it's done it from the first rehearsal, and it's in our pocket. We can pull it out.

Warner: I like telling people it's damn near like Jeff, Perry and I learned to play together. Perry and I really did when I started playing guitar, and we all feel the same things. The other night in Bowling Green, we made a mistake and we all stopped at the same part in the song. We couldn't have planned a stop in the song and rehearsed it any better than the stop was, and it was a f--king mistake, but we all three did it. There's a chemistry there that you just can't get anywhere else. You can find a bunch of better musicians, but what makes the band work, you can't put your hands on it. If you could, everybody'd f--kin' be doing it.

T: Is the music business designed to homogenize bands, or is that just the way it happens sometimes?

Warner: [Shaking his head] I don't know, man. When you're young, you just want that record deal. You get that record deal, and then you realize, "Oh s---t, I'm fighting Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson..." The music starts taking a back seat, the business part takes over. You gotta have that together, or you get f--ked, and the music suffers.
We're in a situation now just after years of mistakes where we kind of know what not to do, and we try as much as possible to keep everything out of the way so we can just make music, and it's hard. It's difficult to do.

Jeff: It's easy to get caught up in that. I don't know if it's really homogenizing the music, but you lose your focus on it. There's so many things that are thrown in your path, where you need to do this, you need to do that, that the music takes a backseat. But we've got it now where we've got good management.

Jason: Self-sufficient, real supporting.

Jeff: Yeah, and Jason's back to being an artist, rather than having to be a business guy, even though he could, but there's only so much you can do in a day.

Warner: But the problem is, it becomes so much of that, that there's no time to work on new music. No time to create, 'cause you're busy trying to protect everything else.
Jason: It's a difficult balance, keeping the balance in line.

Jeff: It's two different worlds.

Jason: Yeah, it is two different worlds. You got to take care of that other world, but you can't let it swallow it up. I think that's one of the reasons that Clear Impetuous Morning is so good, is that we all just threw everything aside when it was time to make this record.

Warner: When we all made the group decision to do what we did, we were like, "Okay, now we're f--king musicians for the next six months. That's all we are." We're not musicians trying to find a T-shirt deal, or musicians talking to the record company about management, and all this s--t. But it's very difficult to do. When you get to that point where there's gobs of f--kin' money, you think, "Wow, I can really be a musician now." Except that if you're not protecting your gobs of money, somebody's gonna f--kin' be taking it. It's a real weird thing.

Jeff: Just gotten back to a family, organic-type feel. When we were broke, I was living in the back of my car basically when I met Jason, and it was like, "Okay, we can go over to Jason's and play music, and it's warm in the house," and we just got this feeling going. There was no distractions, and by doing [Rehearsals for the new record] at my house, we got back to that. We could have barbecues together, and everything was connected rather than like, rehearsal halls, like we were talking about earlier. With rehearsal halls, you got someone coming in right behind you. It just doesn't connect to do the same to write and do production, pre-production. Things like that.

Warner: You can't create on a time clock.

T: It's a sappy question, but in the end, does it all come down to your music?

Jeff: That's what it is now, because nothing else really matters. If you don't have the music, you don't need businessmen. You don't need a record company. So we looked at it like, let's have a good time with this, and not take this too seriously. I heard Jason say one time that we were gonna make some good music, we were gonna have a good time, we're gonna try to make some money for the gigs, and do it as long as we can. Anything else is just corruption, and just a road to ruin, which is very true.
I'd like people to come see us and all, but I don't have a quota, like, '0h, we've gotta have ten thousand next year." We just do what we do. If people like it, fine, if they don't, they don't gotta come. [Warner, loving what Jeff just said, laughs and exclaims, "I love you, man!"]

Warner: That is it, in a nutshell. We made some records in the late '80s where the record company was like, "Give us a hit single! Give us a hit single!" And we didn't give them a hit single, and we made bad Scorchers records, trying to placate them. As opposed to "F--k it. Let's just do a Jason and the Scorchers record."
And for us, the rewards are different now. We made a great record that the four of us liked when it was done. There ain't many of them that we've done that way. By the time you get to the end, and it's mixed, mastered and done, you're tired of it.

Jeff: I don't know if you've ever been around making records, but there's a lot of replays, a lot of problems that arise. This one, when I took it home and listened to it after it had been mastered, it was as fresh as if we just started it, and usually it's like, I don't want to hear that for six months.

Warner: You put so much time and effort into it, by the time it's done, you're already semi-tired of it. I don't mean that in a bad way, but you are. You've heard it so many times, and then you get to go out and play it every night. And it was cool for the four of us to finish the record and go, "S--t, this is a good record."
We knew we were on to something, but it was even better than we thought it was gonna be. And the record company was pleased, which was real cool. We want them pleased, but it wasn't like we've got to make this for them. We made the record for us, and they liked it too. Cool, gravy.

Jeff: That's the way it's turning out, 'cause I knew in my heart when I heard the playbacks, that if this thing gets stinkin' reviews, if everybody says it's the worst record we've ever done, I knew it wasn't. I knew that it felt like it used to be amongst the four band members.

Warner: And you know what, that's almost it. Back before we ever had a record deal, we were traveling around in the van, and we were lucky if we had one motel room to sleep in, we had a blast. We were just too damn stupid to know it. That's all we were trying to achieve, was to make a record that we all dug again, and we did, so the rest of it is all gravy. Hopefully, we sell some records. We want to. We want everybody to hear the damn thing, but it's okay. It's all we can ask.

Jason: There's bigger rewards to play for this outfit. There's a big price to pay, too, but there's bigger rewards. One of the biggest rewards of my 20 years in music was when we were making the record, it was every bit how it sounds. People have been saying that about us. "It sounds like you were having a great time making it," and that's how it was.
Moments like when we went into the solo on "Tomorrow's Come Today" right out of nowhere. The first time I heard the mix to "I'm Sticking With You," just priceless moments. That day with Emmylou Harris. When I drove down to Atlanta, and they'd already got two basic tracks cut, and then I heard "Drugstore Truck Drivin' Man," and it just rocked.

Warner: Yeah. Jason came down late, expecting us to still be getting kick drum sounds, and he walked in, and we had two tracks down. It was like, "Yeah, we're moving!"

My thanks to Adele Parrish of Myers Media for setting up this interview, and to Jen Plantz of Mammoth Records for recommending us.