A Conversation With The Doors' John Densmore
Mike Ragogna: Hey John, welcome to Solar-Powered KRUU-FM.
John Densmore: Wow, I'm feeling the sun!
MR: if you were "Waiting For The Sun," you wouldn't have to wait any longer.
JD: [laughs] Solar-powered, no more waiting.
MR: Thanks, John. Okay, let's talk about the release, Live At The Bowl '68. It's a classic film and CD, and this newly remastered Blu-ray and CD have three bonus tracks plus material, all the music having been remixed.
JD: Yeah. Previously, we didn't think it could be done and as you hear on one of the comment tracks, our longtime engineer Bruce Botnick had to--I think on "Hello, I Love You"--patch together several different performances. But he was the original engineer who recorded all this stuff, so it's allowed because he did it with love and he technically understood how.
MR: Can you give a little background as far as what your impressions were of that tour and that particular performance?
JD: The Hollywood Bowl. As a kid, I went there to see The Hollywood Bowl Symphony and I never dreamed I would be on that stage. That stage has had all the greats in the arts throughout history. I was very excited to play there. "The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)," that you just played? Technically, it's kind of difficult for the drummer, that's me. We never really played it live much and I'm so pleased that it's on here and it's very tight. The band is tight, which is important for any ensemble. I'm proud of it.
MR: Did the band feel like this was a real special occasion?
JD: Mick Jagger was sitting out in the audience, so you want to be good.
MR: Historically, this is important in the history of The Doors and rock performances at The Hollywood Bowl. How do you feel it came out?
JD: Well, they've restored every frame and the sound is stereo and 5.1 surround and hi-def color, it's almost, like, unreal. What's that, "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon?
MR: "They gave us those nice bright colors..."
JD: Buffed jewel that's been shined clean.
MR: [laughs] When you looked at the final version of this, the work that went into the projects and how they came out in the end, do you go, "Yeah, this is something special."
JD: Yeah, but we were in the loop a little earlier than that. We didn't just do one screening, we saw several and commented on the editing. "Could you tweak this?" "That sounds a little funny." "Darken that color," whatever. We all have big mouths about film because we love film.
MR: Bruce Botnick was obviously in the mix, but were you guys more tuned into the audio over the video?
JD: Well, they go hand-in-hand, the audio and the video.
MR: Yeah, but I'm just imagining because of things like the 5.1 mixes, there were new experiences that were coming along with the process, like you might have had an "Oh wow, we're now in this environment."
JD: Botnick's specialty is 5.1, so he primarily did that. That's where you position the sound all over the room. It's rather technical and fantastic, really.
MR: Right. Nother one of the newly released performances from The Hollywood Bowl is "Spanish Caravan."
JD: Right, another rather technical and difficult song to play. It came out of Robbie's flamenco. Jim loved singing it because it was kind of a crooning--he liked to croon like Sinatra sometimes. The technology now puts you on stage with us, practically, which is so wonderful.
MR: Now on the project, you also have extras like video bonus tracks.
JD: Yeah, "Wild Child" from The Smothers Brothers Show, "Light My Fire" from The Jonathan Winters Show, and a version of Van Morrison's "Gloria." You know, that's kind of the past, and it's good to show the route of the band to The Bowl.
MR: Do you have any thoughts about why The Doors had such an effect on its generation and beyond?
JD: It's the drumming, Mike!
JD: In addition to that, listen in the extra tracks where we're talking about the evening. I mention that The Shaman took LSD that night, unbeknownst to the band, and somehow got through the whole concert. Maybe that's why it has a spiritual context. I don't know.
MR: There have been so many Doors collections and previously released sets, etc., over the years. What do you think about all this material? I imagine there's still more music that perhaps you might be looking at releasing in the future?
JD: Not too much. We're down at the bottom of the barrel, but everything is precious because Jim's not around so it's wonderful to see. I have an album of John Coltrane songs where they do six versions of one song and one of them is the master take and the others are the warmups. It's very interesting to me to see the process. So in that spirit, I'm okay with all this stuff being released because people seem to be interested.
MR: Yeah, and in a lot of ways, it's a learning experience for the people you brought along with the music.
MR: Looking at the history of The Doors now in 2012, what are your thoughts as far as the band's significance or even a thought or two on why it was popular?
JD: Originally, I had hoped we would last one decade and pay the rent, and I don't know, I'm going to be sixty-eight in a month and we're still lighting people's fire. I'm proud.
MR: After Jim's passing and all these years later in 2012, what are your thoughts about Jim and his magic that he brought to the group?
JD: There was no one like him. I don't miss his self-destruction, but I miss his lyrics, because when he would just say to me, "Day destroys the night, night divides the day, try to run, try to hide, break on through to the other side," I just heard drumming when he would talk the lyrics. That was a gift that he had. Couldn't play a chord on an instrument, but he definitely had magic. That's what I miss the most.
MR: Nice. And there was a bit of--I don't want to use the word "rapping"--but at least "bounce" to the lyrics.
JD: Oh, definitely. I heard rhythms when he would just read the lyrics.
MR: What advice might you have for new artists?
JD: Try and find your uniqueness. Technically, you don't have to be the best, but you need enough technique to say what you personally have to say within you. That'll make you different from others and get noticed.
MR: Just like The Doors.
JD: There you go.
MR: At the time, did you guys feel like you were so different that... If I were part of The Doors, I would've felt like, "This is so cool and so different."
JD: Well, we weren't that confident, but we knew without a bass player, we were a bit odd. That left a hole for me to improvise. It was more open. And The Vietnam War was going and we kind of were the dark underbelly of that negativity whereas everyone else was sort of doing "Flower Power Sixties Peace and Love," so we were different.
MR: And it can be argued there was a bit of a punk element going on.
JD: Yeah, I suppose so. Thank you.
MR: The reason why I also say that is because your attitude was obvious, consider The Ed Sullivan Show performance.
JD: And you know, Mike, I find myself saying that L.A. Woman was kind of the first punk album because we had done The Soft Parade with strings and horns, were trying to do Sgt. Pepper, made a whole bunch of dough, and L.A. Woman was in a rehearsal room with portable equipment, made really cheap. Then Elvis Costello put out an album, My Aim Is True, for about a couple grand and punk was launched.
MR: Plus when you think about the type of vocals that punk assumed over the years, think of how they approached it. Gee, who does that remind you of?
JD: [laughs] Yeah, Mister Mojo Rising.
MR: All right, this was really wonderful. Let's end the segment with something from Live At The Bowl '68. John, would you take us out with another one of your favorite tracks from the project?
JD: Yeah. There's a lyric, "The sidewalk crouches at her feet like a dog that begs for something sweet. Do you hope to make her see, you fool? Do you hope to pluck this dusky jewel? Hello, I love you, won't you tell me your name?"
MR: You, sir, have it. This has been really, really fantastic. I'd love to re-interview you in the future, so let's do it again sometime.
JD: A pleasure, Mike.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation With Doug Stanhope
Mike Ragogna: And now the madness ensues with Doug Stanhope.
Doug Stanhope: Now I feel like I'm under undue pressure to create madness that I don't really feel because I'm all sober and what-not.
MR: Nah, let's just celebrate Stanhope! You have a new album, Before Turning The Gun On Himself. The cover is a microphone stand with a blood splash on the wall.
DS: Yeah, it's hard to call it a new album because we taped this in July of '11. With the label, there's all sorts of fingering around, trying to get it out. We released it in March in the U.K. We were going to release it here, but then Showtime picked it up, and then Showtime had another ninety day window after airing it before we could release it here. So, this is almost an old album, but now you can get it.
MR: What are you doing on the road lately? What has life been like?
DS: We've been on the road a ton. I did a few months back, driving in a van with friends, which is a blast; I want to do more of that, just constant road.
MR: Is that how you get inspired, jumping into the car with your friends?
DS: I don't know if that inspires me, but I have a great time. I could really care less about inspiration at this point, I just want to have fun. I'm way closer to dead than I am to life of the party.
MR: So, how do you put one of these projects together then? How are you getting this material together?
DS: I have no idea where the material comes from. It's like asking me where ideas come from; I don't know. You have material, you have stuff that bothers you, you have stuff that's funny, and you pound the road until you're so sick of saying it that you have to put it on a DVD so that you can never have to say it again. Then, a year and a half later, it comes out, and you're doing an interview where you don't remember what the hell is on the album. (laughs) But I know I liked it.
MR: On one of the tracks on here, I love the title, "AA Is A Poorly Constructed Cult And Doesn't Work."
DS: Yeah, that comes off the Dr. Drew (piece). That would have been probably a twenty-five minute chunk if I had put everything I said about the subject onto the album, so I had to cut it down and shove it into two tracks. Yeah, AA is a horrible cult. I just saw a new show last night with some new kind of intervention where some guy went to Dr Phil for an intervention. It's junk science. It's bad medicine. It doesn't work. Statistically, it works no better than just quitting cold turkey, only they tell you that's not possible. I grew up in that cult with my mother going to AA, and I believed all that stuff. Now, you have mainstream shows that push twelve step programs. It's vulgar. If anyone ever read through the big book of AA--any intellectual-- they would be aghast that that is the main route for curing addiction.
MR: I actually have been to just a couple of AA meetings in my past, and the only I can remember were the cigarettes and the coffee.
DS: Yeah. I don't know if you can still smoke there. It would probably be the last place on Earth that you can smoke in public. I might join just so I can go somewhere to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes because that's what I do when I write, and you can't do that anywhere but the privacy of your own house. Maybe I should go back. There is a religious aspect to it. I think four or five of the steps have to do with God, but if you get a DUI, in some places, they'll sentence you to go to AA meetings. It's the most blatant breech of The Separation of Church and State. You're saying that in order to pay my dues to society, I have to go pretend to believe in God for six weeks? Bulls**t.
MR: Man. Okay, tell me about "It's A Party, Not Daycare, A**hole."
DS: Yeah, that's a just a quick aside to people that bring children over to your house when you're having a party. Since I moved to Bisbee, Arizona, it's kind of awkward because there are a lot of tracks that are specifically about people I know, and it's a very small town. So, when this was aired on Showtime, I kind of walked around with my head down for a while, wearing dark sunglasses in case people were angry.
MR: So, there's your inspiration, the folks you know.
DS: The word "inspiration" is so flowery, it queers my stomach, like there's some great comedy muse out there and I must find it. You hang around, you drink, you talk s**t, and then you say, "Hey, that's funny. I should write that on a cocktail napkin." I'm not sitting around stroking some goatee, staring at the sky thinking, "What shall I do with my art? How shall I be inspired?"
MR: So, this album will be released in the U.S. soon, but it's been internationally renowned for a while, right?
DS: I don't know about renowned, but I guess we did well on Amazon. I don't know; once we put it out, I leave it like a body in the woods. I don't do a lot of follow-up like, "Hey, what are our numbers?" I've never been that guy.
MR: I hear Sarah Silverman thinks you should have your own show.
DS: Yeah, I like that. I like Sarah Silverman, but I'd never want to hang out with her. She's a pothead, I'm a drunkard--don't mix well. They just makes drunkards paranoid, and drunkards bother the hell out of potheads. So, I'd like her from a distance, on Twitter.
MR: What advice do you have for new comedians?
DS: Don't suck. Gosh, I think of how many times I've said, "Stick with it." Write a lot. Ask yourself how many times people have told you you're funny in general. If you're not funny...that's the thing. I would have told Dane Cook to quit. If I saw Dane Cook doing what he was doing for the first time and he asked for advice, I'd go, "Sell shoes. That's not funny. It's not funny to me." So, my advice is worthless. If you enjoy doing it, do it. Enjoy your day. If you're enjoying your day, if you're having fun, who cares. Just do that. If you're funny, people will find you.
MR: By the way, your run on The Man Show was outrageous.
DS: It was horrible. Pathetic. It's so pathetic that I can laugh at it. Everything I've ever gotten a credit for is stuff that I'm embarrassed by. All my good stuff no one has ever seen.
MR: Well, next time we get together, we'll talk about everything you've never shown.
DS: Alright. (laughs) I'll get some clips to you.
MR: Doug, I really appreciate it. All the best in the future.
DS: Alright, thanks.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney
A Conversation With Marco Benevento
Mike Ragogna: Marco. Your creative process. How does it work?
Marco Benevento: Well, every song is different and every album is different. My creative process is very... Sometimes, I can just sit at the piano, come up with a chord progression, sit with that for a while, and then wind up recording it just kind of as is. Sometimes, I'll have nothing in mind and go to the studio with almost just a concept in mind--I should say rather than nothing, nothing meaning no notes in mind, no key or anything. My concept for "Limbs of a Pine" is that I always wanted a song that had kind of a driving rhythm or maybe a riff; in this particular case, there is a tom riff on the drums that Matt Chamberlain came up with. Another part of the concept for that song was to almost have kind of a talking melody over it--like and MIA melody over a heavy drum thing, almost like a rap, but not quite. Basically, something almost talkative over a driving rhythm, and to translate that into an instrumental context was really fun, and I wound up just kind of having a riff on the keyboard that ended up being like my melody. So, that was the way that we wrote that song--very conceptual. Sometimes when I write songs, I'll just sit down in a café of people and get inspired to write songs based on that little ear candy--I like to call them ear candy because sometimes, just sitting down with your instrument is not enough, or you need a little change, or you just want more variety for your own sake. So, sometimes, just sitting down at a funny little keyboard or a funny little thing that makes sounds is very inspiring to write music. Sometimes, I'll play a little upright bass and come up with a bass line that maybe inspires me to write a song, but everything is different. I like to do some loop writing--come up with three parts that create a nice loop--and then see what chords or bass line fit underneath that. For this particular record, after coming up with some of the song ideas, I actually came up with some vocals and used a friend of mine from Rubblebucket, Kalmia Travers, on two songs. So, it's constantly evolving, constantly changing, and different. I would say the majority of the songs start with me sitting down, playing some chords at the piano.
MR: I've also seen you climb into a piano to play its soundboard.
MB: Yeah, it's fun to tour around with my own little upright piano I have. It's a little sixty-one note piano made in '27, and it's actually pretty tall--taller than a Spinet--so I can actually reach in and mute the strings with my hand to create a staccato, plucking kind of sound.
MR: Just recently, I was using you and The Bad Plus as a reference to someone that is pushing the limits of jazz. I do believe you're jazz, but I believe your jazz plus...I guess much like The Bad Plus.
MB: The new record is categorized as "jazz," and a lot of my records are, but even that word is expanding. The umbrella term is widening so it can now incorporate electronic stuff in jazz. Jazz can also mean music that is not necessarily swung anymore. Acid jazz has evolved into like funk and rock and all those things. I consider our music sort of bordering rock and jazz. I would say it leans a little more on the rock side because our music is more loud, more straight, and it almost sounds like rock songs without lyrics sometimes. At the same time, we can play a song and really stretch out the solo section, and because of my jazz background, I can get into some jazz harmonies and stuff on the piano. Yeah, it's really both worlds.
MR: How did you find yourself in this scene?
MB: You know, I think it was the combination of electronic instruments, and also just being born and being around now, in this day and age. I grew up in the '80s, '90s and '00s, so music is just constantly shifting. Rock 'n' roll was already invented, jazz was already invented, and there were a lot of things already around, so a lot of musicians wound up doing their own take on it along the way. I feel like a lot of the musicians out there now are definitely melting it all together to make their own unique thing. Some, of course, aren't. Some are staying true to the more traditional jazz thing or the more traditional rock thing. There is no better or worse. I think just getting involved in synthesizers, drum machines, the four-track recorder, and growing up with a laptop over the last ten years, having a computer nearby, you wind up learning so much and listening to so much. I'm kind of forced to make whatever it is I make out of all the stuff that's been thrown at me. I'd say electronic music and electronic instruments kind of shaped that for me. I went to Berklee College of Music and studied all sorts of things, from frame drumming, to upright bass lessons, to film scoring classes, to musical production and engineering classes, to performance classes. I was raised with variety, and moving to New York really helped because there are so many musicians working really hard and trying to stand out, and it's hard to stand out in New York because there are so many people and so many things going on. It's a really humbling experience, going to New York and living in Brooklyn for ten years. I was going through a period where I was doing two or three gigs a day, making fifty dollars a gig, and teaching lessons here and there, but it wasn't until I started making records and touring that I felt like I made a little more of an impression on people.
MR: Now, you own The Royal Potato Family Records, which you started with Kevin Calabro. What is the label's origin?
MB: Well, picture this--it's my first tour with Matt Chamberlain, and for those that don't know, Matt has done a lot of stuff with bigger acts, so he'd been on the touring bus and had some good experiences touring. I definitely tortured him by throwing him in a Volvo, then throwing a drum set on top of the Volvo and driving seven hours from Denver to the Telluride Jazz Festival to play our first gig. As we were driving, slowly losing our minds and realizing that it was crazy to use this old Volvo, I'm traveling with Matt, who has had all these great experiences and I'm thinking, "What I am I doing?" I think one time, he even said, "Oh, we're doing this because we love you, Marco." He's just a really nice guy. Anyway, we were slowly losing our minds on this long drive, and Matt was telling us a story about how he was on tour with Bob Dylan, and he was opening up for him with Edie Brickell and The New Bohemians in the early '90s. He said that every day, they would all have to be catered dinner at the big event places they would play. Bob would have a hoodie on with the hood up, and wouldn't really talk to anybody. So one day, Bob sat next to Matt to eat dinner--didn't say anything the whole time--then out of nowhere he just turns his head and says , "Do you want to hear a joke?" Matt was like, "Yeah." Bob says, "Okay, there is this royal Potato family. There is the King Potato, the Queen Potato and the Princess Potato. The Princess Potato had to go find a husband because she needed to get married. She goes out and brings home the first person, and the King does not approve. She came back, had a lovely time with another person, but the King would not approve. Then, she came back with a third person, and this person was Dan Rather, and the King looked at her and said, "You can't marry him. He's just a commentator."
MB: It was a terrible joke, but we all just laughed out of delirium, sleep deprivation and this crazy drive through the mountain trails. So I thought The Royal Potato Family sounded cool, and I wanted to name my band that or my record that or something, and we decided we would call the whole record label that. I figured I could have all my little spudlings under one title.
MR: How do you come across your spudlings?
MB: Just a lot of festivals and a lot of common friends. I toured around with Critters Buggin for a while, so I knew Matt Chamberlain, Skeric and Mike Dillon through that band. We were on Ropeadope Records in '02, so I met a lot of people through Ropeadope. You know, Kevin Calabro does a lot of listening and seeking out newer acts to have on the label. It's a total variety of musicians from crazy, modern jazz, to singer-songwriter guitar stuff.
MR: With this new album, TigerFace, how did you get into this album differently than the other albums?
MB: TigerFace is a bit different just because of the amount of time that I spent on it. I spent a lot more time listening to each take. I spent a lot more time thinking about things and conceptualizing things, which I don't normally do--I'm a pretty fast paced worker on records, and like to turn them around quick. This record was recorded at the end of '10, so almost two years ago, all this stuff was originally tracked. The album could have come out sooner, but I decided to take my time with it. I also moved from Brooklyn up to the Hudson Valley during that time, so that took some focus away from editing and overdubbing on the record. Writing lyrics to some piano melodies and adding a vocalist to some songs is a brand new thing for me, and working with John McEntire, the drummer from Tortoise and The Sea and Cake, was a whole new thing for me; that was one thing I wanted to do. I had scheduled some time with him to record, but it didn't work out, so I had to wait, basically, a whole year before I could nail him down again because of both of our schedules being so hectic. I wasn't in a rush, and being that I had put out three records before this, I felt like no one was really in need of more Marco music. So, I just took my time with it, and wound up kind of surprising myself with the vocals and with the production of things. We also had a chance to release some singles before the record came out, so we released "This is How it Goes" as a single, and we released "Escape Horse" and "Fireworks." The songs are pretty similar to my other songs, but it's definitely an evolution of my own musical brain and what I'm getting into. When I listen to records that I put out I still enjoy them. I don't think, "Wow, this was so simple." I do enjoy listening to some other records, but I do see how this stuff is more evolved, or almost more accessible and marketable. Maybe this will reach some more ears and turn people on to my music that haven't been turned on to it yet. This record may change some people's opinions of what they think I sound like.
MR: I can see the evolution between the records. Do you see that as well?
MB: Yes, of course. I made them, and have probably listened to them more than anyone else in the world. I definitely can hear and feel that things are changing and growing with the music I'm writing.
MR: Especially now that you have a label, this is a big question--what advice do you have for new artists?
MB: I guess I would say have a fine balance of practicing and working on things that you want to work on. Be able to practice and get better, and know your weaknesses and how you can get better slowly. Then, the other side of my advice is just to make some art for people to enjoy. Try not to over think things; just make something, package it, send it out, and then make another thing. Trust yourself to say it's done and then make something new. I think it's important to have a balance of working hard and knowing where your weaknesses are, and also making art, making something that anybody would want to put in their CD player or computer and listen to.
MR: The entertainment part is a pretty big aspect of this?
MB: Yeah, for sure. I feel like over the years, our band has gotten a bit better at figuring out how to put together an entertaining show. Make sure you don't put too many slow songs in a row. (laughs) It IS the entertainment business, so there is that element of putting on a good show. Sometimes artists cringe when they hear that because they want to forget about the people and just do whatever they want to do, which is true, it's very important to do whatever you want to do. But at the same time, if you alienate your audience it's going to be hard to get them to come back to your next show. So I feel like it's important to reach out to people and try to connect to folks. Then, once you start selling out bigger rooms, who knows. You can pull your isolation moment, try to do something weird and freak people out, but until then maybe just try to reach out to people and be nice.
MR: Are you bringing up some groups, maybe mentoring in a sense?
MB: You mean as far as the record label goes?
MR: Or even just pals of yours whose musical career you're interested in?
MB: There are a couple of bands that come to mind. Mike Dillon even. Hearing him play with his own band, I was impressed and I was happy that Mike has his artistic outlet. He was the leader of the band. He's writing all the songs, he's creating the different versions of the songs live, and he's putting on a good show. I can see his evolution as a musician, and I love it. I think he's a great artist. I also like another band on our label called Superhuman Happiness; they're incredible. Stuart Bogie plays with all sorts of players. He's the leader of that band. Stuart is on that new David Byrne and St. Vincent record, and he plays with Iron and Wine. His name is out there, but he still has his own personal artistic outlet in Superhuman Happiness, and I like listening to his music and seeing the videos that they make. They're opening up for a couple of shows of ours. I really like that sort of modern rock/pop/jazz kind of thing that he's doing. Rubblebucket is just amazing--Kalmia Traver and Alex Toth seem to be the two main songwriters in the group--and I like seeing that evolution of young rockers creating new music that is very modern, very new, and I haven't heard it on the radio. So those three bands I'd like to stay close to, and maybe we can pull together and put on a big show or something.
MR: Of all the songs that you have either recorded or performed live, what is the one song that does the most for you? What's the song that you just can't wait to get to?
MB: (laughs) I do have one, especially because it's new, and because it's new according to my own musical standards. "Limbs Of A Pine," off the new record, is one that I just can't wait to get to in the middle of a show, and I hold out all the way to the end because it's kind of more of a grand finale song. Then going all the way back to our first album, Invisible Baby, there is a song on there called "The Real Morning Party," which I cannot wait to get to in the live show because it's kind of quirky, funny and weird. If the audience is starting to drift or something, I feel like we can get them with that song.
MR: What else do we need to know about Marco Benevento?
MB: Well, I guess the newest thing would be that we did make a video for "Limbs Of A Pine" and that just came out. We had a camera crew at my house, we had a blast doing it, and I'm super-psyched about how it came out, so I would love for people to know about that.
MR: Thank you for taking the time, Marco. All the best with what you're trying to do.
MB: Alright, you too, Mike. Thanks a lot.
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney