THE FIRST TIME I met American Music Club singer, songwriter, and leader Mark Eitzel, he arrived at San Francisco’s boho South-of-Market Soma Cafe on a bicycle.
At the time, summer 1991, he was at the end of his rope, or so he told me. AMC had received raves in the press for years, and had recorded five albums for various indie labels. Yet the band members had to work day jobs to survive, only a few hundred people (sometimes less) showed up to the gigs when the group toured they often discovered that their albums were not in the record stores.
Our meeting was about the new record company I was starting, National Records, and my desire to have AMC record a country-rock album for me. We drank black coffee and talked for several hours. A few days later Eitzel called to tell me he’d gone home after the meeting and written two songs for the album.
That album was not to be. Instead, AMC signed with Warner Bros. Records in the U.S. and Virgin for the rest of the world; side projects such as mine were put on permanent hold.
In November of this year – two and a half years later – Mark and I once again meet up at the Soma Cafe. He had just returned from a European tour. This time he arrives in a late model car. But other than his mode of transportation, he seems relatively unchanged. In fact, on the eve of another tour, he is once again at the end of his rope. Minutes into the interview he reveals, “This tour is going to be hell.”
Addicted To Noise: I saw you play for the re-opening of the Fillmore Auditorium earlier this year. It sounded like you had been listening to Sonic Youth or Nirvana – very aggressive, charged up, noisy rock & roll, and you were playing electric guitar and just, like, slamming into it….
Eitzel: Yeah, well actually, as of today, the band is not allowing me to play electric guitar anymore, and we hired a bass player, and now I just stand there and sing. I wanted it to get more energetic and weird, I wanted it to get kind of psychedelic but the band doesn’t, so now I’m not playing guitar at all. That’s the news as of today.
So you all vote about stuff like that? I mean, how does it…?
It’s not my band, I can’t insist on things. This tour is going to be hell. I hate being the front man, you know. I hate not being able to play guitar so it’s going to be really, really bad for me. But whatever, you know. You gotta make them happy. Because the drummer (Tim Mooney)… I never play in time. And I play too loud for the other guitar player (Vudi), and the bass player (Danny Pearson) doesn’t want to play bass anymore so you know…
He’s going to play guitar?
And then you got another bass player?
Who’s the new bass player?
This woman named Dana.
What’s her last name?
I don’t know. I just met her today for about 15 minutes.
How did you find her?
She’s been in a band called Torture. She’s really cool. Our drummer wanted to play with this one and so fine. I don’t get a say in these things you know. It drives me crazy but…
Why did you call this album San Francisco?
It just seemed to be logical. There’s no concept behind it. It’s like… it’s not about San Francisco. I wanted an album title that would bring it all back to the beginning of something. The next AMC album is going to be really, really different from any of the previous ones and so I wanted an end. I wanted this to be the last album like this and I want the rest of them to be different. For me, it’s sort of like the end of the road and the beginning of…. you know what I mean?
When you say it’s going to be really different, what are you thinking?
Well AMC is more of a vehicle for larger stages and for what we hope to be a more successful career in music, and it never seems appropriate to do my quieter songs with the band anymore, it just doesn’t work. So I’m not going to include those on any of the AMC albums. It’s going to be the more rock stuff. Because it’s just a matter of efficiency and trying to live with it, you know. If you tour doing quiet stuff, it’s really hard work and there’s no success with it either because people don’t want to hear that. Never have, never will. So the next AMC album’s going to be really, really different. I hope. This album was supposed to be, but…
Well, this album has three or four rockers. I mean, obviously ‘Hello Amsterdam’ and ‘Wish the World Away,’ ‘It’s Your Birthday’ and ‘I’ll Be Gone’. So you think the next one is going to be more like those?
So does this sort of open up the door for you to do your quieter songs on solo Mark Eitzel albums?
No, I don’t think so. And even if I was, it would be kind of stupid just talking about it before the next AMC tour, right?
I mean, it’s possible to have…
Sure, it is. And if I can make a solo album, I will. Absolutely. But it’s like counting the chickens before they hatch. All I know about right now is I have to get through this American tour and sell this last album and then maybe we’ll see what happens.
Critics have commented on kind of a hopefulness and belief in the power of love in some of the songs on this album; that’s quite a change from your previous material. Obviously today, you’re not in the most upbeat, hopeful mood at the moment.
I’m tired. I’m just really tired. I’m all jet lagged.
Did that have to do with a change in your personal life?
I’m writing from a different place. I just don’t want to write always from the same place; and in a way you react to the audience and you react to questions just like that. I always get perceived as being this incredibly – as you know, we’ve had this conversation before – as a really sad, troubled person. All the interviews are about my personal psychology, which is no one’s goddamned business. So it’s really worth writing some other kinds of songs. I’ve been saying the wrong things. So I tried and it works.
So you can almost be a different character when you’re writing a song, it’s not like writing a diary.
It’s not like writing a diary at all. Well it is in a way because you’re writing about some aspect of yourself. You’re writing from a different point of view, but it’s all me. It’s not like I’m changing character dramatically, God, I wish I could, but I’m not doing that so it’s just from a different place.
Were you feeling more hopeful when you wrote some of the pieces?
What’s hopeful? Hope is so subjective, you know. It’s like the things you say matter. You’re not responsible necessarily for how they impinge on people but when you say something, it matters by the way it affects your own life and your own perceptions. I’ve gotten in arguments with people about hope. Some people say it’s the most despairing kind of emotion in the world and I agree. It’s sort of something that you only feel out of despair, as a response to despair. I think that maybe indifference enters more into the formula than hope. Just indifference. I don’t have any time to care anymore about anything, you know. Just write, you write, you perform, that’s it. No time for adolescent angst.
What about the line in ‘In the Shadow of the Valley’: “I gave up my cynicism I gave up my hard shell.”
Well, that’s L.A. though. That’s like people in L.A. People don’t live in L.A. to respond to others or to live in a society. They live in L.A. to work and make money and fulfill their dreams. Hopefully, if they’re successful at all, they live in a kind of bubble where they really don’t have to interact with anybody. You know what I mean? So yeah, you give up your cynicism, you give up your hard shell as soon as you stop interacting with people. If I opened my heart, then you’d be washed away. Yeah, because as soon as you start to live, you know, then, it’s destructive in those situations. It’s weird, it’s all about that city and me being on the freeway in that city. A lot. You know, having to live there. And it’s about the riots in a way because I think the riots are kind of the future, although I don’t think it’s going to be an uprising, there’s just going to be more and more random violence and more and more and more hate. Does that sound hopeful?
It’s real, yeah. It’s real.
Things do seem to keep getting worse.
But we’re also getting older, maybe that’s why.
Yeah, but I mean, my wife writes about crime and juvenile justice for the San Francisco Examiner and what’s going on in terms of what 13-year-old, 14-year-old, 15-year-old kids are doing now is just unreal. Just blowing people away. Cold blooded.
Fifteen years ago, Reagan and Bush stopped building schools and started building prisons so in the next 50 years we’re going to have a culture – the most, the overriding, strongest and most dominant characteristic of our culture is going to be prison culture. And if you ever read about any of that stuff, and all I really have read is about prison camps in Europe like during World War II, prison camps in Auschwitz and the kind of societies that are formed… that’ll be our culture, that’ll be the leading edge.
Today, there was an article in the L.A. Times where police sergeant is saying, “My cops don’t have time to check whether someone is a legal or illegal in a school. There’s a homicide a day here or more. I don’t even have enough guys to deal with all the homicides.”
Yeah. Tell me about it. It’s over, you know. And the way that pornography and the violence is permutated through normal everyday culture is terrifying. It’s not just a morality, it’s sort of like anti-morality. And it’s exactly what people like the born-again Christians and the right-wing… it’s sort of the water that they swim in, you know.
Are you saying that it feeds their extremism?
They’re different sides of the same coin, you know, a coin without compassion and a coin without really very much intelligence or thought or passion. It just keeps going. Like most white people do believe that all black males carry guns and will kill you, and do drugs. And so they buy all that shit up. All that hard-core rap is so popular because it totally reflects people’s racist ideas of what they are. You know what I’m saying? So they kind of tend to amplify it. It goes into this loop that gets bigger and bigger and so yes, that culture exists and sooner or later that is going to be America. I don’t want to be here for that, I don’t like that kind of shit, I don’t like people like that. But that’s America, you know. Things change.
What inspired you to write ‘It’s Your Birthday’?
I have a friend who fell in love with a woman who was transsexual, who just had the operation and I told him, go for it, you know, two guys sitting at a bar. He’s like, how do I do this and I said, “Well you love her, right? Do it. It’s your birthday, baby. This is what life has dealt you so take it, great.”
What made you think, “Oh, I’m going to write about this”?
Well because I love him. I kept thinking about it. I kept thinking about, well, “You haven’t had anyone in your life for several years and you want this person” and it just sort of came out. I don’t know.
What about ‘Wish the World Away’?
I had a hangover one morning and I remembered a line I wrote in London a couple of years before. “You can wish the world away.” I can’t really tell you what made me write it.
On the one hand, it’s an obvious sentiment given just what we were talking about. It reminded me of ‘Outside This Bar’ off the group’s second album, Engine.
Yeah, it was supposed to be like a companion song to like ‘Bad Liquor’ or something. It’s like a double-edged sword. On the one hand wishing the world away is like the highest attainment of human consciousness. On the other hand, it’s like yeah, fuck it. You know what I’m saying? I don’t think it’s my best song ever.
The last time I talked to you was just before Mercury (AMC’s first album for Reprise Records) was coming out. And there seemed to be a lot of expectations that the group was going to break through. Obviously that didn’t happen. Has that been hard for you to deal with, for the band to deal with?
It’s been expensive. Not that hard. It is hard in a way because I guess we made the wrong album in terms of breaking through. We didn’t mean to, we just planned to make the best album we could. Yeah, sure it’s hard. For the rest of our lives we could probably play for the same 300 people. That will probably happen.
You play to more people than that.
Not really. Not in San Francisco, maybe, not in New York but everywhere else pretty much.
But when you were just over in Europe, you were playing to…
Well, London, we played this 1500 theater, we filled that out. But mostly, yeah, 300, 400, 500. Those kind of numbers, not very many. It’s frustrating but what can we do? We try our hardest.
It only takes one song to make the difference between 500 people and Nirvana… Their whole thing hinged on one song.
Not really though. Because there was a buzz about them like months before that song. Everybody knew that they were going to be huge. I remember at Reading (one of England’s huge rock festivals), like a year before ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, not a year, more like seven months before. I remember everyone was like, “Nirvana, they’re going to be fucking huge.” And I went and saw them and I wasn’t too blown away. I don’t remember much about it. I thought they were cool but, yeah, they were great. They were great.
There’s been a buzz about AMC.
Not like this. Not like this though. Not like ours. This band is not a teen band. Never has been. Probably never will be. And Nirvana always was, which has a whole different kind of buzz. There’s a different kind of excitement.
There’s sort of a cliché idea that a band gets to a major and now they have to conform to this and that and the other thing. But it hasn’t been like that for you guys.
Not really. We’re on Warner Brothers (Reprise) and Virgin and they’re not like that as labels. I mean, they’ll probably drop us. This is probably our last album with either of them, but you know, they’re not like that. They’re pretty cool.
What do you listen to these days?
Umm, geez, not much because I’m always on the road.
Don’t you take tapes along on the road or…?
What was the last thing that you actually dug a lot?
The Afghan Whigs record, Gentlemen. No, not Gentlemen. Congregation. I never heard Gentlemen. Congregation was really good. Also the new Palace Brothers album. I liked that for the two weeks that I had to listen to it. There’s good stuff coming out all the time. I never get it. Because I never seem to be home.
Do you think the success of this whole wave that’s continued – now with Green Day – the whole left of center becoming the center, has been good for you guys?
I don’t know. I don’t know because I never really thought that late ’70s punk rock was ever left of center. I always thought that it was pretty center. Nirvana helped because they actually had words, and lyrics, and they were intelligent, and they weren’t assholes. I’m so glad that they bumped Guns ‘N Roses, although Guns ‘N Roses, as soon as MTV starts to lose a few ratings, will start pumping those Guns ‘N Roses videos right back on. You bet they will. Yeah, it did help us, I think. It opened everyone’s eyes up and it gave a whole generation of kids a fashion to latch onto that they hadn’t had. During the ’70s and ’80s kids didn’t really have a fashion at all. They didn’t have, like, the big baggy shorts and that’s good; it’s good for kids to have a fucking rebel stamp. Especially kids in the suburb, white kids. And it’s a good thing because they don’t care if they listen to black music or white music, which is really cool. It’s good. I don’t necessarily like gangster rap very much. I do like a lot of it and that’s changed things too. That’s changed everything as well. As much as Nirvana, I think. Because again, it’s people telling stories and it’s people talking about their real lives. It’s not like some fake heavy metal rocker guy fresh from the gym singing about being a pig. It’s about people talking about their lives. Of course they may be pigs. But it’s better.
This generation of kids has their own culture. They have all their own bands. It’s just a whole thing that really wasn’t there throughout the ’70s. There was the punk movement in the mid-’70s, but it really wasn’t there in the mainstream.
Yeah. I was there in the mid-’70s, in the punk movement and boy, did the radio and the TV and all the major media close that down as quickly as they could. Because they had invested so much in the Eagles and… So they closed that shit down. They would not play it; they would not respond to it. So no, it really never got a toe-hold at all and that’s why it continued to be so influential. It’s because it never got a chance to live itself out. And in America, when I lived in Ohio, for instance, there were about 50 people that I knew when I was 19 who were into that music. Everybody else was into, you know, Springsteen and the usual crap, the crap they still play in Ohio. I mean, it’s really changed everything. And in the ’80s there was nothing either. It was like that weird time. Do you remember somewhere in the middle ’80s when thousands of people were going to see the Cure and thousands of people were going to see Depeche Mode and everybody was saying, why? Suddenly they were huge. It’s so cool when that happens. And then you had all those other bands like the Pixies or the Replacements or Nick Cave and all those bands that people would go see. But it was never anything like a youth movement. It was mostly rockers, people who were a little older than the usual punk rockers. It was never 17-year-olds who saw those people . It was always a little older. Husker Du. Great, great music but it’s nothing like it is now. This is a really good time. Counting Crows. I’m amazed that they’re huge. Everybody accuses the singer of being a Van Morrison rip-off, and why not? OK, rip him off? Go ahead, rip Van Morrison off, why not? Van Morrison sure can’t do it anymore. Oh, he can, maybe.
Adam (Duritz, of Counting Crows) is a good writer though. When you look at some of those songs…
They’re good songs. ‘Mr. Jones’ is a great story and it operates on several levels.
It’s fine. I think it’s fine. I’m in support of it. I love it.
I’ll tell you, if you’re 17 right now, you don’t go, “God, that’s a Van Morrison rip-off.”
I know, you go, “Wow, fucking cool.”
It almost seems a cliché that people who are older and who have listened to rock & roll in the ’50s or ’60s or ’70s, those people go, “Oh, look at that, the Beatles, they’re just playing Chuck Berry or the Stones, they’re just doing Muddy Waters.” You know what I mean?
It’s stupid. It’s just crazy. I don’t do that.
Are you angry these days?
Is that a reaction to the Republicans taking over the Senate and House yesterday?
I didn’t vote so I can’t really comment. I’m not allowed. America wants to slash it’s own throat so it’s doing it.
You feel anger is the only reaction to have because we’re really impotent to actually change things?
I don’t know. I don’t understand those people. I’m not one of those people. I’m the kind of person that most people consider as weird or outside it. I’ve never seen it as my job to make too much sense so I don’t bother. I can’t comment. I don’t know why. All I know is that it’s just against the future, it’s just completely against the future. I’m certainly not a liberal. I’m not at all a liberal. I’m actually pretty much a reactionary. I just think that if you advocate building more jails, if you advocate mandatory sentencing, if you advocate slogans that at their root are evil and divisive and vindictive and if you’re on your way to building prison camps which is what seems to be happening, then I can’t help but say it’s wrong. But on the other hand I don’t know what America thinks. I live in San Francisco. We’re like one of the most hated cities in the country, you know? Because we’re so liberal, supposedly. And we are, though.
Is ‘Hello, Amsterdam’ based on what you’ve seen over there?
It’s just us playing bad shows. We used to play there at a place called Milky Way. We used to play this club all the time and we played there like three times and every time we played there, we just sucked. We’d been terrible and just trying to find out why. I just want to be an ABBA. (laughs)
Is that about what the audience would have preferred?
I don’t know. We had a great show there when we played last time. We played a different club. This time it was great so I think that sort of blanks out the other three times. I love Amsterdam. It’s a wonderful place. It’s funny that people there, especially when people judge America or anything, they don’t realize how fucked-up it is here, how violent people are here. How much fear is a factor. In Europe, nobody understands fear. We do. A nation of cowards. No we’re not. I mean, you know what I’m saying? I was trying to explain this to a Dutch journalist. He was like, “oh, what do you mean? [He quotes from the song] We came from America so you could share in our pride, guilt, greed and genocide. I was like, “Well do people shout at you threateningly from cars ever?” He was like, “Never in my life.” I’m like, “Oh, OK. Do people look at you with hate?” “No.” You know what I’m saying? How many times do you see an ambulance? How many times do you see a cop car wailing down the street? I mean, just basic things. They don’t have them there. It doesn’t happen. So maybe our music gets lost a little bit in the translation. Not that we play violent or mean music but we play it with that being part of our background and I think that gets lost in the translation from English to Dutch.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I don’t. I just always keep it in mind that I’m going to write another song. I never look for inspiration anywhere.
Where is the creative wellspring that you’re drawing on?
I don’t know. If I knew that, I wouldn’t write songs. I mean, I’m not my own psychiatrist. I just write songs. I don’t know why. I don’t know where it comes from. I could waffle on and on and on about it, but you know what, I don’t think it matters. I mean, you listen to the songs and you know where they’re coming from, that’s where they’re coming from, you know? It’s pretty much that easy. I mean, having me talk and talk and talk about what my inspiration is – so what?
There is this mystery, I mean, not just with you, but whether it’s a painter, whether it’s…
I don’t know, man. I just try to find the things that I want to say and I say them. You write and you write and you cross shit out and you go, oh, that doesn’t work, that doesn’t work, that works, that works, that doesn’t work and you just end up with something that works. And that’s what you’ve been trying to say, whatever that thing is. Usually it’s a lot less intelligent than I thought it was going to be. But you just have to go with it. I don’t think I ever really want to know what inspires me. Everything does. Nothing does.
There’s a quote on a sticker on the cover of this new album, from a Melody Maker review: “One of the greatest living songwriters.”
Oh yeah. That was from 1989 or something? ’88 maybe? Old news.
Do you feel a weight on your shoulders? Is it hard to write? Do you say, oh my God, people are going to look at this song…?
Well you know what. What it is, deep in my heart, I believe it. You have to. But it’s like having people say that or having that person say that several years ago, it’s like, what? How can it be true? There’s no way it can be true. All it means is that I can walk into a party of people and I can just sort of stop somebody and say, you know who I am? I’m the greatest living songwriter, how’re you doing and I can have them look at me and go “fuck off.” That’s what it means. I’m a small headline in a newspaper from six years ago. I had someone come up to me and say, “Weren’t you the hot band in 1991?” I said yeah, we were. Rolling Stone. It’s embarrassing, it’s worthless. But I think I’m great. (laughs) I always will.
But I mean it’s not as if this current album hasn’t gotten any, from the reviews I’ve seen, it’s been well received.
I’d much rather have like a million dollars and live in a giant mansion with several Rolls Royce’s, and I would put on the gate of my mansion, “World’s Greatest Living Songwriter”. When I have the security gates with a few television cameras constantly swiveling and the proximity monitors keeping people away and then an inner area with dogs – sub-machine gun posts – and then outside I’ll have this incredibly incongruous ornate gate with wrought iron. Well, I’ll probably buy the gate from Buckingham Palace but at the top I’ll tear out the Queen’s sign and I’ll put, “World’s Greatest Living Songwriter”. That would be great. That would make sense. Doesn’t make sense at this point at all. Either I’m a contender or I’m not. Either I’m selling or I’m buying. And if I’m the world’s greatest living songwriter, I’m doing nothing but buying. I’m buying shit. I’m buying other people’s shit. So really, I kind of don’t care. I have to sit at my desk and I have to go, “Well, this week, you really sucked.” And every once in a while, I’ll have a breakthrough. You know, and I really will think I’m the best songwriter. Otherwise, you know, you just write.
There is a tradition of good songwriters like a Leonard Cohen for example who don’t get the Smashing Pumpkins kind of success but yet here he is, 30 plus years later…
His first record probably sold more than all of my records combined. So he can afford to live that way ’cause his albums are still selling and always should ’cause he’s brilliant. He’s brilliant and he still writes great songs, still writes brilliant songs. I just wished he’d find a new producer.
In other words, you feel that you need to get a validation from the public for it to really matter?
Yeah, that’s all that matters. What critics say, pardon me, but what critics say doesn’t mean shit. I mean critics cannot keep you from starving to death, critics don’t buy records, they get them for free. Critical acclaim is something that I have to deal with. It’s like doing interviews. If I had my druthers at this point, I would not do them at all. They don’t sell records. Journalists read about American Music Club and nobody else cares? So it’s almost like something’s wrong with this band. I don’t know what it is but it drives me insane. I love journalists. They’re writers. I love writers. Usually they’re very cool people but it’s like, hey, you buy it. OK, I’ll give you an interview if you buy it. Thirty of my records. Thirty records. Help me out. Come on.
Has it become more difficult to write or is it always hard to write?
Eitzel: It’s always hard. It’s always, like, really hard to write a good song. Takes forever for me. I’m more like Leonard Cohen than anyone. There’s this great short interview I read with him in SongTalk . God I’m the greatest songwriter? OK. I met the editor of SongTalk at a party and he said, “Are you a musician?” I said, yeah, yeah. I’m in American Music Club. That was like three months after Rolling Stone named me as “Songwriter of the Year”. He said, “Yeah, you’re in a band?” Yeah, American Music Club. “Oh. Well, um, do you ever play out, do you have any records out?” It was like, yeah, a couple. “Cool. If you send me some demos, I’ll tell you what, I’ll send you a free copy of the paper.” All right, I’ll buy it. Cool, cool. I like your paper a lot. I’ll buy it. It’s weird. There you go. Success, right? I read this interview with Leonard Cohen in this magazine and he was great, great. He talked about how he sits at his computer and just works and works and works. I love it, you know. I love reading how he works.
I know a few years ago you told me you had rented an office. You went there during the day and wrote. Is that how you still work?
I’ve got a house, so I have a basement room set up.
Do you write from nine to four?
No, I don’t have time for that. The fucking phone constantly rings. Doesn’t do anything but ring. Then I have a message machine with like an hour of messages and then I have people complaining that my beep’s too long. I mean, it’s insane at home. I have an unlisted number and I still get like, between my managers and my business manager and my lawyer and my two agents and you know, all the five members of the band and between everybody, I can’t get any fucking work done.
So when do you write?
Every chance I get until the phone rings. Everyone thinks I’m so rude on the phone. I pick it up, I have headphones on, I’ve got my computer on, I’ve got my keyboard going, I’ve got like all this stuff going, I’ve got my four-track on, I’m trying to do some work, I’m recording something, the phone rings, I go, “What?” “Oh, we’ve got five interviews to do tomorrow. Please, Mark, give them 45 minutes each.” I’m like, “No, no, no.” It’s crazy. So I don’t. This poor guy wanted five minutes with me today and I told him, no. I couldn’t believe how snotty I was but…but this album, I can’t wait ’til this album is sold or done so I don’t have to work on it anymore.
You’re already sick of dealing with it? It’s only been out like…
A month. Well, we started recording it in August of last year and then we had like five months of recording it. Then I finally kicked the producer out and I kicked the whole band out of the studio to mix it with the engineer. It was like thousands of dollars over budget. The producer didn’t care. It was awful. Awful. And then I tried to do a promotional tour of America so I could do promotion outside of the tour so I didn’t have to like, sing and do two hours worth of interviews. And they couldn’t get anybody interested in the album so it was like, “OK, then I won’t do any interviews during the tour, right?” They’re like, “Fine, no one’s interested.” So, I’m like, great.
We did a video, a really fun video with Adam Bernstein. We tried to make a copy of Baywatch, the most popular show in the world. So we got hard-bodied people and they’re advertising an AMC soft drink and MTV banned it because we showed torso shots of women and men.
I guess if it had just been women it would have been OK?
No, if we had been David Lee Roth or if we had been like Ice Easy, what’s his name, Ice Cube? Coolio? Or somebody like that. If we had like wanted to show naked people, we should have been a lot more famous, goddamnit. So they banned it. The record companies spent an insane amount of money on this video. So yeah, I’ve really worked my fucking ass off already for a year and a half almost and I’m sick of it. And I want to move on to another album as soon as I can. And they’re already talking about another more extensive European tour in January and another American tour in February and March. So I’ll just fulfill my contracts to try to help sell the record and I’m over it.
It sounds like you’re cornered in a way, right now.
That’s how I feel.
You’ve got all this ahead of you that you don’t want to do. It’s almost like you’re part of the chain gang for the next six months.
Yeah. Because it doesn’t seem to make us more successful. It doesn’t seem that way at all. It just seems like the same 300 people come to see us and nothing changes. If we had any chance – and it doesn’t look as if we’re getting any major interest in the album and we’re certainly not getting any help from MTV – if there was some sort of success, sure, I’d be totally into it. But nothing seems to be happening. So it’s like, OK, let’s go through the motions again. After 12 years you get bitter, you know?
So if when you toured you kept seeing bigger and bigger crowds…
It would be great. I’d love it. It would be what we need to do. But at this point I’m looking towards the band being completely broke. This album took so long that the band went broke. So until we get some advance money from Virgin for the next album… Basically it just seems as if in January the band is going to be completely broke again and I ain’t paying anybody’s rent so I don’t know where the money is going to come from. So we’ll see. And nothing is going to happen until we start playing to larger audiences, and we probably won’t be doing that so I don’t know what the answer is.
What did recording San Francisco take so long?
Because the producer just wanted to do more and more overdubs. We were co-producing with him but… He would say, “I think you should look at that middle section again. You know. It’s really no good. Something doesn’t happen.” And you go, “Really?” “No, it’s not happening. It’s really sort of bogus. It kinda sucks.” “Oh. OK. OK, great! Well then we’ll do a distorted guitar and some congas and then we’ll do some accordion” and three weeks later you’re like, “Oh, this songs done. Is it done?” That’s why. I’m such a nice guy. It didn’t occur to me until we were $50,000 over budget. That’s when I thought, wait a minute, something’s not working here. I told the co-producer I wanted this album done it two months. And it had to be done in two months and now it’s like, whatever. I don’t want any bitterness or bad blood.
So you feel the band could go into the studio and cut an album fast?
If we didn’t have to use any god damn motherfucking producer, absolutely.
If you guys were self-producing?
Well I would insist on producing it myself. Fuck the band. If they don’t want it, quit. I don’t care anymore. I know exactly how my songs sound. Nobody else does.
Just get a good engineer.
Yea. Jim Scott who engineered the last album is awesome. Chad Blake, good people. It’s not that I hate Joe Chiccarelli at all he’s wonderful, he’s a great guy. It’s just that he went a little crazy. He thought he was making the album of his life. He wasn’t. He was making another album, just like we were.
Do you like the album as it stands?
Look, I had to live with it and I know it inside and out and it’s really hard to listen to because of a lot of the compromises. A lot of endless discussions about it that I had to have. I like a lot of it.
You could imagine it…
We’re rehearsing that song that’s called ‘In the Shadow of the Valley’. Nobody was sure if that was going to be the song or not. Nobody was sure if it was good or not and it ends up being the best thing on the album. ‘How Many Six Packs Does It Take To Screw In A Light’. That was going to be a B side. The drummer hated it, the guitar player hated it. No one liked it. Producer? “No. It’s kind of stupid, blah, blah, blah.” I said, “We have to record it. We have to do it.” We recorded it the very last week, it was rough, it was sort of a throwaway. It ends up being a great song, you know? On and on and on. Every time. I’m sick of it, really. Or like ‘Cape Canaveral’. No one was sure. Some people at the record company kind of thought it was the weakest one, maybe drop that one, maybe we need more rockers, maybe this, maybe that.
On and on and on.
It’s on and on. You’re like, No, just do it.”
It sounds like you had to convince someone all down the line.
And it shouldn’t be that way.
I have to convince everyone. It’s awful. Yeah, it’s hard. This album was so hard for me. I want to do vocals. It takes two hours to get a mix up so I can sing to it. Two hours. When you want to work, you want to work now. You don’t want to wait in another room staring at the wall, watching some stupid TV show. It’s ridiculous. This album was so hard for me to do. And I didn’t have the guts or the balls or the gumption to stop it and say, “I’m out of here.” I didn’t. So it’s my fault. But it’ll never happen again. I learned so much. It made me so bitter
© Michael Goldberg, Addicted To Noise, December 1994