I didn't become familiar with the Dead Milkmen until Beelzebubba came out. How big of a hit WAS "Bitchin' Camaro"? Would you say that one song really launched your career? Did audience size change rapidly as a result of that song?
That was a college radio hit. I'm not sure how big it would be to you, but to us it was significant enough. It got our name around and, yeah, more people came to see us probably because of that. Everything seemed kind of gradual up until when that song started getting played a lot. The album got released in June of 1985. But the college dj kids did not start to play it a whole lot until September. I think most of them were on summer vacation and when they got back to school, that's when we started noticing more people coming to the shows too. I guess in late August it was starting to get played.
Were the follow-ups to "Bitchin' Camaro" successful at all? Speaking for myself, I find "The Thing that Only Eats Hippies" and "Beach Party Vietnam" to be among the very, very few weak songs that you guys ever recorded. The melodies are almost nonexistent, which made you look like the "novelty" artists that some people have accused you of being.
Really? Nonexistent melodies were part of our trademark style. I guess "Hippies" was a "hit". Not as big as "Camaro". I guess we felt we needed to come up with a follow-up that sort of gave some people what they expected in the humor department. We were not afraid to be a novelty band. Also, you get a whole lot of time to come up with songs for your first album and then, when it is a success, people are saying 'okay, now give us something new' and suddenly you have to tour most of the time AND write and record an album, so, you know, you might have some left over songs and some thrown together ones and some more thought-out ones. We lost a lot of money on the first tour and we had to tour to make money to afford the studio time for the second album.
When you re-recorded those funny old songs for the "smokin banana peels" 12-inch, why did that great tune "Labor Day" not make the cut? I really like that one, darn you!
We recorded 'Labor Day' for the Bucky Fellini album. I can't remember why we didn't use it for that album. But it eventually found it's way to the "Death Rides.." album. If you got to hear it, why are you complaining?
The stupid Physical Graffiti "hey there's a big airplane going by" reference STILL makes me laugh every time I hear it. Does this mean I'm an asshole? Whose idea was that?
An airplane really was going by overhead when the tape started rolling. It was not planned so it wasn't anyone's idea, except it was Dean's idea to say it because he is the one who said it. And I don't know who's idea to keep it on the album. When we knew we were going to call the album "Metaphysical Graffiti" it seemed like a good joke for us and other assholes.
As a huge fan of both Yes and the Butthole Surfers, I of course was tickled pink when Gibby Haynes sang "Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes and How!" for you. Was this a Gibby- written song? If not, how did the subject of Yes' bizarre "reunion" side project band manage to enter the band's songwriting?
It was mostly a Rodney-written song I think. Rodney had a thing for Yes and we thought the music sounded KIND of like the Butthole Surfers (as best as we could rip them off). Since we were recording in Austin, Gibby's home town, we figured we would invite him over to sing on it. Actually, Brian, the producer, invited him over. He was wearing an 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe' t-shirt when he showed up, oddly enough. He asked a bunch of questions about microphones, recorded the vocals in two takes, showed us his car and then left.
What in Sam Hill happened to make you become lead singer for Soul Rotation? That album featured less of the goofy humor and more of a sci-fi space/paranoia feel to the lyrics. I've seen you quoted as not liking the album very much and I was wondering if that's just a reaction to fan and critical panning of the album. Because personally I thought it was as strong as any of your previous releases, especially beautiful songs like "all around the world," "shaft in greenland" and "the secret of life." What is it about the album that "gets in your craw" so much?
Rodney wanted a break from singing so he could concentrate more on playing keyboards and writing music, which he started doing on "Metaphysical". He started writing music as well as lyrics, when before he wrote mostly lyrics. He asked me if I would sing more and I said yeah. Why not? I was more than happy at first. I did not realize it would end up being most of the songs on the album. That was a little weird. I had fun doing it, for the most part, but when I first heard the album in sequence I realized I couldn't stand hearing my own voice singing so many songs in a row. And that was months before it was released so it was not a reaction to panning, though that did not help. It also did not help that it flopped and we were then again without a record deal. People kept coming to our live shows, though.
A friend of mine said he read somewhere that Hollywood Records made you censor the original lyrics to "If I Had a Gun" and write new, less offensive ones. Is he full of beans or did that really happen? If so, what were the original lyrics?
Yeah, "If I had a gun, I'd stick it up your fucking ass!" No.. actually your friend is full of beans. We never had to censor any of our lyrics. I guess we were never offensive enough, or no one cared enough to censor us. Hollywood did ask us to change the title of "Let's Get the Baby High" but we refused. (I vaguely remember some alternate lyrics to "Gun", but I think I censored them myself before it ever got recorded and now I can't remember what the original lines were.)
On the follow-up, "Not Richard But Dick," it seemed as if you were sticking with mental health and paranormal type lyrics while Rodney was returning to complete goofiness ("I Dream Of Jesus" is redeemed ONLY by the music - yeesh....). Was Rodney's "return to humor" and, you know, singing more vocals.. a RESULT of Soul Rotation's lack of sales success? Or would he have gone back to his original direction anyway, you think? And why was "Not Richard But Dick" so short?
I have no idea. I think Rodney was in his "King Missile" phase at the time. 'Dick's too Short' is something I hear a lot. We made a conscious decision to release an e.p. instead of an l.p. (Even though only cds were released by then.) It was supposed to be priced and sold as an e.p. or extended single (with 10 songs, which are short, under 30 minutes) but something went wrong on the record company side of the operation. We wanted to keep it under 30 minutes because that was what was officially considered an e.p. by Hollywood and thus could get the $9.98 list price ($6.99 sale price).
We wrote about 21 songs for it and widdled these down to our favorite 10 by democratic voting. We recorded only those ten (a budget-minded effort) in a nice studio in Boston.
Also I don't think Rodney's songs were all that goofy. "Mongoose" is awesome, an odd little story, and so is "Infant of Prague".
Your songs on "Not Richard But Dick" are intriguing and have kept me wondering for years -- what in God's name are "Jason's Head" and "Little Volcano" about?
Jason's Head is a song about a girl who murders her two-timing boyfriend. Dean wrote the music and I wrote the words. Little Volcano came about the opposite way. Dean wrote the words and I wrote the music. I always thought that song was about a guy with a hot head, a quick temper.
I have never heard ANYBODY EVER talk about the last Dead Milkmen album, an album that I consider to have a TON of brilliant songs on it ("Peter Bazooka," "Train I Ride," "I Can't Stay Awake," "Big Deal"). Did you know that this would be the last album when you recorded it? What was the overall BAND impression of the album as a career finale? And how did the media/fans respond to it?
Yes, we knew it would be the last and we knew we would not tour. We knew our last tour was our last tour. For some odd reason we decided to end everything with a studio album of songs we wrote together in the course of about half a year, but recorded in the course of about two weekends. (By then we had day jobs again - just like when we made 'Big Lizard' - we'd come full circle.) Personally I liked the album. I know Rodney has said that he wishes we'd left it with 'Dick' which was much better in his opinion. I don't think the media noticed the album at all. I cannot remember reading a review or even a description. We received a lot of positive mail about it, but also a lot of mail saying please don't break up and come back on tour. It was kind of bittersweet.
Did the whole band like the "humor" direction that Rodney kept the band in? Was there ever any concern that the silly jokes may have kept people from realizing what fantastic melodies the band wrote through the entirety of your career? Because I personally SERIOUSLY get the feeling that it did, as I've heard far too many people write you off as "something I would have laughed at when I was 14 but never listened to again." This bothers the HELL out of me, because so many of your melodies are so amazing.
I was never bothered by the humor direction. I liked it, maybe more than Rodney did. I see no reason why you can't be funny and melodic, or a little odd lyrically as well as musically. We were definitely not good musicians, but we made up for it in goofiness and gall. I guess that is what infuriated the more serious music lovers.
Did the band members all have the same idea of where they wanted the MUSIC to go? Were there ever any arguments on that end?
Usually if we didn't agree, that song would not take off. For the songs we used we pretty much had already agreed. The other songs got killed in the rehearsal stage. Everyone had a veto vote if they cared to use it. Generally there were not too many arguments. Even when it came to recording and mixing, we seemed to agree. Maybe there weren't enough arguments!
As a fan, I could never quite figure out your career arc because I thought every album was as good as the one before it. Was there a sort of up-and-down trajectory to your success or was it more of an even keel the whole way through? Did you always have college radio support?
I think we lost college radio with 'Soul Rotation' and we lost radio in general. Maybe it came back, I don't know, for 'Dick' and 'Stoneys', slightly. We did have our 'hard-core' fans who stuck with us through thick and thin, thank you. Live show-wise I think it got stronger. We were doing pretty good at the end.
Some fools find some of the Dead Milkmen's songs "offensive" because they're fools. Are there any songs that you look back at and wish you hadn't recorded, for either that reason or just for the fact that you don't like them very much (aside from Soul Rotation)? And alternately, what were some of your favorites? Did you have a favorite era or album?
I had a whole lot of fun in Austin recording 'Beelzebubba' and 'Graffiti'. That was probably my favorite era. Things were going well and we were just having fun. I was never too fond of "I Started To Hate You". (Too many "I Started To Hate You's" over and over.) "Ringo Buys A Rifle" never thrilled me either.
There's a list of really great bands on your site -- all of which you got the chance to tour with. Are you at liberty to say whether any of them turned out to be real jerks? Or were there any that surprised you by how nice and friendly and GOOD they were?
They were all nice guys. Actually I was too reclusive to notice. King Missile was nice. Possum Dixon was nice.
When I saw you play on one of your final tours, I noticed that everybody in the place was about 14. Why do you think this was the case? Because of the humor? Was there something about the Dead Milkmen that made people "grow out of them"? Because it sure as hell never happened to me!
A Philadelphia music critic said we were the first 'hand me down' band. Maybe that's the case. I don't know. As long as there were 14 year olds, our shows did well. Or at least some people who were 14 years old at heart. 14 is a tough age to be!
Tell me some funny road stories! Crazy groupies? Drugs and wild violence? Stage diving with Flav?
Funny road stories, hmmmmm. I did not see too many drugs. We steered clear of violence somehow. Well, I can tell you about the time we rolled into Tucson, Arizona. As we turned into our hotel parking lot we got stopped by, and surrounded by, a squadron of police vehicles, lights flashing. Some cops surrounded our van and one of the shouted, " Come out of the vehicle one at a time with your hands behind your head." Another cop had his gun drawn and aimed. Very strange. We got out one by one, were told to turn around and then were handcuffed individually and patted down. Dave actually did a little dance for them which I'm sure did not amuse them. After they got to me (I was last) I think they realized they had the wrong people. But still they detained us for about another 15 minutes. Meanwhile a crowd is gathering at the hotel wondering what the hell is going on. Finally they let us go, after searching the van. They were looking for something - drugs? stolen goods? anything they could bust us on? Well, we never carried drugs or guns. They did confiscate our cash but I think we got it back. And they let us go but never told us why they had stopped us. Mistaken identity is what I gather. That's my big exciting story. We were a boring band, really.
The Butterfly Joe album is really good! Is there another on the way, eh?
I'm not sure. I think there is indeed another one coming along rather slowly.
I don't know how right or wrong I am here, or how open you are with this if it is the case, so please just say "skip it" if you want me to throw it out of the interview. Seriously. The Butterfly Joe album has two or three songs that really come across as songs about romantic attachments with men. Is this the case or am I misinterpreting them? If it IS the case, was this a way of publicly "coming out"? Because I never got that feeling at ALL with your Dead Milkmen material. So I guess the question is - if they're from a woman's point of view, why did you choose to do that? If they're from your point of view, did you not feel comfortable singing songs like that in the Dead Milkmen? Was "Stuart" still a hoot?
I did not think of it as a coming out album. Yeah, I'm a faggot. And of course there is one song about a boyfriend, even though it is a ridiculous song. But I was not trying to come out. I had thought by then I had come out already. I had written a lot more gayer songs for Jiffy Squid, years before. But I guess you have to come out over and over again when you are gay. Once just doesn't do it. And I do write some songs from my point of view, but a lot of them I try to take a different imaginary point of view. With the Dead Milkmen I was collaborating with three guys who were not gay, so I did not feel comfortable writing anything from an obviously gay point of view. "Punk Rock Girl" for instance was written with Dave, who sings backups.
Also, so many people just somehow knew I was queer when I was growing up I started to think that everyone automatically knew. I'm not going to go draw attention to it. And, beyond that, I can honestly say that for part of the time with the Dead Milkmen I was making an effort to not be queer, though it did not work. As for "Stuart", while I certainly hoped no gays would be offended, I felt it was funny. The absurd idea of gay Martians and a queer conspiracy to bring them to earth can't really be taken too seriously. Well, I suppose there are stranger conspiracies that are taken seriously. You either think it's funny or you don't.
What are the Low Budgets? I've never heard the Low Budgets! What are they?
You should download our mp3s at http://lowbudgets.com/ and find out. We are a band from Philadelphia that plays ValuRock. I play the organ. You could put us in the punk rock or garage rock category, with emphasis on cheap.
What about We're Not From Idaho? Touch Me Zoo? Those are with the guy from Pleaseeasaur! Why so?
I have no idea. He asked me if he could do an album with me like Jiffy Squid and I said, sure. He came over to Philly for two weeks and July and that's how "We're Not From Idaho" came about. Written and recorded in two weeks, just like it sounds. A lot of fun. Touch Me Zoo was from a more extended visit. That actually started with my friend, Seven, back in 1991. J.P. from Pleaseeasaur came along to Touch Me Zoo in 1995 to help us flesh the project into a band and to write some heavier songs with us. We came out with "Lawn King" with him. That was our most rocking era. We broke up about a year later and that was that. By then Pleaseeasaur was going. He took off after moving back to his home state of Washington.
What are your thoughts about 9/11 and its recent anniversary?
Man, who ever woulda thunk that would happen? All the things that had to happen for those planes to hit those towers, the training, the planning. the coordination (plus the Pentagon). It was pretty amazing and terrible they pulled it off. The anniversary -- I did like watching the show on TLC about how and why the towers collapsed. That was interesting. I was glad TLC did not run any 'real' advertisements during the program. That showed good taste.
Your day job is programming or some such? What's that all about? Has your business been adversely affected by the high-tech collapse?
It's just a day job. Not very interesting. Our business was affected way before the high-tech collapse and it had nothing to do with the stock market. It was also affected by 9/11 - Anthrax scrare, since it was partly a mail order, mass mailing marketing business. It's not my business, as in ownership, just where I work, just so you know.
What kinds of music and bands are you "digging" these days?
I love the Hives's albums. I'd like to see them live. Also I still like Rancid a lot. They've never made a bad record. Also, F.O.D. (Flag of Democracy) are still going strong, after almost 20 years! They started a little before The Dead Milkmen, from Philly too. Saw them play a show in the park on labor day weekend, thrashed hard as ever.
For more chill music I like The Mermen. Tom Waits. Ween.
Have you seen the Dead Milkmen reviews on my site? http://www.markprindle.com/deadmila.htm Comments? Questions? Arguments? Fistfights?
I have not seen them until now. Thanks for pointing them out. Deadmila? Thanks for the constructive criticism.
This is my favorite "final" question - I use it a lot. As you look back over your life and career, is there one thing that stands out above all others as being something that you are most proud of?
No, not really. I'm kind of proud of the Town Managers first WKDU radio show performance. Just kind of. It had that unassuming undemanding somewhat entertaining quality I strive for, without trying too hard.
P. R. I. N. D. L. E. - Everyone's accusin' me!