photo credit: Dennis Ho
A Conversation with Less Than Jake's Vinnie Fiorello
Mike Ragogna: Vinnie, I interviewed a few months back, but what are you guys up to lately?
Vinnie Fiorello: Basically, we just got back from co-headlining the Slam Dunk tour in the UK, also played our first Dublin show in a few years. We came back and had a few practices and now we're heading into a couple months of Warped Tour. We also recorded a five-song EP at our bass player Roger's house. We actually recorded that right before we did the Slam Dunk tour.
MR: The EP is titled Greetings From Less Than Jake, and you're marketing it in an original way, right?
VF: Direct-to-fan marketing. Usually, there's a certain distro channel we would go through, a middle man between the band and the fans. This time, we're putting it up through our website, www.lessthanjake.com, and also direct-to-fan by selling it on Warped Tour.
I don't think what we're doing is necessarily reinventing the wheel, it's almost like we've gone 360 degrees back to where we started as a band. When we started, we encompassed everything related to selling our records where we sold them ourselves. It's almost like we're back where we started, and it's something that bands have been doing for decades. Young bands still do it, and it's the only way for them to do it. But we've been a band for two decades now, and we're just doing it in a way that we can use the technology to our advantage.
MR: Can you discuss how Less Than Jake's digital store will work technically?
VF: Technically, when you go to www.lessthanjake.com, you select the record or records you want, put them in the cart and check out. Upon payment, you'll be sent an email, and in the email will be a link to a download code.
MR: Will fans be able to buy a physical version of the project?
VF: Yes, it's going to be only on tour at first because we're trying to get it directly into the hands of the fans that come out to see us live first. After that, it will be on sale at our webstore as well.
MR: What other items will be sold either through the website or in association with the EP?
VF: We're doing cigarette rolling papers, that when you purchase the papers, you get a download of the EP. Also, there will be a 3D poster that will come with a download code as well. We're calling it a "totem," where we couple a physical item with the music. So, whether or not someone monetizes the music, our view is to add this totem that is monetized and couple that with the digital download. We'll also have the traditional CD version of the EP packaged in a digipak format.
With where we're at, we've noticed throughout the years as a band that people embrace CDs less. People still listen to and are passionate about music, but you have to deliver something and fill the void to help people feel like they're getting their money's worth. When CDs first started being made, if you were buying a CD of a popular band, it cost $18, but as technology progressed and the price of manufacturing CDs went down, people realize they aren't worth that much, so you have to give fans something else. By coupling the music with the physical items that are limited and personal to the band, that's the little extra push to deliver something physical to the fans. For example, with Paper + Plastick (Note: Fiorello's Gainesville-based punk label), we do short-run but highly collectible colored vinyl with unique packaging, lithograph posters, vinyl toys and tour CDs.
MR: How does this marketing approach differ from how others market their new projects?
VF: We're trying to take out the middleman and maximize any monies that we make. Also, doing it the direct-to-fan way, we're trying to make stronger the relationship that we have with our fans. As the music business pie shrinks and the amount of money that an artist can make shrinks, it's up to artists to figure out how to increase the revenue to be able to stay stable financially. I think it's also up to the artist to figure out how to use technology to their advantage and stay relevant in that world.
MR: In your opinion, would you say there's a monopoly on how one can buy digital downloads?
VF: At the moment, I wouldn't call it a monopoly, but in the case of Apple, they make the hardware and the content. So, it's seamless from purchase to listening, if you want to call that a monopoly, you can. If you look at it the other way, there's really not a monopoly because anyone with 15 minutes of time on their hands can figure out how to download the music for free. Whether it's getting it from a friend or on a peer-to-peer site, the freedom of being able to trade music so easily makes a monopoly almost impossible.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
VF: I've said it before in other interviews and I'll say it again...you can't build a house on sand. You have to build it through hard work and touring, you have to have a foundation to build a career on. You definitely have to embrace the technology that's there. If you're not embracing it and looking at it as a tool, how can you possibly excel in today's industry? I think personal relationships with websites, with other bands, with journalists, those are important things for a young band. Those are tools as well that you can use to build that foundation and be able to make a stand for a long time.
MR: What advice do you have for anyone wanting to emulate your marketing model?
VF: Just go for it. If you to want to step outside the traditional model with a label and a band, make an educated decision and don't make your decision from a place of fear.
1. Can't Yell Any Louder
2. Goodbye, Mr. Personality
3. Harvey Wallbanger
4. Oldest Trick in the Book
5. Life Led Out Loud
A Conversation with Bill Mumy
Mike Ragogna: Bill, let's start with your new release, Glorious In Defeat. It's like you're 23rd album?
Bill Mumy: (laughs) Probably, if you add them all up with everybody involved. No, I think it's my 10th. Yes, I'm in double digits now--10 albums since 1997. It's on the label GRA, a little label out of San Francisco that releases vintage-style acts that are still, hopefully, being prolific and making music that's worth listening to. I feel good about this record. It feels pretty solid to me, like I'm back in a roots kind of a place where I feel very comfortable.
MR: The song, "Can't Complain" is one of my favorites. I love the line "...don't forget to not forget my love."
BM: Well, actually, it was written from a state of mind of somebody who's perhaps facing the end of their run--mortality had a lot to do with that song, thinking about the things that really counted. Remembering a specific love affair was the catalyst for that lyric. My mom died this year, and my mother-in-law is in hospice, and a lot of my friends' parents have passed away this year. It's just the age that I'm at--people are, you know, checking out all around me, and that's really what inspired this tune.
MR: Another couple of my favorite songs are produced very simply. Your piano ballad "I Changed My Mind" is quite Randy Newman-esque to me. Is there a story behind that song?
BM: There are stories behind all of them, that's just a song about choices made and how one person's decision can affect multiple people. The actual music of the chorus of that song goes back to 1975 to a song that I had never released or finished and it just popped up while I was jamming on those lyrics. I come from a place where I firmly believe when in doubt, leave it out in terms of production, and there are, I think, three songs on Glorious In Defeat where it's either just a piano and vocals or guitar and vocals. Sometimes less is more.
MR: Exactly, and "Dive" is another one with the "guitar and vocal" approach in that interesting ¾ time setting. Very nice.
BM: Thank you. "Dive" was written for a friend of mine who--I'm bumming everyone out, I sound like Leonard Cohen here--who actually had a nervous breakdown. She is a psychologist and for twenty years, has been absorbing all the woes of many, many, many other people. And I guess as is wont to be in that profession, she just reached a point where it was an overload of other people's problems. It resulted in her having kind of a shut down emotionally, and that's what that song's about.
MR: Let's go back and talk about your early musical history. Most people who are Lost in Space fans will remember you singing "Sloop John B" on one of the episodes. Whose idea was that to throw a folky pop song into Lost in Space?
BM: I started playing the guitar when we started filming the pilot to Lost in Space, which was way back in December of 1964, and there's a little bit in the pilot that was used in the first season where Will Robinson is sitting around some bad foam rubber rock playing and singing "Greensleeves." Then, later, on I reached into my Kingston Trio catalog of songs, which was pretty much all I knew how to play, and pulled out "Sloop John B," which I think was very appropriate to Lost in Space because it is the story of a sailor whose life has gone astray and he wants to get back home. So, it is applicable to the Lost in Space story, and also it was public domain so Irwin Allen didn't have to clear it for publishing rights. (laughs)
MR: Ever the spend-thrift.
BM: Yes, he was very good at recycling and getting things for less than more.
MR: And reusing rubber, like all those rubber monster suits.
BM: We had three permanent soundstages on the 20th Century Fox lot back from 1965-1968 when we were filming the series, and he had several shows in production at the same time--Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, and Land of the Giants. He used to literally have a stunt man in a green wetsuit with some bad alien head on it that he'd be using in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and he would then walk that guy over to our stage where they would spray paint him silver. That would be enough of a difference for Irwin.
MR: Can you tell the story of the ridiculous vegetable episode?
BM: Oh my God! (laughs) TV Guide listed this as one of the 100 greatest television episodes of all time, but only because it's probably the worst television show in primetime ever made. It was called "The Great Vegetable Rebellion" and it was a Lost in Space episode where the villian, so to speak, of the week was a seven-foot talking carrot named "Tybo." And everybody--the Robinsons and Dr. Smith and Major West and the Robot--everybody became like, I don't know, prisoners in this giant vegetable garden. They had to sit and argue with this talking carrot who's played by an actor named Stanley Adams. It was so ridiculous and it was so campy and it was just so moronic that Guy Williams and June Lockhart could not do it with a straight face no matter how many takes it took. They just couldn't get through it. If you ever watch the show you'll see Mark Goddard constantly turning away from the camera just because he had to laugh. Anyway, Guy and June were kicked out of the next two episodes or something because they couldn't do it with a straight face. I managed to get through it, I must say. It is--as Dan Aykroyd said as Leonard Pinth-Garnell on Saturday Night Live--"deliciously bad."
MR: On the other hand, the first season of Lost in Space was really good sci-fi tv, and it was considered a ground-breaking show when it first started, wasn't it?
BM: Yeah, it was always a highly-rated show. Unfortunately, really, for better or for worse, the sillier we got and the campier we got and the more colorful we got, the better our ratings seemed to get. It was a very specific era--the mid '60s--it was the beginning of pop art and Andy Warhol. Batman was on at the same time as we were--that whole campy, comedy adventure thing. I think Lost in Space certainly shifted from being an ensemble adventure series about a family facing the unknown alien environment to this trio of comedians--Dr. Smith, the Robot, and Will Robinson being the straight guy. It definitely changed its tone over the three seasons and 84 episodes we did.
MR: There was going to be a fourth season, right?
BM: Yes, we were picked up for a fourth season, but you know what, it was not meant to be and it didn't happen. That's just a little footnote in TV showbiz history.
MR: Now, you were the little evil child Anthony Fremont who'd send people to the cornfield in The Twilight Zone. You did three episodes as different characters for the series, right?
BM: I did three of the original Twilight Zone episodes, yes. Also, I did a little thing in the feature film, and then I wrote one of the episodes in The Twilight Zone's last round where I starred with Cloris Leachman and my daughter Liliana in a true sequel to "It's a Good Life." So, yes, I have a good Twilight Zone alumni jacket.
MR: You also worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Alfred Hitchcock Presents--that's one of my favorite stories, how he threatened you as a little boy. I know you're sick of talking about it, but would you consider telling it just once more, for old time's sake?
BM: Oh, for you Mr. Ragogna, I'll go deep. (laughs) Yes, I think the year was 1962--possibly 1961--I did three episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and this was a very good episode, a very good story about what can happen with weapons. In a nutshell, it's a story about a boy whose uncle comes to visit him and says he has a present for him. The boy is impatient--he sees all his friends out the window in the streets playing "cops and robbers" and "cowboys and Indians," so he goes up to his uncle's guest bedroom, rummages through his suitcase and finds a revolver and a box of bullets. He puts a couple of bullets in the revolver, spins the chamber, sticks another handful of bullets in his pocket and then goes out to join his friends.
As the episode progresses, he slowly loads more and more chambers of this gun and is spinning it until at the end, all the chambers are filled. It's a really dramatic show. Alfred Hitchcock directed it himself and I was pretty much in every scene, and it's a real good television show, but there are child labor laws and you can only work a minor a certain number of hours a day. Since I was in every scene and had to go to school at the same time, I was definitely needed on the set as much as I could be there legally. So, they were about to run out of time for the afternoon with me, and the welfare worker--the teacher--on the episode alerted the assistant director that they had about ten minutes before they were going to have to lose me. So, the cinematographer and Alfred Hitchcock wanted me to do my own stand-in work while they lit a final close-up, which was fine, although I wasn't really used to being my own stand-in because that's what stand-ins are for.
So, I'd been working for about 8 ½ hours that day and I was standing on my mark while they were trying to light me for this last close-up. I was fidgeting around--and I must also add to the equation that I was all of seven years old--so I was fidgeting around and not really standing on my mark as well as a professional stand-in might do. Alfred Hitchcock gets out of his chair--and he was a very imposing physical presence, especially to a little kid. He was huge. He looked like Jabba the Hut. He was really a large guy and he sweat all the time. So, here's this slimy, large guy--he wore a very tight collar with a tie all the time, so his jowls were hanging down over it--it was an interesting impression he made. He lumbered up to me and then bent down and whispered in my ear--and this is exactly what he said--he said, "If you don't stop moving about, I'm going to get a nail and I'm going to nail your feet to your mark and blood will come drawing out like milk so stop moving..."
MR: How did you survive that?
BM: I'm now actually kind of petrified. I'm standing there, petrified, because this scary guy just told me he was gonna nail my feet to the floor in a very visual and gory way. So, I'm standing there frozen and they get their close-up and then they had to wrap me out for the day--I was done for the day. Now, here's my point. If Alfred Hitchcock had walked up to me and pat me on the back and said, "Thank you, Billy. I wouldn't really nail your feet to the floor, I was just kidding," I probably wouldn't have even remembered it 45, 46, or whatever it is--48 years later. But he actually was very aware of the fact that he had scared the heck out of me, and that's what I always disliked him for. I did a really good job on his show, and I did two other episodes for him where I did really good work. But I'll always remember the fact that he scared the heck out of me and enjoyed it. And as we walked to my mother's car--my mom and I, leaving for that day--I remember telling my mother, "..and he said he was gonna nail my feet, and the blood was gonna come pouring out," and my mother just looked at me like, "Oh, honey, he's British. They have a different sense of humor."
MR: Did that comfort you at all?
BM: It, ah... no. I don't think I was every truly, deeply afraid that Alfred Hitchcock was going to literally nail my feet to the floor, but I always hated him after that. I never, ever, ever wanted to see him or talk to him or anything after that. There's a very nice autograph from him in my autograph book at the time where he drew his famous little profile and he wrote what a wonderful actor I was and everything. But nonetheless, he messed it up for me. I don't think he was a nice man.
MR: Well, dude, you had a gun.
BM: (laughs) I never put that together until you just said that, Mr. Ragonga. That's right, I had the upper hand all along. I should've just wished him into the cornfield.
MR: (laughs) Okay, before we leave this whole era, I wanted to also bring up one of the most poignant and beautiful episodes of Twilight Zone that I remember to this day. It almost makes me weepy, in fact. It was "In Praise of Pip" with Jack Klugman--one of the finest things I've ever seen in my life. So beautiful, and you played such a great role in that.
BM: Thank you. I'm very proud to be a part of that number. That's a Rod Serling script and it was the first American television show to discuss American casualties in Vietnam--that was 1963. I was very proud to be a part of that, and Jack Klugman was just fantastic to work with both as an actor and a gentleman. I enjoyed that very much.
MR: You've acted with incredible talent over the years, for instance, with Jimmy Stewart in Dear Brigitte.
BM: The best of the best, absolutely. Yes, I was the first American actor to receive an on-screen kiss from Brigitte Bardot.
MR: Nice! And I believe you also were the first one to get a compliment from Jimmy Stewart. I don't remember the exact quote, but basically he was talking about what a great kid you were and how you loved baseball.
BM: He was a wonderful man and we remained somewhat friendly throughout his life. His wife Gloria was a great gal. He was very generous in his discussions of my work.
MR: Now, after Lost in Space, I remember you were in Bless the Beasts & Children and Papillon.
BM: I was indeed, and there were quite a few things in between Lost in Space and Bless the Beasts..., but yes, I kept working and I can't complain about my productivity. I did the things I wanted to do and passed on the ones I didn't want to do. I've been very fortunate in being able to be indulgent in that arena.
MR: And you beat the stereotype by turning out okay, you know, having been a child actor and all.
BM: I mean, that's the way the popular legend seems to be. And certainly, it is true for maybe a larger percentage of that group of people than other groups of people, but I have so many friends who were child stars that are really good people and well adjusted. Sadly, there is a large percentage that didn't adjust to it very well and made some bad choices and things. But, you know, everybody does, right? It's just that those people are high profile. How many little league stars turned out to be messed-up adults for one reason or another, but nobody's gonna hear about it? But if you were Jay North, if you were Dennis the Menace or something and you end up robbing a bank or whatever--Jay North did not rob a bank, I'm not trying to start that rumor--but if you're famous and you screw up, or you might have been famous thirty years ago, suddenly, you're famous again for screwing up. A lot of people screw up in their lives.
MR: True. Okay, getting back to the music--you were in the group Redwood when you were in your teens.
BM: I was in Redwood for almost six years. It was an acoustic trio that I still think was the best band I've ever been a part of. We do have a double CD of the Redwood stuff available called Lost But Not Really. I'm very proud of the old Redwood stuff.
MR: It was really great stuff--and in fact, you became close friends with all the members of the group America, whose sound, I must say, is suspiciously close to Redwood's. Kind of kidding, but not really.
BM: Oh yeah, absolutely, from when they first came over here, for the very first gig America played. Although they are all Americans, they were in high school in England. They're all sons of American military officers, they went to high school in England together, and they came over here and played a week at the Whiskey A Go Go. Through some mutual acquaintances of theirs and mine, we met on the first night of their gig, and I ended up staying the entire week at the Whiskey and hanging out and becoming good friends with those guys. We're all about the same age. Redwood was recording at The Record Plant with some really good musicians and the house engineer there. The guys in America--Gerry, Dewey, and Dan--all came to a couple of our sessions. They loved the studio and loved our engineer, Mike Stone. They decided that that's where they were gonna make their next couple of records--at the Record Plant with Mike Stone. So, yeah, I guess I had a bit of influence on how "Ventura Highway" and stuff came out.
MR: And Mike Stone, of course, moving on to oversee huge projects.
BM: Yeah, everybody's gone on to do a lot of good projects. I still work with Gerry and Dewey--just wrote a couple new songs with Gerry--and I talk to those guys almost every day. In fact, they were in Australia on the road with Brian Wilson's band and Peter Frampton and Chicago for three weeks. I get little emails from them every day and they're out there making good music.
MR: You had some writing collaborations with them that ended up on America's EMI albums.
BM: I have, I think, eighteen or nineteen co-written America songs on tons of their records.
MR: Of course, we must now go directly to "Fish Heads," a little song by that group Barnes & Barnes. How does that story relate timeline-wise from Redwood to doing that?
BM: Well, let's see. "Fish Heads" has been very good to me. Barnes & Barnes, which is the novelty rock/quirky rock duo that created it and made those short films in the late '70s and early to mid-'80s was me and Robert Haimer. Barnes & Barnes started as a fun, secret, home project for a release of extra creative energy. Both of us are fans of comic books and underground comic books, like Zap Comix and The Three Stooges and stuff like that--you know, quirky stuff. We both made our own serious music, I was with Redwood and he was playing gigs by himself. We had enough energy to jam and create these silly little things that we recorded at home on two-track recorders. "Fish Heads" was one of them, and we sent it off to Dr. Demento...actually that was a four-track. Robert was a big fan of The Dr. Demento Show in the late '70s--you know, you can't escape your destiny. "Fish Heads" became the biggest song in the history of The Dr. Demento Show.
Then, we got a record deal from it, and we made this short film with Bill Paxton and Rocky Shank that was almost immediately aired on Saturday Night Live. It started being entered in film festivals all over the world and it became this cool thing. Then, MTV came along at the same time and kicked it up a notch. Yeah, "Fish Heads" has been very good to me. Homer Simpson has sung it, it's been in a couple different commercials, and it's been in a lot of films and stuff. It continues to make people happy--it's got that nursery rhyme kind of melody to it that's hard to shake--those kind of "chipmunk" chorus vocals that I wanted to do seemed to resonate with society. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Now, the most important thing in your career happens in '82 when I start repping your catalog, right?
BM: Oh yes, absolutely. That was bar none the biggest event in my showbiz tiara. (laughs)
MR: (laughs) Well, we did get two holds--one by Michael McDonald and Eric Clapton. Can you remember what songs they were?
BM: No, I don't remember any of that. I've pushed it out of my mind.
MR: What was the song you wrote about your dog?
BM: "Molly"? I haven't thought of that song in a long time.
MR: Yeah, "Molly" was on hold with Eric Clapton, and something else was with Michael McDonald. You still have bragging rights, Bill.
BM: Well, okay. That's like saying we're gonna make a pilot that never got made.
MR: (laughs) Nicely played, sir. Speaking of pilots, I want people to know of the other major role you had on television, which was Lennier on Babylon 5. How did you get that role?
BM: Well, you never know what's gonna happen in the world of television. All I knew was that there was a new science fiction television series going on the air called Babylon 5. I got a call from my agent at the time to go in and audition for what I thought--and they thought--was a couple-of-episodes guest shot, and it turned out that Joe Straczynski, who created the show and was executive producer, requested me because he was actually a huge Twilight Zone fan. He was a big fan of my earlier work in the Twilight Zone, and he said, "Well I'd like to find Bill Mumy and get him in here for this." So, I went in and auditioned, as actors do, and then you forget about it when you walk out the door. My wife and I had actually booked a holiday--we were getting ready to take a train out of town for a week or something. The agents called back and said, "Wait, wait, wait, don't go out of town because it looks like they wanna book you for this Babylon 5 thing and they're talking a series deal, not a guest-spot deal." It turned out to be five seasons of a very well written, very well produced, and well acted, ambitious television series called "Babylon 5." I knew the character was an alien, but I didn't know the amount of makeup that the work would involve. I have to say, although I'm very glad I did the project and stuck with it for so long, it was always a very physically demanding and challenging thing to do for five years--to wake up at four o'clock in the morning and glue foam rubber to your head for a couple of hours, and then wear that for twelve hours or so, and then use all these really abrasive solvents on your skin to peel it off after twelve or thirteen hours. Or walking around with a bone on your head and ears on your neck. (laughs)
MR: It was the Minbari race?
BM: Yes. I like to call it the minibar, but it was the Minbari.
MR: Of course, what you needed after the show. Straczynski went on to do all sorts of comic books afterward, didn't he?
BM: Yeah, recently, Superman and Wonderman, and he's written Spider-Man. He's a very prolific writer and a very talented guy. I was writing the Lost in Space comic book in the early and mid-'90s when we first started Babylon 5--it was the end of '93 through '98--and I was also writing quite a few comic books at that point in time. He was a big fan. He and Harlan Ellison were actually enjoying my writing as a comic book author. I also wrote and produced a television series during Babylon 5 called Space Cases for Nickelodeon that ran for two seasons, so it was a very busy time.
MR: Were you planning for a reunion movie while writing the Lost in Space comic books?
BM: Not really, no. I had spearheaded that project way back in 1980, '81. I had come to the acceptance that Lost in Space was something that was resonating with people and I wasn't embarrassed by it. But I thought, "Wait a minute, here's an unresolved story, why don't we resolve it and do a movie of the week." So, I co-wrote a script and I got it to CBS and to 20th Century Fox. Most of the other cast members from the original show, some that I had seen frequently and some that I hadn't for quite awhile, wanted to do it. I figured I had all my ducks in a line and then I went to Irwin Allen with it and that was probably a mistake. I should have gone to Irwin Allen first since it was his project in terms of ownership and control--he didn't appreciate the fact that I had started this ball rolling. He didn't want to do it.
MR: That's a little like the Richard Hatch story with Battlestar Galactica, isn't it?
BM: Yeah, I guess it's similar. Anyway, that wasn't meant to be and I didn't worry about it. Decades went by and then a comic book publisher got the rights to do it as a comic book and asked if I'd be interested in writing it and I was. So, I did that for a couple of years and am very proud of those stories. They hold up well. In fact, in the second year, there's one big story called "Voyage to the Bottom of the Soul," which was collected and completed as a graphic novel--over three hundred pages. It was released, I guess, four or five years ago now. Stan Lee wrote the forward to it. I'm very proud of that.
MR: Around that time, you also performed as part of the group The Jenerators.
BM: Yes, with a "J" to ensure suburban obscurity forever.
MR: (laughs) The Jenerators had Miguel Ferrer on drums, percussion and vocals, Gary Stockdale on vocals and bass, and David Jolliffe--sorry, I meant Jumpin' David Jolliffe.
BM: Jumpin' David Jolliffe, that's right. I was doing Babylon 5 and I knew that was going to be the thrust of my time. I had two little kids at home and was not in a position to go out on the road. But I couldn't stand the thought of not making music, so The Jenerators was more or less, "Let's get a bunch of friends together who can play well and sing well and let's have some fun," and it turned out to be twenty years of these guys playing around LA and doing a couple of short tours with America. Basically, it was just playing the clubs around town. We did record and release three CDs. The Jenerators, I'm sure, will rise again...the last time we gigged was a few months ago, I'm sure we'll gig again. But we were never a really focused "This is what we're gonna do with the rest of our lives, gonna make it big in the music business and go be The Jenerators" thing. The Jenerators was an opportunity for people who were doing other things to still make music and have a good time and see their friends and get people to dance. We had a bit of a local hit with "Pussy Whipped," which is a story about David Jolliffe's first marriage. We played a lot of good gigs, and we made a lot of people happy, but it was never really that serious of a project. I think it was more like a hobby for most everybody.
MR: It also had one of my favorite songs by you, a little autobiographical number titled "Grown Up Child Star."
BM: Yeah, people like that song. I wrote that song when I was 21 years old, and by the time I was thirty I didn't really feel the way I felt when I wrote it at the age of twenty one. By the time The Jenerators started doing it, I was probably forty, and I never really enjoyed doing that song. But Gary Stockdale loved that song and used to force me to do it.
MR: Speaking of child stars, Seth Mumy and Liliana Mumy both had their share of movies and Disney projects. How did you feel having been a child actor and then your children wanting to do that as well?
BM: Seth and Liliana both wanted to jump into the "family business," and they both had opportunities to do so because of our world here in show business and the directors and producers that we were connected to. But they also, obviously, had to go out and prove themselves able to do it. Seth starred in a movie called Three Wishes with Patrick Swayze and Joe Mazzello when he was only five. He worked five and half months on that film and did a great job. He did a Garry Marshall film called Dear God with Greg Kinnear and a little thing for Dreamworks called Paulie about a parrot. Then, he started getting into sports and really found his passion, like a lot of kids do, in sports. He didn't want to go out on a lot of auditions when he was practicing with teams and playing basketball and stuff. So, he wrapped up his career when he was eight or nine. But he has a nice little nest egg from the work he did there and he still does some voiceover stuff.
My daughter Liliana, she's just amazing--she's just really got a crazy amount of ability. I don't remember what her very first thing was, but she did a lot of episodic television things before she did the Cheaper By The Dozen movies with Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. Then, she did The Santa Clause films, both 2 and 3--she was brilliant in The Santa Clause 3--she was the big hero in that. She did two seasons, starring with Benjamin Bratt, of a television series called The Cleaner. She's done probably thirty or forty animated films and series. She continues to be very prolific in the voiceover world, and now at the old age sixteen, is taking a little break from the on-camera stuff and just doing her voiceovers.
She's worked a lot, she's really got a huge catalog of work, whereas Seth did those three films and a couple of little guest shots on TV and then decided that wasn't the right path for him. But she has quite a catalog behind her, and I feel fine about those choices because they enjoyed it. As when I was a little kid and my mom went to the studio with me, my wife Eileen has always accompanied Liliana or Seth to work. We certainly didn't take any of their money, so they have a nice little nest egg that they earned for themselves, which is a lot better than just being a trust fund kid--not that there is any. (laughs) It's all good. If they want to continue, they do, and if they don't, they don't. They had a fun time doing it when they were little and it's all positive.
MR: Speaking of voiceovers, you are also pretty active in the voice overworld, aren't you?
BM: Yeah, that's the main arena that I work in these days outside of music. I narrated fifty-five episodes of Biography for A&E, did tons of animation--which I really enjoy doing--and a lot of commercial work. I was the voice of Farmers' Insurance for eleven years--that was a wonderful gig. It's good, I can't complain.
MR: And of course, you did the music for Adventures in Wonderland.
BM: That was a wonderful show. Adventures in Wonderland was a live action television series for the Disney Channel that was produced in the early '90s. They did 100 episodes of that show, each show had three or four songs in it, and I wrote 105 songs for that television series and I got an Emmy nomination for it. Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo was the head of the music on that and he hired me to be a songwriter for that project, which was just great, because Seth was a very little kid--two, three, four years old--when that show was being made. What was so great was that I could be home hanging with my son and making music that was age-appropriate for him in my studio. I picked up a lot of new instruments to make those songs come alive the way I heard them in my head, and it was really a pleasure.
MR: Speaking of instruments, in addition to your being a great guitar player, you're also a collector.
BM: Well, yes, I am a collector, but not in the sense that I would buy an instrument for its rarity. I only buy the instruments that I want to use. I do have some rare instruments that are collectible, but I don't have them for that reason. I have them for the tonality within them. I've been very indulgent in that department over my life. That's a nice place to indulge in. If you're a painter, you want to have every color--maybe you can mix them all yourself--but nonetheless, it's nice to have the tools of your trade. Sometimes, you're playing a specific sounding guitar and that will lead to a specific arena of a song. Certain guitars might want to be blues guitars and other guitars might want to be twangy pop guitars.
MR: I remember you were quite pissed when I didn't consult with you first before selling my 1958 Gibson Country Western guitar.
BM: Yeah, I love slope shouldered Gibson acoustics. I have quite a lot of them and that was a good one. It had to be let go. I hope it found a good home.
MR: Which do you prefer, the music or the acting?
BM: The music. I enjoy being an actor, but the older I get, I don't enjoy the process of getting an acting job. In terms of being on a soundstage and hitting my mark and becoming another person and delivering that other person's dialogue to other actors, I enjoy the experience very much. But if you're an actor, you're a chess piece for a director and a producer and a writer. In terms of making music, that's been an uncompromised artistic journey for me. When I make music, it's normally--not all the time--but it's normally music that I'm creating out of the muse visiting me. Now, certainly with Adventures in Wonderland or something like that, it was different. I was working to write songs that were required for specific scenes. I feel like I enjoyed that very much. I can do that too--I can write you a song if you request it of me. But the albums I've released--certainly the solo albums--have been those kind of songs that you don't expect to write. You just are lucky enough to catch the muse, or it catches you, and you channel that and it becomes a song. That's the best feeling that I have ever experienced in any arena. There's nothing I would rather do than just kind of create a song and see it through to its final mix and feel good about it. That's what I enjoy the most.
MR: How does your creative process work?
BM: Honestly and truly--this is vague--but it works. I continue to receive that gift of inspiration. I don't expect it. It comes when it comes. It almost always arrives in batches. I wrote eleven songs last month, and I just released this album. I certainly had no plan on writing after this album came out for quite a long time. But, you know what, I got eleven songs that I demoed, out of the blue. They all came within like a week. I'm not writing right now, and I don't know when I'm gonna write again. But whenever that strikes, I recognize the symptoms and I go into my studio and I see it through. Sometimes, it's a bit of a dud and sometimes, it's something that you feel is really valuable. I'm lucky to be so prolific. I appreciate that more than anything else in my life--the fact that genuine inspiration continues to visit me and I get to be creative. That's the best feeling I can explain.
MR: That's beautiful. As long as I've known you, you have been moving on to the next project after you've finished your last project--literally that week or so.
BM: It's been a great run in terms of being prolific and finding the joy in creating new projects. I wrote and produced an album for Sarah Taylor about a year ago that's a really fine project that is just now getting a lot of airplay and taking off. I feel really good about that project. Barnes and Barnes made our first album in eighteen years after that long of a hiatus last year. It was a very interesting return to almost our beginnings. It fits right in with that kooky stuff we did in the past, and I have released three solo albums in three years. It's a great feeling.
MR: And you have an unreleased one, the LA Times album. Ahem.
BM: Yeah, I remember playing that for you and you being supportive of that when it was fresh. I think that didn't come out for the right reasons. There are a few of those tunes I'd like to revisit, although I tend to leave the things that are done in the "done" box. But some of that stuff, I think, I'll revisit at another point in time. But I'm glad that record didn't come out for specific reasons. I just think it could be better. There were a lot of drum machines on that project, that was the last time I used a drum machine.
MR: Now that you're through writing your next record, when are you going to start recording it?
BM: I don't know, I haven't even thought about it. I've demoed all of those eleven songs with just one instrument live--like guitar and vocal or piano and vocal--and I'm just going to let those sit around and simmer. I'll see what happens. I'm certainly in no hurry to release another record, but who knows, man. With me you never know.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
BM: Advice? Just be true to your own creative voices. There's no point in trying to be Justin Timberlake or trying to be Paul McCartney. They're already doing that really well, so just be yourself. I think the most important lesson in all those years that I've been making music is don't compromise. I don't think compromising for commerciality or trying to come up with that hook, I don't think that makes sense. Just make the kind of music that you're inspired to make. We live in an era now where certainly other people can hear that without you having to sell your soul to the devil, to some evil, giant corporation that's going to put you in the hole and you're never going to recoup any of your investments and you'll be workin' for the boss every night and day--you don't have to do that anymore. You can record your stuff in excellent quality with a very nominal investment these days in a home studio, and you can get it out there via the internet. Just be true to yourself. Hopefully, new artists want to gig and look ahead to the big picture of what a successful artist is. A life on the road is a very challenging thing...be careful what you wish for. I have a lot of good friends who've spent decades of their lives away from their homes being professional players out on the road, gone 200 some days a year, living from hotel room to hotel room, bus to bus, plane to plane and backstage to backstage. It's a challenging gig.
MR: It's now a very different business too.
BM: The whole world--in terms of financial realities and things like that--the world changes every few minutes. It's a tough world to make money in these days, unfortunately.
MR: One last thing, it's about the Lost in Space remake movie. There's a little story there about how you were going to be Will Robinson in that.
BM: Yeah, that was the plan. It didn't happen for a lot of reasons, but I guess the biggest reason it didn't happen was it wasn't supposed to. I was doing Babylon 5 and they were making that movie over in England. I think really what New Line wanted from the classic cast members was an endorsement via a little appearance in their film. A lot of the cast members did that, but for me, that role in the movie--that older Will Robinson role in the time displacement story with the older character playing Will Robinson--that was the only character I would've been willing to play in that movie. We tried to make it work out, but with schedules and things it just didn't work out. I don't have any bad feelings about that at all.
MR: You're still pretty close with Angela Cartwright.
BM: She's a really talented artist and photographer--she's very prolific in that field. She does some great stuff. She's done the design and photography for quite a few of my albums.
MR: Does she still have a shop?
BM: It's virtual now, but she did have a boutique store in Toluca Lake for about twenty years.
MR: Anything else we should mention?
BM: Let's get out the vote. Let's get out and try to keep things on the right path here before we're all in the cornfield.
MR: Thank you so much for the interview. We haven't spoken in a while, and when we used to hang when I was in LA, it always was fun.
BM: Get your butt back here and we'll go have some sushi and pick up some comic books!
MR: Yeah, that's the life. Thank you again, I really appreciate it.
BM: My pleasure.
MR: By the way, I think that you were such a good positive role model. I think you influenced a lot of kids and the way that they looked at the world, and I do know a couple of kids who watched Lost in Space in as a first run or in reruns and identified with Will Robinson character, especially yours truly. I don't know if you have any objectivity about this, and maybe I don't, but it seems like you were a great influence on a lot of people.
BM: I can honestly say--ego in check, I think--that I acknowledge that some of the work I've done, which goes back a long time--almost fifty years--has resonated within the culture, whether that was Twilight Zone or Lost in Space or "Fish Heads," it has struck a chord that people remember. That's very flattering. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to create--well, I didn't "create" them, but as an actor--to create those characters from the script. It was good luck and it was good management at the time from my agents. I honestly had a very good time working on all of those projects. I respect the fact that it continues to resonate in certain people's hearts and I had a good time doing it. It's flattering.
MR: Well, thank you from every baby boomer in America, Bill Mumy. (laughs)
BM: Thanks, Mike. Stay in touch, please.
1. Stolen Love
2. Can't Complain
3. I Changed My Mind
4. Rely on That
5. All Wound Up
7. Is It Me
8. A Hundred Good Reasons
10. Hear My Memory Scream
11. Try So Hard
12. We Don't Want the Same Things Anymore
13. Love in Vain Blues
Transcribed by Claire Wellin
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008