How are you?
Where are you right now?
Are you touring?
We just got home a couple days ago, and we have three weeks off right now.
OK. And then you’re back on tour?
And this isn’t the lineup that played on the last record, right?
No. No. These are all different guys.
OK. Where’d you find them? Had they been in groups before?
Yeah. Nobody well-known. My friend Billy Pulaski introduced me to Kyle Stevenson, whom he met through Johnny Tempesta (Kyle bought one of Johnny's kits). Johnny is the amazing drummer on Size Matters. He said, ‘Yeah, this guy’s a really good drummer.’ So I auditioned a bunch of guys, I sort of put the word of mouth out and started auditioning guys, and he was head and shoulders above and beyond the rest of the players. He was prepared, and just had a great feel and style. He played in a band called Big Collapse, I think they were a local LA band. And then the bass player, John Fuller, they knew each other in Milwaukee, they’re both from Milwaukee. So I got kind of lucky on that one, because bass players are very difficult to find. It’s difficult to put a good band together, period; it’s a lot of work. But I’ve done it now several times over the last, what is it, three or four years. I’m getting kind of good at it.
Have you had time to write new songs?
I wrote one song for this movie Tatooa that we recently were involved with, just a one-off thing. Then I’m gonna score the movie very soon, the beginning of next year. That was the first recording I’ve done with these guys, and I’m happy with it. It turned out good. But there are things that, you know, as first recordings go, that you want to kind of improve on. We have to keep working. I’m kind of a fundamentals type of guy, you know, little things that I can hear that I just want to perfect. The songs were great; I’m really happy with the way it turned out. But once we finish this next tour, I’m planning to start zeroing in on developing songs more.
What are you producing?
The band Totimoshi from Oakland. I did their last album and had such a great time, such a good vibe between Tony and the band and myself. They’re looking for a drummer. They’re kind of like the Spinal Tap of indie rock; drummers keep exploding (laughs). It’s not THAT funny, but it is kind of funny because they just can’t keep a drummer in the band.
Where did you say they’re from?
They’re from Oakland. I think Tony might have originally grown up somewhere down here, between here and San Diego. I want to say Temecula or something, I’m not sure. But they’ve been in the Alameda area forever. We made their last record up in San Francisco with Kurt Schlegel. He worked with us and on Fantomas, Mike Patton’s band.
Does the current band sound like any of the previous incarnations?
Helmet is so arrangement-driven that it all sounds similar to me. I’ve always said… it’s never to take away anything from the musicians that perform the music. And it’s not Mozart, you know, it’s not written down on a page, but it is pretty much done by the time they get their hands on it. You need someone that’s a great musician and understands time and feel, and that’s what I look for. I’m not necessarily looking for somebody to come up with killer bass fills. It’s a bass player and a drummer - since ’96 that’s kind of the way I’ve done the records. I don’t need another guitar player. Oftentimes it’s more of an inconvenience than anything to have to worry about someone’s ego, and I can play the guitars myself. So these guys are great. Everybody brings their own color, to a certain extent. I mean, Stanier had amazingly quick hands, he had great feel, great time, great hands and creative drum fills; and that’s just kind of everything you need in this band. So everybody’s always kind of had to measure themselves to that. He set the standard for drums in this band. I knew when I heard him, on a recording of his band back in 1989. He played me a cassette when we first met, and I was like, ‘Yeah, this guy is the guy.’ He had something. And guys like Tempesta, his feel is a little more back in the beat, and he has incredible technique as well. He does some pretty unorthodox things like the fills in "Smart" and the beginning of “Crashing Foreign Cars.” I love that. And Mike Jost, who played on the Monochrome record - he was phenomenal, phenomenally talented. Knock on wood, but I’ve been really lucky with finding these drummers. Out of all of them, Kyle might be the easiest to play with, just as far as his sort of feel… he’s somewhere in between Tempesta and Stanier, as far as where he is on the bar line. Stanier was always on top of it, pushing, and Tempesta was more back, and Kyle’s kind of right there. The fills are something that I sort of work on with him, or have stressed to him are really important to me, the drum fills. Even if there’s just one fill in a song, I want it to be badass, to announce that there’s a new section coming or be just a ‘fuck you’ drum fill. Stanier was just great at those. I wasn’t ever an afficionado of Rush or Iron Maiden or any of the bands that Stanier liked, so I didn’t know that some of the fills were straight out of there.
Well that’s what people would tell me later… ‘Oh, that’s a fill off of a Scream record…’ He did his own thing with it always, but, you know, to me they were completely fresh. They’re still fresh. I think we all borrow; I borrow from the Beatles and from Led Zeppelin, but it comes out my own retarded way. I think that’s kind of why John and I played so well together.
Oh… Just really quickly, I’d like to… Even though the vision has stayed the same, all the albums sound different from each other anyway. So I was just wondering if we could just quickly go through each one just to see what vision you were going for, and whether it succeeded in what you wanted it to do. I became a fan of Helmet with Strap it On, specifically when you guys played at the Masquerade in Atlanta on the Strap it On tour. I think I won free tickets off the radio and I’d only heard a couple of your songs, but I could just not believe – not just how good the songs were, but how heavy you guys played, and how tight everything was. So that’s when I started following you.
Was that downstairs or upstairs? Heaven or Hell?
Heaven it was. OK. I think I remember that. Did we ever play downstairs there? Maybe we didn’t.
I don’t know. Not when I…
That might have been… Yeah, OK, OK.
That was mostly a dance room.
Oh, OK. All right.
There was Purgatory, but that was mostly for local bands.
Uh huh. OK. Yeah, I miss that club. We always seemed to have good shows there. And at Little Five Points, there was a great record store, a great vegetarian restaurant…
Yeah, Wax N Facts was the record store.
I don’t know what the vegetarian restaurant was, because I always ate at the pizza place.
(laughs) Oh yeah. It’s not there anymore, because we were there on the Warped Tour, and it was kind of a, I want to say Cajun-style diner, or maybe, I don’t know, something with a skull and crossbones, glowing eyes. Yeah, it wasn’t nearly as good, kind of more the greasy stuff.
So I remember, though, when Nirvana happened and then Interscope signed you and all the hype was out there about how you were going to be the next Nirvana and everything. Now, everyone I knew who was familiar with Helmet, who was familiar with the first album, all we thought was, ‘Are they NUTS? Helmet is heavy as hell! It’s not like they’re going to turn into pop music.’
Did you guys have any inkling what they were thinking? I mean, I know you must—
No. I mean, I just sort of smiled and shook their hands. ‘The Next Nirvana’ was just ridiculous, obviously. Nirvana wrote these great pop songs, Beatles-inspired stompers or whatever, and that’s not the stuff that we were doing. So it worked to our benefit as far as the music industry was concerned, that we were on an independent label and had built our own following by touring and putting stuff out on AmRep, kind of exactly the way Nirvana had done it. I think most people at record companies don’t know anything about music, so they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, Nirvana!’ and their eyes get bigger than their stomachs or whatever. I knew that what we were doing wasn’t completely inaccessible and that I liked it and I was really excited when I was writing stuff, and I couldn’t wait to play and show people what we were doing. Just a feeling like, ‘Man, this is something, this is something different.’ And to me, it was always more important to have our own thing and just to not try to sound like everybody else and be downtown with ripped-up jeans and beat-up Fender Mustangs. I just thought that at a certain point there was nothing rebellious about that at all. I kind of felt like your job was to say 'fuck you.' So when the Nirvana comparisons were out there, you know, Nirvana didn’t think we sounded like them or that we were going to be the next Nirvana, and we certainly didn’t. We were just excited. Hazelmyer said, ‘Look, I can’t do anything more for you guys, you’re getting too big for the label to handle, and you really should pursue this.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ Because of his honesty, we’re still friends today. We just did a show with him in Minneapolis, him and the Melvins and a bunch of bands. We’re still good friends. We talk every month or so.
Yeah, it’s good.
Yeah, he does seem like a really nice guy. I’ve exchanged emails with him.
He’s great. He’s a man of his word, he’s incredibly intelligent and just loves to wind people up. He has so much confidence because he’s so smart that he can take all the crap that people dish out, or all the stuff that people think, and the accusations… I don’t know if I want to even get into it, but there’s so much - I’ve read things, you know, ‘conservative kook,’ all this. And he’s like, ‘Uh-huh. Yeah. OK.’ You sit down and have a political discussion with that guy and he’ll fucking run circles around you. He’s just a great, great human being. We had a great time in Minneapolis. It usually deteriorates into a slurry conversation after Jagermeister and whatever, but we had a really great time. And it was great to get to play with the Melvins again, too, they’re great as ever. So much fun.
God, the Melvins are still going.
They keep going and going. Constantly putting out records, too!
I know, right?
And they’re good!
And they’re great live. I know, yeah. I haven’t seen them live since probably the last time we played with them, in ’97. God, they’re good.
And they have two drummers now, don’t they?
The second drummer wasn’t there for the gig we did, so they had to kind of adapt their set a little bit. But they did “Oven,” which I was really excited about. They were teasing me afterwards, ‘Yeah, we did the Helmet version.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, too fast.’ Shit was awesome, man. I mean, they are just a great, great band.
I’d forgotten about that cover. You did a great Killing Joke cover, too.
We did two that I was really proud of.
Was the other one released?!
No! I haven’t heard that!
I was really proud of it. I just had to go for it and shred my vocal chords to get it done, because Jaz has got such an amazing voice.
Yeah. He sounds shredded.
You can’t DO what he does. I had to try to make it my own. I’m going to try to get the band back to performing it live, because it’s still my favorite Killing Joke song ever, and we did “Primitive” back then, back in ’90 or whatever it was. I was proud of that as well. We played it in Auckland, and I happened to meet Jaz Coleman that day in that studio. He was standing there with this huge pile of sheet music for “Illuminati,” this piece he was doing for full orchestra and choir. And I saw him when I walked in with the people from the label and I started peeing my pants.
‘Yeah, we know him, we can introduce you to him.’ I was like, ‘No way.’ So I met him, and he was so nice and he came to the show that night - I invited him. During soundcheck we tried to rework that song and see if we could do it, and of course then we did it and he said he loved it.
Which one, “Primitive”?
We did “Primitive,” yeah.
Yeah. So it was pretty cool. I love the most recent.... I don’t think they’ve done an album since the one they did with Grohl a few years ago; I can’t remember the name of the record.
The Hosannas From the… or the one called Killing Joke?
Killing Joke, yeah. It’s when Grohl played the drums.
Yeah. They did do one after it, and it’s great too.
They did? Oh, shit.
Man, that… Hosannas From the Basement of Hell? It’s incredible! That band—
The most recent one?
Oh, let me write that down.
It’s really good. I think it might even be better than the Killing Joke one.
It’s funny, people talk about… you know, they come to a Helmet show and they’re like, ‘I can’t believe you’re 47!’ and, ‘You seem so much younger on stage,’ and ‘It rocks,’ or whatever. You either do it or you don’t do it, you know? It’s not about age. There’s 21 year-olds that just don’t rock; it has nothing to do with their age. I saw David Byrne play two years ago, and it was amazing. Killing Joke? Yeah, of course they’re amazing. They always were. It has nothing to do with age, and I’m not at all surprised by your Killing Joke album being awesome. They’re great. They’ll never be a mainstream band that’s a household name or whatever, but it just doesn’t matter because they stick to their guns and they do what they do and it’s just great. I’ve never met Geordie, but I would love to. Does he play on the Basement -
Y'know, I don’t know. I don’t know.
Yeah. Yeah. I know Jaz and Geordie have always come together and that’s the basic sound of the band, but....
Um… Oh, about your band?
Back to that. Hey, did you have a major change in mind between Strap it On and Meantime?
I never made a conscious effort to make the albums sound a certain way. I always kind of trusted the basic… I don’t know what you would call it. As a musician, you wake up every day — and I’ve been blessed and fortunate that I get to do this — and you wake up every day and you work. You pick up your instrument, or not, and you pick up a notebook, or not, and you read books and you listen to a lot of different kinds of music, and you’re an active participant in music. As a musician, this is what we do. This is our job. So every day, you’re progressing. And it’s natural that what you’re writing and singing, both musically and lyrically, melodically, every aspect of arrangement that goes into songwriting, it’s going to develop in some way. So if it’s roughly two years between albums, or in the case of Size Matters seven years - I had seven years to write songs and learn about the computer and keyboards and develop my harmonic vocabulary, get drop tuning, become a better singer, play shows with my band Gandhi, play with David Bowie, work on these movies with Elliot Goldenthal. So all these things that helped me grow as a musician, that’s going to be the biggest leap between albums in that seven years; that’s natural. I’ve never tried to force something and say, ‘You know, I need to reinvent myself.’ What for? I think that’s so contrived; that’s about rock stars and image, and it doesn’t interest me. It’s interesting, I was just looking at a book - my former label had some stuff for me today - I went over and I was looking at this book, Bowie was on the cover and I love looking at those old pictures of Bowie. You know, I lied. It’s not interesting to me? It is. It’s cool. You know, yeah, look at Bowie in hot pants and fuck-me pumps, whatever, it’s 1972. It’s cool. But it’s not what I do. And it’s not what I spend time thinking about, you know? And I remember the record label ten and twelve years ago saying, ‘Have you considered changing your image?’ And I was like, ‘What is my image, exactly? What would I be changing?’
They asked you about changing your IMAGE?!?!
Yeah. Yeah. This was… I won’t even say.
Yeah. What is my image? Does that mean you want me to get tattoos and piercings and wear leather pants? I mean, first of all, I have no butt, you know? It just doesn’t make sense to me, never did. I’m a guy that plays music and I wear jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt. Tomorrow I’m not going to wear maroon, flared corduroy bellbottoms and a paisley shirt. No. Have I ever thought about ‘changing my image’? No. I’m not a rock star. I’m not even interested in that. So for me, the change is, even though it might for some people seem subtle, for people that follow the band closely you notice the musical progression between albums. And I notice it. Aftertaste doesn’t sound like Size Matters. And it doesn’t sound like Strap it On. The tagline on the last record was like ‘going back to our roots,’ because we were recording with Wharton at Fun City (which was one of the last records done there - he just had to move because they sold the building). But it wasn’t going back to my roots; it was going back to working with somebody that I loved working with.
And it doesn’t sound like Strap it On.
Not at all. Yeah. It doesn’t sound anything like it.
It doesn’t sound like any of your records, actually.
I know. Exactly. To me, it’s interesting. At times, you have to be thick-skinned. Because even the people close to you that you talk with every day or every other day, the bandmates or manager or whatever, everybody’s kind of a critic. I got a text from my ex-girlfriend (editor's note: Winona Ryder!) last night that said something to the effect of, ‘I heard you talked about me at the Melvins’ show, do you still love me?’ And I was like, ‘What is she talking about?!’ And I’m like, oh yeah, that guy came up to the front of the stage and said, ‘I was at another show and you said your girlfriend didn’t like Monochrome, blah blah blah,’ and he was all mad, because Helmet fans are so possessive, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s right! I forgot about that!’ Because I thought it was funny. I always give her a hard time, jokingly, about it. And she said something like, ‘Fuck him!’ This was the girl that I dated at the time who didn’t like the record because it didn’t sound like her favorite song on Aftertaste, or her favorite song on even Size Matters, which was two years before. Sorry, 18 months earlier. I think to force stuff out and try to say, ‘OK, I’m going to make a conscious effort to make this album sound different from the last record’- maybe I’m lazy, but I think I’ve kind of been onto something from day one, and I believe it’s the right path for me. Just to continue to work every day. And I put out those two records in 18 months, Size Matters and Monochrome, and the next record will probably come out some time next summer. Just a little longer, two years between Monochrome and the next album. And I have a new lineup. And I’ve done a lot more touring in the last year. I'll be scoring a movie, working on an orchestral thing. So I will have developed other skills, or kind of expanded my vocabulary and opened my ears more, so it’ll be different. I’ve got another relationship to whine about or whatever, so it’s fun, it’s a blast. It’s really fun. I’ve been really enjoying these shows, and we’re really minding the Helmet fans, because they’re the ones that are coming out to these shows. It’s the first tour we’ve done on our own for a while in the States.
I didn’t realize that -- Size Matters and Monochrome were only 18 months apart?
Those records could not sound more different.
I know, yeah. There are two songs on Monochrome that I originally demoed with my band Gandhi, and there are two and a half songs on Size Matters that I originally did with Gandhi. About half of the song “Surgery,” because I completely turned it inside-out and rewrote it and stuff. The others were “Everybody Loves You” and “See You Dead,” and on Monochrome they were (phone-clicking noise) That's another interviewer calling; I’m going to tell him to call me back.
(THE GRIM, RELENTLESS FORWARD-MARCH OF TIME)
I didn’t realize you had another interview.
Did you try to call me earlier, when I was on the other line, and did it not click over?
I called you and a voice came on that said, ‘Hello?’ and I said, ‘Page Hamilton?’ and the voice said, ‘Hello?’ and I said, ‘Is Page there?’ and then it hung up.
Oh. My call-waiting came on… (silence)
Sorry about that. Fifteen minutes, if that’s all right.
Yeah, yeah. Can I ask a question, then, that I wanted to make sure to get in?
OK. Because I was reading some old interviews with you last night, and in one of them you kind of state off-handedly, and I don’t need to know about this, but you state off-handedly that you’re kind of always ruining your relationships because you’re so obsessed with your music. So I wanted to ask: Why is music that much of an obsession for you? I know it’s more than just your job, because it’s your hobby, your art, your everything. So how did you become that sort of person, where that’s such an obsession with you?
The first time I remember… well, that’s not true. As a player, the first time I remember sort of escaping the real world was when I was a sophomore, I guess it would have been, in college at the University of Oregon. I had gone through kind of a year of pre-med bombing out, getting wasted and stuff, and I went to the community college, and then I auditioned at the University of Oregon. And I was in a jazz ensemble - it must have been halfway through the year, it might have been the spring — playing with these guys that I really got along with well, who they accepted me for who I was. They didn’t judge my musical guitar incompetence. And we were playing an Oliver Nelson blues called “Stolen Moments,” and things started happening to me that I couldn’t describe and I couldn’t explain. I was not necessarily in control; my limited ability and knowledge were not affecting what I was doing, you know what I mean? Musical communication was happening, and it’s kind of hard to explain. It happened to me as a kid, listening to Led Zeppelin, where I’d put the speakers next to my ears, put the lights out, you know, the song “In the Light” from Physical Graffiti, and I’m like, ‘Something’s going on here.’ I was going inside the music and picking it apart as a 15 year-old kid, going, ‘This is magic, there’s something going on here, the swirling synthesizers and the Bonham beat, the voice, obviously the guitar, the whole thing…’ And “Kashmir" - those songs… I recognized some kind of magic in it - that it was escape from day-to-day existence where I wake up, I brush my teeth, I go to work, whatever, I flip burgers and go to high school. Whatever it was. I got hooked. I realized that it wasn’t about operating a piece of equipment like a typewriter; it was six little metal strings on this chunk of wood that came to life. And those same 12 notes that we all use in Western music - there are infinite possibilities, infinite combinations, and I can create my own combinations and do something that you can’t do with language. You can express things that you can’t express in any other way. And I don’t know how, I don’t know why. It’s a spiritual thing in a way, and it became my path. And there have been so many great musicians that I’ve met and come into contact with and learned from. Like Danny Kortchmar, an amazing musician and producer that played with everyone from James Taylor to Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne to producing Don Henley and Billy Joel. I’ve had the privilege and honor of knowing him over my lifetime; he got in touch with me through my publisher because he heard Helmet and he said, ‘You’re the only heavy rock, hard metal band that’s funky, that grooves, that has soul.’
He’s been a lifelong friend. And then people like Caspar Brotzmann who came from Germany. I discovered him through a friend of mine while I was playing at the World’s Fair in Spain with Glenn Branca in ’92. He turned me on to Caspar at seven in the morning in Seville on a cassette Walkman. He says, ‘You’ve gotta hear this guitar player,” and I look down and see 'Caspar Brotzmann' and he became a huge influence on me - and a hero. It goes on and on. To having David Bowie track me down to play with him, and people like Elliot Goldenthal tracking me down to play in a movie, which I still do; I did Across the Universe this last year with Elliot and his wife Julie Taymor. It just never ends. It never ceases to be exciting and interesting and kind of magical. I can’t explain it. Over the course of your life, people will let you down, situations will let you down, people make many mistakes, stumble and fumble through life. And every time you sit down and… you know, I got a warm, fuzzy feeling driving the van hauling the trailer last week because I hadn’t heard Catch a Fire in a year, and I decided to put it on and all of a sudden I’m like, ‘Oh my God, Bob Marley’s a genius. Yeah, all right!’ So I listened to Rastaman Vibration and Catch a Fire back to back, and you go… it never ends. There’s never not going to be great music to inspire us and to get inspired about, and I'll just constantly be trying to open the door to that universe. I think it’s a natural thing. I think any musician gets bit by it. It's nothing about having cool clothes or being rich or being on the cover of a magazine or having lots of guitars or any of that stuff; it’s about the arrangement of those 12 notes, the sonic shape that you pull out of thin air- or that comes to you. You can’t necessarily take responsibility for things, in a way. Like ‘I’m great because I wrote this song.’ A lot of musicians make that mistake, especially in rock, ‘I should feel praised.’ ‘Oh, you’re a genius!’ What, because you sold six million records you’re a genius? How many records did Charlie Parker sell in his lifetime? He certainly never had a gold record. He was a genius. A lot of people think, ‘Musician? Oh, you want to be famous. Are you famous?’ It’s like, ‘No.’ A guy at the border going into Canada a couple weeks ago - I was driving the van, I was at the checkpoint on the American side -‘You guys a band?’ ‘Yep.’ ‘You famous?’ ‘Yep.’ He says, ‘What’s the band?’ I says, ‘Helmet.’ He goes, ‘Oh yeah, you ARE famous.’ (laughs) I’m like, ‘We’re driving a van hauling a trailer…’
He’d heard of you?!
‘…how famous do you think we are?’ (laughing)
But he knew Helmet. It’s just funny. It’s really funny. My ex-girlfriend was on the cover of Vogue magazine - I just had dinner with her parents, she’s a doll - the article said her last relationship was with a non-famous musician from Oregon and New York, and her parents were so embarrassed. I said, ‘My friends tease me about it, I thought that was awesome.’ They said, ‘You’re not famous... to Vogue magazine.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not a fashion plate, that just proves it. I guess I’m not a rock star.’
They said ‘non-famous’ in Vogue?!
It’s just so great. I love that I’ve been able to continue doing what I love doing without being invaded by that side of it. Because I love rock music. I love it. It’s a great genre. The electric guitar, heavy riffs, it’s just such a fun thing to mess with. With so many guys in bands, their creative fire might last five years, six years, ten years. They may sell millions of records, then... I don't know, they just sort of lose it and can’t recapture it. I think part of that is fame ruining musicians who can’t handle it. You're thinking about yourself too much, rather than what you’re doing. It’s not about you. It’s about trying to kind of find that place - that magical place that really exists somewhere. And I love that. I still wake up every day and that’s my addiction. Well, I'm addicted to coffee, but I look forward to that a lot and then picking up the guitar, plugging in and playing Horace Silver's "Song For My Father" or whatever. It’s just so much fun.
So it’s kind of like a religion for you. I mean, spiritually.
It takes you to a place where… I know that place you’re talking about, from bands I’ve tried to play with. Or just when you hear a great song or come up with a great song.
It’s a great feeling.
And if you stop and think about it, you’re like, ‘Come on, it’s just a bunch of sounds, it’s just ONE sense.’
But when you’re actually in the zone or whatever - I think everybody’s felt that.
Like you said, there’s something more there.
Oh, absolutely. It’s indescribable, Mark. We try. The hundreds and hundreds of interviews that we do - why do we want to talk about it so much? Because you have to describe it. And that’s why people are interested. I was saddened when a friend of mine who wanted to start a label said, ‘You know, 96% of kids are more into image than they are into music.’ That’s fucking sad. I mean, who cares? Image is gonna change. I’ve seen it now over 19 years of Helmet, all the changes in fashion that we’ve seen in rock. When we started the band, hair metal was the biggest thing on MTV - all those bands with hairspray and spandex and whatever. And we saw the grunge and we saw the punk rock and then the fake grunge and then the fake punk rock like two or three times. It means nothing. It’s all… whatever. I just think it’s such a great life. I jokingly say to kids, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t give your kids a guitar, or they’re gonna end up like me.’ (laughing)
You’ve eked out a good living at it, though. You’re one of the few, right?
I feel blessed, I feel so lucky. I mean, I eke by. I don’t own a home… I used to when I was married; my ex-wife has it. I’m happy for her, that’s great. But I have instruments that I treasure and that I can pick up, and I get to work with a lot of great people, from musicians to guys that build guitars and amps who admire what I do and they want my feedback, like Matt at ESP. You know, we sit and geek out about speakers. He talks about replacing these... I don’t know what he’s talking about. I go, ‘That sounds good to me… it sounds like this amp… we don’t need that… I don’t want that.’ It’s all kind of part of what it is to be a musician, I mean, outside of the notes, it’s distortion, and chunk, and oomph - all these things that are kind of part of what we do. It’s all really just fun, you know? It's a blast. Having four houses and eight cars wouldn’t make me any happier than this does.
Isn’t it also kind of weird to be a musician who’s actually interested in still learning?
I don’t know. I don’t know how you couldn’t be still interested in learning.
Would you think Keith Richards would be interested in learning about music?
I don’t know.
Aah, I shouldn’t assume, I guess, but…
I thought about that. I wonder. Bowie talked about the Stones a couple times. Mick Jagger came to see him play in Wembley and said, ‘You’re having very high overhead. We've been trying to keep the expenses down." (laughter) But I don’t know. Yeah. I have so much to do. Just so much to do. I wanted to get a little jazz thing going and play some shows. I just feel like there’s so much to do every day. I don’t know how you can stand in one place. I always have both ears open. I always feel like I’m not doing enough, I just want to get better. Right now I’m doing interviews and then I'm driving over to Cherokee, which takes an hour and a half, then I’ll probably take a nap and go get some beers (laughter). It’s great. Great. I always encourage younger musicians to listen to everything. Jazz, classical, reggae, rap, rock. You know, don’t just get stuck in one genre.
One last very quick question before the other guy calls back.
What is Bowie like?
Great. He was probably the most intelligent person, along with Elliot Goldenthal, that I’ve ever been around. You just knew and felt that you were in the presence of greatness. Like, ‘OK, he’s not like me.’
He’s smart, he’s just… Well, first of all, he opens his mouth and that voice is going into your ears, and you’re like, ‘OK, that is not normal.’ That’s an incredible instrument. And I know the records, I know the songs, I know the lines, lyrics… I remember saying to him, ‘Quicksand, OK, what were you thinking? The descending progression with the diminished chords, and then this incredible melody over the top of it -- what were you thinking?!’ He said, ‘Oh, I just thought I was so clever.’
It’s like, ‘Fuck off,’ you know? Are you fucking kidding me? How’d you come up with a thing like that?! I mean, that’s some heavy jazz harmony going on in there. He was amazing. (phone-clicking noise) Uh, Mark? Sorry, but if it’s OK, I’ve gotta jump.
Yeah. All right.
But yeah, I appreciate it, man.
All right, thank YOU.
Thank you so much for being flexible.
OK, when this gets transcribed, I’m gonna email it to you so you can catch any mistakes.
That’d be awesome. All right.
Cool. See you, Mark.